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.

Things that are bullsh*t

In my 45 years on this planet, I have learned that a large number of things I was told while I was growing up are simply not true. So, I decided to make a list.

Blood is thicker than water

Not true at all. Family are people you happened to be around more than other people. Probably because some of them just happened to be at the table when the food was getting passed around. A major clue people should have figured out on this is that everyone knows someone who is a complete asshole. There is a distinct certainty that this person is someone’s son, daughter, cousin, aunt, parent, etc. There’s a good chance they are an even bigger asshole to the people that are forced to pass them the gravy at dinner.

You can’t choose who you love

Actually, you can, and really you should. Truth be told, you do. You make a conscious decision every time you interact with that person whether or not to give them affection. If you aren’t, then you should consider contacting a witch or someone who can remove the spell that has been cast over you. Because if they are screwing someone else, disrespecting you, hurting you, or even flat out ignoring you, you are the one choosing to “love” them. The same applies to all relationships. Kids, parents, spouses, friends, or just anyone. Signs that you aren’t making this choice include small bottles containing nails, hair, urine, or other personal items that you randomly find under your bed or under your porch. Seek professional help.

It didn’t use to be like this

No, it wasn’t. Sometimes it was worse. Though the world is inundated with “woke” people, Karens demanding to see the manager, rabid conservatives, and social injustice at every turn, I have never seen someone lynched, I haven’t watched someone beat a mule to death in the street, the local warlord hasn’t rounded up the town virgins for prima nocte. There aren’t people impaled along the roadside and left to the carrion birds. And the story of the “Little Matchgirl” just sounds like a hyperbolic if not morbid Christmastime story, rather than current events. You aren’t suffering the same ways that people in the past have done. You are usually just inconvenienced.

Karma is going to bite them in the ass

No it won’t. That’s just you hoping bad people will get their just desserts. They won’t. Even if they did, they won’t see it that way. Truly awful people go around in this world reaping the benefits of other people’s misery. The villain is the hero of their own story. The only people “karma” affects are good people who thing they are being punished for something, when it really has nothing to do with anything other than shit luck. They work for a long time to pay pennance. The reality of it is that karma never works because the people deserving the shit end of the stick has no more concept of wrong doings that deserve cosmic punishment than a yellowjacket that stings you for wearing red.

You can only be loved as much as you love yourself

Not true. Sometimes people love us in spite of this. What we can all hope for is we realize we need to catch up before we miss out. Loving ourselves is a good way to make sure that we aren’t making those who love us miserable. And it’s a good way to not be an attention thirsty trainwreck incapable of reciprocating that love.

My day

So my birthday has come and nearly gone again, I am at the apogee of my next year, the furthest point from the next time this day comes around again. For the most part I haven’t done a lot today. I visited with a friend, opened an unexpected present, and hung out with my son. We munched on cherry cheesecake and walked Umbrella Academy season one. I also got my free coffee at Dutch Bros. today.

The funny thing about free coffee this morning was they all asked me what I was going to do for my birthday. I even woke up this morning to a text wishing me happy birthday from someone I spent time growing up with long ago. She hoped I was having adventures today. Honest, today was so sedate, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Really I had no desire to do much. With everyone still on lockdown and forced to wear masks anywhere you turn, hot springs still closed down until further notice, and not even a movie theatre open, my options were limited. I could either stay at home or spend money on food. I stayed at home and sliced up a sirloin roast and marinaded it to make beef jerky.

I am a wildman.

I might get some writing done tonight before I go to bed. I might not. Today was just sort of a stay at home and be lazy day. Maybe this is a symptom of the overall malaise everyone is going through these days, or maybe it’s just a part of being more comfortable in my own skin. I haven’t had FOMO for a while, mostly because nobody is really doing much to miss out on, and I’ve been busy with writing and figuring out my life these days. Letting things go.

I think back to last year and how I was just beginning a wonderful journey with the woman I was dating at the time. We spent all afternoon and most of an evening in Glenwood Springs in a hot spring listening to New Age music and then devouring an entire pizza together on the drive home. It was a great birthday, and enough to shut me up for a while about how “Nothing good ever happens on my birthday.”

The year before basically marked the end of another relationship. That was hard. It was more in line with how things had been. High expectations for a wonderful day and then the rug jerked out from underneath me. On my birthday, I have been fired two different times, had the flu as least a dozen times, been stood up for my birthday party, and any number of things that generally sucked. I’ve had some good ones. Last year, my 40th, my 21st (where the girl I was dating gave me a kilt), and a few other really good ones.

This year was neither phenomenal nor disappointing. It was peaceful, and I didn’t even have the urge to run out and get myself a gift. I was content with everything that I have. I think about those kids at Dutch this morning and that need to run out and celebrate. Maybe last year was the final time I feel that urge? Any day can be a day to run out and celebrate. Any day is the day that you can make your own.

Throughout the day I got notifications on Facebook from friends and family wishing me a Happy Birthday. It was nice to hear from everyone. It made me feel appreciated. Remembered. I sometimes thing of the past and those who are no longer in my life, and though I miss them, I can enjoy the good times and that brings me joy. I wonder if they thought of me today. I thought of them.

Tonight is not a melancholy night. No, that might happen later when I write. But for now, I am Clinton. I live. I burn with life. I love. I slay and am content. Today I became 45 years old. I’m just hitting my stride.