Sunday, September 18, 2016

Small Magic - The Eyes Have It

My dear blog friend Andrea, at Falling Ladies, has begun a monthly collection of stories and experiences of what she has termed as "Small Magic". You can find this month's post by Andrea by clicking HERE:

And the original "Finding Small Magic" Post on her Falling Ladies blog is HERE:

I hope you will take a moment and check them out, add your own (even just a link to a picture or a sentence or two is PLENTY! It need not be as wordy as I tend to be. :)

I have so many ideas for my own contributing posts about "Small Magic" as I feel my life has been, and always will be, filled with it. But for today I am going to tell/retell an old story about one person's kindness and heartfelt advice that, looking back almost 30 years, changed my life in more ways than I can count or ever be thankful to him for.

I applied for my first "real" job when I was 17.  As a busboy at the Italian Restaurant that my mother worked at as hostess, manager, waitress etc. In fact, the restaurant was brand new having been built by the city for the two brother's who owned it because their old, tavern-like Italian restaurant had been torn down to make way for a new steel and glass tower in the heart of the city.  So part of the deal was that they got a 200 seat "supper club", with a parking garage, for nothing but agreeing to give up their corner lot which now is in the middle of the massive downtown office complex.

So, two brothers, Michael and John. Two completely different personalities. In fantasy terms, John would be the Ogre and Michael the High Elf. lol

My mother had gotten me an interview for the position and, even though I look back and know that it was a done deal and I'd get the job, at the time she impressed upon me the need to make a good impression and to do well in the interview. I was terrified the interview would be with John. but, it turned out it was with Michael.

I adored Michael. Whenever I would come into the old, tavern style restaurant he would always take time to say hello, tousle my hair and invite me back into the kitchen and give me a taste of something wonderful. A taste of meatball marinara, a dish of Spumoni Ice Cream, a piece of veal parmesan. . . heaven!

I had no doubt I could do the job. I had been "working" since I was 13. Cutting grass, raking leaves, cleaning gutters, painting and gardening, a newspaper route (remember those?), and even a few shifts working at my great Aunt's Arco service station. So I was confident I could be a busboy.

It was also just a part time "summer job" before my senior year of high school so I felt I couldn't really go wrong. If it was a terrible job, I only had to stick it out three months and then weekends thru the Christmas office party season.

I went to the interview and, to this day, recall none of it. I was nervous, of course, but I do remember feeling fine about the answers I gave and the great sense of relief when it was over. Michael was very professional and shook my hand when I sat down and again when I left.

When my mother got home that night she said she needed to talk to me. I thought I wasn't going to get the job. I was looking forward to the money and the experience so I felt a little disappointed that I might have lost the opportunity.

But I DID get the job. However what she wanted to tell me was that Michael had told her "He's such a good kid and of course he has the job, but you have to tell him he has to look people in the eye when he talks to them."

Apparently I did not look him in the eyes even once after sitting down for the interview. That's probably also why I do not remember a second of it.

Of course, now I look back and I see it all very clearly.

I was far from a shut-in or wall flower. All of my school report cards, grades 4 thru 10 had said some variation of "Great student -  talks too much!" But outside of school every possible moment was spent in my imaginary worlds. It's what got me thru the toughest times in school. Knowing at the end of the day I got to go home and disappear into that endless world of my creation.

But around adults, in the "real" world, yes, I was definitely not comfortable with that. I wanted little or no part of that world and I avoided it like the plague.

But Michael's words that day, spoken out of love and concern for the well being of someone he saw as a bright young man with potential, were something I definitely needed to hear. Something that only  a person looking in from the outside might see clearly. And something only someone with a heart of gold might take the time to mention to my mother for no reason other than he cared.

It shocked my mother as she never noticed that aspect of my personality but, that makes sense too as our family world was small as well. Familiar faces and relations all the time really. Very few strangers or outside influences. And those, so brief and unimportant, that my situational shyness ever attracted any attention.

I took the advice to heart and find that, in looking back, it was invaluable to my future self. Owning coffeehouses, friendship, relationships, managing and running restaurant kitchens. How would I have ever been able to do any of it without that ability to look people in the eye?

And I learned, as many people do, that there is a certain magic and power in that ability to look another human being, especially a stranger, directly in the eye.

And I notice these days that I still tend to drift to this habit. Especially when in the midst of, or just exiting, my creative paracosm and imaginary worlds. It takes me a bit of time to reconnect with the rest of the world and I find myself averting eyes and connections for a bit. Like a swimmer coming up from the depths of the underwater world and taking in all the sound and sight of the land-side world. It takes a moment. Or two. Or more.

Small magic. A big heart. I had the pleasure of working with Michael in that restaurant for two years before he sold his half of the business back to his brother and got out. His leaving opened up the space that I filled working part time in the kitchen and then, as fate would have it, I ended up running the kitchen of the restaurant within a year after that.

I never forgot Michael's words through it all or after all these years and I cannot explain the myriad of ways that advice helped me in life.

And because I think life is cyclical and not linear and that we will be given opportunity after opportunity in life to revisit all our old habits, shortfalls etc etc, I am gifted with that chance every so often. I catch myself looking away or down. I find myself as that 17 year old again disappearing from the "real" world. Then I remember his words. . . his concern. . . and I reconnect with the world around me all over again.

Small magic.

For the work of a lifetime.

And here is a little visual "Small Magic for you too! :
A new gargoyle friend. . . Zunge already found his place of service in a home that has an entire quarry of my gargoyles!


  1. Hello Nicolas, so glad you joined in with me! I love this post and can so relate. I have to consciously work to make eye contact and my husband even reminds me every now and then when he notices i am not doing it. I have no problem looking my family in the eye, but it is harder with coworkers and acquaintances. I really struggle with it. And of course, jace's autism has always made it hard for him. We have to remind him to look at us often. When he was much younger he simply could not do it. Now he can sometimes do it. On his terms. But it IS small magic in terms of how it affects the people we are interacting with!

    1. Andrea, I think it's actually a pretty common behaviour. And I think the plethora of people who wear sunglasses. . . all the time. . . is even more prominent. Eyes are the windows to the soul so, yes, it has the potential for magic small and large! Hoping others will come along on your Small Magic quest over time!

  2. What a wonderful story. You are an engaging writer, and it's fantastic you have such vivid memories of this. We are similar I think in shyness, I never looked people in the eye either, and if I did I would blink too much. The key I find, to be taken seriously is to look at the person and do not blink. ;)

    1. Louise, I think shyness has become an "affliction" in the view of our society. I have a niece who is 7 years old and who is terribly shy around people she does not know. Because I live so far away I only get to see her once a year she is always shy around me when I first arrive in town. When she was 5, I stayed with my brother (who was her legal guardian) for a night. She hid from me for a few hours and my mother had told me she would probably never talk to me because she sees my mother all the time and she still doesn't talk to her. Within another hour we were fast friends. My mother could not believe it and I told her it was because I didn't try to make her be my friend or get her to talk. I let her come to me on her terms which meant, in short, ignoring her. . . and she did! The point is my mother was so obsessed with bringing her "out of her shell" that she actually drives her deeper into social anxiety by trying to force her to be social. And that's what I worry about with society today. Shyness has existed as long as people I would imagine. It's not always such a bad thing or something that needs corrected. But there is actually a clinical term for it now and, no surprise, a medication. I look back and think that small magic advice was perfectly timed for me. I could be the shy kid but, as a blossoming adult, shyness no longer serves so much of a purpose. But I don't think it's a simple switch to be turned on or off and there must be a myriad of reasons why people are shy. For me, it was just about being in another, better world in my head. Still is :) Now, the benefit of an adult is this: I do not engage in any social activities or outings for the most part. I cultivate my "shyness" and utilize it to it's fullest. :) If an hour by myself is more satisfying and more productive than an hour at a social function, why would I go? As I always like to say to friends who do so out of a sense of obligation and then regret it "well, that's an hour or two that you can never get back!" :)

      Thank you SO much Louise for sharing your experience too! :)

  3. I try, try, try to look in the general direction of people when speaking with them. Usually the best I can muster is staring at their mouth. I rarely make direct eye contact. A great deal of it is shyness, and being a social nitwit, part of it is having eyes that make some people uncomfortable and trying to avoid that awkwardness altogether. And heaven forbid if actual eye contact occurs! Immediate shuffling and fidgeting and blushing. I am an absolute mess when it comes to interacting with people... but I try.

    1. Nichola, I appreciate that feeling of awkwardness and it reminded me of how some people tend to, and were taught to, shake hands with such a strong grip. . . and they won't let go!! I'm always like, "Ease up, it's not a contest!!" lol And to me eye contact can be the same thing. It's a fine line isn't it? it can really run the gamut from warm to creepy in just a few short seconds. lol :)

  4. I had wrote another comment and it disappeared?
    The advice you were given from him, was very caring! For sure Small Magic! Eyes are the window to the soul! I try to look at people in the eyes. Sometimes it's hard, but I try!
    I love Zunge!
    Big Hugs!

    1. I sometimes imagine there is a place where all the "lost" email goes. . .and hangs out chatting together. :)

      Seems many of us have that tendency to look away Stacy! it is good to know I'm not alone. . .

      Thanks for your lovely comment!

  5. Hi Nicolas,

    I'm catching up with your blog today. What a beautiful and touching story! How lovely that you went on to manage the kitchen in the restaurant.

    As a child, I was intensely shy and insecure, and I avoided being anywhere near people I didn't know. I would even hide behind doors when people I didn't know well would visit our home. I can fully identify with what you were saying in the comment above regarding your 7 year old niece. I wanted people NOT to notice me and just let me observe them and approach them if I felt safe. My shyness was very debilitating all through my life. Then, in my adult years, I found that looking into people's eyes helped me to gauge a lot about them... Were they nice? Were they genuine? Could they be trusted? That sort of thing. The funny thing is that, sometimes, I wasn't even aware of what they were saying because I was so focused on looking beyond the eyes if that makes sense. If I felt uncomfortable, then I would distance myself from that person. To this day, I go right back into my shell if I'm in the presence of a loud or domineering person. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.

    In the case of my son growing up, I'd notice that young children, even as young as 2, would try desperately to make eye contact with him when they were talking to him, or vice-versa. He has Nystagmus due to his blindness and this causes his eyes to flit all over the place making it impossible for him to look someone directly in the eye. Kids would move their faces right in front of his in an attempt to get him to 'look' directly in the eye. I always found it interesting that even kids view eye contact as important.