Crash and Burn

Tonight I tried to record a podcast. One of the most difficult things about this process has got to be the absurd concept that right now I’m sitting there talking to myself for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been trying to keep it to around 20 minutes, but seriously, the process is really goofy. At least when I’m writing something, I get to construct a narrative. I can go back, edit. I think in writing. I use pretty words. When you are just talking to yourself in a quiet room, you have a moment of “What the fuck am I doing?”

I have no idea. I don’t even really know where I want to go with this whole thing. It’s not like I have the resource of knowing a lot of interesting people to chat with either, well, not many who live around here anyway. So, for now, it’s me, boring the paint off the walls with my goddamned monotone voice. The voice that a friend of my used to call my “pediatrician voice.” She said it was soothing and very wise sounding. Really, I find it annoying. Boring. Fuck.

I attempted two recordings tonight. I was trying to talk about graduation, but with all the ums and uhs and getting lost in the weeds, I just couldn’t do it. I scrapped it tonight. Crash and burn. So, I’m going to write about what I was going to ramble on about in the same dulcet tones that I would be explaining to a seven year old why it is important that they don’t put their fingers in their mouth.

Friday was my last official day at the university. I have worked there for the last 18 years, but I was also a student there for four years and worked just down the hall from where I have been for the last 13 years. I didn’t get very far, did I? Tonight I took a walk around campus to reminisce about where I have spent the majority of my adult life. Other than a year in Aurora, selling Big Mouth Billy Bass fish and a year in Laramie Wyoming trying to not starve to death, I have been in this town. Other than a few months, I have worked at the University. Academia has been a significant part of my experience. Not only as a student, but later behind the scenes, seeing how the sausage is made.

I have a lot of memories of that place. From the day that I went to pick up a girl I was dating for her weekend furlough from Frontiers of Science to go to Renaissance Festival to last Thursday when I carried in the box containing my computer and some other office equipment for my unceremonious layoff. That day of seeing that young lady sitting underneath a dogwood tree behind Belford Hall in a summer dress was a kinder memory than people trying to pretend they were sorry to see you go from behind the protection of N95 masks, maintaining appropriate social distancing. I would take that day in June a hundred times over any second of last Thursday.

Graduation in the years between became a day you could scope our really cute shoes the graduating girls were wearing, and make bets with the other volunteers as to who was going to collapse from being drunk during the ceremony. It was also a day to say last goodbyes to some of the students who would pop into your life for that brief window. I wish them all well, but I doubt any of the hundreds of people I have met and known over the last 20+ years think of me ever. Most of them, I can barely remember their names.

The ceremony. Ceremonies are important. This is Graduation weekend for many students after all. In a way, I think graduation is a stupid thing. It’s a lot of sitting on bleachers or folding chairs, listening to Important People blather on. Sometimes a noted speaker will jabber about why they are important, and why this moment is so crucial to your development as a young person. But we need the ceremony.

Okay, so I lied. Writing this, I got inspired, so I wrote a graduation speech and recorded it as a podcast. Here’s the link. I’m still working out the kinks with the new computer, so the sound might be a little wonky. It’s a work in progress. But hey, I didn’t completely fail. I posted a podcast, which is one of the things I’ve been wanting to do this week.

I walked around campus thinking about a hundred different stories. The way people have touched my life, for better or for worse. I’m soured by the experience of working there and being unceremoniously laid off. The exit interview was a lot of “I don’t know the answer to that question, call so-and-so and she can tell you!” Thanks. That’s great.

I dropped off my shit and left on Thursday. I’ve been walking the campus grounds for exercise. It’s a safe place to walk. Lots of students out not obeying the shelter-in-place or whatever the hell it is these days. I see a lot of people on walks. Clusters of roommates and friends spending time together. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one without a tribe. I’m the only living boy in New York so to speak. They say no man is an island, but there are times I wonder if that is even true.

There are days that I think about the day that my son moves out, a grown man and ready to take on the world. I’ve often joked with him that I will pack up my things and move and not tell anyone where I have gone. I will start over. He has made me promise to tell him where I have gone, and I will. He wants his kids to know their grandfather and the kind of man that he is. Today, this man is tired. He’s had the metaphysical shit kicked out of him for the last couple months and he could use a little disappearing right now.

Today wasn’t a loss. It was a challenge, just like every other day from here on out.

What do I like?

One of the interesting things I have noticed about people is their collections.  I think in some ways, collections define people.  They are indicative of their interests, what drives them, inspires them, and eventually you could find yourself surrounded by various collections that represent all sorts of different facets of your personality and interests.

I had a Star Wars collection that was shown at the Denver Air and Space Museum, right next to a prop X-Wing.  I collected all sorts of Star Wars toys, movies, posters, and memorabilia.  I collected other things too.  Books.  Zippo lighters.  I had a few pipes my great grandpa used to smoke.  Swords. Knives. Antique rifles.  Army surplus.  Bottles. Coins.  T-shirts. Comic books. Oaxaca wood carvings.  Indian rugs. Hats. Antique typewriters. Things I had amassed when I was a young man, most of which was kept by my ex-wife during the divorce.  Community property is a nice idea, but it’s far from reality.

Most of these collections had begun before I was married. Back when I had the time and funds for collections.  Then fatherhood smacked me full in the face and those collections took a backseat to other collections, such as boxes of disposable diapers, bills, toys which would eventually turn into junk or get stuffed into the back of the closet to be reduced to a neverending pile of kipple.  Video game systems and piles of games I never had the time to play.  Hundreds of DVDs as well for movies that were watched maybe once and left to gather dust. Easter dresses and expensive Halloween costumes that were too precious to part with even if another kid could have used them.  The piles and collections became a monument to infants who were quickly growing into pre-teens and beyond.

To take a page from my girlfriend’s book and put it into my own, I had to be Little Mr. Responsible.  When my friends were buying motorcycles and taking trips to India, I was the sole breadwinner in a household that was quickly hemorrhaging money and always dependent on help from extended family.  As though anyone owed us for our own poor decisions.

My ex-wife got into paranormal research, so a lot of fun-money we got back in taxes went to buying IR DVR systems, digital voice recorders, and EMF detectors, not to mention tank after tank of gasoline.  My collections went to the basement in boxes (along with some of hers too–because toddlers have no appreciation for expensive toys and knick-knacks).

It’s weird to think about it, but we do tend to gather Things around us.  Little souvenirs, mementos, keepsakes, and just fun stuff that resonate with us as we grow and mature in our lives.  It has been five years since my divorce.  Five years since I basically restarted with nothing.  Most of the things that fill my home are because I had some very generous friends and family who saw that I needed some stuff to call my own.  As nice as some of it is, it’s not really my stuff per se.  In the scramble to put my life back together, I was still Mr. Responsible.  When you might be eating a can of pork and beans for dinner, collections are still in the far back of your priorities.

When I started dating Elise, I got to see her collections.  Her room is like a Sanctum Sanctorum of stuff she has collected over the years.  Granted, she has lost a lot of things herself to circumstance, but still continues to build on her collections, which show her interests and serve as a rich landscape of imagination and play.

Even as adults we should get to play.  We should have things that spark our imaginations.

Seeing her Nerd Shelf, it reminded me of the cool stuff I used to collect too.  My collections these days are still kinda weak, but I have begun building them up again.  The weirdest thing is that some of the things that I once loved are just pale and fall flat in my memory now.  I have no desire to rebuild my Star Wars collection.  It wouldn’t be the same.  A lot of heirlooms that were not returned to me were things that could never be replaced.  A lot of the lesser collections would just remind me of what I had lost if I tried to rebuild them.  Painting figurines?  Who wants to buy all of that paint again, much less finding the time to mess around with tiny sculptures, single hair brushes, and old eyes.

I find myself in the unusual and fortuitous position of having a blank slate.  I might not have an impressive Nerd Shelf myself anymore, but I can surround myself with collections that resonate with who I am now.  I’m finding that a lot of the things I have now belong to someone else’s life, another man’s past–even if they were things I once held dear.  As I move on in my life, some of these collections get pushed back into the corners and boxes.  The sentiment of having things around just to have them was appreciated, but it is time to start anew.

I still don’t know what I want to collect, only that I have the urge to do so again.  Sometimes I don’t even know what I like anymore, but I’m certainly open to finding out again.  This stage of my life could mean just about anything.  But as I’m a discerning man in my 40s, it’s likely going to be more expensive than it used to be.

For now, I collect experiences.  Those are the things that an awful divorce and poverty couldn’t take away, which I have gotten to enjoy for most of my life.  But with any collection, it’s important to know which ones to keep, and which ones to toss.

The Obsession with Youth

Today’s post on Getting Out More is more of a reflective piece.  I really need to go someplace new before I get too deep!

They say youth is wasted on the young, and looking back, as a man in his mid-forties, I have to say that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. When I was a young man coming up, it always felt like someone was saying, “Wait your turn. Your day will come.” And unfortunately it never did. Anyway, not how I expected it to be.

As a young man, I was saddled with certain responsibilities that are inherent to starting out. I chose the path of family man as I also worked to fit my goals and dreams into my life where and when I could. In stolen hours at night when the kids were asleep, I worked on short stories and novels. Sometimes that degenerated into watching Kurosawa movies until 3am because nobody was up to tell me to go to bed. Of course, I would pay for it the next day as I medicated myself with caffeine to keep up with work.

This year, I turned 44 and one of the presents I got was my first bout of pneumonia. I’m still recovering. One of the hardest things to come to term with in this illness has been just how difficult recovery has been. Pneumonia feels like such an old person illness too, or something reserved for frail antebellum children to die from in order to push the plot forward for their protagonist/antagonist siblings. We can credit shitty lungs to the longevity of Jo March as a beloved literary character. Also, why we love Doc Holliday so much too. He was a badass with a wheezing cough and a wit nearly as quick as his draw…

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