And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw.– William Wordsworth, Character of the Happy Warrior
I learned how to compartmentalize in two stages, each separated by a lot of years.
When I was working in the film business, I noticed with wonderment how my male friends functioned brilliantly even while beset with the difficulties of living, i.e., broken hearts, lost loves, bad deals. They seemed to carry around with them a joyous ferocity that allowed them to focus intently on work, even while their private lives were flopping around in emotional tatters.
I admired them. No, I envied them. How did they do it? When my heart was bent or broken, I was bent as low as my heart. I remember periods sitting in my office unable to read scripts, or evaluate budgets, because my mind was scooting off into painful memories.
Stage two in my evolution came a number of years ago and came along with football. I am devoted to, obsessed really, with professional football. And it was because of football that I learned how to compartmentalize my life. Or maybe my system leaped into football instinctively, grasping at the benefits.
At the time I got hooked on football, I was involved with Len, a guy I really didn’t like very much, let alone love. But he had season’s tickets to the Giants and was crazy, as men are, about all the weird little details and wrinkles in the game. He took me to summer training camp, where I sat in intense heat and direct sun, watching a lot of men in blue and white running over a grass field.
I was not ignorant of the game. I’d watched it by myself plenty of times during playoffs, so I knew the rules, grasped the larger picture. But I’d never focused on individual players, or on team positions. I was keeping a safe emotional distance, in other words. And I did it because in 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers left New York and devastated me. After that, since I knew how awfully painfully it could be to root for, “belong to” a team, I wasn’t getting anywhere near that agony again.
Until the Giants. After watching those unidentifiable characters running around a football field, I needed to identify. I needed to comprehend. So I diligently memorized the players’ names and numbers, and the meaning of those numbers.
I can still tell you who was wearing number 48 on that 1980’s team. I can tell you who wore pretty much every number on that team, and of course I can tell you who on today’s team wears what number. And now, not only do I know all the weird little details and wrinkles myself, I call a game faster and better than any TV color guy.
How did I do it? I read a lot of football news. And sometimes at night, if I’m having trouble going to sleep, I count and enumerate my players. If I’m stuck with a number, I turn on the light and grab my roster, which I keep next to my bed.
(Another plus to memorizing those numbers: I just got back from voting in the NYC primary elections. Unlike most people, I relate to my district number. It used to be Michael Strahan; today it was Bear Pascoe.)
So it was back in the ’80s when I learned not simply how men are natural compartmentalizers, how they can escape completely into a sport, into a televised game, and be unaware of anything around them.
I learned how to do it myself. So at times when I need a break, my consciousness, my brain and my viscera can switch into football and escape from everything else.
Such as my lawsuit. All the obsessiveness I’ve applauded here as a plaintiff’s great asset can be re-directed during those periods in which nothing legal seems to be happening.
So try sub-dividing your lawsuit obsession into something else. Doesn’t have to be a sport. It just has to be an escape you can enter into at any time. You’ll love being able to turn one part of your brain off, and open another part.
And you’ll love yourself for learning the trick.