I’ve learned that people who isolate invariably have an addiction or a trauma. Quite often, it’s one they bury; like the ghosts of a cemetery, they emerge and travel capriciously in that person’s mind. Loop after endless loop. No one else bears witness. And because angst or depth wildly varies between different people, no one really understands the profundity of what afflicts them. Some people relentlessly look ahead, leaving behind the most heinous offenses. Others get trapped in the vortex over things we judge as minor. Though the loop may be nascent and small in circumference, each cycle takes the person closer and closer to calamity. We all see it coming and are mostly powerless to stall its progress.
Cognition seldom helps. You’re not rationalizing with the individual. You’re attempting to overpower something that is both tenuous and tentacled inside someone’s kidnapped mind.
You can try to get close out of love or concern. They often rebuff you. Isolation becomes its own self-fulfilling reward. The phantom loop constantly whispers to the person trapped in a behavior; its voice is not only proximal but deafening.
Don’t fault yourself if you’ve tried to pierce that bubble and can’t. It does not mean you shouldn’t try, even if it’s futile. Because the uncaring alternative is much worse. Even if the story ends badly. Most of us will return to that wall and vainly attempt to chisel away at it, even though we fluctuate between helplessness, anger, or realization.
This is the thesis of my Bystander’s Prayer.
And despite our varying cynicism, our hope for a dramatic change sometimes happens. The alchemy of why or how is beyond calculation. If this were never the case, our behavior would automatically adjust to just accept the unacceptable before we even tried. When it does come, the change, it brings joy. Everyone loves an underdog or someone who has overcome.
If it does end badly, we promise to try something different the next time. Likely, we won’t. There will always be a next time, as this world is full of trauma and unseen damage. Most of us believe that love or some fruitful variation will be enough to convince someone that it’s time to pull up into the high clouds instead of plummeting.
When one person plummets, we all do because that person carries a piece of us with them, even if they are blind to it. It’s how friends, family, and tribe work.
If you can, keep your hammer in hand, your chisel sharp, and your optimism high. If life gets you down, you might be in the hotseat. You’ll need us to pull up, just as we need you when we’re in the loop. The horseshoe finds its way onto every hoof, no matter who you are.
“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and chase the rider.” -Old Saying
“A hungry stomach cannot hear.” -Jean de La Fontaine
“Breaking bread together” is an old phrase, but its simplicity is the message.
If you are hungry, any food will suffice. “Hunger is the best sauce,” someone smarter than me quipped. Hungry people don’t moan about what and where to eat; if they do, it’s kept short and grouchily pronounced.
If you’re happy, bread with wine or dipped in oil is enough to fill you. And if you’re not, no amount of food will create a smile.
If you are lonely, companionship will overfill your plate. People are the food of our souls.
I love great food. Who doesn’t?
But I love simple food, made without stress and shared.
And if I meet with someone or a group to eat, the presence of others is supposed to be the essential element.
X’s Rule On Group Dining: You will dislike eating with at least one person in any group of more than four people.
I’m not opposed to opulent multi-course meals.
Who would be?
But if they require effort not joyfully given, they take away someone’s time and life to prepare.
It’s one of the principal problems with holiday meals or get-togethers.
Traditions inevitably beget obligation.
Often, what was once freely done becomes taxing and vexation.
Complexity and expectations detract from someone’s enjoyment.
It should always be about the presence of faces on one’s couch or around the table, no matter how luxurious it might be. Everyone’s house is lived in, messy, and full of life’s surprises that no one has the time or interest in rectifying. Unless you are eating off the mantle, leave the dust for later.
And be merry inasmuch as your circumstances permit.
Because, well, you know.
Tomorrow ye may die.
Whether you’ve eaten like a gourmand or like a ravenous teenager with his hand in the bottom of a bag, it will not be what you remember as the wrinkles accumulate across your face.
Humble food is the joy. And if someone wishes to make a feast joyfully, even better.
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”
– Oscar Wilde
“Almost all happy people I know decide where and what to eat easily, graciously, and without complaint. And if they find themselves in the home of another with friends, family, or loved ones, they make do. Unless they are visiting cannibals, vegans, or Presbyterians.” – X
“It is the faces, not the places, that matter.” – X
PS “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” -Mark Twain
My pet dinosaur Redactyl sits looking out the suddenly barren fence line in the background. I know he will have a lot to say about it. He’s stuck staring at a lifeless, dilapidated scene now. Color once brightened his perspective.
I’m conflicted. I spent countless hours meticulously assembling the decorations for the longest fence where I live.
Nothing is permanent.
It was great fun, finding pieces and creative ways to use things that aren’t intended to be used in the way I chose.
It was also a lot of work. Work that put me in the zone and challenged me to keep going.
I heard nothing but delight from everyone about how much color and character it added to this ugly apartment complex and the area. Friends drove by or over to see it. Several people posted pictures of it on social media without me realizing it until much later. That made me smile.
This is precisely the kind of place that needs and needed color and something wild and different. Otherwise, it’s just a plot of land and a container that many find temporary.
Two days ago, in a blaze of adrenaline, I began to take the tiles, metal pieces, and assorted decorations off. It led to my shorts’ pockets being so heavy they were about to fall off, which led to the dreaded keys-in-the-dumpster incident. Hundreds of screws, washers, tiles, and assorted pieces. I wasn’t mad, but the disappointment grew as I looked at the fence. But seeing it this morning in the dim light made it dreadfully plain and lifeless. Nothing is permanent; I kept telling myself. But in the back of my mind, I wondered about minds so small they have to complain. 1% of me negatively reacted, given how much work and cleanup I’ve put into this place. We’re supposed to do that sort of thing without expectations.
On the other hand, I put in a proportional amount of work apart from the countless hours I spent brightening up the place. Most of my neighbors don’t do their share to keep the place better than they found it. It’s disappointing that someone took the time to complain they weren’t happy. Some people aren’t happy no matter what – and unfortunately, some take delight in ruining other people’s happiness. The problem with such people is that they will never be satisfied; they thrive on such effort. They are dramavores.
I will redirect my urge to color and brighten to something else in small places and wherever I roam. I’ve left dozens of decorations and pieces all over.
When people ask, “Oh my god, X, what happened to your art project on the fence?” I’m going to shrug and attribute it to the impermanence of everything. For a few weeks, it was something to behold. The entropy resulting from complaining took its price.
Now, as I look out onto the fence I repaired out of my pocket and with my labor, I see an ugly board fence, looking out onto a dismal parking lot. I think it traps us rather than keeps others out, especially now that an expensive home is being built on the small lot between us and the trail cut-through from Gregg.
In my head, though? I can’t look at the fence without imagining it filled with color.
As places like that should be.
I’ll put up a single tile in the middle of the fence at some point, one which will read:
“…Site of recent memory’s largest personal art project. It’s gone, but color remains if you seek it. X”
As a middle-aged white guy in the South, I would like to remind everyone that I am not what you see. Most of us aren’t. Most people aren’t even really the idea of them that we hold in our heads. If we have a fundamentally different worldview from someone else, we tend to vilify their beliefs or motives. We have to be on guard about that. It infects everything. There are a lot of evil people in the world, but most of us want the same things. No one likes other people interfering in their lives, yet so many do exactly that. People are surprised to discover how calcified their belief system becomes as they age.
I’m no Chicken Little. Despite the appearance of continuity, we’ve faced a lot of major upheavals as a society. I used my Handmaid’s Tale picture from years ago because it is a go-to symbol of a possible outcome if we don’t get our crap together. I made mine out of humor. It’s easy to see that we need a buttload more humor lately. It’s easy to succumb to cynicism and frustration.
Everyone’s social media is going to be flooded with opinions about social issues. Women who’ve had abortions, especially those who did so for their own reasons and often without others knowing, are going to learn a lot about their peers and loved ones. Some of those women did so for medical reasons or in cases of rape. Most of them didn’t choose abortion lightly. As I grew older and shared my personal life, I can’t tell you how many women told me stories that would shock you.
Most of the vocal celebrants of the supreme court decision are past the age when abortion is a viable concern for them individually. Old wounds will open and new ones will arise as people spew words. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I’m not worried about the next generation finding new ways to fix some of this. Old ideas don’t serve as well as many would like to think.
I have my own abortion story, one that tempers my interpretation of others’ opinions. Many of your friends and family members have them, too; most you’ll never know. Human sexuality is a constant drive, one that leads to consequences and turmoil. If we are going to limit other people’s ability to mitigate the consequences, we have to step up and provide a better social structure to support one another. It’s not about condemnation or judgment.
Women outnumber men.
I’m liberal, speak Spanish, and am in favor of just about every social program that helps people. Even if it reduces the defense budget, even if outliers take advantage – and even if the systems we put into place aren’t perfect. I’d start with universal health care, which, despite its flaws, would cost each of us less than our current system. Knowing that everyone around me could get at least basic health services anytime they are needed is something that seems stupidly right to me. For whatever reason, people disagree with me. My principal argument is that the rest of the modern world agrees with me. And universal health care is cheaper than our current system.
I anticipate a firestorm across the board.
Entropy is at play on a societal level. We are never going to be at a fixed point on any social issue. No matter which side of a particular issue you’re on, no issue is safe from review, even if you’ve achieved a momentary victory. If you galvanize a particular group, the system can be destabilized to such a degree that it no longer serves anyone. These issues are far from settled. They might even permanently rupture the system of government.
Politics is a dirty, specialized, and selfish game. If you play it correctly, you can achieve almost any objective, especially if money is involved.
So, I am a middle-aged white guy.
But I’m not responsible for the prevailing conservatism of my age group or those who look like me. We look alike but definitely don’t think alike. Despite that, we share a lot of the same ambitions, wants, needs, and desires. We have to learn to stay out of each other’s way as much as we can as we pursue our version of the dream. Conservatism in its purest form is sound; the evangelical version of it makes me cringe and shake my head.
So many of our problems result from those who “know” what is best for everyone else. Certainty breeds callousness. I try to think of all the things I once knew and believed, only to discover I was wrong. Which surely means that I’m mistaken about things now.
Railing about politics on social media is a fool’s errand unless you tell it as a personal story, one which reflects your life and who you are. You are not going to change anyone’s mind – nor should that be your goal.
Whichever side you’re on, remember that we are all human beings and got to our beliefs by inconsistent trial-and-error. Adding anger won’t change anything, even if it is justified. Like all of you, I admit that sometimes the burn of anger is a welcome relief, even as it short-circuits my humanity. It almost always makes me lesser.
I know that people are legitimately scared because the abortion ban will allow states to foolishly prevent abortions even in cases where it’s medically recommended, necessary, or a result of involuntary conception. That’s fiendishly diabolical and evil in my opinion. It ignores science and human decency.
No matter what changed, anything can be changed again.
Literally anything. With the right lever and effort.
Look for your lever and try to avoid adding to the woodpile of words. Find a way to convert your anger into action. Anger or fear is an immensely powerful motivator.
I know that being a middle-aged white guy contains a certain privilege of thought. I see that. But I can worry along with the rest of you, the ones who see a weird arc of conservative social ideology creeping into places that have little to do with fiscal policy or public health. Most of us think we have a singular plan and path for everyone else to live by. Imposing it only leads to no one having autonomy or happiness.
I made this picture for my cousin. She reminded me of the beauty of a faith that guides you to be the best version of yourself, even as you stumble. Religion’s main thesis should be simple in application. I am a doubter myself – but know that all of this is much more complicated than most people’s opinion of it. .
Neither picture has anything to do with the post. 🙂
Someone surprised me with a SPAM brooch this morning. I quipped that my new official title is now Spambassador.
The other picture is of the moon at 3 a.m., peeping through the silhouette of a dead tree amidst living trees. . . .
I absolutely LOVE that people with smartphones don’t use their fantastic piece of technology to prevent late-night intrusions with beeps, alarms, and notifications.
Seriously! I get tickled. It’s like someone complaining that their ceiling light keeps them awake. Uh? Turn the light off!
You can sort it so that only specific people can call, text, etc. You can silence and blind all notifications with almost no effort on your phone. That includes vibrations, flashing screens, and phone rings.
You can even use do-not-disturb in such a way that only certain people will ring through or text regardless of the time of day.
Your phone is almost always near you. It only takes a few seconds to set it so that you’re its master as opposed to the converse.
If you don’t know how, a friend, family member, or phone store employee can demonstrate it. Or, you can use the fancy Google.
By using the DND features on your phone, you can still be contacted in case of a true emergency, which is the go-to reply when most people reply, “Oh, I have to be able to be reached if something happens.” It doesn’t even sound reasonable to offer that reply, not with the options available on iPhones and Android. People can still reach you if necessary – it just requires you to learn a little bit about how your phone works instead of using the goofy reply mentioned above.
Everyone works and sleeps on their own schedule. There is no longer a “normal” window. 9 p.m. is late for some. And others are up at 2 a.m. Lord knows that no matter how diligent you are, your apps are going to bink, boink, and sound at all hours no matter how careful you are with notifications.
You shouldn’t growl at someone for texting or causing a notification at 12:44 a.m. You should growl at yourself for not taking a few minutes and learning how to use that incredible piece of technology that’s inseparable from your hand.
If you use do-not-disturb features and your close family member still texts you at 11:30 p.m. to ask you if you use dust-free toilet paper, that’s a boundary issue you need to discuss. Also, that kind of person shouldn’t be involved in an emergency notification. In fact, they usually CAUSE them.
Because I don’t sleep with my phone near me, it’s not an issue for me. I tend to leave my phone on DND very often. For those who’ve had sleep therapy, you already know that keeping screens away from you while you’re getting healthy sleep is mandatory. We did it that way for thousands of years and the world still kept spinning. I am completely pro-technology. Phones aren’t the ruination of the modern world as so many people claim. Rather, WE are the problem. And if you’re one of those knuckleheads who keeps their phone buzzing, flashing, and ringing while you’re trying to sleep, I suggest you try another way. A simple, easy-to-learn, way. It’s built right into modern phones.
No, there’s no taser feature on them yet, because someone will hack yours and administer a shock when you’re talking to your mother-in-law about the niceties of mulch.
It’s common for people to grouch about phones. No one forces you to use them inappropriately, as in social gatherings. Likewise, you can easily learn to use the features baked into all modern phones, the ones that allow you not to be interrupted when you’re in a social gathering – or trying to sleep.
As for me, I assume that everyone uses the technology on their phones. So, if I message, text, post, or hit like at 3:37 a.m., I’m not going to be the least bit concerned if you say something like, “Your beep woke me up.” You can fix that. The first option is to pretend I’m dead to you. The second more reasonable option is to take a few minutes so that my interactions don’t bother you when you don’t want them to.
Not directly related to the above: everyone basically hates it when someone is using their phone as an entertainment device while they are supposed to be enjoying one another’s company. Focus on your activity and the people you’re with. You’re sending the unintentional (or perhaps intentional) message that their presence is less interesting than your phone. Put it face down, turn it off, or do whatever you must do if you’re with people. And, of course, turn the ringer off.
As I entered the inconvenience store, I noted that the line was long. I couldn’t help but notice that the two older gentlemen in front of me were mocking the cashier. He supported orange hair, along with eyebrows and mustache to match. He also had a purple heart died in the back. The level of scorn spewing from the two guys made me cringe. When it was my turn to pay, I enthusiastically complimented him on his hair and apologized on behalf of all the assholes like the two gentlemen who preceded me. Their ugliness on display far exceeds any perceived ridiculousness on the part of the happy cashier.