I closed my inbox for work and pretended I don’t have to work

I closed my inbox for work and pretended I don’t have to work. I stopped worrying about the future. I stopped fretting over the past. I stopped obsessing over people who once got the leg up on me in a conversation. I got rid of all the old people from the past who no longer matter and no longer care.

I thought about things that make me happy.

I thought about art and art museums, good music, nature, books, travel, new ideas, good beer and good food. I decided that things that make me happy should be at the forefront of everything I do.

I thought about the things that make me unhappy–the work I am paid to do, old habits that never seem to die, where I live, my sad, old man’s head of hair and face, most of the news, most people I’ve encountered in life.

I get that I’m doing something wrong, and personal responsibility, and ya-da-ya. But, what am I supposed to be doing right? “You’re going to have to figure that out for yourself” comes the stock and trade answer. So, let me get this straight–I bounce around from basically the same job to the same job, hoping the next place will be the place where it becomes a career, and it’s my fault that I’m not making it happen. But, I’m supposed to figure out just exactly what I’m doing wrong?

So, I quit my final company job. I don’t want to work full time for a company again, unless they are offering me an amazing opportunity–like a title with a Chief at the start of it. Of course, it wasn’t their fault. They meant well. They always do. They always mean well when they flatter you, and then put someone fifteen years younger than you in charge of you.

Maybe I had Asperger’s as a kid, and it went undiagnosed. Maybe it was just Social Anxiety Disorder. Maybe I simply haven’t trained enough socially to compete at the level I’m trying to compete. I don’t know. I don’t care.

The remarkable thing is, I don’t think much of what used to matter will continue to matter.

So, what does matter?

I know that I don’t want to waste away in this small town, and get to the point where I live like my parents–almost never leaving the house and never making friends with anybody.

I experimented with trying to hold a certain level of positivity for days on end. It seemed as if the time spent being positive required an equally amount of time spent being negative. I just couldn’t hold it. I couldn’t fake it or force it after the positive started to go away.

Well, I woke up Sunday morning…and the house didn’t have beer

Well, I woke up Sunday morning…and the house didn’t have beer. I hadn’t been keeping beer much lately. Occasionally, I get the urge for it, and then I’m full of drowsiness and heartburn by the second beer. I had a weak margarita at a chain restaurant last night. It used to be, I needed to order a beer or something to go with it. I had to. I couldn’t see the point in consuming the alcohol without getting at least a tiny buzz.

Something changed. It didn’t change the way it did with cigarettes–one night, I lit up a ParLent (nasty cheap brand) cigarette that my friend gave me after having a couple of glasses of wine, expecting to augment my buzz, and I felt sick and the wine buzz I did have went away.

I had a nice glass of whiskey last spring when I was on vacation in South Carolina, and left it at that. One glass of bourbon, cheap house bourbon usually on the rocks, is enough to make me feel like I’ve been sufficiently an adult while on vacation. Two glasses of bourbon, and I will probably be running a case of the “dooms and glooms” all day the next day–just random thoughts of eternal damnation spinning around in my head long after the headache and nausea have subsided. Usually, when this takes place, I’ll be on a business trip or have some other obligation to fill that day, and a nap is out of the question.

I’ve been taking these Unisom tabs that have Doxylamine Succinate — an antihistamine I discovered in my Alka Seltzer night tabs that did a perfect job of putting me to sleep. The stuff does the trick better than any Benadryl or beer or whiskey or Melatonin or Valerian ever could. I feel groggy for all of forty-five minutes in the morning, and then I’m snapped out of it. I wake up most mornings with a bottomless cup of coffee provided by K-cup after K-cup. On mornings like this one, when the K-cups have all been consumed for the week, I make a black iced tea, and settle for the lesser pick-me-up. I might throw in a Guarana tablet if the tea is really failing to do its job.

My days of experimenting with natural remedies and OTC medicine are over. I kind of feel a pull sometimes to go to Colorado and relax in a hotel a few nights with some legal weed, but I’m married now and have a baby on the way. I would have to have a good excuse to go by myself, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to convince my wife to join me in partaking of a brownie or vape or whatever.

The funny thing about it is, I’m perfectly okay with that. I’ve gotten closer and closer to my someday goal of being completely artificial substance free–not even caffeine. I’ve gotten closer to not partaking in any self gratification, but I backslide frequently enough that I still have to work on that. I’m inching my way closer to being a vegetarian–I still eat meat from land animals each week, but it’s getting less and less. The land animal meat doesn’t appeal to me nearly as much as it used to, and I think sea animal meats are close behind. As my body transitions into middle age, it seems happier not to be constantly bombarded with chemicals and carcasses.

On the outside, this all probably sounds pretty boring, but I’ve long since given up trying to resurrect a persona that people will find interesting. Spending your life trying to be interesting so that nobody labels you boring or uncool is a waste of time.

My notion of the sublime

I lived on this earth. I was a product of my time. I couldn’t have been born into any other time, and honestly made a go at it. A generation before me still got drafted to into fighting wars. I don’t think I could have handled it. That generation learned math on a slide rule and communicated with each other via typed and written letters and land lines. They delayed their gratification of human response, but only by so much. I probably couldn’t have handled it.

these were commonplaces: going to the library to research a topic of curiosity, or looking it up in a decades old family encyclopedia, watching three or four channels on TV, bigotry and intolerance, making fun of others who were somehow different.

I don’t think I could have handled living in the generations that followed mine, either. They were born into households that had computers. The generation past the one after mine was born into households that had the Internet, and most of them only knew communication via mobile phones. Most of them rarely touched cash. Almost any question could be answered with the push of a button after asking it into the device. The gratification for them was too instant, everything was too easy.

I came of age in a world where being useful in a physical, masculine way was rapidly becoming obsolete. You didn’t go seeking that kind of work unless you wanted to make minimum wage for the rest of your life. I sort of learned how to operate saws and mowers and drills and tools, but hardly enough to do more than make very basic repairs. I changed the oil on my car when I was 16-18, but then I discovered the beauty and economy of the Quick Lube, and never looked back. The last time I changed a flat I might as well have been replacing the engine for the effort I expended.

Yes, I’m old and soft, and I got that way quickly. I was raised in the 1980s, when the expectation was that if you joined the military, you were doing it to pay for college or have work after high school. There wasn’t an expectation that you’d fight in a war. Even after the first Gulf War, there was still this sense that the U.S. was going to be the number one superpower for centuries to come–so, the most conflict you might see would be to airlift some people out of an embassy in Rwanda or Sudan or Guatemala. The expectation was that you’d graduate from high school acting like Ferris Bueller, but hopefully not end up like Ethan Hawke’s character in Reality Bites–hopefully, you’d make the obvious transition from petty high school troublemaker to solid fraternity brother and keg stand champion, to a financial institution intern, to a captain of industry–all in ten short years–so that you’d be easily making six figures in whatever economy came your way by the time you were 30.

The idea that someone would actually want to emulate Ferris Bueller after a month in High School, or ever be like that Ethan Hawke character was pretty absurd.

You probably don’t understand this, if you happen to be reading this from the vantage point of living in a calmer, cleaner world that is more sane and has stopped trying to destroy itself. If you live in a time where advertising is forbidden to be plastered everywhere, and entities aren’t tracking your every move so that they can sell you more stuff, then a lot of what I write about may not make much sense. But, you have to try to imagine a world so full of distractions, that a person could easily get lost in any number of them and never realize their true human potential.

You see, I lived in a generation that had mostly declared God to be dead, and even those who claimed they hadn’t seemed more inclined to obsess over a new menu item at their favorite chain restaurant, a new roller coaster ride, or a new celebrity sensation. There were any number of gadgets, shows, movies, music products, food products, etc. for someone to become obsessed about. Food was a rather peculiar obsession of my generation. The fact that people in one part of the world could cheaply partake of just about any kind of food known to the history of man, and the fact that they obsessed over the places that served these foods and shows about these places–it was a strange fact, indeed. I mean, I would expect a generation that had very recently came out of poverty and hunger to obsess over food, because they’d never seen so much of it before. But, my generation and the ones that followed it were at least twice removed from some of the worst hunger and poverty our people had experienced.

I suppose partly this could be explained by the infinite ways that food can be prepared, and by the fact that my generation had seen a lot of the drugs that were available and widely used by previous generations taken away.

Running parallel to this obsession with food was an obsession with the body itself. People were oddly focused on trying to make themselves as close to a perfect human specimen as possible. This was a little bit more easy to understand–since most of us had given up hope of finding jobs that were highly physical in nature, we tended to overcompensate by participating in any number of grueling physical activities when we weren’t working. However, the purpose of all this physical activity wasn’t to survive in the wilderness–at least it wasn’t an immediate need, thought there were some who prided themselves in having many survivalist skills. The purpose was primarily to show off how capable you were at maintaining a physique that was better suited to a Neolithic age, and attract attention from members of whatever gender you hoped to attract.

It’s hard for me to speak for other people, because so much of the time, I don’t feel like I share their obsessions. They seem to quickly become obsessed with things that create only a mild curiosity in me. I would hazard a guess that a lot of people are motivated by the attention other human beings pay to them. It’s a flavor of power lust, in my opinion. You have successfully manipulated someone so that they put their own thought-creation mechanism on hold in order to passively receive what you are delivering them. All of us have been tempted by it. Those who conquer the more infantile forms of it when they are quite young are usually able to become much more advanced manipulators of others, and these are often your proverbial sociopath captains of industry.

When I entered my late 30s, I became mostly obsessed with finding a thing to do that I could brand as my calling or purpose here on earth. I felt that my writing, while consistently employed over the years, was never going to sufficiently advance to become something people would call great literature or philosophy. Most of it was cathartic, and most of it was ignored. Naturally, I wanted to do something that other people would see me doing, and say “he is a great man.” If I couldn’t be a sociopath towards others without at least some irony, my other option was to be a serial volunteer, always trying to help some of the least of these in my community. However, I think that a lot of my attempts at such activities were misguided, and too heavily influenced by what I decided God or Man said was noble, rather than what really fit my core self.

I then tended toward charting my own course in pursuing what some have called simply happiness, the Sublime, or the High. All attempts to define it have either been too simplistic or too complicated, in my opinion. I can only make an effort to describe what have been and continue to be my brushes with it.

The way to experience it seems to be tangled up in my sense of Time itself. For example, I have too many Sundays where I achingly long to return to NYC and walk its streets and step inside its museums. I don’t even care much to be an authentic New Yorker when I go about my business, seeking out restaurants and cafes frequented mostly by the locals. I would be delighted to be dropped into the city and experience all of the most touristy things, over and over again. During my two visits to NYC, I can also barely form memories of particular moments of sheer frustration with the large numbers of people who always seem to be pushing to get somewhere as quickly as possible. The romantic view comes from sitting unhurried in even the most crass franchise restaurant watching a street corner, while the completely negative view comes from being thrown into it and forced to keep moving with the crowd or become relentlessly buffeted by the passerby.

A similar kind of analogy can be made with the discovery of new books, and the process of turning them over and reading select passages in them, versus sitting down and forcing myself to read the book cover to cover. There are parts of even the most cherished novels that are rough going–either the writer becomes incredibly dull, or the subject matter becomes too painful or dull to hold in the brain for very long.

I suppose it can be applied to most anything–the sublimity comes from the anticipation of the moment, a handful of crystal clear seconds within the moment itself, and an endless reliving of the moment. But, for the most part, the moment itself offers little in the way of sublimity.

If I were to carefully build a T-chart of pros and cons from my previous NYC trip, I may very well become certain that there were more cons that I’d rapidly suppressed. There were plenty of them. The cost, for one thing. The cost to spend a week in that city in a place that is in a crime-free part of Manhattan–including travel, room and board, food and entertainment, etc. easily runs into the 1000s of dollars. However, the cost may be worth it, if the memories generated are enough to compensate for it. But, are there enough memories generated? On the cons side of the chart, you have all of the terrible things associated with travel: the unfriendly airline desk attendants, the FHA security people on power trips, the constant fear of missing or getting bumped from the flight, the fear that your reservations for the shuttle or the hotel were lost, the myriad of unanticipated expenses, taxes and fees that are added on to everything, the rudeness of so many other random people you bump into when you’re simply trying to get somewhere. And, all of that is just to get you to a room you know you won’t be kicked out of or robbed from through the duration of your stay. Plus, you have to multiply all of the above cons by 2, because you know you will experience them coming back.

But, being in the city itself is magical. There’s no other way to put it. Being around people from almost every nationality, seeing humanity at its mostly best, and getting to see some of the best art and city planning ever created, all while knowing this is at its core somehow deeply American and not European or Asian or Latin–this makes it powerfully magical. You feel like in some way you are a part of really being an American for the first time. This is the heart and soul of where so many first generation Americans began their new lives. The city is filled with more happy ghosts than sad ghosts–ghosts that believe in the good of humanity, and that humanity has a future that is peaceful and prosperous. Of course, the living mostly seem to feel this way as well. How could you not live on a tiny island, crammed in among millions of strangers, and not possess a thread of optimism for the future of humanity? To be for sure, you have your cynicism and your fatalism, and your constant sense that an apocalyptic disaster may strike. But if you weren’t more convinced than not that the future of humanity is good, you wouldn’t bother living there, would you? Why would you even bother to visit, if you thought it could all go to hell at any minute?

I’ve attempted to recreate experiences of interactions with art, architecture and crowds of people by way of vicarious media. I’ll hop on Google Earth, and attempt to let my Pegman navigate the streets of a city and go into museums where he’s allowed. There is such a lag in load time, even in this age of high speed connections, and the images around me are often rendered poorly or intentionally blurred out. On the tablet, Pegman doesn’t have a 360 view. To the point: there is something missing in this, as there is in looking at books full of art or watching a movie about people living in Manhattan. The sublime is usually felt prior to having the vicarious media experience, when I am anticipating it–standing in the bookstore or library perusing a book of photographs of paintings, or thinking about how I’m going to devote an hour on a Saturday to letting my virtual self go where he will.

What is missing? The smells, the sounds, the sheer physicality of having so many people and large buildings in your proximity. Certainly. But, there is more missing than that. Those are all byproducts or symptoms of being alive in the moment. You know you aren’t having a dream or watching a webcam because of these things, but the more important thing is that you are having a feeling of being alive in that moment. And, I am trying to get at something more profound than simply existence as medical science would declare it to be. It’s more like: “my heart and soul were there, I ached and groaned with the city, and it reciprocated.”

This doesn’t happen in every city. It certainly doesn’t happen everywhere I’ve lived. It’s not happening right now. I am not aching and groaning with my laptop inside my modest 1950s house which is located in a safe, quiet neighborhood that’s been mostly untouched by the more violent social upheavals since it arose in the 1950s and 60s. People of color have quietly moved in, and nobody bothers them, as far as I can tell. Everyone keeps to themselves, because nobody really wants the kind of drama that comes from living in a noisy neighborhood. The town I live in is mostly safe and quiet. It has its dangerous neighborhoods, like everywhere else, but it is too far away from any major metropolitan area to see very many excitable people who crave bigger cities stay here long.

I have a mostly hate relationship with where I live. I hate the fact that it is probably where I’m meant to be, due to the fact that I am too scared to make a go of it in a really big city. I hate the fact that this town does seem to kind of stagnate, and invite the most close-minded of the conservative set to come and take root. I have tried many times to convince myself that it will be good for our son–he can live out the first years of his life in a non-threatening environment, and find his voice among quieter peers before we move him somewhere that requires him to be more challenged. But, I’m also full of fear that this will end up being like where my dad settled us in Missouri: a small town full of bigots and backwoods people near KCMO. I don’t think his intention was ever to stay there long. My dad is a confirmed Texan, and he’d previously lived in SF and Denver. How could you live in those places, and then live in a nowhere town in Missouri, and expect to be content? But, I think the years just kind of crept up on us.

It was comfortable. Once my oldest brother had left in a rage, and my second oldest brother joined the Marines, our family quieted down a lot. I would occasionally flare up with rebellion because I hated the fact that my parents had expectations that I would be better behaved than my older, adopted brothers who came from a broken home. I wanted to show them that they were no different than me, in my misguided youth’s mind. But, I wasn’t in trouble as much, and I tended to stick with things like Scouts and Band and Weightlifting and Track once I started them. I also had a dog that I took care of, and he kept me calm and grounded and responsible during years when I probably should have been put into a school for kids with behavior problems.

But, the point is that things got comfortable, and we accumulated stuff, and time went by more quickly than my parents thought it would. Before we knew it, we’d lived there for fifteen years, and my little brother was in the middle of high school, and it seemed natural to for my parents to stay until he graduated. I am terrified of something similar happening with the family I’m starting. Fifteen years will go by like nothing, and we will still be here in this no man’s land between Austin and Dallas, just getting by. Not ever getting rich or doing anything noteworthy, but not losing our shirts and ending up in the poorhouse, either. For a lot of people, the response would be “and what’s so wrong with that? You’re still doing better than 90% of the world?”

But, then there is the sense of there being something grander and more important to be accomplished in life. I don’t know yet exactly what that is. It isn’t necessarily about money or fame–those are just manifestations that often accompany being a part of something grander and doing something grander with one’s life. I don’t think I have any particular urge to die with a single dime to my name, and I don’t necessarily feel like my name has to be remembered by anyone at all. But, I know that feeling of the epic, the grand, the sublime that comes only a few times in life. I had the feeling more when I was just out of college–like anything was possible–hey, now that I’m done serving my obligations to the old folks, it’s time to get on the road and DO SOMETHING.

Of course, what that something exactly was, I never bothered to articulate, and therefore it never manifested itself as a clear goal to which I could draw a precise line of action items from where I was to where I wanted to be. In fact, every time I try to go about doing such a thing, I get to feeling boxed in, defeated and rebellious. I even use the excuse that I don’t think I’m doing the Lord’s will. I have to wonder, though, if it’s simply the same part of me that pursued booze and the nightlife for several years coming back to life and rearing its ugly head. A self destructive side, for sure. A side that flinches at the idea of accomplishing anything noble.

To be blunt and unpoetic, I lost something, and I’m going to get it back. I’d rather burn brightly into the night of my life than quietly hold my hand over the candle in grim anticipation of its snuffing.

What is great?

Zen poetry is great. Abstract art is great. Renaissance art is great. Romantic poetry is great. A zeal to insert myself inside the great places of the world–that’s a great thing, indeed. Was I happier standing inside the Sistine Chapel, or standing inside the parish we unintentionally happened to poke our heads into? Let me try to find it on the map. Maybe it was the Santa Maria in Trastevere, I’m not sure now. I had a moment standing in the bowels of the church, looking at the archaeological dig that was taking place before my eyes. A sublime moment. I felt like I was as close to anything Disney might have created for me to see when I stood inside the Sistine Chapel. We were pushed like a cattle call through room after room of art in throngs of people and constantly reprimanded to be silent when we arrived at the Chapel. Was there anything sublime about that? I am not sure.

I tried to explain sublimity to a kid in my class once. I was aching to be back on vacation, flying to Florida, where we went every summer. I was reliving the moment of being on the plane in anticipation of the fun to come in my mind, and thought it was so exceptional that surely some kid with half a brain would understand this. I told him “this time two months ago I was having a happy moment.” He teased me mercilessly about it for days and weeks afterward. Today on Facebook, I can see that he is the pastor of a flock somewhere there in the old hometown. He writes profound thoughts about God on his wall, and most of them are pretty good. I don’t know why I couldn’t make the connection to be his friend, but that is for another subject of speculation.

Sublimity for me is very much inside the excitement of anticipating a thing, and this is an insight I’ve found very hard to swallow. I can’t hold happiness inside my heart if I’m actually placing all of my bets upon an event to come. The true happiness lies in my manufacturing of it, except it is extremely difficult to completely remove the thing I’m anticipating and continue to create the same level of happiness wrought by the anticipation. The happiness of one’s life dwindles, because Time comes along and snatches each anticipated moment one by one from you, until you are left getting excited about having a beer on a Friday night and relaxing with a little television.

Happiness also dwindles because you let other people snatch it away from you as quickly as you make it. Nothing is more precious for others to try to take or kill than your happiness. Think of all the times you meditated into a great, happy state only to walk into the workplace and have someone chide you on grinning like you are up to no good or just had sex. People come to expect you to walk around with a frown on your face all the time, and are actually more vocal about their uneasiness with you when they see you smiling too much, no matter how much they might protest otherwise, and say that you need to smile more.

You get this feeling of happiness and excitement in you, this sense of the Sublime, and you want to share it with others, and others feel like you are making fun of them or lording something over them that they can never have. They don’t for a minute stop to think that what you have is unlimited, and they could have it too, and that you are just giving this stuff away because you can’t imagine why someone would want to walk around feeling miserable when they could feel great. But, you’ve gotten to know a lot of people who are insistent that they are keeping it real by keeping their memories of miserable events of the past close to their hearts. Keeping it real? They aren’t keeping it real any more than you are. Their negative events are in the past, and so are your positive events. Both of you are making your own beds. Why let them remove you from your quest to make a happy bed to lie in, and put you into the role of being yet another miserable SOB on this planet–as if we don’t have enough of them already?

The sense of the sublime is not equal to happiness, though. Happiness is a byproduct feeling of the sense of the sublime, or the epic, or the grander, larger scheme of the Universe. When you are able to contemplate a Universe in which you are tapped into the intricate web of ideas and events, and you are actively playing a role and not just being a passive consumer and vicariously having someone else’s fun–that’s when you start to get a sense of the sublime.

This is why I write as much as I do. Because at first, it feels fake and forced and it feels like I’m moving down the exact same path that I did before. And, I probably am, because it’s like leaving the same street every day to go out into the world. But, if I give myself enough time to get going, and I start to let things flow, I began to feel as if I am writing something that is going to at least in a tiny way be part of something bigger and grander than my own tiny life.

…and you decide you need to tell a new story.

The first thing that you want to do is check your email and read the news. The world might have blown up while you were asleep, and you don’t know about it. You exercise restraint, take another sip of your coffee, and begin to write.

The primary thing you need to do is come up with a revision to your story. You will want to create a myth of yourself that is bright, positive, optimistic and great. The story of how you woke up and began to fill the earth is a good one to tell.

You were made to be expansive, and that’s just what you did, you expanded. You were of sound body and keen mind. You didn’t consume and take things in, but you began to insert yourself everywhere that there was news unfolding.

You saw tremendous opportunity everywhere you went. When you walked down to the Rio Grande, and saw the people afraid that their lives were going to be ruined by the other people crossing the border, you let them in on a little secret about the best jobs. The best jobs are all artificially made. The best money is all artificially made. There is more than enough of it to go around, and you just have to accept that a lot of it is coming your way. You walked on when they laughed at you.

You wanted to fill the entire country.

You wanted to stretch down to the Florida keys, and be a rum-filled bum, soaking up the intense rays of the sun and refusing to let them become carcinogenic. You smoked a cigar and wore a straw hat, and a Hawaiian shirt. You listened to a blues band. You floated up to the Low Country in South Carolina, and stood among the people whose ancestors had wrested the land away from lazy masters. You saw the potential for rice to be grown and harvested again from this country with the power of ultra-modern technology. You expanded up into DC, and rested like a warm, lethargic blanket over the angry, hungry politicians who were keyed up with a fervor to create a myth that was small and good for nobody, not even themselves. You destroyed their principle and replaced it with compassion.

You saw opportunity for new industry everywhere you traveled. People were locked up in their houses, devouring content off the Internet, and getting lonelier by the minute. You wanted to create a place where people could come and have dialogue with each other, and entertain and comfort the elderly and infirm. A place where nobody felt like they were going to be laughed at or screamed at for being who they were. A place where people put partisan and religious differences aside to ask how they could work together in their community to make art appear everywhere on the sides of abandoned buildings, and how neighborhood groups could make handmade things that they could export to the burgeoning middle class in China who were in love with anything that had a “Made in the USA” stamp on it.

You flattened bureaucracies, and ran over petty dictators in small towns everywhere who held court and expected all the people to come and pay them tribute. You rolled over anyone who would walk into the commons and try to let all of their cattle graze and nobody else’s. You gave infinite mercy to those who were sick and dying, and beyond hope. You made people go to bed every night with the same zeal and zest that had taken root in your soul, and let no one go to bed still hungry for hope.

You went too fast for the critics. They were left blubbering on the sidelines, trying to get a word in edgewise about how you were a pollyanna, a rose-colored, half-full glass kind of fool. You didn’t have even half of a second to spare for them. Everywhere you went you saw opportunity, hope and love abounding, and you knew that even the most hardened prisoner could begin a process of reformation. You saw deeper into souls than you or anyone else had ever seen before. You didn’t have time to give great speeches, either. You weren’t visiting these towns to collect a speaker’s fee and move one. You were coming to these towns to assess the situation, and organize the people, and get them back on their feet, making something, building something.

You were a realist, as crazy as that may sound. What one town had in abundance, another town did not. So, you didn’t expect one town to build a bridge or a dam or a great meeting hall if that town was better served to create a large community farm.

A lot of people called you a communist. You would go into a community and find all of the neglected buildings that the bank owned. You’d get the people to pool their resources together so they could pay the back taxes, and as a cooperative become the owners of the property. So many foreclosures were going to wealthy speculators or nobody at all, because nobody wanted the property. So, you showed the people how when each of them gave a little bit of the money they were saving to replace their porches or travel to Disney World, they could suddenly become part owners of houses, buildings and land. You were quick to point out to the naysayers that this wasn’t communism, but a local kind of real estate market exchange–the same way companies are publicly traded and have many owners who own little shares of the company, so it was with these local properties and businesses that had been shuttered.

What an amazing thing it was to see an entire town take ownership of an old general store, and learn how to source and import goods from other countries! You made entire committees logistical experts that rivaled Walmart. Of course, Walmart sent people in to try to put a stop to this. They claimed you were organizing unions, or creating communist stores, or something. But, again you showed the people who were ready to walk away from it that they were like owners of a publicly traded company. In town after town you created these little mini-stock markets of ownership on land, farms, businesses and residential property, and then brought them altogether into a national market where people could speculate on various initiatives across the country. You took the ownership out of the hands of a few, including the few that were the banks, the local and national governments and the wealthiest corporations, and you put the ownership back into the hands of the many, all while maintaining a capitalistic, free trade system.

The key thing here was that the people had grown despondent in feeling like they were powerless. The Walmarts and Home Depots of the world had come in and taken away the mom and pop stores, and they saw no way that a locally owned store could compete. So, they accepted the fact that a Walmart was a better solution than having a government-backed or foreign-owned entity invade their towns. They didn’t feel like they had any power or say-so in the government, be it local, state or national. Why would they? Whoever they elected always made promises that the politician couldn’t keep. Inevitably, it became clear that the man in Washington was working for somebody else, somebody who didn’t live in their town. But, they wanted to blame somebody else for their problems, and there were plenty of national political movements to come and throw gasoline on their fires.

You just came in and showed them how easy it was to stop blaming anybody, including themselves. That was a futile first step in the wrong direction, blaming the political party in power, blaming the President, blaming the last President, blaming yourself for not voting correctly. It was a wrong step because it did nothing, and joining a movement or a radical party and carrying signs and posting angry rants on social media did nothing to change anything.

You showed these people how they could just look at themselves and their own town for the solution, and remove any focus on what might have caused the problem from the equation. The solution was theirs to find, rather than the problem being theirs to solve. In every town across America there was a solution. The solution was almost always one of making a publicly traded market available where everyone was an active participant. Some people had other ideas that worked, too. They found that creating small cash rewards to different groups who came up with the best solutions got the best results. Instead of putting their money into the lottery, people would pool their money and develop a contest (the money was managed by the most trustworthy little old church ladies). Teams of people, with no lower or upper age limit, were formed–teams of 25 people each. Then, each team would come up with an idea every week about how the town could save money or make money. Everyone would get together and vote, and the team with the best idea (judged by merits of practicality and effectiveness) would win the pool that week.

People suddenly remembered what it was like to make art, and put on theatrical productions, and make music. Town after town became vibrant again as people left their houses and got together with a stripped down goal of “making something together.” You just planted the seeds and tried to guide them. You hoped to show them how cooperation always created something better, and how competition could still be powerful and useful as long as it was channeled into a productive endeavor. The competition between the have’s and have not’s, the young and the old, the male and the female, the Democrat and the Republican, the Christian and the Atheist–all of this was competition that offered no practical solution. It inevitably ended in bad blood and sometimes violence. People trying to convince other people they were right or simply better were people playing a fool’s game.

You wanted to see each person in every single town excel on a local level. You wanted to see kids raising money for their camps and trips by creating a popup store in a space that had been “for rent” for over a decade, and see the town’s bureaucratic apparatus get out of the way so that the kids could have a store that sold food and beverages people really wanted to buy, or homemade t-shirts that had the name and symbols of the town and its high school mascot or local landmarks. You were exceptionally impatient with men and women who were more interested in seeing random codes followed when these codes weren’t promoting any particular amount of safety or well-being. You were tired of seeing people come around to collect taxes instead of get involved with ideas for creating positive business environments in these communities.

You were not a communist or a liberterian or anything in between. You couldn’t be called a pragmatist because you had a brightly burning vision in your head and heart for what America could be, but you couldn’t be called an idealist, because any ideas that were not tenable had to go. You were most definitely an optimist, and you fought hard in your head and heart every single day to remove negativity. You rarely offered criticism of anyone or anything–but always, “this is how to make it work better. This is the better solution.”

Of course, you were expanding across the country and making a lot of enemies with people who were comfortable with the status quo. For every nine people who were suffering and feeling powerless, there was always one loud-mouthed bully who seemed to be twice as powerful as all nine of those people put together. Eventually, you knew that it would catch up to you. Eventually, you knew that you would roll into a town where someone would be waiting to put a bullet into your brain. But, that was okay, too. Because you’d started a fire that a few bullies of the status quo could not stop.

…and it’s time to begin again.

Whatever happened yesterday can stay inside yesterday. You are still alive, aren’t you? You have marketable skills that can get you work any time of day or night, right? You clearly have swimmers that still can get the job done, as your son on the cusp indicates.

But, what do you do with a day like today? How do you manage to get the most out of it, before it’s over and you realize you’ve let another day go by while you lived on auto-pilot?

You’ve learned to know the things that are no good for you, and the things you hate to do. Your marketable skills just happen to be among these things. You know that the world isn’t looking for you, as much as you would love to be everywhere at once, looking for the real world.

You want to walk down the major streets of every major city. First this. Not the off-the-beaten-path, authentic experience that every certified traveler claims to have on a monthly basis. You want to be a tourist first, to know the city as a tourist does. Only the really unsavory parts of the tourist areas are to be avoided. You are talking about the guys who sell tours and are willing to remove all vestiges of their own human dignity to do it. Those guys can rot in hell forever, for all you care.

But, you don’t want to be one of those people who goes where only the locals go, when you haven’t even gone to the monoliths and venerable structures that every tourist must see.

You have been in a prison, and now you are entering another prison. You were imprisoned by debt and fear and alcohol, and as soon as you got out of that one, you got into the prison of marriage, fatherhood and old age. But you aren’t going to let your new prison prevent you from breaking out as much as you possibly can. However, you know that you are going nowhere for the next year.