Five years down the road

I had a dream the other night.

I was sitting across from a friend of mine, sharing a booth in a restaurant or pub. He was telling me the good news that he was having a baby. He already has two girls, and was pretty excited that he would now have a boy to join the family. A small compatriot, a man to follow in his footsteps, a smaller version of himself.

He went on to tell me that his wife, who was out of town, somehow didn't know the gender yet. It was slightly strange, him telling me. Not only was I to know before his wife, but the sense of the scene was that I was the first one he was telling. This friend and I don't see each other all that often, and seem to walk this line of tenuous and deeper connection. Why had I been picked above all the rest?

This thought was dancing around in the back of my head, along with another. See, this friend had recently undergone surgery to prevent this sort of thing from happening. He had been "fixed" as it were. But there he was, ready to have another child, and somehow it made perfect sense. The questions quieted, and I was just there, sharing in his moment.

Then I felt her tuck into me.

Her head rested in that safe spot between my arm and my chest. Without a word, I felt the sadness and regret press into me. It wasn't her head that I felt, but her heart. Why had we missed our opportunity. Why had we denied ourselves. Why had we not brought this joy into the world. Why had we let it all slip away.

My friends words faded as the world became just the two of us. No words were spoken. It seemed none were necessary. There was one small nuzzle, and then we faded away as well.

I woke still feeling that weight on my chest.

It has been about five years now since it became clear our marriage was over. All that was left was for her to finally say it. That would be a couple more months, and even then the papers making it official would take another year.

I have been at various times happy, sad, connected and alone. I spent almost three years in the soul-warming sun of San Diego, a place I could stand in the ocean and let the timeless tide wash away a sliver of life. I discovered a better version of me, and sometime later, I even found love, But it turned out it wasn't enough.

Life now is very different in some ways, strangely the same in others. You can never go home again, but I feel myself circling the block of a familiar neighborhood these days. I feel that better version of me slipping away, and most nights I can't find the heart to care.

But this is not how the story ends. I can't see the how all the threads are going to tie together, so I suppose I just have to write my way into the third act. All I know is that the ending will surprise me most of all.

Regret

This video came to me by way of a friend's Facebook page. If you are not familiar with the TED talks, they were originally started to bring together people from three different worlds - Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The scope has become much broader, and the annual conferences present inspired speakers on a variety of topics. TED is a non-profit and they have posted over 900 videos for free, with the tagline "Ideas Worth Spreading."

The video my friend posted is titled "Don't Regret Regret". I thought it was excellent.




"Here's the thing...If we have goals, and dreams, and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don't want to hurt them or lose them - we should feel pain when things go wrong. 
The point isn't to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them. 
The lessson that I ultimately learned from my tatoo and that I want to leave with you today is this - we need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them. 
Regret doesn't remind us that we did badly, it reminds us that we know we can do better."

Why'd you do that? Explain.

I am being forced to think analytically about something I do reflexively. And sitting down and analyzing what you do reflexively, is how you improve.

~ Howard Tayer 

The above quote is from one of the three main speakers on the Writing Excuses Podcasts. At the end of season two, they each did an episode on "the most important thing they had learned over the last year". Howard's was that he was often writing satire, intentionally or unintentionally, when he went about writing humor. After realizing what he was doing, it allowed him to do it better.

When pressed on how he came to the realization, he said, "Honestly, it was recording these podcasts with you Bozos." By participating in this podcast lecture series, and trying to explain techniques to other writers, he learned more about himself and his writing.

Then he continued with the above quote, and the way he put it struck a chord with me. So much so that I stopped my run to rewind it and hear it again. Of course he was talking about writing, but it seemed an appropriate summation of how I have come to learn more about myself through the divorce and subsequent counseling.

We all have behaviors that are detrimental to ourselves and our relationships. Behaviors that we barely think about or even recognize. That is until they are pointed out - subtly or with a slap across the face to snap you out of your delusion.

And once the behaviors are out there (and you commit to changing them), the first question is often 'why' you have them in the first place. Digging into all the history and baggage behind "why it is that you are who you are" can be a painful process. It is often difficult to explain analytically why you do these things out of reflex. But digging through the muck and mire and trying to explain it to someone else is a valuable exercise.

By getting to the root of problem, the reasoning behind the behavior, you can often find a more productive way to express what you are really looking for. I have found it easier to get at the root of things by trying to explain it to both my counselor and friends. Often the mere fact that you can't explain 'why' makes it easier to see how ridiculous the behavior is.

It is difficult to break the habit or reflex until you step back and get some perspective. Sometimes it is possible to do it on your own, but I have found getting an outside perspective illuminating. And I did not come to this realization gently or on my own. It was forced on me, but I am better for it.
I am being forced to think analytically about something I do reflexively. And sitting down and analyzing what you do reflexively, is how you improve.

Flying solo

The moon is nowhere almost time for the sun
The voice of the waves sound anciently young
I'm a prisoner of freedom, ten toes in the sand
And man, I wish I had a hand to hold
I'm in the habit of being alone
I try hard to break it, I can't on my own
I'm glad no one's here, just me by the sea
I'm glad no one's here to mess it up for me
I'm glad no one's here, just me by the sea
And man, I wish I had a hand to hold
~ "Me by the Sea" by Edie Brickell and New Bohemians

I sometimes think I am a little too comfortable being alone. I have no problem spending a day, an evening, even a week on my own. Of course you are never quite alone unless you are off in the wilderness somewhere, but I am at ease when no one I know is around.

It has always felt like a sign of personal strength to be so independent. Not needing to have someone at your side when you eat out or go to a movie. To be alone without being lonely. I am glad that I have never been so dependent on someone that I couldn't function without them, but at times it doesn't feel like a strength. To be so comfortable on your own, it is too easy to avoid the risk of meeting someone new. To avoid reaching out and expanding your world. To avoid committing yourself and feeling vulnerable.

My heart has always had a soft spot for the song "Me by the Sea". I thought about it again when I was on my trip to the Grand Canyon last summer. On the one hand, I was glad to be able to go where I wanted, and spend as much time as I wanted without worrying whether someone else was bored. I could have a singular experience with no one "messing it up for me". But I also missed having someone there to share it with. A hand to hold.

I am glad to be self-sufficient, and comfortable with my own company. But we are social animals, and I think if that side of our being is not nurtured in some way, then we are not completely who we should be. And the longer we spend alone, the easier it seems to just stay that way.

Sometimes it is easier to be alone, but it is not always better.

~

A friend posted a question on Facebook yesterday - "Wondering if it's possible to not need anyone without feeling lonely..."

My response was - "It is. Need is the key word. Once it is no longer a 'need', loneliness is no longer an issue. To be alone without being lonely is a strength, and it makes everyone's company and support that much more of a blessing."

As I re-read my response, it jives with what this post (written last year but set aside unfinished), but it also seems to be incomplete. I think there is something to be said for 'needing' someone that I've never experienced completely. It seems there is fine line between dependence and independence where we find the greatest strength.

All of this also reminded me of this video I found a while back, but also never posted. Quite lovely.

Baggage

We all have it.

I recently saw an episode of How I Met Your Mother called "The Wedding Bride". In it they use the device of showing each person dragging along a rolling suitcase with their particular hang-up emblazoned on the side. Phrases like "Still in Love with Ex", "Lives with Mother", "Still thinks his band will make it", and "Cubs fan" are there for all to see.

Ted's set of baggage gets premier treatment in movie form. He was left at the alter by Stella, and the man who she left him for makes a movie about it (with Ted as the villian/chump). Ted eventually confesses his "Left at the alter" baggage to the woman he is dating. The first and last scenes are below.



We all have baggage that we carry around, though of course it is not so obviously displayed. I have been going through my fallow and recovery period for a while now, and I have been trying to work out all the things I think went wrong. I am hoping that in working on things here and elsewhere over the past year, my particular set of luggage will be smaller. But of course it is still there.

Part of bringing baggage to any new relationship is all the mistakes you made in the past. Every relationship is different, and there is no comparing one person to another, but you can become a little sensitive to patterns and behaviors you've seen before. I'd like to think that I have learned something through all this, and I don't want to make the same mistakes again. I want to make all new mistakes this time.

I think I have done all I can by myself to work things out, and I won't know if I've made any real changes until I am in another relationship. I still have things to work on, but I think I am ready to turn the page and move onto the next chapter. It is going to be great.

Quote of the day

There is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.
~Pearl S. Buck

Dinner time

Here at the homestead, the roomies have started scheduling "At the Dinner Table" nights. On (some/most) Wednesdays and Saturdays, we eat dinner at the dinner table instead of in front of the tv. We also try to keep the tv off completely on both of those nights, and read, write or chat instead.  If there is a movie we want to see, we have bent the rules, but we don't turn on the tv blindly looking for something to entertain us.

On the surface, it seems kind of silly to have to schedule these sorts of things. I mean, why don't we eat wherever we feel like each night. But you get in ruts without really thinking about it, or even noticing it happening. The tv gets turned on without any particular show in mind, and just sitting down and enjoying a meal with each other's company seems like it needs some sort of special occasion.

This happened with J and I. We ate in front of the tv nearly every night, quite often with a laptop open nearby. We did it unthinkingly, and it was both a symptom and a cause of our dwindling communication. For my part, I wasn't actively avoiding conversation when I flipped on the tv, but that is what ended up happening.

"Date Night" also sounds a little silly for a married couple, but if you don't make an effort to schedule a night out, it won't just happen on its own. Of course it is that much more difficult, and less likely to happen, when you have children. It is always easier just to stay home, but easier doesn't mean better.

The dinner-table nights have been very nice so far. Turns out we have plenty to talk about, and leaving the tv off a couple nights a week is certainly no hardship. I have a stack of reading and writing that needs to get done, and with the tv off there are plenty of hours in the evening to get it done.

As clumsy and forced as it may seem sometimes, it often takes scheduling to make the simple but important things happen.

Christmas card

I forgot to mention my Christmas card in the previous post. In my 17th wheel post, I gave an example of being the odd man out when friends gathered to take Christmas card photos a year ago. I mentioned that I stepped back because I wasn't planning on sending out a photo card.

One of my readers challenged/encouraged me to send one out. Why couldn't a single person send out a photo Christmas card? I didn't have a good answer, but kind of forgot about it. A little over a week before Christmas after I had received a few cards from friends, I decided to do my own. I just wanted to say thanks to her for the encouragement and letting me know that it was "OK".


I also want to thank all the people who have supported me over the past year or two. It has been a difficult road, but there was always been a hand outstretched to push me along or help me up. I can not sufficiently express my gratitude for you and this life.

Happy New Year. Let's make it a better one.

Christmas

I had another nice Christmas this year. I have been living two states away from my family, so it was wonderful to be able to spend a couple of weeks with them over the holidays. The two weeks actually flew by as days and nights were filled up with fun activities with friends. I spent Christmas Eve with my brother and his family, Christmas morning with my folks, and Christmas evening with my extended family. It was an especially nice treat to see my extended family as I hadn't seen them all year. I am thoroughly blessed to have such a close family, and it has been an odd experience living so far away.

It was a wonderful week, but there was still something missing. This is the second Christmas alone and the first since the divorce became final. Christmas was already special to J and I, but it took on a whole new meaning when we were married. In fact I proposed Christmas morning ten years ago, so it kind of became "our" day. I am now back to Christmas the way it was before I was married, and as great as it is (and it is great), it isn't the same anymore. The divorce weighs on my mind lesser each day, but there are still moments when I feel the sting. Shopping for Christmas cards was surprisingly hard this year.

This seems to fall into the "you can't go home" category. It is like I have returned to the wonderful town I grew up in, but everything looks a little different. Moments that should be warm and wonderful still feel slightly incomplete. And I don't know if that void can be filled with friends and family.

I can understand why so many people find the holidays depressing. There is so much joy and celebration surrounding us, and it some ways it only amplifies the things that are missing. It is nothing so simple as finding a replacement person to make me forget, but that incomplete feeling will probably remain until I develop memories with someone new.

Christmas was wonderful, but some of the shine was missing.

Quote of the day

AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS by Portia Nelson

I.
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in...it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V.
I walk down another street.

Hat tip to Crystal