closing the book

Dear Facebook,

It isn’t you. It’s me.

Okay, maybe it’s both of us.

I joined six years ago, give or take a few months, because of a friend’s persistence in getting me to join during my time with Habitat. Since then, I broadcast my life, from leaving Baltimore, to this winter of my discontent in Chicago (with a hard time in California and three years in Fargo in between). We started off well, but things changed. You became a huge glorified yearbook with advertising and politics mixed in, and I became disillusioned, but like a relationship that lasted past its necessary end (something I know a lot about), I stayed.

I joined the ranks of Twitter, and Instagram, and found my people. People who had new things to say, and give, and offer, and show, without expecting much. I’ve made real, honest friends on other platforms. And while, at time of writing this, I have 635 Facebook friends, including family, I really only talk to a couple dozen of them, and I can get a hold of them elsewhere anyway.

I’ve realized how little time I actually spend with you anymore. It’s less than half-an-hour a day, and most of it is reading other people’s posts. I only post a few things now and then, and I’m more tame and low-key than I was once upon an election. You remember those days, don’t you? Of course you do.

So, It’s time for me to say goodbye. I know, you’ll say you’re sorry to see me go and some people will say I’ll be back because like a bad reality TV show, you’re an addiction of sorts. Not likely. Leaving you will give me more time to do what I need to do for myself. You bear too many memories I don’t want anymore, and it’s for the best that we go our separate ways.

A History of Anxiety

I have anxiety.

This does not just mean I’m stressed, or nervous, or worried. It’s a clinical diagnosis known as Anxiety Disorder. It came a year ago after I sought psychological counseling following an unexpectedly stressful change to my life. It does not mean I’m broken. What it does mean is that I’ve kept entirely too much pain, stress, and fear to myself, and it’s led to me being less than great at coping with hard, challenging, and uncomfortable times.

I internalize everything. Mistakes at work, arguments and disagreements, conversations with friends and family, and memories from long ago. On several occasions, words said or things done to me have stayed with me, and they have changed my programming. My brain immediately runs to worst case scenario in any unfavorable or uncomfortable situation.

My self-talk is often dangerous. I wonder if people hate me, if they do things to spite me, if I’m the target of bullying. The latter is somewhat logical, given that I dealt with bullying as a kid. The others are a result of the worst-case-scenario mentality I run to in tough times. I internalize things that go unsaid, and also things said and done that were unnecessary. I embarrass and scare easily, despite all evidence to the contrary. I put on a great show.

I am an introvert. What it means is that some people, known as extroverts, are extremely outgoing and draw energy from social situations, while introverts aren’t necessarily as outgoing in social situations (unless we’re comfortable with the people involved) and we expend energy in social situations and need to retreat into solitude to recharge.

My introversion and my anxiety do not coincide, but my introversion does not help in dealing with my anxiety. As a result, I attempt to connect with and become close with people like me, who understand me, and who care about me. Some of these people are extroverts, but they understand my design and do not push me into discomfort. Sometimes, I get too close, and the cycle begins again.

Some wounds don’t heal quite right. Others don’t heal at all. Every last one of us is damaged, haunted, by something or someone. Sometimes both. There are times when it takes everything we have just to hold it together.

We all carry dead weight. Ghosts of days long done. We want to let go, but we can’t, for reasons we don’t understand. We’re left with a pain that can be sharp and searing or dull and nagging, but it never goes away. Not completely. So we move forward, pulling extra weight that we don’t need.

We pass this pain, this extra weight, to the people we love, not because we think they deserve it, but because we feel like we deserve it, and there’s no clear way to stop the cycle. We become self-destructive, and hurt the people who want to help us.

We’re all fighting a hard battle, but can’t see beyond our own pain. We forget that we aren’t the only ones at war with ourselves. That’s why when somebody offers to help us carry our baggage, instead of ignoring the offer, we should take the help. Nobody has to struggle alone.

And sometimes, the only way to stop the pain is to build a divide, a chasm, between us and the source of the pain.

Some bridges are meant to be burned.

reinvention

Life is evolution. Things happen that cause us to change and become different people. Usually, these changes result in us becoming a better version of a previous self.

Over the past few months, I’ve gone from newly single and excited about the prospects of a new chance at living the life I want to being heavy and restrained by my own mistakes in judgment. My forward progress has become stagnation, and any evolution I experienced in the first few months of solitude has stopped. I allowed myself to fall back into old habits, and I let my solitude become loneliness. I started running again and haven’t done it in over a month. I don’t write anymore, barely cook, and don’t feel the presence of friends that I felt in the first few months. Basically, I’m lost.

I’m considering several changes in my life, from a new job to furthering my education, and even moving to a new city. But the first thing I need to do is go back to the fork in the road where I left my forward trajectory, and recapture the momentum I felt in the winter.

I’m repurposing this blog. I usually use it to talk about current events and politics, and the occasional life event. From now on, it will be documentation of my forward movement, and it will hold true to its name. I will follow no roads but my own.

the great divide

I was going to write something touchy-feely about what happened yesterday in Boston, and I don’t need to explain what happened at this point; the media has flooded our consciousness with new and old information, video of the explosion, and photos of the scene and the aftermath. There have been stories of incredible acts of kindness and generosity following the attacks, and stories of people returning from Boston, happy to be alive.

This isn’t going to be one of those posts.

The Onion, classically known as a satirical publication that sometimes acts as the newspaper version of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, published a story today that said a lot of what I’ve been thinking for years.

There are a lot of great people on this planet. Some of them are reading this. We pay a price for living on this beautiful planet with so many kind people. Sometimes, that price, as Patton Oswalt so elequently said yesterday on Facebook, is dealing with people with bad wiring. It seems we’re increasingly dealing with this.

Our era of history seems to be defined by incredible violence and crippling ignorance, when we have the resources and manpower to battle both of these plagues. And yet, here we are, staring into a chasm that keeps us from being closer to our potential. There are literally millions of people on this planet who wish others ill or dead, both in the US and elsewhere (and some of them are also reading this), simply because they’re different. Because “they” aren’t “us.” It is, and for centuries, has been, “Us Vs. Them.” And it doesn’t need to be.

We have the power, the talent, the manpower, the ability to change this. But we haven’t. So many of us cry out for unity, peace, harmony, conversation, understanding, etc. I’m one of them. But our cries fall on deaf ears because it’s “hippie talk.” We become complacent and say, “Things will change,” and “One day it’ll be better.” Look around. We exist in a reality where we are more divided than ever, and it shows. Politics, religion, nationalism all act as glaring examples.

I’ve given a name to our part of history, and it’s partially my perception of what’s happening around us, and partially a continued cry for unity:

The Great Divide.

Boston native Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All violence, all that is dreary and repels, is not power, but the absence of power.” We have the power to put a stop to all of it. Step away from preconception, from crowdsourced opinion, from media-induced delusion, and religion-directed obsession, and think for yourself. Become that which you desire in the world, and it will become reality. But only if you make it happen.

The alternative is, the void becomes greater. We become so divided, so far apart from each other, that we begin to misunderstand even our closest friends, and the random violence happening around us escalates. We’re better than that. We’re stronger than the divisions between us. There’s always been more that unites us than that which separates us, except what we’ve learned to believe and what we’re told to believe.

a matter of trust

A Chinese proverb says, “Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep.” My road has been proof of that. I’ve fallen into some pretty deep, dark holes along the way, and they’ve left me scarred, cynical, and frustrated. I’ve always had trouble putting things in my rearview. I hold onto days gone by for too long, no matter how bad they may have been, because I constantly ask “What if?” and it’s come to hold me back. I’d begun to doubt my own ability to make decisions and trust my own judgment in choosing who I wanted to join me as I traveled through life.

Trust is hard to earn and disappears in seconds. We all know this. I allowed a series of events in the past decade to damage my any ability to trust anyone, and even myself, and it’s damaged and even destroyed relationships and kept me from moving forward. But that’s over. The last few years have introduced me to some of the kindest and most decent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and until recently, I didn’t understand the gravity of their presence in my life.

I have no reason to remain skeptical and suspicious of people. If anything, I’ve learned who I can and cannot trust, or at least how to spot a trustworthy person. Most people mean us no harm. We’re all fighting a battle, and most of us fight fair. Some don’t, but they aren’t hard to spot. They’re the people who stand to gain from hurting those in the way, and find no reason to consider how their actions affect others.

There’s a fine line between “healthy skepticism” and self-centered distrust. I’d become a person who lived by “people are stupid” and “I hate people,” and neither of those are true. If anything, most people are smart but generally unaware of what the rest of us endure. It lies within our power to educate the people we encounter every day on how and why we struggle, and what we can do to lighten the load.

The past few months have been hard. Most of you know why. I’ve been forced to face, accept, and break the chains I allowed cold hearts to place on me. They’ll face the consequences in due time; it’s no longer necessary to bear that burden for them. It’s okay to trust everyone. Just don’t trust the darkness within.

the bloodletting

I’ve waited a few days to write this, so I could cool down and be less angry when I finally did it. Regardless of your political leanings or feelings on this subject, I’m gonna offend somebody. Fine. Be offended. But we all need to think long and hard about this.

There’s a subject that no politician seems to be willing to touch lately, for fear of alienating voters and causing an outcry. By now, we’ve heard of several mass shootings throughout the country (Aurora, the Sikh Temple, The Empire State Building), and the homicide numbers in Chicago are rising fast. To date, we’re at 1,200+ non-fatal shootings in the city, and 350+ homicides.

The consensus is that guns don’t kill people. People with guns kill people. And this is partially true. Guns don’t act on their own. Somebody has to pull the trigger and start the reaction to expel the bullets. But the idea that loosening restrictions and allowing more people to carry guns through concealed carry programs is, in my estimation, fuzzy logic.

Guns are designed, in their primary function, to kill. Guns came into being for defense purposes in the late 1200s in China, though its predecessor, the fire lance, can be traced to the late 900s. Since then, they have evolved to be more precise, dangerous, and damaging. Originally, only military and defense forces were allowed to have them due to lethality and danger to the general populace.

Until the creation of my least-favorite of the amendments in the US Constitution, the Second Amendment. It reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The amendment was originally written in time of war, during a time when it was young and still at risk of being dissolved by our former British masters. Jefferson wrote it to arm and authorize the formation of a domestic defense force, to protect against insurrection and invasion against outside forces.

Over the past two and a half centuries, it has evolved into a beating stick. One side of the argument uses the well-worn declaration, “You will take my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.” The other side decries guns and all actions related to them.

I write fiction. For years, I wrote about a man who came from a society in the distant future where poverty, hunger, and violence were nonexistent. His ancestors realized that fighting among themselves was not progress, and they cast off the ways that restrained their evolution as a culture. In their history books, they referred to our era of history as “The Bloodletting.” More violence per capita has occurred in the last 200 years than during any era of history, and it’s only getting worse. Our progress has to start somewhere.

These are my suggestions related to guns and violence. They will not be popular, and somebody will not agree with me, and that’s fine.

1. An immediate moratorium on the sale of guns over .22 caliber with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds, to anyone under the age of 30 with no previous record of purchasing a firearm. The only exception in this case is law enforcement personnel (because they are required to carry a backup, which the police force does not supply).

2. An immediate, sweeping ban on the sale of all assault weapons. Because, let’s face it, if the guy who shot up the movie theatre in Aurora can get a hold of one of these monsters, I can sure as hell go to a gun shop in the suburbs and buy an MP-5 with no trouble. These weapons are designed to wound and kill multiple people, and are, therefore, weapons of mass destruction.

3. A restriction on the sale of ammunition of guns over .25 caliber to one case every 90 days. Again, only law enforcement are exempt (because they have to buy their own ammo).

4. A thorough review and overhaul of this country’s mental health programs. The people who committed these mass shootings are clearly not mentally fit, and therefore should not be in possession of any firearm.

5. An immediate ban on the sale of any firearm of any kind to anyone with a criminal background, and especially to those with a history of violent crime. Any attempt by a violent criminal to purchase a firearm, or even possess a firearm, should result in immediate incarceration.

6. An immediate ban on the sale of any firearm of any kind to anyone with a history of mental illness.

7. An immediate cease-fire between all street gangs and organized crime syndicates.

8. Mandatory gun registration and education to any new buyers of handguns and hunting-style weapons such as rifles and shotguns.

9. A civilizing of our dialogue. An end to the blind screaming and yelling and divisive arguing. Because while it may not be bloody, it is still violence. Instead of just firing volleys of vitriol and hate, I suggest a moratorium. A conversation, calm, mature, and reasoned, must take its place.

In my personal opinion, no person, except military and law enforcement personnel, should possess a gun. They are dangerous, and in the wrong hands, deadly. We are supposed to be people living in an advanced society, and we are supposed to look out for each other. Over the past few decades, however, we have moved into a Darwinist mentality, which has led to increased violence, anger, ignorance, apathy, and hatred toward each other. We refuse to work together, which leads to divisiveness and exclusion. The arc of history is supposed to bend toward justice and progress. Lately, however, it’s bending the other way.

 

Stand together. Or fall apart.

the bucket list

I keep saying some place, or restaurant, or event is “on my bucket list,” but I’ve never actually written one. I’m going to compartmentalize this list into a few sections, since that’s how my brain works.

The Bucket List

Cities/Countries to Visit:

San Francisco, California

Key West, Florida

Austin, Texas

Livingston, Montana

Vancouver, British Columbia

Alaska and Hawaii

Lisbon, Portugal

Barcelona, Spain

Paris, France

Venice, Italy

Athens, Greece

Melbourne, Australia

Croatia

Beijing, China

Chengdu, China

Osaka, Japan

London

Ireland

Cuba

Restaurants:

Alinea, Chicago

Next, Chicago

Moto, Chicago

Calumet Fisheries, Chicago

Le Bernardin, New York

Per Se, New York

The French Laundry, Yountville, California

Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Minetta Tavern, New York

Babbo, New York

Shanghai 1930, San Francisco

Bali Hai, San Diego

Lola, Cleveland

Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue, Memphis

The Carolina Smokehouse, Cashiers, North Carolina

Ted’s Fry Bread, Mancos, Colorado

The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX

Willie Mae’s Scotch House, New Orleans

Antoine’s, New Orleans

Domilise’s, New Orleans

The Mexican Hat Lodge, Mexican Hat, UT

Norman’s, Key West

Tickets, Barcelona

St. John, London

Events to Attend:

A Presidential inauguration

A book signing for my own novel

The Woodward Dream Cruise

Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, Las Vegas

The Indianapolis 500

A U.S. Citizenship ceremony

People to Meet/Be in Close Proximity to:

A current or former U.S. President or world leader

Jim Harrison

Cormac McCarthy

B.B. King

Stephen King

Anthony Bourdain

Alton Brown

Various Life Events and Experiences:

Get married to the love of my life.

Drive Route 66 from Michigan and Adams in Chicago to The Santa Monica Pier.

The Olympic Games.

Write a bestseller.

Appear on late-night TV.

Meet a Celebrity Chef. (Dave Beran, Next)

Visit the St. James Gate Brewery, Dublin, Ireland.

Walk the Great Wall of China.

Visit Uluru (Ayers Rock in Australia’s Northern Territory).

Speak without a filter and without fear.

Stand at the top and bottom of the world.

The Great River Road.

(This list will continue to evolve with time and experience. Ideas and feedback are welcome.)