There are times in our lives when inevitability and expectation crash together and we’re forced to accept that it’s inevitability that has the best odds. In a fleeting moment, circumstances and life take a sharp curve at a bad angle and suddenly we’re not as surefooted as we may have believed we once were. People in our lives, no, important people in our lives die, and we’re left behind trying to figure out what it all means to us, what we’re supposed to do, and more importantly what are we still capable of doing without them.
In the outrageously short span of a couple weeks, someone in your life who is outwardly strong, weakens and dies. My mom’s husband of thirty-two years, Bill, died last week. He’d been a part of our family story far longer than our own deceased father. There were some good memories and some bad too but this is not really a story about Bill; its about me and you.
Emily is probably reading this right now and saying, “of course, its about you”, and she’d be right of course, but I’m still determined to move forward with the usual piles of babble and gibberish I normally produce anyway, ignoring all the subtle innuendo and eye-rolling. Without any benefit of having literary fans, I’m merely forced to live up to my own expectations which aren’t really all that high – so read this at your own risk.
So if Bill isn’t the subject of this blog, why are we all here; all three of us? Well, it’s complicated. The easiest way I can explain it is that I’m a person who normally lives in my head and right now I really need to be living inside my heart. I think a lot of people, like myself, go into our heads when we’re sad or wounded because we think we’re smart and we need answers, or we want to take prisoners and need to build places to put them.
But sometimes a person just needs to get out of their head and into their feelings. The problem is that my feelings have grown an entire pant size since I last wore them. Alas, at the age of 54 I’m suddenly realizing the true value of stretch pants. I should be thankful that hearts aren’t made to stretch like old-man-jeans or else I may be tempted to live more comfortably in my heart, defeating the purpose of being born with a Y chromosome.
The overriding and principle motivation for this blog being that I really just want my mom to be OK. This is her second husband to leave her behind and I can’t imagine the experience of uncertainty and grief that she must be experiencing right now. If your life is lived a certain way, perhaps very independently, and something like this happens, it turns your world upside down because you can’t help but to visualize your life exactly as it has thus far been lived – only without your partner in tow or pulling the plow.
Those are valid thoughts and for many people who don’t have children or family to step up and into new roles, these kinds of fears can become our realities. But losing a spouse at an advanced age doesn’t necessarily put you in some predetermined box, especially if you have important things you want to do or say or be. You’re only limited by your thoughts; its the same for 8 year old’s as it is 80 year old’s.
While the moment is emotionally overwhelming, yes, time itself is not necessarily definitive. Who better to reinvent or reinvigorate their lives than a mature person who could give a rat’s ass about what other people think of them? Sometimes, you don’t need a plan, you just need to breathe, let go, and see what happens.
Maturity is the great equalizer isn’t it – you can finally take advantage of it. If life isn’t or hasn’t been giving you things to look forward to, do things or say things or write things that frame what precious moments you have left of your life in a way that is truly worthy of how you want others to know you – and look forward to whatever new beginnings you choose to cultivate.
Crisis need not be the catalyst for growth or change, but it sure does bring things into perspective. The selfish side of my personality is excited about having my mom all to myself again but the nicer of my temperaments ache for her as she so obviously craves some higher level of acuity as to her near and distant futures. It’s a challenge to find the right words sometimes, when you know someone you love needs to hear something they can cling to – or most importantly, believes.
Did I mention that one of my best life-long friends passed away last week too? Yeah, that one was a real kick in the gut. I think he deserves his own blog so I don’t want to wallow around in the emotion of that in this story and I don’t want to diminish the importance of the message I’m trying to convey here either. Everything in its own time right?
So let’s sum this thing up so that Emily will actually read the whole thing. We’re all getting old. Time is ticking for the 5 year old and it’s ticking for the 50 year old’s. Although the damn clock continues to tick, it also tocks…, tock rhymes with rock so lets rock shall we? There are only so many summers left and I intend not to waste them being old.
I don’t want you to waste yours just being the old chic either. Don’t be old, be vast and brilliant and expressive. Or you can be one of those fake palm reader persons, OR, your could be an old lady prostitute if you want, just be and be happy being. Life is short, even on it’s longest days. It’s not about existing, it’s about living. You can do this; we can do this together.
My brain has been rattling around quite a bit this week over the subject of parenting so I thought I might help myself understand the subject better if I put my thoughts down in writing. I can at times be a tad bit introverted so I have a tendency, when left to my own devices, to wonder around aimlessly inside my own head thinking about various things like this; ya’ll already know that about me.
Of course, it’s a bit absurd that I of all people would attempt to explain what a perfect parent is to anyone else being that I only did it once and I don’t think I was particularly great at it. That said, this is not necessarily a blog about how to be a perfect parent, it’s more of a letter to myself about the complexities of parenthood and perhaps an elaborate excuse for me sucking at it. You’re more than welcome to follow along and make fun of me if you want.
I hate to summarize my entire blog in the third paragraph for obvious reasons. So to better ensure that you will want to continue reading to the end, I will spice up my summary with what may be considered a controversial idea for the times in which we’re now living – the crazy idea that no one person could ever be the perfect parent.
This late-in-life recognition comes from multiple realizations. First of which radiates from my own personal experiences; second, from outside observations; and third, from the school of life. It’s the worst kind of school to go to, it has no monkey bars nor a recess.
I am an individual person with my own set of natural abilities, inclinations, habits, beliefs, deficiencies, and proclivities. There are certain aspects of parenting that my specific skill sets and personality are great at. There are others that I completely suck at. But that’s just me. What about my child? Wouldn’t it make sense that he would also have that same sort of complexities and individuality that I have? What if his personality learns in a different way than I naturally teach? What if his personality feels and expresses differently than I’m capable of emoting or comprehending?
Of course, two people can meet, be attracted to each other, fall in love, get married, sit on the same toilet, get pregnant and produce a child together without any idea of how to be parents. Both people could theoretically have the same personality quirks, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and possibly be completely incapable of supporting the other parent in any way. It could happen.
But, it is far more likely that each parent will have a different and separate set of skills and faults, each somewhat supporting the deficiencies of the other parent. Logic says that at least one parent will have some innate ability to jive with their child but that two will have at least some parental synergy and thus help the child benefit from what each parent has to offer.
Can any one individual parent be both a stern and strict enforcer of rules, standards, and family traditions and also provide an unstructured environment that provides for freedom of thought and creativity? Can one individual parent be so well-rounded as to share in their child’s perspectives and allow them to indulge themselves in a creative world without bounds but also exemplify the importance of politeness or respect of others/elders – with an intolerance of public unruliness? I’ve never known one person who can be all those things.
It’s far more reasonable to believe that one parent will always naturally fall into one role and the other parent will fall into the opposite or somewhat different role. Having two parents with two distinctly different personalities better ensures that children grow up with a broader perspective and wider range of skills, abilities, comprehensions and emotions.
I’ve characterized the following parent types into Little Rascal characters. Maybe you fall into one of these and maybe you don’t. I’m in no way attempting to describe all parent types, just enough to make my points.
Spanky parents are naturally playful and warm and love to see their children excited, playing in and experimenting with the world around them. Encouraging this playfulness and growth by always suggesting activities and lessons can really leverage the super powers that very young children have when it comes to the speed at which they can learn. These parental types will embrace and encourage their child’s productive interests as they arise, sweeping away dolls and dinosaurs when interests shift to the oceans, and eliminating the plastic fish when tastes change again, to the stars.
All that wonderfulness aside, this Spanky type of parent may be unlikely to have the heart to establish normal limitations themselves. They don’t always recognize the value of structure and predictability. Their entire façade is built on the premise of infinite and limitless possibility.
Do you remember the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy where Sandler (Sonny Koufax) was a law school grad – too lazy to take the Bar exam but who adopted a boy to impress his girlfriend? My most prominent memories are the kid pissing in the living room corner and how Koufax never made the kid take a bath. The kid became the stinky kid at school because Sonny Koufax was a Spanky dad.
Froggy parents are more analytical. Parenting, like so many other person-to-person relationships can be quite difficult for analytical people as you can imagine. If you’re a person who’s heavily invested in rational thought, logic, and analyzing causes and effects, you can be woefully unprepared for dealing with a little person who hasn’t quite yet developed these same abilities. Froggy struggles with simple communication because he’s incapable of coddling or light/insignificant conversation.
Froggy may be the most rational person in the world but utterly fail in overt displays of physical affection or emotional sensitivity. He certainly has important skillsets that children need to be exposed to but on a personal level Froggy has an inability to convey those skills without the assistance of another parent who is much more emotionally available.
Froggy is otherwise a man of many talents. He has glasses so we know he’s smart and if given an opportunity, he genuinely wants to pass on his many talents to his offspring. It’s not for a lack of want, it’s a lack of self-awareness and instinct that keeps Froggy from being the parent he really wants to be.
Stymie has a mantra of “hard work, tradition, and respect”. In many ways, Stymie is the classic 50’s era father figure although Stymie could just as easily be a mother – it is a classic genderless name and perfect for a 21st century blog character. The problem with Stymie’s are that they are often standup, perfectionist type folks and they expect their children to continue the examples they’ve already set. It’s difficult for kids to live up to these exceptionally high expectations but of course the ones that do live up to it sort of prove that it’s a good parenting style, right? Maybe.
The sort of parental inflexibility that Stymie parents are known to have, if left to their own devices, can become quite a challenge for a kid who is growing into their more naturally rebellious adolescent years. The challenge is almost greater for Stymie, not the kid.
Stymie parents enjoy creating secure, structured, stable environments, and consider it an affront to have those considerations rejected which is what adolescents are famous for doing. Insubordination is not particularly well-tolerated by a Stymie and I sort of get that. It is a very difficult thing to raise a child these days and it never hurts to feel some appreciation for all the efforts you’re undertaking.
We all understand that accountable parenting is a responsibility, not an option, but (always a but) not everyone does, or wants to, or feels the need to, or is willing to do the right thing and it feels damn good to hear your child express some understanding and gratitude for those efforts.
Buckwheat is artistic and adventurous and fun-loving. Buckwheat loves hands-on activities and hobbies that further develop an artistic talent or boost a child’s social awareness. But, when it comes to things like saving for their child’s college education, our Buckwheat would turn straight to oatmeal without a partner whom is much better at taking care of those sort of things.
Buckwheat’s are, however, full of empathy and awareness: a bedrock of emotional support. Buckwheat’s will never bullheadedly tell a child what it ought to do, but instead, will help them to explore all options and encourage them to follow their hearts and instincts. Those are awesome qualities and any child would be fortunate to have a Buckwheat parent. Naturally lacking structure, focus, rules and stability, Buckwheat parents also fall short of perfection.
We all know Butch. He’d occasionally steal Darla away from Alfalfa with his obvious swagger but if Butch and Darla were to have children, I think Butch would do well to put a ring on Darla and keep her around. Parenting is difficult for Butch. Not a naturally sensitive guy, he struggles to identify the raw emotions and irrationality that are often the standard with young children, who have yet to develop the sort of self-control and logical thinking that someone like Butch takes for granted.
Butch has no interest in raising children or managing anything other than his work or his golf game. Butch parents are likely to allow their children to enjoy lots of freedom to essentially raise themselves, allowing them to form their own principles. Butch is rational, intelligent and is engaged once the children are older but there is hardly a clumsier example of a provider of emotional support for children and pre-teens than Butch.
Lots of little boys grow up trying to emulate their Butch dads. The control and confidence Butch naturally exudes can be a powerful magnet for a child to emulate and confidence is a great attribute. But a lack of emotional connection with daddy Butch can leave some children feeling like they don’t measure up.
Oh-Tay; Porky is the quintessential yes man. But all that ass-kissing has made Porky want better for his kids. Porky wants to teach his children how to be effective in business, impartial and logical. Porky believes that his kids should understand the difference in what is most effective versus what makes you feel good.
Porky is passionate about raising his kids with business skills and leadership ability but his approach leaves him emotionally inaccessible. He’s all about teaching strong values but he believes these values come from deep understanding, not blind trust. Discipline doesn’t necessarily come naturally for anyone but it’s a particularly challenging subject for Porky.
Porky’s standards are so high for himself and his kids that when confrontations do happen, Porky wants to frame the life lessons as archetypes of morality. If his kid rebels against it, it’s seen as a rebellion of morality because that’s how he framed it – thus Porky wants to dig in his heels and refuse to bend.
Porky is a complicated person. He can be a great parent but can smother his kids with ridiculous expectations and leave them searching for acceptance. I’m thinking George Von Trapp meets Maria. George (Porky), bullied by the Nazi’s feels emasculated. He wants better for his kids so he’s disciplined and direct. Maria swoops in with her nun outfit, teaches his kids to sing, and they live happily ever after.
If you’re an Alfalfa like me, you’re probably struggling to manage your own emotions in a healthy way, let alone trying to manage a childs’ emotions. I’m analytical for sure but not super analytical, such as a Froggy. I would definitely define myself as a true hybrid type – one quarter analytical, one quarter emotional, one quarter artistic and one quarter zombie (Spanky/Froggy/Buckwheat/Stymie/Butch/Porky).
I would say that my analytical side is usually what wins out. As a result, I tend to mostly avoid “unproductive” strictly emotional conversations, and instead take a solutions-based but slightly emotional approach to resolving most problems. Example: I never once spanked my child without first having an intellectual discussion over why it was necessary. Then, once the matter was resolved intellectually, I teared up and did the dreadful deed.
Words and ideas though, are my strongest assets – assessing a dilemma to find the underlying cause and developing a plan to solve the problem at its source. That said, I can at times be highly emotional. You just may not know it – that’s the zombie part of my personality.
A disconnect is found between what I’m able to feel and what I’m able to express. Although I think my emotional side is highly developed – there are no visual cues as to what I’m feeling. You’re laughing right now that I’m calling myself emotional, I know it.
Alfalfa’s like me try really hard to always do or say the right thing but our emotional logic doesn’t always translate. Think of children like tribes of indigenous peoples of undiscovered islands. They speak their own language and have their own unique culture – Heathens and savages if you will. Children won’t always cooperate and allow you to use all your best dance moves. Emotion and Logic, when combined, can sometimes make a profound difference.
What happens when you logic is ignored and you’re also an emotional person? Well, I can say that it is usually one of two scenarios: I either have a great conversation and things seem to work fine, or, the shit hits the fan and I use a barrage of unintelligible curse words strapped together with other curse words that I use as adjectives to connect a multitude of curse words. Then I play my Black Sabbath record backwards.
In an attempt to call upon my finely tuned emotional assets, I try to engage the emotional gears and the clutch suddenly won’t work. Frustration comes into play because it’s obvious that my brain is failing me. As long as there is no stress, my emotions seem to work just fine. But when Cortisol is released into my zombie veins, the emotions quit working and all that’s left is either logic or pathologic.
My typical style has never really been to just to tell my child what to do, but to instead to prompt him with logic to use his own mind so he arrives at some well thought out conclusion. I learned a long time ago that my child is far more independent than I, and that’s saying a lot. It makes no sense for me to tell him anything. He’s going to listen to what I’m saying and form his own opinions regardless of what I say. If that doesn’t work, I write a stupid blog and hope he reads it.
The Problem with Perfection
As you can now plainly see, there are a lot of parent personalities out there in the real world. Way more in fact than I could ever dream to know, much less understand. Some parenting styles seem more positive on the surface while other styles have a slightly uglier exterior. All that aside, when you really look beneath the thin façade of parenting styles, all knowledge and input has its place, and all systems – no matter how involved or logical, will eventually fail on their own weight if given enough time – because children mature and change and we typically do not change along with them.
Empathic and open-minded parents really are awesome for any child to have. But there’s a downside of the empathic and nurturing parents; our children eventually become adolescents. When children approach their teenage years, all this free-flowing emotion and attention can start to feel cloying and excessive to them. At a time when they are wanting more privacy and independence, you’re still smothering them with lipstick kisses and tickets to Disney On Ice.
This is a time when the most nurturing of parents are challenged the greatest I think. They have strong emotions and invest those emotions heavily in their children. As adolescent children begin to withdraw, parents sometimes have a difficult time even recognizing themselves. They’ve spent so much energy and focus on being a good parent, it leaves them wondering if all that energy even worked. Will my child have benefitted from all my affection and attention or will the kid I hate down the road have more influence on him than me?
I think life is often the best teacher. As a parent, I think I was fairly liberal, allowing my son to have his own adventures and make his own decisions, to further develop his critical thinking skills. This isn’t to say that I was necessarily lenient – rather, I expected him to use his freedom responsibly, and I theorized that the weight of this expectation alone was enough to lay out some understood ground rules.
When needed though, I was fully capable of communicating openly, sternly and honestly. I just preferred not to replicate the belt-whooping thing my dad made famous. Did my seemingly more rational approach work? I guess the answer depends of if you’re asking me if he felt the weight of my expectations and made good decisions OR if he/we learned something from the experience. I think he mostly didn’t always make great choices but I’m certain he benefitted from the experiences.
And, to be fair, there were times when all that freedom left me blindsided. Not that my parenting style was necessarily bad, it was just insufficient by itself. It took other people to point out behaviors and events that otherwise I may not have noticed. Most of the time, I would be in complete denial as to what was happening. My son had a pierced ear for weeks before I learned about it. Hint: If your child is wearing a stocking cap over his ears in the hot summer, there might be a clue inside the cap Colonel Mustard.
Sometimes, people/parents like me overthink things a bit. When you rationalize my parenting style with pure logic, it all makes sense. The problem is that there’s no logic to raising children. Each child is different and each parent’s ability to communicate is different. No book or blog can teach a person how to be a great parent. To be a great parent, you just have to want to be a great parent. Then later in life, when you get old like me, your children let you know whether you were or weren’t.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned from this exercise is just how limited we all are individually. We’re only good at a few things and we always suck at something. It only makes sense that our children are going to grow up so much well-rounded when they have two parents mentoring them daily. That doesn’t make it fool-proof, it just means that they will have a much more solid footing if they know, spend time with, and are parented by two people.
That said, four parents are better and six parents are even better than four. Typical families no longer make the effort to maintain close distances and bonds with extended members, grandparents and such. When I was a kid, we spend a tremendous amount of time with our grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. There was this thing that families used to do annually called “family reunions”. I know it sounds odd today but people really did use to have fun spending time with dozens of extended family members eating from covered-dish dinner menus.
If you want your kids to witness the incarnation of culture, take them to a family reunion where there are 15 different versions of mac-n-cheese. Literally every family matriarch has her own recipe. Every single time you bite into a new mystery meat or crazy potato recipe, your first thought is either, “I love it”, or “Believe it or not, there’s someone in this building who is literally jonesing for this nasty ass stuff”.
I realize that it took me more than 3,500 words to tell this tale and I’m not so sure anyone learned anything, including me. But the gist of where I was going with this is that far too many people believe that children do just fine with one parent. And, maybe some do. But don’t you think that they’d do much better with two?
Spanky believed in his He-Man Woman Haters Club and was quite upset with Alfalfa when, after skipping the HMWHC meeting, he caught Alfalfa and Darla macking behind closed doors. But, Spanky would go on to find out that he was being a little short-sided on the subject of woman hating. We all mature in our thoughts eventually.
If you want kids and you want to do your best to provide them with all the tools they need to succeed in life, do your very best to find a partner that wants the same thing and whom will be a reliable, active and present member of your dream team. Sometimes things just won’t work out, divorce is a fact of life. But think twice before selfishly attempting parenthood alone when you have the option of doing it as a part of a team. No one can ever be a perfect parent alone.
One of the things I love about blogging is that the format is much more similar to a discussion than it is a story or news or whatever. It’s much more intimate and personal. We can address the things that are going on in our own lives or in the lives of people close to us and not necessarily have to wait for the next big national news event from which to launch our tirades or sweet-talks. Today I want to express my concerns about someone close to us about depression and bullying and offer a bit of advice.
The biggest problem with being a young adult or adolescent is the fact that you’re, in many ways, an adult with adult brain power. You’re still in school which means you can still do long math, you can probably structure sentences better than most adults, and you can still recite State capitols and quote Shakespeare. All this mental flexibility makes us feel very bright and ready to take on the world. Our parents are the only adults we’re around enough to really compare our own intelligence to and what we see from them at home isn’t always the most representative of the whole person. So, we know we’re pretty smart like our adult parents but in many ways we’re still children, especially so when it comes to emotional intelligence. Your brain is literally wedged between a rock and a hard place.
What your parents do have an abundance of (maybe…hopefully) that remains mostly unknown to you is the ability to cope with life’s up’s and down’s…a kind of emotional intelligence that we learn from surviving failure, betrayal, disappointments, infidelity, personal attacks, or the plethora of other lessons taught to us in high school and the work place, none of which that can be found in a textbook. Every single time we survive the next disaster, we sort of metamorphose into the next higher version of ourselves, shedding our thinner skins and growing a newer thicker one more capable than the last in defending ourselves or deflecting the danger away.
Without these skills, we’re left vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of dehumanizing feelings that are sometimes strong enough to put us in a state of depression that can be so strong that it blinds us from finding a way out. It’s kinda like the dichotomy of needing a car to get a job and needing a job to get a car; we don’t always have the wherewithal to develop these coping skills when we need them most or when we’re most challenged by the pressures of growing up.
When you’re gifted and smart, it’s way harder because you’re way more sensitive to right and wrong, you’re way more aware of how destructive the behavior is to you, and you’re way more perplexed at why you of all people cannot figure out how to solve the problem. Smart people have good ideas so you think you’re supposed to be able to solve these problems and yet you can’t. Not only is it emotionally damaging to be in the situation, but you’re simultaneously feeling insecure and unprepared to make it go away, maybe for the first time in your life. You begin to undermine your own intellect out of utter frustration at not being able to manage these feelings or solve your own problems.
Depression is a humiliating human experience. Whether the result of bullying, stress, medical conditions or any number of other causes, the consequences are the same. Everyone experiences some form or degree of depression in their lives although some of us are better at shedding old skin than the rest.
So, what we want to avoid is allowing a tumultuous situation to evolve into depression. If we allow it or if we don’t recognize the seriousness of our condition at a time when we can still think clearly, the ravages of clinical depression may creep into your life and take its toll on you and everyone around you. Whether you’re recognizing it or not (and some of us cannot), depression can turn intelligent, articulate and outgoing people into relative sleep-walkers and robots who can’t so much as wash a dish or change their socks.
Depression can affect your ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your own children, lifelong passions, and even your relative good fortune. On top of that, the usual medication for depression is usually some sort of psychotropic drug that helps your brain to quit feeling. So, not everyone does well with the drugs. There are both success and failure stories associated with the treatment of depression just like there are success and failure stories associated with the disease itself. I know people from both camps.
Treated early enough, you can help to file the sharp edges of life away to help you focus on you and what is making you feel things so strongly. That doesn’t let you off the hook to solve your problems. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reconcile your stress with medical intervention, take your medically induced lucidity serious and work to bring final resolution to the things or situations or people who are causing you problems, even if that means writing that person off completely and moving on.
If allowed to continue, depression has the ability to scoop out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable muck that finds no pleasure, no delight, and no point in anything outside of a couch. You may alienate your friends at school because you can’t comport yourself socially, your job may be at risk because you can’t concentrate, and you may live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. Sometimes, we’re just not quite ready to grow up and accept all that comes with being an adult and sometimes it’s the opposite, we just need to get the hell out of an environment that might be choking off our air supply. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to emotion and life.
My deceased brother suffered from depression. His depression was the result of a psychological disorder that limited his ability to cope in many ways but that never stopped him from feeling – just as you and I do. The world, as viewed from my brother’s eyes, was different than it is to me or to you but he was still a human being who felt and loved and innately understood that he was making the people around him uncomfortable. Although he lost the ability to recognize his own responsibility for how he made others feel, he nonetheless understood fully how everyone suddenly became afraid of him. While his empath began to fade, his overall sensitivities were elevated which made him acutely aware of the world, his family, and how he saw himself fitting-in among everyone and everything around him.
It’s so sad to think about someone with a mental illness who once had full-competency. To live in a world that you perceive as dangerous, but in ways that you alone can solve if people will just give your ideas a chance. To want nothing more than to protect the one’s you love but to then feel the rejection of your ideas and the pain associated with the recognition that everyone thinks you’re crazy. Depression can be the catalyst that manifests itself into this type of mental illness, especially if you have other stressors that are working synergistically against you.
Sadly, people with severe depression start to become pathetic and they know it. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the condition. Depression, if untreated, can manifest itself into more serious conditions leaving its victims with little or no capacity to stop the downward plunge they see as inevitable. They begin to lose all perspective, all emotional reserves, and have no faith that things will ever get better. So they begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their inability to deal with life like any regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation.
Those of us around the depressed grow increasingly insensitive because we don’t understand the logic of it all (There is no logic). We only see how our loved one’s condition negatively impacts our own lives. Our loved one’s problems can be so overwhelming sometimes that we just want to run away to escape what we see as unnecessary chaos. We become desensitized to the whole affair and even duck and evade our troubled loved ones in order to find some normalcy and solace in our avoidance of them. I’m guilty of that myself. The guilt associated with that avoidance can also be overwhelming. You find yourself either victimized by psychotic drama or by self-guilt for not wanting to subject yourself or your family to psychotic drama. No one wins.
If you’ve never been depressed, give thanks to your DNA providers and back off the folks who need to take a pill just so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over a typically turbulent normal life. That said, normal life is typically turbulent and we all take a few fastballs to the chest occasionally; it’s all part of stepping up to the plate of life.
As I’ve written about previously, if the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to a part of your history or a part of your destiny. Discovering that you have the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers, resilience being one of those. Depression cannot thrive among resilience.
Recognize that we’re all perfectly flawed. Yes, you’re a kind and sensitive person and you need a pill right now to help you cope. But, alternatively, the bully has way more problems than do you. If you really think about it, what type of false-reality is that person living in right now? How much further toward adulthood or success or realizing your dreams are you right now compared to him/her? That person has a long hard road ahead and reality is going to suck way worse for him/her than it is for you right now. If anything, you should be feeling sorry for them.
Stop judging yourself unnecessarily. The person bullying you is likely so selfish and full of themselves right now that they don’t even believe they’re a bully, much less able to recognize how destructive they are to those around them. While you’re reconciling the bully, don’t fail to recognize your own responsibility in how these situations evolve and encompass everyone and everything around them. Don’t be guilty of believing that the “high road” is somehow conveyed by your absence or refusal to stand up for yourself. If chaos is met by silence, chaos still exists because it creeps into new places you would have never expected. It’s also not anger or retaliation that defeats chaos, its wisdom and order – which, BTW, also defeats depression.
Depression is not just an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It can run in families and it can ruin families. Most of us cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy. But that is exactly what victims of depression do every day. My goal is two-fold; I want to scare you into facing whatever it is that is luring you into depression, and, I want to help you and others empathize with those who are suffering now.
Bullying is real. Just because you’ve never suffered from it doesn’t make it imaginary. The way you survive it is to confront it and just proudly announce that what is happening to you is hurtful, whether they care about or want to take responsibility for it or not and that you’re done worrying about it. There’s something profoundly powerful about vocalizing your intentions that has a way of making your words come true. If you tell them you’re done…you’re done.
“It is much easier to make good men wise than to make bad men good.” Henry Fielding said that in 1749. I like Henry Fielding as a writer because not only did he lace his thoughts in humor but he also had curly hair and a law enforcement background. I like people with curly hair and law enforcement backgrounds, I don’t know why.
Forgive me for ranting a little bit but this week has been just a little stressful. I don’t often have to deal with true narcissists in my job but when I do it’s a depressing reminder of my deceased brother who suffered from a mental illness late in life characterized by extreme narcissism. In defense of my brother, he couldn’t help it. He was principally a victim of circumstance, a war, and probably some crappy genetics. If you hang out with me for very long at all you will easily spot some of the crappy genetics I’m referring to (not from you mom).
There should be a test people take before being allowed to procreate. Men should have to account for all of the sperm they produce and pay a tax for any that escape an allowed allocation to partners who are on a list of government approved recipients. If your DNA has a genetic marker that could produce a narcissist then you should be sterilized. That way, the rest of us have some say about the kinds of folks we have to live with, deal with, subsidize or carry the burden for. I’ve met a few folks that have had some hard times but they’re so nice I didn’t mind them having an EBT card. I’ve also known a few folks that have no problem whatsoever carrying their own weight but really should have been aborted.
I’m not making any political statements here but I will say this about gay couples, at least when they decide to have children, they research the heck out of those eggs and make sure their kids are coming from good stock. Everyone make sure and watch the news tonight. When you see the barefoot – snaggletooth – meth mouth – blue gum – redneck talking about the latest UFO sighting at the local dairy dip then political correctness dictates that there’s only one thing you can openly say about the person with any real certainty…this person was definitely not procreated in a test tube. Next time you see a gay couple, hug them for saving the human race.
I digressed didn’t I? Oh well, sorry. Narcissism is a serious thing. I can’t imaging growing up with one as a parent. It’s probably one of the most difficult psychological legacies you can have. These are parents who are incapable of real love, who blame you for everything because they cannot make mistakes, who undermine your initiative because they fear your success, who dismiss your feelings because no one’s feelings matter except their own, who may adore a sibling because he/she is a reminder of himself/herself. These are some serious issues for anyone to overcome and grow up normal.
I’ve read that there can be some genetic markers for this but by and large everything I’ve read about them suggests that they are products of their own creation. It’s not an accidental thing, unless caused by mental illness, but a series of life-long choices that manifest themselves into problems which cannot be solved because by doing so it undermines an entire lifetime of embellishments and denial. They create their own disorder then go around inflicting it on everyone around them.
And somewhere along the line they all wander into my office and find me minding my own business. They ask for advice and information and I gladly give it. Then they pursue an agenda driven by a complete disregard for rules and a spirit of “I’d rather get forgiveness than permission” and ultimately fail. Then, unable to admit personal failure, they blame their problems on me as I was the one “who told them what to do”. Then, they punish everyone in their proximity because they were “against” them all along, not realizing that those same people have now become his/her victims and he/she may be going to need their support later on when he/she sticks his/her middle finger up and makes another go at it. Then they file a lawsuit against me and lose but because they’re a narcissist, cannot accept that they were wrong so they go about recording everyone in an attempt to capture “conspiracies and lies” so that they can one day prove that they were right all along.
Or maybe it’s another type of narcissist who inherits a business and never has to work for anything but feels jaded because he knows that his intellect is far superior to those around him but life and luck superseded his ability to “prove” his own immense value. So, in evaluating those around him whom have worked hard to better themselves and who may get a little attention because of that hard work, he finds it unfair because he’s the one who really deserves the attention, he’s the real genius. His narcissism just cannot allow others to share the spotlight so he manipulates and undermines everyone around him in order to expose what he perceives to be weaknesses in the armor of his rivals for attention. His goal is not to accomplish anything, but to undermine the success of others. Why should he accomplish anything, everyone already knows that he’s awesome. Can we all make a very strong alcoholic drink and make a toast to this type of narcissist?
Let me get a breath of oxygen because that was a mouthful. Ok, what I’d love to impart in this blog is that no matter how smart or gifted you are, someone in this world thinks you are a complete dumb-ass. Trust me, I’ve met more than a few people who think that about me. I like words but I suck at math. My wife loves math and she sucks with words. God did a great job of equalizing and distributing the powers among us. None of us could live fully independently of others. We all have to accept our own limitations and inadequacies then praise and recognize those around us whom possess the missing puzzle pieces of our own lives. If you do nothing else this Christmas, give the gift of acknowledgment to your spouse or children or parents and friends that they matter and that they make your life a lot better. Then quickly pour some cold water on that ego. Don’t just listen to me, I’m not an expert on anything but I heard from a reliable source that Santa Clause thinks narcissists suck!
It is Christmas time which means two things: you have to buy lots of presents for people who would have just as soon you give them cash AND it’s one of two holidays in the year that diabetics are legally permitted to eat whatever in the heck they want. It’s true, there are no laws preventing diabetics from eating candy corn and orange elephant peanuts on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Trust me, I looked it up. I did find a law that prohibits people from posting images online that cause “emotional distress” without legitimate purpose. For those of you who are dieting during Christmas, please don’t have me arrested if I post a picture of Emily’s famous homemade pecan pie on my Facebook page. You’re not supposed to take the law seriously anyway, if we did, the whole nation wouldn’t be arguing over whether a cop who is still in his car getting his face smashed in, by a robber who is trying to get his gun away from him, should have been allowed to defend himself. Oh well, some say tomāto some say some say tomăto.
During the holidays I become pretty much diet agnostic – meaning that I do not subscribe to know any particular food or recipe deity but still believe in such an existence to the extent that I must sample every dish and recipe personally before I will truly know. My relationship with food, as you can already tell, will probably contribute to my ultimate demise in some way because as educated and informed as I may be after 20 years of the diabetic experience I still foolishly believe that I can outsmart my own endocrine system.
Well, when it comes to dieting and eating healthy, I have great intentions but really all I’m looking for is a “weigh” out. After all, that’s what the insulin shot is for right? I mean, I could easily argue that I just have “way too much on my plate” right now but then that would be just stating the obvious. It seems that life with cake trumps body image all day long. Can I get an AMEN?
And don’t believe all that crap about there being emotional reasons for why we make certain food choices. It’s not emotional. The reason why we savor-the-flavor is because the daggum stuff tastes good. Not everything tastes good but whatever it is we are eating apparently tastes great. If people didn’t enjoy eating then we’d all be suffering from emaciation, maybe even a little grumpiness too? I know I would. I know I’m a lot more tolerant while my belly is full. Perhaps we should send Mac & Cheese to the Middle East instead of Special Forces soldiers and guided missile destroyers. We could start deploying weapons of mass consumption and do our water-board interrogations with egg nog and boiled custard instead of plain ole water.
So, for this Christmas season, avoid all of those healthy eating web sites and low carb recipes which will only serve to piss you off six months from now when you’ve gained all of the weight back anyway and you’re reminiscing about your Aunt Betty’s fudge that you didn’t eat at Christmas because you were really trying to lose that last 74 pounds. I mean, for God’s sake, Aunt Betty probably won’t be around for too many more Christmas’ anyway and you can never get that lost fudge back. Your relationship with food should be at least as honest as your relationship with Joel Osteen.
So, fire up that deep fryer and start mixing those beignets. Just remember, use lukewarm water instead of cold, soak up the extra Crisco on paper towels to cut down on saturated fats, and grind up two Metformin pills per beignet to mix with the confectioners’ sugar which will be sprinkled generously on top before serving.
Here in Tennessee we are busily preparing for Christmas now that Thanksgiving and all those enigmatic shopping days are behind us like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday… so of course you can’t really be inundated with all of those marketing schemes with family-friendly euphemism’s without thinking about family. For me – I must say that I’m very lucky to have the family I do. Not only the one’s I was born with but also the one’s I’ve had some level of responsibility to create or adopt as my own. This would of course include my wonderful wife Emily and my eximious son Jon.
Enough of the bombastic family descriptions, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with my chosen title “Hotel California” aren’t you? You guys and gals already know that I like to use creative titles on my blogs and of course why would today be any different. Well, last week I was driving to work in my Jeep and that famous Eagle’s song came over my radio, just as it often does, but instead of just enjoying the song and lyrics as I normally would I was somehow taken to a place I’d never been before. The lyrics sort of spoke out a metaphor that I’d never before noticed.
Now wait just a minute, I know what you’re thinking and it’s not true. At least as far as I know anyway. With the best of anyone’s ability to recognize these things, I don’t think I’m losing my mind and I don’t think that I’m hearing voices. At least not any voices that my own brain waves are producing anyway. The voices I heard were those of Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Henley and Don Felder talking about an ominous sounding hotel in California.
The song was first released in 1976 when I would have been twelve years old, right about the time most kids really start identifying with whatever the popular music of that day happens to be. And I was no different. I still love to hear those old songs which kind of take me back to the time when I used to lay in bed with my headphones on, crank up the volume, and escape all of the stresses of being a twelve year old – you know, like what you’re going to eat when you get home from school – are there any coco puffs left – when will I have the necessary funds to purchase the latest AC/DC album…
Anyway, that song used to evoke a sort of ominous feeling when I listened to it back then. The lyrics artfully play around with phrases like “Heaven and Hell”, “Her mind is Tiffany twisted”, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device”, “just can’t kill the beast”, and of course the last famous line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.” What do those words mean anyway? They’re not quite as weird as “someone left my cake out in the rain” but they’re not as easily dissectible as “you ain’t nuthin but a hound dog” either.
As I got older I always just thought of these lyrics as a way of describing drug addiction. It makes sense right? Play the song right now and think about drug addiction and tell me what you think. But, alas there is more. There is always more. What some of you know is that my eldest sibling Cindy lives in California. When the song played last week, and because these are holiday times with family-friendly euphemism’s flying about like blue-arsed flies (creative idiom – √), I started to think of these lyrics as a metaphor for moving to California.
Cindy, my wonderful and lovely sister who used to beat me up when I was a kid…just kidding, actually did not want to move to California when her husband first landed the great job opportunity that led them there. Kicking and screaming, she reluctantly moved there as any supportive spouse would do but I never really thought they would stay there long because we all knew she’d hate it and because her husband is so damn smart that he’s always getting these amazing offers to move – and they always do. Not this time. Nope, they “saw the shimmering light” and “stopped for the night” and now that her husband has achieved everything that he and his family could ever have hoped for they could “check-out anytime they like” but for some reason they “can never leave”.
Now, my sister Cindy “is just a prisoner there of her own device.” How many places on Earth could you possibly live that trap you like a drug addiction. You heard it just a minute ago, you know the song is a metaphor for drug addiction right? What about the beautiful State of Tennessee? We got trees and grass and pie for God’s sake. I once was told that they don’t have pie in California. Sounds a lot like hell to me.
This year I’m sending my sister a subscription to “Garden & Gun” magazine and maybe a homemade pecan pie. Perhaps that will shake things up in a palatable way. Anyway, I was just thinking about my awesome sister and thought I’d write about her. I didn’t mean to drag a bunch of innocent people into it, just wanted to do the girl some justice.
Just for the heck of it, listen to the song again. One more time. Now think about the lyrics in the context of a person being drawn to the shimmering lights of a place and being trapped there by its beauty. A place where the weather is almost always perfect. A place where they have shoes. A place with a total absence of mosquitoes (tradeoff for not having pie). A place where you can come and go at-will but a place you can never really leave. Now what do you think? It’s a different song isn’t it?
Now, whenever I hear that song, I won’t be reminded of my secret heroin addiction, I’ll only think about Cindy and how someone in that Godforsaken hippie commune of a State has probably brainwashed her from ever coming home to beautiful Tennessee. Just kidding. Merry Christmas Cindy, the magazine subscription is on the way but I might have eaten the pecan pie.
My whole life I’ve heard about the idea of true love. There are many ways to express it (i.e., real love, made for each other, perfect partners, soul mates, numero uno, love of my life, my one and only, etc.) but how many people out there can really comprehend the idea of such a thing in its full context? We’ve all had our ups and downs and most of us end up tied to someone special eventually but are you truly with your “one true love” or did you just settle for someone just a little less perfect than you expected?
Most people can’t wait to get married. Sometimes it’s because they just want to get out of a bad home environment or sometimes it could be that they just want to grow up and move on with life or perhaps it’s because all their friends are getting married and having kids and they think they’re supposed to do the same thing. But when you’re young and fresh out of school you’ve not lived and navigated through enough personal relationships by which to judge whether your current person is really the best person for you or not. That is why statistically more marriages fail than survive.
I’ve blogged about the idea of perception versus reality several times because I truly believe that each of us have our own special reality shaped by several things including nature (DNA), nurture (parenting and mentoring), and experience (what we do with both of those things). To truly experience something as rare and complex as finding your soul mate, don’t you have to live just a little? We also have to suffer just a little in order to appreciate just how low things can be with the wrong person. Experience develops our individual perceptions and helps us to recognize not only what is special about a person generally…but what is particularly special about that person from our own perspectives – through our own jaded and subjective eyes. These are two distinctly different things.
I’m sure there are a few very lucky people out there who were fortunate to find that special someone on their first try but I seriously doubt the probability of that happening very often. Most of us think we know, then proceed to jump off the proverbial cliff of sanity directly into a pit of uncertainty then swim against the current in the river of probability then drift slowly toward an ocean of insolvency and finality. Those are not great odds. To make it worse, our own ego sometimes refuses to allow us to quickly resolve a mistake and let go before we become so entrenched that leaving becomes problematic or even dangerous.
We fail mostly though not because we hitched our wagons necessarily to bad people but because we had no idea who we were in the first place. Our idea of what a relationship should be is just as undeveloped as our sense of who we are or what makes us happy. How can we begin to address the issue of what we can do to please another person when we’ve ignored our own needs and wants? That’s not selfish, it’s absolutely critical. If we ignore what’s inside, foregoing that critical component of personal happiness and instead focus on making someone else happy, then we are doomed to eventually implode with anger and expectation of reciprocation. But it becomes unfair to the other person because they’re expectations are based on who you started off as, no matter how unrealistic it may seem.
Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. When you give yourself an honest opportunity to figure out who you really are, forgetting about the idea of love or marriage, the internal images of prospective mates is suddenly illuminated. Sort of like the secret decoder ring in the box of Capt. Crunch, you suddenly have a magical lens by which you see the world that illuminates that which is good and healthy and filters out that which is…maybe a bit unripe. That’s a kind way of saying that sometimes people who will eventually become great partners start off with no idea of what being a great partner is and will potentially hurt you. We are not all ready at the same time or at the same age. Thus, a great partner for me may not make a great partner for you. No matter how awesome my wife may think I am for her has no bearing on whether I would be viewed as equally awesome to another person.
We’re all like big irregularly shaped boxes of Cracker Jack’s. We all have a little prize inside but since we’re all looking for something different, the value of that little prize weighs more or less to whomever it is that gets to open your prize package. Some folks may love that little magnifying glass you have but I just think it’s cheap. So, here we are, you with a cheap magnifying glass and me with an awesome rubber ball. On a higher note, just because one person doesn’t fully appreciate the value of what’s inside or what you have to offer, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t.
After my divorce, I was single for 16 years. There were moments where I thought I’d be married again and moments where I believed I’d be single my whole life, mostly the latter. I think my son was more worried about me than I was. There were times when I embraced the idea of being single and times when I wept about it. There were girlfriends along the way, some good, some better, but with each failed connection I was forced to excavate the archaeological remains of failure and grow a higher understanding of me.
Initially I had this superficial mental idea of who I was supposed to find, not realizing that there was a real person inside of all that perfunctory shallowness. Then slowly but surely I got to know me better which added some depth to my minds-vision of who I should end up with. The best way I can describe it is like comparing a road-map to a relief-map – with all the mountains, rivers, bumps and valleys to provide some perspective. When you’re ready, your like a blind person reading braille – you can feel your way along the route. For me, it took a little while longer than it does for most people.
When I first met Emily there were no questions and no concerns. I already knew her from my mind. I wasn’t looking for a hair color or a particular personality, I was looking for her and there she was. But even though I had that initial easiness about her, she wasn’t all that prepared to meet me. She believed, like I did, but wasn’t ready to accept it until about a year later. There were, of course, obstacles to overcome and trust to establish but the hard work was done internally in both our minds while we both recovered from previous bumps and bruises. Fortunately for me, she was looking for me too. All I had was this stupid rubber ball but it turns out that she loves stupid rubber balls.
I got the better end of the stick. It turns out that her Cracker Jack box was chocked full of generosity, kindness, a sweet spirit and awesome twice-baked potatoes. In my mind, my rubber ball really didn’t really compare to all that but I guess it must have been exactly what she was looking for because it turns out that Emily is my one-true-love. She is the perfect person for me. Seven years of marriage, some seriously screwed-up butter cream cake-frosting, a job related police-raid, failed business venture and tumultuous local election later and we still love spending time with each other and she is still bringing me breakfast in bed. Not only do I love her immensely, but I can feel how strongly she loves me too. When you have what we have, you never feel jealous and you never feel insecure. No matter how our bodies evolve through age or how many mistakes we make, the love we have for each other is always profoundly present.
True love, soul mates, perfect partners…call it what you want. There are so many bad things that never enter your mind when you’re with the right person. Similarly, there are so many good things that are always on your mind when you find that certain someone. It’s a wonderfully liberating, incredible, and rewarding feeling to be with the one person in the world who really knows you inside and out, loves you unconditionally, gets all your jokes, and still wants to spend time with you regardless. When you read some of my jokes, you may understand just how lucky I truly am.
“You’re so lucky”, how many times have you heard that? Luck — good and bad — plays a big role in all of our lives, right? I know I am lucky — ridiculously, amazingly, fantastically lucky. And I am ever so grateful. I
am lucky to be alive; I am lucky to be healthy; I am lucky to have been born into a family that could care for me, and in a place where I did not have to fight medical odds just to survive infancy; I am lucky to possess the DNA to let my body develop in a way that is acceptable to my mind; I am also lucky that I was born with a decent amount of intelligence and natural tenacity to steer me where my luck may provide advantage; I am lucky to have a healthy and intelligent child who loves me back and who I can proudly observe as he discovers all the things I write about independently of me; I am lucky to have found and successfully trapped a wonderful woman who loves me like crazy and whom I love the same way back; I’m lucky to have a good job when a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet; I’m lucky to have a fantastic mother who has always been attentive to both my physical and mental well-being; I am lucky to have wonderful siblings who have continued to support me emotionally throughout my entire life; yes, I am one lucky SOB.
Every single one of those things, I would say, make me one of the luckiest people on this planet. I had nothing to do with most of those things, partial responsibility for a few, and I am lucky as crap they all went in my favor. Heck, one time I found a McDonald’s bag in a rental car with $500 cash in it…that’s pretty darn lucky huh? Has everything gone perfectly in my life? Please. We all have bad luck too, but more than that, we all have challenges and struggles and disappointments and just plain ole crappy times. But none of those things – good, bad, lucky, indifferent, or unlucky – are what defines us. We’re way more complicated than that.
The way in which each of us handle good as well as bad luck is what best defines who we really are. If we are willing to learn, the way we deal with both positive and tough times can teach us a lot of what we need to know about ourselves. If things go your way do you get cocky or appreciative…if things go South do you pout and feel sorry for yourself or just try again and again? The knowledge gained from both situations becomes useful in many situations, but especially when we face hard decisions and potential life-changing opportunities. Because even if you have the best opportunities always seemingly falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward to take advantage of or get the highest use of that opportunity. More often, it’s what you’ve learned from failures that will be the thing that propels you forward when an opportunity presents itself.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca (2 BC-ish)
Making the most of any opportunity, indeed even to recognize an opportunity for what it is, you have to be prepared. You must do the hard work to put yourself in the mindset that makes you ready to jump when your “luck” shines upon you, when you see that sliver of light, that tiny bit of hope, that opportunity you have been waiting for, which sometimes comes cleverly disguised as the exact opposite of what you had been waiting for. Luck has a strange sense of humor. She is a 1st cousin to karma.
What happens at that point is called choice.
No matter our relative luck levels and no matter how dire our emotional, financial, work, or other situations…that choice – that free will — that is what makes us human, right? The ability to step back, look at our lives, and decide what to do next is so very precious. But sometimes we do not notice an opportunity for what it is because it is up to us to really make it one. That cannot happen if we are not ready or prepared to do that. Circumstances sometimes limit our choices, but even not choosing — being a chronic non-decider who just lets things happen around them — is too a choice.
Tough decisions, the ones that tend to yield the highest rewards, are called “tough” for a good reason. So how do we become more self-prepared? Well-informed decisions and smart choices are built on a lifetime of getting to know better who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, what makes you anxious, what makes you intolerable — and you do not learn that kind of thing in the Valley of Unicorns and Leprechauns.
In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Polonius told Laertes, his son, “To thine own self be true.” Timeless advice yes, but the only way to know thine own self is to put yourself out there, try new experiences, and make lots of mistakes. Through this “trial and error”, you will learn what works for you and what does not, where you want to be, and an amazing amount of other knowledge about yourself that you never even knew you wouldn’t have known otherwise. Although that particular line in Hamlet is one of the more recognizable lines, another of Polonius’ lines I find to be equally valuable is, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. Remember that line when you’re out on a limb doing something unorthodox and people are giving you a funny look.
In case you are looking for some sort of reward for all that hard work – your journey to self-awareness not only becomes enlightening along the way but it WILL make tough choices down the road a lot easier for you. Easier to make, that is. Not necessarily easier to carry through. After that initial choice, you see, comes the all-important follow-through, and that consists of tiny choices every single day to continue on the path you have now chosen. And now we are getting to the real important part, Thoreau’s “suck[ing] the marrow out of life” I mentioned in my last blog.
This very blog, the one you are reading now, was written because of a series of small choices made each and every day. I love writing and I love teaching. Making the choice to write more, to teach those around me who I really am inside, to help those I care about navigate life’s up and downs…these are all things that I can do because of decisions I’ve made in my life that allow me to do it – and some good ole luck which provided me with the DNA needed to develop a love for words. The doors we open AND close each day will decide what we become and how we live our lives.
But, sometimes doubt creeps in because I would dearly love to be writing for a living. My failure or lack of initiative or lack of time and money and other distractions in my early life has delayed my own ability to finish what I started with my formal education. I continue to tinker with it but I never seem to find the time to just commit to finishing school. I changed majors 3 times and finally I know what I want to do, I just haven’t done it. That lack of a diploma closes a lot of doors for someone who likes to write…thus some bad choices were made.
Hey, no one ever promised that living life on our own terms would be easy, and sadly, no magic unicorns have shown up to guide me, I never found that pot-o-gold at the end of a rainbow, and I still do not have a rocket propelled jet-pack to travel back and forth to work on. Perhaps I would if some rocket scientist out there had taken an unconventional path instead of the NASA path of least resistance. But, that’s another story. Getting to know yourself and making conscious, informed choices on how to live your life, your one and only life, is based on what you should now know to be true – and that is experiencing life to the fullest without fear of failure. I do not know of any better way to move closer toward Shangri-La, which, by the way, is a moving target if you are doing things right.
Indeed, the learning process, realizing things about yourself, looking at situations from different angles, dreaming up of new ideas, goals, and adventures — those never end if you don’t let them. How lucky are we? How lucky are people with luck? Well, if we have learned anything at all I think it would be that lucky doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Make choices and make every choice matter – good or bad. Living deliberately doesn’t give you the key to every door, it IS the key to building your own door.
What a subjective title I chose…somebody please stop me now before I try to explain what color car is best or which species of animal is most beneficial for the environment. I mean, seriously, what makes my belly quiver in laughter and what makes my wife do so can sometimes be miles apart, and that’s just a comparison between two people on this planet doing one thing. Imagine trying to find consensus in what makes the typical American happy versus a typical Asian or Colombian or Eastern European. I know it seems like I’m arguing with myself but I just wanted to lay a little groundwork and say out-loud that talking about getting the most from life is certainly not as easy as doing it. Whether you lived in the 1800s or are living now, the path to getting the most out of life and living on your own terms was/is paved with challenges and complexities, including having to deal with folks who do not or cannot understand the concept at all.
Henry David Thoreau, in his book “Walden, Where I lived, and What I lived For” wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. …I wanted to suck out all the marrow of life…” Profound as some people believe his writing was, there were those around him, his peers, who not only couldn’t appreciate what he was writing about but who were also openly critical of his the ideas and the inspirations behind what he wrote about. It seems that good writing along with good anything lies in the eyes of the beholder.
In fact, another popular author of the time, Robert Louis Stevenson, called Thoreau’s journey into the woods “unmanly” and something he “tended with womanish solicitude.” John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that Thoreau would have man “lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs.” I think it is safe to say that neither of those men “got” what Thoreau was preaching about. Instead, they took a much more literal approach to his subject than he would have wanted them to take. Author George Eliot did get it though: “People—very wise in their own eyes—who would have every man’s life ordered according to a particular pattern, and who are intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them, may pooh-pooh Mr. Thoreau and this episode in his history, as unpractical and dreamy.”
What? Another intelligent opinion which differs? Actually, this very wise man and famous novelist of the era George Eliot, was not a man at all. Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans who authored seven novels from 1859 to the 1880’s. It‘s amazing how wise her words still are today, especially now considering the plethora of accepted alternative lifestyles of today versus that of the Victorian period when she lived and wrote. The main idea I am trying to convey here is that people around you, including family, will not always agree with the path you are taking and may sometimes be very critical of you. Opinions, no matter how trusted the source, may or may not always be relevant at all to your decisions and choices. We should always appreciate the thought behind a person’s opinions and reasonably consider them but it is US who find the applicability of those opinions or not and US who bear responsibility for following or not following that advice.
Living deliberately, as Thoreau was instructing us to do, if you’re really serious about it, requires first that you know who the hell you are. How do we really get to know ourselves if all we are doing is sticking our toes in the water? Even if you’re taking a road well-traveled, that doesn’t mean that you have to do it in a Chevy just like Paw did. Perhaps you will invent the next means of transportation? If that is your dream, then by all means pursue it. The only promise I can make you is that there will be lots of people along the way who will criticize every idea, every vision, and every version you have about your dream. Trust yourself when everyone else is doubting you but always make allowances for a person’s doubts because tucked away inside those doubts are another person’s failures that you can learn from.
When we or our loved ones carve life paths that are independent, open, and outside of conventional boundaries, we always run the very real risk of losing people along the way. If you are a doctor and your father was a doctor and suddenly your child wants to be an artist or musician, then everyone stops to offer free advice to the young person which may or may not be all that wise for him/her. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not well-intentioned, but equally it doesn’t mean that it’s all that wise. What about college? If you strongly believe your child needs to get that diploma, what do you do when they reject the idea and move on to employment and financial freedom? What if…OMG, your child wants to marry a person outside of his/her race? There are lots of scenarios here, you fill in the very broad blank here.
I wish I could tell you that when you take your life into your own hands and create your own path, all of your loved ones will be overjoyed for you. That they will excitedly continue loving and supporting you, so very proud that you not only know what you want but are also working your ass off to get there — learning, growing, and confronting challenges you had no idea existed. That no matter what you do in life or where you go, you will always be able to lean on the support network you thought was solid. But alas I cannot offer this to you. Some of your loved ones not only will not get it, they will not even care to try. But God doesn’t create perfect humans and never promised any so we have to work with the imperfections. It’s up to the more thoughtful and intelligent ones to not only ignore the emotional clutter caused by ignorant family members but to also empathize with why they care so damn much about what you are doing.
Guess what, living deliberately, sucking the marrow from life, and creating your own path is not about them and their judgments, it’s always going to be about you and your commitment to yourself and your vision for who you are or will become. What are you about? Who will you be? Those things are decided by you every time you make a choice, or respond to a stressful event in your life. Will you go down the road someone else took to get to the real you or will your journey to “self” be independent and directed in a way which best reflects who you strive to become? We are all works in progress and the beauty of life is that we can make bad decisions then later decide to make better ones. Screwing up is just a metaphor for a crash-course. So get out your cliff notes and start screwing up and…yes…grow!.
We all grow up with certain influences, then we live our lives based on certain pre-conceived ideas mixed with those influences. Then, with those pre-conceived ideas and influences, we carve a path through life touching and being touched along the way. Those personal experiences add to our realm of reality. That reality, the one we and our loved ones inherit then expand, is different for us all. It governs our consciousness which makes us want to save you from making mistakes that we recognize do not to fit within our own set of parameters. So don’t take it personal. We just don’t know that you have a different set of parameters because we can’t be expected to know what we don’t know.
Now let me be very clear. It is completely understandable that your mom may not immediately get why you are suddenly writing incessantly about people she doesn’t know, or if she learns of your plan to spend a year practicing Yoga in India; or, that your childhood best-friend cannot wrap his head around your career change from investment banking for teaching; or, that you’re concerned father is freaked out about you leaving the crappy newspaper you work for to do a stint as a photojournalist in Afghanistan. You cannot make enormous life changes and expect that everyone you know will understand your choices and motivations. Sometimes its just love and concern that drive suspicion and insecurity.
But, aside from the concerned, if you are lucky, you will have some people around you who care enough to try to understand. I will…I think.
Throughout your life’s journey, some in your inner circle will prove to be your lifelong connections, regardless of how much you’re stressing them out; they will do so by hanging in there with you even when they question your logic and your sanity. They will talk to you about your life, your goals, your dreams, your decisions, your actions, and try to understand where you are coming from — and hopefully you will reciprocate and keep up your end of the relationship you have always known, only enriched by new experiences and a deeper level of understanding. But don’t grow dependent upon adulation. You don’t need it to succeed. Instead, just be thankful you have it. Success stems from many things but hard work and confidence are among the top contributors.
Now, what about those other folks? The ones that cannot bend and will not try? Unfortunately, we all have those other types of people in our spheres of family and friends — the kind who absolutely refuse to try to understand your life as you envision it, or perhaps as you are already living it. These are people with closed minds and strict ideas not only of their own lives but also of yours and everyone else’s, or as Eliot wrote much more poetically, “intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them.” They cannot fit you comfortably into a proverbial box, which means you threaten everything they think they know as absolute.
You thought these people loved you unconditionally, but, as it turns out, they only support you when you live on their terms, according to their plans and expectations. They may or may not confront you about the mistakes they think you are making, but regardless they cannot help but judge your decisions and withhold love and support based on those judgments, whether they are based in fact or assumption (usually assumption since they do not know enough about your life on which to base a valid opinion anyway).
Continued sanity and lifelong productivity requires us to learn who really has our backs and who among our circles will only be there for us when it is convenient or comfortable for them. I call these types of people conditional lovers. The only way to objectively deal with these folks, sometimes our grandparents, parents, aunt’s and uncles, is to embrace them honestly and accept that they do not have the capacity either socially or mentally to ever understand who you are, and that’s OK.
People who offer conditional love can suck the energy, inspiration, and dreams right the hell out of you if you let them. So do not let them. When it becomes painfully obvious that in certain places all you will find is a wall of judgment, condescension, and conditional love, you have no choice but to either avoid it altogether or to confront it with an ultimatum. When you have tried for days, weeks, months, or even years to keep a relationship going, but you get nothing but criticism and judgment in return, offer them a choice of acceptance or avoidance. Let them take some ownership in whatever the outcome.
If you are otherwise living a good life and someone else is judging or criticizing you, it is not about you. It is about them. It is either about their own insecurities, failures and unhappiness or perhaps it’s about their own inability to move on and forgive your mistakes of the past. If they do not want to make the effort to understand you and your life, that is their loss — and not your problem.
How you react to the actions of others is always your choice, and you can either allow conditional lovers to suck up your time and energy, letting their snide comments, judgments, and lack of a desire to understand break your heart over and over again, or you can follow Thoreau’s example and continue to suck the marrow out of life on your own terms, live-deliberately, be mindful of each and every precious moment, and cherish the wonderful people around you who do love and support you unconditionally.
And for the subjective record, I think fish are the coolest animal species on the planet because you can catch and eat them whenever you want but you don’t have feed them, clean up after them or step in their doodoo. Just sayin.
In November of last year, my wife and I along with my son vacationed in several European countries in and around the former Yugoslavia. These included Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro then we polished off the the two-week trip with a few extra days in Venice, Italy. During our time there we were expertly guided by a friendly Slovenian named Elvis.
Not exactly the most popular name in Slovenia, no. Elvis was awesome, of course, and provided some particularly informative local-information and history about the areas we were visiting as he had lived and grown up there during the former Communist regime of Yugoslavia. What made Elvis so great was that he also watched and lived through the transition (1989 to present) of the entire region to what I would now consider quasi-capitalism.
Don’t you just love seeing a place through the eyes of someone who is utterly and madly in love with it? Elvis obviously loved his home-country and his colorful stories and self-deprecating style of humor made the trip so much more fun than it would have been with any ole other guide. The travel experience which would have normally been full of uncertainty and apprehension was instead transformed into almost full-immersion. I think, as a family, we have come to enjoy and appreciate guided vacations much more than the typical do-it-yourself trips for that very reason. Another unexpected bonus is that my son made friends with Elvis and they’ve continued to communicate long after our return to Tennessee.
While we were there, we stumbled upon a couple who were deeply involved in sponsoring the educations of young women and girls in Africa. Their devotion to this cause was obvious and inspiring. So inspiring, in fact, that Emily decided right then to also sponsor a young African girl. Her name is Peace and we’ve really enjoyed sending and receiving letters from her about her life and the African perspective. I don’t exactly know what happens in a person’s life that causes them to take on these enormous responsibilities such as this couple is doing but it is truly moving and inspirational to watch how their passion for doing good envelopes and captures others along the way to do the same.
I guess paying it forward begets paying it forward which makes for better karma if you believe in such things. But regardless of what we call it or how we frame it, we’re really talking about people who refuse to be normal, who refuse to be casual observers. These are people who go the extra mile, make the extra effort and spread the extra icing on the proverbial cake while they are simultaneously eating it. They’ve found something that they truly care about and they’ve found the passion within themselves to do it 110% and really make a difference in the world around them.
Each of us are deeply moved or affected by different experiences in our own way but one common truth we all recognize is that in life there are few accidents, at least as it pertains to success, failure or opportunity. Great things can happen to you organically but you must be out there experiencing life in order for them to present themselves to you. Ripe apples don’t fall in your lap unless you’re intentionally sitting underneath an apple tree.
On a crisp November day, these kind people stopped what they were doing to make a sincere effort to get to know us. There are some people in this world who God put here for the sole purpose of listening, Dave Thelen is one of those people. At the time, I had just lost my brother so it wasn’t particularly easy for me to open up to a stranger but miraculously I did. He and his wife shared their lives and experiences with us and we were moved enough to do the same and we’re both much better off today because of it.
So many small moments of that vacation were magical, but something that has stayed with me was when Dave launched into a lyrical Aristotelian lecture about how important it is for people to work together in order to bring ideas to fruition, for each person to share his or her talents to work toward a common goal. It is all “a process,” he said, one that requires different perspectives and skills. The greater the width, breadth and diversity of the talent pool, the better the result. But you have to be invested, you have to work at it if you expect any real change.
As my wife rattled off sentence after sentence, I said next to nothing during the hour (or was it two?) we walked the road encircling the enchanted Bled Lake. While in full view of the misty snow-capped Julian Alps, the 17th Century island-church in the middle of the lake and ancient Bled Castle on over-watch, I tried my best to concentrate on what was being said. Instead, I just snapped lots of photographs and listened — allowing Dave’s words and the surreal surroundings to wrap themselves around me, seep inside my brain, and make such an impression that I would never forget them even without the pictures.
I am naturally a quiet person and a listener at heart, but I am especially silent when I am in awe of someone, when I know this person has so much to teach me that my best course of action is to just shut my mouth and listen. In those situations, I relish the chance to absorb the information and tuck it all away to process later in quiet moments of reflection.
Now, almost exactly a year later, I realize that during those moments, I was gradually reaching a precipice to begin a new chapter of my life in order to write, blog (in whatever means) and encourage others to find and appreciate simple pleasures, live more deliberately, and to cut out the physical and emotional clutter from their lives.
By that point, I had been considering the thought of writing more seriously for years, but I was at that proverbial crossroads, still unsure of so many things — how would my family and longtime friends respond, etc.? I didn’t want to have one of those “Who are you and what did you do with my dad?” kinda moments, mainly because I’m not generally a vocal person.
Wanting to make a difference, I’ve realized that my greatest natural gift is my ability to communicate in writing. So here I am, doing what I’ve always done best, in order to help, promote, encourage, facilitate, inspire, or whatever. Although I hope that I can eventually achieve at least one of those, it will probably be “whatever”, and I’m completely ok with that.
I love to write, so I took this man’s thoughts about community, humanity and “process,” and applied them here among an already growing community of readers. I put faith in the idea that by writing about what I believe in and feel passionate about, those on the same wavelength will willingly offer up their own talents, skills, and visions, and together we can learn and grow together as a community.
Though my soft spot is for my son and his life’s expeditions and tribulations, I try very hard to write to everyone so that others can benefit from the rare positive energy I occasionally expel at a moment’s notice. I want Dave’s unselfish wisdom to be used and cultivated among anyone who cares to read it and pass it on.
That short visit to Europe reinforced my desire to not only keep this dream of writing and blogging alive, but also to make my ideas stronger, to enrich connections with family and friends, to explore topics and ideas that dig a little deeper, to make us all think and feel a little bit more — and, most of all, to continue to share our positive experiences with one another. Said differently, casual observers need not apply, because being a friend, spouse, parent or member of a community requires real effort, real honesty and real generosity. Not necessarily generosity of things; but, generosity of thought, vision, historical and contextual view, passion and advice.
Today I want to be your new friend like Dave was to me that day. I want to encourage you to get out there and seek connections, overtly enrich the lives of your friends and family by opening up and sharing yourself and your ideas with those who may not know you as well as they’d like to. Don’t just be a parent or a brother or a sister or a spouse. Be real.
Allow the real you to be known and understood. I want my child to really know who his father is, not just that I was his father…not just the parental side of me. I want to plant the seeds of acceptance and understanding so that when I’m gone, I haven’t inadvertently deprived anyone that I love, including my own child, of the one thing they will never be able to know afterward. Me.