life skill 5

Illustration: Jen Troyer

5 of 8

I’ll admit it: I haven’t mastered this one yet. It comes from Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In that insightful book, the hero, Dick Diver, and his friends carefully studied the wealthy patrons entering a restaurant. At one point, a well-dressed, seemingly self-assured American came in. "Suddenly, he perceived that he was being watched—whereupon his hand rose spasmodically and arranged a phantom bulge in his necktie." At another table, people patted their "shaven cheeks," smoked unlit cigars, fingered eyeglasses and "even pulled desperately at the lobes of their ears."

What Dick was looking for—but didn’t find—in these strangers was "repose." The novel was set in the 1930s, but we still feel the same nervousness today, the same impulse to perform, just in case somebody is watching. We fiddle with cell phones or shove earplugs into our ears, when we could just sit quietly, at ease.

Repose is still a fantasy for me. I imagine it as something akin to how you act when you’re with somebody who you really love and who loves you back. With this person, you’re not concerned with your hair; you don’t have to adjust your tone of voice or your sandal strap. You’re not on stage. What would it be like to be this way when you’re all by yourself?