Some nights

Not too long ago, the prospect that I would be spending a Friday night alone at home would make my skin crawl. I felt like I was missing out. I needed to be around others and I would often get frustrated with my friends for being busy or just wanting to be couch potatoes when I wanted to get out and GO.

Tonight, I’m sitting alone at home, writing these words. My dog has become fed up with me, sighing her dissaproval from the other room. I’m working on a glass of wine, relaxing, clearing my head, and getting my thoughts down. Letting the warmth of the glass of 13 Crimes spread out from my tummy. The house is quiet. I might put on some music. I might not. It’s a chilly autumn evening. I’m in my comfy cable knit sweater.

I have no problems with being alone right now.

I got my social interaction for the day by texting a few friends, visiting on the phone briefly, and chatting with my mom this morning over coffee. I got my sticker at Dutch Bros. The last one they had in Ft. Collins too. I chatted with a guy who works at a Vinyl store in Old Town. He told me about the time he met Tori Amos. I drove up Poudre canyon both ways and listened to music and felt the chill of the mountain air, totally out of cell reception. I even pulled off to the side of the road to have a nap near Rustic.

Tonight, the quiet is nice.

I no longer squirm at the prospect of needing to be around people and be a social butterfly. Sometimes it wears me out to do that. I have to be On. I have to be someone I’m not. Or at least I’m not them without a lot of ramping up to get there.

I’m boring. Yes, I am. You heard me. I wear my silly hats and go places and do things, but that is more like something I am doing for a job. Tonight I am boring. I am someone who would rather sit and listen to the rain patter on windows, or read a book, or pet the dog than I am the one who just a few years ago had to be swept away by the surge of a crowd.

Jeez, I’m so boring.

I really don’t mind. Not tonight. In the last several years, I have learned that I am someone who sometimes needs his downtime. I need to be alone to recharge and refocus. To chase away those knots in my stomach. The tension in my neck and shoulders. To step out of that wave of who I need to be for other people and just be myself and feel present in my own skin. And think the thoughts and sit in the quiet and just breathe.

I can’t expect most people to understand that. A life where we are constantly running or chasing or thinking and overthinking and hiding in plain sight and people-pleasing. Living behind these walls and projecting and dying a little bit inside all the time. Until we are just hollow. Until we can’t feel anything. And we hurt ourselves just a little bit, like in the song, to see if we still feel.

We eat the food but it’s just chewing. You’d think we had COVID because it doesn’t taste like anything. It tastes like a shadow of what it should be. You know what a steak tastes like, so you swallow each piece of “steak.” You know it’s good, so you say it’s good, but a piece of BBQ brisket could be a Chicken McNugget for all you care. Chew, choke it down, repeat.

But in this quiet. It’s something different. I feel how I am put together. Each breath I take in and exhale. I feel the weight of the air pressure. The gravity holding me to my chair. The way time passes. It feels incredible. I feel the joy and regret and memories and I hear echoes of old laughter and glimpses of happy moments. It’s better than the noise of a movie up on a screen.

Sometimes you are tired of running. Tired of chasing. Tired of dwelling on things. I feel like a bird that smacks into a picture window, just sorta standing there in the grass, dazed. In a minute I’ll get it all back together and fly off. Ready to smack into another picture window.

Tonight, I just am.

It’s how the light gets in

Sometimes it’s hard to write in this blog, considering how personal it can be. Really hard to write. I agonize over what I should share and what I shouldn’t. When you write, there is a fine line as to what is self-exploitation and what is getting the story told. The story really doesn’t care much about the writer. It just uses us, day and night, until it is told, or it kills us. So, there is some debate. Sometimes I overshare.

The other day I watched a Brenee Brown YouTube where she says, “Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.” That’s just a smack in the face with a cold fish to hear someone put it that way. I think of some of my favorite pieces of literature. The books Unbroken, or Wild, or the poetry of Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda, Silvia Plath, or countless melancholy bands that I love to listen to on a dark night when the rain is tapping on the windows. TV shows like Fleabag, movies like Good Will Hunting, the Razor’s Edge, or so many others.

I have to gauge what my boundaries are. I’ve read several Townsend and Cloud books. There’s nothing in there about how to set boundaries for a writer. I don’t share everything on the page, and often the words I put down are done to serve the story. Though at times, the details and the emotions may seem exploitative. It’s a form of expression. A very deep and intimate one you share with your readers–whether or not you know them. Someone close to me once told me that I needed to write unafraid. To keep telling the story.

So I’m going to share a story. It’s a love story.

It was probably one of the last beautiful nights of the summer. Nobody uses the phrase Indian Summer anymore, not only because of how sensitive everyone has become about being culturally sensitive, but also because the last two years has made the change in seasons pretty much meaningless. It was a cool night, but not cold. I pulled a kitchen chair onto the sidewalk in front of my apartment. I put on my fedora and my recent playlist and lit up a cigar which I smoked until long past sunset.

A couple summers ago, this was a ritual for a Friday night with someone I was dating. She introduced me to cigars and it is one of the bad habits I don’t regret. What other vice forces you to sit down for 45 minutes to an hour and just do nothing else. It is meditative. Which is often what I do as I draw the fragrant smoke into my mouth and exhale it as phantasmagoric tendrils of white smoke into the night air. It is therapeudic.

She and I used to sit in front of the firepit, sipping whiskey or wine, eating cheese, smoking cigars, and just chatting about life. Our relationship lasted only about nine months. It took me a long time to get over her. I had friends who sat with me in that grief and made me feel safe. They reminded me that I was worthy of being loved, even if she was gone. Someone who loved me so hard, but still left.

That night, I thought of her clearly for the first time in almost a year. Gone was the grief. It was laid bare and I missed only the company we shared. I have had no desire to seek her out for over a year. I held up my drink and toasted her. I felt gratitude for those moments and was happy to remember them. I wished her happiness and hoped she too was enjoying a night like this, maybe with a man she was in love with, or her big family, or maybe just by herself. I still carry a love for her inside my heart, without feeling that pull of regret for things having ended.

The next day was rough.

I need to finish work on the house and I have been procrastinating. It’s almost like a feeling that if I finish it, I won’t have anything left to distract me from my problems. Upcoming court hearings, work, relationships, family, etc. The house has been good for distraction, but I’m at a point where I have only a few things left. Right now I see only the flaws of a DIYer. I still see a lot of work ahead of me. Which eventually needs to be done.

I drove to get supplies. It beat sitting in the house with my thoughts and worries and pieces of my life which I feel like I have been holding onto like sand. The tighter you squeeze, the more slips through your fingers. Not even the three hour round trip could ease my racing mind. Nothing seems to help. Not alcohol or binge watching TV shows or playing hours of fetch with the dog.

I haven’t been sleeping lately. Last night I got two hours of sleep. I’ve been shaky and not wanting to be social at all. (Posting this will be the end of a two day self-imposed communications blackout.) My cough is back again. So I took a nap, or tried to.

It was in the liminal space between sleep and being awake that I realized a lesson I was on the verge of learning on that last night of summer. Nobody asks us to love them or stop loving them. Love doesn’t mean getting your way. It offers no guarantees. It is not something that allows you to control someone or make them feel shame that they don’t love you enough or in the way you might expect.

That isn’t how it works.

It wakes you up in the morning. It sings and rocks you to sleep. It keeps you close when everything feels like it has cracked and broken. It sends pens to scratching on the surface of notebook pages, bleeding out ink like blood onto the page. It calms you down and helps you breathe. It can also kill you if you hold it in, just as sure as an anuerism.

In its truest form, love lasts long after we are gone. When everything else has broken down and been washed away, it stands on its own. It doesn’t demand anything. It doesn’t incite jealousy. It allows you to recapture joy from a single moment sometimes that meant something. It’s enough to push back the night that feels so cold and endless. Whether it is hearing the laughter of a baby who is grown up and gone away, or a first kiss and long embrace of a lover, or a grandmother fussing at you as she cooked you bacon, or a pet who never left your side when you were sick, it is always going to be with you.

It is stronger than we give it any credit for being. It is like gravity. It never goes away when it is real, no matter how much we might wish we could forsake it. Like a story, it is independent of ourselves, though we can draw upon it. It outlives us because we pass on the love we have to others and they get to carry it with them.

I’ve heard the phrase “It takes a while to unlove somebody.” I don’t think this is possible. We just let the grief teach us something, but we can never unlove someone once we have loved them.

Ring the bells that still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack
a crack in everything
It’s how the light gets in
It’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

That crack is what happens when we grow. It hurts. It sucks. And it feels like it’s going to kill us. But the love we receive is the light that gets in. We get to keep it, even if the ones who brought it are gone. Until we are ready to give it to someone else.

So, when I think of what Brenee Brown said about boundaries and vulnerability, I probably should have just kept this revelation to myself. But if it sets just one person’s mind at ease and gets them through a rough patch like the ones I’ve had lately, I’m prepared to argue that with Ms. Brown. And with me will stand every poet, artist, writer, musician, and anyone else who has ever expressed the abundance of feeling from that cracked vessel they call their hearts.

I guess the right you have to sharing this story with me is that you are here and you are reading. Even if some might consider it oversharing.

The moment you let love in is a moment when you feel at peace. I hope this helps.

Thank you.

The Tall Ships

In 1997 I worked for a call center that specialized in providing customer support for Apple Computer. Not a lot of people realize that when they call in for customer service, they aren’t getting some computer programmer who helped to build the operating system that they have just broken. Instead they are probably getting some kid, who might have dropped out of high school, making a little more than minimum wage who desperately needs to get you off the phone so they can make their talk time. I used to take around 35 calls per day. The average was supposed to be 50, but my customer satisfaction rate was high, so I was never really written up. Employee turnover was high. At $7 an hour, it was hard to get people to stick around. Plus I never yelled at customers. At least without hitting MUTE first.

The job was mind-numbingly monotonous. And the work environment wasn’t much better. We each had a cubical assigned to us which many of us would pin pictures of family, loved ones, and that kind of thing. A labyrinth of battleship grey walls surrounded us. A small porch on the back side of the building allowed for cigarette breaks. I was told if I wasn’t a smoker now, I would be in a year. Smokers could take four five minute breaks before and after lunch. Non-smokers got a fifteen minute reprieve every two hours. If our talk times were low, we were “encouraged” to work through our breaks to catch up.

They moved us around quite a bit, for whatever reason. Those who had posted their pictures of their kids or spouses or family could be seen loading up their photos about once every few weeks, like the Snopes family pulling up stakes and heading out to California during the Dust Bowl. They were always careful to put the thumb tacks right back in the same holes once they got to their new cubes.

I didn’t have anyone to pin up on my wall. I had made the decision to change the direction of my life. A few months before I had ended a relationship I had since high school; just over three and a half years. I had moved out from a house I shared with three guys I had known since I was at least ten years old. We never really spoke again. I was living alone in a studio apartment, the old parlor of a victorian house which had been build in 1894 for a doctor. Three other families shared the house. I didn’t know any of their names unless I happened to accidentally get their mail.

I used to spend the evenings sweating in that old house. There was no central air conditioning. I had only a box fan in the window of the kitchen, which did almost nothing to cool my bedroom. I lived on the busiest street corner in town and so many nights were decorated with the glow of blue and red lights on my walls. Another t-bone collision at the intersection. Some green lacewings had taken up residence and they used to hum and sing in the dark. My television had only one channel and that came in fuzzy if it came in at all. In the fall I would sometimes watch a Broncos game because that’s what was on. Otherwise, I watched old VHS tapes. The Road Warrior. Swingers. Red Dwarf seasons 3 and 4. A few others.

What I did eventually put on my cubical wall was a large color newspaper clipping of the USS Constitution. There has always been something about a fully-rigged tall ship that has captured my imagination. While taking my calls throughout the day, I often looked at that clipping and thought of where a ship like that could take me. Anywhere but here. It was a goal to work towards.

My evenings were spent writing. I would peck away at a manuscript for two different novels. Both of which were terrible. But it was practice. I spent many late nights reading in that heat. One of my favorite books which I would read well into the early hours was Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo.” If you haven’t read it, the book is amazing and probably demonstrates the excesses someone would go to after being falsely imprisoned for 15 years. Edmon Dantes leaves no stone unturned in his wrath. I used to read a lot back then. In my room with the fan blasting or in my wicker rocking chair perched on the old wrap-around porch when the summer breezes would come in and the leaves on the cottonwoods would breathe with every gust.

A Quiznos beefeater from the gas station across the street. The burst of vinegar and seeds as you bit into a pepproncini. Sometimes I would ride my bike around the block on my days off, hoping to run into someone I knew. Or even a new friend. I would go to Margies Java Joint sometimes, but I wasn’t at the point in my life yet where I could sit quietly and enjoy my own company. I was just reliving old memories which now had a vacancy. It would take half a lifetime to just sit and be still, comfortable in my own skin. Maybe I’ve gotten there. Maybe I haven’t. Back in those days we didn’t have everyone we knew riding around in our pants pocket all day, just a text away.

When I left that job, I took the clipping with me. I said goodbye to the work friends I had made there. The kids just out of high school, the mother and daughter team who brought me cookies sometimes and listened to Jewel on repeat until I thought I would scream if I heard the song “Adrian” one more time. The quiet girl I went on a date with who walked into a glass door during training one day, leaving the impression of her face on the glass for most of the afternoon. She was too edgy for me because she smoked and went to the places in town where they played live music. I have to laugh about that now–how little I knew about myself. My friends Andra and Hannah who I watched demolition derby with at the Greeley Stampede. I think about them sometimes in that strange summer where sometimes the solitude was palpable.

Late afternoons of Rocko’s Modern Life, Eek! the Cat, and Round the Twist on Fox Kids because it was on. The Peace Corps sticker on the side of my TV set. The beep of my answering machine that greeted me when I came home, reminding me that someone loved me. The whir of the tape as the machine prepared to play back the message and the flutter I would feel in my stomach at the anticipation of hearing what the message was. Then there were the times I brought someone over and the wounds from the end of my last relationship were still raw–a self-inflicted wound I would learn, that I would later find peace with. The witch with emerald eyes, the deaf interpreter, the psychologist, the friend of my ex-girlfriend. I couldn’t even fall asleep in the same bed. I usually took the couch and worried for the next week about how to avoid them. It was better to be alone than be with the wrong person. Those nights in someone else’s arms didn’t compare. Just an empty thing without vigor or meaning. I was a ghost.

Now I find myself in an empty house, enjoying the quite of the afternoon. My fingers are once again pecking away at the keyboard. My dog fumes at me from the corner of the room on her dog bed, bored as hell and disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm for playing Ball or Squirrel. I have had my coffee. I let the story be told and I get the words down, because I’m the only one to tell it. As melancholy, sentimental, or bittersweet as it demands from me.

I still have my tall ships to keep me on track. To keep me hopeful. Though they aren’t the USS Constitution, they are different reminders of what I want, though sometimes they seem just as impossible to reach as the horizon when crossing the sea with only the wind at your back and a star to guide you. Here there be monsters, the maps should all read. Swells as tall as mountains, and unfathomable depths below. But still we sail onward, because there is land somewhere. And once we reach those shining shores, we know that something will compel us once again to set out on another course.

Maybe I’ll share what they were in another twenty five years.

I am at the age where I have to smile whenever I hear someone say they have it all figured out in what they want to do in life. There is no straight line to follow. Life is an Odeyssey with distractions and adventures and heartbreak and all sorts of strange chapters along the way. We never really get to where we thought we were headed. Sometimes we make it to someplace we never could have imagined.