In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. It was an epic journey. I hated almost every minute of it.
The problem was that I wanted to say I rode across the US more than I wanted to ride it. This dubious motivation made me want the trip over before it began. I wanted the medallion of cross-country tourer. Most of the countless hours in the saddle were spent listening to the nagging mantra, “Am I there yet?”
The only times I enjoyed myself were during the hardest moments. There were a few mountain passes in the Washington—Rainy, North Cascades and Sherman—where I scaled 20-plus mile passes in rain and 40-degree temperatures. The conditions were so consuming that I couldn’t focus on the fact that the ride wasn’t over. As cliche as it sounds, when I became absorbed by the journey, not the destination, I actually had a good time. Continue reading “You Will Never Get a Break”
I shan’t mince words. I’m a liar. And exactly 2 years ago, my lies created a life where I felt like someone was pressing the butt of a broom handle into my chest all my waking hours. I was in a relationship and living with a great girl. She was cute, generous, worldly, punctual, committed. But she was in a relationship with a liar (me) and we were fucked from the beginning.
The first lie was the most basic one: I thought that she was, or someday would be, someone other than who she was. I saw red-flags from our very first meeting. I rationalized them away to perpetuate the idea of the relationship—something I wanted to believe in. But rationalizations are not solid building materials for relationships.
The trouble, in short, was we had nothing in common. Our politics, spiritual views, tastes, communication styles were often diametrically opposed. I joked about these things at first, but as time elapsed and our incompatibility became more glaring, the humor evaporated. These issues would come out in fights and feeble attempts at communicating, but I knew, underneath my ideas and rationalizations, the relationship was DOA.
One night in February 2009, we got into a fight. It was the same fight. She accused me of not wanting to spend time with her. She was right.
I would typically cauterize the fight with lies that I wanted to believe were true, but knew were not. This night, I couldn’t do it. I knew this fight would go on as long as we were in a relationship. I knew things would not get better. I knew she was who she was and I was who I was and given that, we had to break up.
So I told the truth and was promptly asked to move out (it was her apartment so there was no question about who would leave). She went for a walk and I stuffed as many of my things in a large duffle as I could. It was a Tuesday night at midnight. I was a bum, but one with a modicum of integrity. Continue reading “Dames and Dumbfucks”
The Foundry held the dubious distinction as Boulder, Colorado’s coolest nightspot. It was a sprawling, brick-walled, high-ceilinged former theater filled with mostly ornamental pool tables. It was a regular haunt at the peak of my drinking career.
One night in the spring of 1998, I went there with my buddy Drew. It was a sausage-fest, littered with hapless guys in baseball caps, nursing their drinks complaining about the lack of women.
This night occurred during my halcyon drinking days. I had recently returned from a bicycle expedition from Boulder to Seattle to Portland, Maine. I left a pudgy faced, thin-limbed boy, I returned a chisel-faced, strapping man. To exploit my new appearance, I started going out all the time, getting the attention I had longed for, but never received, in my adolescence. And whereas my previous intoxicant was marijuana, a substance I used to smother my libidinous urgings, I was now drinking bourbon, which gave those same urgings megaphonic volume.
So there I was in this charcuterie, 21, handsome, cocksure and reaching a sweet-spot with my bourbon buzz.
Each day, there was an ominous sign at the front of the room: “What are you pretending not to know?” Each day it got bigger. “What are you pretending not to know?” Until, on the last day, it was an enormous poster. “What are you pretending not to know?”
The place was one of those “large group awareness trainings” I’ve mentioned here before. In this case, something called Personal Dynamics here in NYC. It was many years ago, but the question lingers: What am I pretending not to know about my life?
Most of our lives depend on not owning or accepting certain facts we know full well. To our thinking, if we acknowledge and accept these facts, it would necessitate action, which we fear taking for whatever reason. So we either don’t talk about these things, shoving them into our psyche the best we can, or we buffet their impact with noncommittal language.
For example, I was in a relationship a few years ago with someone I knew I was incompatible with. I attempted to reconcile it with myself and with her for some time, but became convinced that it was dead long before it died. The principle way I stayed in it was by refusing to talk about it. Speak no evil….
The other way I avoided addressing my woes—a way that still works quite well—was with a smokescreen of irresolute language, fraught with “hedge words.”
One definition I found calls hedge words “any device that qualifies the writer’s [or speaker’s] commitment to the truth of what is being communicated.” Traditionally, hedge words are words like “might,” “could,” “I don’t think,” etc. They’re a way people can say something without committing to the statement’s veracity. For example, “I am not sure if I feel satisfied with this relationship” versus “I am dissatisfied with this relationship.” The former, hedging statement permits wiggle room, because of all the qualifications that lessen its impact. Another reading of the first statement is, “I am not sure I am not happy with this relationship.” The latter, declarative statement issues a fact. Facts are objectively what is so (even when the fact is my opinion). In this case, dissatisfaction is a fact (it certainly was for me).
“I’ve been struggling with my addiction to hope for years, going in-and-out of the rooms of HA [Hope-aholics Anonymous]. I’ve spent countless years hoping that someone or something will make me whole. It started when I was a kid. I hoped that the approval of other kids would do it. When I was a teen, it was girls and popularity. Nowadays, it’s having a healthy relationships, a good professional life and material security that occupy my hopes. These things sound reasonable enough, but I know that deep down I am setting myself up. I know that as long as I hope things will be different than what they are, I can’t be okay with now. I know that if I’m looking for something external to make me whole, who I am, as I am, will forever be insufficient.
Have you ever been sitting alone in a public space letting off stinky farts? On the one hand, we might feel comforted by the fact that we are alone. Somehow smelling our own farts doesn’t bother us as much as smelling other peoples. Personally, I am strangely curious about my farts’ particular flavor profiles. Sometimes they’re highly sulfuric, sometimes they have a rotting vegetable thing going on. They have a certain compelling dissonance, like Schoenberg or a Michael Haneke film—you want to cover your ears or look away, but something draws you in.
On the other hand, our solitary comfort is an uneasy one. Since it’s a public space, we don’t want anyone to enter our orbit until the smell goes away. We do quick, dog-like sniffs, monitoring the rate of dissipation, hoping that when someone does inevitably come by, the fart’s intensity will have mellowed. But what if they come at the peak of its intensity? We fear what people will think of us, when they know we are capable of such odoriferous atrocities. We fear being scorned. Maybe they’ll walk away and avoid us in the future, affixing a scarlet F to our blousons. Maybe no one will like us when they know our acrid insides.
Self-expression can be a bit like farting in a public space. We feel compelled to emit something, to share our unique funk, but we are afraid of what will happen when other people are exposed to it. What will they think of us when they smell, see, hear, touch or taste the things that lurk inside of us?
Here are some questions to ponder today:
What is the fart you are trying to conceal from the world? What are you holding back, hoping no one knows about you?
Are you content to worry in isolation about your fart being smelled?
Or are you willing to invite people into your Dutch Oven? Are you willing to be known inside and out, giving people the opportunity to appreciate your particular funk?
You wake up. You peel yourself from bed. You pee. You make coffee. You think about the day ahead. You wonder how you will face the challenges in front of you. You eat breakfast. You check email, Facebook, glance at the news.
You get in the shower. You let the warm water soothe you. You are aware of the concerns and responsibilities that await you on the other side of the shower-curtain. The relaxing shower makes them seem manageable. You get the thought that today will be your day. You will do something different today. You will work out today. You will eat only raw vegetables. You will ask your boss for a raise. You will ask that cute girl out. You will flirt with that cute boy. You will tell your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife how much he/she means to you. You will break up with your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife. You will read for an hour instead of watching TV tonight. You will handwrite your grandma a card. You will go dancing. You will work on that novel. You will do things differently. You will do all the things you know you are meant to do because life is precious and short. Carpe-fucking-diem.
You get out of the shower. You get dressed. You leave the house. You get on the subway or into your car. You pull out a magazine or your ipod or turn on the radio. The enthusiasm you felt in the shower begins to be displaced by the thoughts that hit you when you woke up. You get to work. You check email again, start work, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with. You become too absorbed in your work to ask boss for that raise. You’ll do it tomorrow. You go to lunch. Raw veggies don’t sound filling enough so you get a Turkey sandwich and a cookie. You see that girl or guy, but are too preoccupied by work and other concerns to talk to him/her. You want to shoot your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife a loving note, but think it’ll seem weird. You return to work a bit sleepy. The day drags. You don’t feel productive. You wonder what you’re doing with your life. You get off work. You’re too tired to work out or go dancing. You’re not feeling inspired so the novel will have to wait. After looking at a computer monitor all day, reading seems like a chore, so you order Thai takeout and turn on the TV. You watch TV until 11 or so. You go to bed, a bit disheartened but confident tomorrow will be different. You do this for forty or so more years and die.
Give up hope of things ever getting better materially or spiritually. They won’t. Give up hope that there’s a good time to act. There isn’t. We can do something right this moment, and I don’t mean buying or eating something (for some reason, these 2 things represent a lot of people’s ideas of seizing a moment). We can express our love, write a letter, go to the gym, meditate—whatever your truth dictates. What matters is that it’s done now.
Stop reading and do something you’ve been waiting for a good time to do. Do it now.
I call Chicago home because it’s the region where I was born and I identify with the midwestern, salt-of-the-earth character. Midwesterners are like their terrain, earthy, solid and level. They are less frenetic than the tirelessly ambitious east coasters, yet more resilient than the sunny-day-chasing west coasters.
The downside of this is earthiness is that midwesterners tend be fans of inactive activities: watching sports, watching TV, sitting long periods, drinking, eating. This inert disposition has many culprits. The weather sucks most of the time—frigid in the winter, blazing in the summer, with a perpetually grey, gauzy sky all four seasons. In Chicago, there are few compelling outdoor diversions aside from a lake that is swimmable for two weeks in August. You have to drive to get anywhere interesting as the city is huge and public transportation stinks. In the winter, when I typically go there, driving sucks too; you eyeball the heat gauge, waiting for the needle to go up so you can blast the heat; you then drive a half-hour to get to your destination, spend another fifteen minutes looking for parking, brave the cold again, only to do it all over again on the return ride home. Oftentimes, the effort doesn’t seem worth it. You figure you might as well stay home and watch Romancing the Stone for the umpteenth time. Continue reading “Checking Out for the Holidays”