Where do I begin?
Good question! Wish I had a good answer. Good answers must be the theme for my next life because in this life I only have good questions. Well, questions at least. Some good, some bad, some maybe shouldn’t be asked at all. But they do get asked. Over and over again like an unrelenting fugue. It is said we all have lessons to learn in this life and we will be presented with the same challenges, variations of a persistent theme, until we get it right. For me that only presents more questions. Am I passing this test called “my life,” that interminable series of pop quizzes I’m never prepared for? Am I ever going to get it right?
Hold onto that thought. First, I want to tell you a story. It is a fictional representation of a real story or a real representation of a fictional story. You won’t know the difference and, most of the time, I don’t either. I was born with a deadly disease—an inner spirit instilled with incredible hopes and dreams and an outer physicality totally incapable of fulfilling them. As I grew into awareness of what I wanted but believed I couldn’t have, my life split into worlds, a veneer of quiet reality superimposed over a colorful, textured mosaic of fantasy. There were long periods when I hid inside my fantasies and only when I made important decisions based on whatever fantasy was controlling my emotions at the time, did it cause me any real harm. Then suddenly my colorful mosaic would become dark and ugly. In other words, I would fuck up big time.
Question: why would I even try to give my chaotic life the legitimacy of words? I can’t answer that one. Possibly because I actually like words. Certain combinations of letters fashioned into a poetic phrase often saved me from myself. But the truth is probably more obvious. I am hoping if I tell you my story, maybe in the telling process, it will finally all come together for me. It’s the same reason writers should read their material out loud. It exposes all the errors the eye misses—typos, awkward passages and any imbalance in the flow of ideas. Maybe it will work like that for me. Maybe not. But I do have hope. The kind of hope that springs eternally you know where. The kind that makes you get out of bed each morning without much of a clue as to what you will do once you put your feet on the floor, face your day with some sense of assuredness that whatever you do will mean something and live the next 24 hours as if your life is worth it.
So I ask again, “Where do I begin?”
Traditionally one starts with the past and tries to weave together dazzling strands of multi-colored thread to create a biography of a life well lived. In the presentation of one’s history, nobility and civility can obscure more sordid qualities. But my multi-colored threads are not dazzling and any nobility and civility I might uncover would be pure fiction. Furthermore, my past is, in more ways than one, history. It’s over and done and can’t be changed. More to the point, I can’t even remember a lot of it clearly. Many of my childhood memories consist of things people have told me about events I can’t recall. And if I do recall something, my memory is flat—no animation and no emotion associated with the event. Even photos with me smack-dab in the middle fail to conjure up total recall.
In my early adult life, I showed a great propensity for hanging on to pain. I had a great capacity to focus intently on the most insignificant slight imaginable, to hold it skewered by a pin under a magnifying glass, to turn it over and over in the light, to study its mating habits, to write a dissertation on the variables in its upper left quadrant. Worse, even if I couldn’t remember the details, I often suffered the pain long after it had ceased to serve its purpose.
Understand what I mean? The past is malleable. It is convenient. It can be obsession. It is hardly ever dependable.
Or one might prefer to write a piece about the future, that unknown period of time just ahead of now, because the future is the cache that holds our promises, our resolves and our potential. The end of the rainbow is just down the road, over that yonder slope of land, almost within reach. Many of my futures, however, were inhabited with the consequences of my self-destructive actions and all my hopes and dreams were projected against a wall of improbability. Many of my past futures were fairly dismal and disappointing. But writing about my next future has one major advantage: since I’m not there yet, I can put on it whatever spin I want. That is far too convenient and, alas, not any more reliable than the past.
Yet, I kind of like the idea of writing in future tense. I could become, perhaps, the kind of person I like to think I am—kind and thoughtful, generous of word, deed and spirit—negating any need to chronicle my history of unpleasant behavior. It would be literary genetic engineering. I would never wake up in the morning of my future-ography regretting what I did or said the night before.
But I’m better off if I stick to the present. he moment I am in right at this very minute. The place wherein I walk, talk, breathe, love, hate, get angry, feel sad, laugh, regret and play out a wide range of behaviors and emotions. The present is everything I am including everything I ever was and it is the stage for everything I am going to be. One step back and I am hopelessly mired in all my past follies. One step forward and I am trying to play out a scenario of all those things I may never know or have. Two feet in the present moment is all I’ve got. I know it sounds like a lot of pressure but the present moment is all any of us have no matter how much we want to believe the contrary.
I realize I cannot totally ignore the past. The mistakes I made and the extent to which I survived them define who I am. Fortunately, I never went to jail, had a drug habit, made headline news or disgraced my family [depending on who’s talking]. Unfortunately, I had a great talent for learning things the hard way and the School of Hard Knocks promotes a slow learner. I was not good asking for advice or taking it and I suffered a few too many repetitions of the “error of my ways.” Once I figured out what I was doing wrong, however, it wasn’t so hard to stop doing it. In a nutshell: I was wasting a lot of time trying to take invalid information and make it valid. I’m older now and, for the most part, I don’t do that anymore. I can tell when I am being fed crap or when I am looking for validation in the wrong places.
I sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I? Well, don’t let all this preachy psychobabble fool you. I’m not that good. But this much I know: good experiences tend to make you all soft and gooey and then you become complacent and foolish. Bad experiences, if they don’t break your spirit, add fiber to your diet and give you backbone and stamina. Fortunately for me, I’ve finally arrived at a place—this place—where I realize all my bad experiences taught me some of the lessons I was meant to learn on this earth. Now I try to face each day with unflinching honesty. It took really hard work to get to this point and I’m very proud of my achievement. I wouldn’t sacrifice all my hard work just for the sake of telling you a comfortable story.
I’ve also learned to be very careful making choices. If I have to say “yes” or “no” on the spot or I’ll never get another chance, then the deal isn’t for me, whether it be a guy, a vacuum cleaner or a free vacation. I need the opportunity to reflect, consider the pros and cons and make the response that causes me the least heartache, money or aggravation. But sometimes I’ve been too careful and I find myself sitting in the moment so long it passes and then I don’t have the opportunity to make a choice. It has caused me to live a narrower existence but when your past is populated with more failures than successes, your life naturally tends to fold in a bit, curving in toward the center of your soul. My motto, “err on the side of doing nothing,” gives me room to breathe. After all, that, too, is a choice.
Now I’m much older, have all this inner strength and peace of mind and I’m not supposed to be crazy anymore. I am, as they say, old enough to know better. Unfortunately, I’m not and I don’t. I still am quite capable of doing things that seem really absurd, illogical or foolish—you pick the word—and, at my age, foolishness can cause a lot of damage because there is less time to recover. So I should be more careful. Just that simple.
The world is full of people who want to vent but do not actually want to change; they just want to complain. And I think I’ve been on the listening end for most of them. Maybe it’s because I cannot stand to see someone in emotional pain. Maybe it’s because I have the ability to act like I care about their troubles. Maybe it’s because I am willing to share my own bad experiences to the extent I am trying to make a point. Maybe it’s because I can sometimes give good, gentle advice, like “don’t be so hard on yourself; give yourself the same compassion you would give to others.” Whatever the reason, I become the person to whom they feel they can talk to about anything and everything. People seem to gravitate to me because I have this instinctive way of promoting trust, confidence and sincerity. Many of my friendships were begun in just this way.
Many of those same friendships ended because it wasn’t my advice in such great demand, it was my ear. To be precise, it was my ear that could be bent, my emotions twisted and my time wasted. Good advice was usually not the point of the conversation and the venting continued about the same issues over and over again with no improvement on the horizon. Just lots of bitching seemingly for the sake of talking out loud. Eventually I wouldn’t be able to stand it anymore. The relationship would then disintegrate into nothing and I was left totally exhausted and sometimes angry.
Well, I want to go on record by saying I am not like that. I do not intend to wring the last drop out of your emotions and then continue behaving in the same manner. I want to learn something from all this and I want to change. And I know change is possible. I’ve already made more changes than most people ever dream of. I’m a veritable end product of modern Interior re-Design.
If I could burn my life onto a DVD, it would make a great flick but I might be tempted to edit out all the undesirable scenes. But since I believe in total disclosure, I would have to keep it all in. And in telling you this story, I have to remember everything and I have to tell you everything. If I start skipping around and only revealing what I want you to know, there will be huge gaps and the gaps will create a sequence of events that doesn’t make much sense. Motivation will be missing and relevance will be thrown out the window.
Remember that. If someone starts telling you something about themselves and the story seems vague and the details begin to get sketchy and then you ask a few questions, you know, just for clarification and the more questions you ask the harder it is to understand the point of the story—well, that person really doesn’t want you to know the whole story. They may merely be looking for sympathy and be willing to use up your time and energy to get it. These are the kind of people I just told you about. They are a drain on your emotions and a colossal waste of your time. If it happens too often, you get sick and tired of it. Well, I’m not like that. I don’t want your sympathy and I’m willing to tell you the whole story, even the parts that make me look really stupid.