Happy birthday to my life hero--today would have been forty-two. [tw: death]It's weird, because I searched Paul Walker on Google Images to get a pic for this post (I figure I can't always use the starfish picture, aka my Favorite Paul Walker Picture), but when I saw the search refinements Google suggested, the reality of his death just hit me again. Like, this is a thing that happened, and this is how it happened, and this is how it's been inscribed in digital memory. I don't know how I feel about that. :\
But birthdays are birthdays, and I wanted to share three ways Paul's example, which he offered daily, is helping me live my own life the way I want to live it. I don't always succeed, but he's always at the back of my mind, and I never forget.
1) Give people the time of day. Some people are talkers. They're unusually invested in your thrift store purchases as they ring you up; they like the Chevrolet shirt you're wearing. They're at the airport, frustrated because they're about to miss their flight. Something in their life happened entirely unrelated to you whatsoever, but they want to share it. Do your best to step into that sphere with them and be honestly interested, empathetic. Listen. Respond. You don't need to give the panhandlers money, and if you're on your way somewhere or doing something else, you can get to that; but you can be chill and friendly about it. There's this silly TMZ video where a paparazzi has followed PW all the way to the curbside check-in, and PW is just fielding his gossip questions and bantering with him as he's checking in. Eventually he says he's gotta go catch his plane, and so he does, but he absolutely gives the random paparazzi guy that time. But at the same time, you don't fake being interested in something you're not. Paul's totally been called out in interviews for being checked out (a duo interview with Jordana, and the interviewer had them talking fashion), and owned that, in his good-natured, self-effacing kind of way--same with his disinterest in movies and Hollywood, which, as an actor--haha. XD
One of my favorite stories involves this girl who apparently broke into his house once and was just standing there when he walked in the door. He asked her, you know, why she was there, and she was just like, I really just feel like I need to hug you. So Paul hugs her and he's like, so... Do you think you're going to need anything else? And she says no, and she leaves, and that's that.
We can sit here and judge that girl's behavior, because yeah, that's certainly inappropriate and definitely illegal, and you really don't want to emulate that kind of behavior. But at the same time, sometimes people need what they need, and they're just coming from a very different place than the rest of the world, or the norm. And sometimes, it's okay to just meet them there and be chill. People are gonna disagree here, and there are definitely lines, but I don't think it's something people do nearly often enough.
2) Whatever you're doing, don't hold anything back. It doesn't matter if it's not your passion. And it doesn't matter if you're any good at it or not. Back to PW's disinterest in movies. He apparently didn't watch very many, even as his career revolved around them. At a superficial level, this makes me feel better about not being interested in a lot of things that seem like compulsory interests where humanities academia is concerned. But more than that, Paul had a way about him that let him honestly admit that acting was not his passion in life without it seeming like he was a disingenuous actor--like he wasn't giving it his all, or was phoning it in, or was quietly resentful of what he was doing. Passion or no, he was very clearly never doing any of those things. You can take what you do seriously, effortfully, even if maybe it's not that True Passion. It doesn't mean giving your passions up, or even relegating them to second-class status in your life--hardly!--but you can give all of yourself to more than just one thing. You, as a person, are capacious and expansive, and you can do this. Thinking about that helps me stop myself from phoning life in when it frustrates me, or when I'm afraid I'm not following my passions because I have to give time to other things, etc. It's about not selling yourself short, and about giving the world around you--all of it--the respect and attention and the you it deserves.
And if you fuck up, or you still kind of suck, who cares? At least you know you're performing at your highest capacity. And if you do that long enough, you just might start pushing that envelope. (For those unfamiliar with Paul Walker's career, he's been in a lot of shitty movies--like, even the good movies [like The Fast and the Furious] are kind of shitty, acting-wise. No one's gonna get up on stage and say he's the most skilled actor who ever lived, because he wasn't. But his performances are endearing when they're bad and endearing when they're surprisingly okay, and downright chilling when, suddenly, he's really, really good. (Paul's best roles were when he was playing a parent--to his premature infant in Hours (2013); to his girlfriend's son in Running Scared (2006); to Jack in Fast. His real-life daughter Meadow was one of his biggest passions--and that's impossible to doubt.)
3) Take people as they are. This is kind of like the first one, but it's by far the most influential to me, and I think distinct enough to be a separate point. There's this interview where Paul fields a question about a TMZ video of Vin Diesel having some serious trouble backing his SUV out of a parking lot far, far to small for it. If you've seen the video, it's kind of adorable--like, 36-point-turn, someone-please-help-me-drive-this-car adorable. And the interviewer kind of wants dirt on that, since of course Vin Diesel plays Angeleno car god Dominic Toretto. But Paul's just like, "yeah, well, that's Vin."
I think about this all the time. "Yeah, well, that's Vin." It's what I say to myself when I'm frustrated with someone for the way they to (or fail to do) a thing, or they way they think, express themselves, prioritize (fail to prioritize); when people get me all riled up because they're not doing things or believing the things, or acting in the way I think it should be done. In ways that don't jibe with how I think the world ought to run, or what I think is going to optimize a person's efficiency and productivity and happiness on the planet. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm not; it doesn't fucking matter, because that's not who that person is. They're them. They have a different way of being in the world, of seeing it, and of valuing this or that. If I can step back and accept that, and understand that that's where the frustration is coming from, I can keep frustration out of the equation.
And like, "That's Vin" doesn't mean you condone a behavior, or a belief. But disagreement on its own doesn't change things, and frustration very rarely helps. I think there's a way of accepting people as they are in the world but also being able to address things you don't agree with--calling out oppressive, obnoxious, or hurtful behavior, for instance. Not confusing acceptance and patience and understanding with passivity or culpability. Of the many things Paul was--ridiculously chill, for instance--a pushover wasn't one of them. He'd rally when rally was the thing to do. But he also had a good eye for being able to stand back and know when it wasn't. Which to be honest is something that I also think is missing from a lot of human interaction, especially around hot political issues are concerned. I really don't find jeering and ridicule and excessive vitriol productive.
This is not to say rage is itself a negative thing. The United States has seen a lot of rage this past year (see: #BlackLivesMatter), and there have been a lot of people who have tried to shut it down by enlisting the services of respectability politics, so-called pacifism, etc. I think people absolutely have a right to be angry, and to express that rage. To be fire and pain, unshrouded. Telling someone to sit down and be calm, like there's some intrinsic moral high ground to calmness (it's so easy to be calm when you are privileged, unhurt, protected), is fucked up. There is place in the world for rage. But my rage is not that rage--not usually.
So yeah, well, that's Vin. If I have a problem with the way someone is conducting themself (maybe they're chronically late; maybe they hate risotto, idk; maybe they hate something or someone I love), I can tell them that, and explain myself, and maybe open a space for changing or mitigating that aspect of them, if it's something I believe ought to be changed (homophobia, for instance). But at the same time, I think there's a step involved where you accept that there's a chance that's just who that person is going to be. And all you can do then is ask yourself how much that means to you--if it's worth bidding your adieus (even if it hurts), or if it's worth living with those disjunctures. But all of that only happens if you can check that initial frustration, or disagreement, and just be like, yeah, well, that's Vin.
(In the Vin example, clearly Vin Diesel's inability to back an SUV out of a tiny parking spot had no bearing whatever on his relationship--professional and personal--with Paul, nor did it have any effect on how fucking awesome of a human being the guy is!)
You live wildly and profoundly and lovingly in the hearts of many, P-dub. That's a life eternal. Happy birthday.