I’ve been feeling uninspired lately. All the usual suspects are in play – I’ve been a bit sick at a low (and sometimes higher) level for the last week or two, things have been busy, I’ve hit that weird stride in time where things just seem to be dragging on. It’s about time to take stock of life as one tends to around the turnover in the proverbial odometer and I find myself troubled by the idea of taking stock, of looking at anything too big-picture or long-term. I’ve been tired and run-down, hungover from a January that was hard on everybody. I’ve been unable to find much to write about, just after being reinspired to revamp this blog and take it into the next stage.
A lot of what I’m realizing is that I’m trying to tear down the scaffolding of the transition that got me from the divorce era of my life to whatever’s next and suddenly understanding that the scaffolding is far more intractable than I’d prefer. This rears its head in the ugliest and untimeliest of places, usually around insecurities and defense mechanisms that I probably used to find childish in high schoolers and now am so helpless that I can’t help but employ them. But it’s also in realizing that I have a 55-to-70 hour work-week because I started working it at a time when I didn’t want to have a life outside of that work, when work becoming my entire life was the only way to survive. Or appreciating that the reason I can’t seem to find a big-picture view to pull back from was my self-enforced myopia of insisting that I only look at one day or week at a time to keep myself motivated to not look at a longer-term picture that had been stolen away, never to return. And it turns out that if you start walking around with blinders on for a couple years, you still can’t get much peripheral vision even when you take them off. If you get used to limping, you’ll still limp when your leg heals. If you only watch monochrome television, the whole world loses its color.
And tearing out the scaffolding is scary. The scaffolding gets comfortable. Anything meant to be temporary has a way of seeping into the landscape and becoming part of the full-time scene. Just ask any campus with “modular” housing or buildings that are among the oldest and longest-lasting structures on the premises, decades after their first condemnation. Talk to the Parisians about the Eiffel Tower. Anything that stands of its own accord and makes things more functional gets so comfortable that breaking out of it feels like destruction, no matter how healthy that breakout may be.
I’m moving out of my place at the end of March. My girlfriend and I are moving a few blocks across town to a place with more space, moving in properly after the slapdash job we did of it at summer’s end when we ran out of time to figure out alternatives. This time, there will be a kitchen and a bathroom not designed for the most single of people, there will be a place for her to work, there will be a small yard and storage for free downstairs and a more responsive person to call when things go wrong. It’s an upgrade of everything for only the most nominal increase in price and it’s clearly the right decision. And yet, the prospect of tearing up all the stuff, the boxes and books and clothes and furniture, putting it in a truck, and hauling it a half mile down the road, seems endlessly daunting. The same kind of daunting that makes me envy my minimalist friends and consider buying a yurt and moving to the Mongolian steppes with only a space heater and sleeping bag in tow.
It’s especially hard to consider moving this weekend, after I took two days off, elected not to return to Princeton for so many reasons, and instead tried skiing for the first time ever. This may not sound like a ton for an average almost-33-year-old to embark on, until you recall that I never learned to swim or ride a bike. The first after traumatic first encounters with attempted swimming and the second after careful reasoned weighing of the fall-to-benefit ratio (the prospects were poor at best). So getting on the mountainside in a pair of double-sized clown shoes and hoping to slide effectively was a pretty big challenge and significant props must be assigned to my girlfriend for convincing me to do this with relatively minimum fuss.
It was fun.
There was falling, have no fear. About four falls in the lesson, in which attempting to stop after 10 feet usually yielded success at 25 feet and a ridiculously exertive walk back up the hill, followed by roughly twenty-five more falls in several hours of bunny-sloping. But it was fun. The falls didn’t hurt, except for a couple where I banged a knee into a ski, and by the middle of the evening I’d sufficiently mastered the bunny slope to the point where I could almost always get down cleanly, often turning a lot and avoiding the foundered snowboarding kids dotting the hillside. I felt exhilarated, almost Olympic by the end of the exercise, which made the following 48 hours of excruciating soreness almost more satisfying in the remembrance of whooshing down the hill. I was grumpy that there was no middle-ground hill between the bunny slope and something my girlfriend (a three-time skiier) found to be death-defyingly stressful, so I was unable to take the next step in my training, but I also concluded that periodic trips to the bunny slope alone may be plenty exciting and wintry for future forays.
It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to move since, though. In almost any sense of the word. The muscles rebel, the mind flails, and the idea of picking oneself up and putting oneself on a course toward the future seems like commensurate effort to creating the sun from scratch.
Hung out with Ariel and Michael today, knocking on the door of fifteen years of friendship with the former, which is getting well on toward half my existence on the planet. Such milestones were easier to contemplate a few years ago, they didn’t imply other milestones erased or halted, others for which the idea of counting up too high now seems debilitating or just impossible by sheer force of will. Piling up numbers is the game of the successful, the upward-trajectory people, the Algers still proffering the cancerous myth of eternal growth and prosperity. And my life is much, much better than it was when I wanted to stop counting, when the odometer had to be blacked out, when all the scaffolding and silly spiked walls went up. But tearing the tape of the odometer is as hard as the rest of it, and I’m in no mood to relearn some of this math. Not yet.
Last week, I spent some of my limited free time taking in my Prius to the dealer to try to fix a problem with the gas gauge. About three weeks before, it had started displaying that the tank was empty when it still had a quarter-tank left. It would only take enough gas to fill three-quarters of the tank, return to full, and then almost immediately start reading a quarter-tank less than it actually had.
The problem persisted for tank after tank, even when I let it go for a hundred miles flashing empty without consequence as it burned the remains of the invisible gas.
The dealer charged me $70 to do nothing and tell me that it was only supposed to be an estimate and that everything looked fine to them, even though the reading was clearly inaccurate and was reflecting gas mileage 25% worse than normal, strangely equivalent to the amount of gas missing from each apparent tank. They told me they’d recalibrated the gauge, but it still displayed just as it had for the weeks prior, a quarter-tank low.
I couldn’t possibly invent a better metaphor if I wanted to. And this is just real life, happening all around us.