Discouragement

Today I’m posting here because I’m still working on setting up the other website. I have been needing to write and lately, my procrastination has known no limits. Yesterday, my son and I mudded the room we have been working on for a few weeks. And by working on it, I mean my dad and I put up drywall and the process was pretty exhausting, and all I have had the heart to do is fill in some seams with caulking.

Yesterday, the kiddo and I mudded the heck out of the seams and the screw holes. Today, we sanded them smooth. It isn’t professional quality by any means but we did it together and had a good time in the process. To finish off procrastinating for the night, I also washed the dog. it has been a couple months since her last bath and in the meantime, she had rolled on the beach, played fetch in the dirt, and probably drunk out of the toilet a dozen times or more.

Right now she is whining at the front door, asking to go out, because what bath is complete without rolling around in the dust with wet fur? None!

This isn’t my first rodeo with wet dogs, so I am ignoring her right now.

So, the title of this post. It’s not about procrastination or dogs or home DIY. It’s about words that I have heard many times (and yes, I have been guilty of saying them myself) that just knock the wind out of anyone’s sails.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been excited about going somewhere and been met with the most lethal words you can experience when it comes to going on an adventure. Ready? You’ve been warned…

“What would you want to go there for?”

There. Bad grammar and ending a sentence in a preposition is just the icing on the cake. Asking someone “Why would you want to go there?” isn’t much better. I’ve heard these words many times. They used to really hit home. I usually heard them from family, friends, random people I was talking with over drinks (which is why I’m probably not much fun at a bar anymore), or especially someone who has already been to the place I’m daydreaming about.

It’s just like the question they ask mountaineers who climb sheer mountain faces. The answer: because it’s there.

Or in my case, “Why the hell not?”

Sure, it’s less poetic, but they’ve already pissed me off. The thing about going anywhere is whether it is the perfect destination or not is all a matter of perspective. Going to an active warzone like Afghanistan or Myanmar might not be what I’m looking for in an adventure, but who am I to say to someone “What would you want to go there for?” I wouldn’t want to go there myself. Because I’m allergic to having my head cut off, but I do have all sorts of allergies other people don’t.

What’s worse is I have said these words myself. I try to check myself, but sometimes they just fall out of my mouth. I’m not always good at this. I have judged someone’s destination, wrongfully, and found myself chewing on size 10.5 shoeleather. It’s not my business. And making it such says more about me than it does about them.

I’ve caught myself lately saying this, and…crap, I just remember all the times someone else said it to me.

“What would you want to go there for?”

As though I am so ignorant to not understand the drawbacks literally everywhere in the world has. I’m an American, and I have seen that to much of the rest of the world, we are notorious for having mass shootings and shitty healthcare. Does that mean that nobody should ever come here to visit? I’ve been confronted by others who have said, “Hawaii? What would you want to go there for?” Apparently people fear headlice so much that they have crossed Literal Tropical Paradise off their destination list. I was put off on visiting India for 20 years because someone I was married to was freaked out about food poisoning.

Every place has its degree of suck, which is why you do your homework and figure out how to avoid that. Just as you would with finding out what is going to more than make up for it if you can’t avoid the suck.

Not everyplace is everyone’s cup of tea. But there are better ways to have conversations about this. If you want to go someplace, don’t let someone’s prejudices about them overshadow your interest. Sometimes people are just travel snobs. They look down on your ambitions by indicating you are some kind of rube when they are so worldly. Look at all the stamps they have in their passport! Granted most of them are just from stepping off a cruise ship for three hours before getting back on again. But hey, whatever…floats their boat.

My advice is this. Go back to the fifth grade and spin that globe. Hold your finger over it and where it stops, consider it at least. We are only here for a set number of rotations around the sun. Might as well enjoy the journey.

And don’t discourage other people with things like “Too dangerous, too commercial, I’ve been there and it wasn’t that great”. Bullshit. We all don’t like the same things. Don’t assume they will get the same experience or feel the same way you did about a destination.

Impostor!

One of the hardest things I have encountered these days has been the shadow of impostor syndrome. I have mentioned it before, and it bears repeating. So I am repeating. Louder for the people in the back, as they say.

One of the luxuries of waking up every day and punching a clock is the process of showing up, doing a marginal amount of work, and eventually watching your bank account fill up with a direct deposit at the end of the month provides immediate validation that you are indeed being productive. Even though when I was working for the University, I could probably get an entire week’s worth of work done in the last three hours of any given Friday.

When you work for yourself, especially in a creative field such as writing, the goalposts are not so obvious. The actual writing might just be an hour or two, depending on what you are working on. The thought going into it, the observation, the grinding things around in your brain is neverending. The bummer is that you are not paid for all that work. You put words down on paper. The days go by and the paychecks don’t drop into your account. Transitioning from regular paychecks to something more intangiable is difficult, and sometimes you will really tear into yourself for not being as productive as you *should* be.

For me, reading is even difficult, because for so many years if I had time to sit down and read a book, that meant I was being lazy and needed a project around the house to occupy my time. Reading for research is difficult sometimes, and reading for pleasure is downright impossible. I just feel like I am being idle, and shirking my responsibilities. Hardly ever considering as a writer, I need to constantly hone my mind with an imput of good writing, as well as producing work.

I love that song by Arcade Fire called “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” especially for the lyrics “Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.” It really hits when you understand that beautiful things like music, art, writing, television shows, YouTube channels, movies…all come from people who work in their heads most of the time. Creative things that we all love and experience, that resonate with our souls, are rarely made in some drone-like fashion. They are created by people who stare into space for hours, beating themselves up sometimes, procrastinating, and finally pulling those things from the Aether for the rest of us.

Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.

My son and mom and I went on an adventure last week, escaping Colorado just before the Snowpocalypse hit. We drove out to Washington to visit family and even made it all the way out to the Oregon Coast. Some might call it a “vacation” but when you are a writer, you are never really on vacation. It was a research trip. Sitting in a car for a little over a week took us through several different biomes: rainforests, rocky coastlines, mountains, plains, and deserts. We went from 8100ft above sea level to throwing clam shells for the dog to catch in the surf of the Pacific ocean.

Most people come home with their t-shirts and do their laundry to get the sand out of their socks. When I get home, it is my job to process everything that I have experienced, and hopefully try to sell these observations to someone. To convey the story in a way that an editor might take a chance on me to buy, or will at the very least entertain a reader, possibly resonate with them, and inspire them.

The second-guessing is hard because you never really know what will sell in a story until you write it. How will the way you string words together serve the story? That is the hard part. That is the part that leaves me frozen. The bit that tells me I’m fooling myself and I should just apply for another desk job. Am I the best writer? No. But I’m not half bad. And the stories choose me anyway, I don’t choose them. The least I can do is put the words down as they are whispered to me and hopefully I’ve done a decent job.

Money is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t always mean you are doing good work, or the work you need to be doing. Twenty years pushing paper from one side of my desk to the other is evidence of that.

Right now, my learning curve is very steep in learning how to market myself, promote my writing, and try to assure myself I’m not going to die by getting a steady paycheck somehow from all of this. It doesn’t happen over night, so it is best to be patient.

So if you are a creative and you need a reminder that what you are doing is important, please, keep going. Keep going.

Content and Contentment

I remember when shower thoughts used to be deep and profound. That is one of the things I dislike about my forties. At some level, I have traded deep thoughts and pondering the universe with things like the best way to budget a purchase or what my next responsible step is towards achieving a goal.

When I was first divorced, I was dealing with a lot of turmoil in my life. So many changes hit at once. It was a stressful time, especially in the beginning when the mudslinging and outright lies of my then-soon-to-be-ex were looking like the only way that I was going to see my kids was through supervised visitations. All because I decided I had put up with enough abuse and decided to leave. There is a playbook, my friends, and every narcissist got a copy of it. They don’t deviate from it either. The endgame is to make everyone’s life hell because they hate themselves.

Needless to say, this causes a lot of stress.

So, in the beginning, I changed up the way I was living. Out on my own, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I was not longer doing two loads of laundry every day, or cleaning the house after working a 9 hour day, or doing dishes, making dinner for five. I had only myself to take care of for a short time. I got to learn how to be a little bit selfish again. I read a lot of things that helped me through those stressful days. It seemed like every day was different. New challenges awaited me every day with sharp teeth and an insatiable hunger.

I was retraining my brain too. In the beginning–and I know how sick this sounds–but I almost missed the abuse. I would check my email or voicemail for the familiar beratement, the humiliation. The sharp words I had gotten used to over the years. I distracted myself from that need to be criticised. I began criticising myself.

I started going to the gym. I realized that I had withstood fifteen years of that bullshit, I could power through twenty minutes on the eliptical. It was a hard twenty minutes. Then it became 40 minutes. I dropped weight. My cardio got better. I also ate less. I ate a banana every day because a divorced dad blog suggested this is a way to take care of yourself. It gives you healthy calories instead of empty ones. And unlike alcohol, you aren’t pumping a depressed body full of a depressant. I ate so many bananas in those first couple years that I can hardly stand them now. I eventually lost so much weight at such a rapid pace that my gallbladder shit out and I had to have it removed.

My dad gave me a great piece of advice. He suggested I make a list and every day, I cross something off that list. Some days I’ll cross a few things off the list and other days maybe only one. I got good at making lists and crossing things off. It was a good way to combat the depression. Yes, I said it. Depression. My life was hell in my marriage, I won’t sugar coat it, but I was going through a process of grieving. It was the end of a life I had known. In some ways I felt guilty for what my kids were going through. And then I was scared of the uncertainty of what would follow later on–in a life on my own. Those words she said would sometimes resonate with me. “Nobody is going to want a fat, bald asshole like you. Not unless you get one of those mail order brides!” My worth, she thought, was attached to the value she gave me. Which wasn’t a lot. At this point, I didn’t know what my real worth was. That would take a lot of time, a lot of miles on the treadmill, and a lot of bananas.

In the time between then and now, I have crossed a lot of things off so many lists. Today’s shower thoughts were what step comes next. I recently have found myself laid off from a job I have worked at for the last eighteen years. This was something that was in the works long before the pandemic. My next stop in life is trying to figure out how to maintain a life with freelance writing. In the shower I was thinking about how much to budget to buy equipment to start a podcast. Blogs don’t reach the audience they once did, and for some reason, I really have liked the platform of podcasting. It’s not the sound bites of the ADHD afflicted media where you are supposed to consume and digest all the information you know in thirty second sound bites. Clickbait headlines. And counterfactual content that varies from one content mill to the next. Journalism is dead, and I feel sorry for these kids going to college to become journalists. They might as well go back to work on a degree in phonograph repair.

But here I was, thinking about what kind of mics I might need, if my old MacBook can handle it. What would I talk about? Would anyone even listen to it? Why are my words any more important than anyone elses? It just seemed like a lot of self-serving ego tripping. Then I thought about all those miles and all those bananas and all those lists. Even then, I had a list I was checking off. Start a podcast. Why? Because why the hell not.

The lists allow you to maintain order. And outside, people are driving in their own cars right now wearing surgical masks and rubber gloves. They are washing their groceries when they get home. It is the same sort of insanity I had to live through when I was married to a self-congradulatory germaphobe. I find myself at a part of my life where the sidewalk has dropped out from under my feet. The world we once knew is changing. I don’t think it’s coming to an end, but it is definitely changing. The old Ivory Tower where I used to work is part of a system that has been revealed to be outliving its usefulness. Even last week, my son did his schoolwork from home. What would be expected to fill seven or eight hours in the day was accomplished before 9 am every day, with two Zoom meetings in the afternoon with his teacher during the rest of the week.

What comes next for me is just a matter of checking things off lists. Now, what comes next for so many of the rest of us is a little new. People aren’t handling things very well, being cooped up. They fear an invisible enemy. They are facing losing their jobs. Their relationships might even be coming apart at the seams because they are stuck with someone all day long they might usually only see for a few hours everyday. They are dealing with this depression, this mourning of the life they once knew by putting empty calories into their body. Self-medicating with alcohol. Infusing their daily thoughts with social media and the echo chamber you get from that. They are getting angry. Angry at the government. Angry at the press. Angry with themselves. And they should be! That is just one of the steps of processing grief. As shitty as my marriage was, I still grieved it. The potential ahead of me was often terrifying. Like a dog that gets kicked and finally gnaws through its chain, what happens next? Well for some of us, we run into traffic and get hit by a car. For the rest of us, we start off small. We eat bananas. We take care of our bodies. We cross things off lists. We fall down and get back up. We go in new directions and seek out new opportunities.

We leave that world behind because it wasn’t doing us any good.

I don’t know what happens next, but I know I’m not going to poison myself just to numb the pain. To drown out the confusion. It’s time to start making lists again. Put one foot in front of the other. Barring any disasters, I have the next 40 plus years ahead of me. Granted I wouldn’t mind having those old shower thoughts back. Like if we couldn’t see colors would we still appreciate sunsets? Or what would life be like now if I had made difference decisions?

Right now is a day to make decisions.

I decided to spend some money to start off something new in my life. And then I blew some more money on some stuff I have been wanting to replace, that I lost in my divorce. It’s going to be a gamble, but I am content with what I have. I’m fine with waiting things out at home. I have a supportive family and girlfriend, a son who wants to become a YouTuber and has been practicing his own content delivery on the iPad, without any resistance. Unlike my 40 something self. I keep thinking my first podcast will be a lot of ums and losing my train of thought. Lots of hating the sound of my own voice. That fear of not doing it perfectly. What Content can I come up with to enthrall people?

Well, let’s find out.