Happiness in a New Normal World

“It’s all good.”

Why does everyone keep saying that when I know good and damn well it isn’t all good? I remember when hippies used to say it in their tie-dye and drug-rugs, baked to the gills and it meant something different back then. It meant they were so high that nothing was going to bring them down. It was a Zen state back then. Now it has become the Diet Coke of my least favorite expression:

“It is what it is.”

I hate that expression. Fucking hate it. Why is that? Because two kinds of people use it.

  • Someone who has given up and resigned themselves to their fate of being miserable.
  • Someone who already has everything they want and they aren’t sharing.

Even though Dylan Thomas was a complete prick, he had one thing right.

“Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas

We waste so much of our lives saying things like we are “surviving” or “tomorrow I’ll do X” or just biding our time until the Big Black Car comes to pick us up one last time. Or waiting for things to improve. There isn’t tomorrow. There is only today, what we do right now. Whether it is laugh or cry or work our asses off, tomorrow does not come with a guarantee and for whatever reason even though we are living in times when people are dying all around us from an engineered cold, we still just keep grinding.

Why can’t we just be happy? Why don’t we just do whatever the hell fills our tanks?

Right now we are living in a time when people should realize that a big chunk of what we do can be done differently. People could work at home instead of fighting rush hour traffic. They could be comfortable. They don’t need some Overseer staring down at them in a cubicle maze. They don’t need to feel the stress and frustration of the day to know that they have earned their paycheck.

I did that shit for over twenty years. At the end of my job, my bloated waddling supervisor acted like I did nothing, and what I did was never good enough. My pay never changed, but they were happy to heap more responsibilities onto my list of duties. Things really got shaky when they wanted me to do training on some ridiculous LCD TV bulletin boards in the hallways. A university that was $10mil in debt every year decided we needed monitors in the halls to display things that were going on in the college. You know, like those corkboard thingies that had been there for 40 years did for free.

Not only did the refusal to pay me more for constantly updating that shit go against the standards I valued when I accepted the job, but blowing money on stupid shit while they were laying off 70+ people (myself included I would find out) seemed to go against any sort of logic.

So, I said, “No.”

The job was bullshit. So, on top of being exposed to asbestos, lead paint, no raises, inept leadership, gaslighting, watching administrators and faculty flaunt their wealth (and cry about it), I knew that place was just polishing brass on the titanic. Why did I stay?

It was a comfort zone.

“It is what it is.”

Right now, being self-employed scares the absolute shit out of me. I don’t know when my next paycheck is coming. I have to push myself every day to create content, to pitch, and then there is the frustration of knowing that almost nobody is going to respond. So, yes, I’m hemorraging money, trying to build something for myself. I’m taking advantage of this “New Normal” because working from home is suddenly on the table for a lot of us.

I hate that when I pitch an article to a magazine, or I query a venue to ask them if I can write about what they have going on, not only is there rejection, but more often than not (about 95% of it) there isn’t even a response. I can’t help but wonder what they hell they are doing over there at their job when they can’t even respond?

But you know what I hated more? Having someone drop a steaming pile of bullshit on my desk, tell me it’s all my fault, and then flounce off to go jabber about some show on TV or talk with the other mucky-mucks about their last trip to Thailand. Or complaining about how expensive something is when they make four times what I did.

So many of my friends (and believe me, it’s a decent number of them) are struggling right now and are absolutely miserable in their jobs. It’s the constant influx of bullshit they are dealing with. They aren’t respected. They are taken for granted. And because everyone has bills to pay, they don’t have a lot of choice on what else they can do. It’s the return of the Company Store.

Well, there is always a choice. I had a choice at UNC, but it offered stability in exchange for just suffering through asshattery. Along with the promise of hemorrhoids and ulcers and constant stess and stiff necks and weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart problems and knowing that you are a parent who has provided for others and kept them alive and somehow some fuck who couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with instructions written on the heel comes in and degrades you for not doing a good job were just a small price to pay for stability. Taking that every day or scaring the hell out of myself with doing something else was my “It is what it is” moment. Until they laid a bunch of us off and started paying new people half of what we were making.

We need to be better.

Our leaders are no longer leaders. They are nitwits living in positions of privilege. The metric of their leadership is putting their employees on blast and not even knowing what they do. Our “essential” employees are burning out. Most of them could quit and get a job at McDonalds for better pay. We are working for other people who aren’t even paying us enough for a decent funeral, which most of us will have to call in sick to have ourselves buried when the time comes.

But here’s the thing. My “job” right now doesn’t pay a lot. And sometimes I have to remind myself (and my family) that I’m not unemployed. I’m just not punching a clock and getting regular checks. But I am self-employed. And I am trying. And I am struggling–mostly with just finding a rhythm. And when everytime I turn around and somebody wants another $1000 and I watch my savings evaporate, yes, it would make sense to chuck this dream. But that’s a lot like running a marathon and getting to the halfway point and turning back because it’s so hard. You might as well keep running the race.

I have something right now that 20 years at a university NEVER gave me: Fulfillment.

If I’m going to have crippling and anxiety and fear, I might as well have it because of something I want to do, instead of being afraid someone is going to come around and fire me on a whim.

So, I might starve. But I might also get everything I ever wanted in life too. It’s all good.

Why can’t we be happy?

That’s just the thing. We can. Keep fighting. Keep striving. Keep going. Fuck the haters. Get out of your own way and fly.

You want happiness? Reach out and TAKE IT.

Emotional and stuff

I just finished writing a very emotional chapter and decided I needed to decompress here a little bit, so I’m going to talk about that.

Writing is more than just characters and plot and pretty language. Sometimes you have to dig really deep inside yourself and pull something out of that murky well of your heart. With this project I have felt that a number of times. Tonight was such a night.

It can leave you feeling unsteady. It can make you feel like you’ve been hollowed out or it can bring up with it a whole bunch of other feelings. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but it’s all a process. It allows you to put your mind in different scenarios and based on the personalities of the characters the outcome may vary.

Most of today I did things around the house that needed to be done. I weatherized the windows for winter, I did dishes, cooked, and a few other things got done that I had been putting off. I didn’t expect to sit down and write a scene really, but I did. Luckily it was short. Sometimes I have those on the agenda, when I can just sit down and work something out that has been on my mind.

Tomorrow is a chapter that encompasses a lot more time. It will require more planning and structure and probably not as deep a well to dip into for the same type of emotion this scene required. This scene really needed to pull at the heart strings. Tomorrow, hopefully, won’t be as deep.

So, for the rest of tonight, I’m going to read and decompress. The scene is done and I’m giving myself the rest of the night off.

Free Advice

Tonight I’m feel a little bit exhausted. I can feel my buckets are getting empty again. This happened last weekend too. I’m learning to not feel guilty about it. Today was a hard chapter to write about. It had a lot to do about anger.

I’m going to take the wayback machine and explain it a little bit.

When I was married, the house was always loud. Someone was always fighting, the TV was always blasting, and someone always had to be outraged about something. I had actually been told more than a few times that I wasn’t “angry enough” about something. So, like getting stuck in the mud, I would back up a little bit and get another run at it. Plowing right through some kind of berm of humanity and right into irate assholiness.

I hated living like that. So, when I was first out on my own, in spite of all the divorce drama, I worked hard to not be angry. You see, when you are angry, it’s a cheap source of energy. For quiet nights like tonight when I’m just a little quiet, anger is like those pills they sell at truck stops to keep the truckers awake. It gives you energy, but it is also killing you.

Anger gives you a cortisol drip, which triggers your fight or flight reaction. So, whether it was fighting each other, fighting the kids to eat their food, or fighting with random strangers in the store who looked at my ex “weird” I had a constant fuel that seemed to have no limit.

Nowadays, I just worry. It’s the same result. It gives you energy, but that anxiety will kill you eventually. There’s a lot of things I cannot fix. And a pro-tip, all that worrying won’t fix anything. But it gives you energy. As it kills you.

It’s the same drug really. Cortisol. Cortisol also causes you to gain weight (and I’ve heard that a reason for this is fatty and carby foods help regulate it by triggering a comfort response).

I gave up anger. Do I get angry? Sure. It’s a human emotion and last time I checked, I’m still not a robot. But I work through it. But it’s this worrying thing that has been dominating my life for a little while, and anyone who reads my posts probably figures “Yeah, it’s understandable why he might be worrying a lot.”

Thing is, I’m sick of it. And I’m sick of filling my buckets with high-test cortisol just to keep pushing forward. Last weekend, I disconnected from contact with everyone for a couple days. It bothered a few people and in turn they worried about me, or thought I was mad at them or pushing them away. I wasn’t. I was just spent, and I knew that I wasn’t any good to anyone feeling the way I did. Sometimes you have to know your limitations and take some time for yourself.

I often pester a friend of mine about self-care and I know I sound like a jackass whenever I bring it up. But I only mention it because I am awful at self-care, and like many aspects of my life, I love giving advice, but I seldom take my own. Dropping off the grid, for me, was self-care. Taking a step back from everything was self-care. And yes, I did take a whole day to go get coffee at Dutch Bros. Twice.

This same friend has often told me that they aren’t going to get mad at me for dropping off when they know they haven’t done anything to cause it. That is reassuring and much appreciated. Because I think so many of us are wrapped up in each other’s business sometimes that it makes it difficult to just disconnect. I think getting your head together and regrouping is important, but because we all live in each other’s phones anymore, it has changed that dynamic.

Today, I wrote a hard chapter about anger and the past, and I got a phone call from a buddy of mine who was just worrying about the same stuff they have been worried about for the last two weeks. I hit a point where I was like–okay, I’m going to disconnect for a little bit again. Because I just ran out of evens. I can’t even. So, I cut the call short.

I’m working on the book, trying to figure out this whole travel writing thing, the court stuff with my son, working on sorting out my life over my recent stress overload for the last couple of months–and trying to be a better friend/man/son/dogdad/dad/etc. It’s not easy.

But instead of worrying about it (which made sooooo many things worse in recent events) I’m just going to do what I did with anger. Take a deep breath and step away from it. Look at things from another perspective, and then respond instead of react.

Recently I watched a video about people with something called “anxious attachment disorder”. There are lots of things to pay attention to when they resonate with how you have been in the past–maybe not even the past. One of the key features of this are when people need constant reassurance. But here’s the kicker. As you work towards “secure attachment” no amount of reassurance is going to be enough. What is feeding your anxious attachment disorder is that you have allowed anxiety to become part of your personality. Even hard-wired that shit. So it becomes as much a part of you as your favorite color or which hand you brush your teeth with. Being aware of it, at least gives you the advantage of saying “bitch be cool” to yourself.

And when you realize you are riding that wave of anxiety because everything feels like it is coming apart at the seams and you just don’t have the energy, you can also see that you are like Marshall, Will, and Holly on a routine expedition. About to go over that waterfall into the Land of the Lost.

So, the problem with giving others free advice you should be taking yourself is you get what you pay for. It’s easy for me to spout some crap to someone when they are struggling, but if I don’t take my own advice, it’s not really worth anything is it?

So, I’m going to work on filling the buckets. Today I wrote. I cooked French onion soup. I visited with a few good friends, (and I didn’t dwell on my problems in the process). And I threw the tennis ball for the dog for about twenty minutes. I worked on not worrying so much, and I can already feel my buckets filling back up.