Meditations

Recently I was reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Talk about the definition of you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. He had so much stuff figured out over 1800 years ago. We’ve had these books he wrote forever and yet…

There were many passages that resonated with me. I liked the one about living in the past.

No one can lose either the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess? … It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have.

–Marcus Aurelius

Yeah, I know the stoics are getting a lot of traction these days, especially with men. But I think that is because they are some wise words that are needed in some crazy times. Men aren’t taught to be men anymore. Maybe they haven’t been for a while. When I think of a man, I think more of Atticus Finch than I do some guy with truck nuts on his lifted square body Chevy. People who set about doing what needs to be done, using their brains instead of beating their chests. I grew up in a place that was very man’s man oriented. Mostly these men worked a hard job, came home, sat on the couch and told everyone not to bother them, and fell asleep in their underwear watching TV. On the weekends, they would stand around and drink Bud Light with their pals and worry about whether or not their sons were “queer.”

The women in my town also worked. Then they ran their homes. Took care of the kids. And someplace in the middle, usually one would cheat on the other and they would all pair up with somebody else at the bar. It’s a small town. You have to be civil, since you are definitely going to wind up having to be around one or several exes.

People in all sorts of places I have lived have just always found a way to fall into drama. They are always fighting with someone, screwing somebody over, hurting themselves or each other. People feel an obligation to make each other’s lives hell, and I can’t figure out why.

I can’t figure out why whenever I do something that makes me happy, like go on a trip or do something for myself, I’m expected to feel guilty about it. Like that isn’t for me. It’s for anybody else but me. I no longer subscribe to that kind of silliness.

I am the person I am. I am not the culmination of the bullshit I have endured in my life, but I have been tempered by it. These days I do what I want and honestly, I haven’t found it any harder than doing what was expected of me. I don’t have a great history with doing what was expected of me. There are so many billiion of us on the planet, with most of us subscribing to some sort of social construct. In America, you might be familiar with: Choose life…

Go to school, get good grades, get into college, get into a relationship, find a job, get married, have kids, take a vacation once every year or so, save money for retirement, spend a day a week catching up with friends (usually drinking), get divorced, go wild for a bit, experiment with alternative lifestyles/get really into church, go back to school, remarry (usually without doing anything to fix yourself), get divorced again/or just compare your first spouse with your current one forever, wear socks with sandals, wear matching jogging suits with your second spouse. Have some sort of surgery that limits your mobility. Live vicariously through your children who are doing nearly exactly what you did. Get frail. Wish you had done more when you were young. Die.

See how easy that is?

Well, I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. I chose peace.

Which sounds great, but I still have to eat. I still scramble each month to meet my financial obligations, and I still have rough days like today.

This morning started off at 7am. I got up, noticing the light outside was nice. I loaded Penny up in the car and started driving. We stopped along the road to Steamboat several times to take pictures. I’m working on building my portfolio, but the thing I keep running into is it seems like that sort of work is part of a tightly knit network of people who don’t want anybody else in the treehouse with them. I am struggling with knowing how to break into it all. Some days I think about giving up. But the work feels good. I was happy to be up this morning early to work.

The writing has stalled briefly. The paid work has overshadowed it just a little and though I just want a day to sit down and edit and work on my book, I keep wondering what the point is in all of it. I post cool stuff on social media that only a handful of people see. I write things on my blog that even fewer people read.

Who is going to read my books?

Maybe I should quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock?

But one thing I do always remind myself is a bad day of writing is better than the best day at a day job working for someone who would replace you within two weeks of your death. Within a year, nobody would even know you sat in that chair for fifteen years. Watching your life tick tick away on that clock on the wall.

No thank you.

Some days I just have to give myself a little grace and know that I’m working. Maybe my rewards are just further down the line. I can only control what is happening now, and I shouldn’t worry about the future, and I shouldn’t be saddened by the past.

Here are some shots I took today. I’d like to think my photography is getting better.

Things I have learned

Twenty-five years ago, I was a different person. At the age of 21 you are just in the process of figuring out who you are. 21 year olds are stupid, green. They seem so sure of themselves, but they really aren’t. More times than we would like to admit, at that phase of our adulthood, we are still running on autopilot of what our parents, or usually our friends prepared us for. Our values come from our community, our peers, our places of worship, and the books and movies and television we like and relate to. All of it is our care package that runs out pretty quickly when we are first on our own.

We begin to experiment with things. Drugs. Sex. Religions. The things we read. Some of us might go through a phase where we only listen to indie rock or watch foreign films. Thank goodness for getting that our of our systems pretty quick. In the middle of this experimentation phase, we often think we’ve got the code cracked. We’ve done what no other adult in the history of ever has done. We have solved the problem that has affected generations stretching back to the beginning of time. We know better.

Or we think we do well enough to partner up and reproduce.

There’s a thing called emotional maturity. Some of us are stuck at a certain age. Most adults we know are walking around in ageing bodies with a ten year old or a fifteen year old at the controls. Many uphappy relationships stem from the fact that one partner finds themselves raising the other.

I went through that phase too, mutually raising the other partner. The only reason it was “mutual” is because I dumbed myself down enough to need to be raised from time to time myself. Mostly because of fears. Like I said, it was mutual participation, so it became a contest as to who could be the most helpless sometimes. I hope that was as much of a phase as watching movies where mimes play tennis or death plays chess with someone.

We, as humans, are awfully good at putting each other in boxes. We recognize patterns and categorize accordingly. My ex used to say I was just like her father. Only that couldn’t have been further from the truth. She wanted me to be just like her father, and dragged me into that kicking and screaming. In the end, I considered it. It would have been easier to just step into someone else’s box.

I went to the dentist one time while I was married. It wound up being for a full-mouth debridement. They scraped 20 years of crud off my teeth. That was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Underneath, I had beautiful teeth. No cavities. Just some gums that needed some TLC. I had a hard time taking care of myself or putting myself first. Though my wife at the time went to the dentist, got new cell phones, drove the new cars, etc., I made sure she and the kids were taken care of first. If I didn’t, I heard about it. That also became a competition. She would say she was nearly blind and needed new glasses, when I was the one working. I needed glasses to work, but I had the same prescription since college.

When I finally left, I started dating someone who gave me a taste of being selfish. She told me I needed to see an eye doctor because one night when I went to her apartment to go for a walk, I nearly walked right past her. I couldn’t see her face in the dark. I got glasses and I could see again. Work was easier. Writing was easier. Driving…was much safer.

Later, I went in for a teeth cleaning and they found a cavity. My first. I was 40. The strange jump my life had taken from being 21 and just starting off at figuring out my life brought me back to 21. I mean in the meantime, I had worked regularly, was in the process of raising three kids, but I had not done some things for myself that many adults take for granted. I was terrified of getting a tooth filled.

The woman I was seeing told me to close my eyes and think of her holding my hand if I got scared. Then that was comforting. That someone cared. Someone had that kind of compassion. Someone wanted to take care of me for a change. I felt better. Today, I’m not the same. I’ve been catching up.

Back then, I had never gone anywhere on my own, much less booked a hotel room, plane tickets, bought a car from a dealership, or done much for myself. By myself. Nearly every experience was raw, new, and scared the shit out of me. I had been captive. I would say my wife had done all of those things, but she hadn’t. She had her mother book rooms and car rentals and plane tickets. Her mother was always center stage, from buying our house to our cars, and so much more. We were dependent on her, which meant whenever we wanted to do something different, we had to clear it with her, since she was the one doing all the leg work. She was the only one who was allowed to watch the kids. My ex was just as much at her mercy as I was.

The things I was good at were taking kids to the ER in the middle of the night. Taking care of sick kids. Fighting with my wife and trying to hold a marriage together for a very long time. I became very good at shutting down. At blowing things out of proportion to suit the narrative. Everyone else was bad. We were poor and always going to be that way. Everyone was always out to screw us over.

I’m learning now that your 40s get to be a new time in your life where you decide what your values are. It’s sad that for so many of us it takes this long. We finally give ourselves permission. The last several years has been trying to unlearn a lot of what I was taught wrong in my youth. Mostly by two young people who had a child together and were faking it themsleves. Living in a small town. Under the disapproval of family who had their minds made up about the world and our place in it. Like I said, this stuff goes back generations.

Some things still make me anxious, but not as much anymore. I figure it out. I like to problem solve. In my forties, I’m learning to worry less about what others think of you. Chances are if they’ve made that call already, it’s not your problem. It’s theirs. I’ve been held back from doing so many of the things I have wanted because I’ve been afraid of what other people might think. Every single one of us has done something new for the first time, and most of us have failed spectacularly at it. If we keep getting up and trying again, we usually get better at it. There’s no other way to master something. And if we were instantly perfect at doing it, maybe we didn’t aim very high?

Very few of us are born into a position that is guaranteed success. I’ve met people who were and they are a mess. When you are born into your life, you’re no different than that 21 year old who is just going by everything they were taught. You aren’t learning it for yourself. Those are the kind of people who aren’t happy. They aren’t sad either. They have a weird feeling they cannot describe because they’ve never wanted for anything. They don’t know what it’s like to want more and not just be able to have it. And they can’t understand that not everything we have is even something we want. That wisdom comes from loss. Or looking beyond what is familiar, and maybe wondering if it’s a cage or not.

Anyway, I’m getting better at getting out of my comfort zone. Over the years, I have been paying attention to the lessons I have been given. I no longer need someone to hold my hand at the dentist. If I need new glasses, I make an appointment. I am prepared to make mistakes and once I weigh all the options and think things through. I jump anyway.

21 year old me would have told me that was what I should have been doing all along.

Itenary

A couple of other things that have crossed my mind is this weird headspace I’m in about being alone. For most of my life, I’ve always thought I had to live for others. Like my time was never mine. Like that was supposed to be a good thing. In one of my best relationships there was even that thought of having to consider others. I know that sounds bad, but hear me out.

We had planned a trip to the UK in May 2020. As everyone knows, those plans got derailed. But in the planning, pre-pandemic, I found myself planning the trip around her. What things I could show her. Distances we could go from train stations to our rental. All that kind of thing. I have to admit, it was kinda a drag having so much planning on my shoulders. Not just with romantic relationships, but I’ve thought about traveling with a bunch of friends too, and really the amount of cat-herding involved with that would irritate the hell out of me.

The last time I went someplace with family, I found myself a few days in just wanting no responsibilities. If even just for a couple of hours. It was exhausting entertaining pre-teens and being the mediator with grandparents. Here I was alone in the middle while everyone else was on vacation. Mr. Responsible. I had to make sure the dog was going out enough, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Other than texting someone who was a thousand miles away.

One night I excused myself and walked the boardwalk into Seaside. It was March, so the place was nearly abandoned. I found myself at a sportsbar watching basketball–which I am not really into–drinking a beer by myself. As the servers started stacking chairs up for the night, I was alone, but I felt lighter. Everything I was doing at that moment was just for me, even though my capacity was limited.

I think that is how I could get hooked on solo travel. Sure, it’s a little overwhelming, but it can be really nice to just have a moment to yourself. Sitting alone at a restaurant can be freeing. You can have conversations with strangers. You can take your time. You don’t have to worry about a significant other getting jealous, or a kid getting bored, or little missions like finding the perfect sourvenir, or t-shirts to bring back home. I really hate souvenirs. Things I bring home need to have some sort of meaning other than just being stuff on a shelf you dust occasionally. It’s even worse when the stuff you buy was made in China and you weren’t in China to get it.

I like being able to do what I want, and if I don’t want to do it anymore, I can just leave and do something else. I don’t have to wear that mask.

You know the one. The “We are having just the greatest time! HAHAHA!” mask. You don’t have to put on a show for anyone. You can have resting bitch face if you want. You can be pensive. You can feel lonely if you want. Or you can feel lighter than the breath from a dove. Or you can smile for just you.

When our plans to go to the UK dissolved (and before our relationship followed) she suggested we could go to Disney World instead. Maybe that was a red flag. I know a lot of people love Disney, but if it’s standing in line for Pirates of the Carribean vs. taking a train across Europe and eating all the cheese and drinking all the wine…yeah.

It probably wasn’t going to work out, was it?

I guess if you are going to travel with other people, make sure your vibe matches theirs. I’ve yet to experience that. But the people who have gotten to know me already know that if I want to do something else, I’ll just leave. Since my earlier years of going places with other people, I have had the nasty habit of just being along for the ride. I didn’t have to challenge my sense of direction. I just watched everything go past and got a lot less out of it than I probably would have if I had to pay attention. Later, my decisions were always second-guessed anyway. Whatever I wanted to do was stupid or “we’ll do that next time.” Which we never did, or if we did, it was often considered a waste of time.

My favorite itenary is to have no plan other than a start time and a time to get back. Though I do have a list of things to see that I check off, I try not to let the schedule be dictated by it. Usually when you deal with timetables, you have to at least have that. I like being spontaneous, but I also like having a nice hot bath or shower to get back to at the end of the day. I’ve often heard that women think that a man who can plan something out is attractive. I’m no longer interested in impressing someone based on my ability to plan shit for them. Here’s my itenary: Keep up.

There will also be naps.

And food.

And trying new shit. Doing something every day that scares you.

But there is a drawback to that. Sometimes planning helps you connect the dots for some really cool stuff. Like I missed a Shakespearean play at the Globe when I was in London because I happened to be there the day nothing was playing. Also, traveling alone means you are paying the full bill. So, maybe a little bit of research is okay so you don’t miss out on cool stuff as it happens. Just don’t let it rule you. Or maybe I’m just full of shit.