Category Archives: Personal

Back, Now, and Falling Forward

So we’ve come to the end of another year.   In some ways it seems so ridiculous to be reflective because of an arbitrary day on the calendar.   One day is the same as the next.  24 hours long.  Waking in the morning and going to bed at night.   Work.  Meals.  Bills.

It IS different though.  Because we make it so.   And as I look back at 2013,  at what was the saddest and hardest year I have ever experienced,  I react with a bittersweet mixture of gladness and melancholy that the year is over.  Why would I regret the death of 2013?  Should I not be ecstatic that it’s finally over?  This year of pain and loss,  grief and sorrow?  Make no mistake.   I am happy to see it go.  In my mind at least,  I have been able to pretend that midnight tonight is some sort of threshold to cross to better times.   That immediately after the countdown,  glass clinking and kisses that we’ll be forging a new and better path for all.

So from where then comes the regret?  Only this.  That this magic door of new years, that takes us from one calendar page to another, takes us in to a year in which my daughter never lived.  It takes us further and further away from hearing her voice,  for seeing her alive and well.

Photo: I miss u every day beautiful I love u so much booo booo<3

True, She died very early in 2013.  It had barely begun.  And in a week’s time I will have to jump the hurdle of her “Anniversary.”   But she lived in 2013. 2014, she will not.  And that fills me with a hollow sadness deeper than the usual.  But I also look back on 2013 and see the things that made it better than I could have hoped.  And it’s people.   Family and friends that made me feel more loved than I have ever in my life.  Do any of you know how much you mean to me?  Do you know what it is that you really did for me?  You may think you do, but you really don’t.  The small things that were nothing to you, meant much more to me. And it’s only because of your character that you’d be unaware that you did so much without even knowing it.  I can say this without a doubt, that if my daughter were able to, she would smile, and hug you, and thank you for taking care of her Dad.  It was her way.

That was the back.

and what of the now?  The now is a tired man, who’s come through a little piece of hell;  a battle-scarred warrior who didn’t put up that much of a fight.

 The now is a point in time where I have the choice to either fall back, back in to the misery that I’ve come through. Or a chance to fall forward.  Stumbling forward, seeking better.  My heart says fall back. My soul screams push forward. My brain says do neither.  But I have hands on my back. The same hands that held me up, from falling backwards in to ruin, are the ones that are now pushing me ever so slightly forward.  past the tipping point, so that I fall forward in to my future, instead of dwelling in my past.  And although a large part of my past, the most difficult part of it, will come with me, I move.  I move forward.

What is the forward?  That’s the real mystery.  I told my dear wife that the Christmas gift I wanted to give her was one that I couldn’t wrap, and that I couldn’t promise.  A better life than we’ve had to this point.  A recovery from the shadow of grief that has covered us this past 360 odd days, Removing the black veil. The mystery is not in what we want to do.  Travel.  See the world, live to the fullest. Make every day as incredible as we can. Love our friends. Love each other, in short, live completely.  The mystery is whether or not this life will afford us the opportunities to do all that we want to do.  But falling forward, we will do it.   Live like we never have before.  Falling forward,  looking to enjoy what time we have left.

And as silly as the new years thing is, I indulge myself in another dream.  In that when I fall forward, I can imagine that some of the hands on my back, are hers.  That I can hear her laugh like crystal bells, and whispered words.  “Go, daddy. Go and live.”

Just like she would want.  Falling forward.


Changing what Merry means

So we’ve finally made it. Christmas Eve… and then Christmas day. (Boxing day too, but that’s really more about doing nothing, and sleeping off the food baby named Turkey, than anything else.)

To the days that I’ve dreaded.  Why?  I don’t really know;  Why should this one or two days be any harder than all the rest of them? In this year that has been a journey through loss,  It’s just another day on the calendar flying by.  The only real differences are the number of gifts, and the quality of the food you are likely to eat.  If I were to hazard a guess though, it’s because of what the expectation for Christmas is; that everyone have a MERRY Christmas.  Happy, joyful, and just so jingle-freaking-bells awesome, that you cannot help but be MERRY.  We don’t really use that word any more.  Well, perhaps Robin Hood and his band of merry men, but you probably didn’t even remember that reference until you read it here, it’s very passé.

So were’ expected to smile, and drink god-awful egg-nog, and make yourself sick on homemade cookies and chocolates.  Particularly in the office,  it’s all handshakes, or hugs with your closer friends at work.  Lame jokes about seeing you in a year for those who have the days off until the new year passes, and well wishes for the holidays.  Frankly, I think we’d do it better if we all just had a couple of belts of our favourite booze, and call it a day.

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m not a Grinch.  Or Scrooge.  Although I’ve never been the biggest fan of Christmas. the incessant playing of Christmas carols has always made me feel like rage-stabbing the radio D.J.  And don’t get me started on the nauseating remakes that all the pop stars do, same song, done worse each time.  (I bet you all can’t wait until “a very Ke$ha Christmas” comes out.  There’s a new track, skanking around the Christmas tree that is a must listen.)  I love giving gifts, but hate shopping, I love seeing family, but hate the pace of running from place to place, I love the food…. well, I just love the food.

All the appeals for charity. We should be thinking of being as charitable as we can afford, but it shouldn’t be a two-day-good-will-to-you-poor-people kind of thing, Increased charity appeals shouldn’t have to happen because it should be a continuous theme among those of us that are more prosperous.

It’s all the Christmas movies, which by God, are annoying as a piece of salad stuck between your teeth with no toothpicks around.   Is there a Christmas movie out there that isn’t solved happily by the end?  That a little kid singing a Christmas carol, or a letter to Santa or some ridiculous 11th hour profession of love doesn’t wrap up the film with a warm fuzzy for all involved?  That’s a triple blech with a gag me on the side.

And I’ll try not to say too much about the advertising which starts in November, and doesn’t stop  until you’ve questioned your sanity.  If I get really started, I’ll never stop. But the  commercials seem to be from some other dimension where people can afford to give cars with red bows on them for Christmas, and each family member clearly has a budget of about ten grand to spend on their nieces and nephews.  The avarice of it is disgusting.

All those things are the reasons that I don’t really like Christmas much, but what stands out the most is the expectation of delirious happiness just because the 25th of December has rolled around again.  Because it’s fake!  At least it’s fake as far as I have seen in all my time in this world.  I have not met, nor do I know, or have had a relationship with someone be it friend, family or acquaintance, that has such a gosh-darn-gee-willkers perfect life.  Every one has carried sadness or loss or tragedy in to the holidays.  Stress and pressure, expectation and disappointment.

So, I had to do something.  Something to make it through.  I had to change what Merry means.  At least what it means to me.  I went in to the office, I spoke to my friends, and I changed “Merry” from sugar-plum jolliness to mean something far more profound to me.

In my mind, I changed it to mean peace.  So, I wished them each a peaceful Christmas.  Which is what we can all use in our stockings, a little measure of peace from all the tumult.  And, in the same vein, I listened to it the same.  I simply believed that when each person wished me a Merry Christmas, they were wishing me peace.  And it’s the best gift that I could get.   I anticipated a truly difficult day, and my little subterfuge actually worked.  It has been a long time since I felt that much of a connection with the people around me.

And I wish, to all those who read this, a very, Merry Christmas.

Even if I don’t know you, Merry Christmas.  Because now you know what I mean when I say it.  And I know you need it.  We all do.


Melancholia

For when words aren’t enough.

 

We’ll never stop missing you.


Deep Blue Funk

Five months. Five months since I stopped writing.  Why did I do that?  Take the most therapeutic thing in my life, and put it on the shelf?

There is only one real answer. The Deep Blue Funk.  We all have a monster in our lives.  Some are big, some are small.  Some of us are able to ignore it, others of us cannot.  It’s a monster of apathy and disinterest.  A vampire, it sucks away your drive.  I call mine the Deep Blue Funk.  I call him this because he is a product of my deepest emotions, and for a long time, they have been blue. 

I’ve allowed the grief that life has offered me to feed the Funk.  So I spent my days to pass in silence.

I’ve trudged to work, done my job, gone home, and sat on the couch.  I’ve watched TV instead of reading, played video games instead of writing, and spaced out instead of thinking.  I’ve put my goals aside, not because I don’t desire them, but because for the last half of a year, I haven’t really wanted anything at all.  During this time Deep Blue Funk has gotten enormous, glutting itself on my disinclination to motion.

I’ve killed Deep Blue before.  But he keeps coming back.  And now he’s on the couch with me.  He always knows when I plan on murdering him.  He’s at his most persuasive when I’m plotting his demise.

So I try again.  I have started working on my novel again.  Shortly I’ll hit Publish Post.  And hopefully it will kill Deep Blue. Maybe for good this time.

I really hate that guy.


The Happiness Paradox

In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

>smile

 I’ve given great thought to the matter of happiness.    Not in how to be happy, because as you’ll find in reading this, that’s a concept I find as fleeting as the taste of your favorite meal once it has been finished.  Nor, whether or not people deserve to be happy. We in Western civilization assume that it is a God-given and unalienable right to be happy.

But I challenge that assumption because I’m not certain that we have the foggiest notion of what happiness is.  In technical terms, it’s the release of chemicals in your brain that gives a pleasure response to pleasing stimulus.  So you could rightly say you are feeling happiness when eating chocolate (If chocolate is something that you enjoy)  The sound of a favorite piece of music.  Warmth when you’ve felt cold, the charms of a physical relationship with your lover.

But if we boil it down to merely a physical response, we invalidate it.  We would never say that someone addicted to mind altering drugs is “happy” when they are high, since it is likely profound unhappiness from which they escape by altering their mind with psychotropics or hallucinogenics.

No, it is none of these things that I ponder.  I find myself mulling over if any of us are truly happy based on the prominence that we assign it in our life.  Because it seems to me that happiness is momentary pause from life that can be dull, grinding, miserable, and sometimes outright horrifying.  It doesn’t seem to me that the default position for the human mind is happiness.  Which is why we consistently have to seek it.

There are some few that seem to be able to be happy in any given situation, or at least present that outwardly; it seems that nothing fazes them from happy-go-lucky.  But that is not the norm.  If you took pictures of someone candidly, while they were not engaged in pleasing situations, they would for all intents and purposes appear entirely blank.

http://www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanyarts/author/tuscanyarts/

Image – Thomas Ruff – Tuscany arts

Devoid of feeling.  Lacking the depth of emotion that we employ to communicate happiness, sadness, anger, anguish or love.  Little more than a breathing mannequin.  And perhaps this is the way it has to be, perhaps we are unable to maintain emotional output at all times, it would burn us out.

If you had of asked my daughter if she was happy, she would have responded that clearly she was not.  The depression sapped that away from her.  But still she found moments where she laughed, smiled, or was touched by the love of family and friends.  Happiness was not the sum of the things that she was given that made her smile.  Nor was depression for her the destruction of all things that could do that.  But for her, feeling happy fed her depression.  In an odd paradox, happiness and pleasure were catalysts to a deepening darkness. A place in herself where she felt no worthiness of happiness, in a world where she perceived the unhappiness of others.  A false smile pasted on her face, because the real ones hurt her deeply.

If we are frank with ourselves, we can realize that if we remove the items from our lives that make us happy, we won’t be happy.  It’s why we are forever chasing the things that we think will make us happy.  It fades easily back to our state of numb indifference.  Even the winner of the lottery is happiest at the moment of finding out they won, it’s all downhill from there.

This is not meant to be nothing more than a pessimistic rant.  Because can I say that I am happy?  Yes.  I have a beautiful and loving wife.  I have health, good employment.  I have a few dear friends that actually care about me, and I would walk over hot coals for them to see them happy.  I have good memories of my daughter, I have humour and laughter.  But at the same time, I can say am I happy? No.  I’ve lost one of two most important people in my life.  I struggle with the disease that afflicts my wife.  So many things have not turned out as we envisioned.  I have days that are humorless and drab, and even with the best of friends, you can only see them so much, only be so much a part of their happiness.

So perhaps we should stop wondering if people are happy or not.  Perhaps we should stop confusing dashes of joy with happiness, and realize that happiness isn’t a trait in and of itself.  It’s a sum of the things in our life, and we must strive for it.  Happiness is the moments we can glean from life, and those we can give to others as possible.  Happiness and sadness can co-exist, intertwined.

I leave you with a video, because the words of the poem I quoted makes everything I’ve written in this post meaningless noise by comparison.  they both hurt me and compel me at the same time. It is coupled with one of my favorite pieces of melancholy music, and it fits it perfectly.

Strive to be happy.  And more importantly, strive to help others be.


I am Pi

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A few days ago, my wife and I took in the Life of Pi.  I went in to watching the movie with some reservations, as I am first and foremost a reader, so I am usually disappointed with the movie adaptations.  I am also a notorious movie snob, to the detriment of my enjoyment, and to the patience of friends and family who must endure my overly critical commentary.  I was heavily mistaken in this case however, as Life of Pi was one of the best films that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  Although this post is not a movie review, I have to give praise to Yann Martel for writing a truly engaging and spellbinding book, and applaud Ang Lee for a beautiful interpretation of it for the big screen.  I also offer that if you have not watched it, this may contain minor spoilers.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed the movie so much beyond the fact that I found the novel to be thought-provoking, is that I identify strongly with the character.  I feel no shame in the fact that I had to hold back tears in the movie theater.  So many powerful moments stunningly depicted, all striking home.  Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever been in a shipwreck, unless you count the time that I sank a canoe at the cottage.  No, I haven’t been adrift in the Pacific ocean in a life boat with nothing for company but a sea-sick tiger.  But the Life of Pi was a story about symbolism, wasn’t it?  In that, I can honestly say that I am Piscine Molitor Patel.

I could talk about how he was teased by students, how he questioned everything his parents told him, how he looked for more out of life than what was placed in front of him.  But those are matters mostly of my deep past, and when the past calls, it usually doesn’t have anything new to say. What I identify with is his journey.

Because I’ve spent time adrift at sea.  I’ve been surrounded with emptiness, and struggled to come to grips with it.

I’ve hung suspended underwater, watching my ship sink, and wondered whether or not breathing in the water would be preferable to fighting my way to the life boat.

shipwreck

But continue on I did.  Continue on I must.  For as Pi discovered, despite losing what he thought was his all, life remained worth fighting for.  Against the sea, against the storm, and against the tiger.  I had my own tiger to fight.  It stalked me relentlessly.  It consumed every moment of my time and energy for over a year and a half, and only got more hungry and ferocious as time passed.  I speak of course, of my daughter’s mental illness.  I know it would seem to be more appropriate to call that her tiger, and not mine.  But to her, it was the hyena.  Craven, brutish, tearing at her.  For me, it was the tiger.  It was the insurmountable creature that forced me to fight back, from a tiny raft.  Surrounded by sharks and uncertainty, storms and fear.   I tried the ferocious approach, I tried to fight the Hyena off, and make the tiger cower.

I tried to reason with it, blow the whistle softly or loudly depending on the situation,  tried even to make the tigers presence a normal part of life adrift.  This is where the story differs.  Pi fought the tiger and won.  I fought it and lost.  And I watched my ship sink after my time in the lifeboat, instead of the other way around.  But oh, the things that Pi endured, that feel so much like my story.

Terrible loss.  Immobilizing fear.  Moments of hope dashed by deeper moments of hopelessness as the boat drifted further and further.  Feelings of despair, tossed by the waves, which showed no care or mercy.  I too, have thrown my hands up and screamed to the universe “you’ve taken everything, what more do you want!”

And now I find myself at the end of my time in the lifeboat.  Just like Pi, trying to recover from a harrowing journey, and not knowing exactly how to do it.  Convalescing in a hospital, with nothing but vivid memories of shipwreck and loss.  And as strange as it seems, a sense of loss of the tiger as well.  Because you see, when my daughter left us, the tiger left us too.  And as I also lie exhausted on the beach,  I realize that the tiger, for all the pain it caused, for the terror it inspired, also left me without looking back. Without ceremony or farewell.

The thing that was the sole focus of my life, my fears for so long, was gone in to the forest.  And I was spent.  I am sure that Pi missed his family terribly, as I miss my child.  But in a strange way, we both miss the tiger.  The creature that gave us purpose to fight.

I am Pi.


Shopping Cart Utopia

shoppingcart

We live in a world of why bother.  A society of not my problem, a system of why should I.  We see it every day, over and over, people doing things in such a way that creates minor to mid-range inconveniences for other people, to save us seconds worth of effort.

 We feel justified in this, because there are very few who are bucking that trend.  If nobody else is doing things to avoid disrupting the routines of MY day, why should I do anything to do that for others?  Really, everyone does it, right?  I’m not the bad guy here; it’s not that big a deal.

 But we see it, and it bothers us.  But it doesn’t bother us when we are the culprits, because in this great mess that we call civilization, its par for the course.  We must look out for ourselves, because nobody else is going to do it for us, and our time is precious. Spending it doing things to assist others on the piddling little details takes up our time.

 But what if we all did it?  What if each of us took the few extra moments to ensure life was just a fraction easier for everyone else?  This would include each of us, if everyone did so.  Can you imagine what it would be like?

 Life is hard.  So very hard.  Heartbreak, illness, stress, death, betrayal, disillusionment.  Our dreams all too often outstrip reality, and we find ourselves trudging through life with all the inconveniences just like sour cherries on top of our misery cake.  Imagine if we, as a people, collectively worked to take off those cherries.  To replace them with something that takes moments of effort, and tastes infinitely sweeter.

 I am thinking that people would think “nobody else would do it.” And “I don’t have the time for that.”

 Well, let me challenge you.  10 minutes.  10 dollars.  10 things.  Spend 10 minutes a day making the world a better place.  Spend 10 dollars a week doing the same.  And spend your life on 10 things to improve YOUR life, and the ability to do the same for others.

 Is 10 minutes a long time?  Not really. It’s but a third of your favorite sitcom.  It’s less than half of the average commute; it’s barely a blip during a movie.  I will grant that it’s an eternity when in the dentists chair.

 Too busy?  Can’t spare 10 minutes out of your day?  It’s not exactly like you have to string it together.  10 minutes, apportioned through various actions, don’t even add up quickly at all. 

 Let me give you an example.

 Let someone step on the train ahead of you.  2 seconds.  Hold the door for someone.  3 seconds.  Wave the driver trying to merge in heavy traffic to get in before you.  10 seconds.   Return your shopping cart back to the corral when finished. 30 seconds. Stop and help the stranger who dropped their papers on the ground pick them up.  30 seconds.  Give directions.  45 seconds. 

 When you engage in these tiny little slivers of time, you’ve made the world around you a better place.  In small imperceptible amounts, you have improved the life of those around you.  And it costs you all the effort of coming out of your whirlwind of existence for the time it takes your eyes to blink a few times. 

 And what about the 10 dollars?  It’s the same thing, using money instead of time.  Cover the few coins difference on the person ahead of you when they are searching desperately for a coin in their pocket.  Buy a coffee for a friend or coworker who looks like they could really use it.  Grab some inexpensive candy treats to share with your team.  Throw a few dollars in the homeless man’s hat.  This doesn’t mean that we should all do this. If you are someone struggling to feed our families, clearly you should be on the receiving end of this type of kindness.  Nor is it a maximum.  Those of us blessed with the funds to afford Hugo Boss suits, Louis Vuitton handbags or vacations on big boats… we should probably toss in just a little bit more in to the pot of good will.

 What does this gain us?  What is the monetary return for the investment of this time or this money?  Zero.  Not a thing.  But it’s like a glass of water to a thirsty man, and there is a great deal of thirst. As we alleviate the small, seemingly meaningless stresses and pains of each other, the world improves.  Life improves.

 And what about the last part?  The 10 things?  They are simply things that will make YOUR life better.  All of which cost you nothing other than the courage to do it.  Eliminating the bigger pains, makes the smaller ones so much easier to bear.  Making the path of your life better, makes it more possible to go through all the daily nuisances without as much worry and angst, and can even serve as catalyst for you to do it in the first place.

 This list is by no means comprehensive. There are innumerable things we could do to make our lives better.  But I focus on the ones nearest to me, and that cost nothing but guts and determination.

 

1)  Think of your worst habit.  Stop doing it.

2) Eliminate the toxic people from your life.  Do not allow those who would use you poorly, to remain.  You are worth more than that. Don’t give them a chance to do it to you again.

3) Allow the good people in to your life.  This will cost you time, but it is time well spent.  We only have so many years, fill them with people worth being around or with.

4) Rest.  Stop everything for a few moments every day.  Sleep just a few minutes more each night.

5) Play.  Don’t grow up all the way, ever.  Seek laughter.

6) Read.  Learn.  Understand more.

7) Express what you are really feeling to those you trust.  Don’t hide behind social niceties.

8) Do not allow injustice to stand.  If something is wrong, speak up.

9) Forgive yourself.  Each of you will know what you need to forgive yourselves of.  Then go on to deserve that forgiveness.

10) Plan epic things you want to do.  Do them.

 

I would be a hypocrite to say that I have accomplished any of this.  That I always manage to give 10 minutes up freely.  That I remember that I’m not the only one going through endless nuisance.  That I always remember that my money isn’t that valuable.  And that list I put only shows me how many things that I have yet to do.

 But close your eyes for 5 seconds (you can even take it from the 10 minutes for today) and imagine what life would be like if we all did this.  Then go out and be one of those who do.