Get in on whatever you can. Give it some gas. Do what makes you feel good.
Recently, I stepped back from teaching college. That, coupled with sobriety, has helped me reach levels of productivity and relaxation that I haven’t experienced in many years.
I have improved my office space in the basement. Having a comfortable space with meaning facilitates good vibes.
I’ve been working on a shorty story collection and a poetry book, as well as journaling most days. And, of course, there is this. The blogging. Mostly, I think I do this to help clear my head. Regain focus. Get the garbage out so I can keep moving forward.
I’ve been stretching. Sounds weird, I know. It’s not yoga. It’s not intense, nor is there a particular routine that I adhere to. All I know is that stretching in the morning and at intervals throughout the day relieves tension, gets the blood pumping, and is a great way to quickly feel refreshed. Fascinating how something so simple can make a positive impact.
That’s what it’s about though. The simple things. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy the simple things. I thought I was enjoying them, but it wasn’t until I got right with myself that I realized there is an abundance of beautiful simplicity throughout any given day.
Playing soccer with the dog. Listening to my kids talk about whatever it is they are willing to talk about. Watching my wife do anything—eat, sleep, brush teeth, walk alongside me in the store, down the sidewalk, on a trail. The pile of sunflower seed shells that sits beneath the fat black squirrel that’s always perched on the feeder. Shimmering snowflakes. Chickadees and doves. The creaks of this old house. Tasting an orange. Crunching into a crisp apple. Warm coffee…always, warm coffee.
And this. Whatever it is. The channeling of thought and feeling from heart and gut to head and then to fingers. It’s always been my way of learning, seeing, and relating. I doubt that will ever change. And it’s exciting. Especially now, when so much of the world—this life—has opened, and is ripe for the taking.
Experience vs innocence. Hindsight vs being in the moment. Being a kid vs being an adult. And then, there are the varying degrees of personality, intellect, environment. The idea of nature vs nurture, or the blending of the two. There’s just a lot. And most of it isn’t something we consider when we pass through the living room several times a day only to see that our teenage son hasn’t left his spot on the couch for hours. It’s also hard to remember all the angles, degrees, and depths that make up each of us as an individual when our preteen daughter—smart as a whip—decides to say fuck it to school. She only likes doing what she likes to do.
Raising kids is work. It doesn’t get any easier even as they grow and I grow. If anything, it gets more complex because I move farther away from the hard lines of “Do it because I told you” or “Do it because that’s what you’re supposed to do” to moments of consideration.
What’s wrong with sitting on the couch all day? Who is he hurting? Aside from reminding him to put his empty bowls, cups and silverware in the sink, and put his wrappers in the garbage, what’s he doing that’s so bad? How is it affecting me? He earns good grades. He exercises two to three hours each day. I sat around plenty when I was younger, but most of that seemed to come after I moved out, got a job, and was able to support myself. I could sit for hours on a Saturday watching VH1 and movies. I ate junk food and drank booze. I didn’t exercise. I told myself I had earned that right to be lazy on the weekend. When I was a kid living at home, I did chores. Most of those related to firewood. Carrying wood, splitting wood, stacking wood. I also helped my parents. I vacuumed, did dishes, hung around my Dad when he was fixing a car, mowing the lawn, tinkering in the garage. Kids don’t do that now. Not mine. Not at this age. Not when they have the world at their fingertips on TV, the phone, a tablet, laptop, or desktop. Parents and the world they try to drag their kids into each day with the brushing of teeth, cleaning of rooms, and showering just isn’t all that fun. And really, when they see all that’s out there, why does any of what their parents think or say mean anything anyway?
I get it.
What’s the point in learning how light enters the eye and how we see the world important when what we want to do is draw pictures, write stories, and read? So what if my daughter fails a class? Big whoop if she is getting Ds. It’s middle school. Doesn’t matter, does it? Just because I did my best to get As and Bs so that I could show my parents doesn’t mean she has to. Grades are meaningless in the whole scheme of things, right? I mean, if you met my daughter and talked to her for a few minutes, you would be sure she was an A student. She’s smart. Witty. Creative. I really wasn’t all that when I was a kid. Our measure of success was our grades and the color of our lunch ticket. Blue for the regular kids. Pink for poor kids. Reduced lunch. Blue and pink. Interesting color choices, now that I think of it. Somehow, I was able to work my way up out of the pink tickets.
I base my success today on hard work and working smart. I made more good decisions than bad decisions. My parents instilled good qualities whether they meant to or not. I hope that’s what I’m doing with my kids. I’m not sure. My boy got off the couch this morning. He is up in his room. Playing a game on his phone, I’m sure. It’s Sunday. Enjoy yourself, I say. There’s plenty of time left for this world to make you work. My daughter is sitting behind me. When I asked what she was working on, she said that it was her personal narrative. An assignment not due for a week in a class she’s doing well in. I told her she should focus on the two classes she’s tanking in. She explained to me why it’s more important that she does her writing. She’s a good bullshitter. Maybe it will come in handy one day.
That’s what it is. Caged up. Energy to burn, satisfaction wanted, but choosing tasks is difficult. But why choose to do anything? There’s enough in my everyday to keep me busy. With existence dwindling, my focus is on happiness.
I need to publish a book. Poetry, short stories, a novel. Getting closer to this, but daily writing like this feels most important, as it resets my mental and emotional state so I’m able to function.
Writing makes me feel better.
I was a teenage boy that kept a dairy. Then, you were considered a weirdo. Now, kids are encouraged to keep tabs on their feelings, as they should. For me, it was my way of survival. I used to believe that my old journals were useless, but that was because I feared what people would think if they read them.
I feared what I would think, what I’d remember, if I read them.
That’s changed with this fresh perspective. This sobriety. The layers of “reality” stripped away every minute. And I’m looking forward to opening those old journals–those awful diaries–tonight, and remembering all the steps taken to get here. Married. Raising children. Aging. And still writing.
I can’t beat myself up for the person I was, the choices I made. Guilt stifles creativity, prevents vulnerability, and forces familiar behavior. We grow from stepping outside our comfort zone.
Releasing guilt, loving where we came from, and embracing our ugliness, reinforces our humanness.
This existence is to be explored and it is about discovering individual potential. This is done by reaching out. Digging into as much as possible with as much gusto as one can muster. That’s how we unlock the gate, bend the bars, free ourselves from the cage, and run.
Fewer excuses. Less procrastination. Better judgement. That’s what I’ve been experiencing over the last month and three days not drinking alcohol. Granted, I drank half a gallon of vodka and up to half a box of wine a week. Cutting that in half likely would have helped. But, it was time to stop. I was tired.
I was tired of me, and I was tired of those around me.
Now, I’m only tired of a select few, and I’m learning to tolerate them.
There hasn’t been earth-shattering progress. It’s been days of simple success. More patient with the world. Less hung up on stupid shit—dirty dishes, vacuuming, harping on the kids about chores. Eventually, it all gets done. This appears to be the opposite of what I opened (the procrastination bit), but it’s not. The vacuuming, the dishes, all the work—it gets done. I have realized that it doesn’t need to get done on my schedule. There are other people in the house, living their lives, doing their things. Bellyaching doesn’t make anything get done sooner.
I’m more active. Lots of walking. My wife and I tally about four to six miles a day. On weekends, we try to hike local trails. Also, I’m doing more fix-its. I put the mantle on the fireplace. It had been in the garage for five years. I fixed our side door. I’m replacing lightbulbs, batteries, cleaning appliances and tools. My goal is to organize the garage, make it into more usable space. Additionally, I’ve been working on remodeling the apartment above our garage. Well, not the remodeling as much as the tear-down. But you have to start somewhere, right? There’s a lot to be said about stopping. Tearing out the old. Bringing in the new. Eventually, that apartment will be a family area—mostly for the kids. An area where they can gather with friends, feel safe, and have fun.
I’m learning to sleep again. For years, I battled rest. Once I was buzzing with drinks at night, I didn’t want to sleep. I felt inspired. I felt creative. I often tried to stay up late and write. While some of that effort yielded decent work, most of it came from a dark place. Most of it was shitty, borderline pathetic, which is typical even of sober writing. However, I began crediting any positive results to pushing my body and mind to their limits. Booze was my muse. I was writing by way of destruction.
One can only go down to the dark of the cellar so many times before it starts looking like a place he ought to stay. I was conditioning myself to believe that I needed to go dark to write well. Of course, I had always known that to be untrue, but it wasn’t until I sprung myself from the drinking trap that I was able to look back and see that the late nights of drinking, the lack of sleep, have only kept me from reaching my potential as a writer.
Now, I’m usually in bed by ten. Gone away into dream within minutes.
Honesty. Drinking clouded my reasoning. My lack of reasoning threw my honesty off balance. I made promises I couldn’t keep. I pounded my chest. Made myself into a person I was not. I was dishonest with myself. This led to dishonesty with others. If you’re not honest, you make bad decisions. I made lifetimes of bad decisions while navigating my drinking life. I can say this now because I am looking at myself through a more critical lens. Not in a harsh way, but in a caring way. Probably in the way my wife looks at me. She wants me to be happy, but to always be better.
I’m starting to see that now. Little my little. Day by day.
The dogs so happy to be out in the fresh day. Scents everywhere. Running. Pissing. Pooping. Around the yard, through the leaves, sniffing around the small wood pile, sure that something’s there. And it likely is. Or was. Nestled into a crevice. Surrounded by dried grass, leaves, bits of paper, and strands of string. A mouse, perhaps. Maybe a chipmunk.
We get our fill after fifteen minutes. It’s fun, running around with them. Playing.
They tire of it before I do, lead me into the house for sausage treats. They lay on the kitchen floor as I grind coffee and boil water. I talk them through the process every time. They listen intently, heads tilted, ears cocked.
The morning has started well. One can never tell what’s bundled up and waiting in the next minute. Life changes so quickly. But that’s okay. I think I’ve got a handle on it now. A better grip, anyway.
Sobriety does that. Once the fog lifts and the synapses start firing, there’s quiet, moving meaning in every thing.
A black squirrel fattening up on sunflower seed. A Downy Woodpecker jackhammering the suet. Doves cooing from the neighbor’s rooftop.
It’s nice to feel stable. To wake tired, but calm. The heart rate lower. Blood pumping smoothly, steadily, as it should. Sure, there’ve been more aches and pains—joints and back and stomach—but that’s bound to happen when parts aren’t lubed in alcohol. I’ll take the slower pace.
We’re more alike than different. Until we recognize this and act upon it through kindness and understanding, the shitshow will continue. We can’t blame 2020. And it’s not a certain group, team, color, race, sight or sound. It’s you. And it’s me. We aren’t making the best decisions we can. We’re moving along in our own worlds, creating narratives that are wound around belief systems we’ve been fed and have accepted, most of the time without question. Cherry-picking bits and pieces to fill our pages. Fulfill our needs. Support our dos and do nots.
It’s amazing, really.
A big crow waits beside a black trash bag set at the curb. He’s waiting for his moment. He wants to tear, pick and pry until he gets the goods inside. He knows that if he digs enough, he’ll get what he wants. He’s clever. Patient. Knows what it takes to survive.
A V of geese glides high above. Escaping weekend gun jockeys, traffic, and the stresses of life on the ground. North and South. Up and down. Inside each one of them, a compass. Getting from point A to point B. Mating for life.
My kids were so happy this morning. Shaking off the tireds with Fruit Loops, chatter about the upcoming day—my son sharing the weather report for his soccer game, my daughter excited because she saw Will Ferrell on an episode of The Office. It’s good that they are able to wake, dress, brush, wash, pack backpacks, and plan for the day. They are moving forward by leaps and bounds, growing stronger and smarter, forming ideas and opinions, fighting hormones and fear. Establishing themselves—sometimes in the most challenging ways—as individuals. It’s not all unicorns, ice cream, and balloons. At the same time, the kids evolve and change, so do we—the parents.
SB is upstairs now. She’s dropped them at school and has returned for breakfast. It’s highly likely to be two fried eggs and toast. She will eat, get centered and rebalanced, then head out into a day of work. She’ll drive past that crow as he swallows a half-eaten trash burger. Shake her head. Think of her kids and smile, as she catches a glimpse of the geese. Up there so high. Safe from the stresses of the ground.
In two inches of shitty water. Plunging the drain in the basement. Over and over again. Wads of hair. Toilet paper. Band-aids. Pieces of foil. Rubber bands. Bits of unidentifiable things built up over years, even long before we got here. It splashes me. It stinks. But it’s nearly midnight and I’m not losing this battle.
I don’t give up.
There’s too much going on in life right now. Clogs are not allowed.
The kids are adjusting to new schools, more responsibility, social distancing, and daily unknowns. It’s not easy. I remember. I was there. But they are kids. They’ll be all right. They are growing and learning, and challenges present themselves so we learn to adapt. Change course. Do what needs to be done to survive and keep on keepin’ on.
My wife has been working long hours. Up early, at it all day, and still at it into the evening. She’s brilliant. Helping students and parents navigate this new world of education. It’s stressful. Emotionally and mentally taxing, but she simply smiles. She’s got patience, creativity, and good old-fashioned street smarts.
They have full days, but they still have time. To play, read, listen to music, exercise, watch TV. Relax. It’s a balancing act, for sure, but the longer we’re at it, the better we get. We’re not perfect. We argue. We disagree. We don’t always listen well or act as we should. But we know these things, are quick to fess up when we’ve made mistakes, support one another, and we move on. It’s a no-bullshit kind of household, filled with opportunity, honesty, and love. The kind that’s fluid, without bounds, that keeps going and going. No matter what tries to clog the way.
I stare at the dirty clothes piled on the washing machine. My boy needs his soccer uniform for tomorrow. There’s a shirt in there my daughter wants to wear. My wife has got to be near the end of her bra inventory. And I am missing the comfort of my Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine t-shirts. There are dishes to wash. Showers to take. Life doesn’t wait for backed up sewer lines.
So, I bear down and plunge like a jackhammer. For five minutes, until sweat drips down my nose and my forearms burn. This, this type of awful mess, is not allowed in our home. Finally, when I stop, the chunky brown water begins to move. Slowly toward the center until all at once there is a great swirling rush and it is gone.
This kid thing isn’t easy. That’s why it’s rewarding. They push and stretch and shape you in ways you could never imagine. It’s all good though. As long as you can keep your guts out of it as necessary, and make logical decisions based on reason, they turn out okay.
None of them are perfect. But this is a mistake many parents make. They pump their kids up and up and up so that they end up being self-centered, self-important, and delusional. Lots of potential presidential candidates, I know. But I want my kids to aim higher.
We eat meals together and they eat what’s served to them. We take family walks, hikes, and bike rides. Their online time is limited. They read books. Paint. Draw. And exercise. They are taught to do their best to listen to others, to seek to understand, and fight only when absolutely necessary. I have to admit, though. There’s only so much I can do. Once they leave the house, it’s a crapshoot.
I can only hope they make good decisions.
I’m not a great parent. I would consider myself so-so. But I’m trying and I am doing what I can to learn as I go. I have always had little faith in those that profess to know the answers. I’m stubborn. I learn the hard way. And I expect my kids will be the same. But that’s okay because it’s important to me that people find their own answers. Don’t follow blindly. Don’t believe everything you read, hear, or see, especially if it aligns with your beliefs.
Question, question, question. Everything.
It’s okay to have different answers. To do things differently. Individuals and families have to find what works for them. Be mindful of others. Be kind. Be aware that you aren’t the only being spinning around through space on a big ball of dirt.
I’m not saying that what I do with my kids is better than what you do with your kids. If feeding them fast food, buying them everything they want, fighting their battles for them, and letting them get fat from drinking soda, snacking on Ho Hos and reveling in inactivity is your happiness and their happiness, have it at.