Starting over and over

Today was a day with a lot of resistance. I’ve been re-reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and trying to get myself set in what I need to do to write. Jeez, that’s all I talk about, you might think. Writing. It’s because I love it. It also scares the hell out of me. Mostly because I respect what good writing is and I hope in some way I am achieving that. For those of you who don’t write, I hope that you can appreciate any other substitution for a passion that doesn’t alienate you.

I share these words not just for you, but because I am in the process of manifesting everything that I want.

I am 46 years old. A little bit long in the tooth to still be following my dreams, some might think. By now, most of my friends are looking at the coast and glide of being at least over halfway through their careers. Things like 401ks and hedge funds might mean something to them. Some are thinking of retirement. And here I am starting over again.

I had to start over from zero a few times in the last few years. The first time I started over was seven years ago, when I decided to end my marriage of 15 years. With it also went an adulthood of accumulated things. Furniture. Memories. Photo albums. Things I had inheirted, which were all lost in the blink of an eye like a housefire that has been burning for the last seven years. Today I am a man who doesn’t even own a couch. The majority of my furniture was given to me by friends who couldn’t stand seeing me living in a house with a card table to eat dinner on or sitting on the floor to watch TV. I’ve had good, kind people in my life who were willing to share their abundance when I was just beginning again.

I moved again after my job of nearly 20 years ended and the world was changing due to a pandemic. I’m starting over again, back where I started, back where I grew up. Some days I think of being the age I am now and feeling like I’ve got a 10-15 year late start. The work that I am trying to do is overwhelming sometimes. A dream better suited to a younger man.

I think sometimes of the things that I want, a vision of how I want my life to be, and that can be disheartening. Sometimes it feels like I’ve run out of time for anything like that. I check home listings on Zillow at places I would love to live and unlike the first time I bought a house, you can’t pick up a three bedroom with a finished basement for $165k anymore. Try $700k, depending on what you are looking for. I wonder how anyone does it. I worry that my life will have come and gone before I can buy a house. Or if I could, I’ll be in my late 70s before I can pay off a mortgage.

It’s unreal.

I drive a used Jeep Liberty with a lot of miles on it, but it is paid for. I live in my grandparents’ old house, which takes a lot of work. It’s a great place to have an office where I can write at least. My office is my favorite room in the house. In those ways, it gives me the solitude I need to get the work done and keeps a roof over my head. I’m not a social butterfly around town, so I don’t have a lot of distractions other than when my dog wants to play fetch. Or when my son is with me and wants to chat about Marvel superheroes and Star Wars and Vietnam and a hundred other things.

My family is closeby, which means I’m around if they need me. Sometimes I turn them down for offers to have dinner together because it feels good to be asked, but I have the luxury of declining the offer. I have other things to do. Just because I’m not punching a clock doesn’t mean I’m not working.

I guess when I look at the STUFF that I want. A dream house, a 4Runner, bi-yearly trips to Europe, a Sprinter van, winters someplace tropical, it stings a little because I’m starting off from the ground level again, and those are things only the seasoned professional can afford. Those are luxuries. Maybe a different version of me who took a different path has those things and I’m feeling the pull of it on some quantum level.

So I was reading the War of Art and came across this:

Restance and Being a Star

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Steven Pressfield, the War of Art

I’m not an heir to some family fortune. Nobody is chasing me with an advance check or a three book deal. I’m just a man who never shuts up about writing because it not only brings him peace of mind, on occasion it has given him joy. Feeling overwhelmed that my writing hasn’t allowed me to drop $700k on a house or a new Toyota is the sign of an amateur. Feeling frustrated that I don’t have thousands of followers is holding me back. I can either give in and take a job and go back to scribbling whenever I’m not so exhausted to stay awake, or I can use my time to throw myself into this endeavor. Sometimes losing myself in it and dragging my friends and readers down into it with me.

Maybe I’ll never be able to afford a big house or a nice car or trips or even a couch. But I’ll have the satisfaction of doing something that I love. I’ve had stuff before. Lots of stuff. And hardly any of it brought me any real joy. Right now, I can live a life without the pursuit of stuff and I can work towards manifesting my dreams.

Cry

“I wish I could cry.”  He felt like his insides were filled with stones, holding him down, making it impossible to breathe.  If he could just cry like the way he did when he was a little boy, the stones could come out, he would feel hollow inside for a while, but lighter again.  Other than happy moments, he hadn’t been able to cry for years.  He just continued to fill up with those stones.  He could be full of them and sit at the bottom of the ocean.  You can’t crush stone even with the weight and pressure of the entire black ocean rising up above you.

The last time he remembered crying was when he was 17, watching the Fox and the Hound with Suzanne in her basement.  With her parents upstairs, the two of them sat under the same blanket, thin and frayed, smelling a little like cat urine.  They had movie evenings like this before, where usually they passed the time kissing, how many thousands of different ways to kiss as the movie played in the background.  He didn’t even remember which ones they had seen together.  There was something about this movie though that hit him a different way.  Not long after it started, Nick felt something break inside of him.  The tears filled his eyes and a dam burst someplace inside, they kept coming, running down his cheeks.  He couldn’t stop them.  He wept and Suzanne watched him with astonishment, eventually taking him into her arms and just holding him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  Laughing between tears he apologized and tried to wipe them out.

“There’s no reason to be sorry.  Are you okay?”  She just kept holding him.

“I just can’t stop.”

“You don’t have to.”

That night after the movie was done, he felt so empty, like all the poison of his life up until that point had been drained out of him, like a boil.  Suzanne never mentioned it again unless he brought it up.  For his birthday, she bought him the VHS of the Fox and the Hound, which he never had the courage to play again.  Certainly not alone.  

He never cried like that again.  Not when his grandparents died, not when he had to euthenize three of their dogs when he was married.  The stones started filling him then.  Sometimes his eyes would well up with tears of joy.  Anything random could set it off.  A television commercial or the kids smacking the tv screen when they were toddlers. 

Then there were moments like that Valentine’s Day, when he sat alone on the quad, his back up against a pine tree outside the building where he worked.  It was a clear, mid-February day.  In Colorado, winter takes a break for a few weeks and returns in full fury at the beginning of March.  Usually around Valentine’s, the temperatures climb into the sixties or seventies.  The grass is dead and the color of honey, but insects begin to buzz around. For a few days it feels like a rumor of summer.  

He sat staring into the distance, feeling the weight of so many stones that had gathered in his heart—his marriage, the stress of his job and how it never seemed to be enough, and the debts that kept building, the opportunities for his kids being missed over and over, his solitude, the friends he could no longer talk to without being criticized, the beginning of estrangement from his parents.  A student approached him, walking straight towards him across the grass.  He watched her come closer, figuring she was just another campus crusader.  Oftentimes they stopped to talk with him about Jesus or attending one of their services.  He was still young looking in those days.  His early thirties. They were eager to put butts in pews.

“Hello!” the young lady said when she approached.

“Hi,” he said.  There was a feeling inside that made him wonder if his wife was somehow watching.  She wouldn’t like him talking to a pretty college student.  The girl was blonde, with her hair braided into two long braids.  She wore overalls and rubber rain boots. Yellow with red flowers painted on the sides.  

She sat down across from him and reached into a bag she was carrying.  She handed him a Reeces Peanut Butter cup.  “Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said.  She offered him the candy, which he took reluctantly.

“Thank you,” he said.  He held the candy bar gingerly, like a baby chick.

She beamed and offered her hand to shake, which he took.  Her hand felt small in his palm.  The skin was soft and smooth. He could smell her shampoo. His heart fluttered a little bit.  He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched another adult like this. It felt more like a hug to him than a handshake.  He was touch-starved, alone, and that touch felt like glass cracking all the way up the length of his arm to his chest.

“Thank you,” he said again, feeling tears welling up into his eyes.

“You looked like you needed to be someone’s Valentine.”

She stood up and continued on across the grass, leaving Nick holding that peanut butter cup.  When she was gone, he was still holding the candy and he heard himself sniff.  He let out a single sob and two tears rolled down his face.  He couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad tears.  Maybe one of each.

He unwrapped the candy and took a bite. Maybe the girl was an angel, he thought, and he could keep the gift she had given him safe inside himself.  The chocolate and peanut butter were the best and freshest he had ever tasted.

Nick thought about last year when he and Holly would stay up late texting each other.  He was still nursing the wounds of the end of his last relationship: Kate. Love in the Time of Covid was the working title of that story. Over the years, he and Holly had their run of flirtations when either of them was single or in close proximity at least, but mostly they talked about things. Hopes. Burdens.  Dreams.  The 500 miles between them were a deterrent for romance, though nothing was impossible. He had always thought she was pretty. Curly hair and heart-shaped face which always seemed to carry that sweet smirky-smile.

When Kate left, Holly was the first person he told.  He didn’t know why.  He just had to reach out to someone as his heart was shattering into pieces.  They hadn’t talked for months other than the occasional hello or checking in on each other.  He liked her posts on Instagram and Facebook too and watched her daughters grow and the sweet smile she always wore. Summer under lock down passed easily when they filled the nights with long conversations. They listened to each other about everything. They never flinched.

“Have you ever read the book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed?” Nick asked her one night.

“Yes!  I love that book!” Holly said.

“I just started reading it again.  I read it at the beginning of my divorce.”

“It is incredible.”

“She’s just so honest.  Raw,” he said.

“And that scene on the beach—“

“Oh jeez,” he said.  “I know what you mean.  I like the movie and the book equally but for different reasons.”

“Oh yeah?  Please tell me,” she said.

“That whole area is beautiful, but you never see that in the book.  Just the journey of discovery in herself.  The movie at least shows us the scenery.”

They decided to read the book again together and when they were done, a few weeks later, they watched the movie.  They texted back and forth as the movie played, talking about each scene as though they were there.  That was a moment Nick’s tears were happy.

In the nights he was reading the book, it was hard to get through it as quickly as Holly had been reading.  He had to stop and scribble down notes of what he was feeling, putting into words the things he wanted for his own story which were demanding to be told.  Cutting as deep as he could.  Sometimes he felt himself on the verge of tears.  This time sad tears.  Something deep inside coming up that he could do nothing to stop.  Like a whale rising from the deep blue towards the surface, about to take a breath.

A year later, Holly was gone as well.  Their paths diverged, with each of them going where the other could not follow. Her absence left another weight in his chest.  Another stone to pull him under.

He watched Wild again, alone.  Trying to feel the way he felt when they watched it together.  A completely different person now than he was even a year ago, when they were both starting out on an amazing journey together as close friends. Then something more. Back when she let him in. Back when she was pretty instead of beautiful. Now he took his place among many others and she lost sight of who he was. Maybe even herself. Now he was just another in a long list of names to be forgotten. He knew well how it felt to be lost.

He remembered how deeply that movie cut him.  How he wished he could write anything that honest.  How the nights reading that book (one of the only ones that he read more than once) were often start and stop, with him reading a chapter or a few pages and drawing the courage from that to write from places so deep that it was better than crying.  Cathartic.  

He sat down again to write.  The words fell into the pages of that leather bound notebook she had given him, scratched out onto the heavy gauge paper in scribbles of black ink, manifesting what his heart told him.  He couldn’t cry anymore.  Never again would it be like that night of watching the Fox and the Hound half a lifetime ago.  His tears were the ink from his pen now, falling onto those empty pages.  

Gradually, he felt the weight of the stones begin to lighten.

Copyright 2021 Clinton A. Harris

Take care of yourself

Today I had my first medical check up in over a year and a half. Now that I have insurance again, I get to become a member of that thin level of society who can do this without having to leave a kidney with the front desk. I’m usually not concerned with my health whenever I go to the doctor. I try to take care of myself, even though a year of this time has been stuck indoors most of the time. My blood pressure was a little bit high, but I can get that back down if I walk more or figure out a way to get in some more cardio.

My weight is down more than it has been in a while. I knew this without a scale because I’m down to the last notch on my belt, my clothes hang off me lately, and I have been able to wear the same shirts I wore for my UK trip a few years back.

If my son isn’t around, I don’t eat as much because I don’t like cooking for just me. When you cook for just yourself, you have three or four days of leftovers you were over with after the first time you ate. So, I tend to have one decent sized meal per day and suppliment the rest with coffee or snackier foods like crackers and cheese or a can of soup. Maybe a bowl of cereal. Where I live there are fewer options for eating out, so I just don’t.

In six months I am down from 204 to 187.

So the reason for this post is I am of mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one hand, it’s nice to trim down just a little bit. I feel better. My clothes fit better. And when I work out, I feel like I can see results better. It’s funny, because a couple years ago I was dating someone who seemed to be making a point of putting weight on me. She used to tell me she liked how “solid” I was. Whenever we would eat out on the weekends, I would eat my share of dinner and then wind up finishing her plate too. That’s how I broke 200 again for the first time since my marriage.

She used to get insecure when I would tell her that I was going to the gym to work out. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a gym rat, but working out does a number of things for me. It helps me feel better. You get an endorphin hit when you do cardio or weights regularly. Working out helped me to feel better about myself physically too. And it does wonders when dealing with depression or anxiety. You just don’t have the mental capacity to worry about things that don’t matter when you are sweating your guts out.

I was talking with a friend recently about why someone would be insecure about my going to the gym. Especially since part of me wanted to not only look better and feel good for myself, but also I thought she might have appreciated that too. I was reminded that I went to the “Kids’ gym” at the university. It was my 43 year old self surrounded by a bunch of 20 year olds. I guess I never really saw that as a problem.

The college kids might as well have looked through me like I wasn’t there. As a matter of fact, I prefered that gym to the VASA fitness that I went to where I felt like I was being leered at as I walked through for just the tour. I know so many people who are always getting hit on at the gym. That’s not my thing. It really puts me off. The college gym was nice because I could just go and do my thing and be left alone, and I had no intention of bothering anyone either.

The other thing about conditioning myself is that I have no expectations for anyone else in my life. I’m not an evangelical gym-goer. I can only say how working out has helped me, as I have done above. In that relationship, or any other situation, I’m not going to look down at anyone else. I know how hard it is for me to keep up a routine, and if anyone badgered me to do it, I wouldn’t. I feel like it’s a matter of choice. Just like anything else. Would I push someone else to do it? Hell no.

You have to want it to do it. You can be happy with yourself at any weight or size.

The funny thing is that right now dad bods are in style. Everyone on TikTok talks about wanting a bearded chubby man with tattoos and here I am watching my love handles disappear.

I guess a motivator for this is the other day I wore my kilt for the first time in years. I finally got down to a weight where I could buckle the damn thing up. My kilt was bought for me as a birthday present when I turned 21. It is still the only tailored piece of clothing I own. At the time I had a 30″ waist and they also did hip measurements then too. When they took my measurements, I was almost too thin for an adult sized kilt. They told me to drink more Guinness. A few years later, longer straps were added because I took their advice to heart. They let it out to a 32″ waist. I’m probably at around 34″-36″ right now. It’s a tight fit. It looks tight. The apron no longer reaches the pleats on the other side. The topography that the plaid reveals is complicated.

The $500 kilt my gf at the time bought me with her student loan money was tailored too well. When you buy off the rack stuff, there is a level of flexibility you get with fit. If it’s tailored, it looks really rough if you exceed those margins. It’s made to fit a certain way.

Right now, it doesn’t hang right. It doesn’t fit right. Even with extenders. So, I’m left with the choice of replacing it with a new one (which the cost for these suckers went up to about $700–which I would much prefer plane tickets) or just keep avoiding beer and working out until I can pass for having a 32″ waist, maybe.

A man of my age, however, runs the risk of exchanging that “Solid” dad bod for an early case of having no ass to even hold up my pants, much less a kilt. Will I be nixing myself from the bearded chubby man category? How will this affect my hug game?

What I do know is I’m not going to stress over any of this stuff. I’m fine with the size and shape I am now. Could I get a little stronger and a little healthier? Sure, why not. Do I really have anything to wear a kilt to? Absolutely not. Do I think that one day having a full grey beard and a washboard stomach would be hilarious? Sure! I doubt I’ll get there. But as nice as the attention dad bods are getting these days, it still doesn’t feel right for me. I like being a little leaner. Lately, I’ve been feeling that.

Who knew?