Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving and it is always a mixed bag of emotions for me. I’m going to use the wayback machine on this one. It’s all personal stories, so keep scrolling if not interested.

Back when I was a kid, a rift in the extended family meant that people chose sides. My aunt is a true narcissist and when her marriage ended, she demanded complete fealty to her without question. As she proceeded to sleep around with half the men (and a good number of high school boys) in town, every whim and indulgence was afforded to her at the expense of anyone whose life she touched. Especially her family. In just a year, she went from being the holiday dictator and this forced Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving at her house to my mom and dad and me spending the holiday with just ourselves. Cast out, as it were. She was good at talking shit about her ex-husband, and as a result, her boys lost their dad. And really, the whole rest of the family melted down too. Things have never improved.

My family is odd. We eat Thanksgiving dinner at 11am. Yes. You read that right. That is to say that’s how my folks do things. I do not. I’m still trying to find out my own way. As my life continues, post-divorce, I don’t really know what I do anymore. Usually I’m along for the ride. A third wheel with friends, or dragging the kids with me to dinner with the grandparents. And sometimes the police drop in if the baby-mama decides to call a welfare check in the middle of dinner (this has happened twice).

Because my family growing up was pretty much stuck with themselves, as the only kid around while all my other friends had the day off, I had to respect that they were all doing things with their own families. Which also meant they were having Thanksgiving Dinner at a time probably much later in the afternoon. If not the evening. Long story short, it was a lonely day.

When I was married, I did much of the cooking, including brining and babysitting a giant turkey in a 5 gallon bucket overnight (checking on it hourly to make sure it was at a temperature that wouldn’t kill us–because germs! *clutches pearls*) and for whatever reason we invited both sides of the family over. Because my former BIL always worked and my parents’ fixation with eating dinner before noon, we compromised and tried to hit the 1 o’clock mark so everyone could inhale the dinner we had worked our asses off to make and be out the door before it got dark. Like 8-9 hours to prepare (I’m not kidding–I would start cooking at 6am) and about twenty minutes to inhale.

In those days, every Thanksgiving came with its share of drama. Nieces and nephews, grandparents, our kids, freaking dogs all over the place–complete chaos. And once it was done and the piles of our nice china were collected (and for some reason I was the only one trusted to wash them all) the cleanup began. Then my ex-wife would attack the Black Friday sales on her own later that night while I stayed home with the kids. Or sometimes I would have to stand in line to get that PS3 or whatever other garbage nobody needed because it was on sale.

I never felt like I was a apart of the Holidays, other than what I was being used for to make them happen. In a way, I wasn’t much different than that turkey.

I went from a lonely Thanksgiving growing up to this clusterfuck of epic proportions. I went from wanting family around and then missing that connection to just wishing I could take a vacation someplace on my own. The other day, a friend of mine told me about how she just wants the big turkey and the family dinner and how in all the years she’s been married, she’s only been able to do that once. I can’t remember how many turkeys I’ve roasted over the years. I feel like we could benefit from a Freaky Friday on this one.

However, Thanksgiving became something else for me. A sore spot in my own life. And I wish I could say things have gotten any better. Well, I guess in some ways they have. Mostly my attitude.

The first Thanksgiving after I filed for divorce introduced my kids to the house where I had moved. They played on the playground behind my house, but they were still so spooky. I got them for half the day. My parents got to meet these new spooky kids who mistrusted everyone (because they were told to). I was so happy to have them back with me again after having not seen them for 24 days. But they had changed. And not in good ways. The holidays are hard for my kids. And for me, there has always been the push-pull of trying to placate everyone or make everyone happy. The peacemaker who knows no peace.

We have had to split Thanksgiving since then, making it a real pain in the butt holiday. It’s a weird, goofy schedule I have to look at every year. This year was different. My two oldest live with their mom. I haven’t seen them in years. My youngest is wrapped up in a court dispute right now, and wouldn’t you know it, the court made no provisions for birthdays, holidays, or Thanksgiving. So, I won’t even be hearing from him today. I’ve seen him in person twice in five months–that 24 days is nothing compared to this.

I miss my kids. I miss my family. Yet again, the will of one person has a ripple effect and history repeats itself. And who suffers? Who gets to see that this is “normal” for adults to do this?

So, today, I feel that solitude like I did back when I was growing up. I ate dinner at 11 this morning with my mom and dad. I was back home again by 12:30pm and knowing that everyone else was busy making dinner for their families, going over to friends, or just doing their thing, I took a nap for a couple hours. This year wasn’t the worst Thanksgiving though. Even if we were short a couple table settings for those who couldn’t be with us.

I had years where being surrounded by family made me feel more lonely than just being in a house and listening to music on my own or playing fetch with the dog. Those years made me want to scream and cry and walk out the door and never look back. But you know in our society, it is anathema to even speak like that. (Men don’t have real feelings).

Right now, I know my son is thinking about me. He’s a great kid, and stronger than any eleven year old ought to be.

As opposed to kicking rocks on my own as a kid, I’m just here in my own skin. I’m thinking of how I would like to build my own tradition. This year was such a weird, up in the air kind of thing, with court and all that I didn’t get to make plans. I’d love to do something different. Try lots of things that are different. Maybe instead of the traditional dinner and such, my thing will be to never have it be the same every year.

I am thankful for many things. Having a roof over my head. Getting to work towards my dream of writing full time. Reconnections. Grace and Patience from others. Having newfound faith in things working out with my son. Getting to live in such a beautiful place. Sharing time with my mom and dad. And of course Penny. Getting to learn new skills like carpentry and kimchi making. Establishing boundaries and enforcing them. The memories that keep me company of good times and great people. Finding strength to ask for help, and being a friend to others who are struggling sometimes. I’m thankful for my health. Thankful for having less debt than I ever have. Thankful for that cold blast of air that hits me in the face every morning I step outside. I’m thankful for surviving and now it’s time to show my thanks and start thriving.

So, while everyone is cooking like crazy, watching football, or slipping into a turkey coma, I’m going to put my butt in the chair and write.

Happy Thanksgiving! Always be thankful for what you have.

What they Don’t Tell You About Writing

As a writer, a lot of what we source is from our life’s experiences, people we have met, and the rest is about 90% what we know about ourselves. In the process of writing my book, I have had to dig deep. Sometimes my therapist recommends I take a couple days off. Tonight, I am watching Last Night In Soho and enjoying the quiet of an empty house. Other than a begging yellow lab who asks for more stuff than a toddler ever would. This is in an attempt to decompress.

I wrote a 2500 word scene. It only took about an hour. The idea came to me as so many often do–while standing in the shower for an afternoon reset, just thinking. I had a kernel of an idea that began to germinate and as I was writing it down, it grew and bloomed into a full-on catharsis.

Jeez, those can be painfull.

Sometimes you uncover something about yourself you don’t particularly like. Writing is not for the faint of heart. It might have been what a psychologist would have called a “breakthrough.” It was a rough one too. Probably my most toxic trait, laid bare before me, staring right back at me from the page. They are right when they say if you stare into the void, the void stares back. In this case, I had a moment where I felt like I was the hero who had lived long enough to become the villain.

Blaming others for this is…was, something I had relied on. And now I can’t. I have to own it. What do I do with it? For about 90% of what has happened in my life as a result (either direct or indirect) of this…trait? Flaw? I don’t know what to call it yet…it’s probably too late to do anything about it. Other than try to be better. Make a good boundary for myself. Try to not let it direct my actions anymore. Yes, it’s that big of a thing.

Dug out of my psyche like a cavity with a dentist’s drill. Fuck.

But hey, at least I recognize it. It’s not even something I can beat myself up over either. It’s just something to recognize and work on. It’s a lot like when you are walking down a hallway and you realize the squeaky shoe has been you the whole time.

So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Cheap

Some of my saddest choices in life have been due to being cheap. It was a quality I was taught at an early age. When Star Wars toys came out, my dad figured that cheaper and in bulk was better. So instead of some Kenner action figures, I got Lazer Force toys, which were vaguely similar.

TimMee Galaxy Laser Team SPACE Figures: Red vs Orange 50pc Set - Made –  TimMeeUSA
These are not the Star Wars toys you are looking for.

This continued on throughout my growing up, with the knockoff brand or something sorta close to what I wanted being good enough for me. Unfortunately, I used this as the gold standard. Or really the 10k gold standard. I hoarded my money, I short-changed myself. Shoes. Clothes. Appliances. Etc. There is a good reason sometimes why name brands cost a little bit more. Sure you are paying for a name, but you are also paying for something that lasts a hell of a lot longer too.

Terry Pratchett had a neat way of explaining this.

Ciara | Ciaraíoch 🎨 on Twitter: "Every time the weather gets this wet and  cold, I think of Terry Pratchett's quote about good boots, how the rich  stay rich, and the poor

Sometimes paying a little bit more makes sense. Unless you are dealing with kids who will outgrow, lose, or wear out anything short of titanium. Then, cheaper is a little bit better.

One of my regrets in life has been holding onto money with a tight fist. When you are involved in the courts, you realize just how quickly other people can spend your money. And come back asking for more, like Oliver Twist in a soup kitchen.

Due to my growing up, I have had an aversion to spending money. And when I was married, we never had any. We were constantly short shifting the utility companies so that we could go have fun money or buy or replace something. Shoes, clothes, eating out a ton, that kind of thing. When I was in college, I was a cheap bastard too. I don’t know what I was saving up for, because it was all gone shortly after I got married. One of my regrets in that time of my life was instead of stacking up my nickles and dimes, I should have gone on a few trips. When I was young and stupid, I wish I had seen more of the world instead of thinking college prepared me for any of it. You cannot lose experiences in divorce court.

I couldn’t put a price on a day like that one.

And yes, I do talk about that kind of thing a lot here, but mostly because I hope that anyone reading it either can relate and knows they aren’t alone, or it will be somewhat cautionary for them.

I dated a woman for a while who introduced me to her family. It was a table of ten or twelve people and she, her sister, and her parents basically did a Rock Paper Scissors over who would pay the bill. At that moment in my life, I should have known that I was not going to last long in that situation because I probably would never get to the point where I could just pick up the tab for dinner for a dozen people. And back then, the idea of even offering to do so made me a little nauseous to be honest.

I’m working on being more generous, because the times I have let myself be generous, I have genuinely felt good about it. I have a buddy who is very generous. He calls himself an idiot or bleeding heart half of the time too, but he gives without expecting reciprocity. That was not something I ever saw growing up or when I was married. The funny thing is that when he shows his generosity, it is infectious. I lower my defenses too and think “Hell, if he can do something like that, why can’t I?” He might not even know that by helping others, he is encouraging people like me to also be generous.

I dated a woman who used to tip well and once in a while she would pick up the tab for the car behind us when we got coffee. Sometimes there is nothing that makes somebody’s day better than someone else paying for your coffee. It’s like a bucket of ice water in the face of a shitty day.

I’m not writing this to virtue signal. I’m writing it because I know I can do better. I actually struggle internally with did I give enough and did I give too much? A lot of the time I am frozen and I don’t give at all. I often regret that. It isn’t just money either, but time.

Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking who have reached the last years of their lives and they are holding onto a professional position. I have heard of a doctor who retired at around 80 years old and opened up a store where he is selling off things he has collected over the years. I say good for him. And I also used to work with a man who is around the same age who will probably be wheeled out of his office feet first. Why? Why not enjoy the few years you have in life instead of giving them to a company that won’t even put your name on a brass plaque for giving them the best years of your life?

That isn’t being generous with your time. Time is really the only thing we get in life, and we have to rent that.

Yes, there are days I am terrified over how I will make a living with writing. I could give up these pretentious things and just punch the clock.

It’s hard to keep going with a dream when you are walking that razor’s edge between doing what you should do and what calls you. Somewhere in the middle with that is generosity. Not only with others, but also giving yourself the credit that things are scary, but you are going to be okay. One way or the other.

It was fear that kept me from not being cheap for so many years. I’ve seen people die with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, cutting their pills in half, fretting that there wouldn’t be enough for their kids or church or whatever to inheirit. Their kids were for the most part ungrateful little shits who didn’t even care when they were gone. They blew what they inheirited on stuff.

We get this one life. We should try to make the best of it. Sometimes that means sharing. We shouldn’t look in someone else’s bowl to see what they’ve got that we don’t, we should look in their bowls to see if they have enough.

At the end, all the extra money we get to keep just pays for an upgrade to our caskets. We wind up in the same place anyway.

Jeez, I hope this didn’t get too morbid.