You know when I’m my most brilliant self?

It’s at 1:00 AM, when I can’t sleep, and I’m staring up at my ceiling with its little, beige shell pattern. There’s only one smudge up there, a gray streak left from my attempt to swat an annoying fly with a Wall Street Journal. That happened six years ago. The smudge is still there, and I can still hear the fly’s buzzing laughter in my ear.

It’s during these moments that I ponder over what personality trait I most wish I could have altered earlier in my life. There are a bunch of these traits (which I used to call “character defects,” but that sounded too defective) to choose from, but one sticks out over all the other screw-ups: my tendency to squander my time and energy in attempting to impress people I just met, at the expense of investing my best with those closest to me—you know, those people like a wife or best friend who can change your mood with one facial expression or well-placed retort.

An example: I was shopping with Sherry in a store called Home Depot. We were buying supplies to get a new greenhouse up and running, and needed stuff like soil, fertilizer, flowerpots, plants and so forth. I was walking by the paint section and happened upon a stranger looking for a new paint color for his kitchen.

Soon, this stranger and I were engrossed in a deep discussion about color selections, and the intricacies of primer coats and paint wipe-ability. I was conversing on topics I knew absolutely nothing about with a guy I knew absolutely nothing about. Meanwhile, Sherry was filling up one of those long, low carts for heavy stuff that you find only in places that have a “Depot” in their name. I had no idea where she was in this mammoth store, and here I was, eagerly picking out paint for a kitchen I would never see.

Thirty minutes later, I found Sherry waiting in line with all the supplies we needed, piled on a cart she could barely push. She saw me, but looked straight ahead and said nothing. I meekly got in line behind her.

So as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, I thought of other examples of this trait, each one more egregious than the last. Then, I reconstructed every scenario so that I behaved perfectly in all of them. I smiled in the early morning dark, and gave myself full credit for imagining how good I could have been.

I was feeling so satisfied with all my reconstructions that would have made Sherry feel special and appreciated, and the personal rewards she would have heaped upon me for being such a sensitive and caring guy.

In fact, I thought I should awaken her immediately, to show her how lucky she was.

Oops! Not a good idea!