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?

I’ll start with this knife.

The blades are dull, but it is clean and unused. It doesn’t carry stories upon it, because the stories it was waiting to receive never came. Not in this universe, anyway. I knew about the knife from before, because I’d gone to help retrieve his camping stuff from the mangled truck that was parked at the discount auto repair smack out on Highway 130 where it had been towed and everyone could see it when they crested the hill coming into town.

Maybe they didn’t know the story of the truck, and thought perhaps the driver had successfully walked away from the accident. Perhaps the truck hadn’t rolled over, and the driver had forgotten to buckle up, and he’d slid along the bench seat when the other vehicle had smashed into his side.

Maybe they thought they recognized the truck, and remembered it belonging to me, and wondered if I was okay, because perhaps they didn’t know that the truck had passed on to him.

I don’t know, but I guess I meant to start with the knife and go from there, and not talk about the truck. Anyway, I knew about the knife resting inside his camoflauge duffel bag, because I’d reclaimed it from the discount auto repair place. I’d seen it maybe once or twice where it had ended up in a back bedroom of the house my parents had moved into to forget everything. It was still too early then, even though I wanted to take the knife.

I wanted a token to hold. I wanted to carry it around, because 9/11 hadn’t happened quite yet, and I could carelessly toss it onto trays to go through metal detectors. The longest blade was maybe three inches. It was some kind of off brand Swiss Army knife. It had scissors and a Phillips head screwdriver, and an attachment with an eyehole on it–I guess you could thread some line through it and sharpen a hook out of a twig or something to catch fish if you were desperate.

It was hardly what you’d call a premium knife sought by those who knew knives or understood survival. It was just a nice thing to hold to remind me of him. I didn’t fully understand his love of camoflauge stuff–did it come from the same place my brief, early teenage desire for our dad to take me hunting come from, or was it something he’d picked up from a buddy in his Scout troop? He called himself Camo Dude as an alias on some of the Yahoo chat forums he frequented, and was a fan of Garfield. I suspect those things would have changed fast over the next couple of years as he met girls and learned to refine childhood favorites.

One cute redheaded girl came up to me during his funeral and expressed how much she loved him. Maybe she was his girl.

A crazy thing that I never really told anybody–during my mystical years in college, I’d free-associate a lot of random fiction, inventing characters on the fly in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way in hopes of creating future novel fodder. Long after he died, I stumbled upon one such passage where I wrote about getting killed at the same intersection he was killed at–my character was the same age as he was when he died, but was driving a Ford Escort instead of a Chevy S-10. The weird thing was my character’s motive explained that he died driving on to a town up north to see his girlfriend, and he’d never intended to turn right at the stop sign to go to the Scout campout.

I read it once and trembled and put it aside.

I don’t think I ever revisited it because it was too eerie to behold. I’d written it probably two years before he died, and was certainly not envisioning him as the character who died, but there it was–a perfectly rational explanation for why he’d rushed through the stop sign when he was supposed to turn there.

A little redhead girl.

The first girl I ever called my girlfriend was a cute redheaded girl. She lived in the house nearest to the corner where he died. To be clear, we are not talking about the same girl. The girl in my story, a complete work of my late night coffee brain, lived in a town north of this intersection and was my character’s age. As was the cute redheaded girl who professed love of my little brother. Which is to say, she was my brother’s age. I don’t know where my brother’s probable girlfriend lived. My first girlfriend was but a year younger than me. She married a man her own age, who I’d barely known in 4-H and after school weightlifting. He appears to be an all-around great American hero, having served for almost a decade in Afghanistan, and he hasn’t become a basket case or a rabid proponent of the right or left, but a reasonable fellow who was doing his job and finally got to come home.

Anyway, my little brother probably got this knife quite shortly before he died. He thought it looked cool and it was probably more affordable than a real Swiss Army knife. It looks unused and ready to fall in the hands of a Johnny-on-the-spot who can help anyone and everyone with their problems. A ready tool for any cutting or screwing need. The years of sitting in the duffel bag in a closet at my dad’s house have dulled the blades and made it serviceable for merely cutting open boxes and removing hangnails. Actually, I don’t know if it ever would have been good for much else. I don’t know why, but I have conjured up the jaws of life they used to try to cut my little brother out of the flipped-over S-10, and I’m comparing such an intense tool to this knife. Neither tool was effective with saving his life. Nor was the seatbelt that held him in fast to that aluminum frame that sat on an engine block. Nor was my eerily prophetic short story, and a few of the dreams I had of my little brother crashing his truck right before he died.

What good are tools if we don’t know how or when to use them?

What good is it to be a useful thing to people if you never feel like you are more than just that–a thing used by others?

Maybe, you say, it’s my own faulty attitude that corrupts my chances of becoming more than merely a useful thing. As long as I see the world of people and the things they create as my world of things to be used and tossed aside, why shouldn’t others treat me the same way? I suppose you are correct. Do I want to know the people I work with any better than simply know them good enough to have a solid working rapport with them? Am I even fooling myself into thinking that I really expect much more out of my own father these days than being someone who remembers the old days and can talk about them now and then and offer me a place to drop off my dog so I don’t have to leave her at a kennel?

I don’t know. I mean, it’s not intentional. I don’t look at someone and say, “Well, of what value are they to me in terms of filling some material need?” But, unconsciously, I probably do more often than I would like to admit. It’s why I can remember so few names. What were the names of almost anyone I casually befriended in college, especially during my days of working at McDonald’s to pay off my DWI–the one that caused me to forfeit my S-10?

There was maybe one person whose first and last names I could remember, and I could never find her online, so I assume she got married and changed her name. The rest were all mostly friendly for a semester or two–the chubby short girl who clearly wanted me to make a move on her when she invited me over to her apartment, but I just wasn’t attracted to her at all. And then, her former roommate, a girl who thought she looked like Sculley from the X-Files and constantly walked into work bragging about the sex she had with her boyfriend who had a game leg. After they broke up, Sculley got her chubby friend to ask if I would be interested in pursuing a relationship with her, but I thought, no, this isn’t how I want this to start. Sculley was a vegetarian who worked at McDonald’s and bragged about her sexploits to everyone. I was a shy virgin who wanted the perfect first time experience with a shy virginal girl who nonetheless had a dirty imagination that she only wanted to see realized with me. At the very least, I thought that my first time should be with someone I found to be reasonably attractive.

There were the two Mennonite sisters that my dorm friends and I had meanly labeled the Two Nuns, and one of them invited me to see a play downtown–The Importance of Being Ernest, and I could tell she liked me, but she was blocky and peasant-like, while her older sister clearly had potential to be sexy underneath her simple clothes. Needless to say, I didn’t take things very far with either of them. There were many more people, too, that I’d kind of, sort of befriended but they just weren’t my tight group of buddies from the dorm, and so the friendships never blossomed into anything more, mostly because all of these people were just temporarily at McDonald’s before getting degrees in Computer Science, Engineering and Teaching, while my dorm buddies had all pretty much dropped out.

I wanted to use these people, even though I had no idea just how crass and shallow I really was. The same could be said about so many people I would go on to meet after college–women that I’d hoped to have brief flings with before moving on, and coworkers that I hardly wanted to be more than summer drinking buddies with.

This is a painful thing to face–that I’ve never learned to approach friendship with that many people without some type of tit-for-tat transaction in my mind. If I’m going to volunteer to help mentor or feed you, you had damn well better provide me with a sense of fulfillment and allow me to add a line of philanthropy to my resume. If I’m going to help you out at work by showing you something you are having trouble learning or writing a reference for you, then you had damn well better deliver when I hit you up on LinkedIn for a favor. Of course, I am not consciously that crass, but I am afraid that I am really that shallow in practice, and this is why I’ve gotten the results that I have from my social encounters.

***

You wake up this morning and it is that time in August where fall drops a whisper into your ear, then leaves and doesn’t return for two months. This has been a nice, gentle summer for Central Texas. There were no 100 degree days until this August. It was a lot more like a summer in Missouri, except for there being less rain. As you get older, you think more about your Missouri days, because you can see that they were fragile and beautiful days that you generally spit upon.

You can’t have a mid-August morning without thinking back to what it was like to return to school. It’s been twenty years since you loaded up the S-10 and made your first official trip to Columbia as a student. Your parents weren’t going to caravan with you–the thought of having to remain connected to them on such an important trip was unbearable. You were kind of shocked after you’d hurriedly dismissed them from your dorm that most of the other kids had gone to eat lunch somewhere with their families.

You didn’t let your misconnection with proper collegiate behavior get in the way of your narrative, though. You were pretty sure you knew most of the rules about how to become cool in college, because you’d seen Reality Bites the year before, and had tried hard to keep up a regimen of smoking Camel non-filtereds to be like Ethan Hawke.

After returning from lunch with his family, you finally got to meet your roommate. You’d requested a single room, and had been one of the lucky few freshman who got one. But then, just days before school was to start, you received a notification in the mail letting you know that one Everett Masterson was to be your roommate due to a last minute registration.

Everett was actually pretty cool in ways that you would never be. He was a proto-hipster, who knew the right amount of rebellion required to be hip and approachable. He understood that you listened to punk rock like the Ramones, but you also needed to listen to the Smiths. You drank a little and smoked a little weed, but you never drank to the point of blacking out and puking everywhere. You might peroxide your hair a little bit, but that was mostly something you’d already tried in high school. And really, most of the so-called freedoms that freshman were enjoying were freedoms that any self-respecting cool kid had already been experiencing for the past two years.

“Yeah, Columbia’s okay, I guess. But, I’m from Jeff City, and I’ve been coming up here to shows and parties for two years. So, whatever.”

Everett was the college kid I thought I wanted to be. “Have you read Jack Kerouac? John Irving? I’m going to see if the new John Irving novel is out yet, want to come with me?” I’d never heard of either of them. So, apparently, reading books WAS cool. I had stopped reading books unless I absolutely had to read them for a class, and even then, I tended to just skim and ask other students what the books were about.

You have to appreciate the fact that I probably had the social skills of a twelve-year-old at that point. Just about a year prior to entering college, I’d finally started going and seeing movies in theaters. My mom had taken me to see Winnie-the-Pooh when I was three, and I hadn’t entered a movie theater again until I was 17. At first, I was too scared to drive all the way down to the North Kansas City theaters, not because the drive was too far, but because I couldn’t come up with an excuse for why I had been gone for so long. But then, I did go and see my first movie in a theater since Winnie-the-Pooh, and it was “The Stand” with Michael Douglas.

I had seen a few PG-13 and R-rated movies at friends’ houses, but for the most part I was an indiscriminate consumer of cinema who erred on the side of trying to see everything so that I could easily converse with the cool kids who were always talking about the movies they had just seen. Just about a month ago, when the university had had its orientation for incoming Freshman, and I’d stayed there overnight, I thought I was being especially grownup and sophisticated to take in “City Slickers 2” with Billy Crystal.

I provide this background to give you an idea of how mostly unprepared I was to hold a conversation with cool kids about literature, indie films or indie bands. I thought I liked alternative music because I owned cassette tapes or CDs of every album Soundgarden and U2 had made. I thought I was being cool when I finally got to buy t-shirt with a rock musician on it, and I purchased a couple of shirts with Jimi Hendrix on them. When I was out strolling the campus before the actual kickoff of classes with my friend Clarence from back home in Murphy Falls, I just knew I had to get a couple of cool dorm posters to decorate my side of the room. Naturally, I wanted to make an impression on all of the guys who dropped into the dorm and show them what an all-around cool guy I was, so I bought a couple of posters of bikini-clad women on all fours in the sand. These were extremely generic, Swimsuit Issue kind of women, heavily airbrushed and pumped full of silicone. I was unsure if I was even all that attracted to them, but I did love the compliments I got for my discriminating taste from the older, more manly sophomores who peaked in when the door was open.

Everett the Coolest was not the least bit impressed. Of course, he’d probably sniffed haughtily at them, and had one of his feminist friends remark on what a misogynistic jerk his roommate was turning out to be. Everett had some punk album by a band like the Kennedys where the lead singer was making fun of just the kind of douche I was becoming. A guy who lives in a dorm but probably should be in a frathouse and has beerdrinking trophies on his shelves and majors in business. I thought I was being cool by embracing both aspects of the collegiate experience–the crude Animal House male as well as the Indie kid. I returned one day to find a note posted above the poster I’d hung on the side of my closet that faced anyone who was walking down the hall form the east entrance. He’d written something like: “This poster does not represent the sexual preferences or confusion of both inhabitants of this room.”

I was stunned. When I’d hung the posters, I’d gotten a smile and nod from him that I’d taken to be a smile and nod of approval. I thought for sure he’d get how uber-meta I was being by playing the role of the Collegiate Neanderthal in both an ironic and unironic sort of way. Surely he got that I didn’t wholeheartedly subscribe to the objectification of women that was taking place in the posters, and that I was playing a particular role of being the consummate collegiate male while really seeking to establish myself as a credible alternative and punk hero at the same time.

I was angry. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to demand what the hell was this passive-aggressive bullshit, though I’d yet to hear of such a term. Most of what I wrote in the above paragraph was hardly how I would have articulated my reason for buying the posters at the time, but I suppose a more simple and obvious explanation was that I was a socially retarded people pleaser from a hick town who thought he could magically transform himself into being both Ethan Hawke and Pauly Shore and get hundreds of women lined up outside his room and hundreds of men hooting in approval of his actions.

To be fair, Everett Masterson was hardly someone who should have been my role model. Sure, he was a little bit more worldly wise and socialized than I was, but he was also your perfect proto-hipster, sneering at everyone and everything for being into things he was into first. Like a lot of hipstery kinds of people I would meet later, he carried this aura of being someone who no doubt possesses a lot of genius and talent as either a writer or artist, but then he would leave stupid little nothings of scribbles that he and his feminist friends had created while smoking weed and watching Pulp Fiction. Of course, he’d already seen Pulp Fiction twenty times by the time it became so mainstream and popular with everyone else.

Everett never seemed to open his mouth except to “tut-tut-tut” in a snooty, sarcastic way at whatever he thought was my attempt at humor. He was the kind of fellow who probably went on to become a professional student for ten years, working on his PhD in English while traveling the world and doing a little bit of this and that. I would hardly be surprised if he ended up being one of those guys in independent bookstores or video stores who has a sneering comment to make about everyone’s purchases.

If I had taken the time to be more involved in social events in high school, and had a more realistic picture of the world and the people who live in it, I am certain that Everett and I would have been quietly agreeable roommates with very different life philosophies. I doubt I would have purchased any posters other than perhaps one or two well-known works of fine art by a painter in the periods between Cezanne and Pollock. I probably would have majored in something safe like Accounting, and started visiting the Newman Center, with an eye to joining a few groups, clubs and committees, converting to Catholicism and meeting my future wife.

None of the guys from the dorm that I did end up befriending would have had much to say to me, other than some pleasant passing conversation. I suspect I would have been a lot more like Nathan SturdEt next door, a chubby, affable fellow who was simply going to school to get a business degree and join his dad’s insurance firm back home in the Ozarks. Nathan was already as grown-up and as much of a man as he probably ever would be, which is to say he had ten years of social and emotional maturity on someone like Everett, who was every bit an eighteen year old kid. But, Nathan was always friendly to the rest of us, and never became one of the weird recluses that inhabited some of the rooms up and down the wing. We never turned him into a caricature with a nickname like we did to a lot of people, but he never really joined our gang of nerdy misfits, either.

It’s funny how much my dorm friends and I were alike in a lot of ways. None of us had girlfriends during the time period we hung out together. We were all probably virgins, or about as close to being virgins as someone could get. We were all more or less from similar backgrounds — smaller Missouri towns where we weren’t the most popular, athletic or smartest kids in our classes. We all liked heavy metal, but were slowly getting into alternative music. We were quite satisfied with ourselves to meet up as many nights as we could and make as much noise as possible while imbibing whatever alcohol we could score.

And, getting booze became the most important thing to me, and I think it was to most of them as well. Sure, we were trying to keep afloat in our classes, and yes, it would sure be nice to have a girlfriend, but the paramount activity, our reason for being at college, was to be as drunk and loud as possible without considering the consequences of our actions.

You might think that we weren’t that different from a lot of college kids. And, I could argue yes and no to that. We certainly weren’t the only people on campus getting drunk on weeknights and having loud dorm or frathouse parties. But, the more time we spent together, the more we seemed to isolate ourselves from the rest of the college experience. Doing something like going bowling down at the Student Center or taking part in any number of the school traditions became something to be considered in a sneering tone and derided for being stupid and a waste of time. We were too cool and way past a lot of the things most of the students were doing, except we weren’t getting laid, and most of us weren’t keeping up with our classes.

Everyone from my group of friends dropped out except for me. I was the only one of us who had the fortune of seeing Daddy pay for the entire college experience, and feeling the pressure not to have Daddy yell at me for getting grades that were too terrible and flunking out. So, I gladly reset my expectations of becoming either a Physicist or Anthropologist down to being a Poli Sci major (because I’d done exceptionally well in a basic government class, and my mom had said that the Lord told her I would be in government some day–so I thought this would keep my parents happy, and be a much easier major to work through), and then finally ratcheted it down to the English Major when I realized I was probably going to have to stay in school for another year to get my degree if I remained a Poli Sci major, and I hated the grade some professor had given me in one of my Poli Sci classes.

By becoming an English Major, I was now the same major that Everrett Masterson had declared himself to be during that first semester that I knew him, and plus, I argued with myself, I really am a great writer and I do love books and I used to read lots of books when I was much younger, so this is the thing for me. I never quite lost that sense of needing to do something that was in line with my “calling” even though I’d rejected God for the most part during that time period. I somehow figured that I’d gotten all of the weird kinks of the socially retarded, small-town people pleaser out of me, and by becoming an English Major and reading a lot of books, I would quickly become at least as cool as Everett was on the day I met him.

So, what happened to Everett?

Well, one night during finals week, I got especially drunk on some rum and blacked out, and threw up all over the floor. Some of my puke flowed over to a few of his things that he’d left lying on the floor on his side of the room. I am not sure if that alone was what did the trick, but I’d done my fair share of getting drunk and making noise while he was trying to sleep, and even at times pretending we were going to be great bosom buddies, since fate had placed us together like this. I would seek out the kinds of conversations that were probably better left inside the tents of my fellow Scouts during a completely different life of five years ago. Conversations about what it all means, and trying to get the other person to show his vulnerable, sensitive side, and then consoling him while he cries about Mommy and Daddy getting a divorce when he was nine.

So, I guess I’ll never know exactly what I said or did beyond the puking to set him off, but later the next day, after I’d cleaned my mess up and gone to take my last finals, I spotted his parents coming up the hall toward me. I’d met them once before, and smiled and said hello, and then realized from the looks on their faces that I was someone they would never share smiles with for as long as they lived. They were carrying a bunch of his stuff, and I quickly ascertained that I had pissed Everett off for the last time. I politely went outside to smoke my latest favorite brand of cigarettes–Old Golds, and wandered around in the courtyard area between the dorm and parking lot until he was gone.

I ran into Everett maybe once more while still in school, and at first I smiled and started to say hello because he was someone I recognized, and I’d completely forgotten about all the shit I’d done or said to piss him off, but from the look on his face, I could see that he still hated my guts, and probably always will. His real name is one that includes a common word in it, and so he is almost impossible to Google. Maybe he doesn’t want to be found. I think I found his college web page once while I was still in school, and he had something up about how your cat is smarter than you think. Yep, he was definitely a cat person.

I have to confess that while writing the passage about what happened with Everett, I am suddenly overcome with memories of just about everyone I’ve ever pissed off while drunk or bailed on when I decided their friendship or love was of no value to me. I want to make the case that I probably had some kind of Asperger’s as a child, because there are plenty of memories of me acting like those kids do. I certainly was incapable of having normal social relations with those around me before I turned 35, and for the most part, I’ve given up on trying to make friends with people altogether. Sure, I had my years where I seemed to hit it off with all of the cool kids in the dorm, or cool kids at work, but it was mostly due to me going and getting drunk with them and building what can only be described as a codependent relationship with them.

My best friend in college, Jerry, is someone I don’t talk to at all, anymore. I decided one day to stop bothering with it. He privately messaged me a misogynistic ran he’d written when he was clearly drunk and recovering from a breakup, and asked me to review it for him as if it were an article he could publish next week in Vanity Fair or at least Maxim. I did my best to consider it objectively, but the whole thing just stank. It read like the writing of a child who had never grown up past the age of eighteen–both the content and the writing style. While he was one of the first to drop out of school, Jerry had prided himself on striking more of an intellectual pose than even I did. Except, any time you visited him, the only book on his shelf was the Portable Nietzsche. I certainly don’t think Nietzsche is someone to sneeze at, but you are not going to develop your writing style much if all you do is read a few selections of one writer.

Jerry probably hates me now as much as anyone else that I have abandoned or actively worked to kick out of my life. I suppose I have a history of doing that: welcoming somebody with the heady anticipation that the very fact we two of all the billions of people in the world have been brought together means that we are either bosom buddies if the other person is male or soulmates if the other person is female. And then, almost immediately, all of their faults are laid bare, but I’ve committed myself to them as if I’m going to be joined at the hip to them for life. So, I start feeling guilty about how much I’d really just like to stop seeing and talking to them altogether, but I’m afraid to break things off, and so I slowly just start letting myself passive aggressively abuse the other person emotionally, verbally or both.

At least that was pretty much who I was up until the last time I saw Lucy–with her, I’d met my match. Here was someone who was a genius at turning her light for you on and off depending on her mood, and she could make you feel either like the king of the world or like you needed to kill yourself right that very instant. She could make your heart sing one day and everyone would say you were glowing, and the next day, she’d break your heart to the point that you wanted to rip it out of your chest because it was giving you so much pain.

After Lucy, I tried extremely hard not to get too close to anyone until I was absolutely certain that I wasn’t going to end up deciding they were hardly worthy of being my friend or girlfriend. So, that is to say, I got close to no one until I met my wife, and I really haven’t gotten close with anyone since.

I am not sure if the love we take is equal to the love we make, but I can attest to the fact that if you become too much of a taker in life, you will be presented with nothing but like-minded people, and you will lose heavily.

I am still trying to decide if being more of a giver nets you more friends who are givers. For all I know, I’ve never really succeeded at becoming a true giver.

It’s funny how I can look at college through one particular lens and find it to be one of the periods of my life that saw me at my worst and most unhappy, and then look at it through another lens and see it as really the best time in my life in spite of the fact that I missed out on so many things that a lot of people who went to college at the same time as me got to do.

It was a time where I probably had the least responsibility and most freedom that I’ve ever had and ever will have in life. As long as I was churning out mostly Bs and As each semester and not too far off a track to graduate in four years, I could pretty much do as I pleased throughout the day. I could skip the majority of my classes if I wanted to, and most of the time, it didn’t seem to matter. I quickly picked up on the professors who made it worth my while to attend and the ones who didn’t. In all honesty, I probably fell more in love with my Art History classes than any other single subject, with maybe the exception of my one Classical Mythology class.

I didn’t pursue either subject because I got tired of being told I could only be a teacher at the suggestion of a particular major. At least with an English degree, I thought, I can proofread, edit and write–or be a teacher.

I loved the old library, and spent more and more time there. It was in an 1800s building, with big marble steps and radiator heaters. I loved drifting in and out of a nap with a book inside a study cubby hole while melting snow lazily dripped down the window and the heater clanked. I loved going to the gym and the pool and would find myself at the start of every semester embarking upon the most ferocious of exercise regimens that usually lasted no more than a month.

Most of all, I think I appreciated the hard starts and stops of the semesters. I knew exactly where I was at in terms of my overall progress, and what I needed to do to reach my goal. I have never been able to replicate anything like it since then. It always feels fake to set up schedules and make five-year or even six-month plans. Life comes along every single time and demolishes them.

I went on after that first semester to read everything John Irving and Jack Kerouac had written. Mostly, I was able to keep the fact that these were Everett “Too-cool-for-school” Masterson’s favorite authors out of my mind by thinking that he’d probably long since moved on to writers either more edgy and unknown or had embraced the canon of old standards, depending on the route his academic development had taken. I developed relationships with John Iriving’s characters like Iowa Bob that were very independent of Everett Masterson. I suspected that Neal Cassidy would have probably offended Everett and his perpetually perfect taste a million times over, had Everett met Neal in real life.

One thing I miss probably the most about where I lived in Columbia was being able to walk from where I lived to either the downtown area or onto campus, without having to pass under a dirty, noisy interstate, or otherwise feel like my life was at risk from careless motorists. In all the years I lived in Austin, I held down a tiny studio apartment a couple of times where this was almost possible, but the feeling of being a part of the town and the university never came. Once you’re off campus and out into the “real world,” you don’t feel very welcome back on any campuses. You are clearly an old man who is not a professor, and so your business better be short and sweet because we don’t take kindly to dirty old men lurking around on our campuses. But, seriously, you feel completely removed from the college life once you sever ties with it.

…and begin spending too much time meditating on who you are.

You no longer dare ask the bigger questions like: what is man? why are we here? does God exist? can humans achieve some form of time travel or relive experiences had by other humans in different times and places?

You decide to focus completely on you intrinsic identity: what it is, what it is not, how it has changed since your first memories of yourself, and how it hasn’t.

You’ve generally come to accept that you started out as a fragmented entity that needed to be made whole. The entity you witness interacting with others, especially strong male personalities or highly attractive female personalities, has clearly been a completely different sort of animal than the one who has the luxury of complete solitude: weekends spent alone with books and papers or walking out in the woods.

The general story of your life is one of how these two, highly disparate entities gradually came to reconcile themselves with each other, along with all of the other schismatic entities that seem to be variations on these two–or, to be more precise, attempts by you to cultivate a cohesive single self around one or the other.

Over time, it became more and more clear that the self of solitude is the real you–for he is unencumbered by all of the distractions of the outer world that tend to draw out the other entity. What’s unfortunate is that many of the friends you made along the way were attracted to the false you, the one that can best be described as a people-pleaser, a sycophant, a chaotic mess sometimes accused of being any number of things that just aren’t you.

It’s like you had to learn to adjust socially all over again, once you became adept at throwing off the sycophant in favor of the real you. The real you watches human endeavor with wolflike eyes, some might say a serial killer’s scowl–you are frankly not amused by most of the trifling things this generation (or the past two, for that matter) call cool and fun. The real you sees people sacrificing human dignity in favor of social acceptance and material gain on a regular basis.

So, you’ve had to learn to mimic some of the facial responses and body language of people around you–to act interested in things like television and sports, so that people don’t think you are a complete alien. That is the subject of an entirely different investigation, however–why spurning the petty endeavors of the day that seem to dehumanize so many people ultimately makes you seem like more of an alien than a human.

The purpose of this investigation is to understand better if this is really a worthwhile endeavor or simply a bunch of navel-gazing: your endless meditation on yourself, for the sake of coming to an ultimate conclusion of who or what your Self is.

One proposal is to ask what are the basic characteristics of self development, and can they be more rapidly enhanced if they are given focused attention? For example, it is clear that you do change your estimation of who or what your core Self is after having experiences interacting with others. Sometimes, it’s an immediate conclusion that may or may not be true–you weight someone’s immediate facial responses too highly when reconciling what others truly think or don’t think of you. Other times, you reflect, and take an aggregate of experiences going back through time–all of which may or may not be very statistically relEt, since your own memory is prone to cherry pick the absolute best or worst depending on the mood you’re in.

A better approach would be to completely and thoroughly embark upon opportunities for social interaction with the understanding that these are always experiments. Aside from close friends and family, the rest of the world is fair game to experiment on with different body language approaches. You have to be steadfast in this endeavor though, as any reactions from people asking you if you’re sick, or being shocked that you seem so unusually happy have historically sent you into a tailspin that ultimately leaves you feeling depressed and defeated for having tried to change the usually dour self most people know.

The quest to discover one’s identity through social experimentation is something everyone is doing, whether they verbalize it this way or not. It must be tempered with periods of introspection–time away from social groups that impose game rules upon the individual in ways that make anyone with the least sense of individuality buck and kick. But, the person who formulates their identity (or their understanding of it, anyway) completely based upon striving to constantly please those around him is a truly impoverished soul. Of course, not all people who live their lives always being accepted among the most popular circles are going to be impoverished souls. Only they really know what they are at the end of the day.

You have been given a highly-engineered sports car of a soul, but you didn’t receive the manual for how to take care of it. So, it’s always back in the shop, getting worked on, having parts replaced where you abused it or didn’t get it out on the open road enough to let it burn off all the carbon buildup. Which is to say, this is a metaphor for the way in which you clearly are more empathetic and endowed with a robust emotional palette. Unfortunately for you, you’ve spent a lifetime either controlling your feelings poorly (ie, repressing them completely and becoming an inhuman, unfeeling robot) or letting them pull you this way and that like a pack of untrained dogs attached to a sled.

Being a man and having ready access to a palette of feelings that this particular society tends to attribute to the domain of a woman–this can either be a curse or a valuable tool. You can either end up being a weepy-eyed, volatile volcano of constant tears, joy and tantrums, or you can become a truly empathetic human who is able to relate to just about anyone. You must be careful, though, as you never know if you are truly relating to someone or just imagining your are–or, you might be too in touch with that person’s emotional state, too close for comfort.

The emotional experience of your identity is the one thing you forget to or don’t want to think about when you start thinking long and hard about your identity. It’s easy to forget about emotions when you are completely at rest, and it’s just you working quietly with your mind.

…trying to find a strategy of being for life.

This could describe almost every day of your life. How do you find a strategy of being that doesn’t see you burning out and giving up, but doesn’t see you pushing on with only fumes left? How do you work with the mind and hands you’ve been given, and stop trying to build a mind and grow a pair of hands that aren’t yours? What if your current strategy of being, no matter how much more successful it’s been than all the others, is still wildly unacceptable to you?

You fought to ignore Jesus and claim victory over the backwards religious influences of your mother. But, in your darkest hour, when you only knew the Void as the ultimate conclusion, it was Jesus who you turned to, nobody and nothing else. And, your darkest hour happened long before you returned to attending church regularly. You would go on to continue living an immoral life with the best and the rest of them.

When your mother died, you fought to make yourself as rigidly religious as she was. But, this was never going to happen, because you’d seen too much of the world now, and knew that people who didn’t pray to Jesus weren’t necessarily damned. You needed a way to reconcile yourself, and with joy, discovered Thomas Merton. You could relate to so many things he said, throughout the course of his journals as his mind and soul remained restless even as he spent more time each day in a calm, centering environment than you did in a year.

The missing ingredient from most teachers of wisdom and intellect is, of course, Love. Everyone talks about how Love is what we need more of, but you know when someone writing about things is putting love into it and when they are not. You can go back and read everything you’ve written and divide it all up neatly down this line. In some entries, you wrote with love for others, with compassion and a strong sense of being non-judgemental, and in some you didn’t. But, you can feel the love and compassion in almost everything Thomas Merton writes.

And love is hard. Talking about love is a quick way to make you a hypocrite or a fool. You become a hypocrite the minute you turn around and start wanting to go shoot up all the Islamic peoples or wanting to hurt anyone who doesn’t agree with you politically. You become a hypocrite when you embrace laws that protect your freedoms, but make it easy for crazies to shoot up elementary schools. You have no right to talk about love, but the fact is, when you do, you are really no longer talking with love, but you are just saying it.

You become a fool if you can’t talk about love beyond some superficial, bubblegum conception of it. If your idea of love hasn’t evolved past your favorite high school cruising song, then you shouldn’t talk about it.

And, you’ve found yourself more often than not the hypocrite. You wake up one morning, and realize that you’ve forgotten to bring Love along in the plans that you’re making for your life, and so you want to start writing about it and thinking about it at all times. The next thing you know, you are screaming at a poor, distraught woman in a minivan who cut you off on the way to work because she was running late to get her kids to school and on to work. Then, your heart suddenly feels like an air lock chamber in a movie, a vacuum where all of the love you’d been building up so eagerly is sucked out into the Void, to be wasted and spent on nobody, and in the vacuum that is created, all the hate and cruddy negativity you’ve yet to purge from your subconscious comes rushing in.

What’s more, all of the demonic agents and forces now gleefully find your heart to be their playground. It then becomes a thing that is spiraling out of control, as you take drugs and drink alcohol to try to set yourself right again. In your drugged up states you become lacking in any sort of sense of humanity, and crave only cold, abstract paintings, books about science and pictures of modern steel and concrete architecture. You declare to no one, “being a robot is the only way to avoid the pain that comes with negative emotions.”

In reality, you’ve created this entire cycle of pain and distance from humanity for yourself. Nobody else did this to you. Your simple lack of self control, coupled with an ego-filled eagerness to go out and create as much love for others as you can, has rendered you both a hypocrite and a fool. For, any love you try to imagine and put into words that isn’t Love from God is bubblegum love.