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.

Trust your gut

In our lives, we are told so many times to not let our emotions cloud our judgement, so we pick everything apart. We rationalize. We argue and wrestle with ourselves. Even when our gut is screaming at us. Even when you tell yourself you are just being paranoid. When food stops tasting like anything. When you can’t sleep anymore. When you insist upon yourself that you cannot apply your past experiences with what is happening. When you start making excuses for them.

If something doesn’t feel right, don’t gaslight yourself. If you feel reluctant to ask questions, because of how someone will respond, that is a red flag.

Sometimes things just don’t work out.

You wish they did. You wanted them to. You even prayed about it–a lot. You read between the lines when they talked about “Your adventures” when no longer included “our.” You doubted yourself when you noticed something wasn’t right. When you both stopped listening.

It’s okay to let go.

Even if you will miss them forever.

You just weren’t their person. Maybe you aren’t anybody’s person. Maybe the best thing you can do is to become your own person.

Do what is healthy for you. If you have to block them, block them. If you are fine with seeing their life without you, then I hope it gives you peace. Cutting someone out of your life doesn’t mean you stop caring for them. It just means you are going in a different direction in life and they can’t come with you.

The only thing you can do is wish everything will be all right for them. That a part of you won’t ever stop loving them. You mourn the potential. You mourn the plans. You mourn the memories. The friendship. The intimacy. And how quickly it all begins to fade. But they are just moments. We get to carry them around with us.

Did you know your heart makes a different sound every time it breaks?

Take care of yourself

Today I had my first medical check up in over a year and a half. Now that I have insurance again, I get to become a member of that thin level of society who can do this without having to leave a kidney with the front desk. I’m usually not concerned with my health whenever I go to the doctor. I try to take care of myself, even though a year of this time has been stuck indoors most of the time. My blood pressure was a little bit high, but I can get that back down if I walk more or figure out a way to get in some more cardio.

My weight is down more than it has been in a while. I knew this without a scale because I’m down to the last notch on my belt, my clothes hang off me lately, and I have been able to wear the same shirts I wore for my UK trip a few years back.

If my son isn’t around, I don’t eat as much because I don’t like cooking for just me. When you cook for just yourself, you have three or four days of leftovers you were over with after the first time you ate. So, I tend to have one decent sized meal per day and suppliment the rest with coffee or snackier foods like crackers and cheese or a can of soup. Maybe a bowl of cereal. Where I live there are fewer options for eating out, so I just don’t.

In six months I am down from 204 to 187.

So the reason for this post is I am of mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one hand, it’s nice to trim down just a little bit. I feel better. My clothes fit better. And when I work out, I feel like I can see results better. It’s funny, because a couple years ago I was dating someone who seemed to be making a point of putting weight on me. She used to tell me she liked how “solid” I was. Whenever we would eat out on the weekends, I would eat my share of dinner and then wind up finishing her plate too. That’s how I broke 200 again for the first time since my marriage.

She used to get insecure when I would tell her that I was going to the gym to work out. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a gym rat, but working out does a number of things for me. It helps me feel better. You get an endorphin hit when you do cardio or weights regularly. Working out helped me to feel better about myself physically too. And it does wonders when dealing with depression or anxiety. You just don’t have the mental capacity to worry about things that don’t matter when you are sweating your guts out.

I was talking with a friend recently about why someone would be insecure about my going to the gym. Especially since part of me wanted to not only look better and feel good for myself, but also I thought she might have appreciated that too. I was reminded that I went to the “Kids’ gym” at the university. It was my 43 year old self surrounded by a bunch of 20 year olds. I guess I never really saw that as a problem.

The college kids might as well have looked through me like I wasn’t there. As a matter of fact, I prefered that gym to the VASA fitness that I went to where I felt like I was being leered at as I walked through for just the tour. I know so many people who are always getting hit on at the gym. That’s not my thing. It really puts me off. The college gym was nice because I could just go and do my thing and be left alone, and I had no intention of bothering anyone either.

The other thing about conditioning myself is that I have no expectations for anyone else in my life. I’m not an evangelical gym-goer. I can only say how working out has helped me, as I have done above. In that relationship, or any other situation, I’m not going to look down at anyone else. I know how hard it is for me to keep up a routine, and if anyone badgered me to do it, I wouldn’t. I feel like it’s a matter of choice. Just like anything else. Would I push someone else to do it? Hell no.

You have to want it to do it. You can be happy with yourself at any weight or size.

The funny thing is that right now dad bods are in style. Everyone on TikTok talks about wanting a bearded chubby man with tattoos and here I am watching my love handles disappear.

I guess a motivator for this is the other day I wore my kilt for the first time in years. I finally got down to a weight where I could buckle the damn thing up. My kilt was bought for me as a birthday present when I turned 21. It is still the only tailored piece of clothing I own. At the time I had a 30″ waist and they also did hip measurements then too. When they took my measurements, I was almost too thin for an adult sized kilt. They told me to drink more Guinness. A few years later, longer straps were added because I took their advice to heart. They let it out to a 32″ waist. I’m probably at around 34″-36″ right now. It’s a tight fit. It looks tight. The apron no longer reaches the pleats on the other side. The topography that the plaid reveals is complicated.

The $500 kilt my gf at the time bought me with her student loan money was tailored too well. When you buy off the rack stuff, there is a level of flexibility you get with fit. If it’s tailored, it looks really rough if you exceed those margins. It’s made to fit a certain way.

Right now, it doesn’t hang right. It doesn’t fit right. Even with extenders. So, I’m left with the choice of replacing it with a new one (which the cost for these suckers went up to about $700–which I would much prefer plane tickets) or just keep avoiding beer and working out until I can pass for having a 32″ waist, maybe.

A man of my age, however, runs the risk of exchanging that “Solid” dad bod for an early case of having no ass to even hold up my pants, much less a kilt. Will I be nixing myself from the bearded chubby man category? How will this affect my hug game?

What I do know is I’m not going to stress over any of this stuff. I’m fine with the size and shape I am now. Could I get a little stronger and a little healthier? Sure, why not. Do I really have anything to wear a kilt to? Absolutely not. Do I think that one day having a full grey beard and a washboard stomach would be hilarious? Sure! I doubt I’ll get there. But as nice as the attention dad bods are getting these days, it still doesn’t feel right for me. I like being a little leaner. Lately, I’ve been feeling that.

Who knew?