The Rear End

THE REAR END: Falling Forward

a.k.a. dealing with and doing the uncomfortable

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

‘Physical coordination.” Sometimes I fall out of my chair just saying these words. No one has ever accused me of being a graceful human being, and I’m under no illusions of being one. To put this in the simplest of terms, I have the spatial awareness of a 5-year-old carrying an armload of old fishing poles through a packed movie theater. After he’s eaten a sweaty handful of Skittles dipped in maple syrup.

I am sometimes a little clumsy.

If I’m not paying close attention, I tend to bump into things. I trip on steps. I get articles of clothing caught on doorknobs and cabinet handles. I drop things as I put them into the refrigerator and I spill food down the front of my shirt. If you want to hug me, you may end up with a head-butt and an apology.

Over the years, I’ve taught myself (with varying degrees of success) to tread lightly in public places – restaurants, book stores, carnival midways, magic shops, etc. – so as to not embarrass myself in front of people who aren’t my wife and kids. Sometimes I’m so busy avoiding my clumsy shenanigans I actually forget why I bothered to enter said public place to begin with. And sometimes I so thoroughly overthink things I get distracted and end up crashing my shopping cart into a potato chip display while my wife sighs at me.

i have the spatial awareness of a 5-year-old carrying an armload of old fishing poles through a packed movie theater.

Sports have never been easy for me. Catching things. Throwing things. Running at things. Hitting things with … other things. I’ve always had trouble understanding exactly how all that works. Really, the application of any element of physics in the real world is kind of a challenge for me. If I practice a lot and form a routine, I can master the important stuff. For example, we placed a bench in a hallway at home almost 15 years ago, and I almost never stub my toe on it anymore. Just once or twice a month.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m perfectly happy with my abilities to walk and talk and open doors and eat chili and occasionally ride a bike. I know many people have it harder. I’m just not wired to grasp my place in space as well as others.

Judging distances or square footage? Estimating height or depth? People, please. I have no idea.

Unfortunately, a major way of coping with my spatial ineptitude is to shy away from activities that could be difficult for me. Things that are normal to my friends and neighbors. Like cartwheels. Or free throws. Or carrying multiple birthday cakes full of lit candles. As a result, I rarely give myself a chance to get good at certain things that might be a lot of fun. Or useful. And that’s not OK.

If the 300 memes I see on my phone every day with people gazing up at sheer rock faces are to be trusted, I should not be afraid of failure. Easier memed than done. (And by the way, when it comes to cliff climbing, you should absolutely be afraid of failure.)

But here’s the thing. We live in a time when we must do big, scary stuff. Stuff that makes us uncomfortable. Stuff we know we aren’t good at. If the past six months have taught us anything, it’s that we have to adapt. And re-adapt. And adapt again. We don’t have to like it. We just have to do it.

We need to have awkward conversations with each other about masks, racism, mental health, human rights, and voting. We need to teach our kids through a little screen at the kitchen table. We need to deal with wildfires and hurricanes. We need to check out new data and rethink what we thought we knew. We must help our most vulnerable. We must accept help.

If you guys can do all that, I promise to do a cartwheel without accidentally kicking my cat across the family room. It’s the least I can do.