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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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“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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I fancy myself a burgeoning photographer. Not the kind who transforms weddings into memories. Not even the kind who captures the zeitgeist of an ordinary moment and makes it extraordinary. I just want to be someone who takes pictures I enjoy, and that others can enjoy. I blame Instagram for this, for the idea that everyone and anyone can be an avant garde photographer, that everyone and anyone can do what so few have done exceptionally well throughout the course of history.

But it’s not just Instagram, if I’m being honest with myself. When I was a kid I remember getting out the chunky old camera, loading it up with film, and heading out to the backyard to see if I could catch worms doing what worms do. I didn’t like pictures of myself, preferring instead to be behind the lens, figuring out how to perfect the scene. I still like figuring out how to perfect the scene.

Four years ago the Utica Public Library started a photo competition, wherein 70 (or however many) photographers chose their own scenes to share with the community. The entries were judged in one or more of several categories and winners of each category announced after three weeks of hanging in library’s main gallery.

It took me FOREVER to decide what picture I wanted to enter, because we could only enter one, but I was more than certain I wanted to be included in the inaugural contest. For some reason I was enamored with bridges that year, so one day when I was driving past one I had passed many times before I stopped. It was raining out, so I wasn’t about to get out of my car. And I didn’t have my camera with me, but I had my phone. So I took one shot through the windshield, in between the wiper blades swiping away the rainwater, and it came out just as I hoped it would.

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There was just something about it that spoke to me, and speaks to me even now, even with the rainy windshield in between me and my subject. Somehow it got entered into the “Social Commentary” category in the contest and won honorable mention. I was honored.

The next year I wanted to do something completely different so I decided not to take just one picture and let it be. Instead I decided to head to Herkimer and do an authentic photo shoot. Only, I had absolutely no clue what I would end up doing, what subject I would end up picking, or how the picture would turn out. I only knew I had two weeks until the contest entry was to be submitted and I still had nothing.

Herkimer led me on some strange paths the day I went down there with my camera and hopefully also with some imagination in tow. Nothing stood out to me, however, even though I took over 20 photos that day. As I was driving out of town, though, inspiration struck hard enough to make me turn around. There was just something about the school buses slanted in their parking spots that hit me. So I took a photo, and after fooling around with my photo editing software, this is what I settled on…

flamingosenhanced.JPG

I called it “Flamingos.”

Keeping with tradition I received another honorable mention, this time in the category of “Striking Use of Color.” But I just wasn’t satisfied with all the standard static shots of inanimate objects. I decided for the third iteration of the contest I would photograph something animated. So I studied the cats who live here and I took various pictures of them. Yet they just weren’t cutting it. That’s when I came up with my brilliant but daunting idea.

I would have a photo shoot with a human being, something I had never done before. Once I had it in my mind, though, I couldn’t get it out. However, I didn’t have much time once again, once I had finally decided I would have a human subject. Luckily for me I work with someone who fit the exact profile of what I wanted for my human subject, and who was also available for a block of time to shoot.

We met at the Utica Train Station on a cloudy Tuesday morning. I was a little worried about the rain, but it had helped me before, so I wasn’t too concerned with it that day. I told myself I would take as many pictures as I could, in as many poses as I could, and I would pore through them later until I found the exact right one to submit to the photo contest.

And 55 photos later, here’s what I decided on:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I called it “Looking Glass.” It was a totally unexpected shot from the enclosed crossover bridge connecting the tracks going Eastbound and Westbound. I just told her to stand there and look out at the tracks and she delivered, the reflection kind of ghostly in the window, and the architecture of the building evident through the glass. Producing it in black and white gave it a stark realism that I loved from the start.

I received honorable mention in the “Black & White” category.

And now it’s one year later. I’m not really sure what I’m submitting yet. What I do know is that I’ve already taken whatever picture I will eventually submit. I’m leaning toward the “Nature” category, something I decided shortly after I found out when submissions are due, because I had never tried it before. We’ll see if I end up going that way after all because I have a few “Architectural” photographs that I might decide on.

Whatever I choose, though, I think I’ve found something that will last a lifetime, even if it’s just a hobby. Even if the only thing I ever submit photographs to is this contest once a year. I’m just excited to be behind the lens.

Sam

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3 Cats

3catsI live with 3 cats.

No, they’re not mine, although I am particularly fond of them. That’s just how I’ve always been. These fearless, furry, fleabag felines are just so cute and lovable, especially the way they’re fiercely independent at times while positively cloying at others.

It seems like I’ve always lived with cats. Or they’ve always lived with me. Sometimes I’m honestly not sure which is true and which is the lie. Perhaps I’ve always lived with them because they let me. They come into my life at the oddest of times and I get attached. I look into their little, expressive eyes, and my heart melts.

But they come with a severely skewed caveat, or two, or three. Because cats aren’t like dogs. They don’t go outside to get their business done, which is a major deal. Cats need litter boxes, and people assigned to clean them on a regular basis, and litter too. Litter that needs to be purchased again and again. And again.

Cats also need food. Some of them are addicted to the soft food in the little cans full of “juicy bits,” while others crunch for days on the dry food from out of the bag. And still some others eat both, whining when the bowl is empty, even if it’s the middle of the night.

Because cats are nocturnal, or if they aren’t then they’ve fooled me for 40 years. They laze around all day long, coming out at night like vampires to chase each other up and down the halls, and up and down the stairs, hissing and snarling like beasts in a cage ready to rip each other to shreds. They wake me from my precious dreams, thinking we are in the midst of the apocalypse when it is just a typical 2 AM romp.

I live with 3 cats, and each one is completely different from the others. 2 of them come and go as they please (so long as someone lets them out the door and in the door when it’s convenient for them). The other 1 stays in, even though he tries to get out when he thinks no one is paying him any mind. We are always paying him some kind of mind because we know he is shifty.

There are more cats out in the back room, but I don’t go there. I am content to pretend I live with only 3 cats, to watch these 3 sleep all day long in the patches of sunlight that are all too infrequent on this side of the house. I am just fine with cohabiting this space, in giving them their space unless they want to be near. Because I’m a cat myself, my personality meshing perfectly with theirs, living a kind of zen-like existence without the benefit of claws.

And that’s okay, because there are enough cats here who do have claws. 3, to be exact.

Sam

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I want to preface this by saying: I love my children. I do. They’re wonderful little pieces of themselves most of the time, and the other times… well, I’ll just say that they’re still little pieces of themselves. They’re just sometimes very difficult to deal with when the dialogue changes, when they don’t get their way, or when something messes with their own opinion of how the world should work. Yes. They’re children. If I haven’t mentioned that already.

It would be so easy to just go with the flow, to allow them screen time whenever they want, to say “Yes!” to every single request they make, but that’s not giving them the best of me and my own experience. Because, see, I’ve been there. Sure, we had a lot less technology when I was their age. (Super Mario anyone?) But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Right?

My children tend to sound like broken records more often than not (“What’s a record, dad?). Here are the most repeated phrases they use these days…

“You’re mean.”

This often follows the word “No.” Can we have tacos tonight? No. You’re mean. Can we watch a show with dinner? No. You’re mean. Can we get out of going to Girl Scouts? No. You’re mean. Occasionally it will also pop up after we’ve taken something away and put it in time out. You’re mean. (more…)

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“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

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