Dream 1: Being hunted down by a repressive, fascist government

Dream 1: Being hunted down by a repressive, fascist government after I stabbed the #1 presidential candidate for this regime in the face with a broken bottle. I was saved by Morgan Freeman after being shot several times. This was probably the most drawn-out dream of the night and most realistic as being something that could possibly happen in real life. The landscape/geography of the area I was in didn’t resemble anything in real life, though I think it was supposed to cover a lot more territory than it really could have given the short distances I walked.

The fascist party in the U.S. was something like the Freedom Party or Liberty Party, but the only freedom you had was if you were white and ready to follow all of the single party’s rules, which were basically U.S. war fetish/conservative/jingoist/being white. There didn’t even seem to really be a capitalist system anymore, per se, as you couldn’t start a business unless you were part of the ruling party. So, it was totalitarianism at its worst from the 20th Century come to roost in the U.S.

However, the ruling party clearly hadn’t gotten good control over the entire country, and various organic groups were springing up to run separate economies which were mostly filled with people of color since most of the white people in the country had fallen in line with the Freedom Party in order to keep their jobs and houses. I was clearly opposed to the party’s primary presidential candidate, who was running unopposed. I pretended to be a big fan and member of the party who loved the candidate dearly (he looked and talked sort of like the dad from the TV show Frazier), and caught him by surprise in a men’s room somewhere before he was to give a speech. My only weapon was a bottle lying in the trash, which I smashed on the sink counter and rammed directly into his face and eyes, and then ran out of the bathroom like Ehud in the book of Judges did to Eglon.

I ran to one of the rogue communities, which truly acted as if they were free in how they ran their economies (which seemed to be a mixture of cooperative and small-business capitalism), and was hiding out when the fascist government sent the military to basically wipe everyone out. I took several bullets but managed to play dead and then sneak into a deep hole, but not before meeting Morgan Freeman, who told me to meet him back at his ranch way up north when I was able to get away successfully. Apparently, Morgan Freeman had some immunity from persecution being a celebrity. Most of the people in the community had died, and the military doused the place with gasoline and launched a flamethrower into it.

Those who got away streamed north into areas that were less penetrated by the government and military, and in the dream this entire part of the country was just streaming with people wandering around–a lot of people of color, but also people who had been sprung from prisons and mental institutions that the government no longer wanted to support in the territories that it had control of. I think the idea was similar to how the Native Americans were treated in real life–smoke ‘em out, push further away, and eventually once the government was ready and the unwanted people were contained, the idea was that all of them would be euthanized at once.

So, I was constantly being bothered by folks with mental problems as well as sex perverts, and people with chronic health problems and disabilities who needed assistance. Except, I had nothing to give, and I was in a pretty bad way myself. I finally got to a border that was being monitored by soldiers like the Berlin Wall before it closed for good, and had some kind of excuse that got me through into a territory that was even less controlled by the government. Morgan Freeman came down from his ranch way north (probably like in the upper parts of Canada) to meet me and take me to a doctor and some refuge.

Dream 2: A speech-making contest that was being attended by thousands of people. There were several stations for participants, and it seemed like the importance of it went beyond being just a contest or game–like we were competing for some kind of bigger prize. Even my son wanted to participate, and he was in the line behind me. When it got to be my turn to give my speech, I failed to give the previous one I’d given in rehearsal, which the coach had said was very good. I started talking about something else and didn’t know how to end it. Rhetorical craft seemed very important–perhaps like how people competed in Greco-Roman times. My first speech was something along the lines of how to speak clearly to the right audience, be it a crowd or over the telephone–a meta-speech of sorts, a speech on speechmaking. In the waking world, I am terrible at public speaking and have grown only modestly comfortable (ie, I don’t completely implode in anxiety) at it.

Dream 3: I received a bad grade from my OT professor that looked like the first bad grade I got on my theology professor, and the comments looked like the ones that the worship professor provided. Actually, the grade from the theology professor wasn’t bad, the test was poorly made and the professor knew it and padded the grading a lot. But, anyway, in the dream, I started to react to the test like I had reacted in the waking life. Except, there was something about needing to get home, and of course we (probably my wife and son and I though I don’t exactly remember) were located roughly around where my old elementary school was in real life and were trying to get home to my boyhood home. This seems to happen a lot in dreams–I end up located on the highway that runs parallel to the old elementary school a block away, and am trying to get home by walking or using a weird contraption or cutting through a dream neighborhood.

I am not sure if all these dreams where I start back near elementary school are trying to tell me something about some levels of maturity I have or not.


Meta notes on dreams…
I almost forgot the latter two dreams, and did indeed forget most of the content of them, in my effort upon final waking to remember the first dream.

Intent, intensity of focus, importance of a thing — could the mind be capable of seeing more about reality if it determined that it was necessary to focus “the more” — that which lies beyond the things it is commonly told to focus on? Could existence in this particular state itself be governed largely by an intensity of focus?

My ability to have those visions and moments of experiencing a higher reality may have come due to a sense of not needing to completely focus on this life, the life at hand. In other words, survival and the constant disparaging remarks I heard from people around me about realities beyond this one have prompted me to no longer focus on them (also to a large degree fear of them). When I was younger, I had parents who were taking care of my essential survival needs and so I had the freedom to let my mind not be nearly as present and attentive to this reality.

Even my focus on my aging self perhaps perpetuates the sense that my mind is becoming less capable.

Dream last night

Dream last night consisted of me taking my wife out for an anniversary dinner. We were staying at the house I grew up in, but only my dad was present there. An old lady from my church had moved into the neighborhood, and she wanted to attend the anniversary dinner with us. We went to some kind of resort that was supposed to be like Trump’s resort, I think. We got there early, around 5:30 and so we were seated at a large banquet table all by ourselves. But, for some reason, they insisted that I sit at the head of the table while my wife and the lady from church sat further down near the other end of the table. I wasn’t happy about this, and decided that I needed to go back to our rental car and rest. We’d parked the car near the very front of the lobby of the restaurant/resort, and I took a nap. I went back into the restaurant, and my wife and the neighbor were having the special anniversary dish, which turned out to be a really amateur-made fruit salad. In the waking world, my wife hates fruit, but she had mostly finished it in the dream. Mine sat untouched, and I started to walk over to eat it, but then realized that while I had been napping, I had taken all of my clothes off except my briefs. Realizing this, I went back to the car and began to get dressed in the front passenger seat while more and more people were arriving and entering the restaurant. When I got back into the restaurant, my fruit salad had been bussed away, and dozens of people were now being seated at our table and other tables. I was extremely upset about having my fruit salad taken away, and so I started to throw a fit.

Finally, the waiter grabbed the manager or whoever was in charge that night, and he came out and seemed a bit amused that I was in such a rage over a fruit salad. He calmly told me that they’d bring me another one, but I was fuming that I couldn’t have the original fruit salad that had been prepared for me. I stormed out of the restaurant and suddenly began to realize that I was dreaming.

I decided that I would just walk and walk and not eat or sleep and see how long I could stay inside this dream. I had this notion that I was in a dream state akin to the movie Inception where I could spend ages in the dream before needing to wake up in real life. As I began to walk, I started to see how much the area I was in had become extremely impoverished. It had elements of the poverty of the poorest of countries while still retaining some appearance of an American urban area. I saw a Holiday Inn, and in the dream I was convinced that Holiday Inns have the best happy hours and serve the best drinks. Realizing I had some money in my pocket, I went into this Holiday Inn, hoping to have a nice drink on the cheap, but the restaurant/bar area was extremely crowded. I began walking along the street again–it was massively polluted, and covered in street merchants selling random wares. Someone handed me a map that showed me how the powers-that-be had been plotting to experimentally make a large swath of the US, including the part I was in, DUMB. That’s what it said on the map. In another area it said, SMART. I concluded that if I could get out of this zone and get into a SMART zone, I would be around a bunch of highly educated and cultured people. I tried to cross a canal flowing through the middle of the city, but the bridge part was convoluted and covered in construction and signage. I gave up, but another woman was intent on crossing over to my side. I walked further and found a bridge, and suddenly my dog was with me. My dog started butting heads with another guy’s dog, to the point where his dog’s head bounced back into a massive fold of skin and back out–sort of like a large foreskin around the dog’s neck. The guy told me not to tell his wife about this, as his wife had told him they would get rid of the dog if it kept getting into fights. At this point, my son had woken up and had come into our room.

What is wrong with you?

I’ve had a lot of time to think about myself. I am not sure if it has done me much good, but it is certainly changing a lot of my assumptions about myself and how I relate to the world.

I sat down recently and performed this exercise: I stated out loud, “the one thing I know for certain, is…” and I couldn’t come up with a single thing. I have nothing but quasi-statistical probabilities. There are stories of people who have cheated death. So, I can’t say for certain that I will die one day. I can only be pretty damn sure.

Last week, my high school class got together for the twenty-year reunion. I was mildly interested in flying up there and seeing these strange people who had only peeked out at me occasionally on Facebook. But, that was last year, before we got word of my wife’s pregnancy. Of course, I couldn’t have flown up there less than four weeks after his birth to participate in what may very well have been more evidence that I have moved through this life as a ghost. Really, I don’t need to attend a high school reunion to understand this.

It’s been some six years since I had this revelation, but occasionally, I have moments of clarity where I really see beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was true: I grew up with what would have been diagnosed as Asperger’s had I lived in a different time and place. People were constantly diagnosing me with the best intentions. “You’re fine, you just need to get out there and get more involved with school activities.”

“You’re a handsome young man. I don’t understand what’s wrong with you.”

“Well, if you think something’s wrong with you, than we can get help for you!” said by a father with a tone of voice that sounded more like he was ready to condescendingly indulge a four-year-old with an ice cream cone.

I did, finally, start trying very hard to be sociable. I got very active on social media. I said yes to every happy hour invite. I followed any and every trite piece of advice I snatched up online.

In order to make friends you have to be a friend.
Just be yourself.
You can’t change if you keep doing the same things.
Stop whining and complaining.
Fake it until you make it.
Stop looking at what’s in it for you.

And so on. You see these kinds of things now as pithy quotes on Facebook and Linkedin, with lots of people who seem to mostly be less educated or salespeople endorsing them without question.

And, of course, there was the occasional trip to the therapist. She and people who had once called themselves my friends would say that I was possibly trying too hard or not trying hard enough. I could never figure out which one it was, but I certainly grew uncomfortable showing up at event after event and watching the person get that bored look on their face and take a pretend text, or animatedly look up at just about anyone else in the room and run over and start talking to that person instead.

My attempt to have a career follows a similar arc. I start out at an organization as their website manager, email marketing manager, marketing automation specialist, etc. with the hope of showing them how smart and capable I am of doing so much more, and inevitably, I become pigeonholed as being only capable of doing that one particular button pushing task.

I have to draw the conclusions I can inevitably draw from all of this. Am I whining? Maybe. I am trying to see myself for who I really am, not as someone I’d hoped to become.

The career attempts can all fade away into a fog, as can high school, college, and most of my twenties and thirties. Except, I want to learn whatever I needed to learn from those years so that I am not waking up ten years from now writing from the same place.

I think one thing that is important to consider is that I was at least partly raised with some of the ideals of parenting that would go on to pervade Gen Y. I do believe that my parents saw my issues as being potentially growth crippling, but they wanted desperately to think that their son was more of a gifted genius than most babies. And so, when I came home frustrated that I wasn’t making the connections I’d hoped to make with my peers, they tended to provide that kind of old-fashioned, homespun advice instead of taking me to see a shrink. That part was definitely from some era even before Gen X, but the part about thinking their baby boy was a gifted genius, special, and in need of trophies for his minimal efforts–that part was definitely for a generation to come.

I wrote a poem. They shellacked it and called up grandma to ask me to read it to her, and grandma bought me a journal book to fill with my poetry. I painted a picture. They bought me a hundred dollars’ worth of art supplies for Christmas.

There were other things I did that they didn’t pay attention to. My dad had gone back to school at 40 to become a computer programmer, and we always had the latest Microsoft OS computer in the house–starting with a pre-MS TRS-80. I wrote out 80% of an office suite in Basic–not anything original, just code that came in a magazine we subscribed to. Still, the concept of a nine year old writing hundreds and hundreds of lines of code so he could have a word processor, spreadsheet, database and email tool in 1985 was rather remarkable, but went largely unnoticed. On some occasions, when I said that I wanted to be a computer programmer as well, my dad would say, “no, you don’t, they will always be the grunts of the organization, just doing whatever they are told.” I guess his prescient vision about computers becoming so important didn’t go far enough to see the day when programming nerds ruled the world.

I grew frustrated with the program, though, as it was full of bugs from typos I’d created, and I wasn’t even sure if our PCjr had enough memory to handle the program, as it was written for a PC. I took to working on a novel, my first attempt. I wrote page after page about a boy who grew up in a family full of boxers who always wanted to fight each other, and he got sick of them and ran away. I made up adventures in towns that I found on our map of the USA in the hallway.

If you read my diary of me when I was 11, you can see that I was easily distracted, jumping from interest to interest. I joined 4H and did rocketry, woodworking and basket weaving. I played Little League baseball and sat on the bench mostly until the final innings when the team was either clearly going to win or lose. I occasionally got my Dalmatian out and played with him. I took a cartooning class for kids at the local community college. I moped about the yard pretending that I could travel back in time to the trip to Florida we’d taken two years before that was, in my estimation, the best vacation ever. I was glad when my older brother got called to start boot camp early, so I could have the room to myself. By then, we were both very sick of each other.

There is a video footage of me from about that time, when a retired band director went through the K-12 school system taking video of us kids in our classes so that he could sell it to the parents. I am singing in music class, and I have chosen to isolate myself from the rest of the class. My hair is a complete mess, as it would be two years before I had an inkling of what it meant to comb one’s hair. I am still wearing my first pair of glasses, and they are badly damaged because I always managed to play rough while wearing them, and get them dinged up. But, why have I chosen to sit so far apart from everyone else? Is it because the music teacher had seated me next to some girls I didn’t like, and I didn’t want to be seen sitting next to them? At any rate, I look like a special needs kid, rather than a nerdy, bright kid.

I always had a place in my heart for the special needs kids. I identified with them. They seemed to be a lot like me, but were simply different by degree–enough of a degree that they went to special ed classes, and I didn’t. I usually got placed with them on teams in gym class, because I think most kids saw our athletic abilities as more or less the same. I remember one girl who only briefly attended our school teasing me on the bus in sixth grade (before the really terrible bullying started from others), and she was convinced that I was retarded. I did little to convince her otherwise. And, this was prior to puberty and its own special hell.

To this day, I am not sure any of us are all that different than special needs kids underneath. I think that with different parents, or slight changes in their genetics, any powerful person or celebrity could have ended up wearing a paper hat at their job. The ability to change one’s self is also quite deceptive.

Any person who has drank the koolaid of a motivational speaker or prosperity gospel preacher will try to tell me that I am simply not trying hard enough. That I need to get more disciplined with my actions and my will to change myself. I should be setting goals for myself, and sticking to getting up early every morning to run and write and read inspirational quotes. I am simply not trying hard enough. It’s a comforting philosophy to have, because you can ride great waves of euphoria and optimism before crashing, and you never have to squarely and soberly face evidence to the contrary.

I don’t completely knock it, actually. I believe that we all inject some amount of a mythology into our lives to keep us going. We ride waves of belief in something to avoid the despair that would inevitably come when we think about how much we’ve lost in life. If I sat around and only focused on the bad choices I’ve made, and the time I’ve wasted doing frivolous things, while also meditating on my premature gray, thinning hair, I would probably never get out of bed.

But, I think that there must be times in which you completely strip away all of the optimistic mythology (but also the unnecessarily harsh self doubt), and try to look more objectively at why you aren’t getting anywhere.

At this moment, I would simply argue that the reason I am not getting anywhere is that I have chosen to never do one thing at the expense of all others. If you look at my personal library, you will find books on so many different subjects that you will quickly see that I can’t possibly be capable of reading all of these books and knowing deeply all of these subjects.

If I decide that I do want to devote my career to becoming a true computer nerd for the next twenty-five years, then my writing will have to become much more tightly focused and journalistic–I will have to simply write as a tool to keep me on task every day while learning a programming language or two. If I decide that I want to devote my career to becoming a writer of some sort, then I will have to stop pretending that I can be a technical person, startup entrepreneur, or even a manager of a sales and marketing team. I will have to write a lot more letters to many more people in search of an opportunity to make money writing for them.

What does my heart say?

Have I ever really listened to my heart–I mean, sat down, and with great focus thought deeply about what would make my heart happy?

So many of my recent job changes have been due to my ego flaring up. The ego gets offended that people can’t see me for being something more than just a menial button pusher, and I quit. This is cerebral. It’s not even a good kind of cerebral, but a self delusion I’ve chosen to perpetuate–a myth of self that I’ve created to keep me believing I will one day be somebody great.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I don’t think I have a good resonance between my heart and this part of me. My heart is full of love for humanity and a desire to help others, and my head is full of a vision of me being somebody important in a big city. The two are almost at complete odds with each other.

***

There were a number of years that went by where I asked the question: what kind of man would I have become if I hadn’t been such a people pleaser out of touch with himself?

But, this was the wrong question.

The right question is: what kind of man do I want to be?

The possibilities are always wide open. Socially, we allow ourselves to be narrowly defined and tagged as being a this or that. I think the concept of free will has greatly diminished since the time of the Enlightenment, as first Newton, then Darwin, gave us pictures of ourselves in which we are more the product of physical and chemical forces than the product of our own creativity and choices.

Quite frankly, for myself, I want to embrace a philosophy of radical personal responsibility. I don’t know that it is something for everyone, because I can’t begin to know everyone else’s life situation. However, I would argue that I still tend as a kneejerk reaction toward looking for someone else to blame for my life situation. Stating “I will have more personal responsibility for my actions” is a nice thing to say, but a hard thing to practice. It is so easy to look for other people to be the scapegoat in my unhappy situations.

I want a brutally honest vision of myself. I welcome criticism of me. I want the young hipster guy in the workplace to hate my guts because he has made a snap judgment concerning my gray hair and has decided that I am a basic corporate schmuck with no new ideas. I want to think long and hard about whether or not I really am a Mac, PC or Linux guy. I am not so sure any of them are worth taking on as a shorthand way of describing who I am. I want shit that accomplishes the job it promised to do.

I am not a OWS man or a Tea Party man. I am enough of a student of history to know that our system, as terrible as it might seem at times, is a lot better than one where everyone is getting beheaded or shipped off to a gulag because they don’t agree with the megalomaniac made king. Companies, governments, political parties, etc. — all are systems that began with the purpose of solving a problem and have more or less become complex organisms that exist to exist. I think most of the bigger ones are probably like giant tumors. The recent show I watched where they removed a large tumor from a man clearly indicated that any wrong cut would be disastrous to the organism feeding the tumor. Most people want to make disastrous cuts instead of precise, surgical ones, because those kinds of cuts get good sound bites.

Killing big government or killing big oil — either activity will require a surgeon and not a mob with some loudmouth fool (or worse, a bomb-happy fool) representing them.

I am of the firm opinion that I have way too much about me that still needs to be changed before I go and try to change other people.

I am not a pessimist or an optimist about the future. Why should I waste my time being either one, when they are both laughably one-dimensional, and neither is sustainable?

***

On the cessation of Time

There is a persistent notion inside of me that time ceased to function properly after September 11, 2001. There is this feeling that the world I’ve been living in has not really moved on from that day, and that time itself had really started to wind down after January 15, 1999.

I have days where I feel like one of the characters in the movie Inception who are inhabiting someone else’s unconscious mind, and all of the members of that mind start to turn on them because they know that person shouldn’t be there. So many days go by where I feel like a took a wrong turn for good, and have been slowly descending into hell.

I’ve never been especially good about setting my own goals and sticking to them. I can occasionally work toward a medium-sized goal, like running a half marathon, but even that was mostly driven by the hope that some lady would learn of my achievement and fall madly in love with me for it. After getting engaged, my ability to be motivated to do much of anything for the long term pretty much ceased altogether.

So, I think part of my struggle with time after 1/15 or 9/11 has to do with the broader relation of my own life to these dates. Up until I graduated from college, I had a clear series of milestones I needed to hit. It was almost impossible not to hit them. I had to work really hard to miss a milestone. Therefore, time was easy to keep track of in discrete packages. There was pre-K, K, 1-6, 7-8, 9-12, college. I could look back on life and measure time according to the events that transpired on a yearly basis.

After college, it was kicked wide open. I had a vague idea that I would live with my parents, pay off my debt, save up some money and go to NYC or travel the country. Then, I met Olivia, then, Roy died. Then, I moved to Austin, then I broke up with Olvia. Then, I got mixed up in the Ahmis drinking crowd. Then, 9/11 happened, and the world seemed to grow dark.

I stopped setting any real goals of value. I had vague notions of suddenly becoming successful at something, or stumbling upon a job that paid so much more than Ahmis did. By then, I was in the kind of debt that would have sent most people into bankruptcy, and I had no real course set up to work my way out of it. I spent a total of eight years at Ahmis Communications, before finally going on a binge of mini-goal setting around volunteering and seeking work at a non-profit.

I felt like I’d accomplished something great, but I was really just doing the same shit as before, but at a non-profit and making less money at it.

It never occurred to me to take a step back from everything, set clear goals around going back to school or carving out a career, or finishing a novel and getting it published. It has only come to sink in slowly just how easy life can pull you away from whatever path you try to put yourself upon, when you are no longer under the watchful care of mommy and daddy.

I started to put a stake in the ground this past month, that I would quit my full-time job completely, and take freelance jobs here and there, and begin working on a novel and taking care of my newborn son when he arrives. Immediately, my boss called me and tried to talk me into getting a raise, and staying on, even working part-time through the first few months of my son’s new life. I almost fell for it. My boss sounded pathetic, and that’s always going to make me a sucker over someone yelling at me or telling me how I could be doing better and taking more responsibility for myself. He praised and flattered my ego. And, I was ready to move forward with staying on with my current employer part time. But then, he went on vacation, and suddenly all of the reasons I don’t want to continue to work for a company made themselves manifest. All of the little cooks in the kitchen with their little fiefdoms thinking they know what’s best to make the company successful–and all of them telling me to shut up and just push out the emails.

And I realized that I was allowing, yet again, somebody else to make me stray from my dreams. The last phone call I had with my dad certainly didn’t help, either. He was his usual overly cautious self, clearly skeptical about my decision to go freelance right before the birth of my first son.

I had this pithy insight just now while walking the dog as to why things were so different after college.

The milestones of completing grades and various blocks of grades were all practically set in stone. The milestones of what happened after getting the Bachelor’s degree were not, although they appeared deceptively so at first. I think I had in my head, unshakeably and persistent even after the notion was refuted time and again, that finding my wife was just going to happen–ideally, some fall or spring morning on the campus quad, I would just bump into her and it would be effortless. Fate would bring us together, and I would hit the mileston of marriage within two-three years after college, after hitting the milestone of the summer European backpacking vacation and the internship at a creative agency in NY or SF.

I became desperate in my quicksand of reality when I realized that such milestones weren’t going to just happen, and they weren’t complete givens the way finishing high school or college had been. I began to claw every which way and sink even further, faster, as I tried to get out and get back on some semblance of a track.

I think I have never even completely faced the fact of how comforting it has been to finally meet my wife, and again be hitting “set in stone” milestones, like engagement, marriage, first home together, and now first child. I also think that I am utterly bewildered as to what my own personal milestones will look like between now and the age of retirement. For, aside from the inevitable ones that will come with the raising of the child or children, everything else is still up to me.

If I don’t figure out how to set a hard milestone that is truly etched in stone around completing this novel, it will never get written. And, I honestly have no idea how to do it. I can create schedule-filled spreadsheets that look like GANT charts with the best of them for how I should spend my time to complete it, but I can also tell you that I will stop opening the spreadsheets within three days, and it will all go out the window. I have never developed the ability to formulate a persistent belief in my head that completing a project I create for myself is just as inevitable as the ones that life and other people create for me.

The truth is, I have already had so many days over the past week where I’ve veered off course. I’ve started to place the mostly unrealistic idea of me creating my own business out of my freelance work as top billing in my mind. I’ve even flirted around with the thought that maybe I wasn’t “made” to write this novel, but I should be teaching myself to play piano or getting back into painting with a fully serious notion that I will one day be good enough to have a gallery opening. Thankfully, I haven’t gone so far as to descend into the arena of pretending that I could and should learn computer programming skills and get a high paying job as a Python/Hadoop big data wizard at some financial company.

But, I’ve definitely had more than a few moments where I’ve allowed the sense of the inevitability of the birth of the novel to almost completely fade away.

The problem is one that I’ll attempt to analyze in further detail.
1. I relied almost exclusively on external events and other people to dictate what I was supposed to be doing with my time, from the age of 0-22.
2. Even after getting some indication that I needed to take my own initiative to derive success in life, the picture wasn’t completely and painfully clear until about the end of 2001–and I was now 25 at this point.
3. Even then, the fact that I was now in the driver’s seat wasn’t enough–the mere existence of the fact didn’t enlighten me as to the HOW of changing myself to fit this new role.
4. Today, the words of others can still have more of an impact on what I do next than the words inside my own head. It is too easy to hear the naysayers more loudly and clearly, and make decisions that I hope will please and quiet them, than to actually produce a crystal clear voice, ie, my own true voice, letting myself constantly know that I am, in fact, a writer first and foremost when making any professional considerations.

It is a tough road to walk because I have never had my writing validated by others to a degree where I can write away without any doubt whatsoever as to the rightness of my undertaking. I can’t say for certain that I won’t die and leave behind a pile of words that history treats as the work of a writer manque or hobbyist writer, or even more terrible: a mere graphomaniac.

I’ve kept my writing mostly hidden in the workplace, only producing a professional blog entry or white paper when absolute necessity dictates it. At first, this was completely due to a fragile ego, and then it became a serious mission–to keep what I do in the temporary professional arena separate from my one day profession and true calling. I wanted my marketing and web design work to be no different than the series of odd jobs struggling writers of the past took on to make ends meet until they got their break. But now, things have come full circle, especially as young people without these kind of principles enter the workplace and gladly take on any writing or editing job thrown at them. Having my writing or creative input heavily critiqued or even worse, completely ignored, seems to sting my ego all the more. Having people fifteen years younger than me send me copy that I am told to shut up and cut and paste and send out is utterly unsatisfying.

I think that my opportunity to write as much as I would like, and dive into dozens of novels I need to read to get back into the groove of writing fiction, may be less available to me than I would like to think it will be. If my wife decides that she doesn’t really want to go back to work, then I’ll have to accept a full-time job doing this kind of work I’ve come to hate, but can make money doing. However, I also think that I’ve come to allow too many windows of free time to pass in states of ennui–drifting in and out of a nap or TV coma while pretending that I was meditating or researching American culture.

I like this under-explored notion of seeing the birth of my novel as being inevitable, so much to the point that the existence of it becomes as much due to my efforts as the existence of my own son will be. In other words, I plant the seed, I tend to the Muse who is nurturing the novel, but she does all of the work. I get the “baby’s room” ready–I prepare the way for the novel by researching the best editors to contact when you are completely unknown and take the time to reach out to them. But, at the end of the day, once the novel is birthed and released into the world, he is his own living thing apart from me, and only mine in the sense that he carries some of my DNA and ideas and beliefs.

As much as my parents raising me and teaching me things was about me being conditioned to be an acceptable mate for someone so that I could pass on the family DNA, so has been my conditioning and “training” in life for the moment when I am finally ready to seriously put forth a work that comes from the metaphorical loins of my mind. Perhaps that’s too much metaphor in the wrong direction.

But, I do want this to seem inevitable. I relish the idea of the inevitable. I think that I am often too easily caught up in creating situations for myself where I think: okay, this is it, from this moment henceforth, I will never again X, Y or Z. And then, I find myself backsliding, quitting, giving up and completely changing course. I remember that the initial reason for my volunteering on a political campaign was to give me something to put on my resume after I completed the prerequisite courses at the local community college and was filling out the applications to get into one of the top public policy schools for my master’s degree. This was back when I had just turned 30. But then, the undercurrents of life, plus the headiness of the political campaign, got the better of me, and I suddenly found myself being fired from my sales job I’d talked myself into at Ahmis, and making the tough decision not to schmooze with the friends of the candidate at a much later date after she inevitably lost (she was a Democrat running for statewide office in Texas).

I had completely lost site of taking the prerequisite classes at the community college, forgotten about the goal of getting the public policy degree, and suddenly, the only thing that seemed inevitable was that I would continue to fall in and out of love with the lady I was off and on dating, and I would hopefully find my way out of Ahmis but for good. In other words, there were no great milestones of inevitability ahead for me, but simply ones of hoping that the negative stuff in my life would eventually go away. I also made deals with God during that period, that if he would heal my mom of cancer, then I would stop some of my more unsavory vices. Of course, I couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain for more than a week, and I guess God decided not to hold up his end, either.

I’ve never had a stronger sense of inevitability about me walking away from any sort of appearance of having a career in Marketing or Sales, than the sense I have of it today. My vision of the legacy I leave behind is one where all of the years I worked for these companies and the non-profit will mostly be a side note to the substance of my life work. I have this sense that much of what has happened with web companies in the past twenty years is ephemeral to the nth degree, and yet so much of it seems to be the same rehashed thing on a new platform or device that everyone rushes to try. I understand that there is a solid shift in our way of living and thinking brought on by these technologies, and a few of them will be around in a hundred years if there is still civilization and an economy to support them. But, for me, the act of writing just feels more permanent and trustworthy than the act of designing a web page or creating a piece of marketing collateral or engaging with a new app or device. I have no pretensions about writing using old tech–for me, it’s whatever works. But, the act itself is now at least five thousand years old, if not many more years than that. The moment of seeing what was simply a thought in your head appear etched in some kind of physical medium is still a moment clothed in power, magic and mystery.

Nobody who thinks they knew me over the past twenty years would guess that I am such a traditionalist. The older I get, the more I love things that are classical and have held up to the test of human history and fads. I seek out books and stories that communicate universal truths–truths that I can still relate to today, and see men still relating to a hundred years from now. I have no idea how much of the new technology and trends of the past twenty years will be around at the start of next century. I couldn’t even begin to guess. But, I do know that any website or piece of marketing collateral I created will be long gone. Even stuff that was created last year is generally considered extremely old in my business. People crave everything that is brand new, because they want to be a part of something the way others were a part of past tech companies at the height of their success. It’s perfectly understandable, but it’s also damn tiresome. By the time I finally got a handle on making a decent website controlled entirely by DIVs, CSS and sitting on a 960 grid, responsive design was just a few years around the corner.

I can feel deep inside that I’ve reached that age where I really am becoming the old dog that doesn’t want to learn new tricks. Especially when the new tricks look a lot like the old tricks, but gussied up in new terminology and pretty new clothes. If I really had my way, I would go back to building websites to be so stripped down to just text and the occasional image, hand coded in kindergarten HTML, and missing any flash or pizzazz.

I’ve found that I probably use about 30% of my smart phone for what it’s worth. I use email and internet, and might download the occasional news or weather app. I would be quite content to simply placing a few bookmark icons on the home screen to sites if I could–if I wasn’t constantly bombarded with requests to download everyone’s useless app. I almost never text message, and only use the camera when I’m on vacation. I could get by on having a phone that had only the internet, text messaging and camera in addition to the phone itself, and not miss any of the other apps.

I wonder what all of these older Millennials will think when they turn 40, and the younger Millennials and kids from the next generation are up and coming with ideas for apps and technologies that they can’t or won’t keep up with? Naturally, a selection of them will do their best to pretend they aren’t getting old, and a fair number of them will probably just be lost altogether.

But, the area of being a traditionalist that I never really thought I would explore is the one that I think I need to examine the most. It has nothing to do with new vs. old technologies, or new vs. old morals and values, but it has more to do with the deep need to have life where I’m taken care of by my community, my family, my institutions, my expected milestones. When I turned 30, I began to get scared about never finding my wife, and never having children. Now that I’m almost 40, I’m terrified about being close to retirement age when they go off to college. Where I live now, my being out of sync with the expected milestones is even more keenly felt. In Austin, you could throw a stone and hit ten Peter Pans who were entering their forties and not married yet. In this small Texas town, I find that being 30 and not married with children is odd.

You have know idea how much I wish I could go back to college and join more of the clubs, and sing the fight song at more games, and attend my graduation ceremony. The feeling of always having missed out on something certainly didn’t start in college, but it always seems to land back on that time period when I start to have it strongly. Night after night I dream about being late for a class or test, or having missed out on most of the class throughout the semester, or I’m returning to college to finally complete my degree or get a “real” degree.

In part, I was utterly overwhelmed to the point of being catatonic when I started college. I was so terribly excited at all of the possible nights of partying, drinking, sex and epic college experiences, that I couldn’t really get myself together. I was feverish with anticipation at being in such a large city for the first time on my own (Murphy Falls had 2500 people when I graduated and Columbia has about 35000) — Columbia had a Mosque and an Asian food market. I might as well have been dropped into London or NYC for what it was worth. I spent a lot of time just wandering about town on my own, hoping to catch the eye of some girl, or stumble on to some kind of multicultural happening. In truth, I was utterly terrified and felt like I was a six year old dropped into a world of grownups.

In some ways, at least as social experiences were concerned, I probably was about six years old. I had never attended a school dance, and could only boast of two girlfriends, one of which had gotten semi-serious. I had never had to walk up to a group of guys and make them see that I could be a good, solid heterobuddy, or bro as they now say. I was 100% convinced that religion was going to get me nowhere, and alcohol was going to take me everywhere I wanted to be. So, I ignored my mom’s endless pleas to go to one of the church events where they were giving away free food to incoming freshman and offering something lame like a volleyball game or cookout. I was ready to be a man of the world, damnit, and I was certain that once I got a little drunk, the world would open up for me.

***

The idea of creating a hard milestone that I stick to, one that is wholly generated by myself, seems to be an utter impossibility. I can look back and see that any achievement I had while in school or at work, or the success of finding a wife and starting a family–all came from me deciding to stick with the program. But, the milestones were rigidly implanted in me from the outside at an early age. The inevitableness of marriage and children, of work after college and leaving a current workplace for a better opportunity comes with the territory of my culture. But, a hard goal like–I will run a marathon in one year from now, or I will be fluent in Spanish in one year, or I will publish my novel in one year–these are hard goals that remain on the surface and are easily run over by life itself.

In order for such a goal to take, I have to figure out how to plant it somewhere deep inside of me so that it feels inevitable. I think they got a lot wrong in that Inception movie, and one thing they really got wrong was that the idea had to be his idea in order for him to carry through with it. I tend to think for a lot of us, it’s just the opposite. We want to do something if it smacks of fate. If I know that it’s inevitable that I will publish a novel, then my habits and routines start to change to align with this inevitable thing. On days when the last thing I want to do is get up and write, or do the more important research to create believable characters and dialogue, if I am resigned to my task with a sense of fatalism on those days, then I will continue to work when I least feel like it.

At the very least, I am working to get rid of all the things that are terrible that I tend to feel are inevitable. Like, oh, it’s inevitable that I’m going to lose my temper, do that vice, find myself in another shit job pushing buttons. Same old same old. Why not create in my head a sense of fatalism about a bunch of good things? Well, it’s inevitable that I’m going to be rich in the next few years and have to live in a swank apartment overlooking Central Park. It’s inevitable that I’m going to be traveling a lot, and speaking to rooms packed with adoring fans. I better start getting ready for it, because it’s coming whether I want it to or not. Well, I guess I’m resigned to my bank account full of money, and all of the responsibility that comes with having to spend my money on good food, clothes, scotch, travel, etc.

Now, I realize that there is a potentially dangerous path that can be taken if I am not really aligning my every day actions to dovetail with the future state of being successful. In other words, I fall into an oft-repeated habit of spending money I don’t have because, “who cares, I’ll be rich enough to pay this credit card off ten times over here in a few months!” I guess there is a difference between living like success is one day inevitable and living like it already happened. If I’d attempted to run away from home at the age of 14 and live in a big city as if I already had my college degree and I was 22-23, I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.

People tend to accept you as you are, but if you feel too much like an undeserving fraud, it will inevitably come through, and your actions won’t align with your words or with your body language.

***

I don’t want to believe in Time as an objective contsruct. I don’t want to believe that aging and death are inevitable. I’m not ready to yet. If Time is an objective contstruct, much the same as the table my foot is resting on, then why can’t it be traversed or circumvented in like fashion? I’m too old, though, to really believe that I could potentially go to bed tonight and wake up in a different time period of my own life, or somebody else’s life. I’ve never experienced even a hint of evidence that it could be so. But, I still hold a glimmer of hope somewhere in the back of my mind, in case there is a tiny possibility.

I have long since lost the kind of mystery and awe that comes with experiencing new things in the world. I hope to vicariously get some of this back when my newborn son arrives. I do have to wonder just exactly what God had in mind when he made the world the way he did. It can at turns seem utterly obvious, and then become confusing and frighteningly chaotic.

…and you are old and bitter.

You think that you’ve waited around for signs to come your way for just about as long as a man can wait. You’ve sinned about as much as you care to. You’re old, tired and mean, and you don’t have a lot of faith. The way you pictured things happening didn’t happen. The things that did happen generally happened only when you got up off of your ass and made them happen. Even then, about 80% didn’t happen.

You’re fed up with the world. You can’t understand why people can’t get along with each other better. You get along with others just fine–you don’t bother trying to get to know anyone. If everyone just sat in their houses and did random freelance assignments, then they’d all stay out of trouble, and stuff could be shipped to them. The Israelis and the Palestinians would get along, because they wouldn’t talk to each other. Why the hell do they need that particular patch of earth anyway? Why not just have all of their temples and mosques and such replicated somewhere in China, and go live there?

You are wishing that you could spend the rest of your life in a hotel with plenty of cheap Scotch, bar food, and hookers to keep you full. When you get to feeling the oppressive gloom of death overtake you, why you just read your Gideon’s Bible, and wash down a few Advil with the rest of your Scotch from the night before, then walk down to the hotel restaurant and grab some chicken wings.

This would be in Vegas. You don’t need to go outside again. Maybe someone could pay you to do this as part of a research study.

You don’t particularly care to gamble, much. You would be happy putting a few ones inside a slot machine for a few hours, and that would be that. Then, the rest of your money–on women and drink. Maybe a cigar.

You see, you tried living the life of the businessman. You were once one of those hipster fellas that got excited about Web 2.0, and you were ready to be a part of New Media and apps and all that crazy shit. You tried your hand at selling financial services for a year after college (Communications Degree), because someone told you that was where the real money was at. But then, you learned about people making money hand over fist selling Digital Marketing services to big companies. You learn a tool that spits out email, and wrap it up in a nice pretty theory they call Demand Generation, and you can get rich off of big companies who are terrified that they don’t know where their next sales leads are coming from.

But you were too cool for email. In fact, you were too cool for Social Media. That was so passe. You were the kind of fella that needed a sidekick, or to put it more accurately, you needed to be a sidekick. That’s when you met another young, hip guy who was so over all of the old new media, just like you. You got together and talked all day long about how you could offer services to help companies improve their web visitors’ Digital Experience.

You and Jim would spend all day talking about your beautiful theories around how companies should be doing B2B marketing if they’d only listen to you. You’d rub your hands together with glee and laugh at those sad old geezers out there sending email blast after email blast. Your services were so cutting edge and state of the art, that the agency you worked at couldn’t get any clients to actually purchase your services. Their loss. That’s when you started your own company. You were convinced that with the right metrics tools measuring the users who came to the clients’ websites, and the perfectly redesigned site with optimized architecture that you recommended (and let someone else build), and thousands of pages of content, your clients would get a bonanza in new leads. With each engagement, you estimated that your entire service offerings would cost the client about 2 mil USD. Which was a small price to pay for perfection. Of course, if the client deviated from your recommendations even slightly, then you couldn’t be held accountable for their lack of succcess. You know, it kind of sounded like faith healing–”if you don’t have as much faith as I do, it’s not my fault or God’s fault that you didn’t get healed.”

You actually got a couple of suckers, er, you mean clients to go along with you. And, just like when you worked at the agency, you blew through about half of the clients’ investment on travel, booze, food and late night brainstorming sessions.

Jim grew disillusioned after a couple of years, and took a job as a web developer. By then, you were both seeing your hair starting to get thin and gray on top–shocking how quickly that part of your life arrives when you are well into your thirties and still believing that you are twenty-six. You didn’t know what to do, you were devastated. You finally broke down and applied at a company to manage their Marketing Automation system for them. In spite of what the Marketing Automation software’s brand Egelists claimed, not much had changed since you last remember using it. They were still promising that Social Media was about to take off, and excelling mostly at seeing their clients batch blast email to thousands of purchased email addresses while walking a thin line between permission-based email and complete spam, with the promise that one day those clients would build advanced lead nurturing and lead scoring campaigns within the system.

Some young punk joined your Marketing team, and he started making the same claims that you and Jim used to make. Imagine that! This young punk acting like he just invented the Digital Experience. Well, you guess you and Jim weren’t that much different. But, it sure stung. You hated no longer having people admire you for being the precocious, smartest asshole in the room. Now, you were just the asshole in the room.

So, you got religion.

You were part of a Charismatic church youth group when you was in High School, until you realized how uncool that was. In college, you kind of flirted with Hinduism and Buddhism, until you read Richard Dawkins, and realized that only science was cool. God was not. You loved being the mouthy jerk who shut down any poor soul that dared try to talk as if there might be a God. You knew that religion caused all of the wars, and that the world would have peace for the first time if we got rid of religion. And frankly, people that believed in God just showed how they weren’t as smart as you.

Of course, when you happened to find yourself in a crowd of real scientists or computer programmers, you quickly got out of there. You hated not being the smartest guy in the room, and the only way you could really achieve that was by staying in the Marketing profession.

But, by the time you were in your 40s, and you hadn’t settled down with a family yet, and you no longer got to travel and eat and drink all the time on the company dime, you knew you needed something else. So, you stepped into a non-denominational church, and you found Jesus. You got silly with the Spirit. Man, they were running around and barking like dogs. That’s where you met your first wife. She was twenty-two and just about to graduate from college. Yes, you’d started using Rogaine and dyeing your hair. You kind of lied about your age, too. But then, you begged for her forgiveness when it was time to go get our marriage certificates. She was blonde and innocent. She’d kept her virginity for marriage.

You and your first wife had three kids, and then you lost interest in her and Jesus. You backslid and fell off the wagon. You’d told your wife that you hadn’t touched a drop of booze in five years, but it was more like five days when you met her and told her that. You started drinking all the time, and then you got a little mad, and you blacked out. She says you hit her, but you don’t remember it. You drove off and got arrested, and she divorced you. Turns out, she was already fooling around with that young punk from your work.

Well, you got Jesus again. You knew that you had to. By then, there was no pretending, and you stopped dyeing your hair and trying to save it. It fell out in a few weeks and you were as bald as your daddy. You met a lady who was only six years younger than you, and you believed her to be your soul mate. You’d started going to a new church that didn’t bark and run around as much, but still had the modern praise band that sings the same two lines over and over again. Your second wife said she’d fought her own demons of addiction and lost her first marriage because of the drink and meth, so you felt like this was going to be a much more mature and adult-like marriage.

Except, it wasn’t. You quickly became a couple of co-dependent junkies who spent less and less time with your children, until both of your ex-spouses had gotten the courts to give them complete custody. You were a little sad about this, and one day your second wife Wanda shot herself dead. She couldn’t take it, anymore. “Lord,” you pray, “I hope that it turns out you do offer some of us the gift of reincarnation.”

Of course, by then, you were sick of paying child support, and sick of your job, and fed up with just about everyone on the planet. So, you cashed out all of your credit cards, and went to Vegas to live in hotels and gamble until you had no money and no credit left at all. After that, you settled down in a nice trailer park on the outskirts of town, and you drive a limo cab. You try your best to stay sober so you can have my job, and you don’t really give a damn what these young fools who come to the conventions in town are talking about.

The resignation letter

Today is the day that I’m writing and sending my resignation letter to my full-time employer. I will offer my services through the end of the month, and then after that, I am completely freelance, accepting scraps of work and contract projects as they come, as well as setting up a thin, resume website with a basic price point for a few basic services.

It will be the first time I am not working full time since June 28, 1999, the day before I started working at Ahmis Communications. The plan was that I would work full time until the end of the year, and quit at the time that my wife went back to work after her maternity leave. But, things have started to move rapidly in one clear direction, and I can see that I am burning a lot of my own free time on my employer’s dime, while still halfheartedly manning a home office desk trying to stay focused on caring about the market that they serve.

To an outsider’s ears, it sounds completely crazy: a man is quitting his full-time job and will stop working for the company about a month or so before his first child arrives. Even in today’s economy, which is much better than it has been for a long time, it sounds like I am crazy or having a bad case of selfishness flare up right before baby is born. The truth is pretty far from what an outsider (ie, my father and in-laws plus any random stranger) might think.

The idea of continuing to work from home full time after baby arrives seems ridiculous to me. About 98% of the time that I’ve worked in this current position, I could get away with having a baby to tend to and do my work. My work hours are not carefully monitored–as long as I am getting the work done by the deadline dates, they don’t seem to care most of the time if I am sitting at my desk from 8-5 or not. However, when there is a weekly meeting or an urgent call about something, I am expected to be there, and can’t decline and say I’ll be free in maybe an hour or so after baby goes back to sleep. Of course, if I were to demand the kind of flexibility to do that, I would be getting to do something so many working parents do not get to do.

In short, it doesn’t seem fair to a new child to put them in daycare when you have a parent who can theoretically be at home with the child to tend to its needs throughout the day. So, my point is that I feel I would be more selfish to keep a full-time job. The development of my little boy’s intellect and character during his pre-K years is of far more importance to me than my pride as being the top breadwinner, the freedom the extra money would allow us, and the opinions of people “out there.” Even in the best daycare in the world, my young son would be receiving far less attention than he will be.

So, the plan is to put baby first, and work on my freelance business and writing of the great novel while baby is asleep and mother is at home. Since I’ve never done anything like this before, I am unsure of how it will work. It could be just another ill-conceived plan of mine, or I could get a job offer to work somewhere full time that is just too good to pass up, and then we would have to accept a more traditional arrangement, with wife quitting her job to stay home.

Of course, I have my doubts. There is less money in the bank than I’d like there to be, but I doubt there will be a day in my life when that isn’t true. I’ve been in the comfortable arms of the 8-5 office employer for over 15 years now, even when I’ve come to work almost completely at home office. The notion of setting out on my own is a scary one–will I end up pooping away the time I have before baby comes, and find myself frantic and stressed and in a place where I take some job that pays so much less and requires so much more from me?

Something hasn’t been fixed

Brain sees garden…I peaked into gates…I walked past on the street and peaked in. I was in Kansas City, Charleston, Baltimore…I’ve never been to Philadelphia. I love traveling, I love talking to people. I react badly to both. What is wrong? Why do I not get what I want?

I get jobs sitting around…I sit…something hasn’t been fixed. Something is broken, like a top or dreydl that won’t spin…it falls down. It looks flawless, attractive…has potential…something inside it doesn’t hold it up…machinery…being driven places, a lifelong fight to be the driver. I want to be in control. I want to be the leader, the one in charge.

I don’t want to be the leader, I don’t want to be led. I hate being told what to do. I love it. I am so confused. They are confused. Who is he? Where is he? What is he? Is he a man or a hybrid.

My feelings and emotions run through me. Strong. Foolish. I am a fool. I say something foolish just to keep from being chided for being silent. People seem disconcerted. Offended. Why would he ask such a thing? It’s a commonplace. It’s a non-starter. It’s the weakest conversation gambit I’ve ever heard.

I black out. I wake up. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to experience fall and spring. I live in summer and two weeks of a naked, hard winter. No snow, maybe a dusting every three years. People are complacent. People get angry and upset in the heat. People want more. The government isn’t giving them what they want. Everything is the problem but me. I’m not the problem. I pay my taxes.

I am a tax payer from childhood. I deserve many nice things. I don’t care about others. Let the poor feed the poor. Didn’t Jesus say that?

I am above all, a man. No Democrat ever made me feel like a man. I need to feel like a man, because, by God, I am one. I will buy a gun at Wal-Mart and shoot pigeons all day long if I like. I will shoot any man that comes for my gun. I would rather have my kids die from playing with my gun than have the man come and take my guns away. The man can come and take my kids away. I hate Europe. I hate the feminine nanny state. I hate girl power. I hate the way girls and women are trying to rule the world and making a mess of it. Even that old Bush was a pansy, just listen to him talk.

Need stronger, blacker coffee. Need to be alive. Need to be awake and alive like I’m nineteen again. I don’t feel like an old man. An old man has given up. I haven’t given up on everything. My brain wants me to type words that aren’t the words that I thought I was going to type. I want to live on a college campus. Some idyllic perpetual spring inside an old building with radiator heaters and old dead donors on the walls. Paintings up the stairs. A small collection that includes a Van Gogh and a Pollock.

Pictures in my head of fedoras and buicks with long swooping arcs of bodies. Designs of rounded aerodynamic metal shells on top of tanks. But I was a child of the eighties, growing up among kids who had no roots, no heritage, nothing. We didn’t have a history. Someone had taken our history and removed it from us. We might have had grandparents who fought and died in Normandy and the Pacific, or we might have come from a completely different world. Our world was the present. They fed us these sickeningly sweet corn syrup drinks in plastic pouches and baloney sandwhiches–disgusting parts of animals ground up into a pink paste and flattened and turned into perfect circles to go on white squares with perfectly orange squares of cheese food product. And these nasty chewy things call fruit rollups–food wasn’t food unless you could play with it–mash it up and roll it up. Lots of ketchup, too. Birthday parties at McDonald’s to eat these tiny, flattened crisped objects called McNuggets. Same materials as the baloney but in a fried form. That’s what we were raised on.

The music was the same…syrupy synth sounds, and processed electric guitars and vocals–as processed as our food. Plenty of movies about brave adventurers of bygone eras and adventurers of the future. One man, Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones, Hans Solo. Or, those other two. Rocky and Arnold. Big, roided fellows all the boys wanted to lift weights to get that big so that bullets just bounced off of our muscles. And learn to fight like the Karate Kid, except Karate was quickly a little kids’ way to fight, and then we had to learn Kung Fu because of Bruce Lee, and then this kid in another town was learning Jujitsu, but then this other kid heard about Kempo it’s the same martial art that Steven Seagal knows. So, a lot of fakeness, and a lot of pretend men running around in their makeup and tights and muscles that are pretty boy muscles, and not a lot of real fighting.

We were learning that Vietnam Vets were cool and they were all like Rambo, and they were mistreated by those lousy hippies. Thank god my parents weren’t hippies were your mom and dad? Whose mom and dad were hippies and spit on those Vietnam war heroes? Maybe Michael J Fox’s parents from Family Ties, that’s who. And that girl Connie Jenners whose dad’s a chiropractor, he seems like he was probably a hippie, they probably hate vets. Let’s get her at recess. We can all chase her around the playground. I want to start a Bible study on the playground and lead lost souls to Jesus. But I’m a Christian, I go to church. Hah. You wish. But, you aren’t spirit-filled. You need to get spirit-filled and talk in tongues and be able to lay hands on people and heal them. Oh, your Grandmother died, I’m sorry, was she a Christian. Yes, she went to church every Sunday. But did she have the Holy Spirit, did she ask Jesus into her heart, was she born again. I don’t know! Well, maybe your grandmama is going to hell.

We need to be ever vigilant against the ways of the world intruding upon our children. Ozzie Osbourne is a terrible influence. Did you know that the Beatles used backwards masking on their records to create subliminal messages? Why yes, I’d heard about that. And John Lennon said he was bigger than Jesus. Those Beatles are of the Devil and they started this culture’s descent into the ways of the wicked one. Why I bet by 1992 we will see the signs of the end times finally come to fruition and all of us good Christians will be taken up into the rapture the next year so that Jesus can fulfill the prophecy and we’ll watch the seven years’ tribulation happen to those Christians like that girl’s grandmother who are still alive and haven’t asked Jesus into their hearts yet. Except that grandma is surely in hell right now, since she just went to church and was good.

I am look forward to armageddon since I won’t be around except for the start of it. When the final days come, the army of the north will move across the plains of Megiddo toward Israel, and of course, we all know that this is the Soviet Union. The Soviets are pure atheists, they are atheism at its full manifestation. Did you know they killed over twenty million Orthodox Christians back when Stalin was in power? Yes, but I heard they are much nicer now. Oh no, I’ve read the stories about how you have to sneak Bibles into the Iron Curtain to get them read. And, the youth over there are just hungry for Jesus. Not like our youth who haven’t had a great revival and pouring out of the Spirit since the 1970s.

The 1970s were really a much better time. Peace had come back across the land. I love Ronald Reagan and everything he’s doing, and I think he’s the best president of the 20th century, but I also believe that he’s doing too little, too late. I also don’t believe in this me generation. He who dies with the most toys still dies without Jesus. Jesus said you could gain the entire world and still lose your soul, that’s what’s happening to these Wall Street guys and these swindlers who are trading in toxic bonds. What are toxic bonds? Junk debt that nobody is going to pay back. You need to stay away from mammon, son. And stay out of the military. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword. I mean, I love Oliver North, he’s a great hero, and I hate these stupid damn democrats that come in and try to persecute him, but you son, you were made to preach the word of God and be a man of peace in the end times, and not fight and kill. But I do believe Reagan is doing the right thing when he sends people into South America, and I do think that we need to have more troops in the Middle East to bring in peace for Israel. But I thought that the end times were coming.

Well they are, and there’s nothing we can do about it. If I’m going up in the rapture, won’t I miss out on being a preacher during the end times? I’ll get taken up with the Lord before I’m very old. Well, you can at least pray to the Lord and see what he tells your heart. I believe that there may be some of us who are left behind to help others. You might end up being persecuted like the old martyrs, but won’t that be a treasure for you in heaven if you die being tortured for Jesus! Paul was tortured and so were many men and women who helped hide away the Jewas during the Nazi persecution, and so are many men and women who sneak bibles into the iron curtain today.

But, maybe I just want to grow up and be a baseball broadcaster like my hero Harry Carey. I want to have a deep authoritative voice and announce baseball to the kids who are listening to me on their AM radios all over the country. I almost love listening to the radio and hearing them announce the baseball plays better than watching it on the TV. It’s like I can use my imagination and I have to picture where the players are on the field. I like to use my imagination a lot. I like to fantasize every night about who my first girlfriend might be. I still develop a new crush on Priscilla Chernier every single time I see her. She was my first crush and the first fantasy I ever had about a girl where we went horseback riding together and held hands and kissed in the woods, if only I had the courage to go up to her and talk to her, but anyway, I don’t think she really likes me.

It’s so much easier to imagine talking to a girl and imagine her falling in love with you. Of course, in my fantasies, I’m not wearing my glasses, because I have gotten twenty twenty eyesight again because the Lord has healed me. Sometimes I even imagine what it might be like to play with a girl with our clothes almost all the way off behind the big oak tree on the playground even though I know Jesus doesn’t like that. But then, my brother, he comes in and tells me about some girl that he did it with while he was working at Worlds of Fun, and I believe that he’s telling the truth. I can hear him moving and shifting around a lot as we’re falling asleep, he’s probably imagining that girl again. I wish I had a girlfriend, I think I would become one of the more popular guys in the class and ditch James Keese as my best friend, then.

I wake up in the evening from another nap, and I’m as mean as they come. I am sore from laying around or sitting all day with my head propped up on pillows, and all of the pain medicine and sleeping drugs have worn completely off. I don’t think about being young for the rest of the day, but I think about every last person that has done me wrong somehow. Just some fool who won a conversation gambit, and got my goat. Some asshole who used his experience of sitting in boardroom meetings year after year to outmaneuver me. He wasn’t right in the sense of having the upper hand of facts or even a better moral hand. He was right because he used the force of his personality. He knew how to manipulate people’s latent fear. That fear that you get when you think someone bigger than you is going to kill you. Of course he couldn’t kill me.

But, I hate people like that. I hate it when I suddenly find myself with the upper hand because I put one over on someone like that. If I can’t win because of facts and logic, then I don’t want to even play. But, you can’t get your ass up in the morning and do anything but the work of the day laborer unless you play. Everyone plays it.

I am spending way too much time alone with my thoughts, and you know how I get. I’m like an old mean bear out of hibernation who keeps getting poked with a stick. Why can’t I stick to the story? What is the story?

What am I trying to tell you, anyway, that you don’t already know?

Don’t you have memories that cut so deep and work their way on you so sharply that you can’t but stop whatever you’re doing just to have them? I’ve been gone over fifteen years from Missouri, and it is still like yesterday. The Missouri heat and humidity, and the dryness of Southern Missouri, and that first blast of A/C after having been at camp for two weeks. I am forgetting all of the bad stuff–or at least all the bad stuff I blamed on Missouri. Missouri is becoming a great, mythical state. I’ve lived for fifteen years among men and women who mythologize a state like no other. I don’t even think about it anymore. I go to South Carolina, and I think, damn, but this here is a nice state. I go to California, and I think, what an amazing state.

I have a hard time finding the people that are so angry about Obama or were so angry about Bush–but they pop up on my Facebook feed now and then. But, you don’t see them acting that way out in public, thank God. Can you imagine if they became so zealous they felt the need to hand out little Tea Party tracts at places like BJ’s and Sonic?

The memories are of an unfinished me. I was hollow and empty. I was furiously searching for the hard, solid ground of manhood that my flighty little boyself could land on and stick to and finally start growing like a live oak out of. Live Oak. Makes me want some beer. I think of a nice IPA. I think of how it bites me like coffee does. I want my poisons that take the edge off and put it back on to be poisons that bite me and let me know that I’m sipping on something that will rot out my gut.

I think what I really needed back then, and have needed pretty much all of my life is just a moment where I could stop everything and study it carefully without it moving all this way and that. I’m sure I could have done a lot better with my life, if I had that opportunity. I know, nobody gets it, you ain’t telling me nothing I don’t know. But, I think I especially needed it. I think my brain just preferred to sit and move ponderously like a slow rolling ocean wave while all the brains around me beat the rocks over and over again. Well, of course, I had to rush on into shore to keep up, and I did it badly.

I’ve long had this notion that if I was able to travel back in time and convince my dad that I was me of the future and get him to never let my little brother drive that Chevy S-10, that I would wake back up into an altered future where I was probably some kind of heroin addict or something. After having slid down about as far as I could go, playing and screaming in one punk band after another, and covered up to my eyeballs in bad tattoos, I was finally at rock bottom and being driven home from the rehab clinic for like the fifth time. I was like the Amy Winehouse of men. I was probably Amy Winehouse in a past life.

Lord knows that I wanted to live many other lives there in New York. Not just the punk rocker one, but also the art snob one, and the Wall Street asshole one and the intellectual in coffee shops spouting about how the American Dream is dead. Lord knows that I wanted to have the American Dream come to me in a package that arrived at my door. I didn’t want to have to go looking for it in some crime-infested area and experience being mugged or forced to suck some guy’s dick.

I wanted the American Dream to come to me pristine, wrapped up in a pretty package after the war was over. I didn’t want to go and fight in the war, but I wanted to come home from fighting in the war already decorated and loaded with stories of being a brave hero. I wanted to be like this guy from my high school a year younger than me. A handsome, tall blonde airman who was Murphy Falls’ finest son, a fifth generation Torrance of Murphy Falls. He did three tours of duty in Iraq as an airman and is now sipping on umbrella drinks in a cozy officer’s bar in Hawaii. He’s getting everything he deserved, but I wanted it to. I wanted every good thing that I didn’t deserve.

People who have known me for years don’t know me. They don’t know that I write compulsively like this. A graphomaniac is what they might have called me back in the 1800s, when psychological disorders were much more romantic and palpably felt. But am I? I can go days, weeks, months without writing. I start to feel like a complete asshole, but I can do it. I write because I know death. I know death is coming. I know it in little glimpses that aren’t cliches or adolescent poetry. If I try to know death better, then, why yes it does become like a cliche or bad romantic writing.

But, I do know death. I know that God hasn’t abandoned me, but he’s not amused. He is not impressed with my bland, listless kind of life. Me, always taking the easy way out and finding the path of least resistance. I’m too shy and cowardly to be a sales guy, so I do Marketing. I’m too mentally lazy to learn to write computer programs so I do Marketing. I’m too shy and cowardly to show off my writing and have it critiqued, so I manage web sites and run email campaigns. I’m too mentally lazy to get organized to run projects, so I let other people tell me when to push the buttons. I’m too shy and cowardly to manage people, so I am almost never a manager of people. I take the easy way out. I did it in college, too. I was going to be a physics major, but I got a D in Pre-Calc. I was too lazy to retake the class and so I became a Political Science major. I was too shy and cowardly to debate people about politics so I became an English Major. I took the easy way out and got an English Degree with a 3.0 GPA. The blandest, most safe route.

But, maybe it’s just in my DNA. I am a Midwestern WASP. I was born in Denver and raised near KCMO. The heart of white, middle-class America. My father took his family from lower, middle-class to upper middle-class. I have gone, on my own, from being middle-middle class to slightly above middle class. I never studied. I did my papers the night before they were due. When it looked like I was going to fail a class, I dropped it. I got out of the University with only two Ds. Mostly As and Bs for things that came easy.

I am a boring person. If you have read this far and you are not my future self or a machine, you are probably as boring as I am. Face it, the American Dream that our parents fought and died for is one of becoming boring people. Once you’ve gotten your family to a place where in each successive generation they can learn a skill or trade and get a degree that will be in demand, then each generation will have the minimal American Dream within a few years of getting out of college, and make just enough to get their kids the same. Some will inevitably fall through the cracks. They’ll make bad, dumb choices. They will do drugs or steal cars. They might not see the stop sign before it’s too late. They will go and fight and get badly injured in the next war, and nobody will want to hire them. Some will get lucky. They’ll marry rich, or have the right idea at the right moment when the marketplace wants that idea. But, most of your kids, generation after generation, will be the same, bland, middle-class Americans. The men will have their favorite sports teams, and wear polo shirts and jeans. The women will have their favorite reality show divas and gossip with their girlfriends into middle age.

The West was conquered over a hundred years ago. The laws and convenience stores have sanitized the roads and the fear across the land keeps us from living like Jack Kerouac. The big cities are all Disneyfied. We either embrace it, or we resort to escapist fantasy like video games and graphic novels and cosplay or pretend adventure shit like dude ranches and skydiving and scuba diving. There is no place for someone who doesn’t love the American Dream. There is no place for someone who dares dream of a different sort of America in a time like this. You have everything you need, why do you want so much more? If you want more, go get a finance degree and practice thievery that is sanctioned by law.

Or, sit and write endless reams of electronic paper about who you are or what you ain’t. You’re like one of those bears at the zoo that paces back and forth all day. You are in a cage called the American Dream. You couldn’t believe that this is all that there is, and so you went back to sleep, but you kept waking up and seeing that it is so. You can only munch so many spicy wings, drink so many tall, pilsner glasses of cheap beer, and watch so many games and fights and poker tournaments, before you wake up again and ask if this is all there is. You work at a software company. The potential for there to be new software companies seems endless. There is always some new innovation that can be made with an app or a tool, and there are always a thousand people waiting in the wings to move in and comprise the next round of software startups.

Developers and engineers who are happy to be handed a tiny little section of code in a piece of a feature of a version of the app. Go to work on updating this little routine and QA it. All the project manager types who don’t know a single line of code, but somehow manage to miss the Sales and Marketing or HR death vortexes. The directors and VPs, the lead Scrum masters and chief engineers–men who would have been just as ease as foremen in their fathers’ factories. They pride themselves on being especially manly, and the mostly male camaradarie of the engineering department serves them well. Off in the corner lurk the IT guys–an entirely different set of nerds. These fellows hate innovation. Anything new is a security threat to the company. Better to have the website look like its ten years out of date, than to put some new CMS or app on it that creates a portal into the company’s most precious secrets. In the backrooms sit the finance guys and the HR ladies, and this isn’t sexist much–that’s just the kind of people who end up in these roles. You see the finance guys never, but they come looking for you when you expense something without crossing that third T on your expense report. The HR ladies try to motivate everyone, and want everyone to be satisfied, but they are just churning out reports for the CEO so he can show the board that everyone is satisfied.

And finally, the awful apparatus of Sales and Marketing. It always starts out simple. The founder and his buddy. The founder and his buddies and his brother. Then, growth plateaus and the founder wants more money. The VCs bring in an operations manager, director, VP, and Chief, and an entire ship full of hale-hearty-har-har sales men and women of dubious pedigree. Some are total champs and can sell anything to anyone at anytime. These folks don’t need anything but a phone and a list of names and numbers. The rest are all nomads, and have been moving from software company to software company for years and years. They get a big deal now and then, and close a big deal even more rarely. But, they are every bit the talkers and players just like the champs. You can’t tell ‘em apart until two years have gone by. And, of course, in order to have a safety net to fall back on when they don’t hit their numbers, they need an entire team of Marketing people and Marketing technologies to push the blame off on when they don’t hit their numbers.

The founder always thinks Marketing can be done by an intern with one hand tied behind her back. What the f***? Just book us some tradeshows that we can go get drunk at, and make us some business cards and a web site, what else do we need? But the COOs and the VC guys know better. Marketing needs its own giant apparatus to buffer all the blame its going to get when sales doesn’t hit their numbers. You have Product Marketing people, and Marcomm People. Social Media and Events people. Demand Generation, SEO, SEM, and analysts to sift through the data like they were panning for gold. You have copywriters, graphic designers, and assistants and managers and directors and VPs to sprinkle throughout the Marketing department.

Before you know it, you have a bonafide, all-American software company that is never going to be profitable, but will make enough big sales so that the VCs and the board are happy, and they will decide a few acquisitions will certainly be what your company needs. Now, you can go public and sit and wait to get eaten by a bigger fish. Sell out, cash out the stock options and move on to another one. If you were a lowly Inside Sales rep here, you probably will be there, too. If you were a lowly Email Campaign Specialist here, you probably will be there, too. Until you shmooze and gladhand and backslap a little with people above you in the food chain, you’ll stay at the same level as you move from company to company unless you grow the balls to start your own company. And, of course, you’ll likely fail and tuck your tail between your legs and contact your network, and find the old team members you worked with, and go back to being whatever kind of schmuck you were before.

But, this is the American Dream. This is the new American factory, and if you weren’t aware of that, then you better get aware of it, fast. Once you are tapped into it, you’ll have enough employment to get you to the finish line. As long as you’re okay with pushing fifty and still doing the same damn, lowly thing, you’ll have work because you’ll have your network. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is all just me and my peculiar time and place. Maybe the new American factory is the college campus, but I think that one has passed. Maybe it’s the financial services company or bank, but again, I think that’s only for a select few. Maybe there is a new physical thing coming in bio or aerospace that I have no idea about. But, software ain’t gonna die any time soon. It will get pruned back, again and again. All of the bullshit-named startups that enable you to know when it’s time to go to the bathroom and where–these will all go away, but a few will sink into the soil and remain useful to folks, and they will wither, but then they will grow again.

I can’t tell you how much I can’t stand any of it. I’d rather go live in a fishing village in South Carolina, and write murder mysteries and get mosquito bites on my ample southern porch all day long, eating fresh clams and shrimp until the ocean is poisoned for good. But then, who wouldn’t? Every other fool out there who learned out to write complete sentences and not completely freeze up the grammar and spelling checking tools thinks that he or she can do the same.

I can’t tell you why the myth of my own exceptionalism continues to persist inside my head. I wasn’t the child who was awarded a trophy for trying. I am GenX and that came a few years after me. But, I did have a parent and a teacher or two who somehow put the notion in my head. Maybe I just tried really hard when I was quite young, even though I wasn’t any smarter than half the class. I definitely was the worst kind of people-pleaser. It’s been years since I really even enjoyed the attention and recognition. I’m much happier seeing others on the team get recognized, especially when I don’t feel like I worked any harder than they did. It’s embarrassing being called out in front of a bunch of people when you know that half of them probably hate your guts and the other half thinks you’re some kind of highly functioning Asperger’s guy.

I’m glad for Harry Torrance of Murphy Falls. I think guys like him are top notch. I am really past the age where I get envious of other people’s success. In fact, I wish that more people played up their successes.

Success. Well, I woke up one morning convinced that I was already successful. I had accomplished next to nothing, but I couldn’t see that. I couldn’t see that I was a tragic being, who came alive at the sight of someone in pain. It was more pleasing to mourn the dead than celebrate the living. I woke up one morning and opened up my Facebook account and saw that Nigel Braxton’s wife had posted to his wall that he was dead. Nigel didn’t wake up that morning.

I heard through the grapevine that old Willamena Tinsley died right after Nigel did. Willamena was bitter and the walking portrait of stress. She would get stressed out if you shared good morning pleasantries with her. The lady I had just started dating who was going to go on to become my wife was about to have her uncle and two of her grandparents die in the next year. My uncle would die, too. A few years later, this lady I didn’t know very well–she was a year younger than me, it turns out–Mary Sutter–she died. I couldn’t learn how she died from reading the comments about her death. Most of us who’d worked at the IAH had forgotten her. I was a connection on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn kept wanting me to endorse her for random professional skills.

Mary’s death bothered me, because I remember meeting her as a pregnant and happy mother. The IAH gave her a baby shower (of course, I didn’t attend, being a male and all). I liked Mary and wish I’d gotten to know her better. Same with Nigel. I knew Willamena and my Uncle all too well, and really wasn’t sad when either of them died. Maybe that’s harsh, when you know someone well enough to know that you aren’t going to be sad when they die. But, Nigel and Mary had seemed so content and happy with lives full of family and friends that didn’t need me inserted into them. You just never know.

Some people seem so unbreakable and they are the first to go. Like the guy in my high school Mike Trowbridge. He got into gambling debt and shot himself. Imagine being eighteen years old, and thinking your life is over. I remember being twenty-one and thinking that. I was in college and not making any progress with the opposite sex. I just wanted to crawl off to the wilderness like an animal mortally wounded and lay on a rock and die. I was tired of giving in to my friend Jerry’s demands to go get drunk every night, and tired of hearing my parents and aunt and uncle tell me to hang on and just get my degree. I just wanted to be as far away from all of them as possible to get myself sorted out.

That’s the comfort that writing brings. You get so caught up in the moment that you’re in that you lose all perspective about what really matters. Being able to wake up and live another day can be a brave fight for some of us. Some of us are defiant in our will to not give up our last breaths until we have fought death with every ounce of our being. We’d rather be 800 years old, rolling around in a nursing home and a burden to society, than be six feet under, asleep, waiting for whatever might take us in the great beyond. We are selfish, and we are damn proud of it. You can throw at us anything you like about hanging on long after we should have let go, and we will stare you back in the face and say that you are nothing compared to death itself.

That’s the kind of defiance I wish I had at all times.

Let the world of chaos and differing opinion and hatred come up to within an inch of my face but let it get no farther than this. This world can’t come into me, no matter how hard it tries. Let only the weak, lame, suffering and hopelessly poor come into me and touch me. I’ve been a thin-skinned man with an ego that is ready to be bruised by the next security guard at the airport. I’ve walked around waiting for the next big man with a big mouth and ego to get under my skin so that I could go off and sulk and scream and lash out, and say everything that I would do if I could just let loose from the laws and show that man who’s boss.

When I came into this world, and I mean the moment I began to become self aware, I had this angelic quality about me. I smiled like a Buddha and wanted to pass the peace of Christ to everyone I met. Whether this nature invited more hell heaped upon my head, or I had not become as enlightened as I thought I was in my past life, I quickly discovered that I had deep flaws running wild and vivid inside of me. I had a temper that didn’t wait around once I got frustrated with something or somebody. I loved making fun of people who seemed different than me. I picked my nose. As soon as I got an inkling of sex and the idea that it was this taboo, dirty thing that adults did behind my back, I started having bizarre sex fantasies that took place with my teachers and other adults in my life.

I can say with confidence that I would be a very different adult, for better or for worse, if my parents hadn’t adopted two boys from an unstable home who were to be my older brothers. I didn’t know much about their past before they came to live with Mom and Dad. I had trouble understanding how they might be different from other kids’ older siblings. I worshipped them, and wanted to be like them, so much more so than my parents. This was so from an early age, and it got worse when I became a teenager. I abandoned all of the computer interest. Computers were for losers. I was going to be a popular, cool kid. No popular, cool kid at my school had anything to do with a computer.

I gave up all that was unique about me–all of the DNA I’d inherited from Mom and Dad–because I wanted nothing less than to be crowned the coolest kid in the class.

Standing in the bleachers and cheering for the football team was uncool. Playing football was uncool. Going up to the corner of the High School property with a couple of other losers who didn’t play football, and smoking a cigarette–now that was a major step on the path toward becoming cool. I had a sense of authenticity that was highly skewed. I also wanted to date the most popular and beautiful girl in my class, Susan Parker.

Underneath the misguided manifestations of what I was trying to accomplish lay an authentic search for truth and meaning in life. This, too, came about at an early age. I understood that the preppy jocks who listened to Top 40 hits and Garth Brooks were not the most authentic individuals–that they were sacrificing the authenticity of individualism for the sake of security in numbers. What I didn’t understand was that they were busy perfecting their own kind of truth. They were laying the groundwork for college applications and future social situations like at frat parties when girls came up and talked to them. They were shedding the awkwardness during a time when it was okay to be a little awkward, as long as a few guys had your back.

I don’t think any of this really caught up to me and smacked me in the face until I went to work at my first software company, and I worked among men and women who took themselves very seriously, and acted completely like grownups. The clowns at Ahmis Communications were classic Austin Peter Pans, and the fools at the IAH were wannabe grownups who didn’t know how to get past the shadow of the college dorm, fraternity or sorority. But at Sinoculis Software, there was nothing of the adult-in-training to be detected in the eyes and speech of anyone. You might get a flash of the young adult at a happy hour, but definitely not at the office. These were serious people who’d started families and weren’t interested in coming to the office to date their officemates.

The part of all of it that smacked me was the realization that my initial reaction to look up to them like they were older siblings and parents was a learned pattern of behavior that I’d been repeating long past an age where it was really appreciated by others. What’s more, quite a few of them were the same age as me or only slightly older. I suddenly realized that I had better grow up really fast, or I was going to spend the rest of my life as an adult-in-training, a man manque, a boy who could barely hold his own around other men.

The way I saw myself unconsciously reacting to strong male personalities who came up to me and introduced themselves was especially hard to face. I reacted exactly as I might have reacted were I a recent college grad, a true beta dog ready to drop on his back and show his belly to prevent the alpha dogs in the pack from thinking even for a minute that he was a threat. Most men just simply didn’t know what to do with it. They expected a solid handshake, steady eye contact, unwavering baritone voice, and a face that said no boy lives here. Instead, they would often get fluttery eyes, crackling voice, an uneven handshake that remembered to grip firmly too late, and a face that said the man he’d caught a glimpse of was now deep in retreat, shrinking back up inside of himself.

Of course, by this point in my life, I’d thought I was among the most masculine of men. I’d rented any number of tough guy movies from the past forty years, and completely immersed myself into them. I’d successfully asked more than a few women to go out on dates with me and go to bed with me. I had survived a bicycling accident, and had put myself in many different social encounters. I’d made cold calls, I’d served as Field Manager on a statewide political campaign. I’d interviewed dozens of different kinds of people for the videos to go on the IAH’s YouTube channel. I’d travelled by myself for business and pleasure. I could walk into a bar and order a double bourbon straight and drink it down like it was a glass of water without thinking twice about it, and only get mildly intoxicated from it.

I thought I was pretty damn manly, even if I’d never ridden a motorcycle and the only gun I’d ever shot was a .22 at Scout camp. I knew I loved a lot of manly things, like cars and war movies, even if I didn’t get especially excited about sports. I certainly didn’t feel the least bit inclined to follow trends in fashion and watch the Bachelorette and musicals.

So, it was a shock. It was a humiliating moment to have men with infinitely more experience than me at picking up girls in bars, scuba diving, and traveling to exotic locations–to have them walk up and casually strike up a conversation that was a gambit to see if I was fit to be sports bar buddy material. Naturally, I failed all of these gambits. I went into the same mode that I’d probably gone into every time my older brother came home from the Marines and I stood in awe of him. I had reached the age of 34 thinking that next year might be the year that I was every bit as ready to be a fully-realized man, and not the guy who perpetually looked up to other men as his older brothers.

I’ve been waking up a lot of mornings with a feeling that I am going to need a nap before noon. This is the sleeping drug. Without it, I sleep less and less, until I’m falling asleep after midnight, waking up 3-4 times in the night, and finally getting out of bed before 6. I also gradually become more and more irritable at everything and everyone. It only takes a couple of cups of coffee to return me to a highly optimistic state.

At my core, I am an optimist. I believe that my future will turn out okay, and the future of my child will as well. I believe that no matter what happens on this earth, and no matter how much I sin, that God will have mercy on me and rescue me. I believe that something great will happen in my life before I die. I can’t believe the opposite. There are days when I feel as if I am the only person on this earth who really cares whether or not I become successful. So, I have to root for myself. Who else will?

I’ve finally learned to stop looking up to other men, especially ones that are less than twenty years older than me. I can’t say that I’ve learned to communicate very well with other men, but I am starting to do a better job of seeing them as equals–not beings far inferior or superior to me.

I have to return to the comfort of books. The written words of others give me more joy than almost anything else that is in my life right now. I know that this will change when the baby comes, and that there will be experiences that make me leave the books on shelves for months at a time. But, I look back across my own life, and I can see that I’ve written as much about it as I really care to. I have not lived an especially exciting life. I didn’t travel a lot and I didn’t go fight in a war. I didn’t have sex with a lot of people, and I’ve done little or no drugs most years since college. I’ve lived the life of a fearful, quiet monk, while thinking that somewhere on the inside was a tiger trying to run free.

I will not get to visit all the places I’d like to go. I have to recognize that by choosing not to put making money at the forefront of my existence, I won’t have money to spend on travel. I have to accept that there are many things I will never know and I just have to let go of them. If God is especially kind, he will open a door for me that sees me making travel a more active part of my life, but I’m not holding my breath.

I have to thank the Lord for the moments in which I can sit and try as hard as I can to fix the things inside me that are broken. To die knowing peace and being free of the worst demons–such a gift far exceeds being able to die having traveled to many ends of the earth. To die knowing I’ve at least partly contributed to passing along my family line and raised a boy that won’t shame his family–such a gift is the best gift I can hope to have. Everything else can sit on the shelves and collect dust.