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.

Cabin fever

Well, most of us have been on lockdown for a few weeks already and you know, there isn’t really a lot that has changed in my life. Well, other than the soul crushing loneliness sometimes. And when I say sometimes, I mean it. It isn’t a continual thing. There have been times when I have gone days without speaking to another person. Even on my trip to the UK last year, other than the person I was ordering food or coffee from, I didn’t speak a lot to other people. When I did, sometimes I would feel a little bit awkward, as though my words were just a jumble.

I feel like that a lot lately. Sometimes it gets to me, like the other day when I was walking around campus for some exercise and I ran into Larry the Cop. I’ve known Larry for a number of years, but other than him recognizing me, I don’t think he even knows who I am. I hadn’t spoken to many people at all by then. Maybe my gf or my mom and dad on the phone, but that was about it. This was the first person I had spoken with face to face in many days. I pretty much unleashed a whole weeks worth of information on the poor man.

Then, I was fine. I went home, I wrote. I cleaned house. I was productive. This working from home thing has been awesome. I can get everything done without distractions. I don’t have to listen to every stupid story or exclamation about the weather, or worse yet the all-knowing/all-seeing weather app. You know, rather than just looking outside.

On Monday, we got our notice that our jobs were ending. They gave us five days to apply for the new positions, and like the dutiful battered spouses so many of us on campus are to our jobs, 90% of us were interested in fighting for those crumbs. You see, the deal is to consolidate 65 jobs down to about 12. You won’t have a pay increase for the additional duties and training, and there’s no guarantee that the university will even be there in two years. But like the person who walks around with a shiner and makes up an excuse for their abuser, everyone was willing to go back to the piece of shit.

My state of mind lately during this quarantine and these layoffs hasn’t been that great, but it could have been worse. Usually I look at my housekeeping as an indication of my state of mental health. I let the dishes pile up in the sink. I haven’t folded laundry in days. But every once in a while I’ll tackle a problem that hasn’t been looked at for a while. The other day, I cleaned my oven. Today, I shampooed my carpets. Then I cleaned out the steam cleaner and I did it again. The carpets which have been looking like the floor of a crack house because of my son’s potato chips and my indifference to garlic and onion skins which drift in and out of the kitchen needed to be addressed. I did it. I shampooed the damned rugs.

I’ve been too busy lately with paid writing assignments as I get ready to transition over to writing full-time. Sometimes it is difficult to not become distracted. I mean Facebook is just a tab over. There’s instagram, twitter, and emails. But all of those are wearing thin these days.

I went on a walk today because I need the exercise. As a person with asthma, I need regular exercise or else my lungs feel kinda junky. They’ve been like this since September when I had pneumonia. With this pandemic, I can’t help but feel like I’m susceptible for pneumonia again, which isn’t anything I ever want to have to deal with. So, I listen to my body. It says I’m getting fat eating pasta and bread at home all day, so I get up and I do something about it. I take a walk and immediately feel gassed. With the layoffs coming, about a month ago I let my gym membership lapse. So, no eliptical for me these days. No twice-daily walks at work. I pretty much walk about ten feet in any direction and spend the rest of the day sitting. Or eating.

To make sure I don’t get sick, my gf and I just talk on the phone. I miss the hell out of her. But she’s protecting me, and that feels wonderful. My ex-wife, in a less altruistic turn, hasn’t let our son come over to my house for three weeks. She has claimed that the kids have all been sick with COVID19 and sends me lectures on hygiene and epidemiology to shame me because we all are supposed to recognize that she knows more than the doctors and isn’t she just the better parent?

I’ve missed my son. Yes, even though he plays a lot of video games and he’s hitting that age when he just wants stuff like Pokemon cards and food and entertainment, I’ve missed him. I can’t imagine what things are like for him over there right now. His mom is a known hypochondriac. This is like when a prepper sees that comet headed for earth and weeps tears of joy because they finally get to use their bomb shelter and eat all those beans they’ve been stockpiling for years.

With this pandemic, I can honestly say, I am sick of dried beans. I’m sick of pasta. When this whole thing blows over, I want to sit in a restaurant and order appetizers and an entree and my lovely gf and I will sit and listen to conversations and make comments about the sad choices being made all around us. But it will be nice because in a weird way, I sorta miss people.

As much of an introvert I am, I do still miss seeing people. Lately, with the empty streets and cancelled plans and shelter in place, I feel a little lost sometimes. I have railed against social media in the past. About how it is neither social nor the media. But right now, it’s all a lot of us have. It’s a small window to the world and so many people who are scared or lonely are hitting the anger phase of their mourning of the life they used to know.

Some are drinking a lot. Some are talking politics and dropping blame on a President, hating him for not saving us from this sooner…forgetting that a kangaroo court of impeachment was going on at the insistence of the established ruling class, who all hate a man who keeps saying “We need to start making things in America again.” Yes. Like medical supplies. That’s biggie. I’m just dumbfounded that nobody has talked about how the country where this crap originated has not only lied about the severity of it, but is providing all of our medical supplies to fight it.

But, maybe that’s just part of the mourning. Bargaining. Anger. Blame. Eventually we will all hit acceptance. In the meantime, there is Tiger King to distract us. At the end of this, so many of us will be without jobs. The way we interact will probably be scarred for many years. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to burn the whole thing down, remove the aristocrats who have ridden this country into the dirt, we’ll continue to just patch things together, distracting ourselves with outrage. Kardashians. Mourning the lives of the old and young alike that we lost over these months. Ignoring the fact that our government doesn’t have our best interests at heart.

Ignoring the fact that our world is changing in the blink of an eye.

Being stuck at home can give you too much time to think about things. Maybe I should start cleaning out the fridge.