Words

I used to write letters to a woman I was dating.

No, let me go back further.

The first time I was in love, I wrote love letters almost daily to a girl and she wrote me back. I still have a box of her letters. A collection I compiled in two years of correspondence. In some of my darker moments, those letters have held me together. They brought back the moment that I went to the town post office and opened up the mailbox. The scent of paper and wood, brass keys, and vanillin, which the post office still smells of today. To read those letters takes me back to being 17, 18, and just past 19, almost like a negative space of a memory, since what I can read is usually in response to what I had said.

A moment when someone was giddy to see me. Someone who valued me as only young lovers do.

Among the things spoken of in those letters were typical teenaged worries. Getting into college. Trying out for the basketball team, pondering what the future held. Expressions of affection and brief flirtations with passionate moments between two kids on the verge of adulthood. In those times, phone calls were expensive and the distance we had to travel to see each other in person was prohibitive. You could send a ten page letter for $0.29 and keep that conversation forever. Well, half of the conversation anyway. A summer romance turned into a nearly four year relationship, which eventually ran its course. The letters stopped long before that, especially since we lived only about an hour apart for the last few years. Somehow that three week romance in person set the groundwork and we continued to grow together through our letters.

I never wrote my ex-wife letters. We met in college. We saw each other all the time. And as it goes with bad marriages, I don’t think we ever really communicated well. I can attest that we lacked the intimacy that those letters provided in my past. Maybe one of us had a set impression on who they wanted the other to be. We didn’t grow together. We could only grow apart. Funny how that happens between two people. Actually it isn’t funny at all. It’s tragic. Telling.

So, after my divorce, I dusted off that romantic part of my heart that had either been unappreciated or unused. It’s hard to tell which. I dated a woman for a few years. But she stopped reading my letters, saying they were “too personal” as though she were reading my diary or something. The idea of something so personal made her cringe. And when things fell apart, which they sometimes do between people, I saw that my letters were not the same as that first love. Oftentimes, they were discussions on what was going wrong, which were never answered.

As you continue to grow, people come and go from your life. You meet, sometimes fall in love, and sometimes realize that you weren’t as compatible as you thought. The next relationship was better than the one before it, but a red flag was that the few letters I wrote to her, she only finished reading one or two. Over the years my handwriting has gotten bad. Arthritis and took much typing have turned an already difficult work of penmanship into something arcane and almost illegible. In the end, she couldn’t be bothered to finish reading them. And not to be one to keep track of affection–which I dislike–but I never got one back either.

Talk about throwing your heart to the wind.

I like writing letters because the words come together as a permanent stain of ink on paper. There is no deleting what was said at the moment. A hard drive can’t be dumped. You can carry it around with you all the time until the paper loses its scent and every word is etched into your memory, or you can keep it in a box that never needs updating or a subscription to keep. You have those words forever. Maybe your children or grandchildren have those words. The double edged sword is that a letter you write when you are sad also stays on the page forever, unlike a text which will just scroll away into obscurity. On those pages are heartache and tear stains.

I’ve had those too.

I used to work with an old rancher who corresponded with the likes of JFK and Johnny Unitas and many others. He told me the key to writing a letter was to just put the words down like you were having a conversation with someone sitting across the table from you. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I got my Eagle Scout award. He held true to his word. It was like he was just saying what he thought. The meaning was clear and concise. Sparse and ommitting anything unnecessary to weigh it down. I lost that letter in my divorce, but I can still see the way his words had found themselves on the page in my memory. He had such hopes for seventeen year old me, just starting out in life.

I don’t read the old letters anymore, because I have outgrown them like an old favorite sweatshirt or pair of boots. I’m in my forties now and ready to make new memories and have new adventures. Reading those letters to my old self feels a little too much like intruding on someone else’s life. I wish him the best, since he eventually grows up to be me. I’ll give him his privacy now.

Maybe I just keep too much old junk around the house.

But unlike typing something out or thumbing it through as a text in messenger, when you take the time to find a pen and paper and put words down, trying to write them as carefully as you can so that the person receiving them can read what you said, and doing it in such a way that your thoughts have to be linear enough to convey meaning–because there’s no cut and paste function in a spiral notebook–that carries weight. It has meaning. It’s about as close to a magic spell as any of us will get.

Or maybe I’m just an anachronism. I’d rather begin my message to someone I care about with “Dear…” than “Hey, you up?” And just maybe you’ll find that out of all the methods of expression that have fallen out of favor over the years in preference to instant gratification, there are just a few romantic souls out there who cannot wait to rip open that envelope and see what is waiting for them inside. And sometimes the scariest thing about getting a letter back is the anticipation of what the other person will say. Good or bad. There’s powerful magic in that too.

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.

Early snow

Today was Labor Day in the USA. It used to mean the end of summer vacation, but since schools have been converted into state paid babysitting for the last 20 plus years or so, Summer vacation typically peters out in about mid-August for most people these days. When I was a kid, summer Vacation began with Memorial Day and ended on Labor Day, giving us around 100 or so day of summer. Of course where I grew up, this also meant these were the only relatively snow free days of the year. Give or take a week or two either way.

I used to dread snow, because it meant being trapped in the mountains for any of eight months per year. We had two seasons: winter and mosquitos. I still have nightmares about needing to get out of town before the roads closed.

This year is different. The running gag seems to be that this year things can’t get much worse. Truth be told, things can always get worse, don’t fool yourself. They’ve been worse. They will be worse at some point. 2020 is not the high water mark. According to some, 12,500 years ago, most of the human inhabited world was either suddenly under water or on fire. This is definitely worse that a game show host being the President of the USA. If I have to remind you of this, then you need to check your priorities.

This year, a big chunk of Colorado is expected to get around a foot of snow. We need it. For the last week or so, ash has been falling from the skies like snow. Some of the chunks I have seen are recognizable. Pine needles, flecks of bark, wood, pine seeds. They are now reduced to ash and we have been breathing them. I’ve had a wicked sinus headache and trouble breathing for a few days now. If you think COV1D, let me remind you that it has been snowing ash for the last week here. The smoke cloud hit 45,000 ft. in altitude the other day. It has blacked out the sun and it has been dark all day here.

Already the winds have cleared out the smoke in town and you can feel the chill in the air. A good snow storm will do more to control the fire than all the fireline crews and helicopters full of slurry we can throw at it.

Spending most of my time indoors for the last week has been a good thing for my creativity and productivity. I’ve been writing like crazy, taking off only a few days. My average word count on days I have been writing has been right around 4500 words. Some days has been 6500 and others have been 4000. I’ve been able to sit down and write a chapter a day in many cases.

Today, my son came back for the week, and it being Labor Day and the worst smoke yet, we decided to buy him some new shoes for the school year, heading south to Denver just to get the hell out of the smoke and ash. I took the day off so well that after he went to bed, I didn’t even know what I wanted to work on for the book. Every other day, I have had an idea for a chapter forming in my head, but today it has been a wash. I moved plants in from outside. I took a nap. We got settled in.

In a few days, I’ll be 45. Usually this time of year I get a little maudlin. Considering the challenges 2020 has held, I won’t veer into that territory. The last year has been some of the best times of my life. Also some of the most heartbreaking at times. A year ago, my son got me sick with some crud he brought home from school. I got pneumonia, which persisted until November. I still struggle with breathing problems. I dealt with more bullshit from my day job until the writing was on the wall and layoffs were imminent. I threw my hands up in the air and stops trying to please people who would never think my effort was ever good enough.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who have left my life ever think of me. If they ever miss me the way I miss them. Hell, there are times I still think about the people I knew in elementary and high school. I can still see their faces in my memories. It’s a good thing I have been gifted with the ability to write, because I have been cursed with a long memory. In the fifteen years I was married, some of my dearest friends moved on without me. My life was complex, a world of constant conflict. In many ways it was easier to just drift apart. At least they couldn’t see my destruction and I didn’t have to hear them try to save me. When I emerged from that cave, they were all changed, and I was trying to be the man I started off as when I went down into the dark.

Maybe they don’t. Most people have short memories and shallow hearts.

In a couple days, I’ll be 45. I’ve learned how to let go of some things and how to hold on to others. Mostly I try to walk away from toxic people, situations. I have turned my focus from chasing and chasing to pushing forward. I’ve put my long memory to use and am working on building a world that others can relate to. Right now, my big fears are being a good enough dad, pushing through an entire lifetime of being told nice things are for other people, more talented, well-connected people. Not some middle-aged guy who grew up in a poor Colorado mountain town.

“Quit these pretentious things, and just punch the clock,” as Arcade Fire says. But it’s hard to do this. I cannot begin to tell you how hard this is.

I punched a clock for 20 plus years. Now I get to work on my own, set my own schedule, and maybe the payoff will be everything I ever hoped for, or complete failure. At least the choice is mine now. I would say that it’s better to learn this at 45 than it is to learn it at 65.

I might not have worked on the book today, but I wrote here, and I suppose that is worth something.