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.

Starting over and over

Today was a day with a lot of resistance. I’ve been re-reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and trying to get myself set in what I need to do to write. Jeez, that’s all I talk about, you might think. Writing. It’s because I love it. It also scares the hell out of me. Mostly because I respect what good writing is and I hope in some way I am achieving that. For those of you who don’t write, I hope that you can appreciate any other substitution for a passion that doesn’t alienate you.

I share these words not just for you, but because I am in the process of manifesting everything that I want.

I am 46 years old. A little bit long in the tooth to still be following my dreams, some might think. By now, most of my friends are looking at the coast and glide of being at least over halfway through their careers. Things like 401ks and hedge funds might mean something to them. Some are thinking of retirement. And here I am starting over again.

I had to start over from zero a few times in the last few years. The first time I started over was seven years ago, when I decided to end my marriage of 15 years. With it also went an adulthood of accumulated things. Furniture. Memories. Photo albums. Things I had inheirted, which were all lost in the blink of an eye like a housefire that has been burning for the last seven years. Today I am a man who doesn’t even own a couch. The majority of my furniture was given to me by friends who couldn’t stand seeing me living in a house with a card table to eat dinner on or sitting on the floor to watch TV. I’ve had good, kind people in my life who were willing to share their abundance when I was just beginning again.

I moved again after my job of nearly 20 years ended and the world was changing due to a pandemic. I’m starting over again, back where I started, back where I grew up. Some days I think of being the age I am now and feeling like I’ve got a 10-15 year late start. The work that I am trying to do is overwhelming sometimes. A dream better suited to a younger man.

I think sometimes of the things that I want, a vision of how I want my life to be, and that can be disheartening. Sometimes it feels like I’ve run out of time for anything like that. I check home listings on Zillow at places I would love to live and unlike the first time I bought a house, you can’t pick up a three bedroom with a finished basement for $165k anymore. Try $700k, depending on what you are looking for. I wonder how anyone does it. I worry that my life will have come and gone before I can buy a house. Or if I could, I’ll be in my late 70s before I can pay off a mortgage.

It’s unreal.

I drive a used Jeep Liberty with a lot of miles on it, but it is paid for. I live in my grandparents’ old house, which takes a lot of work. It’s a great place to have an office where I can write at least. My office is my favorite room in the house. In those ways, it gives me the solitude I need to get the work done and keeps a roof over my head. I’m not a social butterfly around town, so I don’t have a lot of distractions other than when my dog wants to play fetch. Or when my son is with me and wants to chat about Marvel superheroes and Star Wars and Vietnam and a hundred other things.

My family is closeby, which means I’m around if they need me. Sometimes I turn them down for offers to have dinner together because it feels good to be asked, but I have the luxury of declining the offer. I have other things to do. Just because I’m not punching a clock doesn’t mean I’m not working.

I guess when I look at the STUFF that I want. A dream house, a 4Runner, bi-yearly trips to Europe, a Sprinter van, winters someplace tropical, it stings a little because I’m starting off from the ground level again, and those are things only the seasoned professional can afford. Those are luxuries. Maybe a different version of me who took a different path has those things and I’m feeling the pull of it on some quantum level.

So I was reading the War of Art and came across this:

Restance and Being a Star

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Steven Pressfield, the War of Art

I’m not an heir to some family fortune. Nobody is chasing me with an advance check or a three book deal. I’m just a man who never shuts up about writing because it not only brings him peace of mind, on occasion it has given him joy. Feeling overwhelmed that my writing hasn’t allowed me to drop $700k on a house or a new Toyota is the sign of an amateur. Feeling frustrated that I don’t have thousands of followers is holding me back. I can either give in and take a job and go back to scribbling whenever I’m not so exhausted to stay awake, or I can use my time to throw myself into this endeavor. Sometimes losing myself in it and dragging my friends and readers down into it with me.

Maybe I’ll never be able to afford a big house or a nice car or trips or even a couch. But I’ll have the satisfaction of doing something that I love. I’ve had stuff before. Lots of stuff. And hardly any of it brought me any real joy. Right now, I can live a life without the pursuit of stuff and I can work towards manifesting my dreams.

For someone who says a lot, I don’t talk much

It was April 1997 and a friend of mine approached me on the campus quad. She was a classmate from my poetry class, and as it happened also the editor of the campus literary magazine which I had been accepted into with a short story of mine. It was my second published story. It probably ran about 1200 words. I don’t remember. Anyway, Dana had caught me on my way to work and we chatted for a bit. The April clouds were rolling up in that dark, ambiguous way when you aren’t sure if the fickle gods of Colorado weather are going to deliver you rain or a blizzard.

“Are you coming to the release party tonight?” she asked.

“I didn’t know that was tonight.”

“You need to be there. Please come.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll think about it,” which meant no.

“No, you have to come!” she said.

When I got home that night, the place was its usual level of being trashed. One roomate in his boxers, slung out across the couch watching TV. The other two making something for dinner for the three of them. Another night of dealing with their bullshit. And me being the odd man out. So I decided to go.

When I got to the release party at the University Center, they had a whole spread going on. The event was catered. There were at least 200 people there. Professors. Students. Rows of chairs were set up in front of a podium. Stacks of the literary magazine were being handed out. I ran into Dana and she gave me a hug. “I’m glad you came! Congratulations!”

“For what?” I asked.

“You’ll see. I’m just glad you came.”

Ten minutes later, everyone sat down and listened to our editor in chief talk about the success of the literary magazine. Then she announced the winners of the the categories of Best in Poetry, Best Non-fiction, and Best in Fiction.” I was the winner of the Best in Fiction category. I was asked to read my story in front of the crowd.

In the beginning, I was choked up, I stammered over words, I laughed nervously. The last couple months had been rough. I had just gone through a breakup with my first girlfriend, and now my relationship with my roomates/bandmates was beginning to unravel. We had all known each other since early Elementary school yet somehow things were coming to an end. We had heated arguments. I had already secured a place to move into at the beginning of the next month and hadn’t told them yet. My intention was to just move out all of my shit in the middle of the day when they were all at class or work. They had found out a couple days before. They didn’t like how I stayed up til all hours of the night, writing, they didn’t like how I would sometimes disappear for a weekend and not tell anyone where I was going or when I would be back. In my opinion, as long as the rent checks kept clearing, what business of theirs was it? My self-confidence had taken some massive hits. I was set adrift. My support systems were changing. Those that I had considered my friends had been treating me like an outsider for a long time now.

As I read my story, the crowd was silent. Enthralled. They laughed at all the right parts. I got into reading it so much that I wasn’t sure if I should have read the entire story, but I did, and they listened. When I was done, they stood up and cheered and clapped. Jeez, I felt overwhelmed by it. For months I had felt like nothing and now this…

Out of the deal, I got a certificate (Which I still have), a t-shirt featuring an original piece of art which was also the cover for the magazine (which I still have, though it is faded nearly white), and I got to be interviewed for the campus newspaper. Looking back now, I’m glad that I have continued to write, because even though it might have been the high water mark for literary fiction at the University of Northern Colorado in 1997, it was far from being the best thing I have ever written.

I was thinking about this memory for another reason today. Blogging is pretty much dead. Lately I have been creating more content, publishing almost daily, and my numbers still haven’t changed much for either blog. Part of me thinks I need to get back into podcasting, but I think that wave is already retreating back onto the the beach. The Netflix show “Only Murders in the Building” have latched onto podcasts as this hip thing that everyone is into, which just means that it’s already on the way out.

I think maybe if I get back into podcasting, I can make something of that. But here’s the thing. I don’t mind writing stories. I have been told I have a great voice for radio. And back in the mid-nineties, the movie Pump Up the Volume gave me aspirations at one time to get into radio. That was just before J-Corp and other conglomerates ruined music radio for all time. I’m glad I didn’t get into broadcasting then, for the same reasons I’m glad I wasn’t a journalism major just before HuffingtonPost trashed journalism.

I’ve been told I have a wonderful voice to listen to. I usually humor them. I don’t agree. I’ve always hated the sound of my own voice.

I just keep thinking about reading up in front of hundreds of people and how even then I hated it. When I write something, I have a voice that sounds fine as something to read, but the times I have tried to read it out loud and record for a podcast, it sounds stilted. It grates on my nerves. There isn’t the flow of conversation that I enjoy in podcasts I have listened to. It feels like a really shitty audiobook read by someone I’d rather not listen to for long. Or listening to a high-school play.

So, I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to try to get my content out there and read or seen. Magazines are full of flaky editors who are busy jumping from one place to the next instead of responding to query letters. Magazines pop up and fold. People seem to have no attention span to read anything longer than a few paragraphs, yet when I write blogs for companies, they tell me to create good SEO content, each post should be over 800 words. I think I’m just writing to AI algorithms at that point. Nobody is really reading it.

Nobody wants to read the 2000 word narrative about your Hungarian neighbor, they just want the goddamned recipe for goulash.

So, I continue to write, because that’s what I do. It’s what keeps me sane. The 20 or so readers that I have are important to me. Would I like that to be 20,000? Sure.

Anyway, I might put this on my podcast, Gasoline Shower Thoughts and see if it gets any kind of traction. Sometimes I think I’m just missing some crucial step and nobody is being exposed to my work. Maybe more people would like it. Maybe I could make some money off of it to continue to create content. But it always seems that there’s some other component to buy or plug in to install or little secret trick nobody is telling you about.

There are gatekeepers everywhere and it is frustrating. And my thoughts are of sitting alone in a room listening to the sound of my own voice, talking to nobody else. And that bugs the hell out of me. Sometimes it feels like success in this kind of thing is for other people.

But hell, look what happens sometimes when you just bother to show up.