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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 marriage 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

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zeusSilent letters have always perplexed me. As a huge proponent of the English language, I can’t help but consider them my friends, but it’s more like in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of way.

Why name her “Sarah” when you can name her “Sara”? Why is it a “gnat” instead of a “nat” or a “knot” instead of a “not”? I’m sure somewhere along the way the letter was an important part of the word, for whatever reason, but these days… well, these days silent letters are simply the bane of my existence.

I saw a copy of the Declaration of Independence this week, and I noticed that the word was “Congrefs” instead of “Congress.” I completely understand if the type face didn’t have an “s” back in the 18th Century, but it so obviously did, as evidenced by the “s” at the end of the word. How hard would it have been to just put another one in front of it instead of that horrendously wrong looking “f”? Sometime around the 20th Century they fixed all of that nonsense, but I’m just curious why they had to suffer through it for so long before that.

And don’t even get me started on letters that don’t sound a thing alike, depending on the constitution of the other letters contained in the word they find themselves chained to at any particular time. For example, sometimes the G is hard, as in grape, and other times it’s soft, as in stranger. Sometimes the C makes a harsh sound, like in Carbon, while on occasion it’s smooth like in Cereal. How are kids supposed to recognize when it’s supposed to be the “s” sound instead of a standard “c”?

Then there’s words with blends, like the TH combo. What’s up with that one? “This” and “The” arguably start with different sounds. When the TH is at the end of the word it can be a hard stop or it can be a smooth ride, depending on whether or not a silent letter is tacked onto the other side of it. Think of words like “Bath” and “Bathe,” or “Breath” and “Breathe.”

We teach our mouths to say some difficult words throughout the course of our lives, but none are harder to adjust to than names. That’s because names are individual, even when they aren’t. That means even though Brianna and Brianna are spelled the same, one could carry an “ANA” and the other an “AHNA,” depending on whatever preference her parents had for her. That’s why as a teacher I always offer an apology each semester before trying to pronounce my students’ names.

“I know you’ve had your name for at least 17 years, so you’re very familiar with how it flows from your lips, but I don’t know you from ADAM, so I’m going to need a little help here,” I tell them before diving into the list of increasingly more challenging names to both spell and pronounce. Even when they seem easy.

And of course there are also words from other languages, where their rules are completely different from the ones for English, but at least they generally stick to their rules without so many exceptions. I swear, for every random group of English words there are probably a few exceptions. But when I look at French, and German, and even Spanish, there just aren’t too many things I can mess up, except for names. Of course names are still an issue, because in English, or Spanish, or even Swahili for that matter, they remain individual to each person, and so carry an element of surprise.

I’m used to seeing “Jesus” and thinking “Gee-Zuss.” That’s how I grew up, as the son of a preacher, in these here United States. But so many parents of Latino heritage proudly name their sons “Jesus” and it sounds like they’re calling the king of the Greek gods, like he’s getting away from them and they want to catch his attention. “Hey, Zeus! Wait up. Wanna play catch?” Or in the same language, the double-L situation that sounds more like a twisted “Y” than anything else?

So I never assume I’m saying anything correctly if I’ve never seen it before, even if it follows basic rules of other words I’m very familiar with, because odds are it just might be totally different. I might know how to say “Cow,” but “Mow” doesn’t carry the same sound. I might know that “Tao” rhymes with “Cow,” but some may think it must sound like “Day-o.” Your name might be “Maella,” and I have no clue it’s pronounced “Maya.”

That’s because language is fluid. It shifts and changes so often, the pronunciations undulating like so many snakes, and it can be manipulated to suit individual preference at the same time. There are probably a hundred ways to say different vowel sounds that I’m sure I haven’t heard every single one. And my brain hurts when I think about the sounds those pesky blends can possibly make.

But that’s the same reason I love language so much, because there’s always a word to express what you’re really feeling, what you really mean to say, at any given moment. There’s always a way to bend words to your will, to remake them in your own image, even within a small circle of friends. I love the idea that language can keep growing long after words are introduced and accepted into the lexicon. And I live for each first day of school, through all the starts and stops, as I learn each new name.

Because who likes things to be too easy?

Sam

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618126“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~Andy Warhol

I am a creature of habit, a slave to each and every one of my tendencies, which is why they’ve become tendencies for me in the first place. Sometimes I recognize when I’ve fallen into one of those routines, and other times I have absolutely no clue.

Sometimes the habits I have are good for me, and help me grow as a person. Other times they’re completely detrimental and probably should have been cut out of my life a long time ago. Even when I recognize that I’m doing them, though, I don’t always know which is which.

But one thing I do know is that after the fact I analyze, and I try to make a plan for “next time.”

“Next time” has become an echo around here, a reminder that this time I did the same thing I always do, but “next time” could be different. “Next time” could be a turning point that could completely change my life. Or it could just be me repeating the same old patterns because I’ve forgotten all about the analysis immediately following my routinized behaviors. Here are a few off the top of my head…

Behavior #1: When I know I am wrong I don’t admit it. Instead I try to create a circuitous path of misinformed logic that will lead me to freedom, or at least to a point where the other person (who knows I was wrong) just doesn’t feel like it’s worth it anymore to argue with someone who is like a brick wall.

Behavior #2: I pretend not to hear others when they’re constructively criticizing me. I make a big show of saying I’m open and willing to listen, and then I very demonstratively don’t listen when they take me up on it. Sometimes I nod and say, “Sure, okay, thanks,” but those are just placeholders, excuses for not really listening.

Behavior #3: When it comes to my friends I put them entirely above me, listening to their problems and issues and either offering advice or just listening because that’s what they need. I give myself completely to every single friendship I have (not that there are many), sometimes to the detriment of my own health. This behavior has often been seen as smothering, and I do tend to lose the few friends I gain.

Behavior #4: My mind needs time to process change, so if I’m not apprised of some upcoming change ahead of time, if it’s sprung upon me suddenly, I can be surly and uncooperative when it comes to said change. That is, if I don’t just completely shut down instead, which is entirely on the table most times.

Behavior #5: I get defensive about a LOT of stuff. From my gray hairs (“Stop calling me old!”), to leaving the toilet lid up (“I don’t ever do that”), to buying the wrong brand of paint (“You didn’t tell me you wanted the other one”), to just about anything, really, I can argue about pretty much anything, even when someone is trying to compliment me.

Behavior #6: I like to be in charge of my time, even if it’s something simple, like doing something two minutes from now because someone told me to do it right now. Or if someone leaves something open ended I tend to wait until it absolutely has to be done in order to get it accomplished. It may seem like something little, but to me it is the world. It means I have just a bit more control over things, even if I really don’t.

Behavior #7: I’m self deprecating. And while I know you might be thinking that clashes with Behavior #2, it fits right in. Because, while I hate it when others criticize me, I do it myself all the time, and to me it’s okay. It’s like when I say something negative about my mother, then someone else agrees with me. IT’S MY MOTHER. I can say it. You can’t. Same applies with myself. IT’S ME. I can say it. You can’t.

And the list goes on, but the point is clear: there are a ton of behaviors that I find myself repeating time and again with no escape valve, with absolutely no change to any of them even though I’ve analyzed them to no end. I assume that’s because in the moment we, as human beings, tend to slip back into our patterns, tend to rely on what we know, even if it’s not at all good for us. It’s why alcoholics backslide, why women go back to the men who beat them, why you’re still watching The Voice even though it’s just not good anymore.

So “Next time” comes, and we tend to do the same things we’ve always done. At least I know I do, unless I stop when it happens. Unless I analyze before, and not after. Unless I take responsibility for changing my own behavior patterns, which is a gargantuan task, but it’s what adults are supposed to do. It’s what people who want to change for the better do. It’s what people who have healthy relationships rely on to maintain those.

I’m still a work in progress. Ask me again how I’m doing… next time.

Sam

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“I spent many a summer early morning with the radio very low, half sleeping and half listening.” ~Frankie Valli

There’s a space between being fully asleep and being fully awake where the awesome feeling of weightlessness, of carelessness, of being completely outside of ourselves and looking down on our world with wonder, takes over. It’s warm there, like being in utero, like hugging your knees to your chest and drifting away. All the love, and all the joy, and all the excitement in the world all come together under a brilliant light that imbues heat, and love, and joy, and excitement. But then we are awake, or we are asleep, and it’s gone.

For me it’s that ’76 sound, that radio on low that vibrates through my soul, because while I don’t remember anything before I was born, I imagine it was like that in my cocoon, safe, and incredible, and all too brief. For two thirds of 1976 I was in the womb. From April until December of that glorious bicentennial year I was biding my time, lost in a world that would both define me and be extraneous to me, hugging my knees to my chest and listening to those outside sounds, muffled and out of tune. For two thirds of that glorious bicentennial year I was a hesitation mark, waiting to be fully realized, basking in the sounds of love, and hope, and possibility.

In 1776 the so-called Founding Fathers were desperately fighting for freedom against long odds, against a system that was vast, that was massively overwhelming, but they had a vision and a tenacity that eventually won them their war. Their battle cries could be heard from hill to hill, from town to town, and from forest to forest, as they found a liberation that had long been lost. That sound has reverberated down through the years in anthems, in chants, in speeches oft repeated down the line. It resonates with me in a profound way because sounds bring with them memories and a connection that cannot be achieved any other way.

One hundred years later newly freed slaves were making their way North with no real plans except getting themselves and their families away from the plantations that had stolen their identities. They had no jobs, no job prospects, and were facing a world that was still highly segregated and discriminatory, even in the north. These slaves had one thing that kept them striving, that kept them moving up the path, and it was embedded deeply in the fabric of their negro spirituals, in the hymns sacred to them by way of religion, and of shared experience, and of shared loss. These hymns became their own war cries, their own way to define themselves in a world that left them undefined, that left them as less than human.

By 1976 the world had changed immeasurably, but we all know that with any change comes a consistency of experience that doesn’t change. From the rudimentary lyrics of William Shakespeare, back in 1576, to the burning down of the Jamestown colony in 1676, to the revolutionary verve, to the determination of the newly freed slaves, down to my own birth, when Rod Stewart’s “Tonite’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” was the top song in America, that ’76 sound just keeps on playing. But it’s not on repeat. It picks up more verses as the years, as the decades, as the centuries go on, becoming more nuanced, creating more melodies and harmonies that we can all share. That ’76 sound is an all-encompassing reminder that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form.

I spent 1976 becoming me, and the time since has all been spent, looking backward, and looking forward, trying to understand who that is, with my headphones on, checking out that ’76 sound. And I’m still waking up.

Sam

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An acquaintance of mine remarked the other day:

“That’s stupid to worry about Wi-fi signals in the middle of the wilderness. You’re out in nature, man. Enjoy it.”

To which I say:

“Nature can be an absolute behemoth, a beast that can destroy you in seconds, or take an eternity to draw it out. The wilderness is the perfect place to have a strong Wi-fi signal because you never know when you might need it.”

But I get his point. Of course I do. In this world, with all of these devices, it can be easy to get hooked in and want to stay hooked in. It reminds me of the story of the two girls who fell into a well. One of them remembered that she had her phone on her, so she fished it out, and…

They changed her Facebook status to: “I’ve fallen in a well. Please send help.”

Six hours later one of her friends finally decided the status update wasn’t a joke or a hoax and called 911 to get her some help. During the six hours after the status change both girls sat at the bottom of the well and waited to be rescued. I repeat, their friend called 911 six hours later. They had a phone down there with them. Uh.

But that’s how things are these days, in this screenage generation, where social media is king and everything else is a foreign concept. It makes perfect sense to be out in the wilderness looking forĀ  four bars on your phone because you’re so used to having four bars on your phone whenever you go. What do you mean, Uber doesn’t have tent service in the wilderness? Well, maybe, if you pay a whole lot extra, including shocks for the Uber jeep.

We sit in a room surrounded by other people and sometimes an eternity can pass before a single word is said. It used to be a horrible thing to be with others and not talk, but now it’s the default setting, except when we turn our phones to those around us to show them the latest Grumpy Cat meme, or the funniest LaVar Ball tweet. It’s not about good old-fashioned physical interaction with others. It’s about how fast you can get out your point of view without uttering a single word.

When the Wi-fi is dead we feel like we are too. We feel like life is a hopeless rubbish bin because we can’t connect to the world outside, to the world we’ve gotten used to being wrapped around us like a cocoon. The connections we tend to make, though, are superficial at best, not like the ones the outside world often affords us. There’s a book called We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and while I haven’t yet read it, I know the sentiment that the title espouses. “IRL” has become a simple acronym that encompasses everything about this generation, because it has become more and more rare.

Real life has become a caricature of itself, a reminder that life, this erstwhile life we call our own, must go on even when we aren’t plugged in, even when we aren’t sucking at the teat of the social media monster. We don’t know what we think until it explodes from us in 180 characters or fewer, and our thoughts aren’t validated until more than our immediate family re-tweets those very thoughts. Our lives are defined by the accounts we have, by the likes we collect, and by the photographs we share, not by what we actually do during our days, or by the people we share our IRL time with.

And I say “we” because I am just as much a part of this world as everyone else. I check my accounts more than I probably should. I would not have changed my Facebook status from the bottom of a well, but I can certainly understand why and how it happened the way it did. But I wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near a wilderness, Wi-fi signal or not.

Sam

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What can I say? We’re in. Or we’re almost in. In all the ways that count anyway, we are in. Like Flynn, according to Heidi. The Certificate of Occupancy, the holy grail when it comes to moving in to a new home, came through, signed, sealed, and delivered, on Tuesday. The inspector came, he saw, he said we were all good, and he left.

Then we exhaled.

But of course that was just the beginning of the next phase, not the ending of it all, not by far. So many people have asked me over the course of the past year or so when we will move in. “When are you guys moving in?” “What’s the move in date?” “We can’t wait to have the house warming party.” And I kept telling them things that started with hopefully, probably, possibly, and if we’re lucky. I honestly had no idea, except that the holidays and special anniversaries kept rolling by and we still seemed to be no closer to getting in than we were at the outset.

At first it seemed likely we would be in by Christmas, that the red and green wreath would indeed decorate our door for the first time, but that was not to be. By Christmas we were in a holding pattern instead, fighting desperately to get workers to the site, trying inconsolately to deal with more and more delays as the house sat empty no more than 1000 paces from where we were boarding.

Then I had my eye set on Valentine’s Day, then I was assured that it would be Alexa’s birthday celebration in the new house, but both days came and went without any change in our living situation. To say I was frustrated, that we were frustrated, would be a massive understatement. My 40th birthday, Easter, and both Mother’s and Father’s Day flew by and workers came and went. It was all an acknowledgment that someday would come, that someday would arrive and sweep us into the house on a swell of good fortune.


Someday is today. I sit here in our house, half moved in, the beds secure in their final homes, my children tucked cozily into their separate beds in their separate rooms, snug as bugs in rugs. A crazy grin spreads across my face because after all this time… after all these trials… we are in. Someday has arrived, and even if we are still living from suitcases, even if we have to still travel those 1000 paces to eat food three times a day, that place is no longer where we live. It was never home, but now it isn’t even a place I have to return to when my working day is done.

Someday is today. We are cleaning rooms, painting doors, and situating furniture where it belongs, all while inhabiting the space we’ve looked at for far too long, from the outside looking in. Now I’m looking out, and I’m loving what I see. Because it’s ours, and someday is now.

Sam

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“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” ~Dennis Wholey

expectationsI used to have no expectations, or at least I used to try really hard to have no expectations, because I decided early on that it was easier to deal with mediocrity than to be disappointed by it. So if the world is mediocre, if there is no expectation of something more, then that’s just the way it is. And if something happens that blows my mind it is spectacular in its nature because I did not in the least expect it.

But that’s no way to live. It’s not good enough to be bland, to not expect the spectacular just because it has a high probability of not coming to pass. So I have begun to look forward to something instead of hoping nothing bad happens. I have started enjoying the good things in life because there are some good things in this life. I have opened my eyes instead of keeping them closed shut against the possibility of devastation.

Because it is only when I’m truly open to that possibility that I can fully appreciate the glory of an unexpected gift.

Sam

 

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