As my writing continues to find a voice and an audience in this new year and post-crash new life, I find myself kicking around book ideas and titles more than ever before. Writing a book is becoming less of a pipe dream every day thanks to the strange and wonderful series of events that’s unfolded around me lately.
Admittedly, it’s not easy to maintain the level of discipline and resolve that I can encapsulate in a few hours’ worth of writing. Between being a normal human being and having crazy brain fog and headaches to contend with, a week’s worth of resolute New Year’s behaviors quickly fizzles in favor of merely staying alive. I woke up this morning thinking that there was no way I’d be able to write anything meaningful today—my brain felt like it was full of the same billowy grey clouds as the sky outside my window, and nothing has happened lately that seems worth writing about.
That is a myth that afflicts not just writers but all people: that our lives, because they are normal to us, are uninteresting and dull while the stories and images of others are enviable and epic in some unattainable way. There are a few things at work in that flawed line of thinking. First, because our God-given gifts come naturally to us, we neglect to recognize that our talents or our stories are amazing and valuable to ourselves and others. And second, we believe that different, beautiful things are unattainable. There is of course the cautionary cliché about the grass always being greener, but I fear that at times that is also used against us. If we want to make a change but it feels hard, we may assuage our righteous desires by saying the grass is always greener on the other side, may as well carry on as-is.
Carrying on can be dangerous. On days like today, I wake up and am almost immediately certain that this will be one to survive, not thrive, that the way my head and heart feel means I’ll do well to make it through and try again tomorrow. Then, I halfheartedly open my computer to see if I can find anything worth reading or responding to and have comments on my website that seem to speak telepathically into my mind. Take this advice from Quinn, responding to my still-popular post, So This is the New Year:
Next year, when it comes to the end of the year, hop on the internet and find a big, stately house somewhere. Somewhere with fireplaces and a big dining room and nooks and a garden big enough to go for bracing walks. Then invite the people you love most, load up on food and wine, and hole up there with board games and good books for the 29th, 30th and 31st. Ring in the new year in great company without worrying about going out somewhere and having to sell your right kidney to have a mediocre night out. I promise you will have a lovely time!
I found this comment intriguing for several reasons. Just yesterday, I was driving from Fort Worth to Austin in my VW that still doesn’t have a functioning radio (which means ample time for thinking) daydreaming about how lovely it would be to rent out a big mountain cabin—or perhaps just buy a cozy house in Arkansas already—and invite (even pay for airfare if we’re getting really daydreamy) my favorite musical friends from every juncture in my life. Jeff, the bandmate in middle and high school, Annie the occasional fiddler in college, an Austin friend who studied percussion in college, a phantom bass player to fill in for my favorite and dearly departed buddy, Mikey. I imagined getting all of us together in one place, for a long weekend of beer and campfires and coffee and playing music until our fingers bleed and then playing some more. It’s a whimsical thought, but hardly an impossible one. It’s quite similar to Quinn’s suggestion for spending New Year’s Eve. And I think it’s an imminently relatable one for all of us, in some way or another. Whether you prefer the mountains or the beach, the big city or the backwoods, is immaterial. Surround yourself with the people you love, in a place that fosters meaningful connection and simple pleasures rather than chasing some unobtainable moving target, and make clear by invitation that the people around you matter to you and you want them in your life.
Of course, it is equally possible to envision an untimely funeral, these disjointed friends of mine meeting for the first time in most tragic circumstances, awkwardly shaking hands and saying, “Goddamnit, John,” and maybe even putting the pieces together of who the other is. I’d smile down at them and encourage them to start a band together, because I know their sense of rhythm and musical humor and appreciation for Andrew Bird would make for a mighty strong glue. But I’d have a hell of a lot of FOMO.
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Over the last few months, I have unabashedly leaned on others for inspiration and preservation alike. I’ve admitted on these pages and elsewhere that I am currently duking it out with depression and depressing side effects of a few bad spills on the bike, that various health scares and life events affecting myself and those close to me have made for an exhausting and heavy year. I even made a Facebook status soliciting likes as crowd-sourced encouragement for quitting my job, not because I wasn’t sure if I should do it, but because involving people in your life and creating a buddy system where your friends hold you accountable to tough-but-important decisions is helpful and exhilarating. I still want to get coffee with every single person who clicked ‘Like’ and talk to them about what work means to them and how it fits into their lives. Like so many things, I want to do it and simply haven’t.
I think of the few times lately when headaches and depression had a tight-fisted grip on me and some silly and loving group of people snapped me out of it for moments or for hours. I became acutely aware of the power of crowd-sourcing happiness and decisions and leaning on others to make us more of ourselves. When you feel bad, you don’t want to go out and do karaoke or fly fish or hang out at the dog park. But when you commit to those things with people (or pups) who care about you, they end up being the best thing for you. Like agreeing to meet somebody for a sunrise bike ride or pre-work breakfast, making codependent plans can help you do things you’d never do on your own. And even if you possess the resolve and discipline required to do such things, there’s always that uncertainty or complacency or fear that prevents us from calling old friends or trying new things or doing much of anything at all.
The difference between good and bad days is some alchemical mix of agency and happenstance, but so often we forget—or at least downplay—the former. Either we doubt its power or fail to adequately credit and acknowledge our own accomplishments. And as I wrote that sentence, Hank dramatically sighed and flopped beside me, reminding me that I decided to get a dog and it’s truly the best thing ever.
In my neurologist appointment on Wednesday, she seemed more enthused and encouraged by my adopting Hank than my deciding to try medicine or protect my sleep or any other single thing I’ve done to focus on getting better. Between the obvious healing power of codependency and companionship, doctors, counselors, and random people on the street agree: deciding to do something and feeling glad about it is a surefire recipe for happiness.
As always, your comments mean more than you know. Drop a line here or at: email@example.com and let’s talk! Or plan a weekend at a house somewhere in the woods. Seriously.