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Patient X

“Common knowledge proclaims the death of dreams, but we are still sleeping, waiting to awaken.” ~Theodicus

not-giant-enough-letter-xI have never been a fan of sharing my feelings with others, which is funny if you consider how long I’ve been blogging and doing precisely that. But this medium lends itself nicely to letting it out without fear, because I can relieve my stress and express myself using my favorite mode — writing.

I am Patient X. I am on the cusp of relevance and irrelevance at the same time. I am from the generation that is both full of itself and apart from itself at once, still struggling to define itself in the Era of the New, where more recent means better. I fight to maintain shouting distance with these new technologies, to keep up to date and utilize the next best thing.

But I will forever be behind because advancements stop for no one. My computer was obsolete before I even extricated it from the plastic. The phone I have in my pocket is two generations behind and I still don’t understand all of its features and functions. I know of drones, and Amazon Fire Stick, and cars that park themselves, but I couldn’t possibly tell you how to manipulate any of them. Which is okay, because even though I’m deep into this age of technology, I can still appreciate rudimentary constructs.

I am Patient X. There will never be another like me, like my generation, straddling the line between what has come before, what is here now, and what dreams may come true in the (very near) future. If I spent enough time delving into all this technology until I was overflowing with knowledge I still wouldn’t be caught up, so I just learn what I need to in order to get by, and I hope things don’t change too much more from now until I will stop needing all of it. If I will ever stop needing all of it.

It’s interesting to watch my children (aged 11 and 8) mastering what seems so complex to me, and laughing at my forays into figuring it all out. I take out a flash drive, something that used to be so en vogue not too long ago, and they look at me as if I’ve grown three heads. It’s all digital, they tell me. Transferring files is as easy as snapping your fingers anymore, and I just scratch my head. There are more than a few ways to do any one thing these days, and learning just one of those ways takes me a while. Mastering it takes me even longer, if it can be done at all.

I am Patient X. I will probably always love blogging, even after it too has become outmoded, replaced by whatever replaces Twitter, sent out to pasture to chew its own cud. I will probably always appreciate the smell of a book more than the words on a screen. I will probably always question if digital music is real or just a figment of our collective imagination. I will probably always want to figure things out for myself rather than simply Googling it.

The future is in convenience, tied to whatever can make things easier for us as a civilization, and in some ways that’s already true now. Taking time to do things carefully, in painstaking details, is a dinosaur, lost to the ravages of time. I already miss it, even though its ghost is still around.

Haunting me.

Sam

Dear Journal,

We are so close I can feel it in the marrow of my bones. I can taste it on the wind today, as the weather was so beautiful out I could imagine running across the field, Chariots of Fire style, with a bitchin’ soundtrack playing in the background. Sub woofer speakers and everything. We are so close I can stand inside the house and feel it humming around me, waiting to assimilate me as its own.

But we are not in yet. And therein lies the rub.

You see, it’s a game of cat and mouse. Or Paula Abdul and MC Scat Cat. “Two steps forward. Two steps back.” The kitchen cabinets are in, and the tile is down in the mudroom, waiting in its forms for a settling. I walk through the rooms and I can see where everything will go, where our lives will be lived, but it’s as the echo of a shadow of a thought, blurring all my lines.

The possibilities I can’t help imagining are plentiful, as I fall asleep night after night and dream, as I sleep to dream a future. The house sits there across the field, beckoning to me even now, calling out to me over both distance and time, and I’m dying to respond. I want to scream out into that dissonance of distance and time, to fold it up all nice and tidy, to make it disappear with the sheer volume of my cry.

But that’s not realistic. So I’ll just keep dreaming until those dreams come from our bed, in our house, instead of here, until those whispers speak to me like they never have before. Until they embrace me like a brother.

And I will answer.

Sam

“So what’s your new book about?” my mom asked while we FaceTimed tonight.

“It’s a mystery,” I responded, that double edged sword cutting both ways at the same time, because as always it’s hard to break something down that isn’t quite done yet, that still has some plot left to ravel up.

“You know I love mysteries,” said my mom. “I’m still working my way through your last book. It’s Greg and Jason, right?”

“If you’re talking about characters, I honestly have no idea,” I replied, shaking my head. “Once they’re out there in the world they belong to everyone. They’re not my little secrets anymore, not only mine anymore.”

“I know what you mean,” she said, but I’m not sure she does. I’m not sure she can.

Being a writer is a solitary endeavor, but it’s not really solitary when I think about it. It’s about creating characters that live and breathe on the page, that I can connect with, that I can both love and despise. They become my friends, my confidants, my family, and my enemies. I live and die with their mixed emotions, always on the verge of  breaking down when they do.

And that’s something I can’t adequately put into words. It’s an ironic side effect of being a writer, of publishing something that is now out there in the world living and growing on its own. In its own way it is like giving birth, and I’m proud of every one of my children living out there in words. I love them all, but I’m not done just because they’re out of the nest.

Which is why I told my mom it is a mystery, because books write themselves, because while I know my characters I am not my characters. I let them live their lives, and these new characters in this new book are doing just that. They’re making their own mistakes, solving their own problems, and doing things I wasn’t sure they could do when I started this process. I know where they’ll end up by this book’s conclusion, but how the journey gets them there, and what state of mind they’ll be in is anyone’s guess. Even mine.

The hardest part of the process for me is having the patience as a writer to let my characters get there in their own way, and not trying to force the issue. It’s easy to say I’ll do it, that I’ll be patient, but once the writing begins to flow it’s difficult to be that guide on the side, yet so satisfying when it finally comes as it does.

And yes, it was Greg and Jason, but I had to look at the book flap to remember. Which is okay, because soon it will be Jennifer and David, and everyone who inhabits the world of this book. Then on to the next.

Sam

Nineteen Blackbirds

071dc4f8b0101a81903a1265c72f1748Atop a razor thin wire thirty feet above my head, nineteen blackbirds are perched, resolutely, zombie-like, side by side by side, as if waiting for the bus. Their balance is perfect, so self-assured that most appear to be asleep standing up, the skimpy thread bowing under their combined weight but under no threat of ripping. Forked talons curve artfully around the wire, one by one by one in a straight line until no more talons are left to be seen, and I wonder why there aren’t an even twenty of these beasts.

I count again.

Above their heads the sky is a dusky  blue, shot through with pale sunlight, in places hollowed out by the expanse of creamy clouds. There is no breeze as I sit on a park bench looking unabashedly at these denizens of the air, but they sit in place, content to play possum instead of spreading their wings and taking flight. I want to make a loud noise just to see if they will react. I want to scream them into action because I can’t do the same in my own little insulated world.

I sit here silently instead.

Are these birds ravens, like the storied birds of literative lore, or the much maligned crows that often darken doorsteps with their shadow-like precision? Or maybe they’re the infamous birds of the apocalypse, the souls of demons dressed up in outer ebony plumage, waiting patiently for the world to end. I watch as other birds drift past, but not one stops to join this horizontal conference thirty feet above my head. I wonder if this is evidence of some kind of winged etiquette, or a collaborative clique, a nearly extinct class system come home to roost.

I wonder if they will ever move.

I know I have somewhere else to be, something in my world that requires a particular kind of attention, but that doesn’t seem to matter right now. Instead I am engaged in a waiting competition of sorts, an intricate game of chicken where my opponents are actual birds. Quite rare indeed. They might as well be dead up there; they’re certainly dressed for it without even trying, these harbingers of a world bereft of color, sitting stolidly, impossibly, on a tiny wire.

I too am black.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the one on the far left shakes a tail feather, then two, then its entire tail is in motion, a plane motor kicking into gear. Seconds later it is gone, taken to the air in a blur of feathers and a sudden motivation that is impossible to gauge. The next one in line begins to stir moments later, an echo of its brother, already lost to the air, and the clouds, and the rest of the sky. Then he too is gone just as quickly, and I have already forgotten what he looked like, even though he was here for what seemed like an eternity. Seventeen blackbirds on the line, but they are no longer still.

I watch them take flight.

It is dizzying, staring up into the sky for so long, neck craned back to take it all in without missing a beat, but I couldn’t move if my life depended upon it. This is my world, and I am world leader pretend. And I can’t help but feel like a part of me is fracturing as one by one by one they leave, as everyone has always left me before, as they will all leave me again. It was a false comfort, those inattentive birds, as they sat like stone for so long, but they were never going to stay. Just like the raven iconically quoted, “Nevermore.”

The wire vibrates as the last blackbird releases its grip, hurtling itself into the cloud-strewn sky like a rocket taking flight. I follow the line as it undulates in a rhythmic pattern, then begins to slow down the longer the birds are gone, until it stops completely, as if the winged creatures were never there.

I open my eyes and realize they weren’t.

Sam

NetWorking It

social_connection-300x300I am outgoing, the first one into the party and the last one to leave. At least I used to be, back when I went to parties. I make acquaintances early and often, even now. Maybe it’s my self-deprecating grin, or my willingness to go with the flow, or even just my ability to talk to total strangers as if I’ve known them my whole life. If I’m in a room there’s no doubt you’ll know it sooner rather than later.

But I’m not up for networking. I do it, just by nature of being outgoing. That is, I often make connections with other people who could help me or who I could help career wise, and I have an extensive Rolodex of names and numbers. But generally that’s a side effect, not what I’ve ever truly spent time and energy on. Which also means that I don’t actively cultivate these relationships, and generally my acquaintances stay just that — acquaintances.

My wife, on the other hand, is a natural networker. I think she would do well as a political fundraiser because she’s passionate about what she believes in, and she makes connections as easily as I’ve ever seen anyone else do it. While she isn’t outgoing — she’ll never be the loud, gregarious one in the room — she makes the most of her time around others who fit in her wheelhouse of connections she can utilize later.

I admire that about her, and sometimes I think it would be worthwhile to be more like that instead of just outgoing. Like tonight, for example. We were at a Down syndrome celebration dinner (World Down Syndrome Day is 3/21) and she was working the room like a… political fundraiser, but she wasn’t doing it for money. She was connecting with her network, and creating more contacts along the way. It is mesmerizing to see.

There’s just something to be said about making connections. We do it differently, but in our own ways we do it just as well.

Sam

Easy Love

easyloveLove is easy… when it’s reciprocated. When it’s neither tied down nor coerced. When it’s head and heart entwined together. When it’s not long distance. When it’s two-way street. When… well, when a whole lot comes together in perfect alignment… then it’s easy.

I’ve had two loves, and neither one was easy, not when things counted anyway. Both were easy at the beginning, when everything was shiny and new, because we didn’t know any better. We basked in the warmth of an emergent love, secure in our notion that love was all we needed.

Which is the major issue, isn’t it? Love is never all we need. It’s never the salve for everything that ails us. It can never do the heavy lifting because love wasn’t built for that. It is the emotional component to our relationships. Necessary? Yes. Independent? No. Love can be a foundation, but it can’t be the only support for a relationship.

So yes, love can be easy when everything else is in place. When a relationship also has honesty, cooperation, trust, and a host of other supports firmly in place. Obviously, bracing your relationship with all of those supports takes time and effort, takes trial and error, takes hard work on both sides.

Unfortunately, that’s why so many relationships these days fail, because we live in a world where not many people are willing to work through the struggles, to talk out the issues, to be completely honest with each other, not just about their feelings, but also about what they need from their partner. So it’s not easy, and instead of working harder on it, they let it go. They let it drift away when they should be diagnosing the problems so they can get to the next step.

11743693133_c154198945So yes, real love is easy, because it’s surrounded by a scaffold of everything necessary to keep it alive and to help it flourish successfully. My first love was young love, which thought itself self-sustaining, but all the love in the world wouldn’t have saved it. Because we weren’t on the same page, both of us thinking that love would be enough, that we would be together forever because we wanted to be together forever. When the end came we were still scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong.

The second time around, though, from the start it was difficult because we were both older, and we both knew that love wasn’t enough. We both knew that it would be challenging, but it was a challenge we were ready to take. Because we knew that if we got through the tough times, the challenging decisions, the difficult confessions, we would emerge together at the end.

So yes, love is easy. When you know that it’s not enough.

Sam

Whiteout

Shoop, shoop, shoop. This guy jogged past me at a steady clip, breathing steady, smooth on his feet. I trudged like a turtle. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. I waved to him as he passed me heading south on a two way road devoid of traffic. It was just me and him, and the contrasts really couldn’t have been any clearer. He waved back and continued on his way. Approximately 10 minutes later he passed me again, going the opposite direction. This time I threw a few words his way. “I wish I had your stamina,” I said, and then he was gone again.

I continued trudging through the knee deep snow, head down, intent on my destination. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop.

wp-1489532906540.jpgHonestly, I should have been driving, but I abandoned my car back in the village. It couldn’t make it up the mini-hill, despite the snow tires, despite the 4-wheel drive. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I left it in the village because I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t run off the road if I continued, even if I did manage to make it up the mini-hill. So I began to walk. In my bright orange coat I knew I made a big enough target for possible approaching motorists, so I wasn’t too worried about getting run over. I began to walk.

Truth be told, the trip from the village to the house here is only about 2/3rds of a mile, but through knee deep snow, with constant snow still falling steadily from above, it might as well have been 10 miles. That jogger who passed me twice — I have no idea why he was out there, or how crazy he really is, but that man is my hero. Perhaps he was training for some kind of marathon, but in this weather, with these blizzard-like conditions, I wouldn’t have left the house if I didn’t have to work.

But yeah, back to the driving portion of the journey. I left work early after my wife called, upset that I was still there when the snow was coming down like this, while the Snowpocalypse was reaching epic heights without a plow in sight. So many businesses were closed, so many schools shuttered for the day, but at Target we soldier on. I didn’t want to be a soldier, but I got there before the storm began. Boots on the ground. Literal boots.

As the day wore on, though, the snow didn’t stop, the emergency vehicles were loud outside the doors, and the anxiety level of loved ones at home reached a fever pitch. So I left early, even though I almost never leave early, knowing that the journey would be a treacherous one, and wanting to start it before it turned the corner into impossible. I left nearly two hours early, and just in time. When I reached my car in the parking lot it was piled high with thick snow, not the fluffy, pretty kind, but the heavy wet stuff that causes accidents. I brushed it off and said a prayer that I would make it back here safely.

wp-1489532847131.jpg

I’m not a fan of snow adventures. On my drive back there was no lack of adventure. I saw no fewer than 10 cars in various ditches along the way, often paired with tow trucks and police vehicles, but just as often on their own, having just gone down. Hazard lights were everywhere, but it was hard to see the lines beneath all the snow. Plows were nowhere to be seen — odd, but not too shocking. But with the sheer volume of snow I would have expected more of a presence from the large vehicles. Without them around I kept it under 20 miles an hour.

About a 3rd of the way back here my windshield wipers inexplicably stopped working, something that has never happened before. With the amount of snow from Snowmageddon coming down it quickly became difficult to see out of the front glass, so I improvised. I grabbed my snow brush from the passenger side footwell, slipped on one glove (Michael Jackson-style), opened my window, and began brushing the snow off while driving even more slowly. Cars passed me in waves, some of which ended up in the various ditches, but I soldiered on.

A trip that normally takes me 1/2 an hour stretched on to over 2 as one by one issues came up to impede my progress, but I never stopped for long. I toughed it out, freezing my arm off holding out that snow brush, my hazard lights on, waving others past like a traffic attendant, until I could go no further. Then I started walking. Because I was close enough to sense the finish line. Even if I couldn’t see it through the rapidly falling snow. That’s still coming down in layers.

Sam

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