As evidenced by the gap in publishing here, I ran into a brick wall at full speed after starting the new year so strongly. Thankfully, it wasn’t a literal wall this time. But whatever momentum and progress and discipline I’d conjured fizzled and disappeared along with the majority of my sanity and headache-free days. Another spell of miserable dizziness and brain fog triggered too much time feeling unmotivated and undisciplined and not writing a damn thing. This after thinking I had found purpose and rhythm amidst this transitory time, reason among the pain. And of course, the massive deceleration made it extra painful, as it always does.
The amazing emails and comments poured in and I couldn’t respond to a single one. Still haven’t. I think about them all the time then forget or run out of steam. I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of great conversations lately about principle and purpose and the intrinsic motivations we’re all seeking. If getting hit by that Altima shattered my life into some irreparable pieces, it also did me one big favor.
It gave me a staggeringly plain look at a boring death working jobs I didn’t love, stuck in a rut of a routine, operating on unfeeling autopilot.
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Last week, I blitzkrieged the drive from Fort Worth, Texas to Wellington, Florida with my sister. We started the journey at 6:30 PM on a Tuesday, consuming miles on the dull interstate into driving rain and rural darkness. We had dinner in East Texas and breakfast in New Orleans and lunch in Mississippi and dinner in Florida. We moved more than we sat still. And in the suburban depths of Orlando, I was captivated by the movie Demolition. A bizarre art flick starring Jake Gyllenhaal that I absolutely loved. It focused on the timely premise of acting exactly as you damn well please after realizing exactly how fickle the world is. Somewhere between the dutiful and the nihilistic is the sense that none of us make it out alive, but many of us are never even fully alive. There is a brutal, refreshing honesty in the film that I strive for and still constantly fall so short of. But it is a primary theme of my moments of lucidity and life-affirming conversations these days.
The movie started on the cheesy resort’s television after I should have been asleep and ran for nearly two hours. I was mesmerized beyond the point of getting up to pee, much less falling asleep. It was the type of consumption that I miss, when I could find myself playing guitar or writing or reading with no regard for the hour, no interruption by smartphone or computer or scatterbrained thought. It was the sort of singular trance that I observe Hank in when he’s happy simply laying at my feet or riding shotgun in the car. An unquestioning devotion to the moment. How meta, an unflinching focus on a movie about living with unflinching purpose…
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The brightest moments in my dark days lately have been the ones when I’m talking to people about dreams and ideas, when I’m reminded that there are those of us who long to suck the marrow out of life, to minimize regret by blatantly disregarding fear of pain or failure, to avoid being sheep, to live one day as a lion instead. Sometimes that comes in the form of a pointed discussion about the potential for living out our days reading or writing or farming or living our version of the dream. Others, it may be receiving an email from a distant relative or old neighbor that absolutely shatters the normalized and superficial relationship you thought you had with them.
I told my counselor recently that the severe headaches and brain fog had returned, that I had those hours where I understand why football players and others suffering from CTE are driven to suicide. The discomfort and inescapable pain make existing hurt. Naturally, she asked if those thoughts make it to ‘the next level,’ where one might start planning how to escape the suffering.
“No,” I told her honestly. “I know there are things I’d rather do than just give up. Go on another road trip. Start over somewhere. Get into a healthy amount of real trouble and figure it all out. Just keep moving.” At my best, I think that being dealt a hand that has taught me so much about suffering is a beautiful gift that challenges me to write and encourage others. At my worst, I feel unmotivated and don’t write for two weeks and just drift foggily through days waiting for a new, better one.
So often, suffering is a convoluted web of untapped potential and unrealized dreams and physical pain and mental disorders. People we wish knew that we loved them. Trips we’re scared to take. Purchases we’re too conservative to make. Jobs we’re too comfortable to quit. While much of my suffering stems from the non-point-source brutality of post-concussion syndrome and depression, there’s no doubt that some of it can be alleviated by action. That’s why I had a good week when I got Hank and got serious about routine and organizing and doing. So often, successful writers or musicians or artists or entrepreneurs are just the ones who refused to quit a little bit longer than everyone else. And at some level, the same can be said of all of us.
What’s tough about depression is that it has a way of preventing you from doing the things that make you feel better. It’s a vicious cycle. Combined with physical ailments, it’s prevented me from writing for far too long, and I feel badly about that. It’s a long war with lots of small battles that we win and lose, but sometimes victories are easier to come by than we come to believe. From the wonderful dialogue that’s started with my commenter Quinn to my counselor’s perfect suggestion that I spent this morning drinking my coffee on a picnic blanket with my dog, there are ways in which we can, by sheer power of will and decision, make our days and our lives better. Isn’t it possible to start the day in the sunshine with a cup of ridiculously expensive and pretentious coffee, watching your dog have the time of his life, reading a good book and tinkering with the camera? Nobody is stopping me. And it was a terrific start to a regular Tuesday. Can’t I call my musical friends and round them up for a weekend in a cabin somewhere? Can’t we be honest with ourselves and those around us and cauterize our lingering wounds with flashes of pain and lifetimes of reward?
One of the friends I spoke with recently reminded me of this quote on love by Ayn Rand:
“Love is our response to our highest values — and can be nothing else. Let a man corrupt his values and his view of existence, let him profess that love is not self-enjoyment but self-denial, that virtue consists, not of pride, but of pity or pain or weakness or sacrifice, that the noblest love is born, not of admiration, but of charity, not in response to values but in response to flaws-and he will have cut himself in two.”
It’s dense but important, and seems to pertain to more than romance. The notion of virtue and selflessness and cutting ourselves in two is so real. Their words on this are far better than mine: “eschewing pleasure in the name of utility and in honor of tradition is at once applauded for its morality and condescended for its banality.” Is not banal ennui the cause of so many of our malingering feelings? And what’s stopping us from doing something different?
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I’m going to keep attaching my email, firstname.lastname@example.org and my cell phone number (817) 201-0088 to my posts. Whether you want to encourage or be encouraged, share or listen or both, I want that for all of us. Let’s do something different, together.