Tracks

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© Andy Bothwell, 2014.

We love different
Think different
Live different
Our minds lay tracks different
Weave different
Find ways from A to B different
We play different hits reels
We listen to different to songs
Find meaning different
We spend time different
Classify waste different
We talk different
Laugh different
Make jokes and receive them different
Our brains connect different
Get stuck and fascinated different
We touch different
Connect different
Think, move, and cry different
We put stock in different things
Act on those things different
We classify and quantify and come to conclusions different
Feel different
Hurt different
Lose hope and regain it different

But we’ve never
done anything
wrong.

Littered Lot of Gravel

Unexpected Beauty

© Patrick Lentz, 2007.

I catch myself walking around the city in all sorts of weather, all different times of day. Yoni Wolf is singing in my ears over and over again, “And always one rose grows though a littered lot of gravel/Or we’re struck dumb and doomed when it doesn’t.” So I start searching out what we can learn, how we can grow. Yes, something good will come of this, too.

We tore it all down to the bones and analyzed it. First alone, then together, then alone again. All the big decisions get made in the dark spaces. In the time I walk out into the woods alone and stare up at the trees, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. What kind of story I want my biography to be. In those quiet moments, with nothing but twigs breaking and heavy breathing my brain pulls the strings out of the tapestry I’ve been weaving and examines each one individually. I’m constantly boggled by how many I didn’t choose purposefully. How many I felt forced into by long-standing patterns that are useful to nobody. We come back together and I show him what I’ve been looking at and he nods his head and smiles proudly at me.

Pulling back we can examine it. Feel it and name it. Sort it and slowly start putting it back together again. There still aren’t answers to everything, but we’re figuring out that there are no paths chosen for us. I remember long phone conversations in seventh grade where we just went over and over song lyrics. Suddenly a friend I used to have is talking Led Zeppelin to me again, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” I’m struck wondering how many times I thrown up my hands and yelled, “What the fuck am I doing!?”

Over the past few years I’ve found myself feeling more and more stuck. Stacking more and more responsibility I don’t particularly want on myself to the dismay of the people closest to me just because I thought that’s what I should be doing. How I was supposed to be. No, it doesn’t have to be this way. Almost the exact opposite, in fact. I’ve spent so much time thinking that I need to take care of people around me that I forgot the best thing I can do for everyone is take care of me. So I stuck that Jim Rohn quote up on our fridge.

The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, “If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.” Now I say, “I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.”

Right underneath our wedding photo. I read it every day and I dig my claws into the things I want. I look at all the things I can do to better myself and understand that those things are not done to the detriment of my marriage, my relationships. That taking the time to develop and nurture my passions must always be my first priority. That doing those things does not place unnecessary strain on everything else in my life, but radiates outward and strengthens everything it touches. I remember that the greatest gift I can give to myself, to my spouse, to my parents is doing what I know I have to do to make myself happy.

I spent the month plotting. Studying. Developing plans. I enrolled at my local community college and developed a lesson plan to remember my forgotten years of mathematics. I started asking all those neglected questions. Started answering them. Started acting on those answers. Sketched out what I needed to do before attending university (with an actual focused goal this time). Poured over transcripts and read everything I could get my hands on.

It’s exciting and it’s terrifying all wrapped up into one. We spend so much time making excuses. So much time telling ourselves that if this or that were different we would be, too. I remember when I was growing up my mom had a piece of paper stuck to our kitchen cabinet that read, “No one ‘does it to you’. You do it yourself through other people.” I didn’t understand it then, but something about it wrapped itself around my memory and it squirmed its way back out when I started digging around, trying to figure out where my sense of purpose went. It spoke softly at first and eventually started screaming.

Going after what you want is terrifying. But existing only half-fulfilled is life threatening. I’ve spent so long explaining why I couldn’t do the things I used to care about that I’d almost convinced myself it wasn’t just because digging down and finding out what you’re really made of is really fucking scary. I’d almost convinced myself that I wasn’t just afraid of failing. I’d almost convinced myself those things didn’t matter. That I just wanted different things now.

Nothing is the same as it used to be. But at the core, the flame is still there. It’s been waiting patiently for me to remember it, to feed it. To stop telling myself that the circumstance is too different. That different fires need my attention now. I’m sure in a few more years I could even convince myself that all those things were true. That I don’t need to test myself, that I don’t need to constantly be pushing my boundaries, that I don’t need to see exactly how much I’m capable of. But I don’t think I’d ever be able to convince myself that I’m as happy as I could be without taking the chance to see.

Neglected Questions

© Regan House Photo, 2012.

I order my coffee and he asks my name. Smiling, I tell him. The word rolling off my tongue in its constant and familiar fashion. Our eyes lock for the second time during the transaction, “Ruby. You look like a Ruby.”

Oh, thank god, I think. At least something still fits. I’ve been floating around lately. Not sure if my feet are on the ground or pointed skyward. Nothing fits. I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.

A week ago I told him what my life looked like. He pulled all the pieces of information I’d handed him over the last nine months and listed all the things I’ve ever expressed any desire for. Looking at me over the top of his mason jar glass he prods, “What’s stopping you from doing any of that?”

“I don’t know. It just wasn’t the plan. The plan was different, you know? We had one. We did. For the last year and a half I thought we were going one way, but very suddenly we completely changed direction. So I guess… I mean, I guess I just don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I was working so hard on something that is no longer applicable.”

Like a college kid who suddenly realizes they no longer have any interest in pursuing their major. All the work I’ve been doing is only useful in moderate amounts. I’m struggling. Floor out from under me. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

Options are endless. I know that. I know. Paradox of choice, I guess. And it’s just been so long since I asked myself that. I dropped out of school almost three years ago. That was the last time I’d put any thought into any sort of plan. Even then it swung violently between the things I thought I’d find fulfilling and the things I thought I’d find fulfilling, but would ultimately destroy me.

Sitting on the tiny balcony of our Oakland apartment, smoking Newports, with my phone pressed to my head, I talked to Tobias. “You know, people say if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life, but I think that’s total bullshit. Working hundreds of hours a week will leave you depleted no matter how good the cause. I just don’t know if I want to do that.” So the pendulum took another swing away from law school and back to teaching. But that takes arguably more guts, doesn’t it? I remembered the conversations we used to have about knowing I’d done something important if I earned at least one death threat and wondered if standing at a whiteboard in a high school classroom would ever get me a genuine one.

Then you take into account that getting my Juris Doctorate would cost well over 200,000-dollars and it’s hard to tell myself that it’s something I have even the slightest interest in. What can lawyers really do anyway? And that’s just another question that was left unanswered when I put my key on the dining room table with a check for two months rent and a letter telling my roommate that, no matter what I’d try to convince either of us of, I wasn’t coming back. Mason was the only thing I’d been certain of my entire fucking life.

Still is.

But at some point I have to start reintroducing those questions. Those, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?” questions. Because I can. And I haven’t been asking them. Not lately. Not with any expectation that I might answer them. Definitely not with the inkling that I might answer them and then act on that answer.

Maybe that’s the fear. If I know the answer then I have very few excuses not to act. If I act I open myself up to fumbling, to failing. To putting the things that were important when the plan was different on a back burner. To having to ask for help and support. To not knowing if it will continue to be something that interests me, but sinking my teeth in anyway.

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Really. I can talk myself into something and then right back out of it in less than a week’s time. Lists of pros and cons that are made up of nothing more than what I assume everyone else wants and expects out of me. Like my whole life has been a messy collaboration of “are you proud of me yet?” and “fuck you for telling me I couldn’t”. So I wonder if even when I thought I was skimming the surface of the big questions the answers were all coming from the mouths of everyone but me.

Come on, kid, what do you want from me?

Too Easy

oaks

It’s easy to turn the alarm off, roll over, and wrap my arms around Mason. It’s easy to sleep until ten and spend another hour in bed reading while I wait for my thyroid medication to kick in. It’s easy to skip breakfast, have lunch at three, and grab some pre-made entree from Whole Foods for dinner around eight. It’s easy to put off writing, to skip my run, to ignore the loaded barbells at the gym. It’s easy to let days slip by without leaving the house. It’s really fucking easy to climb into another hole and bury myself under an array of, “I just don’t have it in me,” statements.

The sun comes out and I ignore it. We rearrange our desks, dining table, and bookshelf to finally make room for a sofa and a television. I dye my hair and buy a new pair of sneakers. The little gestures are trying to add up to a different approach. They’re trying to make it obvious that we’re in a new season now. That we have a very real chance to start all over here. I face myself down in the mirror and try to remember that I don’t have to carry around the weight of winter anymore. But it’s easier to hang on to it. Easier to keep doing what I’ve been doing than to try to break out and bathe in new intentions. In sunlight. In spring. So the seasons go on without me.

Winter took awhile to get a grip on me. I propelled myself well into December before the claws sunk in, so I suppose it only makes sense that I wouldn’t be able to force it off my back as soon as the calendar turned over. But goddamn, wouldn’t that be nice? Climbing out is always harder than falling in. It’s easy to slip, to find yourself laying in the dirt, breathing heavy. But climbing out takes dedication, takes focus, takes the ability to try over and over and over again.

Lately I’m remembering stories about people spending days climbing out of deep mountain crevasses, pulling themselves out of treacherous canyons with broken legs, sawing off their own arms to free themselves of rock slides and hauling themselves to safety. Maybe the stories in which the protagonist just lays down and dies at the bottom of pit don’t make for good books, inspiring television, so they are mostly left untold. But I still can’t help but feel that there is an indomitable aspect of the human spirit that we all carry in us, but seldom call upon. I wonder if I can access it without breaking any bones. I feel like much of existence is the psychological equivalent. It’s easier to just lay at the bottom of our lives and let the snow pile up, but those aren’t the stories I want to tell. So I dig out my icepick and I start climbing.

I know there is a lip I can get to, solid ground I can hoist myself on to. I can see it through the incessant rainfall. Little glimpses of sunshine, promises of something else out there when all I can see is the solid wall of earth in front of me. But holy hell if it doesn’t take all the energy I can possibly muster and then some to get to it. And it’s in those moments that I dig my heels in deep and I listen hard to Shane Koyczan again. His steady voice is telling me,

Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. … If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone—that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion. … Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but come back. They will tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack despair, you can even wear your sorrow—but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.

So I press on. When my alarm clock goes off I climb stiffly out of bed, put on my running shoes, and head out into the day. I drag my feet to a coffee shop after breakfast and write feverishly. With every ounce of strength I can muster I clamber to the grocery store and I buy ingredients for dinner. I stay away from my empty apartment. I stay engaged with the streets and sunlight and the flowers poking up from barely thawed ground. It’s hard. It takes all the energy I have and by the end of the day I’m exhausted and aching. But I catch myself smiling. I’m humming while I chop vegetables and stir a big pot of chili. It’s easier to not do any go those things. But it’s harder to live like that. It’s easier to phone it all in, to lay motionless in the bottom of winter’s pit. But that’s an impossible way to exist. I can climb out of this. One day of hard work stacked upon another will inevitably get me over that goddamn lip.

Searching Love Out

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Mason has been working late the last couple of weeks. It’s conjured weird flashbacks of my time living alone. How I used to spend hours tramping around various cities knowing that no one was at home waiting for me, that no one would worry or wonder where I am. I took a page out of my old book and spent five hours tracing out foreign paths through neighborhoods I rarely explore. Noticed the subtle shifts in temperature and in what areas people are most likely to make eye contact, to offer a smile. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that I’ve lived in Seattle for the better part of three years. Maybe that’s just what happens when you’re not working a nine-to-five. When you don’t have a car. When you stop hanging out at bars until two in the morning and drunkenly stumble thirty blocks to the one place you know you can get a burger at this hour. Maybe that’s what happens when you get comfortable and everything you need is in a mile radius of your apartment. Maybe that’s just what happens when you don’t put roots down.

I used to think that by staying only half-engaged I would be more likely to adventure. Not having strong ties or solid commitments means that you’re free to ramble on out of anywhere with only a letter to your landlord slid under a door at three in the morning. But there’s a loneliness that exists in that. As someone who has spent my life embracing the “lone wolf” description, I’m finally left understanding that wolves aren’t built to roam solo. So I’m left wondering how I’m supposed to build a pack, claim a territory.

Most of my life I’ve spent dreaming about some arbitrary place I’d someday finally find worth my time. Some mythical land that would make my heart dance and be brimming with the type of people I want to get to know better. But that place doesn’t exist. It’s not down some highway or a quick plane ride away. It hasn’t been sitting nestled up to an unfamiliar ocean, teeming with folks who understand how hard just getting out of bed can be. There is no place that is going to iron out the creases of existence or make all my war-wounds insignificant. Life is always going to hard. It doesn’t matter where I am.

We talk about how difficult living gets when the weather turns to shit. I become convinced that if I could somehow live somewhere with more daylight I’d be a completely different person. Then the sun comes back and I’m left dealing with the same thought process, the same chemical make up, the same story I had during the winter, during the previous spring. Yeah, the rain doesn’t help. Yes, it definitely gets worse when the sun is setting at four in the afternoon. However, when it all goes back to the the way it was, I’m the same person I used to be. That’s the hard part to come to terms with, isn’t it? I can take proper measures to support myself. I can eat well, exercise, take my thyroid medication, maintain a good sleep-wake cycle, see my therapist and my doctor regularly. Indeed, I must do all those things if I have any hope of functioning. But those aren’t the things that are going to save me. The only thing that’s going to do that is to break down and rebuild how I think.

I’ve haphazardly put together an entire life based on the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that desperately needs to be remedied. That’s the ship I’ve been sailing for as long as I can remember. Of course that captain hasn’t wanted to put an anchor down. The whole damn thing is sinking and no one knows how to fix it, so we may as well chase down that horizon. Get as a close as we can to that bright green flash before the sea swallows us whole. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That plan of attack makes perfect sense for the situation I thought I was in.

But there’s nothing wrong with my boat. The crew spent most of the first half of the trip fighting and getting drunk, so we’re probably a bit lost. I don’t think the captain was properly trained for this type of mission, but she’s got some time to learn still. Everyone just needs to take a step back and a few deep breaths. Admit that the ship is in fine condition and figure out where the fuck it is we’re going.