Categotry Archives: The Long Tunnel

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One-Way Train

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

When I got on the train bound for New York City yesterday, I didn’t think I was boarding a time machine. I thought I was embarking on a conventional landbound vehicle for a city long hated, long tolerated, long rearing moments of significance in the annals of my life. But I was wrong and HG Wells was right. This train carried no gamblers, only ghosts.

I stepped off the Princeton Junction platform and the seats of brown leather affronted my eyes and I was whisked backward more than a decade, suddenly remembering the first time I’d been on a New Jersey Transit train of any variety. The year was 1999 and I was accompanied by my recent debate partner, Dalia, and a few top debaters from New York schools who were heading back to said city. Dalia was showing me the ropes of the train system between New York and Princeton after I’d spent two weekends trying to show her the ropes of debate. She was the sophomore, but I was the one with an upside on my career, to the pointed reality of a fifth round judgment that would forever poison me to the idea of our further partnership.

After breaking at Swarthmore with a 3-1 record, she and I had gone to Princeton and were sitting on a 3-1 record again, facing a Williams team while we were on Opp. We were hopeful going in and euphoric going out, for we’d clearly crushed their case. The other team had name recognition and debaters with lofty successes, but we’d pluckily been upsetting teams with more age and experience the whole time we’d partnered. Indeed, had she not insisted we flip Gov in octos at Swarthmore, a top-level senior team from UVa might have been added to our list of the upset. But we were confident Williams would be joining our list of notches and our 4-1 record would put us on the verge of the break.

Come break announcements, of course, Williams was in and we were out. Appalled, I sought out our judge, one D. Silverman. He spent many minutes outside the building which had hosted our round, on a quad I now know well from traversing it to get to the Chancellor Green library. I never can walk that path without thinking of that conversation with this cocky and later evidently contemptible man. We went around and around about the finer points of the round for a good long time before he finally leveled with me, recognizing my tenacity was not easily sated and I was not buying his flimsy excuses. He told me frankly that my partner was a liability, that there was no way a school like Princeton could risk having a person like her in or near the break. He raised his eyebrows and asked if I understood. It was crystal to me. I had learned what kind of people could populate this debate circuit, what kind of hubris the Ivies could produce, and what I had to do to ensure future success. I never debated with Dalia again.

What I didn’t know then was that Dalia had dated our judge that round for a while. I heard graphic details about their entanglement the next year. What I did find out later that tournament, however, was who said judge had moved on to. One E. Garin. The same Garin I’d developed a scorching crush on after hitting her in novice semifinals at the Brown tournament earlier that semester. Sitting in McCosh 50, the grand lecture hall hung high with ornate beams and raftered lighting, watching the time pass between quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals in which we were not invited to partake, I sat hunched over the curved wood seat in front of me and wondered how this could be. My teammates cracked brief jokes about their height differential and her being from California, but all I could wonder was how someone so Machiavellian could land someone so seemingly bright and charming.

I would be wondering that for a number of years.

We all know the history, the rest of the story, the way it relates to New York. And sadly, we all know this story doesn’t have a happy ending any more. It’s not a story of redemption and triumph and vindication. If anything, it’s a story of unheeded warnings, of making one’s bed and lying in it, of judging people on their judgment and sticking to it. Years later, before 9/11 but also in New York (Fordham, precisely), I would resolve myself to give up on this years’ worth of pining for this girl because her judgment must be simply too flawed if she could stay with someone who disrespected her so much. And yet. And yet. I’d joked that if I’d known at that diner conversation that she was still with him, we never would have ultimately gotten together. That joke was never funny, I now realize. It’s tragic and scary.

But I have gotten ahead of myself, jumped off the tracks. The ghosts were not in a diner or at Fordham or haunting the vaunted streets of the Big Apple. They were on brown leather seats, backpacks and luggage and sleeping bags strewn, debaters dog-tired but generally satisfied. Despite herself, Dalia was happy with our performance and unperturbed by our fifth round miscarriage of justice. Another debater, Jess from Columbia, was glowing with the success of her final-round appearance not more than an hour prior. They were chatty and punchy as the train rolled down the tracks. Confronted with twin affronts from a particular person, I was inconsolable. Trying to look forward to the rest of the week at NYU with Gris, but utterly despondent about the man who could end my hopes for success in debate and love at almost the same time.

My companions, to their credit, made every effort to engage me and cheer me up. Dalia, perhaps knowing that she had dated our fifth round judge, was more circumspect about putting our loss in perspective. She kept trying to buoy me with discussions about our future partnership, comments that only drove me further inward as I writhed with the knowledge that she was a declared liability who I would have to find a way to ditch. Jess told me to put my freshman year (now almost finished) in perspective, noting that I’d collected more success than almost all my classmates and that she was one of the few prior winners of the Columbia Novice Tournament who’d stuck around. She cited her success that weekend, showing it was worth it. She described the alleged curse of CNT winners quitting the event, encouraged me to stick with it.

The next weekend, she and her partner would unseat me in semifinals at the CCNY Pro-Am tournament, also in New York. Our fifth and quarterfinal rounds would both be wins, though. Against the Princeton team of Silverman/Garin.

In the meantime, Gris and I had a good time in New York during Brandeis’ second spring break. We joked and laughed and took my mind off my debate reputation and the latest girl I’d liked and lost. As I reported about that week in the Waltham Weekly on the verge of a third consecutive trip to the New York area, this time for Nationals at Fordham:

We also failed to do most of the touristy things in the appley metropolis, to which Greg (one of my hallmates & friends here), who grew up on Manhattan, said “good”. The World Trade Center looked like a really good idea till we saw a longer line than the towers are tall, with a $12.50 fee waiting at the end of it. But mostly we went to delis & coffee shops in SoHo & that area, & I rode the subway a lot, esp. to get to my debate tourney the second weekend, which was in the middle of Harlem & revealed a completely different side of the island than where I’d been staying. In the end, I’ve concurred with the analysis of millions who’ve gone before me…. NY is a great place to visit, but I really couldn’t imagine living there. But I’m sure glad Gris does so I can visit so easily!

This time around, fully ensconced in my memories of April 1999, my stay was only a few hours. I had time to print resumes at a print shop and get an egg sandwich at one of the trucks near the employment agency conducting my “interview”. I had time afterward to stroll the streets and dump quarters into payphones that all seem to conspire against the idea of enabling long-distance calls. I had time to contemplate what it would mean to spend the year of my attempted recovery from the decade since 9/11 and everything that followed riding brown leather seats into New York City two, three, four days a week.

You can’t make this stuff up. I write fiction so I have something believable in my life.

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Categories: A Day in the Life, The Long Tunnel, Tags: ,

In debate, we talk a decent amount about the distinction between positive and negative rights. Most of you will be familiar, but the basic idea is the split between something that the state actively provides and something the state prevents you from losing or being infringed. For example, you have a positive right to vote. You have a negative right to not be killed.

Increasingly, I’ve found applications for this concept in things that have nothing to do with the rights that the state theoretically distributes to people. The active/passive or positive/negative distinction seems to play an even greater role in personal relationships than it might in political ones. Most everyone seems to bring preconceptions into living, relationships, and daily activities that prioritize the provision of positive privileges or negative ones. And this divide may be one of the most important and profound in impacting how the course of a relationship, friendship, or society evolves.

In the context of a relationship, some folks are Gesture People. They expect little flourishes and actions that constantly remind them that the other person is thinking of them in ways that lead to something active. They want flowers, cards, surprises, sweeping moves. Sure, we all want this to a certain extent – no one is either entirely one side or the other. It’s a continuum. But increasingly it seems there are people for whom this type of manifestation of feeling is paramount – they don’t know how to feel loved without it.

Contrastingly, others are what I might call Hippocratic People. Not hypocritical – stay with me now. Those for whom the manifestation of love is the absence of harm. That no matter what’s done or said or happens over the course of the relationship, a baseline of understanding and empathy is never breached. There is a floor of feeling that evidences a level of care that one could only take and effectuate for someone they love. For these folks, any violation of the presumed floor is potentially cataclysmic evidence of the lack of love.

There are probably broader levels and layers to this whole thing that I’m not thinking of, and even if it’s binary, it’s a continuum and not a dichotomy. But spending some time thinking about where you fall on this line will probably improve whatever relationships you’re invested in, present or future. And it’s not to say that Gesture People can’t be quite happy with Hippocratic People. But it takes a lot of work – it takes an awareness of how different the other person’s presumptions about the evidence of feeling can be. If these things aren’t understood and communicated, you’ll have a situation where someone keeps making little gestures in the hopes of reciprocity while casually trampling through the floor of understanding, unable to comprehend why they are always treated with a certain care but almost never those same little gestures in kind.

Even identifying these differences isn’t enough by any means. In some cases, you can spend years trying to communicate across this seemingly minor divide and still not make it work. But it’s worth trying, worth thinking about for a little bit. No one is afforded a positive right to a relationship in our state, but we all would prefer to enjoy a negative right to prevent us from losing love.

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The Differences

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I don’t like food.

I love M. Night Shyamalan and almost all of his movies.

I’m not a fan of comedy in almost any form.

I believe in God.

Okay, this last one is kind of cheating, because I guess it doesn’t set me apart from everyone. But the way people have been talking about it lately, I’m almost surprised that it doesn’t. I almost am coming to expect that whatever I think or believe is on the fringe of humanity, the outside looking in, huddled in the snow as the window frosts from my fading breath as I cup my hands against the glass. Breathe in, cold solace. Breathe out, the visage before me vanishes in a pale cloud of obfuscation.

I saw a movie tonight, Saturday night, the result primarily of my new landlord’s inability to get an inspection in time for the scheduled weekend move. My Dad flew out to help me move and wound up helping me pack, to much relief of mine, before heading back today. I skipped the William & Mary tournament, a relief only to potential endless driving, but it turns out Dave & Kyle made semifinals in the best showing for a full Rutgers team since the spring of 2006. So another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody but M. Night and his new movie that they kept him from writing since anything he touches turns to critical disaster these days. His idea, his mood, his setting, but a few extra names to offset the presumed poison.

It wasn’t the best thing he’s worked on, but it was good. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an M. Night movie in theaters (I admittedly skipped “Airbender”) and I was struck by how the Philadelphia setting affected me in my new context as someone who spends a lot of time in Philly. Of course, I was further struck by the core themes of the film. Not just faith, which is in there, but the personal responsibility of the people who willfully or wantonly do damage to others. The question looms as to whether “the devil made them do it,” but ultimately the answer comes that only they themselves can UNdo it, whatever it may be. Or not undo it, I should say, but undo the destiny of their own demise in light of their mistakes and the lies they choose to believe from themselves. Suffice it to say that I found this message compelling tonight.

The rest of the time, of course, it was a movie at Market Fair on a Saturday night in Princeton. I’ve been feeling old for a while, but nothing quite feels so old as this context, especially an 8:00 show. All around me were the young, the hip, the trendy. Pockets full of money and minds empty of cares. Shrieks and giggles and hands aflutter. Even the pimpled loners sprung with a kind of exuberance I can barely remember feeling myself. The dingy carpet of the lobby felt like my lawn; the disgruntled upwellings in the back of my mind the plaintive yells for the youth to vacate. It would not have been so bad, of course, had not so many of these vibrant teens been all over each other. Not in any inappropriate or unexpected way, mind, but merely in the playful, shy, and devastatingly cute ways of couples old and new.

Here a patient but underconfident young woman, standing by her man even after a crippling leg injury forced them into the penalty box front and center generally reserved for those accompanying the elderly wheelchaired infirm. They crawled out toward the parking lot after, her unconcerned for time or space as he pitched himself slowly on a bound leg and two metal frames. There a blushing new couple, perhaps a third or fourth date, stealing glances from each other in an effort to break the awkwardness of staring straight ahead, yet hoping all too much not to get caught.

They know how the game is played and what the stakes are. I don’t anymore. I am unmoored. My whole life, since I was maybe four or five and first had crushes on girls, all I’ve wanted out of life is to be married to the love of my life. Now that experience is behind me and I don’t know what to want anymore. For the first time in a quarter-century, marriage is not the pinnacle. It’s not something I’m even sure I ever want again. I don’t know how to date or even think about dating without wanting that. I don’t know how to be, how to act, how to treat other people. Sure, I have my friends, I have the debate team, I have contexts I still understand. But outside of that, it’s a long lonely world of foreign feelings. What is the larger purpose of life? How does one find something that’s not sustainable love to be sustaining?

I get the feeling this might be another one of those differences. That most other people are muddling through weird feelings for people without knowing what they want or how or why, hoping to figure out by the time they’re my age or even older what it is they were really trying to do. If I didn’t know better and she hadn’t testified otherwise so strenuously for so long, I’d even say I married such a person. Maybe I did anyway. So it’s weird to go in this direction, to look at high school kids and see people who have it all figured out as I come unglued at the seams and disintegrate at the advent of my fourth decade. This is not the direction life is supposed to go. This is not how things are supposed to evolve. Or perhaps it’s inevitable for the people who think most seriously. I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.

What do you want when you’ve lost everything you ever wanted and can’t have it back? And why?

Pulling into the movie theater, before M. Night and the teens had their way with my emotions, Garrison Keillor got his shot to prime the pump in the parking lot. He was talking about people flipping out and changing, people turning their life on a dime so suddenly at what should have been the height of their maturity. But even his story had a logic, an explanation, a predictability – the inevitable mid-life mayhem of, as he put it, getting an AARP card in the mail. Retirement, obsolescence, a meaningful loss of youth. It’s classic and obvious and sensible. No one is prepared for the torments and regrets of realizing one is too old for the life they imagined.

I’m not ready to be put out to pasture. But I am going in the wrong direction. Somewhere between here and my AARP card, I’ve gotta find the faith or hope or the Philadelphia elevator or even Minnesota small town that puts me back on a course toward something that makes sense. And all I can think about are the memories.

Maybe I just need to move out of Tiny House already.

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Ten-Day Hindcast

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

Some days, you wake up and realize that ten days have gone by without you really sharing what’s going on in your life with people. Maybe you don’t, I should observe. I do. Maybe you wake up and realize that you’ve never really shared what’s going on in your life with people. Or that you’ve shared every day. I used to do that. That last one.

Things have been eventful and emotional. Trying to sum up the whole week and a half is both impossible and largely irrelevant, since so much of it has been about trials and tribulations that have largely corrected or improved or at least gotten to the point where I can’t worry or care so much as I did about that one specific thing. It’s complicated and trying and ultimately probably doesn’t make very good reading. I’m going to be working a lot over the next year on making things that are very good reading. And maybe even throw in a few more photos. There’s going to be a lot to see here, methinks, so don’t get used to these ten-day droughts. Just a few more to come, then content city. Maybe.

One of the things I want to post content on will be my new apartment in Highland Park, New Jersey, a suburb of New Brunswick, home of the Rutgers team that cleaned up this past weekend. But my landlord is dragging his feet a bit and the move-in date keeps getting pushed. I’m still holding out for this weekend – if it’s not then, I’m going to feel very silly for ditching the William & Mary tournament to move, let alone having my Dad fly out here in part to help me move. Still holding out hope for not feeling silly, but we won’t know till tomorrow for sure.

The tournament was fantastic and helped convince me that I’ve made a good call in sticking around Rutgers, APDA, and even New Jersey this year. There was every reason to believe that it would still be a struggle, tinged with unhappiness and strife and newly sad memories. Instead, the tournament was roughly the exact opposite, punctuated with great camaraderie among both new and old on the team, great reconnecting with APDA comrades, a marvelously fun demo round with Joel, and moments of real happiness for the first time in possibly two months. ‘Twas amazing. The fact that I could muster all that in the first tournament of the year under present circumstances was a huge ratification and endorsement of recent decisions. I may never believe in any of my long-term decisions again, let alone trust myself, but I’m going to run with what I learned last weekend.

Then we had the “Bachelorette Party” for Ariel, whose wedding is almost upon us, and then my Dad came into town. We’ve been working through the apartment, the burgeoning reality of my situation, and years’ worth of accumulation. I’ve been trying to eat and sleep when possible. Yesterday was really tough. Today was much better. Tomorrow, I’m hoping, will be at least as good as today.

I like this space better when I can be poetic, when I can illustrate the whole world in a poignant vignette or reflection. But I’ll take this too, especially when I haven’t been heard from in a while. I’m here, I’m hanging in, some days are even not terrible. I’m not willing to say that time is running its course or anything that overly positive, but at least things are looking the least bit up. Sideways? Maybe microscopically up.

It’s enough for today. Maybe I lost the person who made me a grateful person, but I can still try to find grace in a little corner of each rotation of the Earth.

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Dining with My Future

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Long Tunnel, Tags: ,

Fish’s house is a long narrow rowhouse nestled on one of the narrowest streets that allows parking in the United States of America. It’s a one-way street barely two car-widths wide, part of a series of such confusing glorified alleys that make up his rather cute neighborhood for struggling families in Philadelphia. People push in their parked cars’ side mirrors to make sure they don’t rankle against the opposite-side mirrors of the cars trying to squeak by them as their tires hug the curb, leaving a soft sheen of black rubber on the off-white cement.

Up the street a few blocks and across a street with plenty of lanes and parking stands the Melrose Diner, a Philadelphia institution that’s been through about twenty-five ownership changes in the last decade or so by most accounts. No one wants to let the place die, but everyone seems to come in with their own attitude of neglect or refurbishment. Many locals will tell you the place used to be amazing but has since fallen on hard times. It seems most online reviewers agree. The place still has the look and feel of the glory days of chrome, and the food and prices don’t disappoint. The waitstaff is wildly inconsistent, ranging from grizzled and gruff but thoroughly competent to young and diffident and apt to forget one’s table altogether. There seem to be more staff than patrons, no matter how full the place is.

Today I awoke with a hangover I couldn’t have had. Granted, I’ve been prone to dehydration lately and my late-night meal included two Coca-Cola Classics, the most I’ve had in one sitting in many years. Fish and Madeleine and Skipper and I went out to a Mexican restaurant and bar down the road to play my new copy of Settlers and drink and eat spicy food and entertain our hip waiter to no end. Skipper coached me in the ways of being divorced and I settled into a social setting where Emily’s absence was more permanent than temporary. It was fun in many ways, almost something like real fun instead of the pale shadow of former fun that so many normally good activities have felt like lately. But I also had to resist the urge to order alcohol for the first time, to chase two Cokes with something that might impair my memory enough to staunch my hemophiliac wounds. As a reward, this morning greeted me early with the sound of shrieking children out the window and a feeling like my head against a board. Just to remind me, I suppose, why I don’t cross that threshold.

It’s Labor Day, a day to celebrate, and Fish’s quaint little block that recently reversed its one-way direction to favor the flow of children’s bicycles over crosstown vehicular traffic had decided to host a Block Party. It was too early to feel I could move, let alone move my car, but the ballplaying children of Philadelphia awoke early to a last Monday without school and were all too ready to whoop their farewell to summer while careening down the narrow strip of asphalt. I felt the tug of guilt at the Prius standing in their way, felt a tug of concern for the dent of a football against the metal, plastic, glass, felt the pang of realizing how much of my last year of life had been spent preparing myself to have a child in the next couple years. The laughter, the fragility, the innocent hubris of youth, wafting up the brick face of the building and through the screen window, gently settling on my overly sensitive ear unfettered by the pillow that covered its twin. Memories of my own childhood, its joys and traumas. Am I glad to be born anymore? Maybe it’s for the best that I will likely never reproduce.

I held out for hours, navigating the minefield of memory and contemplation that has become my quiet time alone, will define said time for probably years to come. Occasionally sleep would snatch me away for blissful tens of minutes, sometimes only to relinquish me more profoundly in the throes of melancholy recall than ever before as penance. I tossed. I turned. I heard the doppling sound of whizzing children underneath the window. Finally, as I heard another car being moved, I could wait no more and groggily donned pants and shoes for the slide of a quiet blue car for less demanded pastures. It was only 9:30 in the morning.

Upon my shuffled return, I saw no reason to be awake, so I returned to the alternation of nightmare, relief, and waking memory that had adorned the few hours just behind me. It was not until the first hour of the afternoon that I decided pillows and air mattresses were no match for my headache and coffee would be necessary. Nothing and no one in the house stirred, so I scrawled a hasty note and descended the creaky stripped stairs for the throng of Block Partiers and the chrome monument just beyond. The place was abuzz, a hubbub of 80% capacity denoting a leisurely lunchtime crowd. I found a corner of the counter, spread my palms wide on the cool formica, and waited to express an interest in equal measures of coffee and water.

I was unlucky with the waitstaff this time around, drawing one of those disinterested and distracted waitresses who seem querulously unsure why people keep asking them for things as they try to enjoy their afternoon. This turned a somewhat officious trip for necessary fuel into an unending odyssey of reading Huxley and observing my own cast of conversational characters as they traversed the booths and seats in my vicinity. Most everyone was with someone else, and all in a famously good mood. Monday holidays in America are a reprieve, a get-out-of-jail-free card, an unexpected stay of execution. They transform Sunday-night-dread into delirious revelry, Monday afternoon drudgery into the false hope of real freedom. People slapped backs and pounded tables and laughed themselves silly, stuffing forkfuls of nourishment into already pudgy faces as they warded off the feeling that tomorrow they die.

But halfway through the meal, a kindred. Hopelessly awkward but with his own ugly sort of charm, a man in his forties or early fifties, unkempt without being unclean. Glasses and a moppy wave of brown hair holding off the last vestiges of beginning baldness. He had reading material like I did, sat six seats away around the counter’s long swoop. A regular, clearly, addressing at least three waitresses by name and lingering over the discussion with my inattentive friend as he dorkily voiced a profound need for coffee. “I don’t just need coffee, I need it bad!” he explained, taking a reflexive self-giggle at his ability to poke fun at his tired chemical demands. I realized he’d been up about as long as I had, and I could guess in a roughly comparably tormented state. I don’t need to tell you he lacked a wedding ring.

It was as I had already set my plate aside and was vainly hoping for another coffee refill that the next man joined the counter culture, squarely ensconcing himself between the older man and I. He, of course, even older, maybe mid-seventies at the most, unafraid to wear his large hearing aid with pride or take his time in the shuffling walk and little grunty struggle up to the counter seat. Not only a regular, this one, but a regular for perhaps longer than I’d walked this planet, warmly greeting waitresses not only in his immediate vision but behind him and around him as they paused with laden plates to return the entreaty even more warmly. A favorite, a kindly old soul offering the last of his Social Security and social interaction to the disenchanted diner denizens who take his tips home to too many children they see too little. He was past the point of reading, perhaps exemplifying a desire to merely see and be seen, to exchange softspoken words in his only hour-long exception to an otherwise silent world.

It hit me about then, double-checking his own lack of wedding ring and the corresponding absence of a tired gray-haired companion back home, that I was dining with my future selves. Oh sure, I wasn’t quite as overtly geeky as the ten-years-on manifestation, nor as hopeless as my nearer model. But I would be. I will be. I can see it all before me now, and shortly before leaving took time to make quiet appreciative eye-contact with these portentous brethren. I am he as you are me and we are all together. The jilted, the never-loved, the lonely men who find solace in the busy clatter of frying eggs and hastily scrubbed dishes and excited conversation of those who are not solo. This is how we do it. One day after another, one meal at a time, fueling ourselves on a long slow drive into an oblivion whose final exit no one will care to see.

I raise my cup to you, good sirs. To me. May we adorn the counters of a million restaurants to come, indirectly finding a way to feed children who will never be our own.

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Chasing Memories

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

I think I’ve spent most of my life chasing memories. I do something, I enjoy it, and then I spend years trying to recreate that thing and get back to a place where I can relive that moment or reinvent it in some meaningful way. Maybe it’s what everyone does when they seek out future experiences and maybe it’s something only I do to this extent. I don’t know. This idea is new enough and uncertain enough that I can’t tell whether it’s a revelation or tripe.

It certainly explains the decision to come back to debate and start coaching after spending so many years missing debate after college graduation. It explains my taste in restaurants, in activities, in people. It explains most everything I do and every decision I make. The choice of where to live in the next year largely hinged on choosing between something I remembered liking (debate coaching) vs. some place I remembered liking to live (Albuquerque) vs. some trails I remembered liking to hike (Grand Canyon/Flagstaff). I’ve chosen, by the way. I’m moving to Highland Park, NJ, a suburb of New Brunswick, through June 2011. Moving west in the summer unless something radically unforeseeable happens. You know, because radically unforeseeable would be such a change at this point.

I think what I’m saying is pretty mundane and trivial. It felt revelatory, but it’s coming off sounding silly. Of course we chase memories, right? I mean, how does one know what one likes to do or who one likes to be if one can’t remember aspects of that reality? All we have to go on is our experience and perhaps the testimony and feedback of others. What else is there? Visionary thinking, I guess – the ability to imagine oneself in a new place and situation and see if one likes it. But how well does that work? And how would one judge what one can envision oneself liking without basing that on the aforementioned memories? Otherwise it would be pure speculation or invention. Or just randomness.

I guess part of this is about me being more past-oriented than the average person. I’m probably about two-thirds past-oriented and one-third present. The future doesn’t hold a lot for me. And if you thought that was true before all this happened… wow. So yeah. The past seems like the basis for whatever future there could be. I was a History major. I am fascinated by the collected actions of people in the past, what led us to this very point. I am certain that there are codes and patterns in the past that would be able to tell you precisely what will take place in the future, or at least the decisions that the future actions will be based upon. And who doesn’t want to predict the future? Maybe there’s a little room in me for future-orientation as well.

The future is starting to take a little shape, for better or for worse. I’m sticking with the Rutgers team, which I’m excited about, even though I’d ideally relocate them (and all of my East Coast friends) to the desert Southwest. I’ve got plans to volunteer at a soup kitchen, maybe even to swing that into some sort of employment at some point. Short of the latter, I’d like to get some part-time work doing something else, probably something rote and officey and relatively mindless just to get me out and about and put a little extra money in my pocket. I think three or four demands on my time would be about right to keep me sufficiently distracted to somehow survive whatever combination of separation and divorce lies ahead.

But what are all these things? Mere shadows of past memories. I remember enjoying the Rutgers team last year, and debate for nine years before that. I remember enjoying volunteering at a soup kitchen. I remember finding solace and structure in office work. I remember how I tried to distract myself the last time the loss of love drove me to the brink of destruction.

How does one make a new memory? How does one dive off the cliff and into the cold cold water of the unprecedented? Should one even strive to? Or is everything in our future built on a pyramid of the few good memories we’re left with that somehow survive unscathed and unfettered into the future? How much of the promise of a memory depends on its sanctity, on its untainted state in the future? “The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.” Yes? Yes, but? Is all experience destined to yellow with age, to curl and crinkle till the bright sincere smiles get mangled into ghoulish grins? Is every good thing an implicit portend of its own doom?

The chase is on.

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The Curse of Idealism

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

What’s interesting about my perspective in contrast with others’ perspectives is that perception is often a long long way from reality. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve really realized that my sadness comes from my idealism. That ultimately most people are innately pessimistic/realistic and accordingly don’t have a very high bar of hope. And since they work on a given scale of magnitude where the potential highs are flattened, they don’t get sad or upset or angry that often when things fall short. Because it’s not that much to fall short from. Whereas I, with my ideals and hopes and high standards, my real understanding of what humanity could be capable of if they cared, get pissed when things go awry.

It’s an important observation, and one that I’ve made in various ways, but I want to sort of bookmark the clarity of my understanding of it now. I slept a good deal last night for the first time in possibly weeks and I awoke in the sort of haze-state of first consciousness with a new depth to my understanding that other people are mostly just slogging through a relatively high concentration of mud and pragmatism and low expectations and accordingly find it easy to be happy with little things. Someone doesn’t look at them funny or says something nice and that exceeds expectations by such a degree that it puts them in a good mood. They can be happy and satisfied with less. They aren’t sitting around chalking up every subpar interaction and comparing it against what could be done. And, most importantly and contrastingly from me, they aren’t trying to mine every decision they make or experience they have for ways to improve in the future.

It’s this last bit that becomes the really damning thing. For by taking the perspective that living is serious business and that we’re on the planet to learn and grow instead of just muddle through and muck about, I end up disgruntled a lot more often than people who don’t expect much of themselves. And people can expect a lot from themselves in a given arena without trying to really thoroughly pump every experience and detail for information and potential progress. I understand more and more how deadly serious and debilitating and strangling my perspective must seem to people who don’t share it. When do I have room for fun?

But the flipside of all this, of course, seems to be the manic side, wherein I end up enjoying things in a purer, even more childlike way than most anyone I know. Most others seem afraid of expressing excitement or enthusiasm. And I think that’s related to the idealism too. If one doesn’t let oneself hope or dare to dream, then the potential ceiling on any experience is pretty low. It’s not that wildly captivating to get to have a good time, because that time is capped by the mucky muddly realities of the species and the planet. It reminds me of Russian and the fact that the word for happiness doesn’t have a permanent state – most folks are wandering around only hoping for fleeting satisfactions and thus can’t throw themselves into really enjoying them full-throttle in the way of a childlike idealist.

It’s easy to look at all this and say that I just haven’t grown up. That part of growing up is about moderating one’s emotional highs and lows or even the conviction or belief that emotions matter at all. But the ability to maintain childlike wonder, appreciation, hope, and idealism is what separates everyone I respect and admire on the public scene from everyone else in the world. Gandhi, King, and all the writers are people who objectively never grew up. They were visionaries, luminaries, people who could see beyond and above and had greater faith and higher hopes than anyone else thought practical. You can look at the lesson of their lives and say look, they just got a bullet for their troubles, proving that this is all mucky and muddly and useless. But I disagree. I think it’s clear that these are the only people who make our species worth discussing at all. Would that we could be judged by these examples rather than their assassins, rather than the practical doers who only aspire to sell out a little less this time.

I refuse to settle. Even if it kills me. If I die because of it, then I die once. But if I settle and compromise my ideals, I die every time I wake up and face a new hopeless day.

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This Desert Life

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I find I have less and less to say with my own voice. The wide applicability of that comment is hard to underestimate. Most music is dying for me, but the few songs that aren’t say everything I could possibly have to say at this point.

All my friends got flowers in their eyes
but I got none this season
all of last year’s blooms have gone and died
time doesn’t give a reason
hey baby do you ask yourself sometimes
what you need to be forgiven
everything that you ever done wrong
is the reason that I’m driven
straight to you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I get my ends and my beginnings mixed up too
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to stay for just another day
or two

(It’s just like answers
that come in small packages that go in the mail)

Waiting for the trains that just never come
beginning to believe in
the disappearing nature of
the people we have been
we have begun to change
into the worst kind of people
so unkind
oh apologies
no apologies
this apology
doesn’t describe
the way
it feels
to feel
for you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I find myself
slowly disappearing too
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to help me to remain
with you

I just wanna stay for a little while
I wanna stay a little while
oh come on come on come on come on

There’s a night life falling down on me
I just feel like a change
beneath the sun in the summer a sea of flowers
won’t bloom
without the rain
but oh this desert life
this high life
here at the dying end of the day

I wasn’t made for the scene, baby
but I was made in this scene
baby, it’s just my way
I don’t wanna go home alone
I wanna come on home to you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I line my sky with all the silver I can use
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to stay for just another day
or two

(Isn’t that just like
disappearing into the sum of yourself
and the person you are disappearing into
it’s like one plus one equals nothing at all
one plus two equals nothing at all
one plus me equals nothing at all
one plus you equals one plus you equals you equals
you and you and you and
nothing at all)

-Counting Crows

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Hope

Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

“Get busy living or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right… I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
-Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, The Shawshank Redemption

Depending on who you listen to, hope is either a dangerous thing that can make men crazy, or maybe the best thing in life. It’s probably both. I’ve had a hard time today, though the last 24-48 hours have been pretty good overall. I’ve looked at two or three apartments in New Brunswick worth applying for, done so, and gone on to conclude that I may just need to flee to the West sooner than later. I have no earthly idea what I want or what I should be doing. My compass is broken.

Nevertheless, I feel a certain optimism as I approach the coming days ahead. If nothing else, things will be resolved, will come to some kind of conclusion so long deferred. As impossible as this situation has been for so long, it promises to get a little less impossible soon. A little. Best not hope for too much.

I can’t believe I’ve made it through the last six weeks.

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For the Last Time

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I am doing your dishes
for the last time
trying not to drop tears
or nasal runoff
into the too-hot soapy water

I see each crack
groove, nick, chip, scratch
in each plate and could tell you where it’s from
when it happened
I was always the one with the memory

I wish I weren’t

I would do your dishes forever
if you’d let me
just to have a role in your life
to make it better, cleaner, simpler, easier
I would do anything

People say these phrases
but they don’t mean them
not until now, at the end
when they actually lose it all
everything’s different when it’s too late

It’s not too late

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…It Pours

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Quick Updates, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

This is getting absurd.

The Counting Crows show was a great experience overall, despite manifesting as an emotional woodchipper that forced me to hysterical tears during at least six songs. I’ll write up that whole situation at some point – I was excited to post the setlist and review after spending a first night here in Princeton.

Turns out I wasn’t so lucky. I went to sleep with a good deal of pain in my left side and it was so excruciating at 5:00 in the morning that it woke me up. I spent a panicky half-hour wanting to throw up and being unable to, then looking up appendicitis, discovering my pain was on the wrong side, and still being concerned anyway. I wound up deciding to head to the ER. After all, no one’s here living with me to talk down from the ledge or reassure me or offer me anything anymore.

Turns out, five hours of hospital later, including my first-ever CAT scan and first-ever IV, that I have kidney stones. Yeah. Also known as perhaps the only human experience more painful than childbirth. Because that’s what I needed about now. A good old-fashioned medical walloping. Hooray.

Lots more doctor’s visits to come to determine why I’m getting them and what I can do to mitigate. If you need me, I’ll be ducking and covering under the bed and trying not to blink.

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When it Rains…

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

A prevailing theory behind the recent series of events to befall my life is that I am actually the living incarnation of the Biblical figure Job. Suffice it to say that this theory just got a big boost from recent events up north in Jersey:

Public Safety and the Department of Facilities assisted residents of the Butler Apartments who were affected by the severe thunderstorms that generated high winds and dumped rain shortly before 5 p.m. by establishing a shelter in the Frist Multipurpose Room.

Cots and toiletries were available, and Dining Services made food and beverages available to Butler residents who were not allowed to return to their homes. Because of the downed trees and power lines, homeward bound residents of Butler Apartments were instructed at 6:45 p.m. to go instead to Frist Campus Center. Residents at home were informed that they should not go outside, as those who left their homes in some instances were not being allowed by municipal emergency responders to return. These displaced residents also were being asked to seek shelter at Frist. University shuttles were sent to Butler to transport residents.

Early estimates were that fallen trees damaged at least four homes at Butler, among trees that fell in more than a dozen locations across campus. There were no injuries.

Given Emily’s and my calamitous history with insurance claims in the past year, including an overturned moving truck, a direct three-car collision while we were stopped at a red light, and Emily tripping in a crosswalk and landing on her nose, it would only be fitting that our house was one of the four in the direct line of a falling tree. I won’t know for sure until we get some all-clear updates from Princeton and I wander back up that way anyway, which will probably be Wednesday at the earliest.

In light of the way things have been going, it would only make sense if the house that hosted the best year of our marriage decided to literally fall apart under some disastrous series of events. I am not trying to tempt fate or egg on disaster, but I am at that point of existence where I feel utterly incapable of being surprised. If my return drive to Jersey involves being chased by a localized hurricane that is exactly the size of a car footprint, it will hardly faze me. We are at the stage where more ridiculousness only enhances the eventual story to be told some day when, incomprehensibly, the pain might not be quite so acute.

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Fugue State

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Long Tunnel, Tags: ,

Humans are adaptable creatures. This is usually cited as a great strength of our ridiculous species, a reason for hope and even celebration as we embark on conquering new vistas and narrowing distant horizons. And yet there are great drawbacks to our adaptability. We are able to justify horrendous atrocities to ourselves in the name of adjusting to a new set of circumstances, always with that watchword of “survival” as the ultimate goal, either implicit or explicit. Nearly every wrong you can think of has been committed in the name of survival, of adapting to or creating a new better reality, of protecting someone from a possible allegedly greater wrong.

As I confront the daily struggle to survive amidst my new set of circumstances, amidst the leaden weights that have been dropped from the clear blue sky upon me, I feel most threatened by the idea of becoming someone I don’t want to be. I am all too aware of the fact that I’m capable of adapting to this new reality, of finding a way to merely adjust and survive and see this through to the other side. But it’s terrifying and dangerous. I don’t want to watch myself transform, in the name of surviving, into a jerk, an asshole, a terrible person. And it’s all too easy to see how it could happen. I could become callous, diffident, uncaring, indifferent to the feelings and tenderness that got me into all this mess in the first place. It is perhaps the almost universal gut reaction to this kind of cataclysmic romantic rejection to go out and destroy other hearts, to rend people in two in the name of vindication or justice. I don’t even know how to help myself. And it is this, more than anything perhaps, that inclines me toward ending things instead of seeing how I can survive.

Of course the conundrum has another side, namely that ending things itself would be an even graver insult to the hearts who remain as recipients for my own care. And that still holds me back, ties me to the unimaginably painful mast of this tempest-tossed limbo I traverse each day. But each evening as the mast splits in the storm, forcing me over backward in spine-rending acrobatics, I wonder whether this sacrifice is worth it. How long can I watch my vertebrae shake and bifurcate without hardening my own heart? How many bones do I have to lose before I become someone I can no longer respect? I spent part of the last year being proud of myself for the first time in my life. Is it worth living if I can never get back to that place?

In the meantime, the backdrop for this debate remains the back rooms and spare couches of the loving local friends who are all too willing to put up with my drifting, shiftless state. Days of the week, days of the month, it all slides by in a gentle unnoticed rain. August 2010, the all-time low, the new standard for devastation in my sad little existence. How unfathomable, how rare, to have to suffer through this alone, still at a distance, waiting humbly and quietly, though of course tearfully too, for the prodigal wife who just won’t come home. Who has endless little practicalities and plans and even beach vacations between her and the reckoning with what she’s wrought.

Do something for the future every day, my friend says. Yes, but. What is the future? Why is the future? Who, most importantly, will be living in that future? Do I even like this person who could possibly survive this calamity? Do I want to see this through and find out who emerges from that rabbit hole? What if that person looks back and laughs at me now, wonders how I ever could have cared so much about anything as to get this caught up? This is how villains are born. This is the backstory on the sophisticated character studies of those capable of the worst actions. I fear my own future, even more than I fear the pain it will take to get there.

There are two ways of looking at morality in the world. At least through one lens of slicing it. You can follow Hippocrates and say that one first ought do no harm. The logical conclusion, ultimately, is that a person sitting alone in their room doing nothing for a lifetime is doing more good than those following the more action-oriented American ideal of flailing about wildly with good intentions and hoping some of those land in the right direction. Do, do, do says this latter perspective, and ultimately the good you do will outweigh the ill. I have always been more with Hippocrates on this one, but never had to witness the provocative hypocrisy of those who feel that they can use as a platform for good the worst possible treatment of another human being.

Lonely empty room of nothing, here I come. Here I am. I may never do again, but at least that puts me ahead of harm.

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Submitted Without Comment

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

Our conversation was short and sweet
It nearly swept me off-a my feet
And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh
And you are on dry land
You made it there somehow
You’re a big girl now

Bird on the horizon, sittin’ on a fence
He’s singin’ his song for me at his own expense
And I’m just like that bird, oh, oh
Singin’ just for you
I hope that you can hear
Hear me singin’ through these tears

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last
I can change, I swear, oh, oh
See what you can do
I can make it through
You can make it too

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase
You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days
Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh
In somebody’s room
It’s a price I have to pay
You’re a big girl all the way

A change in the weather is known to be extreme
But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart

-Bob Dylan

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Paving the Past

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

“Well you can fall for chains of silver
and you can fall for chains of gold
you know you fall for pretty strangers
and the promises they hold
well you promised me everything
and then you promised me thick and thin
and now you just turn away and say ‘Romeo?
I think I used to have a scene with him.'”
-Indigo Girls (via Dire Straits), “Romeo and Juliet”

I am almost too depressed to post. I am undergoing this kind of self-enforced torture that comes from thinking through various thoughts which inevitably lead me to something that references some shared part of the past, only for that to jolt me like an electric shock with the idea that this memory, this idea, this concept, whatever it may be, is dead to me. That the past runs thick with poison and the toxicity is threatening to drown everything in my entire memory. I understand the naive desires of those depicted in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. I comprehend why people voluntarily submit to electro-convulsive therapy, to lobotomy. The process of training one’s mind to set off alarm bells at every fond remembrance is just too painful, too time-consuming, too angsty.

How low can the needle go? I found myself asking this question as an almost rhetorical device for this very process, only to of course realize that such was itself a reference from the past decade, the nine years of my life destined to be obliterated or rigged with criss-crossing booby-trap wires until it’s finally paved over. A snowy drive through the hinterlands of Vermont, New Hampshire, then cross-eyed tired by the time we got to Route 1 between New Brunswick and Princeton. The Kia spinning out under Emily’s wheeled control, the fortuitous placement of the raging semis that dodged us in seemingly every direction before she righted the ship. How thinking through the memory prompts the ultimate and obvious question: what if the worst had happened that day? That day, or a handful like it, so many incidents and accidents along the way that would have cut things short in such a more natural way. It is hard not to yearn for revision, rewriting, re-evaluation, no matter how catastrophic. It is hard not to root for things that could have precluded being here.

We can’t pave the past, of course, neither under the desires of a cataclysmic edit nor the obliteration of surgical removal. We have to live with it, live through it, again and again, eliciting the cold sweats and terror of how quickly a lifetime of memories can be replaced by a graveyard of ghosts. I am haunted, eternally, watching each transformation as golden amber days are rusted into bitterness before my mind’s very eye. When I started this little note, it was about a steamroller or a bulldozer, about new unforgiving asphalt come to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. But nothing is so simple. Instead, it’s the deadly breath of an ice queen, an ice age perhaps, come to blow the life out of all that was good. But instead of bland asphalt, we have only the suddenly broken pieces of what was so recently whole and vibrant.

This is not the way things ought die. They ought decay, wither, descend slowly into the gloom. Cliff-jumping into the abyss is for madness.

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Navigating Treacherous Waters

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Long Tunnel, Tags: ,

You should know that some of the things I’ve posted since the late crisis began have upset Emily. We have discussed the possibility of certain amendments or edits and she feels they would blow things even further out of proportion. So I’m sort of posting this instead, as a way of both smoothing a couple things (maybe) and also just examining and analyzing the precariousness of my current position and why that leads to me making decisions that you or Emily or someone else may disagree with.

Throughout this situation, and crystallizing once I got to Liberia and finally saw Emily in person, I have been of almost precisely two minds about the whole ordeal. On the one hand, I am incredibly hurt, both by the specific results of the series of decisions Emily has made and especially by the way she has conducted enacting them. On the other hand, I am still deeply in love with this woman and want only what is best for her. This would be easier if I felt less hurt, easier if I could hate Emily somehow, and much easier if I could not simultaneously hold both of the feelings I hold at once. But the circumstances are what they are and I don’t see any real way to change them. It is impossible to fathom feeling any less pain, except maybe extremely gradually and painstakingly over time. I have no interest in hating Emily. And so I persist in this vaguely twilit state of near-schizophrenia.

Compounding this, of course, is my deep desire to live a life in public, with special focus on emotional honesty. Now many of you may just disagree with that approach to life on face, in which case I don’t know why you’re reading this. You should examine why you’re reading this and maybe find some merit in this approach after all. Or maybe you’ll use words like “car crash” and “train wreck” and I think that will also tell you something about yourself and your approach. In any event, this is how I’ve chosen to approach my life and it includes the effort to try to hold myself to a standard of consistency as a human being that most people don’t even spend time thinking about. I’m not saying I hit the mark all the time or that the existence of this blog is evidence that I’ve advanced in some way. But I see no reason to start abridging things now, at the most critical juncture of my personhood that I have ever faced. If anything, this tool and approach to life become infinitely more important in a crisis, not less.

Part of what frustrates Emily is that she doesn’t have a blog of her own that she uses to talk about her emotions. She has a blog, but she hasn’t posted since this all began. She has no interest in open and wide-spanning communication about this and thinks it’s inappropriate on face. At the same time, she’s happy with the way things have turned out, so there isn’t much for her to try to deal with. It would be interesting to see how she would have reacted had I done something like this to her. But as the person who doesn’t see a roadmap to get to September 1st, much less beyond it, I have more of a need to deal with things, to explicate, to create a record of my own journey and progress, and to share that with everyone.

You should understand and internalize how much I want Emily to feel loved and supported right now. That’s not always clear, because I am often reacting to extreme emotional duress and suffering that inclines me to lash out or to rail against the sources of that pain that I find incomprehensible. But I am not trying to get you to dislike Emily. I am interested in everyone supporting Emily and her moving on to have the best life she can under this set of decisions. I want to be her friend and I want her to keep her friends. Please don’t interpret anything I say or do as an infringement on those goals.

At the same time, I’m losing enough of everything in my life right now that I simply can’t afford to willingly sacrifice more. I have to process in the way that will help me survive this situation. I have to appeal to friends and even acquaintances to discuss the unfairness of this set of circumstances. I have to recommit myself to a life lived in the open because this is the only way I survived prior challenges and heartaches. I am an idealist, and while a world without privacy may sound like hell to you, it’s my conviction that it’s as close to utopia as we can get. The most any one person can try to do is live their life in accordance with their own ideals and be thoughtful about what those ideals are. That’s all I’m trying to do here.

Please understand that it’s hard. I really hope none of you ever have to find out how hard this situation is.

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East is East, but West is Best

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

Been doing a lot of thinking lately. Obviously. If you want to play along at home, imagine the best thing that has ever happened to you in your life. Imagine that this had lasted for nine years. Now, imagine that instead of being a source of solace and comfort for you, a font of inspiration and confidence, it is transformed almost overnight, without warning or even coherent reason, into a source of betrayal and pain.

Anyway, this prompts a lot of thought. And key among the thoughts is the one of where the future will be, if there is a future to be had at all. I have really made extremely little progress in figuring this out for myself. I know I will not be living in Princeton anymore, and I’m pretty sure there are wide swaths of the country I can rule out for either lack of friendship/support or lack of interest in ever being there. Georgia comes to mind. Iowa, maybe. Seattle, a town I’d desperately like to live in someday, is just too far from any close friends. Same goes for anywhere abroad, except maybe parts of Mexico. Though I hear it’s tough to do regular border crossings.

There was a list at some point, though the list sometimes feels too narrow and other times too broad. Two cities have risen near the top, though they both are towns where I have no super-close friends. In one of them, I do have a whole debate team that would be the main source of my sustainability and interest for the year I could spend there, there being New Brunswick, New Jersey. In the other, I know no one, but would be a short jaunt from the Grand Canyon, long established as my spiritual home and epicenter. This one being Flagstaff, Arizona, the town I just told my friends in LA after Kunkel’s wedding would probably be my first choice of places to live if practicality were no object.

It’s by no means exhaustive – there are plenty of other places both west and east that are in contention. And even if they contend for 2010-2011, there’s no telling how much longer I’d stay in the same place. Both New Brunswick and Flagstaff would kind of be project towns. The former being a place to throw myself into debate, hoping to find satisfaction from fulfilling the coaching commitment I already made to a group of exciting and improving youths on the verge of their potential. Probably for just one year at the absolute most, to fulfill the commitment and see this year’s batch of seniors through while still laying the groundwork for a program that will (hopefully) have arrived by that year’s end. Flagstaff would be about me becoming a bit of a Desert Rat, spending maybe up to half the nights outside or in tents as I tried to hike every trail in the Canyon or maybe even embarked on an endless jaunt through the wilderness. To get in shape, to heal myself and restore my faith in the soothing light of the high desert. The same could be done, with more familial support and less natural perfection, in Albuquerque. Maybe – maybe – even somewhere in southeastern California that’s in range of all the friends I have in LA.

In thinking about these choices, it’s become increasingly clear that I will have regrets no matter where I go. And not just in the sense of the decade of regrets I’m only starting to come to grips with in my own head that pertains to the crisis writ large. If I go west, I will forever regret reneging on my commitment to Rutgers, feel bad about leaving the program I was helping to build in the lurch at the outset of arguably their most critical year. I will writhe that the opportunity to work with those kids is another casualty of what Emily has done to me, that the kids I’d be turning my back on would be unwitting victims of her recent rash actions. Conversely, of course, staying east offers numerous challenges to forming new bonds with people. For reasons I have been routinely unable to fully explain to others’ satisfactions, I feel enormously uncomfortable in the east. I find it to be cold (not physically – I like that kind of cold), uninviting, harsh, unwelcoming, and populated with people generally even more emblematically so. The idea of embarking on my most fragile and vulnerable year of existence on Earth in such an unforgiving environment seems almost pathologically stupid. And so I would regret, every time I was sad or lonely or desperate, surrounding myself with the forbidding world of the east instead of the relaxed, warm, and welcoming confines of the American west.

These are not the only factors involved, of course. Proximity to friends and family are huge, and made more complicated by the idea of sort of choosing between friends, or rewarding friends in some de facto sense for being near other friends and thus creating more of a safety-net community. It’s arguable that I shouldn’t try to do anything this year, instead drifting for weeks at a time from one friend to another. This seems bad because of the aimless stasis and limbo it might engender, but also seems safer in some ways and more likely to remind me of how much I have to live for. Not one of these choices is easy.

There’s also the factor of being too much of a dead weight on friends. I’m not saying this so that forty people e-mail me in the next 24 hours and reassure me that they are happy to do whatever they can for me – I already know you all feel that way. And thank you. But at the same time, I can feel the palpable toll that I and this situation are taking on the people that I care about. Anyone I stay with for a while ends up seeming exhausted, drained, and almost annoyed. I get it. It’s human. I am too great a burden to be shoved on any one person right now, or even a collection of people. Folks have to live their own lives, get married, have good times, embrace experiences that are not convincing their friend why there’s a reason to go on. And here again is perhaps the case for New Brunswick or Flagstaff, somewhere that the relationships I rely on day-to-day are tinged with less overall overwhelm at the depths of what I’ve lost. Granted, that may be infeasible – it’s possible that no one will meet me for 3-5 years without immediately being confronted by me as a broken semi-person. I don’t know. But there’s something to be said for forcing me into a situation where I have to form new bonds. There’s also a lot to be said for the idea that I wouldn’t do that even in a town where I knew no one, that I would just draw inward until my very sense of an outside world collapsed entirely.

There are no right answers. Such is the nature of calamity. There may be hope – maybe, I’m not sure – but there are no right answers. And so I continue to spin my wheels in futility, to face my impossible choices and decisions, to try to talk over the repetitive intractability with those who’ll listen. I know how I feel about regions of the world, though, but this isn’t the only factor. And I’m still not sure how I feel about the world at all, and whether it can still be the place for me.

I am trying, as calmly and slowly and rationally and logically as possible (under the circumstances) to figure this shit out.

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Cutbacks

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

“There’s got to be someone we can trust
out here among us.”
-Wallflowers, “Three Marlenas”, as heard at Home Depot today

Yesterday was almost an okay day. I couldn’t tell you why. I guess part of it was that Emily and I weren’t bickering over e-mail as we have been wont to do lately. Today is harder, for reasons again mostly inexplicable, but perhaps in part related to our correspondence. Emily chose today to contact a lot of her friends and a fair number of mine to state in a very detached way that we were “going our separate ways.” It was a hard e-mail to read, mostly because of how emotionally vacant it seemed. It also left out any mention of the guy who’d been the catalyst and centerpiece of the whole question. I know she thinks that this isn’t about the guy, but to tell the entire story without there being another guy just seems to make the whole thing even more cavalier and capricious than it already actually is.

Whatever. Ultimately, everyone tells themselves a story so they can sleep at night. Me, I cut my hair.

It’s a complicated issue, this one of the haircut. Obviously my hair has a lot of symbolic import for me and it was important to mark the occasion of mourning and loss with a physical loss that reflected the kind of sacrifices I’ve been told I have to make against my will. It’s also a little bit about someday being able to attract someone else, getting my hair back to the length that turned the most heads back in late high-school and early college. And more than even being in a position where I might be able to actually attract someone else anytime soon, it’s largely about feeling like I could. I feel so profoundly unlovable right now that any small glimmer of hope or confidence is an incredible boon.

So now my hair looks like this:

Ariel and Michael accompanied me and held my hand (and my hair) through my first professional haircut in over two decades. I was insanely nervous, but was very pleasantly surprised by the demeanor and approach of the woman who actually took the scissors and clippers to my head. I’m really pleased with the results and could have even gone a little bit shorter perhaps.

Largely because of my nerves and my caution to get it right, I didn’t end up donating the hair. Many people have asked about this already. I wanted to, but found the hair donation centers to be remarkably picky about how they want their hair delivered and precise stipulations. That’s their right, I guess, but they have to understand it’s going to deter a lot of marginal hair donation. Anyway, the hair instead ended up on the floor:

I am overdue for an actual shower where I think my hair will start to wave and bounce up a little and take its more permanent shape. It’s such a little thing in some ways and yet feels like such a big deal. I guess everything feels like a big deal, part of reducing the scale of the horizon down to a day or even a few hours at a time, just trying to muddle through and find the next thing to look forward to, the next thing that isn’t totally desolate and bleak. The days may just alternate for awhile, struggling between really arduous and surprisingly not awful. Fish’s car died today and I can sympathize. The energy it takes to go, to try, to move, to be, is just overwhelming.

At least I’m still capable of contriving a way to give looks like this occasionally:

So it goes.

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By the Numbers

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Read it and Weep, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

Today is a little better, for no apparent reason. I think it might be good to not leave the house for days at a stretch. Although my haircut is scheduled and isn’t a home visit. I expect to put some pics up at some point. You should be prepared for my hair to be partying more or less like it’s 1999. I’ve had really long hair for a really long time.

In the meantime, here are some numbers for you:

1: The number of known readers who have finished The Best of All Possible Worlds.
3: The number of books I have finished reading since the crisis began (White Noise, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Snow Crash).
4: The number of games the Mariners have won since the crisis began.
12: The number of pounds I have lost since the crisis began.
17: The number of days elapsed since the crisis began.
17.8: The number representing my current body mass index (BMI).
27: The length, in inches, of my longest hair.
46: The number of people who have contacted me in some way to express condolences on my situation.
50: The number of dollars you will have to pay to haul away Fish’s “antique” mirror.
82: The score for my first game of bowling last night, being the first sub-100 tally I can remember getting since I first learned to bowl in my youth.
124: The number of pounds I currently weigh.
125: The score for my second game of bowling last night.

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The Long Tunnel

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

New image up top, to reflect what’s going to be a new theme around here for a while. This is the best metaphor, the best way of putting this new chapter of my life that I can imagine. The image is carefully selected: there may be lights along the way that offer the chance at reaching points of new light, but there’s really no telling if it’s a tunnel or a cave. I’m calling it a tunnel because of my incredible faith and pure buoyant optimism. I’m sort of serious. The more that I talk about people and life with other people, the more I realize that what separates me from others is my ultimate idealism. That I spend most of my life sad and disappointed because of how far short things fall from the ideal – most other people have given up on or never believed in that ideal in the first place.

Today Fish dragged me out of the house to run errands with him: bank (my errand), grocery store, cell phone shop, Home Depot. I got sad. Really sad. Sort of unshakably sad. I’m still waiting for the anger. Emily’s waiting for it too. Everyone knows it’s coming, can sort of sense it on the horizon like the palpable evidence of a thunderstorm two hours before the lightning is first visible. But I think I may drown in the sadness before I even get the chance to be mad. I realized anew, wandering grocery store aisles or staring out the window of the Verizon store, how much of my own self-worth and self-perception was wrapped up in being Emily’s husband. How I would prop myself up day-to-day with little thoughts of something nice Em had said or done for me, some little evidence of concern or care. How all I ever wanted was to truly be loved by and love one person, how every one of those 2,568 days was a blessing, even if I didn’t appreciate it enough on every one of those days. How I got used to the best thing that ever happened to me. How I would’ve done things differently if I’d had any idea this was even possible.

I had gotten scared of dying again. I had noticed my vulnerability, my fear of death, my sense of having something to lose. I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t care what happens to me. I feel a sort of vague intellectual pull that I should care about this, but I just can’t bring myself to really care. The idea of finding another person who I love and trust even half as much, who I can think about marrying or discussing offspring with, it’s just ridiculous. It’s unfathomable. Emily and I were so compatible and so profoundly matched that I just don’t even want to go through the emotional conceptualization of thinking there could be someone else who could compete in my heart. It’s exhausting. Breathing is exhausting. Picking up one foot and putting it in front of the other is exhausting. I just want to sit and stare into space and be listless until my muscles start to atrophy and my body folds in on itself like a limp punctured balloon.

Tonight there will be bowling. Tomorrow a haircut, probably, though the thought fills me with dread and fear even though a certain removal in mourning is necessary. It’s about putting another little headache lamp up in the rafters to maunder aimlessly toward. An artificial light to offer simulative promise of the real light to possibly come some day. There were so many times during these past seven years that I felt unbridled jubilation and euphoria over one thing or another. Some things directly related to Emily, some only tangentially as part of the life we’d constructed together for ourselves. And I would catch myself in my happiness, in my elation, and try to hold it like a lightning bug in a jar. I would know that there would be sorrows and depths unfathomable to come (again, I was more concerned about death than divorce, but still) and I would try to bathe in the warm light of the moment’s satisfaction, to bank it against future withdrawals. I would tell myself that no matter what happened to me, what I lost, I would always be capable of getting back to that moment, to that feeling, to that incredible sense of rightness with the world. I would grab on and say to myself, sometimes literally aloud, don’t ever let yourself lose sight of the capability of this joy.

I am trying, dear past self. Dear naive, unknowing, complacent past self, I am trying so hard to listen to you, to hold on, to find a way to drag myself through the hard unforgiving rat-infested stone tunnel. Oh God, I am trying. It is so hard to care, to want to try, and yet I know, today at least, that I must. Or I should. Or there might be some vague reason to.

Future self, send me a signal. Tell me there’s reason to hope. I’ve spent so much of the last decade trying to send reassurance back to my 1990’s self, telling him I wish he knew that it would be okay. I need it again, all the more so. Life doesn’t get any easier just because it passes. I thought it did and I was wrong. I was just lucky for a while.

I was so lucky.

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