Work in Progress

The last few weeks have been exceptionally stressfull. Let’s just say that some battles never seem to end and some people really don’t know how to play fair. Also, there are those moments when others try to paint of a picture of you that simply isn’t true, and even though you know this, those close to you know this, for some reason the burden of proof always seems to lie heavy on your shoulders to convince the world otherwise. It’s exhausting. It’s unnecessary. And it’s getting old.

I have reached the point in my life, that I’m tired of surviving. I’ll be 46 in just over a month. I’m ready to begin thriving.

I have asked a few of my friends who are going through some crap of their own what their life would look like if they had a blank check. What would they be doing right now if they could just get their wish. Blank check is the metaphor I use because so much of what gets in the way of our happiness seems to be associated with money. Here’s a pro tip. You are never going to have enough money to get everything you want. It’s better to focus on a goal, and goals start with dreams.

It’s a lot like musing about “What would you do if you won the Lottery?” I never play the lottery because that’s just a way to tell yourself you will never get what you want. If you look down the road to one or three or five or ten years away and your life hasn’t moved in the direction of what you want, and your excuse is “I didn’t win the lottery,” that is on YOU. It’s not on the state lottery commission.

I know what my blank check dream is, but I also know that it has nothing to do with having an obscene amount of money that will solve all of my problems. Some problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them, just as some diseases cannot be cured by chucking pills at them. Every step forward in the right direction counts. And some of the steps we need to be taking are figuring out what we really don’t like about ourselves and being conscious of that. Making an effort to change what you don’t like, not for anyone else, but for your own mental health and peace of mind.

There’s a wonderful quote from Epictetus which says:

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”
― Epictetus

In the last several years since my divorce, going on seven in October, I have had my whole life laid bare before strangers, judges, therapists, psychologists, friends, relationships that have not lasted, and family many times over. It’s a lot of work. I’ve had moments where I have realized that I am struggling. Moments where I realize I am triggered by old patterns I have worked hard to get past, moments of insecurity and self-doubt. Moments of feeling lost and abandoned, taken for granted, or dismissed outright as not worth someone else’s time. I’ve fought demons in my head which make me feel like I am missing out on something greater, only to understand that even the time I have alone is precious.

Our lives are a work in progress. One which is continually built on, improved, reconfigured and restructured until we can find comfort in our existence. If anything we can spot the moments that are going to cause us pain and do something about them before we are hurt. And if we can’t then at least we can get back up and start healing as soon as we are knocked down.

I know mostly what is getting in my way, and it’s not the lottery. It’s little moments that I continue to work on. Challenges I have to face. A lot of damn work I have to put into things like self-discipline, patience, compassion, and sometimes fighting an uphill battle in a war of attrition. And sometimes just mustering up the courage to ask for help. Because I really suck at that sometimes.

Yesterday felt like a dream because nothing was working right. I tried to get out of town for the day to go sit in a hot spring. I drove for an hour an a half to find that the place was shut down on account of lightning. The drive home consisted of taking a half hour (or longer) nap in my car because a truck had rolled off the road. It felt a lot like that dream you have where nothing seems to be going right, or you are dreaming of a place you’ve never been and it just seems hollow, flat like a movie set with a matte painting in the background of some exotic place. Your scope is limited and without that experience to give it life, it won’t get any better than that. As though the reality of it is just beyond that canvas and you know if you could just reach through it, everything would be so vivid.

That’s what it feels like. And when you give yourself a blank check and you say “If I could reach out and have everything I wanted, what would that look like?” you have to be prepared to know that some of the flaws you are dealing with in yourself are exactly what are keeping you from touching that world. But sometimes there are things outside of your control and in those moments, you have to give yourself permission to just take a nap, or beat yourself up just a little bit. Not for very long. I can beat myself up better than anyone else can. Because if they knew all my flaws, they would have mentioned those too. I know my flaws, and they are abundant. And I’ve also paid my dues on so many of them. The ones I haven’t, well, the check is in the mail.

At 46 it’s hard to escape all that baggage. A lot of people my age like to whine about how broken they are but that’s just an excuse for them to continue to cut others on their jagged pieces. If you can recognize that moment in yourself, you will stop cutting those who are trying to get close to you, or those stubborn enough to stand by you through the good and the bad. And not putting in the work to smooth out some of those sharp edges is just as useless as complaining that you aren’t happy because you didn’t win the lottery. You were once once sperm and one egg that somehow got combined through an impossible series of coincidences. You already won the lottery a long time ago. Congratulations.

Words

I used to write letters to a woman I was dating.

No, let me go back further.

The first time I was in love, I wrote love letters almost daily to a girl and she wrote me back. I still have a box of her letters. A collection I compiled in two years of correspondence. In some of my darker moments, those letters have held me together. They brought back the moment that I went to the town post office and opened up the mailbox. The scent of paper and wood, brass keys, and vanillin, which the post office still smells of today. To read those letters takes me back to being 17, 18, and just past 19, almost like a negative space of a memory, since what I can read is usually in response to what I had said.

A moment when someone was giddy to see me. Someone who valued me as only young lovers do.

Among the things spoken of in those letters were typical teenaged worries. Getting into college. Trying out for the basketball team, pondering what the future held. Expressions of affection and brief flirtations with passionate moments between two kids on the verge of adulthood. In those times, phone calls were expensive and the distance we had to travel to see each other in person was prohibitive. You could send a ten page letter for $0.29 and keep that conversation forever. Well, half of the conversation anyway. A summer romance turned into a nearly four year relationship, which eventually ran its course. The letters stopped long before that, especially since we lived only about an hour apart for the last few years. Somehow that three week romance in person set the groundwork and we continued to grow together through our letters.

I never wrote my ex-wife letters. We met in college. We saw each other all the time. And as it goes with bad marriages, I don’t think we ever really communicated well. I can attest that we lacked the intimacy that those letters provided in my past. Maybe one of us had a set impression on who they wanted the other to be. We didn’t grow together. We could only grow apart. Funny how that happens between two people. Actually it isn’t funny at all. It’s tragic. Telling.

So, after my divorce, I dusted off that romantic part of my heart that had either been unappreciated or unused. It’s hard to tell which. I dated a woman for a few years. But she stopped reading my letters, saying they were “too personal” as though she were reading my diary or something. The idea of something so personal made her cringe. And when things fell apart, which they sometimes do between people, I saw that my letters were not the same as that first love. Oftentimes, they were discussions on what was going wrong, which were never answered.

As you continue to grow, people come and go from your life. You meet, sometimes fall in love, and sometimes realize that you weren’t as compatible as you thought. The next relationship was better than the one before it, but a red flag was that the few letters I wrote to her, she only finished reading one or two. Over the years my handwriting has gotten bad. Arthritis and took much typing have turned an already difficult work of penmanship into something arcane and almost illegible. In the end, she couldn’t be bothered to finish reading them. And not to be one to keep track of affection–which I dislike–but I never got one back either.

Talk about throwing your heart to the wind.

I like writing letters because the words come together as a permanent stain of ink on paper. There is no deleting what was said at the moment. A hard drive can’t be dumped. You can carry it around with you all the time until the paper loses its scent and every word is etched into your memory, or you can keep it in a box that never needs updating or a subscription to keep. You have those words forever. Maybe your children or grandchildren have those words. The double edged sword is that a letter you write when you are sad also stays on the page forever, unlike a text which will just scroll away into obscurity. On those pages are heartache and tear stains.

I’ve had those too.

I used to work with an old rancher who corresponded with the likes of JFK and Johnny Unitas and many others. He told me the key to writing a letter was to just put the words down like you were having a conversation with someone sitting across the table from you. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I got my Eagle Scout award. He held true to his word. It was like he was just saying what he thought. The meaning was clear and concise. Sparse and ommitting anything unnecessary to weigh it down. I lost that letter in my divorce, but I can still see the way his words had found themselves on the page in my memory. He had such hopes for seventeen year old me, just starting out in life.

I don’t read the old letters anymore, because I have outgrown them like an old favorite sweatshirt or pair of boots. I’m in my forties now and ready to make new memories and have new adventures. Reading those letters to my old self feels a little too much like intruding on someone else’s life. I wish him the best, since he eventually grows up to be me. I’ll give him his privacy now.

Maybe I just keep too much old junk around the house.

But unlike typing something out or thumbing it through as a text in messenger, when you take the time to find a pen and paper and put words down, trying to write them as carefully as you can so that the person receiving them can read what you said, and doing it in such a way that your thoughts have to be linear enough to convey meaning–because there’s no cut and paste function in a spiral notebook–that carries weight. It has meaning. It’s about as close to a magic spell as any of us will get.

Or maybe I’m just an anachronism. I’d rather begin my message to someone I care about with “Dear…” than “Hey, you up?” And just maybe you’ll find that out of all the methods of expression that have fallen out of favor over the years in preference to instant gratification, there are just a few romantic souls out there who cannot wait to rip open that envelope and see what is waiting for them inside. And sometimes the scariest thing about getting a letter back is the anticipation of what the other person will say. Good or bad. There’s powerful magic in that too.

Bona Fiscalia

The first time I heard this expression was when I saw Katee Sackhoff at a convention. She had just finished her role as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica and people were asking her about her tattoos. One of them she described with a hitch in her voice which implied that it was extremely personal and telling. She told of the tattoo which said, “Bona Fiscalia.” Public Property.

In being in the public view, she said, she had a responsibility to being an example to others, good or bad, whether she wanted to be or not.

The reason I bring this up is because my writing here, as well as my travel site have the disadvantage of giving people an idea of who I am. By now, anybody should know that the art doesn’t necessarily embody the artist. But my words on my blogs are continually used to represent me, arm-chair psychoanalize, and are constantly being used out of context against me.

If you have read a blog, you need to understand that this is not a diary. This is a narrative. This is storytelling. In much the same way that JRR Tolkien wrote about hobbits and dragons or Stephen King writes about murderers and the supernatural. I wonder if today, people who cannot distinguish a story from reality should really be allowed to walk the streets unsupervised.

Yet this keeps coming back to bite me in the ass. Writing is therapuedic–if anything just to make sense of the world–but in many of the things I write, I am also telling a story. A story, which I hope resonnates with someone else who has had similar experiences. Because one of the things about the human condition is that we are social animals. I know that when I have gone through some of my hardest times, it would have just been nice to have read someone else’s story and know that I wasn’t alone. That someone else had gone through hell too.

That, my dear readers, is how we got literature in the first place. It’s also what made freedom of speech the First Amendment of our constitution. Freedom of expression is crucial to liberty. Not only on the large scale with government, but also in our interpersonal relationships.

So for anyone to think that by cherry picking what I write here or anywhere else is some shortcut into my true thoughts and beliefs, they need to take a fucking literature class or something. I am becoming more and more aware that my life, everytime I write about it, or an analog of my experiences, or just flat out create content comes under scrutiny. Especially by those who are incapable of divorcing literal meaning from a story, or just accepting that I’m not always going to agree with them. What I write has no more reflection on my mental state than Stephen King’s or Jo Rowling’s does. If anyone thinks I have delusions of grandeur in comparing myself with these authors, let me state that I picked two examples I think just about everyone has heard of. Because those who lose the tone on these might not know what a book is if I got any more obscure in listing authors.

These are the same kinds of people who try to cash in expired coupons and demand to speak to the manager. These are the same kinds of people who text in theatres. Cut others off in traffic. Kick puppies when people aren’t looking. The same kind of people who only shop at Trader Joes and ask if the coffee beans at Starbucks were humanely sourced.

So I can either stop writing…which for a writer is actually awful for their mental health. Not to mention pretty much against my rights to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Or I can ignore them and continue to write, even when someone squawks or completely misses the point of something that I have written. Both suck. Because for some reason people just can’t keep scrolling if they don’t like something I have said. Instead, they fixate on it and obsess over it. Honestly, I would block them from reading it if I could, because it doesn’t sound healthy.

Just a reminder. Katee Sackhoff isn’t really a spaceship pilot, there aren’t clowns in the sewers who turn into big spiders, nobody is going to send an owl to your kid to recruit him for wizard school, and even though I live in a small town in the mountains, I can assure you it is better than any city I have lived in, which have been choked with crime, where homeless people live in the parks, and you can check a website to see what sex offenders have been registered on your block.

For now, I guess I’m just public property.