Adapting

November 15th, 2015

For quite some time, I’ve considered myself to be adaptable, with a high threshold toward toxicity. I have ridden the waves of various cohorts, held on through tough times, teeth gritted, knuckles locked. I figure that’s a quality, some perseverance.

This was challenged by therapy, of all things. The therapy itself didn’t address what seemed to be an inner strength. No, the therapy helped me deconstruct a certain self-loathing, a trait that bonded me to some terrible people over time and some just plain inhospitable situations. So I realized that I wasn’t really letting the poison roll off my back. No, I was assuming that I deserved the poison. There was no point in dodging it. And I often hated myself enough to want even more of it.

This was never a situation of creating the toxicity as a punishment. This was not self-destruction. It was more a matter of assuming that I couldn’t fight back against a toxic paradigm because I was toxic myself, because I deserved it and didn’t have the power to do anything about it.

So, therapy: It took about a year or so of weekly sessions, amid turmoil both environmental and self-inflicted, to start to understand my levels of personal disrespect. To start to step away from my own toxicity.

I can’t say that I escaped it. I certainly fall back into the hole from time to time. But I’ve been learning to trust myself, parts of myself, trust my intellect and capacity for problem solving, even appreciate positive traits. I am still self-critical, but I don’t hate myself. Not anymore.

And that had an interesting effect on my ability to weather toxic situations. That is, I no longer assume that I deserve all that bullshit, and I have realized that I can probably do something about said bullshit.

So that’s where I am now. And it’s made me much less tolerant of a poison world, of people who thrive on being shitty to other people, illogical, somehow both intelligent and ignorant. I’m scared as all hell to do something about it. And I’m writing this because I think many people might be in similar situations. Toughing it out, riding the storm, when your gut tells you that the storm might be the system itself, Jupiter’s big red dot. So it’s a matter of problem solving. This is what I tell myself on a micro-level, to trust myself to take care of problems as they arise, and then move on. It’s much harder when you are within the problem, within the storm. But it can be done. Because you know, intuitively, logically, deep in your soul, that toxic systems do not inherently deserve tacit tolerance.

Impostors

May 13th, 2015

I’ve hit a cultural tipping point with the sea of beards, hair everywhere I look, even in my own mirror. So I’m considering a shave, even though I like my own beard-face. There’s a young guy under there, the Me from ages ago. I grew up with that face, wouldn’t mind meeting that old friend.

However, this is one case where I really do need to think of the children.

Many of us have or had fathers with facial hair. The beard. The mustache. The pork chop sideburns.

My dad has been gone for nine years now, so my memories of him are a pastiche of ages, from a cigarette-dangling, clean-faced youth-parent to the full beard that he carried through the majority of my life. You get used to the beard, the shape of his face. It was a part of his being.

He was a serious beard-man in the man’s-man sense. I watched him take things apart, figure them out, improve them. I grew up camping, hiking, loving nature. And, of course, there was the drag racing.

He was a considerate beard-man. His work ethic became eponymous, and I try to carry on that aspect of Brucker, aspire to it every day.

He was a funny beard-man. Goofy little songs accompanied our marathon Monopoly sessions. After dinner, he referenced any food stuck in his beard as stuff that he was saving for later.

And there was that one time when he shaved it clean, and all of a sudden he wasn’t my dad. The guy sounded like my dad, wore my dad’s clothes, wore his life. But his expressions were alien. Reactions and facial twists that the beard had softened became disturbingly overt. New expressions, new judgements.

You are not supposed to “get to know” the parent you already know. This is the embodiment of the given, the constant. Change the constant, and life unravels.

I had to train myself to stop staring at his FACE. Nothing but Face, all the freaking time, talking and talking. Holy shit, is that the guy who was under there the entire time? Yikes, he’s moving his alien lips and talking like my dad but it’s like watching a puppet, a man made of living wax, and even his eyes are looking “off” and distant and transformed. This was some real Body Snatcher shit. Every conversation was an incessant challenge, a taunt. His voice became weirdly frontal. Form trumped content, and the voice itself seemed to change into this anti-dad. Stop with the Face, stop it! There’s just too much of him.

And he must have felt the same way, looking in the mirror every morning, warping time with this aged version of his youthful self. Worse, what daily climate did he navigate? People staring at him. People staring away from him. People freaking out during any given conversation, and him knowing the entire time exactly what was freaking them out, both of them trying to keep it under control. A Möbius strip of reaction begetting reaction. Madness.

His beard returned, eventually. Thank god.

Let’s just pretend this never happened.

But now: The ubiquity of Man-Face weighs on me, particularly the well-waxed and intricately squiggly Hipster Beard. A dude sports that shit like a narcissist nimbus, ready for your selfie. There’s a point when something you like about yourself and others becomes a “thing,” and then vomits itself across the cultural landscape. And then you watch it turn silly, turn sour, turn into a commodity or a ready-made attempt at personal expression.

I know men with wonderfully wild beards, beautiful sculpture, tight designs, all of those outward expressions of inner chaos, order, freakiness and depth. And I like them, like my own beard. After all, beards make it easy to identify the “males” in our society.

It’s become a “look,” though, part of a complete package, with matching flannel and boots and whatever-the-hell. For you selfish lot, you fashionistas, I wonder if you understand how this will impact the people who depend on you. I wonder if you understand that this world is not about you, that you have committed to something greater than your vanity. You are tampering with communal history.

I wear my beard as my dad wore his, clean-cropped and hand-trimmed. When he died, I took on a variety of pants and shoes, jackets, shirts – we had the same build and the same shoe size. It’s taken nine years to wear through almost all of that, to no longer don a piece of my dad as each item disintegrates, as memories merge and degrade and swirl into the historical wash of the deceased. I have a coat and an aloha shirt that I always wear on airplanes. And this beard, serious, considerate, funny.

So I haven’t hit on any beard jokes with my own son, but they’ll come in time. If I whip out the “saving it for later” line, I’ll have to attribute it to the grandpa he never met. The grandpa who lives on through my beard, channeled. Every day Simon gets a little glimpse into his Grandpa John, looking through me and into him. If I keep this beard, my decision transcends the crap-wave of culture. It bonds us in love and a shared loss.

I can’t shave that away.

Windows

April 19th, 2015

Today I enjoyed a new French Toast sensation.

For some of you, this might seem pedestrian or mundane. French Toast. Sure, okay.

But there are others out there who know where I’m coming from. Life-long lovers of French Toast, with internal scoreboards, taste-histories, reminiscence of greatness. Thick-cut, thin, custard-dipped, encrusted, stuffed, baked, smothered, dry, fruited and nutted. There is a lot of love out there.

I don’t know if everyone takes it back to the roots. I know my French Toast origins. My grandma made it. Many, many times. And I don’t remember how it tasted. I know she had the cheap “maple” syrup (which never seemed cheap until years later, when I first tasted the real thing). I don’t know if she used cinnamon or any other spices. Don’t recall anything other than standard-issue bread, no fruit. But I do remember the windows. She would cut it into ninths, cut “windows” into our French Toast. That’s the detail. That’s the most important detail. She cut those windows, and, in the cutting, imbued the French Toast with love. Serious, pure love that was unique to her. When you have a loving grandma, a real grandma who lives to fill that role, her love is unique and essential.

She died quite some time ago. My life changed after that. Family started to drift like ice floes. Life itself became more complicated as I entered my twenties. And the love dissipated. Her love. There was no one else to fill that gap. Losing someone that important, it feels like those times when you stop drinking coffee. Within a day you notice just how profound of a dependency you had, how integral this was to your personality and well-being. The solution is often to just go back to the coffee, find a point of moderation. With grandma, I guess the solution was to try to find that love in other people. And that’s futile, and an unreasonable expectation. This isn’t a degree of love. This is a type of love, and when someone leaves you, you will never experience that exact type of love, so ingrained into that personality, ever again.

But I remember the windows. Eating French Toast brings me back to that simplicity. It is a pure experience, and a thread that runs through my life. I have never eaten French Toast without, at some point during that meal, thinking of my grandma. Thinking of that love. Missing her, of course, but still having that element of her. I don’t even reflect on it very deeply, don’t recognize that the love didn’t go away. It’s right there, dipped in custard and smothered with syrup, as simple as it was when I was a kid in her kitchen.

I guess that’s why I usually cut my French Toast completely before taking the first bite.

So yes, this food means a lot. Which is why a new experience, a novel and delicious re-presentation of it, reignites the love, refills my soul.

Today’s French Toast was this: Four segments of somewhat thick bread (on the full scale, I would say a medium cut), covered in finely-chopped strawberries, a few blueberries, drizzles of some sort of caramel sauce, and the standard little cup of pure maple syrup. Yes, very delicious, and a bit novel with the chopped strawberries and caramel drizzle. And a really big dish of butter. Disturbingly big, far too much butter for what was otherwise a very well-proportioned combination of culinary accoutrements.

That’s because this wasn’t butter.

It was fucking ice cream. Vanilla fucking ice cream.

What?! Vanilla ice cream with French Toast?

What!

Too indulgent? Too sugar-snack-attacky?

No. No, it was perfect. And I kept it in that side dish, mixed it, taste by taste, with each bite of the main entrée. And there it was, a new French Toast sensation for someone who has internally cataloged maybe a hundred variants.

A renewal of happiness. A cause to reflect on this, share it with those of you who love this meal, and share it with those of us who might wonder if we lost the love when we lost the person.

Well, we didn’t. We did not lose that love, and we never will. You know that.

Resolve

January 2nd, 2015

I am having a rough time cracking through the layer of petrified shit that ensconced 2014, to find the good stuff, the elements that are worth keeping, celebrating and repeating. Because I derailed myself, then was shoved around by abusive monsters, and momentum became a wobbly top at best. I have struggled with dangerous depression, tried to get on top of it by making it uncomfortably public, then retreated in confusion and doubt, allergic to humanity and fellowship.

I have found some sort of resolve only recently. This has not been accompanied by comfort, and, sliding into 2015, I’m realizing that “comfort” might be an invalid concept. I hit a similar realization regarding “closure,” how we inflate these panacea concepts and struggle to forge catch-all buckets. Life cannot be simple, though. That is, simplicity is the opposite of life. Simplicity is the burnout of nuance and the unknown, a wish for linear predictability, with major events, opportunities and challenges approaching slowly as well-labeled off-ramps. Simplicity is bullshit. It is the tail end of a comprehensive lobotomy.

The ideal “comfort” that hangs out on the cognitive fringe is peripheral, disappears with direct focus. Life is messy, frightening. You rely on people who step up to the plate (your plate, their own plate, some sort of freaking plate). You rely on people who seem consistently intent on proving their own shitty unreliability or narcissism. You rely on children and lovers and cats and dogs. You rely on the additive and destructive dynamics of all of those interwoven elements, and it’s a swirling stew, both tempest and aurora. None of it is particularly comfortable in the sense of calm stasis, and the whole is so nuanced and fluid that it is gloriously unpredictable.

The thing that made 2014 so difficult was not the overwhelming complexity. It was the exclusion of “self” from the tapestry. I placed myself outside of the Venn diagram, so the roiling beast was something I needed to manage or flee, some “thing” that I viewed as separate. This alienation started with skipping the simple necessity of relying my self. I didn’t throw myself into the mix.

So now I’m going to do that. That’s the resolve. Goals and ambitions will shift about and clarify. But none of that will have meaning or permanence without the initial participation, without relaxing my personal expectations enough to allow myself to be the weird, creative, cranky, goof-ass person I am, and to start with that. The rely on it. Find comfort in the core instead of somewhere in the shimmer.

My Paiva Hump

November 2nd, 2014

I’m thinking of something that’s a bit of a trigger topic: Body Shame.

The default is related to weight and body shape. And that’s important, permeates our culture. There are other elements, though. Specifically, a simple thing, perhaps the definition of the Obvious and Simple. Your nose.

I have no issue with my nose. It’s somewhat big, sometimes bulbous (whiskey-enhanced?). My mother’s family, the Portuguese Paivas, have a genetic nose-shape called the Paiva Hump, and I’ve always thought of it as a feature, not a bug. Then again, as a man, an over-accented facial feature isn’t much of a target. For women, as usual, it’s different.

So before I move into my “love your nose” speech, please understand that I don’t mean to trivialize sensitivity. We carry these things from early ages, hoisted upon us by terrible people. And the general advice of “well that person should just love you for who you are” doesn’t do much to alleviate the pain of judgment. But judgment rarely, if ever, involves understanding or connection.

To be sensitive and critical of your own face is a constant strain, particularly in this streak of “selfie” fever. When you don’t like yourself, either inside or out, the “selfie” is either a constant work in progress, or an anti-option, a ubiquitous social element that reminds you, over and over, of the thing you prefer to avoid, the thing you feel that you can’t change, the anchor tied around your neck. I’m okay with my face, my looks. I avoid a chain of “selfies” because I eschew vanity.

So there’s the first punch. Universal judgment of the “selfie” (the thing I refuse to un-quote). Again, though, that’s from the mind of someone who, on the whole, has not been comfortable in his own skin. And by “skin” I mean “self”. If Self = Something Rotten, then Selfie = Celebration of Rottenness. So even though I’m okay with my looks, there have been plenty of times when I couldn’t stand the look of my own face.

Many people are not like this. And that doesn’t mean that they are all vain. This gadget-empowered revolution in DIY portraiture has helped plenty of people who were on the fence about their own looks. Even when you don’t like the way you look, or believe yourself to be ugly, there are still those photos that you like, the ones that either make you look glamorous or happy or, well, normal. The photos that show you as you want to be.

A “selfie” can provide such evidence, and even though I make some grand statement about vanity, the truth is that I love to see photos of the people I care about. And of those photos, I particularly like the ones that show true beauty.

Beauty is a combination of contentedness and pride. Beauty is happiness. It is lack of artifice. Or: It can be a celebration of artifice, an acceptance of it. Makeup does not make someone beautiful to me, but the wearing of makeup, the confidence of makeup that does not cover or distort, but accents the contours and features, that can be beautiful.

Beauty is energy. Soul. The most beautiful portraits I have seen are of people who smile, who seem at ease, happy, accepting and, in turn, inviting. There’s a good chance that your favorite photo of your favorite person is simple, pure, and just so “them”.

So: The nose. It can’t be covered up. It is the central feature, the bullseye. And, as with all beauty, it must be owned by that person. Proudly.

Every face has the capacity for great beauty, and the nose is a divining rod of that beauty. I’m not talking about the tiny snip of a nose that blends into a face so perfectly that it disappears. Why would you be proud of something that people never notice?

I’m thinking of art, of the variance in women’s noses over hundreds of years of depiction. The Helenistic Beauty of expression and humanity. Flaunt that nose. Put if forward. Jagged, bulbous, humped (or Paiva-Humped). Flat, dipping, flared. Own it. Recognize that this is the thing you are not supposed to fake. Your face is your gift, your own gift and the gift for those around you. Your face, tied into your persona, is what sticks with people, what makes them remember you and want to be with you. It is You.

However, here’s the confession: I rarely take notice of someone’s nose. Watching a movie on the big screen, the nose disappears into eyes, lips, chin, teeth, cheekbones, etc. I have to force myself to zero in on the feature that is right there at center of a person’s face, the element from which the face blossoms. The nose is some sort of linchpin, a blind spot. It is the open secret, always more prominent to the owner than the observer.

Stay with that last statement. If you want to know how a person views him or herself, focus on the nose. That’s the thing that pops in the mirror, the “self” in the “selfie”. It’s the reason why the reflection doesn’t always match the reality, why we rarely see ourselves the way that other people see us. So I’m going to train my attention to your nose. And it might make you uncomfortable, me staring into the center of your face during any given conversation. But I want to understand how you see yourself. I want that connection, without judgment.

This is where I get to the classic: If someone is going to judge you by your nose, thoughtless and devoid of understanding, that person isn’t worthy of you. It seems like a placation, a thin wafer of consolation that begs you to pretend that the cold, hard facts somehow don’t apply. Because we spend so much energy defining ourselves by reflection, using other people as a conglomerate cornerstone, this Sartrean gaze of the Other warping reality at full bandwidth. And those people who are trapped into depending solely on the opinions of others to measure self-worth and beauty will always be hobbled. It’s the human trap.

Finally, this is about whatever the hell you want it to be. Nose. Smile. Hair. Humor. Body. The people who don’t recognize quirks as amazing, unique manifestations of beauty, conduits of soul and personality, elements of truth — they are lost, and we don’t need to join them as they slouch through featureless, prescribed lives.

This might be the most difficult goal, to disempower judgment, to project truth instead of seeking definition. It might be a feature of living.

Frameworks and Habitrails

October 26th, 2014

I see the same people on the train every day, every week. These strangers are absorbed into their phones and books and music, or staring into shoes, knitting, whittling away myelin in nano-thin shavings to pass the daily stops in anticipation of home comforts and lifeblood launching points. We’re a group misalignment, disconnected nodes sharing a contained experience, rarely nodding or acknowledging each other. And we shouldn’t.

The domestic life, the stability we cherish, is also a deadening of the weird skin that sets us apart from each other. We blend together on this train, in plastic fleece and work shoes, well-worn lunch bags and overcoats, often a spectrum of exhaustion or distraction. I look at these same people every day with alienation, a void of camaraderie. A fear of assimilation, of normalizing yourself into a diminished approximation of the personality that’s gotten you through this life.

In general, the only people I want to connect with are the weirdos. Artists, derailed souls, unique personalities who shine or fight or live in isolated clouds. And the weird people that I love are always a little weirder than I am, dug a little deeper into themselves. So even then, there’s a disconnect. Weirdness can be disparate, incompatible, and when you’re used to not really connecting with people throughout your life you tend to either miss the opportunities for connection, or just remain in a state of poor social practice.

So I might see someone on the train who is a little more like me. Someone who isn’t comfortable in succumbing to suburban pleasantries. But even with that person, polarities are repulsive. We just want to suffer the ride, read books, listen to podcasts, and get out of the metal box, away from the strangers, away from quotidian reflections.

I cling to remaining an outsider, to defining myself by what I am not. The train is full of those people, and I’m inclined to judge them. It’s the easy way to make yourself feel better. Branding, and then juxtaposition from those simplistic categorizations. No one is simple, though. Every person riding in that car is a mushy stew of light and pain, a real bio-mess. I project labels of triviality onto people who I don’t know, who I would never take the time to know, even while my own thoughts and concerns, weak threads of passion and ambition, are just as complex and trivial.

Prejudice is simple-mindedness, inflating massive presumed history into a thin, momentary slice of another person’s existence, refusing to invest the time and intellect necessary to consider why someone lives a certain life or thinks a certain way. The “suburbs” become an ostracized nebula. The city becomes a distant carnival attraction. The fear each populace projects onto the other is bidirectional.

Here’s the deal: The greater your feeling of being “better” than everyone around you, the greater your failure as a human being.

The train is everywhere. A well-built life. Frameworks and Habitrails. Those aspects we construct for ourselves to stay sane, maybe constraining sanity’s spectrum to minimize dangerous variability. That’s what we are supposed to do, to settle into ourselves, build the base, flourish within. Branch out safely, strategically.

But I’m fighting against this. I want to “stay weird,” which is nearly impossible because the backlash of weirdness attacks you at every stage in life, every age, and you push through it, incorporate it, sometimes bend to it or allow it to derail you into an alternate path of identity. And as time unfolds, you understand that you aren’t the flavor of weird that you once were, and it becomes really hard to discern if this is just an element of overall change, as we constantly change and mature (and sometimes de-mature), or if you’re editing out the good stuff to keep on with a sustainable life.

And that, I suppose, is why I am often compelled to babble on in this blog. Clinging to that Jim-ness in some way.

Really

September 22nd, 2014

Absurdity has been poisoned. Slow death, the frog in the pot. And absurdity, the ridiculous extremes of what we do and say to each other, has been my source of humor for so long, the thing that fortifies me. Absurdity saved my life once, for real. Stopped me from killing myself, because I zapped out of my body and realized how weird everything was, because a Spuds McKenzie commercial was playing on the television while I was attempting to fatally hurt myself. Take a look at that video and then imagine that shit playing while someone is cornered into the absolute illogic of tipping over the precipice, of actually attempting to wipe himself out. It was just too much, too freaking weird. I saw myself, there in front of the television, Spuds partying it up while reality collapsed, and my desperate actions were just as silly as that partying mascot. A dose of plastic reality, of a world that wasn’t as dark as I thought it was because the world was composed of elevated triviality. Still is.

I am proud to say that Spuds McKenzie saved my life.

Lately, though, I don’t have a solid grasp on the absurd. People do things that are shockingly thoughtless or, worse, deliberately hurtful or disrespectful (not a lack of respect, but deliberate disrespect). But the shock is muted, imprecise. I’ve been drinking poison, drop by drop, acclimating my body to it, and it doesn’t even taste bitter any more. It’s like being slapped while numb-drunk. You sort of feel it, but then have to work through your brain to compute what just happened, what might constitute a typical reaction. Contemplating, but not able to properly react.

Without that proper and somewhat immediate, deliberate reaction, you take this affront into yourself. Somewhere on a gut level, you know that something was wrong, something bad just happened. So you keep it, draw it inside, stay with it. It isn’t absurd. It isn’t anything, just a malformed blob, a featureless golem. You chew on it. You digest it into your system. It no longer references things outside of yourself. From deep within, this affront become a reflection of you, could only have been caused by you. There is no other logical explanation. You were treated like shit because you must have deserved it.

I went through this last week. And several weeks before that, from a different angle. I’ll go through it again, I know, because I am bound to the people who cause it. In that manner it becomes a game of abuse. Power. A jerk exercises power over you, and your reaction is constrained to interior destruction, or a channeling of energy toward people who aren’t really involved. You need to react. You must react. But you cannot react properly, to the fuckwit who assaulted you, without either losing your job or opening a box of endless shit-storms.

Here is something I haven’t said for a couple years now:

“Really?!”

Remember 2011 and 2012? Everyone was whipping that out. The affronts were flying in from all angles, from jerky jerks to downsizing to paranoia-driven paradigms. The absurdity was clear, and “really?!” was an expression of exasperation, a reality-check, a moment of stepping back and admitting that the current situation was no longer playing by the tacit rules of sanity.

But it was also a moment of pissing in the wind. You blurt out your “really?!” and then carry on, accepting the shit you were just told to eat. Again and again. And soon enough the “really?!” becomes a tacit rule in itself, replaced by an eye-roll, then a sigh, then nothing at all, then the constant clenched fist of soul-consuming tension.

Because the unspoken answer was: “Yes, really. Shut up.”

The barometer twists and bends and becomes detached from the truth. It is no longer a measure of any true environmental variable. It is, at best, an expression of confusion. At worst, it is mistaken for some sort of honest internal judgment.

My barometer has traditionally been calibrated by other people. This is normal, to a degree. Feedback helps us understand our impact, to juxtapose intent with result. At some point, probably a very long time ago, my notion of impact was not just calibrated by others, it was defined. I let other people tell me who I am, I listened to such an extent that I could not disambiguate my own self-definition from the Sartre mirror-reflection of other’s eyes.

And this is the point in the blog when I usually wind my way around to some epiphany. I can feel it coming, that moment when I uncover a truth or some other shit.

So I’ve been sitting here for a few days. Stuck.

I know that I was able to move past the impact of serialized disrespect. It wasn’t keeping me awake through the night. But I couldn’t figure out how I did that.

I wrote. I worked on art, on creating, prioritized my output. Finding a positive distraction helps, a way to shift the energy into creation instead of negation. But… it was a distraction, not a solution. Bringing it all back within this blog seemed like an easy deal, some ubiquitous life experience that rings true for everyone through individual facets.

But trauma has a way of spreading slowly, manifesting unexpectedly. In this case, I was my own trigger, marching through public self-reflection with the hubris of considering myself beyond it, problem solved.

So why did it come back?

Well, digging deeper, I think a better question is: What is the problem?

Disrespect? Trouble with people?

Nope. I had a window into clarity last night. Really, an actual window. I walked by a Starbucks and saw someone cleaning up, winding down the night, going through rote closing actions. I felt nostalgic camaraderie, those many nights I had scooted about, green-aproned, reeking of roast. Those past years. Past years that don’t seem so far away.

I worked at Starbucks throughout much of the 1990s. Moved up and around and down, wasted time, met amazing people, made lifelong connections, watched those people move on while I wasted more time. Experience shapes us, shifts us, challenges us, so I don’t live in a state of regret. At some point I decided to flee that life, then I fled again, returned with nothing, no job, my life a pile of boxes in my parents’ garage, little idea of what could be next. I crawled out of that, found a place and a home, and eventually built something, a career.

My fear is that I built upon a foundation of sand. Just follow my CV, and there it is. The time when I was at zero, and the time before that, years at Starbucks, when I was cultivating excuses.

A friend told me recently that the voice that he hears, sometimes, is this: “Impostor”

Man, that is the truth. When I’m shaken, disrespected, I wonder if these people will just carry forward and dissect my career in front of me, get to the sand. Send me right back to Starbucks, back to a life adrift.

Last week I attended a wake, briefly. I have a very difficult time interfacing with family, and it comes back to the same root. They have known me for too long, and I fear that they define me by the little boy I once was, or other awkward aspects of my past, all of that foundational sand. And, again, I’m using everyone around me to define who I am, incorporating judgment over praise. It seems easier to be judged than to be proud, and to default-assume that this is what they think of me. So it gets added to the stack, incorporated. Another ingredient in a Shit Stew of the Soul.

So I’ve been worried that Spuds McKenzie will no longer save me. Even Spuds isn’t absurd enough for this rapid boil. It’s probably going to have to be me. Find my own definition and reason, generate the absurdity from within. Be fucking ridiculous. Be my own Spuds McKenzie.

The Myth of Closure

September 6th, 2014

I’ve been digging through fissures, cleaning out my mind and emptying it onto journal pages (see previous blog entry). It’s been a healthy challenge, trying to zero in on tangible motivations while flashing through a variety of hurt-states, buying into confusion rackets. And poking out from the heap of detritus is a surprise notion about Closure: It doesn’t exist.

The therapist would argue otherwise, I suspect. But hear me out.

Consider the times in our lives when we desire closure. You’re mid-way through creating a great meal for friends, and inspiration seals the dessert — it’s going to be spectacular. You’re on your third date with someone who managed to Pass The Test on the second date. You’re prepping for the incoming class while proofing a co-authored paper. You’re taking your kid to the beach to help him fly a kite.

Does any of that require closure? Of course not. This is all LIFE, in its glory and ruin and intricate fractal absorption.

How about these:

You almost made it back in time to watch your father die. You’re sitting on the couch after the final explosive argument that caused her to march away into her own life, without you. Your friend, the one who no longer seems to desire any Venn overlap, name-checks you in a Facebook post.

Ah yes, there are the fractals.

Moments of longing. Reminders of unfinished business. This stuff digs into you and festers, and you long for a way to temper those neurons, to put it all to rest.

Closure becomes a component of transition. You feel yourself moving in some direction, or maybe just being pushed somewhere. And you want to release your grip on an old life. So you examine that life, again and again, searching for the release points, the elements needed to finalize thoughts and feelings, put that all into a box. But you’re still in it. Examining. Stewing. Digging. Never letting go.

So what is closure? How is something “closed”?

You want a chance to tell him the things left unsaid. To get it out in the open. Okay. Let’s go back in time and do it, right now. Call him up and tell him, get it out. Close it.

And then… what? Has the hurt been closed? Did the admission of unrequited love manage to eliminate that love? I doubt it. You might have made yourself feel better in the moment, and that’s valuable, but the most likely scenario is that the complex puzzle of pain and love isn’t wiped clean, and the “situation” could manifest itself again in some other way, perhaps requiring another intervention.

This is what I’m getting at. We respond to the cues of transition (upheaval, exodus, death, etc.) with a desire for context, for a bookend. We convince ourselves that the magic bookend must exist, that complexity of emotion (and is there anything more complex than that?) can be tied off with a single knot. Then we tell ourselves that the bookend always existed, that we should have closed it all when we had the chance, as if life had always been that simple. And then we force ourselves to find a way to close it anyway, burning people out, burning ourselves out, or forever approaching the limit.

But the reality of the situation just might be that there would never be a bookend. The “closure” in which you invest is a fantasy of a simple life.

Life is like the X-Files. Each season-ending reveal and solution opens a shit-box of tangential mysteries, and pretty soon you’re wading through Season 9, wondering what the hell happened to Mulder. Lost within the tangles, grasping for meaning.

The deep, interpersonal challenges that are woven into our fibrous makeup are not simple, and cannot be clearly resolved like some Help-Desk Ticket of the Soul. Resolution is a conglomerate of emotions and time vectors. It’s an aspiration, and a good one, but it shouldn’t be the Thing We Do, in some constant state of resolve. The Thing We Do is what we are doing right now. Resolution is part of it. So is breathing and eating. Laughing, crying, puking, walking. I don’t drive relentless focus into walking. I just… walk.

Here, I’ll really murder this freaking metaphor for you. You’ve been through some shit. You need to walk away, put it behind you. Yes, do it. Walk. But this intensity of “closure” plays out as walking while looking behind you. You are focused on doing something about this thing that you are walking away from. You are putting yourself out of reach, while wanting to hang on. And worse yet, you aren’t even looking forward, don’t even know where you’re going. Turning around and looking forward doesn’t bring closure. But it shifts your attention from that nagging construct, gives you some ownership of direction. Perspective fills your wake, and what seems to be closure is actually distance and space.

In the end, I think life can be less like the X-Files and bit more like Doctor Who. Loop around, get goofy and serious and very, very weird. And, when the time seems right, regenerate. Gloriously regenerate.

The Art of Not Journaling

August 17th, 2014

We’re coming into one of my favorite and weirdest times of the year: School Supply Season. I’m a pretty descriptive person, but it’s hard to pin down the appeal of a new notebook, new pen, that clean, open promise, unfolding of unlimited possibility. I don’t fear the blank page. The blank page is beautiful. It’s the moment, the caesura, just before something moves from the internal to the external. And that motion, transcribing thoughts, living with them, giving in to them completely and letting them take on an unintended path — that’s just about as perfect as it gets.

I have a few Moleskines, but, really, just a cheap Mead was always enough. And a Pilot V-Ball. I’m a machine of habit, comforting habits. Some time in the late 90s I ate spaghetti with red sauce every night. For at least a year. And yes, I’ve eaten the same sandwich for lunch for, um, yeah – many years. Sometimes I am stiflingly confused. But other times I know exactly what I want.

So I was looking for a few old photos the other day. Pictures from Baltimore, from when we found the abandoned Blair Witch House. Instead, I found a box of materials. Manuscripts and such. One of my “writing” boxes. And there were several journals in there from the years. Not all of them. My journals are spread out, on random shelves, in boxes, drawers. This was a sort of cache, though, and I’ve been sifting through a very overbearing Challenging Stage lately, so this stuff is valuable.

I grabbed a nice, square-bound tome, flipped it open. A few entries from some time, long ago, during some phase of soul-wandering. Ten, fifteen pages in, and then it was all clean and blank, all the way through. Another notebook: same thing. A few entries, then nothing. Blank and blank and blank. Just about all of them.

In the moment of buying a fresh notebook, I’m giddy. Actual butterflies infesting my viscera! Even when I’m full of darkness, there’s this “first date” excitement, and that sustains for at least a couple entries. Then the shit hits the fan. Some sort of shit. Hitting something.

Maybe the journaling was just a quick panacea. Lancing a poison sac. I’d like to think that, but- I think it’s some other action, something on the other side.

Some time after 2002, after I moved back to Chicago and set onto building this life, I abandoned notebooks. Still did a travel journal, but nothing on the home front. Instead, I took up this blog. And look what we have: the same fucking thing! A few spurts of activity, then months upon months of nothing, like the looping pattern of serial dieting.

But the blank pages, the blog voids – there’s something in there, written in invisible ink, invisible blood. I don’t stop the journaling due to some satisfactory plateau. I stop it because I am too scared to continue. Because some of my thoughts seem so dangerous and destructive that I’m afraid to mediate them into a corporeal state.

The blank pages contain pain. Locked gears. Dissolved language and obfuscated thought clouds.

I’m there right now. In the blank.

Right now there is a voice in my head that says this, looping for hours, days: Shithead.

Nothing else. No argument, no “you are bad, you are an asshole, you are not good for the people around you.” I’ve been there, quite a bit. Went there a lot this winter. Got around and on top of it, ahead of it some time in the spring. And that particular voice hasn’t come back.

But this one doesn’t care about logic. There is no additional suggestion of what I should do about it (obliteration). It’s just simple. Relentless. Impossible to argue with because it is not trying to pick an argument.

Because it’s right.

I can’t unwind myself from this, can’t unclench long enough to do what I have to do. That is, I’m not in a state of illogic. I know that my next step, really, is to find the evidence, the support on either end of the scale. Proof, through action, that I am, indeed, a shithead. And episodic proof that I am not a shithead. Lists to weigh against each other, as on Thoth’s scale.

The trouble is the persistence of the simple voice. The shithead loop. At least a thousand of them an hour. No space, no pause. Like sitting across from some asshole who won’t shut up, won’t enter into genuine conversation. In a state of constant interrupt, trapped within a solipsistic hoax.

Eating spaghetti every freaking night for a year.

Hummus and cheese and carrot and spinach sandwich. Every every every day.

And I wish this was just a different word, different accusation. If I was hearing “stupid,” over and over as I used to, well, I can get past that because I know for a fact that I am not stupid. And I might act like an asshole from time to time, but that isn’t who I am.

This is different, and it’s a tough one. And I’m not even certain how to define a “shithead,” so something inside, something waiting, has managed to leverage a slippery nebula.

So… the blank page. This isn’t blank, not any more. I’m putting this down to get over the fear of making it real. It’s already real. But, inside my head, silent to everyone else, it’s safe, unlimited. Out here, now it has to reckon for itself. Now I can push against it and at least ask the questions, in tiny steps:

What is a shithead?

If I am a shithead, am I also anything else?

What is the point?

And how much does that even matter?

I’m afraid of the answers.

The Riches of Embarrassment

August 3rd, 2014

I’ve been time-traveling quite a bit. I think you have, too. It’s built into our humanity. We move forward through time, the linear path, conscious perception staying just a split-second behind the actual vanguard point of existence. And every so often we push a tack into the timeline. We don’t stop. We can’t stop, even when we wish with every fiber, every struggling neuron, that this Time thing could freeze.

But we do go back. The tack is node, a return point. It stays hard and fixed, and our fluid lives flow around it.

Here are a few tacks:

Backwards Day. I don’t remember how old I was. Eight? It was Backwards Day at school. Everyone shows up dressed “backwards”. I embraced it, went all-out. Backwards pants and shirt. Glasses. Inside-out socks. Straight-jacket approach to a backwards coat. My coat was brown. I remember that. When something becomes a tack, there are very specific visual details that remain flawless and sharp.

When I got to school, all backwards-jacked, one of the teachers came over, concerned, and let me know that it was not Backwards Day. I was the only person dressed like that. A black hole funnel opened beneath me, and I buried my face in a brick wall near the front doors, crying into my backwards brown coat.

I don’t remember switching my clothes forward. Don’t remember anything else of that day, that week. But I feel it, right now, immediately. The desperation. The embarrassment.

It was the embarrassment that created the tack. The tack is immobile. Hard. Cold. It is a fact. It is present, today, right now. I’m there, leaning into the brick, crying, hating the stupid coat. That moment has become autonomous, existing persistently, unaffected by time. I can travel there without effort. To a degree, I am always there.

The First Date. Yeah, I bet this is a tack for quite a few people. It was a good date, actually. I took her to see Rocky 3. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a particularly strategic date. Back then, there was a single theater, one movie, that’s your option if you want to stay close. And I wanted to see Rocky 3. Sue me.

We came back to the house, sat in my room and talked. Watched some television. Talked a little more. And when I dropped her off we kissed, made out a bit. On the whole, the date was a bit emotionless, not particularly awkward, just sort of present. Kissing changed that. That was the moment when emotion entered the picture. I was feeling good, full of something new. Something.

So I assumed that I was full of love. And I told her that I loved her. She backed up, wrinkled brow, and said, “But you just met me, we don’t even know each other.”

Tack!

I’m there, right now. I can’t even remember what I said, trying to explain myself. I was wearing my nicest clothes. She had long, dark hair. We were in front of her family’s townhouse, my car running and not even in Park – I had my foot on the brake the entire time. And the embarrassment materialized, fully-formed and metallic, and has remained present. Right out of the gate, I second-guessed what love might be, and have never really recovered from that.

We never went on a second date. I couldn’t bear to call her. This wasn’t a case of having my heart broken. That would come soon enough, with a different girl, a guitar and flowers waiting in my back seat while she decided that we weren’t working out, that we should be friends, blah blah blah. That’s vivid, too. But a broken heart is both a moment and a process, and, while elements weave through your soul, it remains within the flow of time. That’s how we heal, or just become different, from those few people who were able to get inside and change us forever. The heart is mutable.

An embarrassment becomes self-defining, impenetrable. It becomes distinct from the moments around it. You carry it like a Mind Stone, never to be passed.

But every now and then, something challenges that corporeal parasite. You see, the tacks of these moments do not encapsulate other people. They are reactions to reactions. And maybe those other people carried their own embarrassments from those very same moments. Or maybe they carried nothing.

I shared a tack with someone recently. Recalled a tack that involved this person, from quite some time ago. For me, it was present, alive and true. But for her- she couldn’t even remember it. It was nothing, washed away in the time-stream.

And now that tack is breaking apart. The moment remains, but now it has been attached to a new moment, this debrief, a bookend of realization that allows the embarrassment to exist as a normal part of my additive lifeline. And maybe it will fester every now and then, flare up, but I know that time will have its way with that moment. Now it’s just another story, another goofy part of the person I am always becoming.