Can opener didn’t work. Knife-as-finger-opener did! Blood splatter doesn’t go well with most Airbnbs. 🙂 All the proof you need that I’m an idiot. Note: I only sliced myself because I moved my hand out of the way. Had I left it on the can, I wouldn’t have proven Darwin right! .
A meandering follow-up note… anyone reading my blog or listening to my story as I tell it can’t help but note that I’ve never shied away from admitting my hypocrisy.
Addicts have great insight regarding drug consequences. Even though they lost sight of their health, their finances, and their friendships.
People who have lost weight know a lot about the struggle of doing it and maintaining it. Even though they were on the wrong track for a long time.
People who’ve deviated from the right way to have a relationship can tell you the pitfalls from a mile away. Even though they suffered or caused despair.
It doesn’t matter how you got to where you are. What matters are the lessons and strategies you’ve learned the hard way and the tools you’ve acquired.
You get your insights from wherever you find them. There are times when words of wisdom fall from the lips of someone who almost killed themselves with drugs. From the writings of someone who went to prison for losing their way, whether it was a one-time act or a series of crimes.
I used to be carefree, but I also tended to judge people like my sister, who was plagued with addiction. I judged my dad for being violent and an alcoholic. My brother, whose anger and addiction killed him prematurely. But over time, I grew to appreciate them, in part because I became grateful and glad that I had so far managed to be the opposite of their struggles. I was lucky, and I know that. Recognizing that you could easily have become a reflection of their demons humbles you.
If you’re reading my blog or listening to me on other platforms, it is vital that you understand that I’m not writing from a void of experience.
I HAVE done things the wrong way.
It’s up to you to decide whether this truth negates the content of what I’m writing and sharing.
I’ll give you a decent example:
Years ago, I was married. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great marriage. She died suddenly, leaving me with only hard lessons. Had she not died, I have no doubt that we’d still be living a good life. That’s not how life works, though. You make the best of what you find on your plate.
Sometimes, the best you make of it is a complete and absolute mess. Again, if you haven’t caught the theme yet, I am as guilty and hypocritical as anyone you’ll meet.
When I was remarried, I tried communicating directly. I opened my heart and shared a few things that bothered me. Up to that point, I had hoped that things would change course. People who don’t care don’t even make the attempt. We’d gotten off course. I got off course. After that talk, a wall of anger met me. Not that I blame my partner. People aren’t ready until they are. I hadn’t engaged in any behavior across the line, despite what my partner insists is true. When the anger blossomed, it broke me. She had other issues that affected our ability to share. Months later, I truly had a moment where my life crystalized into this massive “I have to change!” moment. And I did. I lost so much weight that I am still certain it saved my life. I stopped holding grudges, I stopped biting my nails, and I wrote a lot more. I became way more open as a person. This sounds contradictory, given how the next few months of my life worked out. I reached out and found someone to listen to me, who seemed genuinely interested in me, the things I wrote, and the things I thought about. That person was already in my life. Before that, there were no across-the-line shared moments, no intimacy to threaten my marriage. It wasn’t the right thing to do while I was married. There’s no getting around that. I should have ended the marriage or found a way to fix it or let it take me down. But that is not how this world works. When you’re in the middle of it, logic and reason fall by the wayside. My partner will insist that I was inappropriate before, which isn’t true. I can’t change her narrative, and I gave up trying. That’s how it works: people find a narrative to suit their self-image. I look back now and realize that my initial attempt to get on the right track was doomed when I opened my mouth. And not just because my foot fit so well inside it.
The things that happened afterward became conflated and conjoined. Because when someone throws you a lifeline of hope and acceptance, it’s one of the most powerful things in the world. Enthusiasm and interest are amazing for one’s self-confidence; if a hint of love gets added to the equation, it is almost unstoppable.
Love conquers. It also blinds.
In this new life, I’ve seen behind the curtains of so many people’s lives and have found a commonality. People tend to continue the habits that led them to where they are. They can be hypocritical, judgmental, angry, and living in a way that will never give them lasting happiness. Respite maybe, sometimes for long intervals.
I can’t change the past.
But no one can take away my ability to learn from it. Or not, that is true.
I don’t merely stumble: I hurl myself into mayhem.
I was so happy to discover that I’m still an optimist. To know that things can be better if I apply what I know to be true. To know that if I stop being my own worst enemy, I’ll end up on the finish line satisfied. The finish line got thrust upon me when I had emergency surgery. For some reason, I got another chance.
Take your snippets of insight where you can find them.
Even if they are from me, a man who has seen both sides of the fence on many levels.
It’s okay to judge me if that’s what is necessary. I can’t change anyone’s opinion about me or much in this world if they aren’t open to it.
One of my biggest “mistakes” was part of the process that saved my life and made me be me again.
This life is a huge circle and cycle of everyone getting their turn in the barrel. Remember that when the urge to judge floods you.
For me, I hate it when I forget the lessons I learned when my wife died. Even when you do everything right, you can still fail – or life intervenes. Why not do the best you can now and be open to ideas, information, and the willingness to change if you need to? Time is running out.
The apartment near me is now empty! Even though it is not libel or slander to state the truth, I’ll refrain from commentary about the previous tenant(s). It’s a relief, even though I know the next tenant(s) could easily surpass that tenant’s curriculum vitae. It still surprises me when stress is relieved, one that is almost subliminal. It’s not that the person was a particular threat per se, other than the one incident when I thought I would have to summon the Bobby Dean demons. It was the unknown of what such a tenant invites, who they attract, and who they have in their circle.
Even though most people won’t understand it, I got triggered AF for a while. I’m not normally prone to that kind of unease. Not just for myself but also for everyone else. I listen to that instinct. My dad, despite his flaws, literally beat that instinct into me.
I love where I live for a lot of reasons. I’ve done more than my share to make it better. It’s an uphill push sometimes, but what isn’t?
I’d like a family of Latinos, someone older, or someone who speaks a different language. Or plays the piano. Someone creative and without the urge to find odd ways to live joyfully. I doubt those checkboxes can be found on most applications for a lease. Plus, no one asked me, even though I am certain I could do a fantastic job of weeding out the crazies. Not just because I identify with the crazies but because my interview questions would be a hell of a lot more interesting.
Being in apartments brings disadvantages; it also brings opportunities, too. People surprise me, especially when they turn out to be interesting and people I’d likely not meet otherwise. Some have reminded me that it’s hard to “judge not” based on first impressions or the people they are related to. All of us have outliers in our families, which probably sounds odd coming from a weirdo like me.
It’s akin to humanity bingo.
It’s dumb to be thankful for the absence of a neighbor.
But I am.
I recognize that tingle in the back of my mind: I feel safer now.
I’m a big, big believer in letting people do their thing, no matter what it is. If people want to set their hair on fire inside, that’s wonderful. If they want to blast music, even when it’s not necessarily joyous for me, that’s okay too. My litmus test is, “Is it safe for everyone else?” Otherwise, bring on the clowns.
This coffee cup is the one I’ve had longest. It’s from one of my two trips to Mexico decades ago. It reminds me of exotic margarita sunrises and sunsets, salt in my eyes from my first trip to the ocean, beautiful sand stuck in places all over my body, people working way too hard for too little money, tasting unlimited food and drinks I never had before. Being able to enjoy people even more because I loved their language. And trying to like shrimp made at least three dozen different ways. (I still didn’t.) When I was in Mexico, I filled this cup with a variety of drinks, “surprise me” concoctions of coffee and whatever the servers wanted me to try. One of those workers went beyond; one drink was made by a cabal of her friends, all shouting ideas. She put a 1/4 lb. sliver of homemade coffee-flavored chocolate in the cup, followed by bitter coffee and liqueur. I walked down to the darkening beach with the cup. My wife, now long absent, had a preposterous fruity drink that defied gravity.
I paid one of the resort people $20 for the cup. He reluctantly but joyously accepted it. He said I could buy a case for that amount. I told him that the cup was full of the memory of that moment. He said, “¡Eres loco pero simon!” (You’re crazy but yes!)
I’ve been leaving cups when I make special trips or when I want an on-demand lemon moment.
This morning, I walked down the leaf-covered and rain-drenched hill. I put my Mexico cup on one of the lower branches. I wanted to climb up one of the trees but these were slippery and the bark laden with water. Erika was inside cooking and preparing us a meal.
I left my Mexico cup there for future observers, a silent witness to the forest below. If this world were comprised of magic I would hope that anybody that looked at it or touched it could feel the salt and sand on their skin and that feeling of being in another world. I experienced it literally two lifetimes ago. I didn’t know at the time that those memories would be foundational for me or that life had shockingly different plans than what was in my head when I was there.
I clambered back up the hill and into house filled with bacon smells and presence.
One I previously posted (and gets shared a lot): “On a long enough timeline, you’re gonna be an asshole.”
Yes, even you, even if you don’t believe it and no matter what you intended.
Corollary: “On a long enough timeline, you’re gonna completely contradict yourself and everything you said you believe in.”
Corollary Observation: “The more judgmental you are about someone else doing it, the more likely your contradiction will eclipse their apparent misstep by a country mile.”
When you get older, you witness these coming to fruition both in your life and in the lives of the people most critical of you.
You’d think we would learn to stifle the urge to condemn, judge, or criticize.
We usually don’t.
The smugness of our humanity is that we often believe that WE will never say, do, or think some things that we judge others for.
The truth? We haven’t had a long enough timeline for it to slap us in the face.
Life is eventual and cyclical and preys on all of us.
Instead of asking, “WTF were they thinking?” perhaps we should inquire, “WTF was I thinking?”
Because it is still true that we judge others for their actions and ourselves for our intentions. It’s why I grappled with living with the consequences of my intentions. Though they were initially benign, it was like opening a mysterious big box of spiders out of curiosity. Before long, you find yourself covered in spiders. You react uncontrollably, in slow motion to yourself and in hyperdrive to observers, and you cannot extricate yourself.
There is no do-over button, no mulligan for salvation, and no life eraser.
It’s hard enough when you flub something; it’s that much harder when other people haven’t learned that it will be their turn in the barrel one day.
I will sit and watch the next person pick up the box of spiders. And because they are human, observe them mimic my missteps.
I’ll remind myself that they are on their own timeline and bite my tongue in recognition of my urge to forget that we are all sometimes covered in spiders.
On so many levels, I’m in better shape than I’ve been in 40 years. And I understand myself in a way that renders me at unease. I’m barraged and flooded with realizations and truths. Though some of them are sublime and labyrinth, most of them seem so obvious that they can only fall on deaf ears or hard hearts. One of the hallmarks for most people as they age is that they become cemented, too certain, and find themselves in a narrowing field of pleasures, tastes, and choices.
I’m an optimist. Or at least that’s my self-identifying delusion. It’s a good thing that our brains operate on an as-if protocol. It’s also sometimes undesirable because we filter out facts and reality and create stress and unhappiness in ourselves. Most of it stems from the fact that we believe things should be another way. The rest of it is because our bags are packed for today with all the things we’ve said and done throughout our life. It’s a rare person who can jettison that nonsense and start truly fresh.
One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I value wit and creativity. But I think I might willingly trade all of it for mindless present-moment joy. Maybe that makes sense to you, and maybe it doesn’t. It’s a delicate balance to practice carpe diem but also to be practical. Most of us swing too far in one direction or the other, which robs us of a fuller life. There are so many details to attend to, a mountain of meaningless activity. It is so incredibly easy to spend our time and energy trying to self-delegate those things instead of ignoring them entirely.
Because I said a lot of the things that I know to be true will fall on deaf ears or hard hearts… I’m pretty sure we all need to collectively stop doing all those stupid things that don’t add anything to our happiness. I don’t need to make a list. I’m quite certain you have an idea of exactly what I’m talking about in your head already. For some people, it’s dusting or vacuuming. Or ironing their clothes. Or flossing every day. For others, it’s sharing time with people who don’t make them enthusiastic or seem to appreciate them. Or doing things that they once loved but no longer do. The list is endless, and you can fill in your own. The world won’t stop spinning if you just stop.
That’s really the lesson of it all, anyway. This globe will continue spinning whether you’re on it or not. Everyone says they appreciate how fast time flies and how short life is. But if you’re like me, I know damn well you can count on one hand how many people live enthusiastic, fulfilling, and joyful lives.
You probably have a lot of people around you who spend too much time being negative or complaining. This is weird, given that few of us really have horrendously significant problems that merit losing focus on the opportunity to thrive and be satisfied, if not joyous, that we’re still here at all. It’s a joy to witness someone with legitimate and terrifying obstacles who somehow still manages even a smile, much less a positive attitude.
It’s Sunday. So maybe you can pick one thing, activity, or belief that no longer serves you. And hurl it out the window, even if it hits your neighbor on the head.
I guess we could call it life decluttering.
Sometimes I catch myself standing somewhere with the overwhelming realization that I’ve been too busy majoring in minors. Knowing it’s true doesn’t translate to making it true. All the overthinkers out there understand this.
Most of us, by 40 years of age, had a pretty good idea of what makes us happy. Or distracted enough to be a suitable alternative for that.
And then we continue doing the things that didn’t get us there or keep us there.
And so, we dive into a routine that propels us ever faster away from who we’re supposed to be.
And then that one day comes, and we realize that we didn’t choose at all.
PS The picture is from somewhere around 1996. I like the picture because I look stupid. In other words, it’s perfectly accurate! .