Identity–things that must be removed

Identity–things that must be removed:
I liked this or did this in hopes of pleasing someone in a shallow way.
I liked this or did this in order to rebel against the first thing I liked in a shallow attempt to assert my individuality.
I continued to like or do the above things out of habit, addiction, etc. long after I stopped doing them for the above two reasons.

Narrative:
Big brother(s) did it, parents didn’t approve of it, I was sad when big brothers left, I did it and tried to do even more of it to get parents attention (to make parents see that bio kid was just as bad as adopted kid and re-unite with adopted kid), after these motivating factors ceased I continued to identify myself as being a rock n’ roll rebel or marginalized from the main crowd.

Do I even like rock music? It’s okay, but it’s not really not that good. Most of it is too simple, obvious and re-hashed from previous decades. Even the Beatles and groups like that sound simple and lacking in depth compared to classical and jazz music.

Do I even like music enough to learn it intimately? I’ve proven that I have no ear or talent for it in order to be nothing more than a casual fan of it.

But, this is just an example of one thing that has directly shaped and defined my identity. Yet, I never got tattoos, I never played music professionally, I never even played in front of an audience beyond rehearsals and talent shows.

I could throw out: writing (except when using it as a tool to help me understand myself better), painting, liking or not liking certain movies, sports, travel, etc., drinking beer, running, hiking, riding my bike, computers, technology, science stuff, etc.

All of these were taken on at some point to impress, please, or rebel.

I can’t really determine how/when I will actually have a few days to myself to put everything on pause and consider who I really am. Life doesn’t work that way when you are married with a three-year-old and a brand new mortgage. You are doing what you need to do to get by during the work week, and dead tired on the weekends–it’s like you’ve given completely of yourself with mind, body and soul and you have nothing left to give back to yourself.

So, I have to steal away minutes here and there to consider these things.

At my core, I am not someone who really needs much of anything. I could spend most of my day in my head, alone, just letting my imagination wander and drift into dreams, being entertained by the weirdness and novelty produced by the subconscious. This I could do in a tent in the woods with minimal provisions.

I am compelled to do and be more only because of a sense of duty to pay forward what was given to me from my parents to someone else. I have a sense of duty about keeping the family line going. This sense of duty is harder and different than the silly people-pleaser whims of my younger years. Those were really more about giving me immediate gratification–I was pleased if someone close to me seemed immediately pleased as well. I had no need to climb a corporate ladder as long as I was pleasing my coworkers. This has boxed me in to being someone who appears to be only fit for service and support roles rather than managerial ones.

But, I am not setting out to change the professional rut I’ve gotten stuck in. I’ve tried that too many times only to be met with failure. That is simply a survival thing that is tied to the above sense of duty. It is my duty to be a decent father and husband, if never a great one who is highly honored and flattered with special attention.

That said, I don’t thing that the sense of hard duty that comes with being a father and husband encompasses or makes up the totality of who I really am. At the end of the day, I crave an identity that is uniquely me, and set apart from my familial roles.

For me, there is also a sense of duty in removing all of the bullshit in me that has accrued from past misguided attempts to please others and be someone I am not. This is far more important than picking up a new hobby and seeing if I like it, and then moving onto another one and another one.

There are bullshit vices and bad habits I don’t need to detail here, that get in the way of me being more focused and productive.

***

Yesterday morning, after writing the above, I smashed our security system control panel out of pure frustration at something taking control over my house. I took personal offense to it. I felt bad afterward, sort of, but I was still mad.

My dreams have been pretty varied and interesting, but I haven’t been inclined to try too hard to remember them and write them down as of late. The reason being that so much dream journaling has never seemed to get me anywhere.

I feel like I need to spend much time focusing, re-focusing on what my core identity must be, and less time latching on to some thing that I will just allow to lead me around by the nose.

In essence, most of my failed attempts to get anything done stem from an unwillingness to improve my self motivation–my proactive output, where I give out of a self-initiated willingness to give and work. I keep trying to find some kind of interest or activity that will engage me because I am so captivated by it.

In other words, I have this weak-willed character flaw that prefers to be led and motivated from the outside. Think of the example of wanting to get into learning mathematics or going to seminary. I was hoping that sheer necessity and compulsion laid upon me by outsiders would keep my momentum of moving forward in play. But, the truth is, unless you are being compelled by the necessity of a paycheck and familial survival, you aren’t going to remain engaged in something unless you yourself keep pushing yourself forward.

It all seems obvious and yet at the same time it subtly is not. It is easy to slide down a slippery slope of going back to your old ways of hoping that variables outside of you will keep you going.

Suddenly, I find myself doing almost nothing at all on weekends. I am not getting myself up off the couch to run, ride a bike or anything else. I continue to write, just because habit dictates that I do. My writing is probably not much different than any other vice or habit. It isn’t usually done out of pure self-motivation.

Keeping my mind in a state of being solely compelled by my own will, and not falling back into a trance, a learned pattern of behavior, an autopilot mode, a willingness to be passively entertained by random thoughts, etc.–it can be exhausting and feel like I am constantly walking on a tight rope.

Can you feel yourself pushing against the walls of your inner physical self?

Can you feel yourself pushing against the walls of your inner physical self? You might think you are simply becoming more observant of how your mind controls your muscles. But really, you might also be stuck inside a cage.

Even the way you can roll along your eyeballs, looking, moving, questioning whether this is really you. With eyes closed and tensions stilled, you enter into a stream of racing and conflicting thoughts. You sense an attempt to seize control of your mind, to the point where your mind will not be your own.

In Easy Rider

In Easy Rider, the scene where Peter Fonda asks Dennis Hopper if he’s ever wanted to be anyone else, and Dennis Hopper says glibly, “Daffy Duck,” and Peter Fonda says, “Not me man, I’ve never wanted to be anyone but me.” Or, something to that effect.

For that generation, it was the first time such a large group of people coming of age had the opportunity to be many different things. The ones who survived the 60s and 70s became yuppies who wanted to die with the most toys. You could have been a rocker, stoner, junkie, pool shark, traveler, hippie, and a middle manager of a large corporation–if your parents had the means and you had the will to stay alive and keep moving.

For my generation, we were the first generation where our parents could decide via the pill and legalized abortion whether they wanted us or not. It didn’t always work that way, of course, but many of us came of age as “starter children” to parents who would go on to have millennial younger siblings that received more attention and focus so they could succeed in school and life. These are, of course, broad strokes. Gen X came of age with computers that didn’t do much of anything and anyone serious about making movies needed access to a lot of expensive film. There was electronic music, but anyone who wanted to be a computer DJ would have to wait until processor speeds caught up and chips got small enough so you could tote around your DJ lab in your laptop.

The so-called millennial generation looks a lot more like the Baby Boomer generation in a lot of ways–but one way is how the technology came into their hands–mass-marketed consumer technology to make music and art and film seemed to arrive in a first wave in the sixties, and the Gen X generation mostly worked with improvements on it. Video wasn’t really a viable medium for serious storytelling until the digital format caught up, became HD, and techniques and tools became widely available to make video look less like video.

But, the principle still applies–the amount of time you have on your hands to become anyone you want to be is limited. If you have too many disparate things you want to do and be, you may very well end up being none of them.

I certainly strive to live with very little as I generally see most of the really nice things I would want to have being out of the reach of my paycheck and my current lifestyle as a father. The thought of owning a muscle car, a motorcycle and being able to pack up a truck and go camping when I feel like it is highly appealing, but it probably won’t happen in this lifetime.

The gift of a few over-the-counter meds

The gift of a few over-the-counter meds like dextromethorphan and doxalymine succinate: an empty head and a good night’s sleep. My dreams are mostly forgotten, they come at me in fragments and shards–pieces to tiny to cobble together into anything meaningful.

The construction site next door is slowly waking up as it’s a Saturday morning. The baby kept the mom up last night with barfing. I hope I didn’t give him anything I had last week. I’ve been sick more in the past two plus years than the rest of my adult life combined.

I’ve put my Greek studying on hiatus until Sunday afternoon, to give my brain a rest from that and so I don’t burn myself out. Though, it would seem that my obsessive side just wants to plunge back into it.

The Windows machine is still updating, it has been for an hour. I am pushing videos for the baby to watch through my phone to the Chromecast, and that always seems to be a little dicey with our connection here.

This Austin spring has been rather mild. We haven’t yet had any days that I would describe as being especially hot.

I had my second interview with S last week. I don’t really know how it went–what kind of impression I left upon the guy. I’ve been out of the marketing automation system I would be using for so long that I can only speak in general terms about its capabilities and what I did.

I have really struggled with the notion that I am someone who is putting his hand back on the plow–one not fit for the kingdom of heaven. However, I also don’t have a lot of faith in my faith, anymore, if that makes any sense. I don’t trust the part of me that thinks he is in some kind of more direct communication/receptivity from a higher power.

I believe that God loves me, and wants what is best for me, but I think maybe that a lot of what I do here on earth is for me to figure out. At the end of the day, family is always going to come first over any sort of career. If the family’s health, well-being and future comfort is better served by me working in a role I mostly came to despise but pays more money than anything else I could attempt, I have to consider such a role with practicality.

I am not especially stressed about it, though. I know it will be upsetting for some people here, and it will probably be more than a little stressful trying to find a new place to live in a short amount of time and readjust to the corporate world, but it could pay off much more fruitfully for my family in even the near future as in a few months from now.

Certainly, I am not considering doing anything un-American. If anything, I think most average folks who believe they are the wisest when they are really just filled with some average amount of common sense would say that I would have been better served to remain at any number of jobs I abandoned in the past and just toughed it out for a few more years before moving on. After feeling like I was completely imprisoned and shackled to my desk and the people at mce and to some degree uw, I became very obsessed with making sure I didn’t stay at any one job longer than I had to, and if any boss committed a dealbreaker while I was employed there, I would simply quit rather than put up with their shit indefinitely.

I may have taken such job-hopping to an extreme beyond what I should have…something in between the three years at uw and the often less-than-year at many subsequent jobs would have likely made more sense.

Gain access to a new thing

Gain access to a new thing. Imagine you are tiny, running around inside your brain, bumping into all of your thoughts and images…

frosted wheats, cheetos, maltballs, dutch oven pie, camping smells of camp chests full of bug spray and deoderant leaked out. suddenly, memories of summer camp. each year down in southern missouri. wandering off from the group into the forest for hours. finding baby deer and turtles. communing with nature.

i miss the natural world. why can’t i seem to get back to it?

what is this insistence on finding my way inside words?

imagining a triangle above my head, and me flitting about from corner to corner like a ping-pong ball stuck within the lines of the triangle. worn like a tricorner hat, a cheesehead hat.

why can’t they cut open a lower life form and extract all of its memories from its tiny little brain? if we are purely physical and material beings in this physical world, why is this such a difficult task for scientists?

where is the information really being stored?

Gain access to an old thing…return to what matters most.

Same path trod.
Same path as millions of others.
Same results.
Same conclusions.
Continued refusal to accept that this is all.
An invitation to sup with Christ.
Sit and dine with Christ, have a meal and conversation.
The love Christ outpours is overwhelming.
Christ ceaselessly empties the Spirit,
with no reservation, no holding back.
The outpouring of love is rooted in the communion.
The mixing of the Word, the Spirit with the urgent needs of the human animal.
The invitation to sup with Christ comes cutting
through a morass of desires to fill myself up with the pride of the vastly learned.
I continually forget that I am here because I am a follower of Christ, not a follower of human theories, theologies, modes of worship, approaches to exegesis, methods of textual criticism.
Meanwhile my spirit shrivels up, my soul gasps in great thirst
As I try to power myself ahead by brain and body alone.
Agape love is what remains after the dross is melted away.
I should never shy away from the flames when they come my way
Licking at my most precious pieces of Ego
I’ve erected in forms less stable than the shoddiest house of cards.
I should leap into the flames with all of my faith kept front and center
In all I think, say and do.
The flames will bring pain and sometimes uncertainty and even something worse–accedia,
But in the end the flames will burn away the pieces of Ego
Accruing like barnacles, clutching fast to an otherwise faithful boat
What remains will be the kind of vessel that can sail through any tempest.

She is eleven and a half now–that’s 80 in dog years

She is eleven and a half now–that’s 80 in dog years.
We walked a brisk five miles today,
Taking a route that covered most of an area we used to walk every single day.
Does she remember that this is the place where she found me,
And this is the trail where I carried her home,
Because she kept wanting to leap out of my arms and dash about?
Upon arriving back at my apartment complex that evening,
I ran into someone lovely and sweet and single,
Who was but a year younger than me.
It would turn out that her mother founded the hospice house where my mom would die a year later.
She had a little Boston terrier, and my pup was about his size at the time, though my pup would grow to be three times his size.
I thought that my prayers had finally been answered,
And my life partner had been discovered.
Then, of course, the crazy, psycho ex who’d moved out,
But also lived in the apartment complex
Would shave her head and keep coming back and leaving me and sleeping around and coming back and…
And, one of those evenings that the crazy ex was back sort of in my life,
There was the lovely sweet lady with the Boston terrier.
She saw me and the psycho ex with our shaved heads and kept walking briskly after a curt hello.
Some time later after the ex was gone for good,
I finally got the sweet Boston terrier lady to go on a hike with me.
That’s when she told me about the hospice, and by then is when my mom had just died.
That’s also when she told me that she was presently moving to Chicago.
She connected with me on Facebook,
And I watched her marry her crazy ex, who she’d mentioned a few times in passing.
He was a dot com millionaire who’d goofed off after the dot com bubble burst,
Having gotten enough cash out of the system in time before it collapsed to goof off for a few years.
She’d left him there in Chicago,
And came to Austin to be a high-powered advertising somebody at an Austin firm almost everyone knew.
But then, I suppose she decided that she couldn’t live without the fast Chicago life,
And the really, truly high-powered advertising firms,
And I watched her get engaged, married, and have a child who was like five years old by the time I met my wife.
So much for dreaming year after year walking up and down the Greenbelt,
Falling in love with people who were busy and high-powered and had connections with millionaires.
So much for thinking each morning when I set out with my little girl dog
That this day would be the day.
Of course there was the day of the bicycle accident,
The days of the psycho ex coming and going,
The days of working on a U.S. Senate campaign nobody has ever heard of,
The days of believing in community and the audacity of hope,
The days of waiting patiently, withering
Watching too much Burn Notice on Hulu and fantasizing about being a spy,
Hanging out with a nurse who constantly complained that all men ever wanted to do was sleep with her,
Only to have her complain months later that all she’d really wanted to do with me is sleep with me.
Almost becoming a Catholic,
Almost becoming a Baptist,
Becoming a Presbyterian and meeting my wife all at the same time.
Buying a condo that was a money pit,
And suddenly I was the worst sort of gentrifier no longer living and working the same community,
Cashing out and working for a software company,
Leaving for Waco and finding out just how much I can’t live among staunchly conservative people,
Coming back to Austin and struggling to finally see that God isn’t calling me to anything at all,
And I’m not cut out for much of anything,
And on this morning it wasn’t about looking for God or old ghosts, really.
It was simply about walking up and down a couple of trails,
Where nothing much had really changed.
The trail was walled on either side with ragweed from all the rains.
The people were sparse because the water in the creek had grown bracken and stagnant.
The dog was content,
Maybe all of this will stay much the same after all
In spite of me aging and dying
In spite of asshole presidents and governments coming and going.
The trail might see us up and down it yet again before she dies, my now-senior pup
I don’t think she remembers the first night I brough her back
Or the summers we spent on the trail almost every single day
She doesn’t remember the weird girlfriends and non-girlfriends who came and went.
She doesn’t remember my mom, who gave her little dog biscuits from an old sweater pocket for a year when we visited.
She doesn’t remember that her adoptive mom, my wife, visited us a few times in those old apartments before the sale of the condo went through.
She wouldn’t remember the Boston terrier dog, who is probably dead now.
She does remember, though, that there was a lengthy period of time when it was just me and her,
And I would feed her from my fork and plate,
And she would sleep at the foot of my bed.
And then she grew too arthritic to jump up on the bed.
And then our son came, and the old dog didn’t want a little brother after all.
And now she mostly lays around and growls and mopes
And gets feverish for table scraps and whines when we shut her up in the office,
And growls at the baby when he runs by,
And then she has to be shut up again,
And doesn’t ever seem to know the reason why.
So, it was, just for a few hours, a few hours that I had this entire year to walk up and down the old trail–just we two.
It was hardly like old times, and there is hardly a good reason to go back down that way much, anymore.
But it was something–something better than me spending the morning buried in a book or reading random news or watching TV or dozing.
It was a little gift from me to her, my old dog, my 11 and a half year old pup who stayed by my side through more than a fourth of my life,
And still persists, because that is the kind of spirit that sent her home with me so many years ago.

Initially, you are unformed

Initially, you are unformed. You could end up being anything. Your DNA is going to show you that there are things you won’t be able to do, but at first, you are capable of becoming anyone.

You have evidence by the time you are six that you can’t be anything you want to be, even though teachers and parents keep telling you this.

How you are formed socially determines almost everything about you. Each successive wave of roughly six years brings an opportunity to reset everything, but the opportunities become more and more difficult to manipulate. As you have become fully fixed physically, so do you become mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Changing becomes very hard work. You start to see yourself less as a ball of clay being shaped and molded creatively, but rather a block of granite or marble to be chiseled away at. If you make too deep of a cut, then how do you put the lost piece back on you? You can fool yourself and everyone with wax that will melt, or use glue or some kind of adhesive, but the broken piece will never set quite correctly again, unless there is some truth to the possibility that you will get your memory wiped when you die and you will be reincarnated. However, relying on the promise of a perfect heaven where you can’t sin or let your self behave in ways contrary to a godly nature, or the promise of a future life where you can just start over–this kind of thinking is antithetical to actually changing and growing.

It is incredibly easy to fool yourself into thinking that your particular block of marble is much more developed than it really is.

One particular model of human development, that more or less follows the models of psychologists like Maslow and religious thinkers who think that the Self can be developed into some kind of great enlightened being:
one, you have baby needs up to age six–you learn basic bodily and mental self control;
two, you have childlike needs up to age twelve–you learn basic social engagements;
three, you become focused on building social connections outside of the family up to age 18–you learn how to master your sudden and real sense of being an independent, sexual being and how to negotiate exo-familial relationships with others;
four, you master an adult skill set that will help you obtain a livelihood in which you can support your own family up to age 24–you seek out a suitable mate;
five, you marry your suitable mate, and begin your family up until age 30–you develop adult relationships that are suitable for increasing your chances at mastering a livelihood where others report to you–your children have started stage one;
six, you have obtained enough of a trade plus professional social skill set that you run your professional life on autopilot while you help raise your family up to age 36–your children have started stage two;
seven, you see your children begin their own quest to relate to others more deeply in their beginning stage three–you build more ties within your community that will enhance your status as a leader–up to age 42;
eight, you come into your professional prime as a Vice President or significant business owner and see your children off to college, which your responsible system of saving is allowed to pay for–up to age 48;
nine, you have now embarked upon securing your network to always be in C-level roles as a leader of various medium and large-sized companies, you have successfully piloted your children through their middle twenties and paid for weddings if you have daughters, and you are now ready to begin being a grandparent–up to age 54;
ten, your are now respected enough in your field and financially secure enough that you can take up to a full month out of the year to travel and spend time with your grandchildren, you are also responsible for helping your parents age into their last years–up to age 60;
eleven, you work toward retirement, shoring up all financial investments to become completely ready to live off of a fixed income, you witness your parents’ final years of helplessness and then death, you see your grandchildren become teenagers and young adults, you retire–up to age 66;

Now–this is the ideal–what does the real life really look like? It is nothing more or less than a series of fitful stops and starts based on all of the tragedies and drama of growing up in fractured homes, struggling to keep up with peers who are living out the above model perfectly, struggling to figure out what your vocation is, and still trying to maintain some semblance of a respectable career, fighting through years of heartache and heartbreak over relationships that go south and never quite reach the marriage stage, dealing with all of the demons who were not met and dealt with in the previous stages, taking detours, hitting deadends, starting your family twelve years after the ideal age to start one, trying to go back and get a Master’s degree that you should have gone back to get eighteen years ago, finding out that this isn’t quite right, either, crossing your fingers in hopes that you can cobble together all of your previous professional experience and only be perhaps six to ten years behind your peers, constantly watching assholes like Bush and Trump play Russian roulette with the American economy and blaming the Democrats on all of their missteps–waiting for the certain day when the economy may wreck all of your retirement and hard work, hoping that you can live long enough to see your kid off to college in light of the fact that two generations before you on your mom’s side died or almost died of cancer at 61, dealing with the death of your mom some twenty to thirty years before you should have had to, dealing with your strange father who doesn’t want to participate in the social order of things properly, dealing with your own insistent demons which you’ve already mentioned but they just won’t ever seem to go away, thinking that your remaining life, if it ends up being at least middling respectable and decent will consist of you retiring ten years past most of your peers, becoming a grandfather fifteen or twenty years after most of your peers, and at most ending your professional career as a middle manager or quasi-respectable trained professional, having just enough retirement to take trips to Branson, not Europe, and praying to God almost every single day that your son and possible other child to come will live their lives out closer to the perfect model than the imperfect one.

The other thing that I’ve been trying to think more precisely about is coming up with a (mostly arbitrary) way of more quantitatively measuring just how much I lag behind my peers in various areas of development–mostly social and emotional–but also professionally and familialy. Of course, there are those individuals from my high school who were pregnant between the ages of 16 and 22, who were incredibly socially precocious but never rose to much of anything else because they peaked and that was it. Their timelines are just as removed from the ideal one I described as mine is, but in a different way. Some of them have gone on to stabilize and are happily approaching early retirement with the kids already long out of the home. Most of them are not–they are caught up in cycles of poverty and low wage service jobs and second and third marriages where they are still raising young children even as their first children have entered the same cycle and have had kids of their own as teenagers. I don’t necessarily compare myself to them.

I also would argue that our very culture and society and economy have created an environment where even if you are the most socially well-adjusted person and have hit the proper milestones in school and early career, you might still be delaying starting a family by some years. I might argue that the perfect timeline I created above is no longer tenable by the best of people–that at best, with the way the economy has worked mostly against our favor if we are from middle-class families–is that at best you start your family about six years behind my perfect timeline of development, and you have to delay your retirement by six years. In that case, I would say that I am probably only about six to ten years behind my peers in terms of raising a family and having a stable professional life. In the past, owning a home was a high mark of reaching that point in your mid twenties when you had begun to come into your own as an adult, but with the economy being such that more and more people have to move around to find work, it doesn’t always make the most financial since to own a home. If you can’t live in a home for six years, you probably won’t get much more of a return on your investment than if you had rented and put the extra money you’ve spent on house payments and maintenance into savings or a mutual fund. I have managed to luck out a bit on the last two homes we’ve owned in the Austin and Waco markets, but not by a whole lot. They were clearly better investments than mutual funds, but I wouldn’t say that it was the case on average. I certainly won’t buy another home until I am pretty sure that we will live and work in that community for most of the rest of our working lives.

That said, I don’t really blame the economy or our changing social/moral fabric on my shortcomings. I can only blame my early home environment to some degree. For the most part, my shortcomings as a social, emotional and professional individual have been due to having simple fear of participating. The less I participate, the less I have developed the unconscious, unspoken social skills needed to navigate complex human environments more successfully. The less successful I am at securing good social and professional networks, the more likely I am to be afraid to participate. It is indeed a vicious cycle that is mostly of my own doing, and mostly up to me to figure out how to break. Of course, to be fair to myself, I have made constant inroads on these issues through most of my adult life, and so I should be careful not to paint myself as an utterly bass-ackwards socially retarded misfit who should likely be diagnosed with Asperger’s and just drop out of social engagement altogether.

What I think for me is most helpful:
seeing how some of my early family dynamic did contribute to how I behaved around others–this is not to blame family on personal problems, but to simply find the right mix of root causes so that some of the ongoing demons can finally be eliminated. In other words, I have often been overly inclined to blame my personal behavior on forces outside of my control, including past lives and possible abusive things that could have occurred before my first memories. When in actuality, most of my early behavior was probably predicated upon trying to get the attention of my mother who had to also pay attention to my father and older brothers. If I saw that at least one or two times that acting like a baby or even acting more like a little girl (my mom always wanted to have a little girl child) got me more attention, then I might behave that way just to stand out. In spite of how unsuccessful it usually was, it no doubt carried over into my school life, to the point where in my zeal to please mommy and retain her attention, I would behave the same way around classmates and teachers, ultimately culminating in that shameful summer of making fun of a friend to the point of bullying him and suddenly finding myself the next year to be completely out of touch with most of the young people in my seventh grade class. I was ill-prepared for adolescence, and everything continued to kind of snowball until I reached a stage in adulthood where it was utterly clear to me that I didn’t possess the deep knowledge required to successfully navigate romantic, professional and friendly relationships. And, of course, the more I struck out, the more I was inclined to just stay at home alone, which inevitably contributed to me developing less and striking out more. Thus, a vicious cycle of being unsuccessful even in the most traditional of WASP, middle-class, suburban of ways.
seeing how I really am not nearly as far along on a social/emotional scale of development. I want to go from being marginally socially adjusted and professionally successful to being the leader of a church where I must be so much more magnanimous toward others than I truly am. Which is to say in blunter language–I am still learning how to just be a cool guy who has a few drinking buddies…how can I possibly expect to go from this stage to being a traditional Protestant pastor with all of the trappings and expectations that come with that? There is a much more subtle collection of personal developments that is harder to describe, but it is my opinion that the really best ministers and pastors are people who have advanced in their enlightenment and wisdom to be much more selfless, giving and less about being run-of-the-mill consumers of American culture. Not all of them are like that, of course, but I think even your most ordinary pastors whose home lives are hardly distinguishable from the home lives of people who work in offices have advanced and matured socially and emotionally to be capable of handling a wide variety of people in ways that don’t end in pure conflict and alienation. If you aren’t a pastor and just an average office worker, you aren’t expected necessarily to like everyone outside of your neighborhood, drinking circle, political party, etc.–if someone thinks or behaves in a way that is foreign to you–screw ‘em. This clearly isn’t Christian or Christlike, but it isn’t unacceptable in the classic American sense of the word. I can go home and drink beer with my neighbor who thinks and looks and acts like I do and ignore anyone who has moved into my neighborhood who does not. A pastor of a church, however, must be at least modestly adept at keeping up the appearance of being tolerant of multiple political viewpoints and appear to care about the poor and marginalized in the community. A pastor of a church may even be expected in a lot of ways to be less concerned with material things–aside from a few of the rock star pastors, most pastors make considerably less money than they would if they took office management jobs.

What I am working with:
There are things about me that I hope to have eliminated by the time I die. There are things about me that I hope to have found/achieved/obtained by the time that I die.
And, there are those things that are mostly going to have to be written off as hopelessly unrealistic expectations–that I can never remove or add to myself, no matter how hard I try.

The things that I wish to have eliminated mostly revolve around the broad deadly sins of lust and anger. I choose not to get more specific, since I am not certain how much of this will be read before I die. I am writing this entirely for myself, but I am also inclined to just publish on WordPress most everything I write. However, that being said, my own versions of the two are my own, and are tied to my peculiar arc of self development, some of which I have described here. At any rate, there are things that I absolutely feel need to go before I die. I have attempted any number of endeavors to remove them–be they endeavors of fear of damnation, humiliation of those who might outlive me, or endeavors of rationalizing how these things came to be and what I might be able to do to ferret out the root causes. I haven’t tried everything–I haven’t tried hypnoregressive therapy, for example. But, I am starting to grow more and more certain that I don’t need to. If we are put here in this world with the memories we have, then those should be the ones we work with–not past lives or deeply repressed things. Again, though, the sense of the absolute certainty that I do not want to die with them still persisting is probably the most continuously helpful thing–if I die tomorrow then I feel like I would still have not actually gotten rid of all of the bad stuff, even if I repressed certain thoughts and activities for a full day. Removing the Christian sin/Godly punishment aspect of it is helpful, though, in that my sins become more about striving for a certain sense of purity of self vs. sins that harm others who would have to bear the shame of my sins. Somehow, though, even abstracting it further to being a purely agnostic sort of thing is much more beneficial to me right now–it’s just not something I want to keep doing–like smoking or drinking to excess or picking my nose, etc.

As for things I hope to have achieved, the search and quest are always for greater meaning. I won’t ever give this up. Meaning, or the longing to participate more fully in it, overwhelms me to the point that I have to stop what I am doing and reflect and write. I’ve been criticized a lot of spending too much time in the past, and I certainly can see where this is unhelpful and unhealthy–especially when you start digging around at it like picking at a mostly-healed wound. However, there is also the “search for meaning” aspect of it, where I am always being bombarded with shards of memories of things that have passed, where I long to spend more time trying to encapsulate these memories in a meaningful sort of way. What that way is, though, is hard to define. It is a longing to participate with someone else in it–someone who shared the experience and obtained as much of a sense of meaning from the moment we were together as I did. But, activities you spend with others often mean little or nothing to them–or, they might come to you later and share a memory of something you did that you’ve completely forgotten, but it was incredibly meaningful to them–unfortunately, it’s often in a bad sort of way–that’s how are minds work–we remember all of the bad things someone did to us.

Really, this is what most of my writing is about–I have always wanted to be a better writer–one of those writers who can evoke a sense of the very humidity they were feeling, and the sense of being still relatively young and knowing that the time is slipping away from them, yet still young enough to believe they can screw around for a couple more years. Those kinds of moments when the summer is hot and dry, and the Greenbelt is quiet because all of the swimming holes have dried up and only gnarly old men go crashing through on their mountain bikes (the young mountain bikers have come and gone in the earlier morning hours). And, you just hear cars in the distance and a few insects. Those times when you thought life was pretty much over now that you had passed on into the ripe old age of 20, 25, 30, 35–and then you are suddenly 40 and being 34 seems like a faraway dream of what things once were. When you are living through these times and caught up in the day-to-day, and you stop remembering to pause and just go take the dog down to the park, or enjoy a movie, or read a science fiction novel–all because you are dead serious on accomplishing great things and proving yourself to the world. And when you do pause and remember that ten years have slipped by since you graduated from college, or ten years have passed by since your mom died, or whatever, then you start to think that life is mostly over, and that there is little left for you that you can do and still make your mark on the world. Yet, you somehow just keep moving on.

You keep writing, you keep working, you keep taking a step back here and there, but somehow still manage to keep lurching forward into something that is different than the way that things were, even if you can just as easily at times convince yourself that nothing has changed.

What you really want to do is gather everyone you’ve ever known including all of the people you loved, hated or were indifferent to in one giant room and share with them every single experience that they shared with you–even if it was merely the fact that they sat once in the same classroom or conference board room as you. Then, you want to quiz them, and find out how many of them hold in their memory banks memories of experiences that they would describe as being meaningful to them, and see where these overlap with your own.

Even on my mom’s death bed, I still couldn’t get it in my head how other people, even the ones who love you the most, do not assign the same meaning to the same experiences you do. Occasionally, you do both share the same experience and extract a similar sense of meaning from it, but this is so rare. All of those summer trips to Florida and the beach–especially those years of ‘88-’91 when it was just Mom, my little brother and me. This was after my older brothers had left home and before my dad came down there with us two or three times. And for me, these were some of the happiest times of my entire life–at least before I met my wife and had my son. As my mom lay dying, I tried to explain this to her–they were certainly the happiest times of my life at that time–and she didn’t seem to understand. Of course, it was one of the last days she would be lucid in her life and able to communicate her thoughts to me. But, I could see that for her, memories of those trips to Florida probably just meant a stressful blip in the year when she had to return to seeing her dying grandmther, think about her own mom who had already died too early, and deal with her little brother who was always doing something criminal–on top of all that, she had to wrangle two boys aged 12 and 6 by herself on an airplane using the free passes the airline gave us because my dad still worked there, and those passes meant we were always running the risk of spending the night in a hotel in whatever city we were in trying to catch our next flight.

Of course, she probably got to enjoy herself a little on the beach, but again, she would have had a six year old boy who could barely swim playing near the shore and a twelve year old boy who wanted to swim out too far always barely visible above the waves. These trips to Florida were mostly just a lot of work and probably designed to be nice things my mom was doing for us boys and her grandmother and her little brother’s son. They were sacrifices, duty, obligations to fill–and she generally did them joyously because that was part of her faith to do them as such, but they were a lot of work, nonetheless.

But, even at thirty-one, some ten years ago, when my mom didn’t respond with the same enthusiasm about thos trips to Florida, I couldn’t help but feel a little hurt, because I was simply too self-centered at the time to understand why she wouldn’t have seen them as being the most wonderful times in her life as well. Maybe I had at least a little sense of trying to think beyond just my own self, and I was hoping that by telling her those memories, she would share some of the memories that made her the most happy. I think sometimes that her happiest memories were probably spent in church, during all of those Sunday worship services at the Pentecostal church where the service seemed to last for hours and I spent most of my time counting objects in the room to pass the time.

At 31, I certainly didn’t take the time to consider how much work those trips to Florida must have been for my mom, or the fact that when she did seem to get excited when we boys got excited that her excitement was the same as when she watched us open our Christmas presents.

I don’t think until just now I have ever really thought much about how important it really is to have shared experiences of great meaning with others–and why this is probably the source of so many of my happier moments with friends and many more moments with so-called friends that I would come to regret later–or why most of the really great shared memories with friends happened during, say, Scouts when we were all pretty naive and had yet to become adults with our own half-formed opinions about how the world should work.

I’ve certainly gotten much better over the past ten years in understanding that the experience the person next to me is having is vastly different than mine–and that most people are not nearly as mindful of me as I am of them. I still get daily reminders of this–like a neighbor who lives below me whom I was certain had come to dislike me because of my pit bull dog and the fact that I let my dog get close to his sons–and yet, I was passing him in the stairwell just yesterday as he was opening the door from his floor and he seemed to honestly have no idea which floor I lived on as I had to tell him that I didn’t live on his floor.

A lot of this is probably for the best. If everyone sat around remembering all of the bad things I’ve done to them the way I sometimes can allow my mind to get out of hand and sit and stew in nothing but negative memories of others slighting me, then I would probably never be forgiven much by anyone and there is a lot of material they could use to damn me. In the end, it’s better to not be remembered at all than to be remembered poorly.

After my mom died, my dad let her journals trickle into my hands, and as I read them, the thing that stuck out the most was again this simple fact that during this or that time period, I was not the center of my mom’s attention. She was focused on her job and the people in her social circle at church and in the town we lived. She worried about all of her sons pretty equally, not just me. Events that were momentous in my adolescence might get a brief mention or not be mentioned at all. The dramas and bullying that spilled over from school in the form of me losing it and getting in trouble and having my parents learn about my fights and troubles–almost none of that goes mentioned in these journals. Of course, she could have been mindful of the fact that someone else, probably me, might read her journals one day, but I truly believe from reading journals from so many decades that she simply was more focused on her faith journey and her family overall than any single one of her sons.

It wasn’t as if this bothered me as much as when I learned that she didn’t cherish our trips to Florida like I did–it was just revealing and helped better inform my understanding of how two people close to each other came away with extremely different impressions about what was meaningful and important in a given time and place.

It has, however, bothered me a lot (at least in the years right after it happened) how people seemed to care so little about the fact that I had just lost a sibling in a car wreck. People should have at least been able to empathize with me, and think about what it must feel like based on how they would feel or have felt if they lost a sibling at a young age–or so my rationale would go.

Except, of course, the world just doesn’t work this way. Even in close, Christian communities, people can be so utterly callous toward each other without even realizing it. Even among two lovers or good friends, the ability for both of them to continually arrive at the same conclusion about how meaningful a shared experience was–it’s generally pretty dicey what kind of outcome you are going to get. I would hazard a guess that if you sat down and asked my wife and I to share what our most meaningful experiences have been since we’ve met each other, you would get a lot more crossover than between two friends, or even a mother and son, but you would still be little surprised to see that each of us places much greater emphasis on what was especially meaningful.

And yet, this is exactly what makes all of the difference between people of any group or couple dynamic stay together or fall apart. We can do every single thing together for years, and this might make us feel close to each other just out of sheer unconscious and felt bonding–but, if our ability to have some degree of shared meaning for what we did together becomes nil, then we will probably grow distant from each other.

This makes me think of someone like my best friend in college–we did a lot together, and before I had my first serious girlfriend right after college, I probably did more with my best friend in college than I’d done with anyone else outside of my family. And yet, I can’t help but look back on most of those experiences we shared together, and roll almost all of them up into one single, drunken night of goofing around on the guitar and keyboard, watching a dumb movie and coming up with asinine lyrics for songs that would often make the guys in Dumb and Dumber look like geniuses.

When I was still on Facebook, I occasionally caught from him just how much he missed those years, and how much they meant to him. He came from a home that was broken from day one and was raised by his grandparents. I suppose those shared experiences meant a lot more to him because he’d never experienced having brothers, and maybe friends that were quite as close as we were. But, I also think that he never really wanted those days to end. If I were to leave my family and move up to wherever he was living in Missouri and say, hey, let’s spend the rest of our lives getting drunk and watching dumb movies and writing songs together, he would probably be pretty okay with it. The meaning I extracted from those shared experiences was one of spending way too much time goofing off when I should have been getting more involved with groups on campus and probably church groups, and trying to solve whatever problem or issue was preventing me from asking a girl out. But, his meaning is radically different–they are some of the best years of his life. For me, they were ill spent years, or at best years of growth and experimentation where I was slowly starting to become closer to my little brother again–and it was an utter kick in the nuts to watch the relationship with my little brother end abruptly right after I came home from college.

Should I have been more sensitive over the past few years to my old friend’s own particular sense of meaning that he’d extracted from our share experiences? Perhaps. But, I would have been putting myself back into an ill-fitting suit to conclude that those were the best years of my life and that I would give anything to relive them. In all perfect honesty, I would likely make little effort to befriend this individual, were you extract my present conscious self out of my body of the present and drop me back into my body on the first day of college.

With my dad mostly interested in sharing stories about what he has been doing with his latest lady friend, and my remaining brother only wanting to talk about his latest life struggles (if I make the effort to reach out to him, of course, he never tries to get in touch with me), I don’t really have anyone with whom I can share stories about the good old days. Of my close friends in high school, my old best friend is a rabid atheist who probably voted for Jill Stein and wanted Bernie to win. The other two are raid conservatives that hate Obama, liberals, etc. and were delighted to see Trump when. I don’t really feel like sitting around with any of them for very long and swapping stories. One of them came to Austin last year to get in touch with me and have coffee, and the old fellow I remember from high school was barely there–instead, in his place, was someone who continued to grow physically after high school and had spent years in the Navy. We had little to talk about other than trying to conjure up what we knew about what had happened to so-and-so.

The old memories shared among family, aside from when I can get my dad to say something, have mostly died with my mom and little brother. The college memories that I cherish the most, aside from a few trips here and there, were things I did by myself away from my friends. The library is a fun friend to go share memories with, but it doesn’t talk back to you with shared memories quite the way a person could.

After college, I spent large chunks of time around drinking-buddy coworkers and long-relationship girlfriends. The ex-girlfriends don’t want to talk to me, and I am pretty sure my marriage would start to get in trouble if I were to seek them out, which I have no interest in doing. There are old coworkers who would probably go have a beer with me if I tracked them down–but of most of those, I would say that I have become mostly forgotten or I didn’t leave that good of an impression on them in the first place.

The church I mostly attended growing up was a non-denominational, Pentecostal church. In my efforts to return to a church that feels like home, I have tended to seek out churches with very traditional liturgies, but always feel like an outsider around so many people who have grown up in their traditions.

This is where all of the loneliness and heartache comes from. Sure, there are all of those things I wish that I’d done if only…and all of these things I still want to do, or if they are negative things, stop doing. But, for the most part, it’s going through life knowing that you can’t really share meaningful memories with anyone. I can sit here and write all day long about the memories that were meaningful to me, but even if a future audience comes upon them and reads them, the memories will not be truly shared experiences, and the meaning itself may start to shift in time as word meaning in our language and culture shifts.

So, what is there to be done? Should I abandon memories and repress them when they try to rise up and force me to extract meaning from them–treating them as if they were simply another annoying vice or addiction to be ridded of? Should I blithely state that one day I will get to share memories with my mom and little brother in heaven, and that’s that? Or, is there even the slightest glimmer of hope that in twenty years, my wife, son, possibly another child, and maybe (hopefully) friends from a community and church will be there to trade shared memories that are also to some degree similarly meaningful?

Or, should the approach be further abstracted and refined and pushed in some other direction–as if I could possibly nail down what it means to have and give meaning to a thing, and then invite many random strangers via Craigslist to participate in an experience where I can guarantee that we will all walk away feeling like the most wonderful people in the world because we have very precisely and efficiently shared meaningful experiences together that we can then extract in an equally meaningful and possibly even more satisfying way at some point in the not-so-distant future?