I’m Sad Today and That’s Fine

joshua-earle-557-unsplashI’m sad. I wasn’t this morning. I won’t be soon enough. I’m sad right now.

I can’t tell you how much being able to recognize that and acknowledge it has changed my life.

When I was younger I would process a change of mood perhaps as often as once a day. Back then I might not even notice the presence of my feelings for a few hours after waking. That was true whether happy or sad or angry or whatever. I say whatever because I’m sure there are more than 3 moods. In general though it was one of these. For a long time there were just two since ‘sad’ would morph immediately into angry. I don’t know why. I guess it had something to do with a limited emotional palate and an abundance of youthful testosterone.

I once heard a person who had been abused talk about their decision to forgive the abuser that took so much from them. Initially I didn’t understand how they could ever truly forgive them. I thought perhaps they were still reeling from the abuse and reacting out of fear. But in their explanation I learned about what they were really doing when they chose to forgive. How it was actually an act of self preservation. 

‘Forgiving my abuser was very hard. I didn’t do it for a long time. Instead I held on to that anger and felt like it was my armor. I somehow thought that carrying and caring for my anger, keeping it alive, was what kept me safe. But it didn’t. He didn’t abuse me again. He didn’t have to. Carrying around that much anger and bile did all the damage he couldn’t do. In time I had to forgive him to let go. Think of it like this, anger is a poison pill. For me, holding on to my anger was like swallowing poison in hopes that it would make someone else die. But of course it doesn’t work that way. The poison was in me. It was killing me.’

The second I heard that my whole perspective shifted. 

I have not had to confront abuse, thankfully, but I could see myself holding on to anger. Compiling resentments and scorn and holding them close in order to keep them fed. In the years I’ve spent thinking about this piece of wisdom I’ve come to relish the opportunities I have to recognize and identify my feelings. My anger was my poison pill. Still is. 

It may sound silly, but to me feelings were an outside force somehow. That was how I perceived them and I’d guess I’m not the only man who has felt this way. My feelings felt like a threat to my stability, best denied or ignored. At least the negative ones. But that’s not how it works. I can’t deny my feelings away and the more I may try to do so the more I am at their service, providing them only enough oxygen to live but never enough to recover and heal. In that kind of cycle joy feels more like a liability and I treated it that way.

So today for some reason I started to feel sad. I recognized it, I acknowledged it, I’m feeling it and soon I’ll be moving on.

Sometimes emotional maturity is as simple as that. As simple as recognizing that which is evident and allowing space and time to do their work so I am not controlled by that which I struggle against and try to wrestle into submission.

Instead I just say I am sad today and I am thankful that I recognized it. Being sad now does not mean I’ll be sad tomorrow and it doesn’t mean I won’t be. It just means I’m sad. It’s a feeling and feelings change. Sometimes I’ll discover there was a reason I felt that way and other times I’ll discover there was no reason other than being human. 

In the Waves

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward each disappearing into the next.

Focusing on my little boy, I am standing in the water, my back to the sea. He’s five now and there is an awareness that was completely lacking a couple years ago, but his faith is still that of an immortal.

I am standing in front of him looking back to the shore. The waves break past me, mostly. Some catch me unsuspecting. It’s remarkable how silent they are prior to crashing. Teddy is facing the waves, delighting in the excitement of the break and it’s power and the surging and retreating waters. The laughs are undeniable. They overwhelm him. Inside the chaos and devoid of fear all he feels is joy.

As I stand in the water looking back at him I marvel. I am blissful as I absorb the reflections of his giddy, playful happiness.

Waves march on oblivious, unaffected and uncaring. They beat ever onward.

I’m riding the waves as they pass. If I see them I jump. If they reach me before I look I let them lift me. Either way is fine. I’m in control when I can be and pliable when caught off guard. If I tried to stand my ground the wave would bury me and remove me from this perfect moment so I surrender whenever prompted and float up.

I come to shore after a powerful surge knocked him down and a close wave followed and crashed down on top. Any fear he lacked before has caught up to him and he’s off, running out of the foamy water as it recedes, toward the crowded beach. I yell his name but its no use. It just disappears in the surf and wind. I start to run in and ride a passing wave for a few feet to hasten the journey. He’s never gone from my sight, but he made good progress. I catch up and kneel next to him.

‘Are you okay, buddy?’

‘I was laying down and a wave flew on me.’

‘I know. I saw that. Did you get water up your nose.’

‘No. It just fell down on top of me.’

‘I know. Was it scary.’

‘Yeah.’

We get his mother and older brother whose play has left them surprisingly far from where they’d entered the water. The little one was done for the day, at least with the water. His curiosity now turned to the fisherman on the rock outcropping that bordered the far end of this section of the beach. We all followed along enjoying the beautiful weather as he followed his curiosity, stopping throughout to inspect mollusks and dried seaweed.

He learned something today about the ocean that I didn’t learn until much later. I wasn’t born near an ocean and our family didn’t visit the seaside much until I was older, closer to a teen. But I learned the same lesson long ago.

Truth is I’m still learning the nature of the sea. Still trying to find out when to challenge and when to yield. It’s hard for me even now to know what fears need facing and which are best left in place.

I’m enjoying a moment of riding the waves as they catch me. The waves keep coming and any one of them could carry me to safety or drag me down. Best I can do for now is try to relax and let the ocean do her work.

Playing Catch and Enjoying the Show

Charlie is playing with the regulation size basketball this summer. He is playing every chance he gets. We live across the street from his school where there are six hoops and two full courts on a patch of pavement where a group of neighborhood kids, the older ones, play a regular game of baseball. Charlie isn’t quite up to that game yet, but it won’t be long. It’ll be a different set of kids, different relationships, different ground rules, but essentially he will join them not too long from now. It was about three blinks ago that I was tossing gently the oversized wiffle ball underhand from a few feet away. It would hit his belly with a barely audible thud and shortly after he’d bring his hands together hoping to catch the ball that was already on the ground and rolling away from him. This morning we already tossed the softer but still relatively hard tee-ball ball for a half hour or so. Full speed, catching in gloves. That happened in the last couple weeks. Forget about hitting. I’ll never throw that boy another underhand pitch again. Haven’t for some time now.

I wasn’t much for baseball growing up. I was in fact rather anti baseball. I was a basketball player to the core. It was my first identity and one I will never fully abandon. I could go a decade without taking a shot and I’d always be a basketball player. A bit past my prime for sure. Rounder and slower. But so long as I have any control over my body I’ll be able to do something with a basketball to feel young and vibrant. It’s ingrained in me.

Teddy is not yet interested in sports. He may become an athlete and he may not. He loves his art classes and his dance class that he powered through for the entirety of the school year. Seeing him on stage with the rest fo his classmates at the recital at the end of the year was incredible. He was so nervous about it that for the weeks before everyone wondered if he’d be able to go through with it. But there he was, the ‘Tin Man’ dancing to ‘Ease on Down the Road’, hitting all his marks, even helping others. He was brave and graceful.

I so wanted to be that brave when I was little. My older brothers were in all the plays at school when I was Charlie’s age and I watched them so intently, wishing I could be up there. When they were done with their three day, four show run I’d collect the abandoned, worn scripts and read them cover to cover, over and over, reliving the story in my head for months. I loved Oklahoma so much that I went to the Seymour Library, nine years old, and would take out other Rogers and Hammerstein plays to read and imagine into existence as a production in my head. When I was of an age I was too self-conscious. I didn’t ever tryout. I wish I had his courage.

They aren’t ever going to be in strollers again. I’ve lived long enough to learn that parents are needed for a lifetime, but the need that they had before is gone. They need other things. They need someone to play catch with and casually chat about school friends and sports teams. They need a dad to take them to their dress rehearsal and talk about the music and where it came from and why its cool to be the only boy brave enough to be on the dance team. Sometimes they need a rebounder to feed them for endless shots at the playground hoop and tell them over and over how much better they are then when I was their age. Sometimes they just need me to get in the dirt and look for worms under the rocks.

Summer Vacation

Spending a summer home with the boys. Exploring and adventuring and looking for work. Lets hope we all find what we need.

Daddy-Charlie-Mommy-Teddy GraduationI’m spending the summer home with the boys. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do so. That reality is not lost on me though at times other issues are taking up more primary real estate in my brain and in my heart.

I lost my job. Technically I resigned. This technicality allows me to ascribe far more intent to the action than was necessarily present at the time I wrote the letter, packed up my office and walked out. But in reality, I was canned.

It was the first day of summer vacation yesterday and we got off to a great start. We are home bound until at least July 3rd as we have a fairly major repair due on the car so the boys and I spent our days the way I used to during the long, lazy summer days that feel like someone else’s memories by now. We watched some TV with cereal on the couch in our sleep clothes. We hung out in the backyard hitting wiffle balls and bouncing on the trampoline. We even dragged some music out there and played in our tiny, portable, makeshift sandbox.

For the first few weeks, while the boys were in school and I had at least a couple of days home alone I was able to send out mass resume’s and cover letters. I’ve even gotten a few interviews which have gone well but may not lead to anything and certainly won’t for some time. Which is increasingly fine. Frankly, if I could match my income, or even approximate it from home I’d prefer it. I’m not one of those people who will hate retirement. It suits me. If it weren’t for the nagging, inscrutable loss of a sense of self worth that accompanies this part of the journey, when an income is most critical.

We actually did a couple of boxed science experiments that we picked up a few months back. This morning the plaster has set on the citric acid and baking soda volcano we are set to detonate out back. Crystals should be forming in a dish in the garage. We’ll see about that in 4-7 days. I’m dreadful with science. It was actually a fairly comic scene actually, watching me try to pour 13 ounces of water in the bag of plaster/sand mix as instructed seeing as there was about 4 ounces worth of space in the bag to pour into it.

‘Well, the sand is porous, so surely they wouldn’t give us a bag to use for this without it having enough space within it to follow their instructions.’ I said, foolhardily. Though in hindsight it was obvious that the bag, minus the mix, simply empty, could not have carried the water it instructed us to add. Learned that trails of plaster mix can be cleaned up pretty effectively with wipes. So that experiment turned out at least.

I’m not defeated but I’m probably a perfect dupe for someone pitching me the secret to making a six figure income from home with only a couple of hours of work a day and a modest $399 investment upfront. I would be real receptive to that kind of pitch right now, so please, have some mercy my friends. Also, if I come at you with such a pitch in the months ahead, please say no but be kind. I’m a little lost these days.

Teddy PreK GradI am so happy to have this time with the kids. I just hope I don’t blow it. It’s a strange time in my life and in the world at large to wallow in self-pity. I don’t really have the oomph for that kind of thing right now. The self doubt may grow, but let’s face it, I’m in a house, with my kids who are 5 and 7 and want more of me than I can give. Kind of the ideal time to get an unexpected break from life, so long as I land on my feet on the other end having landed this midlife Triple Lindy.

If there’s one lesson I can take from how it ended it’s this. I brought myself to the edge months ago. I knew it was not working. The work was good, the people were great and by most measures I was doing very well. Unfortunately the relationship between me and my boss, the CEO, was broke. I certainly did my part to break it and was at a loss to fix it. I tried, but it wasn’t fixable. Not by me at any rate. I had prepared and interviewed, had been for a good 9 months. I’d turned down offers because they weren’t enough. Enough money, sure, but I think it was more than that. I think I needed pushing. In the end I’d packed up and prepared to jump and then I waited to be pushed. I won’t do that if this ever happens again. I don’t think it will, but next time, I’ll jump.

Today is day two of summer vacation. We have spent our boxed activities and run out of lunch ideas already. Netflix will take us to 10 but then it’s out back to adventure and explore. Let’s hope we find what we’re looking for, whatever it turns out to be.

Fireside Chat

I never doubted

Though surely I feared

That all I’d earned

Might disappear

The spigot can’t stop

‘But it can’ says fear

Who inches closer

As I hold hope near

Though silent she waits

Tucked under my arm

Assuring and wasting

My gifts and her charms

So parry and feint

I say to myself

Fear goes first

And offers her help

‘What matters my dear

What you surely must know

That here where you sit

Is easy and slow’

Nestled securely

Hope at my side

Fear made sense

Silent was pride

Though wisdom is surely

Fears winsome tone

Something inside

Grew restless and moaned

‘Fear, you old fart

What tricks you belie

Speaking of ease

As if she divine’

Ease is a fretful

And leery companion

Easy to welcome

Hard to abandon

‘Fear you must think

Me silly and twee

I surely know you

But you hardly know me’

‘Ease is a wasteful

Wanton old fool

But slow has none

Of her restful appeal’

‘Slow’ I laughed

‘Sparks nothing you heel’

Fear reeled back

Hope grew in my lap

The balance was shifting

But that wouldn’t last

Desperate fear gathered

Her strength on the ledge

Found logs for the fire

And rested her head

Finding her balance

She lazily said

‘You almost got me

But I still see your dread’

‘Your dreams are not real

Your not up to the task

Whatever you dream

It won’t come to pass’

Using my weakness

She scored such a blow

Hope hid behind me

I stared at my toes

Defeat settled in

And made a quick home

Shoulder foundations

Dimming the gloam

What confidence appeared

Left in an instant

I forgot that my fear

Knew my greatest weakness

Quiet I sat

for weeks it seemed

Feinting and faking

What I’d always been

A valid and winking

Preposterous self

Who faked his way to

The top middle shelf

Who only need fear

To settle, abate

Dragging self doubt

To add to the weight

But though she hid

Hope never was absent

Though silent she surely

Wanted for presence

But quiet I waited

Til fear took a nap

Finally betraying

Her weak, gentle grasp

Quiet I whispered

To my partner hope

I knew she was stronger

Than fears loosened ropes

So I fed her and nursed her

And quietly whispered

To hope all the dreams

My fear had withered

Hope found a ledge

Toes found purchase

In stoking my dreams

While fear lie useless

We worked and proved

Our dreams to ourselves

Plotting and planning

Like off season elves

But as we grew strong

We started to stumble

Would fear bring with her

Our final tumble

Feeding and building

And growing in strength

We finally committed

And slowly embraced

Our fear as she lie

Dormant by slumber

Embraced by the arms

Who needed her thunder

I drew her closer building courage

‘Fear’ I quietly spoke in her ear

‘Don’t worry, it’s hope and I

Who draw you near’

‘We will not release you

That you must know.

But worry not

You’ll come where we go.’

Fear jerked and jumped

Writhed in our grasp

Not knowing what strength

We’d built while she napped

‘Unhand me you slob

You ungrateful jerk.

I was trying to help

Your inevitable work.’

‘How do you figure?’

I started to blurt

But hope held my hand

And helped me divert

The rage that fear

Could bring to my bile

Reminded me of

Fears useful desire

‘You aren’t whoever

You think you are fear.

Hope has taught me

To limit and steer’

‘How can hope know

Fears mighty purpose?’

She blurted

Exposing her delicate surface

‘Fear you aren’t a driver here.

Now listen to me and sit in the rear.

I’ll call you to service when it is heeded

For now your presence is all that is needed’

So hope and I turned our eyes to the road

While fear settled in and shared the load

A tool that is useful to stoke the fire

That hope shall tend with me as the driver

Impostor!

Impostor syndrome is exactly what it sounds like. It is the belief that you are a fraud and you will be discovered and exposed and it will all come tumbling down when it happens. Okay, the last part, about it all tumbling down, perhaps that’s more projection. The syndrome as I know it is self diagnosed and I’ve been self-diagnosed with it many times throughout my life.

I have to be the last one awake. I need to know that everyone is asleep before I can start to tune out from the outside world and tune in to me. Before than I’m obsessed with capturing everything. Every joke and laugh. Every sidelong glance and thoughtful expression. Every conversation and concern, cataloging all of it. Every show. Every game. Everything. It’s been this way my whole life. When I was young I remember actually thinking that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss anything. For a brief time, from my early teens through early  middle adulthood I think a good part of that feeling was that I didn’t want to miss out or perhaps give the space for people to start bad mouthing me. Impostor Syndrome can make you a tad paranoid. It wasn’t a great look and it speaks to a certain neediness I have to cop to. I want people to like me and only like me. Which can be as wearying, I’ve come to understand, for those people who love me as it is for me.

When I was a kid I didn’t realize I did it. Being from a family of night owls, like SERIOUS all night owls, I didn’t put it all together. But when I got out in the world I recognized it. I wanted to know every detail of every story. I wanted to be in on everyones’ feelings and watch them evolve, shift, change and be fully processed out. I was obsessed with the stories going on inside everyone else. I think watching others process everything, from the tiniest disappointment to the rending and breaking of alliances and relationships was an obsession. I am from a giant, diverse family and I was in the middle and it’s possible that as much as this was my temperament I was also sculpted by my situation. There were endless connections sprouting, flourishing, growing and suffering, thriving and recovering around me at all times. Watching the most intimate moments of transformation, tiny and grand from up close and pulling them apart to try to understand them was my way, I think, of trying to usnderstand myself. I’ve felt an odd distance from myself my whole life. Watching others and trying hard to see as many angles as I could has been my work in many ways. My life has been lived in this labaratory.

I’m again feeling a bit of the impostor. It’s not traumatizing in the way it’s been before, but its there. I’m my own worst enemy at times. I recently made a book. A collection of some of my better parenting stories. I slapped it together. The writing had been done over years and I didn’t give it enough before I let it out in the world. I’ve since announced apologies, but it doesn’t change the embarrassment of it. I think I did it replicating the process of clearing the initial hurdle of becoming a ‘writer’, which was on my blog and eventually on others websites. I put down something meaningful and personal as fast as I could, gave it the most glancing of once overs and put it out in the world before I could lose the courage and edit out the real stuff. This is a GREAT way to get over the fear of vulnerability. This is a terrible way to make a book.

I’d always wanted to be a writer. In some ways it felt unreal and unattainable to me than the idea of being a professional basketball player had been when I was younger. It was the type of thing I’d only tell someone if I got very close to them and telling them was the closest I’d come for a very long time to pursuing it. In some ways it seemed like enough. Just expressing it. It was really more a wish, really. I guess I wanted to write, but only because I wanted to ‘be a writer’. I wrote some embarrassingly terrible things, real attempts on real things called word processors that never ever will be retrieved. I genuinely can’t recall the stories and if they start to come back to me I will immediately do whatever it takes to stop it.

Of course there was also reading. Books. Stories. Closely observed familial dramas. Fantastical tales of lifelong interest packaged to fool adults into thinking them children’s fare. Humorous absurdities disguised as adventures poking fun at everyone, even the readers. Tales of the weird aloneness of being a teenager. Great works of earnest vulnerability that can only be grasped after leaving ones youth. Grand epic tales spanning centuries that happened half a world away and a millennia ago. Sweeping historical fictions relishing the details of times the author can’t have breathed in, telling the story from surprising points of view that lend well known subject matter infinitely more depth and granularity. I’ve loved being spun by the great masters and the hidden gems, my authors who speak directly to me. I have not read nearly as much as my friends who are great readers, but I can’t imagine anyone’s ever been as enraptured and enamored as I’ve been. Or more awed by the force of an individuals determination and constant creativity when I finish a great book. A big part of saying I wanted to be a writer was a certain idolatry you could say. I was and remain inspired and diminished by how I imagine these books came to be. I wanted to be a writer. Sure.

Than I got married. I was working, paying the bills, we were paying the bills, then we had kids. I didn’t think they’d make me a ‘writer’, but they sure enough did. It opened up the art to me, this new found love and frustration and bemusement and exhaustion and love. Writing helped me understand what was happening. And not just the ‘honest, heartfelt’ stuff. The funny things were important too. Important to seeing it was achievable, damn near unavoidable, that there were any number of ways to fail and to succeed and most of them contained at the very least some small amount of humor and at times a huge helping if I could see it. And you have to see it. Even if I had to go looking it was nearly always worth it.

The heartfelt came more naturally. Truth is that I lost my filter. I was always tired, constantly running on empty and wondering what the hell I was doing. But every day, in the minefield of misgivings and doubt, there was always a million graces that they brought to me. In their sleeping faces and their silly laughs. In the funny progress a kid makes to roll over. In the moments when we were shattered and together wondering if we could raise these kids right. I’d transition through most of these things most days and as a man that is extremely different. I’ve gone years in a single mood. Based solely on emotional transitions I lived a lifetime every day before breakfast with kids. The raw vulnerability that permeated the air found an outlet in the writing. I mostly embraced it and sought it to relieve the pressure.

That impostor thing sticks though. We’re over seven years in to this whole parenting thing and most days I still feel like I’m doing a poor impersonation of my parents. Also, the thickets are cleared and I’m in a meadow at the moment. There’s not so much to pick apart. Not so much to make a laugh out of, though I’m sure I could find some if I tried. Which I don’t so much. I like to play with words now. Try to fiddle and fit them into something approximating poetry so I can stay sharp and express more associatively. But my writerliness was tied to parenthood and I’m feeling a tad unwriterly in this fallow phase.

Which brings me back to stories. I’m back to that original curiosity. That original sense that I want to do what writers I loved did. I want to write a great story. I want to write a lot of them. Which is daunting as I’ve never done that. Never come close, in fact, without it being based in my life. But here’s where I’m scared. Scared to fail. Scared to let go of the tiny toehold I have on being a ‘dad blogger’ and ‘parenting writer’ as it’s the only teenie bit of writing success I’ve ever had. Scared my stories won’t resonate and no one will read them. Scared I won’t be able to pull it off.

I’m also excited to give it an honest go. Excited to know that I have a toolbox now. One that is filled with the tools I’ve stumbled upon by following wonder and curiosity and simple wish fulfillment. Excited to try to write a tale that I know that I can imbue with so much more than I could have before.

Like every great and terrible impostor that has come before me, I guess it’s time to start faking it.

Used

We were lying prone and sleeping 

In a bed that wasn’t ours

The fog that had encircled us 

Hid us from the stars

 I’m not one to think out loud

Neither do I drink it proud

But never should you confuse this

With any of your unearned bliss

Chances are my thoughts aren’t deep

Lying crying while you sleep

So shallow laid you in my palm 

Enticing stupor renouncing calm

Had I gathered all your kisses

Collected tears, called you Mrs. 

You would still be gone you see

While I’m right here alone with me

I still know that you were real

And hope that you have learned to feel

The pain you poured so thoughtlessly

Inside a man you’d set to sea

Death and dying will encroach

Us left upon this orbits brooch

 When I assign my life it’s meaning

 Ours won’t have been worth repeating

When I look back on our mistake

I’ll be relieved that all it takes

Is soft and sunny love repaired

By one that never used my cares