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.