To Be Needed

neededThere have been very few times in my life when I truly felt like a part of something, like I was intrinsically involved in the inner workings of a cause, a movement, or even a group of people. I have always been a catalyst, for sure, because of my boisterous personality, but what has that done for me when it comes to feeling necessary?

Others often look to sports as a way to feel a part of something, as a means to an end, but even on that front I was always lacking. For some reason I always chose the sports that weren’t really a team concept, like tennis, and golf, and I left the group mentality to those who needed the push and pull. But I need the push and pull too. I guess I just didn’t realize it back then.

As I’ve gotten older it’s been about friends for me. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be the friend type in this society because for me to feel like a part of a friendship I need a lot of contact. So, of course most of my friends throughout the years have always been the type who aren’t contact people. I seem to attract the type of friends who are content with sporadic communication, and that’s not me.

Even my sister was an enigma to me. For years I was jealous of her, which hampered our relationship. It always seemed like she made friends easily, the type who were there for her early and often. It always seemed like she had it all down, that people flocked to her without her even trying, that she was an integral part of the world she inhabited. I was jealous that it wasn’t me, that I didn’t have whatever she had to make myself necessary to others.

But it’s not about her. And it’s not about the friends I chose to surround myself with off and on for years. It’s really about me and my expectations. When I think about the times when I felt like a part of something I inevitably go back to my poetry groups, to the first one in Philly so long ago, and to the one in Utica now. For some reason, even though poetry isn’t my first love when it comes to writing, it brings something out of me that makes me feel necessary, like I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself.

I expected nothing from either poetry group, and they gave me everything. Funny how that happens. And I wonder if that’s how I should be when it comes to other situations and with other people in my life. Maybe I should stop beating myself up over lost friends, or over time between conversations. Perhaps I should instead spend my time getting rid of expectations, just living for the moment and seeing who comes along for the ride.

That’s a very renaissance kind of attitude for me, but I’m feeling a renaissance kind of feeling right now, so it fits. I feel like approaching 40 is making me see things in a completely different way than I ever have before. If I want to be a part of something I need to let it happen organically, to just explore my interests and let things come to me. And stop blaming others for not fulfilling that need.

Because it’s all up to me, and it always has been.

Sam

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Learning to Expect

Expectations1200X850“I learnt early to have little expectation so I protected myself from ever feeling greatly disappointed.” ~Natalia Vodianova

Cover your ass. Look out for number 1. Protect ya neck. All sayings for the same general thing — being sure that selfishness plays a part in whatever you do. I think of Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics: 1. Robots may not injure humans; 2. Robots must obey humans, unless it conflicts with Law 1; 3. Robots must protect their own existence, unless that conflicts with Law 1 or 2. Law 3 is the kicker, or at least I’ve always thought that way. Protecting your own existence, but never at the expense of others.

Now, I’m not a robot, but I’ve always felt the expectation to be like them, the idea that emotion is a negative thing that needs to be kept at bay, like a dragon that must be slain before it destroys an entire village. Contrary to popular opinion it wasn’t my mother or father who taught me this central method of emotional circumspection. I instead internalized the idea early because of how I observed others, at church, on the playground, and in their interactions when they didn’t know I was paying attention. We learn a lot from the interactions to which we are not supposed to be privy.

But I internalized it, and so my emotions were locked in a box, at least when I was in the outside world. I decided that others were more important than me, so protecting their feelings by not revealing my own was paramount. I felt like a knight on a steed, riding in to save the day, or at least to make sure it wasn’t ruined. My expectations were for others, and never for myself, because expecting things for myself was like that 3rd Law I mentioned earlier. Expecting things for myself was at the expense of others, taking me away from making sure they were as well as they could be.

So over the years I’ve had no real expectations for myself. I’ve been grateful when life gives me some of the things I want, and I haven’t stopped trying to achieve my own goals (when they don’t interfere with the goals of others), but I’ve not broken that Law. I remember when I first met Heidi, and she told me I was worth it, that I was just as important as anybody else, that my dreams were just as worthy. And I remember nodding my head, and saying something appreciatory, but I don’t recall changing my opinion of the thing itself.

But I have gotten older, and every single day my wife gives me reason to believe that I am indeed worthy, that her words at the outset were not mere platitudes, but honesties that I need to take to heart. Expectation for oneself doesn’t have to preclude or take a back seat to expectation for others. It can ride right alongside, like the “other cop” in those buddy cop films that we all love to ridicule. But there is a point to them, that no matter how unlikely, that no matter how different the two of them are, they need each other to run like a well-oiled machine.

So I’m learning to expect things for myself. I’m learning that it’s okay to hope, to wish, and to dream without feeling guilty. Which is a first step.

Sam

An Exhilarating Fear

It’s late on another Tuesday night and I’m sure that one of these days I’ll get to bed at some sort of suitable time for someone rapidly approaching 40. But that night won’t be tonight. I’m too keyed up. Today was the last day of summer school with the kids, and as such it was bittersweet in almost every aspect. Bitter because I did grow fond of several of the students, the ones who tried hard and had a pleasant “good morning” for me most days. Sweet because of the other ones, the kids who liked to swear and pretend it just slipped out, for the sneaky ones I didn’t mind watching leave today and knowing I wouldn’t have to see them again tomorrow. Let summer begin!  Well, the last two weeks of it anyway.

Mostly I’m happy on this Tuesday, though, because while it is an ending of sorts it is also a beginning. See, you may not know it yet but I set the end of this summer as a kind of dividing line between my life as lived with my life as future. Since I am rounding the corner on 40 I guess I need a career. At least people tell me I need a career so I’m going to work on that come hell or high water. And I hope it’s hell because water scares the piss out of me.

But now comes fortitude, and perseverance, because I have no real path to follow. Sure I’ve done my research, and it’s ongoing, but there’s a thin line between research and what will actually work, what will actually be fulfilling for me in the real world. Because that’s where I live, not in the fictional place called Research Land, but in the hard brick and concrete jungle of Reality. And what’s going to work on paper isn’t the same that will carry me through in reality.

And I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I step out on this limb it will break and I will fall to a fate more horrible than death, that this risk will haunt me more than this stale place I find myself in now. But nothing good ever comes without risk, without that rush of knowing that the is no place to land if you fall off that tightrope, nowhere but the cold, hard ground. And that feeling, that exhilarating fear, is what keeps you moving forward. Because it’s better to try and make it to that far ledge than to cower in the relative safety of your familiar corner.

I don’t want the familiar anymore. I want to make things happen. I hope they will be good things that move me forward but even if they aren’t they are still guaranteed to shake up the status quo. And my roots need shaking.

Sam

A Little Resolve: Part 2

New-Years-Resolutions-Quotes-Images-1011“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

On the first day of this year I wrote a treatise on why implementation is so much more important than resolution, especially when it comes to things you want to improve or change over a standard course of time. I know for myself that’s always been the hardest part, the idea of sticking with the plans I make for the year and getting them done. It’s also easier to decide on two major issues and focus on them instead of a long list that is easy to avoid because it’s so large.

At the beginning of this year I wanted to 1) publish another novel, and 2) spend more time with my children. Last year I published my first novel and I was so excited to have it out in the world that I wanted to buckle down again and produce another work that would make me proud. By February I had gone through several massive edits, decided on my cover art, and completed my first resolution. It took serious dedication, which meant setting a goal each and every day, and then accomplishing it.

While it was a labor of love to get through that manuscript, to edit it, and to finally produce it, my second resolution was even more difficult because it wasn’t really quantifiable. There was really no final physical product, just an approximation based on past time spent and ongoing time spent. So I made it relatively quantifiable by making more plans with my kids. I scheduled more playdates, played more games, and created more activities where we were all stars and extras at the same time.

You-have-to-dream-before__quotes-by-Abdul-Kalam-79But unlike the resolutions to lose weight and to be better organized that most people tend to favor, the two I chose were attainable with attention and focus, and they have long-term sustainability because they bring me great joy day in and day out. Don’t get me wrong, though. I am still committed to working out, but I’m not resolving to do it because I know I’ll get frustrated when I miss a week if I do that. I know I’ll get it done most weeks, but if a week passes without exercising I’ll still survive. And if things get a little cluttered in my personal space it’s all good. I can organize them in my own spare time, when I feel like it, not because there’s a metaphorical gun to my head saying I have to do it.

So, make your resolutions ones you’ll appreciate rather than ones you think you should have because everyone else is choosing them. Have attainable goals and a set outline of how to achieve each one of them. Set yourself a schedule and stick to it. And keep those resolutions simple, that’s the real key. The simpler they are the easier it will be for you to want to accomplish them. Stop wishing this year, and start really planning. You never know where it will take you.

Sam

Wanting Nothing

“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” — Sylvia Plath

When I was a kid and my mother would ask me what I wanted for Christmas I should have said:

  • I want my family to stay together
  • I want a solid dream I can aspire to
  • I want real friends who will last a lifetime

But instead I said I wanted a toy train, a Walkman, some Andy Kapp hot fries, or some other whim of the moment that I lost interest in rather quickly, or that broke because I didn’t treat it well, or that I ate up and it disappeared. I didn’t wish for the intangibles because they are intangible, and for a kid it’s all about TANGIBLE. I mean, can I touch it? Can I squeeze it? Can I look at it? I wanted something in my hands because to me that was real, not the things I took for granted. I realized as I got older that my values seriously had to change, that I couldn’t keep taking things for granted because there would be nothing REAL left to hang my hat on.

Now I see my kids being the same way, and I’m working on making sure they appreciate the real things in life instead of what’s on the surface. When the toy catalog came out Alexa decided she was going to go through it and circle all the toys she wanted Santa to bring her. She showed it to me after relinquishing the magic marker, and I realized that most of the items were circled. If she did get all of them from Santa some kids in a town with a population of 1000 in rural Idaho would get absolutely nothing as the tradeoff. When I told her this, about inequity, she seemed to understand, but that didn’t stop her from wanting EVERYTHING.

So I’m trying to teach her, to teach both of my children, about wanting nothing, about appreciating whatever you get, even if you get nothing material, because not everyone is fortunate enough to get new things. Not everyone is blessed enough to get even one of their wishes fulfilled. That’s the kind of world we live in. But she has two parents who love her, who are there for her, and who spend time with her, three amazing gifts that aren’t able to be exchanged, and that not every kid has. I would know. And as much as I hope she never has to be without any of them, I want her to understand that she shouldn’t take them for granted, that anything could happen at any time, and that appreciating what you have and wanting for nothing else is priceless.

Sam

Reciprocity

It’s that time of year again, and I know you’ve got a list. Maybe you’re checking it twice trying to figure out who gets large gifts, who gets small gifts, who just gets cards, and who gets nothing at all. I know you’re doing it because I am too, and it’s hard every single year because we care about what others think of us. We can’t help it; we’re human. And then when all your shopping is squared away and the designated presents are winging their way hither and yon you receive one from somebody you left completely off your list after much contemplation. You let out an expletive and hope you can get something small in the mail and to them before Christmas. Why? Because of a little thing called reciprocity.

Let me state this from the start: I cannot stand reciprocity because it presupposes we “have to” get someone something because they got something for us. It means we’re not doing it because we value them or because we enjoy giving them things. We’re doing it only because we feel beholden, because we feel we owe them. And that’s societal, believe you me. Society says tit for tat, give to receive and receive to give. Those two concepts gave gotten all tied up and twisted together that we can’t distinguish them from each other no matter how hard we might try.

Reciprocity means we give because we know we will receive. Whatever happened to giving for the sake of giving, to wanting to see then other person’s face and take joy in that? Bah humbug, says I, while I call a foul on the play. We should give because we want to, not because we feel forced into it by the actions of others. But we don’t want to be judged harshly by society and by those who gave us gifts, so we give in time and time again.

The scary part is that reciprocity has spread like a disease, not just at this time of year but from one holiday to the next. Everyone gives cards to their coworkers for Halloween so you do too. All the kids are handing out candies for Valentine’s Day so you buy some for your kid to hand away. Easter has turned into everyone buying electronics for each other so you get your boyfriend an expensive sound system. You want to keep up with everyone else. You want to give because you know you will receive. You would feel guilty if you only received, and you would feel slighted if you only gave. Reciprocity.

I was in a store a few weeks looking for a gift to give my wife, and when I asked one of the sales associates to help me she asked what it was for. I said that it was simply because I appreciate my wife and she looked at me like I had grown a third head. This is where we’ve gotten to as a society when a man wanting to buy something for his wife “just because” is a crazy notion. We live from one holiday to the next and the ante has been upped considerably from one to the next as well, so much so that we make lists for them all and consult them on our phones to keep up. How sad is that? Where’s the joy anymore in giving “just because”?

Sam