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Category: Uncategorized

Always Flight

(This post is from several months ago).

I’ve slept twelve hours a night since arriving in San Luis Obispo. This has happened before when I feel under great emotional strain, I retreat into sleep as an escape. I find it quite satisfying to hide out from my day-to-day responsibilities. In slumber, no one can call or email and make demands. While I sleep, my brain can process all the drama I’ve endured under sunlight. Resting more seems a perfect remedy for all that ails me psychologically. I lost so many hours of sleep over the past ten years to insomnia that I am constantly playing catch-up.

The past few days, I have been in a bad mental state, one of catastrophizing the situation and thinking of the worst-case scenario(s). My mind has made that leap so many times that it knows the exact number of steps to the ledge and how far the drop-off is below. My psyche naturally wants to go to the other landing, where doom and gloom live because that terrain is familiar if unsettling. It seems I must go through this elaborate charade before returning to more solid ground and formulating a plan based on hope rather than despair. Once I complete this exercise, my brain can find new, more uplifting perspectives on the situation. When I awoke this morning, I was back on the good ground. I can see possibility instead of every terrifying thing that can occur. 

I consider it a mark in the win column every time I can recalibrate my thinking away from despondency. There were periods of my life where I remained on that far shore for months or even years. I took that leap, and it paralyzed me with fear. I was unable to return to the land of light and hope. I stayed in the darkness, skulking around like someone devoid of the bright spirit that usually buoys me along. I’ve written before about how seductive and dangerous it can be to stay in that particular blackness, and it can swallow you whole. There were so many times when I thought I would lose the battle, that I wasn’t equipped to handle everything the darkness held over me. I wallowed in self-pity and resignation, unable to get back on my feet and wield a sword against the forces aligning to destroy me. I had told myself I didn’t possess the emotional and psychological strength to defeat depression.

But all of those suppositions are lies. They are forged in the part of my mind that looks for easy answers and the path of least resistance. That is the base, simple brain that only seeks survival and not any higher self-actualization. It automatically decides that retreating is always a better option than fighting. Fighting can get messy. Running away is a tried and true method for avoiding most people and animals that want to kill or eat you. I’ve become a master at checking out quickly and silently when the current situation turns sour or intolerable. But I’m not sure this is the best way to build a different, less stressful life.

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Education By Incineration

A friend recently gifted me an air fryer. Like many people, I had heard the hype surrounding this supposed miracle kitchen appliance. I told my friend I was considering buying one to see what all the fuss was about.

“I have three,” he said. “I’ll give you one of mine.”

After insisting I pay for it and him refusing, we set a time to rendezvous so I could pick it up. I brought it home and perused the user’s manual. It was true that it could cook various foods without excess oil or other fats. The air fryer option also had instructions for cooking all kinds of vegetables. 

I chose tofu with a soy teriyaki glaze and broccoli with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and chili flakes for my first official air fryer meal. The tofu cooked perfectly: it was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The broccoli was another matter. Even though I followed the directions to the letter, most of the stuff came out black and charred beyond being edible. A few stalks here and there were okay, but the rest was a burnt-up mess. I have tried to cook vegetables several other times with a similar result. 

The experience brings to mind relationships, or more specifically, relationships that don’t end well. Whether it’s a friendship or a romantic interest, we invest ourselves and our trust in others. As we get to know the person, we learn whether we can count on them when times get tough. We discern how loyal they are and if we share enough common ground to march together through the world. 

When the dynamic works, it’s magical. When it doesn’t, it is education by incineration.

Sometimes the feeling sneaks up on you. You know something has changed, but you can’t quite put your finger on the problem. Then you discover your partner is having an affair or your friend lied about being vaccinated for Covid, intentionally putting your health and life at risk. This person you told your deepest secrets to, who laughed and cried with you, has burned you. 

You pull away as quickly as if you had put your hand on a hot stove. And you have: your former confidante has become a crematorium furnace, fired up to 1,800 degrees and ready to turn you to ash.

But you don’t have to stay near the heat. Instead, you can learn from the flames. Like my poor, scorched broccoli, not all of you is singed. With time and compassion, your burns will heal. You may have scars, and that skin will never look or feel the same, but it is still yours. You have earned it. You escaped that burning building and survived the fire. With the memory of the inferno blazing in your mind, you will move forward.

Education by incineration teaches us tenacity and reminds us that we can be harmed, but we aren’t ruined. Wear your burn like a badge of honor.

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A Lot of Oysters But No Pearls

I was visited last night in my sleep by Adam Duritz, lead singer of the Counting Crows. He was crooning verses from their song “Long December.”

A long December and there’s reason to believe

Maybe this year will be better than the last

I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving

Now the days go by so fast

And it’s one more day up in the canyons

And it’s one more night in Hollywood

If you think that I could be forgiven

I wish you would

The smell of hospitals in winter

And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters

But no pearls

A lot of oysters but no pearls. Yes, I feel that way a lot. I keep waiting for something to knock me out of my lethargy and light a fire under my ass. But as I’ve said before, I’m the only one who can do that. Waiting is futile. Hanging in there has done nothing but leave me hanging. Perhaps there is something else in those lyrics that I can learn from: “If you think that I could be forgiven/I wish you would.”

Maybe I need to forgive myself for the mistakes of my past and the things outside my control. I may have been berating myself, hoping to make myself a better person. But I don’t think it works that way; it certainly hasn’t for me. The berating has only diminished my capacity to feel loving toward myself. The criticism kept me stuck in a place where I was unhappy and unfulfilled. There is no reason to remain there anymore. There is nothing that requires my continued punishment and repentance. The only one asking for my head on a pike is that mean-spirited voice who always tries to run my life, and that fucker is never on my side.

It all comes down to me. It all comes down to forgiveness.

If I want a life that speaks to me, a life that sings, I have to forgive my ignorance and blindness. I must realize that in particular circumstances, I wasn’t evolved enough to make smarter, self-loving choices. I was doing the best I could with the skill set I had. More often than not, my toolbox was lacking essential components that I needed to help myself. I was lost, trying to find my way without a map or a GPS. 

Now I am looking for the pearls. I may have to work through many oysters to find them, but I know they exist. I am not only my past and my fuck-ups; I am my present and the future. I am a compassionate and passionate person. I am a creative force for good. I am the reason I’m still here, despite all the tragedy and grief. I am also the reason that I will find other ways to interact with myself and the world. If something isn’t working, then I can change it. I must point my compass in a new direction if I want to reach a different destination.

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A Hold on Hope, Part Three

Why is this piece of writing labeled ‘part three’? Because I have used the same title twice before. I am repeating myself within these pages, and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. It could be that in my unhappiness, I keep running over the same ground to dissipate the sadness. Alternatively, I could choose to see these repetitions as a meditation, a clearing out of all that no longer serves my spirit and moving me closer to the bliss I seek. 

I like the second idea better.

Not to point out the obvious, but if I’m moving toward something I want, then I have hope. I have written before about Emily Dickinson and her poem about hope, and I have paraphrased Vladimir Nabokov: let the shadows fall behind you and all that. I have even Googled the definition of hope as a guidepost or waypoint to know where to turn at the next juncture or when to stop, rest, and recalibrate. 

Now I look to music which has saved my life more times than I can count. I did another Google search and found site after site with lists of songs about hope and perseverance. Many of the sites lean Christian, which doesn’t interest me. But I am intrigued by how humans continue cultivating hope in some of the worst circumstances. Music is one avenue, but I also lean on my friends, books, movies, and nature. 

Perhaps it’s a hodgepodge of many things that combine to give us a sense of possibility. We must believe that our situation will improve, or else why go on? I know people who are confirmed pessimists or call themselves “idealists” to make it seem that their negativity is based on some rational argument with verifiable data. But I don’t think hope is a measurable and quantifiable thing that can be pinned down with charts and clinical trials. Its origins and manifestations don’t reside in one place; they are everywhere. I have conjured up hope in the darkest moments as if I were an alchemist creating a new magical potion to save me from my demons. 

I suppose that is what we do every day: we find ways to inspire ourselves and the motivation to keep on keepin’ on, even though it feels desperately hard. I survived many things from my younger years that had the potential to destroy some people or render them dysfunctional forever.  I know I have issues and flaws that need to be addressed, but those events didn’t warp me.

What happened to me did not become the defining chapter of my life. They have informed my story but will not determine how it ends.

And so I go back to hope, eternally. I rely on it to bolster me. It reminds me of these lyrics from the band Guided By Voices:

Everybody’s gotta hold on hope/It’s the last thing that’s holding me.

I too am holding on to hope, and I won’t let go.

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A Hold On Hope, Part Two

What does it mean to have hope? I know Emily Dickinson’s definition of the bird that perches in the soul, but what about here in the real world? With boots on the ground, I am moving through—or trudging through—this life of mine, surveying the horizon and seeking guidance, a wayward point that will give me something to aim for. 

As a noun, hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” As a verb, it’s to “want something to happen or be the case.” Suppose I keep googling while asking myself why hope is essential. In that case, I find this sentiment from the website “Hope reduces feelings of helplessness, increases happiness, reduces stress, and improves our quality of life.” So, hope is a valuable tool in my emotional arsenal, one I need to have at the ready when life charges at me and tries to knock me backward. 

Hope should be as easy to cultivate as despair, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Hope feels fleeting, like Dickinson’s bird. It rests in the soul for a time, but it is easily startled and will flutter away if not given the right environment and nourishment. I have to create an internal space where hope can live and flourish. I must not allow my mind to dictate my feelings, especially when I am in a place of self-doubt. In that state, I am susceptible to negative and faulty input. I will believe everything those dark voices tell me, even as I recognize they don’t want what’s best for me. 

If hope is a desire for a particular thing to happen, I must decide what thing or things I want to experience. This means that hope is directly tied to purpose. If I have something to look forward to and work toward, my life feels purposeful. If I lose meaning, I lose hope; they walk arm-in-arm with me. I must accept that I am the only one who can create meaning for my life. I expect some external force or person to show up and give me direction. No one is coming. It’s only me here, figuring out each step along my hero’s journey. 

Joseph Campbell had the right idea. Each of us has to leave home, go on a quest for our unique Holy Grail, and then return with the news of what we learned. During that adventure, we are changed, for good or ill. We must determine how our journey will shape us and what lessons we will take from it. I have to choose optimism over pessimism. I must continue to turn my face toward the light so the shadows fall behind me (I think I’m paraphrasing Nabokov). I must stay on my path and follow my North Star. The journey is all I have; it has to feed my soul and nurture my spirit. Anything less is not worth pursuing.

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A Hold on Hope, Part One

Since leaving my job, I wake up each morning and try to give myself a pep talk. I use the well-worn phrase, “Today’s another day.” I suppose the words are meant to remind me that I still have a life to live, and I shouldn’t get mired down in the present stresses. I cannot change the past, and if I continue to dwell on all of my worries, I will rob myself of a peaceful future.

Intellectually, I know all of this is true. And yet. My heart is aching. I find myself in a state of grief. This grief is not borne out of the loss of someone dear but something dear. I am mourning because I feel I will never teach again, at least not in the settings I’ve been to before. I am profoundly sad because I have lost the opportunity to do something I love: teaching. I thought that teaching would be one of the ways that I give back to the world; it would become a part of my legacy. But now that seems unlikely.

I am trying to separate the voices that do not help me from those who give me honest feedback, which is a challenging task. I am prone to self-deprecation and flogging myself for even the slightest misstep. It is difficult to balance being truthful about my shortcomings and telling myself I am a complete and utter loser. I’ve wasted years of my life berating and belittling myself, only to realize that it never made me a better person. It made me feel small and like a waste of space. If being mean to myself worked, I would be the best person on the planet.

So now I find myself ruminating on my grief at what I have lost and how I played a role in bringing it about. I am terrified that I am what some people have said I am, and I can’t see it; I won’t see it. I fear I am blind to the true nature of my intentions, and because of all the tragic events that have occurred, I am becoming bitter.

I don’t want to become bitter. 

I want to retain some of the wonder and innocence I once had before so many bad things happened. I want to remember that girl who loved to sing, read, and climb trees and whose imagination was boundless. She was the world through a particular lens, and that perspective contained hope. I need to hold on to hope; it has carried me through tough times like the one I’m in now. I think of a quote from Emily Dickinson. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul—and sings the tunes without the words—and never stops at all.”

I need that hope now. I need it as much as the air I breathe. If I can hold on, I know hope will save me.

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