Sunday, December 28, 2014

Slow Education

"When god was young - He made the wind and the sun - And since then - It's been a slow education" - David Berman

I've been going to the suburbs a lot lately. Sometimes on my own, just to explore a new area. Other times for my second job, doing beer tastings for an importer.

The suburbs that I knew, growing up in and around Denver, felt bland and dull. A wasteland of fast food chains, strip malls, gas stations, and pawn shops. I remember a suffocating lack of imagination that numbed the senses.

But some of these suburbs, outside of Chicago, feel different. There's a definite cosmetic difference. Many of them have the look and feel of a lively small town. They have a main street with shops and bars and cafes. The sidewalks are filled with people. It feels like there's life being lived there.

And as I visit Libertyville and Lake Bluff and Geneva and La Grange, I wonder if maybe the suburbs never were as terrible as I remember them. Maybe I'm the one that's changed. Maybe I was suffocating from my own lack of imagination.

I turned 40 this past summer. I've been a late bloomer in a number of ways throughout my life. Another way to put it is that I'm a slow learner. And after years of working in restaurants and bars, I'm just now preparing to make the shift into a professional career.

I'm excited about the challenges in my immediate future. And it feels great to know that I'm setting myself up for a wide range of options down the road. I'm excited to know that I'll have a chance to help hard working small business owners grow their dreams. And I'm excited to know that I'm moving towards a point in my life that will include more financial stability than I've known in the past.

And while none of that is inevitable, the likelihood of the transition and the new found confidence that I have in my long term future, probably plays into my changing perspective on the suburbs and the things that I've always associated in my mind with suburban life. And while I don't know whether I'll ever find myself living in the suburbs, I suddenly find myself considering a lot of what I'd for so long written off.

Home ownership won't happen this year. But in five years? Probably. And then there's the big question. The question that I've always been too scared to really honestly ask myself. Do I want a family?

I've been scared for a couple of reasons. I knew that, as a server, I didn't have the financial security that I would want to have for my family. And I didn't want to get locked into a restaurant management position that I'd feel obligated to stick to for the sake of knowing that the bills were paid.

I was also scared because nothing in my romantic history suggested that anybody was in a hurry to create a family with me. And nothing in that history would suggest that I was even capable of a long term relationship. As of my mid-thirties, I'd had only one relationship that lasted more than a few months. And that lasted only a year. Not exactly enough time to build a foundation for a family.

But I feel different now. I've had a relationship that lasted three years. Most of that was wonderful, and even the parts that weren't wonderful were incredibly illuminating. I know myself better today, than I did even a year ago. I still have plenty to learn. I'm still clumsy with my emotions. I still get frustrated and scared. But it all feels manageable.

So now I'm starting to ask myself that big question. Do I want a family? I think about my age. But that doesn't have to be an obstacle. If I take care of myself, there's no reason I couldn't be a healthy and active part of my children's lives. Of course, since I'm single, there's also the question of a mother. But those are secondary questions. The first question is whether I want to have children.

I went home to Denver last month. I have nieces and nephews ranging in age from 2 months to 19 years. As I spent time with them, I wondered how I, for so long, associated suburbs only with fast food chains, strip malls, gas stations, and pawn shops. How did I forget the kids running through water sprinklers. The awkward adolescent dates at bowling alleys. The soccer games and summer barbecues. How did that well of life seem bland and dull.

I've been a late bloomer in a number of ways throughout my life. Another way to put it is that I'm a slow learner.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Hunt

"The heart will always stay one day too long." - Carl Newman

"He not busy being born is busy dying." - Bob Dylan

"Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it." - Thomas Harris

"I used to be the antelope. But now I'm the lion." - Wise 5th Grader

Everything around me feels old. Not old in the comfortable and familiar sense. But old in the sense of dead. Maybe that's a better way to say it. Everything around me feels dead.

My home doesn't feel like home. It feels like dead skin that I've waited too long to shed. I'm living in dead skin. Have been for a while.

My job is something that I stumbled into at 23 years old. I'm 40 years old, and just now moving on. I feel a little bit more dead inside every time I walk through that door. I let that happen.

My cat is 19 years old. I thought she'd be dead by now. She moves slowly. She pukes up her dinner often. She's not dead. But she's a constant reminder of the death all around me. A fitting companion for this moment in my life.

I've stayed in relationships after they died too. Sometimes they die after only a couple of dates. Other times it takes months or years. Either way, I've always stayed too long.

But I'm getting better about that. In my most recent round of single life, I've done a better job of recognizing death and walking away from it. I've also seen women instantly recognize the death in me and choose to walk away. Fair enough.

I'll have a new job soon. One that will be genuinely new to me. One with work that I can feel good about. New challenges. Plenty of room for growth. Without that room for growth, it's too easy for death to find room to squeeze itself in.

I'll soon find a new home too. New skin. Skin that fits me as I am now.

No telling how the long the cat will hold out.

And the relationships... Well, I'll try to keep walking away from death. The slow death of compromise and guilt and shame and fear. I'll walk away from any relationship that doesn't allow all of me to live. But I'll try to do that with an open heart. An open mind. Without fear. I'll try not to assume rejection before it happens. That's all quite a bit more tricky than a new job or a new apartment. But the more I make conscious and confident decisions, the more simple it becomes. Maybe it's not as tricky as I've led myself to believe.

I feel good right now. I feel healthy and alive. Everything around me feels dead. And for the last couple of years, I was dead too. A dead man. In a dead home. Working a dead job. Living with a dead cat. In a dead relationship.

But I'm alive now. I'm itching to shed that skin. Eager to run. To dance. To celebrate. To hunt.


Saturday, December 20, 2014


"Not forever. Just for now." - Jay Farrar

I walked into my apartment at 1:00 am. My thoughts were swirling and jumping through a mix of anxiety and comfort. Frustration and ease. I was thinking about work, and family, and love life, and friends. Thinking about what I do and don't have in all of those realms of my life. Thinking about how I got here. My stomach was a little knotted. I was aware of the knot, but mostly okay with it. I could see the knot, but I wasn't in any rush to untie it.

I fed my cat. My needy, cranky, 19 year old cat. Her food placated her for a bit. But it wasn't long before she was back to her never ending search.

I poured a beer and sat down at this laptop. Ready to write about those swirling and jumping thoughts and feelings. Ready to finally sort it all out and make sense of it. Ready to turn the corner. Finally take that big leap into a giant pool of understanding and peace.

I checked Facebook first though. Maybe I had some new Likes. I'd like some Likes. Then email. That's fair. There could have been some important news there. Something I really wanted to know. There wasn't. I glanced at the basketball scores too. Nuggets win.

The knot is gone. It slipped away while I was distracted. I still remember what it looked like. But I don't know that I could pick it out of a lineup of similar knots.

I was thinking about all of the changes in my life right now. Big changes. And I was thinking about a text from my old friend Glenn.

It's been almost a year since my ex-girlfriend and I broke up. It was our third break up. Pretty sure she'd call it our second, but that's another topic. A topic related to our breakup, and our relationship too, but not exactly related to the topic here. Though I don't know that I've really established a topic here.

Big changes. And the little details in between. Topic and subtopic. Or maybe the other way around. The breakup was one of the big changes. Whether we agree on the number of breakups is one of the little details in between. So that detail isn't on topic. But it's on subtopic. Or maybe the other way around.

It was a good relationship. Even with all of the difficult, painful, ugly, and unhealthy aspects of it. On the whole, it was still pretty wonderful. And so is she. I don't regret it for a second. But I don't regret the fact that it's gone either. I can't imagine going back to it. It was time. We both knew it, but she called it. I knew it, but I couldn't say it. She's stronger than me in that sense. So I left the heavy lifting to her.

My friend Glenn sent me a text tonight. Following up on a text that he sent two days ago. One that I didn't respond to. Am I going to make it to Austin in early January? I'm not. I can't.

That's what got me thinking back to the breakup.

I was thinking about all of the more current things swirling around my head. Work being front and center. More big changes. Hopefully. The very thing that makes it impossible, or at least incredibly irrational and irresponsible, for me to go to Austin. And I was thinking about how much I'd like to unload those thoughts, and a million others too. I was thinking about how Austin is exactly where I could go, to find the people that I needed to talk to. Old friends. People that could hear my now story, without needing any back story. They already know the back story. They were there for a lot of it. And I was there for a lot of theirs.

So then I thought about how I got to this place. This place where nobody in my day to day life knows my back story. So I walked it back. First stop. One year ago. Break up. The Final Episode. No potential for a part four. Just dead bodies on the ground. Nothing left. And both of us finally able to see that.

I didn't have anybody to talk with then either. Just the ex. And she's the one that I'd created that carnage with, so maybe not the best ear to bend.

Jumping forward. Last June. I was in Alton. Grandma. Mom. Little sister with her family. We had a good visit. But when it was over, and I pointed my car north for Chicago, I felt this immense gulf between me and my family. I didn't feel closer because of the visit. It just reminded me of the distance between us. Miles. Years. Lives.

Last winter, when I didn't have anybody to talk to about the breakup, I looked back on the relationship itself. I considered the ways in which I'd let some old friendships drift away, as I made a new best friend with the woman that I was in love with.

But as I drove away from my family in Alton, the broader view of my life and my relationships came into view along with the wide open plains of central Illinois. This has all been here for years.

So I'm here now.

I spent several wonderful hours tonight with a delightful woman. I still smell her. She's soft and thoughtful and beautiful and vulnerable and strong. Our lives, on the surface, couldn't have taken more different paths. But there's an underlining commonality to it, that feels warm and comforting.

I practice yoga now. I went to my first yoga class about seven or eight years ago. But this year, it changed. I don't so much go to "a yoga class" as I do just practice yoga. Sometimes in a class room. Other times in my car or at work or at home.

Running is coming back too. I feel strong again. It's been a long time since I've felt strong. This running experience feels a lot different. It's not like before. But it's familiar. Comfortable. Like coming back to a childhood home. Sleeping in your old room. You can't have a second childhood, but you can still come home. You can still be at home.

I'm alone through all of this. I'm alone in my life right now. I don't say that with sorrow or self pity. I'm not sad. I'm just alone. Not forever. Just for now.