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“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” ~Dennis Wholey

expectationsI used to have no expectations, or at least I used to try really hard to have no expectations, because I decided early on that it was easier to deal with mediocrity than to be disappointed by it. So if the world is mediocre, if there is no expectation of something more, then that’s just the way it is. And if something happens that blows my mind it is spectacular in its nature because I did not in the least expect it.

But that’s no way to live. It’s not good enough to be bland, to not expect the spectacular just because it has a high probability of not coming to pass. So I have begun to look forward to something instead of hoping nothing bad happens. I have started enjoying the good things in life because there are some good things in this life. I have opened my eyes instead of keeping them closed shut against the possibility of devastation.

Because it is only when I’m truly open to that possibility that I can fully appreciate the glory of an unexpected gift.

Sam

 

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“Don’t say you want me. Don’t say you need me. Don’t say you love me. It’s understood. Don’t say you’re happy out there without me. I know you can’t be, ’cause it’s no good.” ~Depeche Mode [“It’s No Good”]

I’m the king of pretenders, the ultimate “my face is not how I feel” kind of person. Maybe it’s because I care too much how people perceive me, or perhaps it’s because I’ve just gotten used to putting on a front while out in public. Whatever the case, it’s ingrained now after 40 years of perfecting it, of putting it out there and hoping desperately that people relate, that people want to be around me because of it. Then I spend the rest of my time worrying that I should have been more authentic.

It’s a harsh cycle, madly and truly, but after 40 years of this I realize that the happiest I’ve ever been is when I can just be myself, when I can just open my mouth and breathe without thinking about how I will make that happen. It’s a perspective thing, I guess. There’s 40 years down, and I don’t know if there’s 40 ahead, but I’m going to spend my time being happy, doing the things that make me happy instead of always thinking about others’ perceptions of me. Life is just way too short.

I’ve started too, and the results have been drastic already. Many people are asking me if something is wrong because I’m not the same, because I’m different, because they are now seeing the real me. Remember that thing about being happy? Well, I’m not happy every second of every day, so they’re seeing that, but I’d rather be unhappy and it shows than spend my time being fake. It makes my real happy moments just that much brighter, luminescent in their glory, like I’m a character in a cartoon who has just been redeemed after years of being the bad guy.

I’ve begun spending some time in the mirror analyzing my smile — well, really trying to figure out what a real smile for me looks like on my face, trying to figure out how to discard the fake smile that likes to creep in and freak me out with its extra wattage.

This is me. All that other stuff. It was no good. It wasn’t me. It was the idea of me that I thought others needed to have to feel secure that they knew me. But they didn’t know me. How many of us really know the people around us? How many of us really think about the masks that we wear, about the masks that others wear when they are around us, about tearing off those masks so we can be our authentic selves more often.

Everyone says you should “be yourself,” but no one truly takes that to heart. No one really strives to be themselves because we aren’t happy with ourselves, not who we are at our baselines. We judge ourselves so we assume others are judging us too, and maybe they are (we are only human), but I would rather be judged on who I am than on who others think I am because it’s the face I show them.

It’s no good. It just isn’t. All this pretense and subterfuge, all this time spent in artifice and self-judgment. At least I’ve decided that for myself it won’t work anymore, that it never worked except in my own scattered mind. Well, I’m getting focused now. I don’t want to only be honest in my writing. I don’t want to have to write you a missive for you to know how I feel. I want to be able to come right up to you, to open my mouth, and to simply be honest. I know, it’s a novel idea. But I’m ready, and it’s time.

Because everything else… it’s no good.

Sam

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breatheSix months later, plus a couple of breaks, and the hectic nature of work, but I’m finally nearing the end of the yellow brick road on this new novel. The hardest part is finishing the first draft, especially when the world tends to intrude on the fictional more often than not.

It started with the challenge, to create 50,000 words in 30 days, way back in November, and I accomplished that with no problems. The words just flowed more often than not, my imagination soaring and the characters coming to fruition as characters tend to do. The month flew by, and I was over 60,000 words when it did, but once the rush was over I still had to finish the novel.

Because it’s not enough to just stop on November 30 and pronounce it all done, to let it collect dust on a flash drive, never to be seen from or heard from again. I’ve done that before, and I don’t think I could do it again. These characters want to live. They want to breathe. They want to be out in the world, living their lives. And I will oblige them, but I just want to make sure I’m faithful enough to them before unveiling them. It’s my job as an author.

So I’ve been working, in bits and pieces, over these past six months, trying to finish the story, to take them to a satisfactory conclusion that makes me feel something inside. It’s been a difficult process, not because the words won’t come (because they always do), but because I let the real world intrude way too often. Without a strict timeline it got easier every night to just let it slide, to say I will work on it the next night, and like dominoes the nights fall one by one, and no writing on the novel gets done.

But somehow here I am, and I’ve been writing, really writing, on the novel for the past five days. My word count has gone up drastically, but more importantly my characters are progressing. They’re stressing out, and falling in love, and getting hurt, and just simply living their lives again after an interminable pause. And I’m falling in love all over again myself, with this world, with these characters, and with this storyline.

This is the point I always get to in my novels, when I know I’m nearly done, and I’m dying to reach the end, but I know I’ll miss having them so close to me. It’s a wonderfully thrilling part, though, a culmination of so much time spent together, the words an extension of myself. They always will be. Now it’s time to finish up this draft, to begin the editing process, to let this story live on its own, to let these characters breathe on their own.

And write the next one.

Sam

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“Love is mild, except when it isn’t. Except when it’s a raging inferno with the sole intention of destroying every ounce of sanity you have left. But yes, it’s mild. And that other stuff too.” ~Anonymous

0612d8fcf89e1f08abc66fc7fc6b92f6I made the mistake of telling someone that my next book of poetry is going to be full of love poems. It seemed to me a stroke of genius, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a whole book of 50+ poems exclusively about love. In my mind it was going to be difficult because my brain creates poetry quite organically, so how was I going to shift my thought patterns and make the poetry cooperate? I needn’t have been worried, because she said:

“But most of your stuff is already love poetry.”

Which of course made me laugh, but she was deadly serious. And she would know because she’s listened to a lot of my poems at poetry night, she’s read the vast majority of the ones on my poetry blog, and she’s purchased both of my other collections of poetry. So I took stock of my poetry. I dug as deep as she probably didn’t have to in order to find out that she was absolutely right.

I write mostly love poetry. No, not the treacly sweet love poetry that would make a 1950s poet proud. Nor even the devoted, puppy dog love poetry that dominated the 1980s. No, I write the love poetry that is intense in its own analysis of itself, that drives all night to end up in the same place where it began. I write the love poetry that wishes it were something else, but it can’t help being about love.

So that makes it easy, I guess, compiling a book of my love poetry, even if it’s not the book I thought I was going to make when I started on this journey. Because this is my reality. It’s the love I’ve seen more often than any other in this world. It’s not the mild, “I want to hold your hand” kind of love, not the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse inspired love, but is instead the persistently desperate, sad love that strives for something more, the love that needs acceptance but usually breeds regret.

Which means my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just write poetry and it will probably fit the mold.

Sam

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9f6daf4011c972bfcbd6025ea6686c5a_ice-cream-truck-ice-cream-ice-cream-truck-clipart_450-450When I was a kid I wanted the ice cream truck to break down on my street. In my head it would have been perfect: the frazzled driver befuddled by his misfortune, the machine only having an hour left on the generator, the driver throwing his hands up as us kids swarmed the truck and ate everything we could reach. FOR FREE. It would have been heaven.

It was so good… on paper. I thought it up in my head. I drew the stick figure children eating ice cream like it was going out of style. But I didn’t take into account the horrible stomachaches we would have been likely to have, or the vomiting that would probably have ensued later that night, or the poor driver out of product and having to (eh hem) eat the loss. I was a kid, and the scenario was good on paper. But I’ve grown up, and I’ve seen a lot along the way that is also good… on paper, but that just doesn’t cut it in reality.

How come things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to? The numbers don’t lie, do they? There was this sports commentator, who, when asked to explain how a team that was supposedly unbeatable had just lost, said: “That’s why they play the game.” And it’s so true. That’s exactly why they play the game, why we live our lives, even though the cards are stacked against us at times.

There’s just something about David vs. Goliath that drags us in, isn’t there? We know the little guy is going to get crushed, because on paper it says so, resoundingly, but we root him on anyway, hoping for the improbable. It’s always a feel good story when the underdog succeeds when absolutely nothing was expected of him, in business, in sports, and in life overall.

But man, it’s got to suck for the overwhelming favorite, for the one from whom most was expected, for the one who checked all the boxes… on paper. Because, somewhere along the way, every time we hold someone up it just becomes a reason to tear them down when they don’t hit that expectation.

Sometimes people and things are just good on paper, and that’s all there is to it. Sometimes there isn’t a reason why “on paper” doesn’t translate into “in person.” It just is. Sometimes that girl who seemed so perfect on her eHarmony profile doesn’t mesh with you in real life. That’s why life isn’t live on paper. It’s why prospective employees have to interview instead of getting hired based on simply their resume. Because human beings aren’t just the words that define them. They aren’t just the numbers attached to them.

We don’t just live on paper. So good on paper is just a sign that we might be more inclined to succeed in real life. It isn’t a guarantee.

Sam

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Some mornings are simply better than others. The birds chirp mellow, smooth, instead of high pitched and whiny. The coffee smells sweeter, infusing the air with the perfect hint of hazelnut, no more, no less. The bed feels warm, like a cocoon, enveloping me in its warm embrace. The children sleep in, so there are no interruptions, no screams, no yells, nothing at all. Just the sound of silence, and the steady breathing of my wife beside me as I hold her closely.

Some mornings I am in my thoughts, concentrating on what’s to come instead of on what has been, focused on the next thing. I am attuned not to the coming rain but to the storm clouds that are gathering, studying them for signs of early spring, or fading glory, or everything else and nothing else all at once. I stretch out my hand to feel the rain I know is coming, to embrace the coming downpour in ways I never have before. I flinch at its cold presence mingling with my own, and I close the window.

Some mornings there’s Ed Sheeran singing in my ear, reminding me that everything should be all about the rhythm. I sing along to the beat, knowing how close the lyrics are to my own life, to the words that would be in my head even if I wasn’t listening to it. I’m reminded that life, while solitary, is a shared experience, that others are listening to this same song right now, or ruminating on it in their minds, or lost in their dreams of it. Or songs like it. Or thoughts like it. And I smile.

Some mornings I am just so grateful for this life, for this ability to awaken again, to welcome the sun, the sound of the chirping crickets, the cold floor under my feet as I stand. The bed looks forlorn without me in it, with my wife still there steadily breathing, still fast asleep. I tuck the abandoned sheets and covers in around her, a poor facsimile for the warmth of myself, but it’s what I have to give when I have to be up and moving. When the night turns into day and I’m left staring at the thin line.

But some mornings… some mornings I can stay there with her. I can hold her closer than my own skin and our breathing naturally synchronizes. Some mornings I can imagine forever.

Sam

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“Dance, or fade out.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, this waiting at a green light. And for what? I craned my neck to see around the SUV ahead of me, but I had nothing on which to focus my anger. I was just about to lay on my horn with gusto when I saw a man. It must have been like when the Jews saw Jesus walking on the water, except this man was in the middle of an intersection, and he certainly wasn’t Jesus. Oh, and he was dancing.

Earbuds in, swaying to the beat that only he could hear, he wore a leather jacket in 60 degree heat, oblivious to the elements. Oblivious also to the hard stares from the motorists who waited with hands raised above horns, with epithets painting the corners of our lips. We had places to go and things to do, and this man… well, he was standing there dancing.

I love to dance, to sway my hips to a particular beat, usually in the comfort of my own home, but this wasn’t the comfort of his own home. This was the streets of Utica, NY. This was rush hour traffic. Honestly, I’m surprised no one ran him over. If my kids weren’t in the car with me maybe I would have given him a nudge. Okay, I wouldn’t have. And he was an interpretive dancer too, the kind I usually like, but there’s a time and place for everything.

It wasn’t like this was some one man flash mob or something. It wasn’t like this was 2005 or something. A dancing man in the middle of the street against a green light for traffic… it’s just not done. At least not socially anyway. So we sat there waiting for him to shimmy along to what I could only surmise was a Gwen Stefani song, to reach the island in the middle of the street so we could safely pass and flip him off in the process. 

Except no one flipped him off, this dancing man. Maybe because we saw in him a little of our own self-restricted selves, begging to slip free.

And dance. 

Sam

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