Aquarium Bones

“Be careful what secrets you unearth, for the secrets that unearth you are not far behind.” ~Theodicus

I used to have an aquarium. Not the kind with fish. That would have been too simple, or too complicated, whichever you prefer. But the kind with treasure in it. You know the sort, the one with sand at the bottom, a little rake up against the glass, and the opportunity to mine for gold, or scarabs, or just the faded bones of fish who used to live in those environs before the water went away.

It seemed morbid to me at the time, the idea of an aquarium without water, a place without the one thing that gives it its name (aqua = water), the idea that “once upon a time” and “nowadays” were two distinct terms to label that glass walled cage. Eventually, though, I got used to the idea that nothing was as it seemed, not just in the aquarium, but in the wide world as well. I realized we are all nothing but aquarium bones, waiting to be unearthed when someone sifts through our lives many years from now.

I think of all the people who have come before, all the generations and generations of folks who felt, in their lifetimes, that the things they did mattered, that the time they spent was worthwhile. Continue reading “Aquarium Bones”

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How I’m Doing

20180224_094000~01.jpgEveryone asks how I’m doing. As if they all have a stake in my happiness. I tell them I’m doing great. Because I am. I’m doing about as positively well as I possibly can be at this moment in time. It’s like my metaphorical ship has come in. But it doesn’t quite feel real yet. Maybe because I spent so much time in the desert, squabbling over a patch of sand in the midst of a sea full of the same golden stuff.

They ask how I’m doing because I seem different. Whenever people notice difference, when they notice anything at all, their brains can’t seem to make out what the change is. Did I get a haircut? Am I somehow taller? Is the tilt of my head the same, or have I begun to incline to the other side? All these questions chase themselves around in the brain of the questioner, and they settle on simply asking how I’m doing. Can’t go wrong with that, right?

I guess I’ve been so melancholy for so long it’s obvious that things have changed. I’m thinking solidly about the future for the first time in years. Perhaps that wistful look has returned to my countenance. Maybe that sense of peace is permeable, oozing through my skin to be vividly clear to others. Every “next day” doesn’t fill me with dread as it had for far too long.

I am here on the weekends. I cannot stress enough what a novel extravagance this is.

So, how am I doing? I’m doing about as well as I possibly hoped I would be doing at this point in my life, although I’ve taken a circuitous path to get here. How are YOU doing?

Sam

A Patently Incomplete Manual For Living

“I wanted the world, but you knew better. And that all we have is immortality.” ~U2

be_nice_spread_the_word_postcard-r049d89a720a84595b7ad70470c712e18_vgbaq_8byvr_324It’s tough, this thing called living, this invitation to a dance where sometimes we have partners and sometimes we go it alone. I see it every day, from the Facebook posts of those souls who feel that no one loves them, to the people around me who hunch their shoulders down as if preparing for a long, harsh winter. A real part of it is that there is really no manual for living. There are no hard and fast guidelines that everyone can follow to guarantee a quality existence, to guarantee friends, to guarantee the kind of life we all want but few of us ever seem to attain.

If I had carte blanche to write a manual for living, a firm guideline would be:

(1) Be nice to people.

It should honestly go without saying, but some of the harshest critics of others are the ones most vocal about having no friends, about having no life, about pretty much everything that’s going wrong in their own lives. When we judge others we seem to forget that we also have issues.

Of course, sometimes even when we are the nicest human beings to others there is no positive correlation for us. Sure, we can get the good feelings from being a good person, but that’s often not enough to sustain us. It’s a good start, though.

(2) Think twice before acting.

I can’t tell you the number of times (because I honestly can’t recall) when I’ve done something that I look back on with jaw agape, with no clue how I could have been so godawful stupid. By going with first instincts we can often lose the focus we need to make solid decisions. Most times a simple “time out” to think about whether or not we really want to take certain actions can be a godsend.

(3) Don’t let your self-worth be determined by others.

stop-letting-other-people-define-you-be-yourself-and-be-proud-of-it-quote-1You know those people who need to be loved by everyone, who derive their own value from what others think. Maybe you’re one of those people. It’s hard to shut down that part of ourselves that needs validation. That’s only more true now that we have social media where people can “like” what we say and how we look. But we are more than just the number of “likes” we generate. If you can’t be happy with yourself without the validation of others then it’s easy to lose your way.

(4) Do what you love.

Wow, if someone had told me this a long time ago the sinuous pattern of my life might have changed exponentially, but no one did. Instead, they told me that it’s okay to love things, but that I needed to be practical. Well, guess what? We can do both. Being practical can take care of monetary issues, but taking time out to also do what we love can take care of that space in our souls that needs to be filled. People often ask me how I write as often as I do, and I always defer to the quote that “We make time for the things that are important to us.” If you want to stand in the middle of a train station and sing, then do it. Life is too short.

(5) Draw solid lines.

This means simply that even though you’re nice to everyone, don’t let anyone else compromise your sense of who you are, or what your values are. It’s so important to find ourselves, and not to lose sight of who we are and what we stand for, as human beings, and as individuals. Too often people who masquerade as friends ask us to betray our values for them, who try to guilt us into doing what they want. Draw those lines, and don’t let yourself get dragged over them. If they don’t stay on your side of the lines, then they aren’t good for you. Move on, no matter how hard it might be for you.

(6) Make and maintain goals.

Too many people live from moment to moment, never planning for any kind of future because they don’t want to think that far. The problem is that the future comes when we aren’t looking, and we can influence that. So why not influence that? Goals range from minor ones to major ones, and often attaining those minor goals helps us achieve the major ones in time. It’s fascinating how that works. It means that ten years down the line, instead of being the same, and doing the same things, we’ve done more and are more personally fulfilled for the journey.

(7) Do things that stretch you as a person.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” It’s so easy to let life take us along for a ride, but that’s not living. That’s passive acceptance of the passage of time and consequence. Being comfortable is a beautiful thing, but when it lulls us into a sense of passivity there’s something not quite right about it. Think about why so many rich people aren’t satisfied. It’s not about the acquiring of stuff. It’s about getting out there and doing things that scare us sometimes. We never know how far those things can take us. A friend of mine is exactly this way. She goes for what she wants, even if she’s not quite there yet, because it helps her figure out how far she needs to get to make it happen in the end.

(8) Keep an open mind.

Too often we close ourselves off to alternative positions to our own, even if we’ve held those positions for so long that we don’t even remember why we follow them anymore. Just because someone else does something different from you it doesn’t mean they’re wrong and you’re right. It is our own individual experience that makes us who we are, as individuals, and being around other people can help expand that experience. By closing ourselves off to other ways of seeing things we shut down our chances to grow and become more complete versions of ourselves.

(9) Don’t be fake with others.

You know we all are to an extent, when we’re at our jobs that we’d like to keep, when we’re around family friends who don’t inspire us, when we’re somewhere around a majority of people who aren’t like us in some way, shape, or form. It’s easy to be fake, to put on those Cheshire Cat grins and pretend everything is fine, or that we are just like the others around us. It might seem like a good thing to do, to keep the boat from rocking, but it takes a toll on us, this practice of being fake. I know, for me personally, the switch between being fake and letting everything out is so ingrained I don’t know who I am at any given point of time. It shouldn’t be like that.

(10) Be honest with yourself.

It’s easy to not just be fake with others, but to also fool ourselves into believing what we will about ourselves. We may not be the kind of people we hoped we would be growing up, but we are who we are. Covering that up doesn’t change anything except that it hampers our growth. We have to know where we’ve been, to accept all the parts that have gotten us to this point, in order to advance, to get somewhere, both mentally and emotionally.

What would be in your manual for living?

Sam

Starting Over

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” ~Henry Ford

I’m 40 years old, and I’m starting over again. This is not the first time I’ve done something similar to this, but it is different than all the rest, because I’m different now. There’s something to be said for experience being a sure teacher, and yet it seems like my whole life all I’ve been doing is repeating mistakes. That won’t happen again, because of where I’ve been, and because of where I am now. This is my declaration, at 40 years old, with a wealth of fiery carnage in my path. I’m tired of being engulfed in flames.

It’s time for something new.

All this year I’ve been doing new things. I’ve been branching out, stretching past my comfort zone, waiting for exactly this moment — to start again. It’s always been fascinating to me watching the seasons change. They always change differently, at different times, and in different ways. While the actuality of them hardly changes (summer is hot, winter cold) the degrees and architecture of them shifts subtly from year to year, and sometimes even within themselves. I feel like I’ve become that now, worn and aged by time, but also a little unpredictable as I become this best version of myself. Well, as I become at least this better version of myself.

I just finished a novel manuscript last month that explores a whole new world I don’t think I could have envisioned before. The wealth of experiences, the starts and stops of my life, have made it possible. We are in our new house now, and I finally have the study I’ve always wanted. It is calming to me in a way I didn’t realize it would be, even when I dreamed it up as a boy in Southwest Philadelphia. But most importantly, I’ve grown closer to my wife, our shared disappointments and commitment to improving us just so much more focused.

It has all opened my eyes.

I’ll be 41 next week, and before I even approach the significance of what’s to come, I want to embrace being 40 in a sort of last hurrah, because this year has taught me to be patient, to be focused, to be more authentically myself than I’ve ever been before. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because my birthday is its own resolution, a chance to clarify who I am and where I’m going. This year I have even more reason to be grateful as opportunities have risen that I wouldn’t have dreamt of even a few years ago. The me I was then wouldn’t have even been ready for them.

Yet here I am, restless at night, but for good reasons, eyes wide open for joy, for blessings that I wouldn’t have imagined could come my way, not after all this time, after all this self-inflicted pain. I’m here, ready to start all over again, because life is short but not so short we can’t have several chapters. I’m ready to read the next one.

Sam

Words I’m Learning to Say

“Send your lifeboats out for me. Send your lifeboat out.” ~Snow Patrol

1609917.pngI’ve never been good at speaking my feelings. Writing them down, no problem, but speaking them out loud? In front of other people? Being that vulnerable? No way, unless it was absolutely impossible to do it any other way. I once broke up with a girl over email. I once broke up with a girl through a proxy (Anthony has never forgiven me for that one). I told a girl I loved her for the first time in a note, and only when she told me the feelings were reciprocated was I able to actually say it out loud.

I guess I’m just not wired that way, to be emotionally raw and accessible outside of the written word. Even now, even in this, I realize I’m doing exactly what I’m talking about, in writing down how I feel about this aspect of my being. But that’s just me, and I’ve spent years working on it, to no avail. Many people have told me they thought I was just fine until I finally broke down. Many people have been surprised when what seems like the smallest thing gets me depressed. That’s because it wasn’t the smallest thing. That’s because I let things build when I don’t talk about them.

I used to think it was good enough to write my feelings down, because at least I was getting them out. And it is definitely cathartic for me, a type of medicine that I don’t know what I would do without. But sometimes words need to be actually said. Sometimes words need to pass through my lips on their way to someone’s ears, so that they can hear me. So that they can know what I feel. So that I can bare my soul in a way that writing cannot mimic. Because there’s something to be said for human contact, for eye contact, for personal and physical CONTACT.

There have been very few people in my life who I don’t put on a mask around, but even with those people it hasn’t been easy to verbalize, to get things out without writing them down. Perhaps I’ve used my skill with writing as a crutch all these years in my personal relationships, preferring to write it out instead of to face it head on, whatever IT is. When I need to confess something, when things haven’t gone the way I wish they had, it’s tough to get it out. When I am overcome with emotion and I want to share it, it’s tough.

And it’s not just my writing that I use as a crutch. These masks I often wear, they’ve become rigid, so when I have them on I can’t even move my face, like a Botox injection that won’t wear off until I’m asleep and finally vulnerable. When I try to focus, to shuck off these masks, it’s difficult to do. But I used to feel like it was impossible, and I no longer feel that way. Sometimes I need to feel that bit of discomfort in order to get to the greater good. I learned that the hard way, time after time.

But with Heidi… it’s different. I won’t deign to say it’s easy, because it’s not. It’s the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” deal, but it really is me. Luckily for me, we’ve been together long enough that she knows when I have something on my mind. She is the one person who can see through my masks and can draw me out. I know it’s not easy, and I’m not easy, but she fights for me when I won’t fight for myself. Over the years I’ve found myself relaxing around her, being myself, which is incredibly scary. But less scary lately.

As I’ve gotten older I realize it’s more important to let the people I care about be there for me instead of trying to always be so strong. So that this emotional rawness I can allow my wife to see becomes more of a standard for me. So that these feelings I used to drown deep down inside are allowed to swim. So I can breathe, and speak, and be.

Sam

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“I’m on my way. Driving at ninety down those country lanes, singing to ‘Tiny Dancer.’ And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real. We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill.” ~Ed Sheeran

the_castle_on_the_hill_by_estruda-dalq5st

It’s no surprise that I like to sing. Check out my youTube channel I’m about to take down, and you can hear for yourself how freeform it truly is — kind of like my dancing. More often than not I’ll be singing my song of the moment, whatever song has struck my fancy that day, that week, or that month. Generally it’s a song I play a lot in my car, but sometimes it’s random enough to be maddening even to me.

Currently that song is “Castle on the Hill,” by Ed Sheeran, a soaring anthem that tugs at both the heartstrings and my legendary sense of nostalgia at the same time. I love the whole album (Divide) but something about this one song brings me back to my childhood in a way that few songs not from that era have the ability to achieve. At least for me.

Which is funny because I don’t really have a relationship to look at in the same way as he remembers one of his earliest. I was pretty much strictly friend material to girls back in middle school, even though I would pour my heart out to them in poems I never sent, in songs I never sang, and in words I never said face to face either. It was this dichotomy between the me I wanted to be — strong and determined — and the me I couldn’t help being — fragile and tentative. Like oil and water, they didn’t mix.

So I sang to myself, but my song wasn’t “Tiny Dancer.” It was more often than not “Broken Wings,” or “Get Outta My Dreams,” songs of lost love or unrealized love that resonated with the teenage me much more than anything by Prince or those other guys who sounded like Prince. I was a bit quirkier, preferring “Motown Song” over more sensitive fare.

But that’s always been me, my songs of the moment somehow connected to me in ways only I could ever figure out at the time, then moving on to the next song when my emotions have moved on. I do miss those songs when they fade from my spotlight, though, when they’ve gone back to their regular places on their own albums, when they’ve drifted from my mind like so much snow blowing across the boulevard.

So right now it’s “Castle on the Hill,” and I nearly cry when I hit the chorus. Every single time I hit the chorus. Because it’s SO me right now, and the sun is setting over the hill. I’m just still waiting for my castle.

Sam

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