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.

Stress and the inconvenience of being a writer

In the last few days, things have become increasingly stressful. Sometimes life throws a curve ball–or fifteen–at you. As a long-time overthinker I have put that character trait to work by allowing myself to get the overthinking down as writing. The big problem with that, however, is writing is no longer optional. In order to wrap my brain around things, I have to put these thoughts down onto the page.

There are times when talking to someone else about things would be wonderful. This is what you get out of therapy, when someone else can see things through a different lens and offer their thoughts that aren’t boxed in by your own perceptions. Sometimes talking to friends helps, but friends don’t (and shouldn’t) want to spend all the time an overthinker needs to spend on a problem. They have their own problems, or after a while they just become exhausted by what is going on in your life. Sometimes I think of how great it would be to have a cooler older brother or sister to chat with. Someone who has their life together and can just floor you with a simple solution that works to fix everything.

But life isn’t like it is in the movies. You don’t go through two acts and have Robin Williams show up and say “It’s not your fault, chief,” and everything is suddenly better. This is another reason to get the words down. You can be your own Robin Williams. And you don’t have to put the heavy burden of being your Robin Williams onto those you care about.

Writing things down can help you make things linear which are difficult to make sense of, given a general mosaic of chaos. You can go through everything one step at a time and fight your battles in succession, rather than facing an entire angry mob of emotions. You can even come back to them after the storms have passed and remind yourself that even though it felt like the world was coming apart at the seams, you survived and those challenges which seemed so insurmountable then would not be so hard now.

Ås for the good things, I enjoy writing about those too. Putting those thoughts and feelings down on paper allow you to step back in time and always have that memory with you. The scents, the way the light was falling on a hillside, the wind, the rain, the roar of a crowd, or the hum of tires on the road. Whatever you decide to put in that stew of memories will bring about all sorts of levels of flavor later on in ways you never imagined.

Anyway, even writing these thoughts down has helped and now maybe they will let me do something else with my talents, which until now I have been too rattled to focus on for very long. It’s always something, so they say. Right now I have a lot of challenges ahead of me and it’s hard to see what lies over the next hill or turn of the road. All I can do now is to continue driving ahead, moving forward.

Let’s see how this all works out.

Stuff that bothers me

As I get older I’ve noticed that there are things that bother me enough to where I would just rather not do.

Running

Nope. I had to chase my dog the other day. I can still run. I have had to chase my kids down the street once in a while, and the dog learned just how fast an old man can be on a gravel road while wearing boots. But the next two days after that I could hardly walk. People who run or jog or do marathons voluntarily have my respect, but I think I’d rather walk to my car or bike and greet them at the finish line with a frosty beverage.

Getting my shoes wet

I went fishing yesterday with my son and the dog. They happily splashed around in creeks and rivers and me…I was happy to not have to bend over to take my shoes off, much less just wade in with them. Nothing irritates me more in middle-age than wet socks, or putting dirty, wet feet into dry socks. I just watched them and chucked the line into the river. You know? Fishing?

Talking to people on the phone

Texting has spoiled me. As a writer, I get to put my best method of communication to work in daily conversation (at least when autocorrect isn’t having its way with my words). There are about four people on this planet I don’t mind talking to on the phone. About half of them I actually like video chatting with. But I think years of customer service, tech support, and front desk work have burned me out on the phone. If you need me, text me. I’d rather decipher smoke signals than talk on the phone most days.

Commercials

I haven’t had cable TV in seven years. Whenever I’m at a friends house or at my parents’, I am invariably stuck in front of the TV at some point. For a 22 minute show, there are eight minutes of commercials scattered throughout. And somehow it’s always the same things. Medicine that won’t* give you gills. Laundry soap (by now, everyone should probably just pick from either Tide or whatever else is in the store). Cars nobody can afford. Cell phone plans (which are all the same, right now we are just going Team Lily or whoever else is shilling the same service). Or tortilla chips for some weird reason.

  • *same as sugar pill. Consult your doctor if a long, long list of side effects occur, in spite of the people in the commerical living their best lives.

Traffic

I just despise traffic. Stop lights. Train crossings. People who won’t turn right on a red. Left lane cruisers. Campers driving in long convoys at ten miles an hour under the speed limit because for some reason you have to have a full medical checkup, a Commercial Driver’s Licence, and hours of training to drive a truck or school bus but they will let just anybody buy a literal HOUSE on three axles and pull it behind a diesel pickup truck all over the country. These people are a danger to themselves and others. Also, they are too proud to pull over and let people pass for any reason. If the apocalypse comes, you can count on entire highways being choked to a standstill by these jackwaggons trying to have a pissing contest with each other on a three lane interstate as the radioactive ash blankets all of us just trying to get to safety.

Waiting on other people

A big reason I just go and do things myself is because most people are so wishy-washy about making plans. 9/10 people flake on everything. So, I just don’t ask anymore. If I want to do something, I just do it. No coordinating plans. None of that. I just freakin’ go.