Three Defining Moments

Today, I rewatched the movie “Wild” based on the non-fiction novel by Cheryl Strayed. I’ve been picking at the book again, but wanted a different perspective when experiencing the story again. It has been years since I watched the film. It’s about healing. Heatache. Redemption. It always hits hard.

In my life, there have been at least three big defining moments. At the risk of sounding selfish, I want to state early on that what you are about to read are my own moments and hopefully you don’t place judgment on me for what I am about to write. These words are not easy, but I hope that they have truth to them. No, these moments won’t include the birth of my kids or anything like that which parents are always expected to say. In retrospect, those moments were stressful and usually made miserable by a very selfish partner. I’ve blocked a lot of those memories unfortunately. Either because of exhaustion or stress or general unpleasantness. I love my kids, don’t get me wrong, but things like learning how to ride a bike or being pushed into the world are things that belong to them. Not me.

The first defining moment of my adult life was the UN Trip, in which I got on board a bus with forty other 15-17 year olds and we traveled across the country, visiting historical sites and landmarks along the way, all the way from Denver to St. Louis, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York City for a week, Niagara Falls, and then back home again. On this trip, it was a source of many firsts. It was the first time I was away from my parents longer than just a day or two. The first time I left the country. The first time I had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (in the World Trade Center no less). My first kiss. And so many other moments. I have lived on those experiences throughout my tumultuous adult life. My awful marriage. All the years I have been pretty much broke. And these experiences have seasoned my mind for pretty much the rest of my life in some regard.

This trip was that moment of Awakening, like when E.M. Forster writes about the transition into adulthood. It was the summer that meant saying goodbye to how I thought as a child and learning so much about myself and other people.

My second defining moment was very much like my first. It involved a trip. I wrote a lot about it on my travelblog, but when I changed domain hosts, all of those entries evaporated. Be careful what you put on the internet, because it will be there forever…unless you stop paying your hosting service. Then they will make sure the internet is scrubbed completely. My trip to the UK was my first international solo trip and really my first solo trip of any significance. I figured out how to get around, pushed my boundaries and got blasted out of my comfort zones on a daily basis.

This trip was a lot about shedding the last fifteen years or so. From the experiences of my marriage, the divorce, my first romance which really messed my head up, and the loss of two of my three kids due to parental alienation. Getting out on this trip expanded my horizons, brought my confidence back, and helped me to heal from a relationship where I never really felt like I was good enough.

Now, I feel like I am beginning yet another journey. Only because of COVID, I can’t go anywhere to get away from the situation like I did last year. Instead, I’ve been writing a lot more. This time, the journey is within. It is sharing the stories that have built up over the last 25 years. Whenever anyone asks what I’m working on, this is what I tell them. Their response is usually something like “You’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Yes, I do. Which might explain why sometimes the stories just demand to be told. I will often find myself sitting up at 2 or 3am, writing things down. The ideas are insisting that they be jotted down or even fleshed out. My biggest problem now is trying to figure out how to connect all of these expanding ink blots into a cohesive narrative.

These stories are the result of needing to get over my last serious relationship, which ended during lockdown. It was amazing while it lasted, but only served to give me more questions than answers when it was over. The other thing I am getting through is the end of my job of 18 years and coming to terms with that. It’s not as easy as you might think! And the third thing is what so many of us are dealing with right now: the end of life as we used to know it. Whether that is political platforms, mass germaphobia, or possibly never being able to go to a movie or concert ever again…the world we all used to know will be changed significantly once this is all said and done. We are only seeing the beginning too.

So, I will be posting updates of my thought process as I work through the book. I hope you enjoy the posts!

The Glass is Half Full

Yesterday was a rough day. I’m struggled with the idea of putting these words down, mostly because even though this is a personal blog, I get a lot of traffic from other sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Why I chose to list a personal blog on an employment site is beyond me. After all, so much about getting a J-O-B is telling an employer what they want to hear.

In my case what I want an employer to SEE is that I am a writer. I don’t pull punches. My work is honest. This is my voice. That is what a writer should be. Open up the veins and bleed onto the page, like Hemingway used to say. Easy as that. But these days, people only want to hear what they want. Things that will make them feel secure in their decisions, ways that will allow them to sleep better at night.

I’m sleeping for shit.

If you are a prospective client, you’ll notice that sentence was in the active voice. Your SEO checker on your website would be pleased. But I would also hope you know too that SEO bots don’t know everything. They know absolutely nothing about the human condition.

Yesterday, all my problems were right in my face

Yesterday was hard because I’m dealing with the confluence of many problems. Getting my writing off the ground, dealing with a week without my son at home, grieving the loss of what felt like a really good relationship, and of course a layoff. I have been officially unemployed for over a week now. It isn’t much different from the preceding four weeks where a giant workstation occupied my kitchen table and I would log in a few times a day to fight fires. Only now I can eat my meals at the table without a computer in my face.

If you are one of my friends who is reading this, you might have noticed I am off FaceBook. I pulled the plug last night. One of the reasons I kept with it as long as I did was to promote my blog and podcast posts. FakeBook is social media at its worst. I have railed about this plenty of times, but I will sum up what it wrong with it in a nice bulleted list:

  • It’s bullshit: People put a false image of what their lives are and that is what we are supposed to believe.
  • Algorithms don’t give a fuck about you: Out of those 300+ “Friends” on your list, why is it you only see posts from about 20 of them? The rest of the content you are scrolling through for literally hours every day is put there to take money out of your pocket and put it into someone else’s. It’s mostly ads or videos that get paid for the number of clicks. Your information is scoured for data everyday and that is all you will see in return. It’s the echo-chamber effect. Why do you think that the dogmas of the political parties have gotten so much worse? Or why any dissention against the coronavirus pandemic are dealt with in such polarized ways? Look up “Garbage in/Garbage out.”
  • It’s lonely: Seeing the happy lives of others, even if it is fake, doesn’t make you feel any better about yourself. The serotonin drip from instant gratification of every like, heart, care, etc. etc. is there to keep you maintaining. The isolation you find yourself in every time you logon is there to promote scarcity. If you have been in an unhealthy relationship, you’ll know that withholding affection is actually a good way to get someone to try to cling tighter to you. Dole out a little approval and they will keep trying. The situation works exactly the same with lab rats and training circus animals. Only in that case, they respond better to food.

The risks and the gains

By dropping off FakeBook, I risk losing a lot of readers. But, I also get several hours of my day back. I can put that to better uses, such as writing, and actually socializing when this lockdown is in the past. As it stands, I only had a handful of readers come through from FakeBook anyway. Most of the time they would scroll right past my blog links or just “like” them. Writers actually like to be read. It’s frustrating to be a writer these days. I guess I will find out who genuinely follows my blog, and who just likes to scroll in the upcoming weeks.

At this shitstorm of depression, uncertainty, and isolation, I’ve had a hell of a time being motivated to do much of anything. Some mornings I have to will myself to get out of bed, brush my teeth, get showered, and anything else that used to just be a part of my daily routine. Gone are the evening phonecalls with my girlfriend, which were wonderful at helping my mind wind down, which have now been replaced with a sense of mistrust and scepticism for anyone saying that they are “all in.” Gone are the good morning texts. Gone are the regular paychecks that ensure I won’t starve to death–even if the work was at a minimum and hardly fulfilling.

My coping mechanisms have been absent as well. I used to work out several times a week, and I have to say that 40 minutes on an eliptical is as good as a therapy session for burning that stress out of your mind. Trips to the store to buy healthy foods whenever I wanted to are now a hassle. It’s fat and flour, stuff out of a box, and to-go orders for the last two months. Garbage in. Garbage out. You can’t be mentally healthy with junk food fueling your body. I have lost weight though, mostly because I have been living off coffee and not eating meals a lot of the time.

Wiggle your big toe…

Routine is important because it gives us structure. Humans need structure as much as affection, and new experiences. It has been an uphill battle to brush my teeth, eat, and exercise, much less write, build websites, or record podcasts. It helps to set goals, no matter how small or nearby. I will get up. I will brush my teeth. I will shower. I will do the dishes. I will return that phone call. I will get coffee. I will take the next breath. I will put one foot in front of the other. And so on…

I’m tired of distracting myself with empty things. Because when things are empty, you are filling them with what little you have left in your tank. Right now, I have things that need to be done. I think it’s pretty telling when you talk to your doctor and your therapist about getting off social media and both of them say “Good!” I got less flack from my doctor about cigars than I did FaceBook. Though I did get flack.

Anyway, I have a lot of work to do. If you are interested in my progress, bookmark my site, because I won’t be posting links on FaceBook anymore unless it somehow does it automatically to a closed page or account.

Good Mourning

One moment, grief is a far-off line on the beach and then the next it surrounds you. Engulfing you.  That first smack in the face with cold, salty water takes the breath out of your lungs.  It makes your limbs numb, your chest hurt, you neck stiff. You panic.  You gasp for every breath as long as you can fill your lungs with air that never tasted so sweet. And eventually, when it is over your head, and you can no longer hold your breath anymore, you relent and take in that first big gulp.

To be clear, this is not a post about losing someone to death.  According to research in Emotionally Focused Therapy (see, Hold Me Tight, by Dr. Sue Johnson), there isn’t a lot of difference between the grief of losing someone to death, and the end of a close relationship.  Your brain registers both as loss in the emotional part, known as the amygdala.  I suppose going back far enough up the timeline, our ancestors might wave goodbye to their loved ones as they went on a hunting trip and there was a good chance they would never see them again.  That separation registers the same in that part of our minds which still loves the chill of the wind on our skin and looks up at the moon with amazement and wonder.  I can attest that loss is loss.

You mourn the possibilities. The fresh memories. The conversations. The chance for more perfect moments. When someone is gone there is no more of that. In some ways, loss of relationship is worse because closure doesn’t happen the same way as it does with death.  It is gradual.  And there is the hope that they will come back. Even a mourner who pays a psychic medium to contact their dead relatives knows they aren’t coming back.  But you know there will come a day when you bump into the person you lost and it will all come flooding back again. There stands before you a stranger who still carries a part of you with them.

Take a deep breath. The tide is coming in. Now, hold it as the water crashes against your face. You’re going to be okay.

I have had three major losses in the last three years. The first was my eldest son, who finally succumbed to parental alienation tactics from his mom and I haven’t spoken with him since April 4, 2016. It was to be the last time I saw him as himself.  The last time he slept in his bed at my house. He stopped coming over.  Refused to talk to me.  Or even look at me. Three years of this now.  On September 17, 2018, his sister followed in his footsteps. That is a whole other story to drown in. She had been my favorite.  I know parents aren’t supposed to have those, but fathers of daughters know differently.

They both go by their mother’s name now.  They remind me of this whenever they can. I have one kid left, and already his mom is working on him as the next to leave.

On January 10th, things ended with the woman I had been dating.  It had been a roller-coaster ride of three years–thrilling, captivating, dangerous, and sometimes nerve-wracking. Sometimes we were great at supporting each other, and other times, we were good at pulling at our fraying loose ends.  She left with no answers for me as to why she had to leave, but this time, I suspected, was different.  It would not be like the other times when she would come back later and we would patch things up and start it all over again.  Something had changed.  Something that I still can’t put my finger on.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I felt everything begin to fall apart. A moment when all the color was washed out of the forests and the sky over the mountains was no longer as blue as it had once been.

“I don’t need to be lectured by you.”

The rest was just a matter of waiting.  Five months of time and space. Desperation.  Maintaining.  She had important matters to take care of that eclipsed my understanding.  But every day, I felt her drift further away. And then…nothing.

It is the pain of an old wound sometimes that brings the tide in close. For me a year ago I shared a perfect day with her. I was Hylas and she was a water nymph. It was a new beginning.  A few days ago (Saturday) I took a road trip by myself to Glenwood Springs and was reminded of another perfect day with her. A hike up to Doc Holliday’s grave.  Singing with Whitesnake and Damn Yankees on the road to Ouray.

The drive home on Saturday night was snowy, just like the evening of one of our perfect reunions. But this time there was no phone call on the road as the snow fell. It was just me.  At some point you realize they aren’t coming back.

All those times before when a reconciliation meant the chance for a new happy ending. The music swells. The couple kisses. The father and son embrace.  The little girl buries her teary face into her daddy’s shoulder. Roll credits.

That is only the movies.

Just like a death, you are left with empty rooms and boxes of memories. All this space. What do you do with all of this space?  Do you fill it up with something else or do you just close the doors on it leaving it cold and dark.  No prayers, pleas, deals, or invocation of dark forces will bring them back. You are left with a hole inside of yourself.

Sometimes anger fills that void. Regret. Foolishness. You try to fill it with God.  Exercise.  Alcohol.  Attention.  But these are all just distractions.  There is a voice in your ear telling you to open your eyes and look.  Open your heart and feel the pain rushing in and out of you with every breath. The good and bad coursing through your veins.

You can’t run away from it. Not for long at least.

For the Woman: Every time you see a car that looks like theirs (I counted seventeen on the way to Glenwood and back). The places you had been.  A turn of phrase someone used. Perfect posture and silent belly laughs. Any one of a hundred songs on your playlists that were your song. The flashes of memory you get out of nowhere, that just about knock you over. Brown eyes staring back into yours.

For the Daughter: A shock of floofy blonde hair and round sunglasses.  Owls. Converse sneakers. Rowdy teenagers laughing at inappropriate things.  Internet memes.  Olives. The Outsiders, and “An illustrator’s work is never done.”

The Son: YouTube videos playing in the background at all times, interesting facts, books that took ALL of his attention.  Video games. Awkward hugs.  The Man Who Sold the World and the Starman waiting in the sky.  Memories of him are darker now, like the image in an old mirror.

But there are the things you don’t miss and it all comes together, swirling like a maelstrom. Like wondering where they are at 2am on New Years Eve and why they aren’t with you. Fighting for their time.  Processing. The chase. The coldness.  Dry toothbrushes in the bathroom. The secrets. Wondering why out of all the people in their life, you were the only one who didn’t make the cut. Trying harder. The endless whining about teenagery things. The Red Flags. The coldness. Driving across town to appointment after appointment.  The letters to end our association, signed, sealed and then torn up and thrown away. Social justice politics and being told the ways of the world by a fifteen year old. The lies. The messy rooms that smell like bologna. The goodbyes and final farewell kisses. Always having to try harder and never getting it right. The coldness.

You want to pretend you are better off without all that.

This is also my story to tell. My curse as a writer is to take the thoughts in my brain and commit them to print. Some people draw pictures.  Others run. But this is the only way I know that works to put things in boxes so they can be shut away in cold, dark rooms of my heart. It is the way of grief. You never really get rid of it. You just stop going into those rooms as often.

I have no one to bear witness to my life, except the empty page, eager to take it all in.  It says, “Let’s begin now.”  And with that, the waters recede just a little more.