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“What bad habit would you like to change?”

badhabitsI can choose only one? Seriously, I have a ton of bad habits that have stuck around simply because I haven’t deemed them worthy of taking the time necessary to eliminate them from my repertoire. And the ones I have deemed worthy, for some reason, haven’t been all that easy to get rid of, at least in the time I dedicated to them. It’s funny how it works out that way, or doesn’t work out, as the case may be.

But to choose just one? Hmmm. It would probably be my tendency to let other people make decisions for me. Not just those decisions like Taco Bell or Wendy’s either, but like many major decisions in my life. I look back on everything that’s happened to me so far, and what strikes me most is that I let all those things happen to me. I didn’t take a step back when others were making the decisions I should have made, instead going along with the flow.

I wonder what my life would have been like had I made more of those decisions myself, but I have an excuse. Okay, so it’s not an excuse but an explanation. I tend to surround myself with big personalities, people who take over a room because they’re in it. I’ve done it for so long that I tend to copy those people in situations where no one is like that. I guess nature abhors a vacuum or something. Anyway, it always seemed easier to go along with what they thought I should do, instead of taking the time to actually figure out what I wanted or needed to do.

It’s a bad habit. It’s probably the worst habit I have, when I think about it, because often times I did have a preference. Many of those times I had a course of action I would have rather followed, but rather than make waves I just went along. No, that doesn’t mean shooting heroin or anything, but from small things to major things that I’ve done in my life, I haven’t made every single one of those decisions. The decision to leave Philly, it wasn’t me. The choice to move here wasn’t made by me. Down to the slippers I’m wearing on my feet at this exact moment, the choice was made by others.

Perhaps I’m a rubber stamper. Hand me the ink, I’ll hop in it, and you’ll get some perfect footprints mapping out what I’ve done in my life. Some decisions have had wonderful results, like the one to move here, while others have had disastrous consequences (pretty much any decision I’ve allowed other people to make about what happens to my money). It’s one thing to get advice from others on what I should do, but quite another to then take their advice, and only their advice into consideration when making the decision.

I guess it’s easier that way for me because in the end I can’t place all the blame on myself, even though it is 100% my choice to go in the direction they pointed out to me with their LARGE ARROWS. If it doesn’t work out I can sit there and judge them for “making me” do whatever it was I did. And if it does have a good outcome, I can clap them on the back and share in the good fortune, even though I really had nothing to do with it. So yes, if I could change one of my many bad habits, it would be this one. In the end I would be responsible for deciding which paths I go in life, and for the decisions that I make.

Of course, when it comes down to it, all of the ultimate decisions in my life really were made by me, or they were made in tandem with the person they would ultimately affect just as much as me. Like getting married, having kids, and choosing my profession in life, all of those were me, and all of those turned out great, even though each one has its challenges. But that’s life. And I’m ready to make more of my own choices in it.

Sam

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I Am A 90’s Song

sometimes-britney-spearsI am a 90’s song. Not quite electronic enough to be 80s. Not quite teeny bop enough to be early 00’s. I’m like Britney Spears’ “Sometimes.” I wanna believe in everything that you say, ’cause it sounds so good. But if you really want me, move slow. There’s things about me you just have to know. It takes time, though, to open up, because like most people I’ve been hurt before. I’ve trusted the wrong people who have let me down. And I’ve let down others, but I’m trying.

Sometimes I am guarded, and I retreat into my shell, while others I am gregarious and over the top. Sometimes I play to the stereotypes of what others expect of me, as some kind of a joke on them (Shhh, they’ll never know I was playing a part). Sometimes I go the exact opposite direction of what others might expect of me. But always I am a 90’s song, ready to explode into a soaring chorus… when the mood arises.

95b5d0531990cd9ef08a0822a04ba1df--nada-surf-song-lyricsSometimes I am like that Mm Mm Mm Mm song, where I simply hum along with the beat, whoever is setting it at that moment. While other times I am “Popular.” I’m head of the class. I’m popular. I’m a quarterback. I’m popular. My mom says I’m a catch. I’m popular. And if I say it enough to myself, in my mind, I start to believe it. I start to think that everybody should love me, even though I know that’s setting myself up for a fall. Obviously not everyone can like or appreciate everyone else. But I wish it could be the case.

I am Tevin Campbell in that “Can We Talk” video, chilling under that bridge because he knows the girl is going to give him the time of day if he just looks cool. I take selfies because I’m trying to affect that cool look. And not even for others, but for me. At least sometimes just for me. I don’t share the vast majority of those selfies. I am that Spice Girls song, “Say You’ll Be There.” There is no need to say you love me. It would be better left unsaid. I’m giving you everything, all that joy can bring. This I swear. And all that I want from you is a promise you will be there. I fear being alone. Does that make me codependent?

hqdefaultSometimes I am that Gin Blossoms song, “Follow You Down,” even though most times I’m a leader. But when the ball gets rolling I can tend to get caught up in the momentum without thinking ahead. I know we’re headed somewhere, I can see how far we’ve come. But still I can’t remember anything. Let’s not do the wrong thing and I’ll swear it might be fun. I have to always remember that, to keep it in the back of my brain so I don’t go off the rails. It might be fun.

But I try not to worry about the friends thing, even though I’m like a dog chasing his tail when it comes to that. I try to stay slightly aloof about it all, not to dive headfirst like I’ve done before just to drown. But if I can’t swim after 40 days, and my mind is crushed by the crashing waves, lift me up so high that I cannot fall. Lift me up. Lift me up when I’m falling. So I try to keep my head above water, even when it seems that the world all around me is a flood.

hqdefault (1)I am a 90’s song because I can’t help being one, because I’m a tortured soul living a life that gives me everything I want. I’m like that R.E.M. song, “Everybody Hurts.” Well, hang on. Don’t let yourself go. ‘Cause everybody cries. Everybody hurts sometimes. It’s okay to feel things. It’s alright to be disappointed with how things are. But it’s not okay to dwell on it to the exclusion of appreciating what’s wonderful in my life. I look around me, and I am so grateful despite the letdowns. Maybe even partially because of them. Because how else would I grow?

Sam

theLongConimageSometimes a novel just begins itself, so I have to catch up to it in due process, and I spend the entirety of the adventure lost in the nuance of the characters, so that when it’s done even I don’t know where they end and I begin. Sometimes a novel burns itself so deeply into my subconscious that I dream of its circumstances as though I were there, engaged in their decisions as if they were me.

But they’re not. They live their own lives, and I am simply the conduit for others to see the journey. Or something like that. Sometimes a novel comes while I’m writing something else, and makes me stop everything so I can write it.

My new book, The Long Con, is such a novel, and I’m pleased to say that it is now available for purchase on Amazon.com in paperback format. Soon, very soon, it will also be for sale in digital form, but why get a digital copy when you can hold the very book in your hands?

For months I lived in this world. I bumped into these characters and said “Excuse me.” I spent literally thousands of minutes breathing them in, so that it became second nature to ask them what they wanted for dinner before thinking about my own. The Long Con is more than just a novel to me; it is an experience that I didn’t want to ever end. And I guess in a sense it doesn’t end here, but it develops a new beginning.

Because now you too can get to know Sally Groves, and Glen Davidson, and everyone else who lives between those pages. But until you can get your grubby mitts wrapped around your own copy, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter…

[From The Long Con, copyright 2017, Sam McManus]

I could tell you what you want to hear, but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? I mean, every story has a good guy and a bad guy, and it would be so simple to paint me as the latter, but things aren’t ever black and white, even if we try to shove them into those categories. I could tell you that I am the victim here, that everything happened to me and not because of me, but I would be lying to you. I am no portrait of naiveté, and certainly not someone to overlook warning signs if I had even glimpsed their existence. What I can tell you is that things are not always as they seem, which includes this crazy world around us, and us as individuals as well. When it comes down to it, we all look out for number one, even if we won’t ever admit to that simple truth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I often do, because my brain is on overdrive 24/7, and it’s pretty hard for me to catch up, much less for anyone else to. I have many important things to do before this day is over, and I need to keep them well-organized; they’re as delicate as a house of cards in the path of a great wind. Because before this day is over I may well be dead, or worse. What’s worse than death, you ask? Well, if I have to tell you then it’s not anything you need to worry about, which makes me happy for you, but pretty despondent for myself.

First off, it’s about the money. I mean, what isn’t? The love of money might be the root of all evil, but the lack of money is the axe that chops down the whole damn tree. I have plenty of money, but absolutely none of it is mine, at least not free and clear. I’ve spent almost the entirety of my adult life trying to reconcile that seeming dichotomy, with varying degrees of success, but in the end that’s what it boils down to: too much and not enough money at the same time. That’s because it’s been in trust funds that have ages attached to them: the first installment on my twenty-fifth birthday, the second on my thirtieth, the third on my thirty-third… you get the picture. And none of these dates can come soon enough. That’s because I owe several people a lot of money.

I’m not some kind of gambler. I know what you’re thinking. There are many people out there who are addicted to putting in pennies and trying to get dollars back in return, who think that the system owes them one, so they waste their paychecks in seedy casinos and over games of chance. Sure, they win from time to time, but just enough to keep them coming back, to keep them dumping money into the pot, money that they will never see again. I’m not one of those poor people (and here I use the term poor in both of its connotations). But just because I don’t gamble overtly doesn’t mean I don’t take chances I probably shouldn’t take, and they’ve caught up with me more than I’d care to admit.

My addiction is the long con, the patient alternative to the short con. You know the short con quite well, perhaps, when someone steals your identity by taking your credit card, or somehow getting the numbers and running up a big bill that you theoretically end up paying for instead of the thief. The short con could also include pretending you’re leaving money to pay your restaurant bill on the table, but you’re just leaving a Gideon’s mini-Bible instead. It’s simple enough, but you also don’t get very much money from it. At the most the short con can get you a couple thousand bucks, probably, if it’s the identity theft angle anyway. I’ve never done it; there’s obviously just not enough skin in that game.

But the long con – the long con is one of the most beautiful experiences on the planet. It takes patience and perseverance, but in the end it can land you much more than a couple thousand bucks, and if you play your cards right the long con could completely set you up for life…

Seriously, check it out if you’re into suspense, into solving puzzles, but also into getting inside the minds of characters who are so real maybe you’ve seen them on the street already. I know I certainly enjoyed living with them for a few months. Now they’re yours.

Sam

By now you know the rhythm, the cadence, of the words… “In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer… blah blah blah… til death do us part.” It’s as much a part of the collective consciousness as Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball, or Uncle Sam doffing his hat and saying he wants YOU, yes you, to join the army. And while our divorce rate soars at an all time high, it can be easy to forget that in those vows we said something that doesn’t take divorce into account.

Which makes sense, seeing as each marriage is a new beginning. Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. They date. Boy proposes. Girl accepts. BAM. They say the words to each other, believing in them like they’ve never believed anything before in their lives. They will stay together until death’s cruel grip comes to tear them apart. But things change. People change, and words said a while ago don’t really bind as they should. Let me rephrase. Those feelings, that depth of emotion behind those words, that’s what changes. And life throws a wedge into emotions, into the best laid plans.

It happens.

I should know. I walked down the abbreviated city hall aisle when I was 21, and I said those very words, believing that they would bind me to this other person for all time. I had faith in my feelings at that moment, that those feelings would last for all time, and that hers would do the same. I didn’t take into account that when you’re married you find out things about each other that might tax those feelings. I didn’t figure into the bargain that the changes we would go about would irrevocably divide us.

I didn’t go into that marriage thinking I would be a statistic. I went in with hope. But I left as a statistic.

Divorce isn’t always somebody’s fault. Believe me. Sometimes it just happens because of circumstance, because of misplaced faith, because of issues beyond your control. It isn’t the byproduct of horrible situations every single time. Maybe you were better off as friends. Perhaps the idea of marriage was like that extra piece of pie — awfully tempting, until you eat it and you realize you were already full. Divorce is a way of mutually saying, “Yeah, this just isn’t working and we’ve exhausted all avenues to try and stay together.”

I am myself a product of divorce. I saw firsthand growing up what it was like when parents have a difference of opinion, when open wounds fester so much the stench in the air was always palpable. I saw the havoc it can wreak on two people who used to love each other, who maybe still loved each other, but who were ill suited for each other, who were better off going their separate ways. I lived through the pain of the separation, through the tearing of the fabric of my world, thinking it was me, thinking nothing was ever going to be good again in my life. So I know what it was like. I know divorce can be such a traumatic event.

But it can also be good. You see, my parents were in a toxic relationship by that point. It was plain to see, at least in our household. We were told to present a different face to the world, but we knew how to call a spade a spade when we were behind the closed doors of our rented house. It was devastating when it happened, but in time I saw it for what it really was, a chance for my mom to finally breathe. She was better off without him, even though it meant she was now a single mother, even though it meant the purse strings were just that much tighter. But she was committed to us. She threw all of herself into being there for us.

So I will never say that divorce is always a bad thing. Maybe the marriage itself was the bad thing. Maybe things happen that are beyond our control, but when we finally get control we realize that these things should not be, that life should be different than… this. So yes, I am a part of the grand statistic, in more ways than one. I’m like the Hair Club for Men president. I’m not only the president. I’m also a client.

I told myself that when I grew up I would preserve the sanctity of marriage, that I would follow each and every vow to the letter, if I was lucky enough to get married in the first place. But one thing I didn’t tell myself was what the contingency would and should be if the marriage was detrimental to me as a human being. I somehow survived 3 years of that marriage, and then it was done, and I can honestly say that, just as with my parents before me, that divorce was the best possible thing that could have happened to me in the situation, for both my sanity and for the possibilities it afforded me for a healthier future.

Sometimes it really is “Til Divorce Do Us Part,” and that’s okay. Sometimes that’s okay.

Sam

Handy, Man!

So there we were, two American newlyweds, on the wrong side of the road, but really off the side of what I can only describe was a postage stamp sized road in the rolling hills of Ireland. And the predicament was this: somewhere along the road we had hit a massive pothole (of which there were many along those tiny roads), lost our wheel trim, and totally wrecked one of our rental car’s tires. What a great honeymoon. What were we to do?

Oh, and did I mention this was also on a Sunday afternoon, when pretty much everything in Ireland was shut down tighter than a submarine? There was indeed a spare in the trunk, but I had absolutely no idea what to do with that. The only thing I knew with certainty was if we didn’t get to some sort of service station the tire would be completely useless and we would be completely stuck. On the side of that postage stamp sized road.

Luckily we were able to make it to a gas station where a nice (and capable) attendant helped us out by changing out our tire for free. What nice folk we encountered on that trip.

That was 14 years ago, and I still have absolutely no clue how to change a tire to this day.

I mowed the lawn once, on the riding lawn mower that felt more like a joyride than anything else. I felt pretty competent as I zoomed around our yard cutting that grass pretty low but not too low. It was such a great experience, and I was going at such a good pace that I decided to be a good neighbor and take care of the weeds that had grown up between our yard and the one adjacent.

I can still hear the raised voices later that night, the cries of agony from next door, the shock and disappointment. Because to my dismay the weeds weren’t really weeds. They had been plants planted by the neighbor, and I had absolutely destroyed each and every one of them in the name of being helpful. They were shocked that anyone in their right mind would have mistaken those plants for weeds.

I couldn’t show my face for quite some time after that, for embarrassment’s sake.

It’s not that I’m completely useless when it comes to manual labor. It’s that I’m just not quite a handy man in that way. If what you need is a manuscript or essay draft proofread, I’m your guy. If you need a recipe followed to the letter, I could do that for you (just don’t trust me with aluminum foil and the microwave — oops). If there’s a bookshelf or desk you need put together, you’d do better to have it pre-assembled. I would more than likely have parts “left over,” which wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing.

Maybe it’s because I honestly don’t care about cars, even though they’re a necessary part of life around here in East Missoura… I mean, here in Newport, New York. Maybe it’s because I absolutely detest yard work (bugs, bugs, BUGS) and no amount of bug spray will keep the pests away from what I’m sure they consider is their snack, i.e. my legs. Perhaps I’m not really handy because I’ve never really felt I needed to be, because there were always others who were just better at those kinds of things than me. Maybe because I honestly just don’t care about those kind of things.

And I guess I should be more self-sufficient when it comes to doing things with my hands, but my brain simply doesn’t work that way. Which is funny because to look at me you might assume I know my way around a wrench, but I honestly don’t. I’m a huge guy, with massive hands, but these hands are more likely to be poised over a keyboard than grasping a shovel and rake. I know people constantly judge me for it, but luckily for me my wife understands.

That hasn’t stopped her from getting me outside on occasion, from relying on my strength to get some of those “handy” things done. And maybe if I had paid attention during those times I wouldn’t have buzzed through those prize plants of the neighbors, but I have no memory for any of that. I do those things so I can move on to what I really want to be doing. So, no, I can’t change my car’s oil, and it will take me a dog’s age to put together my study desk.

I’m cool with that. But damn, that pothole was enormous.

Sam

1989It was the late ’80s. Every guy was trying to affect the Don Johnson look, every girl had hair bigger than life, and I was dealing with some serious acne and an identity crisis of my own. As a boy coming of age at the end of that glorious decade it was easy to find role models. They were everywhere: from the graffitied billboards, to the movie stars, to pretty much everyone I came in contact with.

But the ones who were always there for me were those on the small screen, where I could find them once a week when I needed them. Stars from shows like Who’s the Boss, Family Ties, and The Cosby Show showed me exactly what I needed to do, how I should behave, and what advice to follow so I could be a well-rounded human being. And they all did it in just a half hour every week.

The best part was that they weren’t real, but they were at the same time. I could imagine how it would be if I was friends with them, yet I never had to deal with their rejection. I could look up to them, but also judge them from afar, because they were royalty in a kingdom I would never visit.

savedcastMy favorite show back then was Saved By the Bell. It was so overwrought with stock characters and predictable storylines, but it was fun.. Saved By the Bell had it all:

  • The Jock
  • The Cheerleader
  • The Nerd
  • The Fashionista (who doubled as the token black character)
  • The Student Body President
  • Zack Morris

I really wanted to be Zack Morris (and not just because of his bitchin’ cell phone either). He could stop time at any point and offer commentary on his fellow characters. He had amazing blonde hair. He was the cool kid without being too cool, because he made a ton of mistakes and was forced to grow as a character in order to fix them. And the best thing about Zack Morris was the glint in his eye when he had just come up with one of his dastardly plans.

Zack was the king of the swagger, and to a pubescent boy in the late ’80s it was easy to try and imitate that. There was nothing Zack couldn’t do, no lengths to which Zack wouldn’t go, in order to get what he wanted. And yet he was still likeable. Yet he still had a group of friends who were loyal to him even after he had humiliated each and everyone of them at some point. He was redeemable because he was real, because his swagger didn’t make him a villain.

It made him one of us.

Sam

Losing Touch

I’m in no hurry, you go run and tell your friends I’m losing touch. Fill their heads with rumors of impending doom. It must be true.” ~The Killers

Look around you. These are the people who survived. At least for now.

A “friend” of mine recently posted on Facebook that he was doing widespread cuts to his friends list, not because he suddenly hated everyone on it, but simply because it was time to trim. He said he based the cuts on people he hasn’t really communicated with over the last year, and to an extent that makes sense.

Think about it. How many of your friends, Facebook or otherwise, would make that cut? And I mean communication not in a superficial way, something past “hi,” and “hey,” and the random birthday greeting because Facebook reminded them it was your special day. How many people can you honestly say you’ve spent meaningful time with in the past year?

List is pretty small, isn’t it? And that’s okay. Because we aren’t meant to have a million meaningful relationships in this life, or even from one year to the next. There are some people who simply drop off. We lose touch for many different reasons. From year to year it happens, and yet we’ll still say we are friends. We still claim we are as close as perhaps we used to be, probably because we don’t realize we aren’t. Not anymore.

I can’t tell you how many people occupied a prime position in my life over the years who have just disappeared, who have lost touch for whatever reason. Being close to someone is a two way street. It takes work from both people involved. But our interests change. Our lives change. And we can’t blame others for losing touch. Usually we are both to blame, in one way or another.

My biggest surprise: when all was said and done, and my friend sent out the post that he was done, that we who remained, who were sitting there reading his post, could breathe a sigh of relief. We had made it through the minefield. But relief wasn’t the emotion I felt when I read it. I wasn’t feeling lucky, but merely depressed that this is the world we live in now. We try to reason out why we lose touch. We try to take control by cutting others off first, then broadcasting it, because we broadcast everything these days. It just makes me sad.

There is not much worse than when we realize we are losing touch, and we fight against it but it’s already done. Our grip shouldn’t get tighter. It is the natural order of things. People are in our lives for a reason, and some are definitely for life, but others are simply for a season, and are meant to drift away on the breeze after. Our problem is that we mistake the two all the time. So culling our friends list is a smart move, because it’s already been culled by time. We are just finally acknowledging it. Just don’t broadcast it. For my sake.

Sam

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