The Animal

Some days the words just don’t come. There’s either not a lot to say, or there’s too much to say coupled with an inability to put forth cohesive expressions of the thoughts I’m burying in my head. This last week I ran out of gas. Rather than recharging my mind and my body, I left it, roasting away at the coals of a cooling fire, slowly rolling over until all my hairs were singed and my skin caked into crumbling charcoal crisps, like a burned hot dog.

I’ve realized recently I am not self-aware enough to notice when something I’m doing is causing myself pain. These last two weeks, I’ve floated, purposefully un-purposeful. Admittedly, I needed some semblance of a break. And it’s hard to rest when you’re not doing a lot of work. It can look like a lot of work has been done [and sure, it has] , but I can do a lot more than what’s been done]. That’s my goal. But before that, I must solve this thing in front of me. It’s like wrestling an animal – I’m afraid of the teeth and the snarl and I also don’t want to hurt it, but I’m afraid it’s become a thing that it doesn’t become for everyone. Apologies for the vagueness of the description, but I’m just not ready to fully talk or write about it. Suffice it to say, the prospect of that wrestle resulted in me not writing the last two weeks. But now I’m ready to sit down and face it. I might not be ready to voice it for everyone to hear, but I need to sit down and face it.

This might be the toughest 342 words I’ve ever written; not because I don’t know what to say, but because I’m afraid to say what I need to say, so instead I’ve danced around it, hoping to conclude without exposing myself. And now that I’ve danced around the fire with stutter steps and stumbles, I’ve not a way out. So, I’ll just end it here.

Efforts on Essays

I’m continuing to write on topics related to this post, Speaking Quick and Slow, [which I thought was going to be a two part post, but has some how expanded] and I’m finding it difficult to sort out my thoughts on the topics 20 minutes at a time in the early morning. It’s hard to distill the unexplored thoughts of the mind in just a short moment and then go on to the rest of the day, picking up your thoughts from the last two weeks and getting started writing again without a hitch in your step. I guess the lesson to learn from this is I need to do more thinking and note taking on those thoughts before sitting down to position them on the page as eloquence.

At any rate, out of that initial post, I’ve decided there are a couple of areas related to thinking and speaking that I want to explore: speaking with authority, speaking apologies, and the nature versus nurture perspective of how and why we speak/think the way we do.

As I’ve struggled over the last two weeks to get these thoughts on page and am now thinking about my commitment to posting these sorts of thoughts once a week on Mondays, I grimace to think that time is fleeting and 52 posts a year is not much and here, now I’ve wasted two of them on filler made up on the fly. The time and the effort is the magic, not the appearance of your work. Here’s to the next 49 Mondays.

Start Here

I wrote the following in a fit of inspiration at the start of summer 2017. I’ve tried to read through to start every day as a reminder and inspiration to myself. Start here.

Start here, this morning, and avail yourself to the power greater than yourself.

Start here, this morning, and become greater than you’ve been.

Start here, this morning, and cause your will to be deepened.

Start here, this morning, and depend on the great mystery of God rather than your past.

Start here, this morning, and engage your whole head and heart.

Start here, this morning, and don’t float down the river of complacency.

Start here, this morning, and grant yourself an opportunity to live deeply.

Start here, this morning, and hear that you are good and caring and kind.

Start here, this morning, and ignite your heart with greater living.

Start here, this morning, and justly stand for good and righteousness and humility.

Start here, this morning, and kindly lend your ear to the broken.

Start here, this morning, and lovingly remember your wife and your children.

Start here, this morning, and marinate on how great it is you want to be.

Start here, this morning, and narrate your story.

Start here, this morning, and open your eyes to the beauty all around you.

Start here, this morning, and peel away the layers of resentment and regret.

Start here, this morning, and quiet the voice that tears you down.

Start here, this morning, and remember who you are and who you are going to be.

Start here, this morning, and start fresh on this day.

Start here, this morning, and tremble with joy at the chance to live anew.

Start here, this morning, and undeniably stand strong in the face of your fears.

Start here, this morning, and verify that you are good and brave and strong.

Start here, this morning, and welcome your heart home.

Start here, this morning, and examine yourself and this opportunity to be strong.

Start here, this morning, and yell out: “I am successful!”.

Start here, this morning, and zone in on who you are and who you are becoming.

Start here this morning.

Straight White Privileged Male

Over the last several months, maybe years, there have been different fronts where I, upper-middle-class-straight-white-married-with-kids-and-a-mortgage-man, have had to look in the mirror and realise the man standing there does not see things that should have been seen.

The first were the astounding number of homeless people in my city. I routinely walk downtown and the amount of obviously homeless people is amazing to me. At first, I found myself crossing to the other side of the street (Pharisee!) to avoid a confrontation. But one afternoon, I walked past a man slumped on the sidewalk and he stopped me. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but overtime I’ve found myself evaluating the person asking me for money. I don’t really know what criteria I use to determine who gets the dollars in my pocket, but I look them in the eye and make a determination. Sometimes I don’t have any change, but they’re more than happy to take an American Spirit. This guy, though, was different than a lot of the people I’d run into – he truly was slumped and emotion was showing on his face. He’d heard of a church that was offering help and asked me directions – I wasn’t sure which church he was talking about, so I pointed out the ones I knew nearby. He was broken by addiction and couldn’t get help – I asked him about the crisis center nearby and if he’d been there, but there was apparently bad blood. I knelt by him and he took my hand and he told me bits of his story, how he was trying to get back on his feet. I got a little weepy listening to him and I didn’t know what to do. So I offered him the money I had but he shook me off, even while still grasping my hand. I wished him well and turned to walk away feeling the shame of this man trail me as I asked myself what else was I supposed to do? How is it, that in America, there are people left on the streets? How is it that we can’t find a way to help these people out? How is it that some of these people refuse to be helped? How is it that I can continue to live my relatively extravagant lifestyle and not find some way to do something more to help these people other than a few bucks and smokes?

The next was my brother re-coming out as a homosexual and getting a divorce from his wife. He had been “rehabilitated” by the church – we’d successfully “prayed away the gay”! And here he was, a few years later, done fighting against the person that he was and always had been. He was tired of hiding and wanted to find the relief of just simply being who he was without fear. The first time he came home after the divorce, my wife and I were in a much different place spiritually than we had been and we sat around a campfire in our backyard under the autumn stars beaming their own special heat and I just tried to reaffirm my love for my brother – that no matter what, I was not going to stop loving him. Right around that time we bought a rainbow flag to fly – our own little testament to the story that we loved my brother no matter what.

The next time my brother was in town, the shooting at a night club in Orlando happened and I got my first true realisation of the hate my brother’s community faced. Previously it had been the simple condemnation he had faced by my conservative upbringing – hate the sin, love the sinner kind of shit [that, in and of itself, was hurtful enough]. We spoke about the shooting the morning after it happened, briefly, but we had our nephews’ birthday parties to attend, so we spent the rest of the day with my sister and her family, and at the end of the day, my brother’s one persistent thought was: no one once brought the shooting up. It was as if, in our straight, white [well, my sister’s brown, so that’s not an entirely fair characterization], conservative religious family, there was no thought to the hateful killing of precious lives in Orlando. Not one thought. And that was the realisation – I, too, had not given it much thought the rest of the day, but my brother and his community via social media were actively mourning – loving, kind, caring people were checking in with him from a thousand miles away to see how he had been affected. And straight-white-privileged-male me [who thought he was “woke”] was hardly awake to it. How can I sit and consume media and our culture so passively while there are so many in the LGBT community affected daily by hate? How can I proclaim that I love my brother if all I do is hang a rainbow flag and sit smugly beside it in my cult of suburbia, cut off from the real hurt and pain these people experience, all the while complaining about my life and how I have it so bad [because of my own self-inflicted wounds, nonetheless]?

When the first very public incident of a black man being killed by the police came to light, I heard about it because it was a thing, but didn’t think too much more about it. Living in MT, the ratio of white to black/brown/yellow is pretty ridiculous. Seeing a black person in MT is not necessarily a daily occurrence. And so, as the deaths continued to pile up in the media and it gained more and more traction, as #BlackLiveMatter gained traction, I groaned, incredulous, when the #AllLivesMatter movement tried to take up the ground that #BlackLivesMatter was trying to gain. But, again, all of it was at arms length away. It was so much easier to look at it from a distance and sadly shake my head. Because, what else can I do? What more can I do than sit on my hands? What more should I do than silently condemn the obvious systemic racism still pervasive in this country?

The Brilliance has a beautiful song called Does Your Heart Break? [link] I was doing the dishes on a Saturday morning, listening to the album that song is on quite loudly and suddenly, in the midst of this beautiful, song, it wrenched my heart with these words:

When the man said,
you are choking me
And he cried out,
I cannot breathe
Did your heart break?
Does your heart break now?

I can’t find it for certain, but if I had to guess, this would be referencing Eric Garner – choked to death by an NYPD officer.  And, again, I had heard the story, but I hadn’t let it in – I hadn’t let it affect me. But when I heard that song, it made me as those questions again and again. What else can I do?

Then, the #MeToo movement started up and #TimesUp – a well deserved war against the tirade of terrible men doing terrible things to women because of their power. As Harvey Weinstein was exposed and the dominoes of powerful men began to fall and the stories started coming out [newsflash: it’s not just white men or heterosexual men – it appears to be NEARLY EVERY FREAKING MAN] the mirror became an ugly thing for me to look into. The terrible recounting of over 150 women [last I saw reported] who were sexually abused as little girls  and teenagers by Larry Nassar for US Gymnastics. The obtuse efforts by Aziz Ansari to get laid. The sad, pathetic efforts of James Franco to take advantage of his position at his school to put aspiring women in compromising situations. The lewd behavior of Louis CK. The forceful [and apparently, obliviousness] of Charlie Rose. These men weren’t just horny. They were getting off on the power they held over those perceived to be weaker than they.

As I read the stories of these and more encounters, the comments on those stories, listened to the perspectives of women in my life, I again began to ask the questions I had been previously asking: how is it that I can live my life the way I do and not see the consequences others have to face? How is it that I can continue to quarantine myself in my pretty little self-sufficient life without fear of retribution from almost no one else? How is it that I can not be more aware of the pain, struggle, and suffering that other peoples in “lesser” positions than me?

As I sat and asked myself those questions, I realised, looking in the mirror that I’ve never done enough to stir a change. It doesn’t matter where I live – I have a voice that can speak out against injustice and a body with hands and feet that can reach out and help in whatever way necessary.

And, listen: I’m not trying to be “white woke guy”. Being woke isn’t my responsibility. My responsibility is valuing and fighting for every single life. Finding ways to help the homeless. Standing up for and loving and respecting lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders. Embracing and fighting for the equal standing of black men and women and children. And looking women in the eye with respect and standing up for them whenever I see a situation when someone is trying to take advantage of them.

Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

When Children stick their hand down a narrow cookie jar they can’t get  their full fist out and start crying. Drop a few treats and you will get it out! Curb your desire – don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.”

– Epictetus, from Discourses 3.9.22

Curb your desire. I live so self-unaware, I am not even certain what it is I want – but I act on my impulses most of the time without thinking. Am I frustrated? I’ll smoke a cigarette. Am I aroused? I’ll masturbate. Am I stressed out? I’ll have a drink. Is there a roll or three leftover after dinner? I’ll eat them all.

What do I want?

I want to break the barriers that hold me back. I want to be a man of integrity, peace, and patience. I want to be in shape and healthy. I want to create things and understand how things work. I want to be educated and well read. I want to be passionate about living life fully, well, and joyfully. Yet I want to show restraint with the indulgences life offers, while still enjoying those things.

I need to think differently about the things I am about to do. And I need to say no to myself more. Curb your desire.

I wrote all of these things earlier this morning after finding the quote online from Lifehacker [link]. What I find so frustrating about my life is how I can go from one sensation [lust] to another [determination to live a better life] and then to another [having a drink when I come home from work ’cause it feels good].

I want to ask the question, “When will this all be different?” but I know the answer: when I choose to make things different. When will I break barriers? When I choose to break those barriers. I am my own worst enemy and my own best friend. I am the only one responsible for my success. I’ve been down this path before, writing something very similar just over month ago:

I just want to sit in the dark and hide from my life. There are certain bright spots that I allow to warm me, but it seems more than ever that there is a large darkness permeating and enveloping my life. It is cold, this darkness, like the bottom of a cave, far away from sun and warmth. But I’ve just put another jacket on, one after another, and some wool socks, some long johns, a hat. I grow a beard to try and keep warm and pretend that I have not created a dark cave to dwell in.

I am tired. But, as the quote goes, I can’t get any rest because I’ve been doing nothing – and I can’t quit doing nothing to get any rest. It’s funny – I used to not have time for anything. I was always working, always creating, always performing that I rarely would come home and find myself with nothing to do. And now, that is where I am, I come home from work, it’s 4:30 pm, my kids are off playing, my son is napping still, and though the house is a disaster, I have nothing to do. And so I do nothing. I sit outside in the cold and I smoke cigarettes and sip a scotch. And then it simply progresses until at the end of the night, I go to bed drunk, cold, rank with cigarette smoke.

Last night, I found myself frustrated after dinner because my wife had started helping our middle child with her math homework and I was doing the dishes and then my wife turned to her phone and instantly shut out everything around her. Middle Child was asking her a question repeatedly and wasn’t getting a response, so I started to help her, but I wasn’t familiar with where she was at and I just wanted to finish the dishes so they could be done. It’s so dumb now, but I was a little bit drunk which probably just incensed my frustration. And so, I tried to bring up my frustration to my wife and she ripped me for being a jerk [which I probably was]. But I was frustrated. I responded that I wouldn’t bring up how I was feeling any more, and her response to that was, “Good.” Which is exactly the opposite of what she’s been asking me to do. So I told her to fuck off. In front of the kids. (And of course, my three year old immediately was like, “Yeah, fuck off mommy.”). Damn it.

And we spent the rest of the night separate – me fuming while she watched tv. Me vowing to never speak of my feelings again – her I don’t know. And so, by this morning, the opening of this writ is how I am feeling. Weepy as I write this; the breath in my lungs surging as I smoke a cigarette; the shame of my failures staining my shirt as a sign to all. The other night, my oldest noticed the sadness delivered from my eyes. And it made it worse – I can’t hide it from my kids now? The only thing I’ve ever been consistent and good at is hiding. I have always been able to hide: from my parents, from my siblings, from my wife, from my in-laws, from my kids, from my friends, from my bosses and co-workers, from the seeing public. I have hidden in various forms from these people, some more than others, some less than others. But I hide because it keeps me safe. But that hiding has turned into hiding from myself too – that’s why I get drunk, so I don’t have to feel. That’s why I smoke, so I get that puff of “satisfaction” to cover up my own smell.

The scene that C. S. Lewis depicts in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace, turned into a dragon with a deep lust for gold, faces Aslan the lion has always struck me savagely. And it’s because I am Eustace, covered in layer after layer of scales. As Aslan shreds skin after skin with his strong, terrible claws, the core of my being shakes, begging, hoping, yet distancing myself from the request to be made new.

But of course, now I find myself in a place where I am questioning the very existence of God, at least of the god I grew up believing in. That’s why the idea of Aslan was such a tremendous impact in all of the Narnia stories – the idea of Jesus physically altering the universe made so much sense. That was why I could pray, “Lord, tear these scales from my body” and hope desperately that by some miracle I would be made whole. All those times I cried. All those times I believed I heard him say something. All those things I told people that he had revealed to me. All the while not actually doing anything myself to change. What a load of shit.

The one thing my mother told me when she first separated from my father was, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” She was referring to him, and I was pretty oblivious to the realities of my dad, who he was, how he behaved, how he functioned and lived. To this day, I still don’t really know. But the little that I do know I have seen in myself in some of these stupid fights my wife and I have had. Me vowing not to talk about my feelings any more. Me not saying anything for months and then blowing up in a mild instance. Me hiding.

So, the long story short is this: I am not ok. I have not been ok for a long while. But no one is going to save me. No one is going to fix me. I am the only one who can do this. I am the only one who can change. I know that I am a person who deeply longs for order and direction. I am the one who has to create that order and walk in that direction. And I can be the person who does that. I can pull myself up by my bootstraps, shed the heavy coats that I’ve buried myself in, and begin the long climb out of the deep, dark, damp cave. Toward the light. Into the light.

I’ve been writing some form of that for the last 20 years [for that I blame religion]. I’ve believed for so much of my life that I am not good enough. And it’s just bullshit. Believing that I am not good enough has made me endure 20 years of failure without change, hoping that some thing was going to save me. The only thing that’s different is that last paragraph. I’ve never really believed I can be the one to instigate change in my life. And you know what? I can and I will. And I am.