Hope Changes Everything

SONY DSC

In the aftermath of my wife leaving, sometimes I would sob like a small child.

I spent so many years not crying that I didn’t know I still could—not like that.

For reasons I still haven’t figured out, the trauma (Am I allowed to use that word—trauma?) of divorce rewired me emotionally and I became hyper-sensitive to emotional triggers.

Saying goodbye to my son was, by far, the biggest trigger.

I only see him 50-percent of the time now, my little six-year-old. I cried in front of his day care provider twice during those first couple weeks. I’d even get teary if some poignant father-son thing was happening on TV.

It was pathetic. But it was also real.

We lose things.

Loved ones.

Marriages.

Jobs.

And no one ever handed out the How to Deal with Major Life Trauma manual.

Near as I can tell, everyone just has to take it on the chin. Feel the shock and horribleness. Then make a comeback as a wiser, stronger person.

Throughout the healing process, one tool remains useful no matter which stage you’re in: Hope.

About a Girl

My friend’s divorce was finalized exactly one week before mine last summer.

His story is very similar to mine except he’s an infinitely better human being than me.

At the risk of sounding like I’m celebrating his divorce, it’s hard to put into words how helpful—emotionally and logistically—it is to have him going through the same healing process at the same time.

You swap stories about what went wrong in your relationships.

About healing.

About the ups and downs of dating after divorce.

There’s someone to play golf with. To have drinks with. To go out with in the absence of your partner.

He’s been an enormous blessing.

We’ve been walking this walk together, and I’ve had a front-row seat to his healing process, as he has mine.

He’s had an active dating life, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of his confidants. I hear all the stories. The good and the bad.

Like every person in human history, all those stories have (in varying degrees) unfortunate endings, right up until they don’t anymore.

Every couple that doesn’t marry or end up together forever ultimately has a sad story to tell.

I tried online dating just a couple months after my wife moved out because it was the only way I knew how to mitigate loneliness and balance what I perceived as unfairness that she seemed so happy while I felt so miserable.

It was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.

Even if online dating was a good idea (it’s not), I was this totally broken, imbalanced, barely sane freakazoid trying to convince women looking for a future husband that I was somehow a good choice to go out with.

It seems so much crazier now.

I was a total mess.

But today?

I’m not a total mess.

I have all kinds of problems. Plenty of life obstacles and self-esteem issues to work through. But I also know that I represent a pretty solid choice for anyone interested in a single 35-year-old with a child. And sooner or later, someone will make that choice.

The best part?

I don’t feel panicky about when that might happen. I’m comfortable in my own skin again. I’ve spent plenty of time alone these past 16 months. And you know what? There are worse things.

The day I realized that I was finally okay alone is the day I realized I might be ready to let someone in again.

Which is a big deal. Because a year ago, I was questioning whether that could ever happen again.

And under the right circumstances, I think maybe it can.

Hope.

I love the word “hope.” Always have. But I love it even more now, because when you feel totally broken, the only real reason to keep waking up every day is because you feel hopeful that things will get better. And of course, they will.

A couple weeks ago, my friend—the one going through the same process I am—had three dates in one week.

He told me about all three on our way to a recent concert. (Lord Huron, suckas. You better get on that.)

One was a total non-fit.

Another had a health condition that was a huge obstacle.

The third seemed… perfect. And still does.

Her name: Hope.

3,000 Miles Away

My son is vacationing with my ex-wife and her family on the East Coast this coming week.

I had to say goodbye to him this morning for what will be the longest time we have ever been, and hopefully ever will be, apart.

Early next week, I fly to Reno/Lake Tahoe for a work trip.

Logically, it doesn’t make sense that the geographic distance between my son and I over the coming 10 days should bear any relevance whatsoever.

But it does.

I’m somehow acutely aware of how far apart we’ll be. I didn’t have an easy time saying bye to him this morning.

But.

I didn’t break either. Not like I would have a year ago.

Tears welled. But none fell.

And I think that means I’m healing.

That everything’s going to be okay.

That I’m learning to accept that things are as they are.

As I was driving to work this morning, I passed a little church. One of those places that likes to put inspirational messages on their roadside sign.

This morning it read: “Hope changes everything.”

I thought about my friend. I’m really rooting for him. Hope.

I thought about how much differently I feel 16 months later. Hope.

And I smiled.

Hope changes everything.

Yes.

Yes it does.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Night I Almost Killed Someone

country road overpass

BANG!

The noise startled me.

I ran to my dining room window to investigate. Nothing seemed wrong.

I stepped outside to look around. The investigation didn’t take long.

A huge, bright orange paint splat was on my house, evidently from a drive-by paintball gun shooting. I wonder if it was those same cocks who chucked a raw egg at my front door a while back!

I didn’t know who it was. And I have no way of ever finding out.

Conventional wisdom suggests it was the work of unsavory teenagers. Dicks!

It was hard for me to understand why someone would arbitrarily choose my house to shoot. I don’t have any history in town. It would have been impossible for me to be an intentional target.

They just happened to be driving down my street, and they just happened to pull the trigger toward my house.

Simply chance doing what chance does.

I couldn’t believe someone could be so reckless, disrespectful and irresponsible!

Twenty Years Earlier

When I was 17, one of my older friends (20) was an assistant manager at a local Pizza Hut restaurant. He would “accidentally” put the wrong toppings on pizzas so they couldn’t be sold to customers and so that his friends (us) could have free pizza.

After 9 p.m., the restaurant would close and a few of us would often hang out to munch on pizza or breadsticks and drink pitchers of beer while the staff blasted loud rock music and cleaned the kitchen and dining room floor.

After my friend got off work, we would typically go cruising and flirt with random girls along a popular avenue for doing so.

But one night, we thought of something else to do first.

It may not still be this way today, but nearly 20 years ago, Pizza Hut and restaurants like it, would serve soft drinks from machines that mixed syrup and water.

The syrup came in very large, silver bags. When completely full, they were quite heavy.

When empty, the staff would throw them in the dumpster behind the building. But that night, someone had a “better” idea.

Kids Will Be Kids

My phone buzzed in my pocket when my neighbor Ryan who lives across the street sent me a text message.

“Do you know whose car that is parked in front of your house?”

“Yeah. It’s my mom’s. She’s visiting. Do you need me to move it?”

“No man. Someone broke through the driver’s side window.”

“Shit. Really? Okay. Thanks for the heads up.”

I told my mom what Ryan had just told me. We both went out to investigate. And sure enough, the window was broken, only it had exploded outward, not in toward the driver’s seat as one would expect if someone had smashed through it to steal something.

It didn’t take us long to spot the tiny bullet hole.

Not like a 9mm or anything. More like a small pellet from a powerful air rifle. I called the police to let them know. The officer agreed with my amateur crime-scene analysis. Vandals had shot through the driver’s side window with a pellet gun, and then the window exploded outward from the reverse pressure.

Probably teens.

They just happened to be driving down my street, and they just happened to pull the trigger toward my mom’s car window.

Simply chance doing what chance does.

I couldn’t believe someone could be so reckless, disrespectful and irresponsible!

Almost Involuntary Manslaughter

A couple of the guys filled up the empty soft drink syrup bag full of water. We were going to make the biggest water balloon imaginable and drop it from the highest place we could.

Four or five of us piled into a pickup truck with the huge, and now very heavy, syrup bladder full of water.

We drove just a little bit outside of town to a country-road overpass which sat above a highway.

This was going to be awesome.

Sometimes I wonder about the person driving that car.

Maybe it was a young kid like us. Or maybe someone’s mom or dad. Maybe there was a family in the car with a baby in the backseat.

It could have been anyone.

Travelling 60 or so miles per hour in the dead of night, any animal jumping out in front of the car could have made the driver lose control. Most alert drivers are at least moderately aware of that possibility in such locations.

But they almost never look up.

I don’t know who suggested we wait for a car to come. But everyone thought it was a good idea.

The plan WAS NOT to drop the heavy bag on top of a car travelling at high speeds. But we did think it would be funny to drop a large dark object in front of an oncoming car, giving them enough time to see it fall and explode on the road in front of them.

A hilarious joke!

We saw a set of headlights ahead. This is the one! Hurry!

“Go!” someone yelled and we all moved to pick up the large water-filled bladder and heave it over the short wall. We didn’t plan for the difficulty involved in maneuvering the heavy bag and it took us longer than we’d intended, but with so many people lifting and throwing, there was no way to stop it from happening.

The car was coming fast.

Our massive water balloon dropped over the side and exploded onto the highway below entirely too close to the oncoming vehicle. Some of us watched. Some of us ducked down behind the overpass wall.

Tires screeched.

We gritted our teeth, hearts racing, waiting for the crash.

But there was no crash.

The driver saved the car somehow. We ran to the other side of the overpass. We watched the car slowly inch forward, the driver trying to figure out what had just happened. We didn’t stick around to see what would happen next.

We jumped in the pickup and fled back to Pizza Hut.

To our cars.

Back to the avenue where girls were waiting to be flirted with and asked for their phone numbers.

Just kids being kids.

Just chance doing what chance does.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

couple fighting

Boys and girls grow up pretending to not like each other while playing together on schoolyard playgrounds.

The Boys vs. Girls theme runs strongly through the elementary school social culture.

Boys like blue.

Girls like pink.

Boys like Army guys.

Girls like Barbies.

Boys like playing sports.

Girls like playing dress-up.

When we’re children, we seem to confuse common interest with friendship. Boys are mean! Girls are silly!

We wanted to be accepted by our peers, so most of us tucked ourselves neatly into these stereotypical gender roles. As we aged, we watched what the older kids were doing and we paid attention to the boy-girl relationships playing out on television which helped us morph into whatever we are today.

In many cases, despite our obvious differences, men and women tend to like one another. Many of the decisions we make are centered around the idea of partnering up with, and having sex with, those we find most attractive.

A conversation that has happened on every park or playground in the history of mankind:

Male Friend 1: “Ooooooooohhhh! You like her!” *sings mocking song*

Male Friend 2: “No, I don’t!!! Girls are stupid!!!” (Even though he totally likes her.)

Then, the next time Male Friends 1 and 2 are with the girl, Male Friend 2 will make fun of her and be kind of mean to her to show off to his friend and demonstrate that he doesn’t “like” her. Also, because first and second graders don’t understand gallantry or charm, boys often resort to playful mocking as a means of flirting with the girls they do like.

This often continues into adulthood forever.

Mars vs. Venus

Men and women are DIFFERENT. Totally not the same make up and inner workings. I’m absolutely convinced the reason we have a 50-percent divorce rate is because so many men and women don’t take the time to learn HOW they’re different and what they can do to bridge those differences and overcome them.

Male friends make fun of one another. Just for fun. Because we like each other. Why? I don’t know. We. Just. Do.

All the time. Almost daily. Even the nicest of us sit around playfully mocking one another.

Doesn’t that make you feel bad, Matt!?!?

No. It doesn’t. Because most guys seem to innately understand that it is being done BECAUSE we are accepted as part of our social group. It is not a display of hate or rejection.

Whatever it is chemically or genetically that makes men do this, we also take into our opposite-sex relationships. And sometimes we do it to our spouses. Sometimes we do it to our female friends. We think it’s the same as when we do it to our guy friends because we’re often dense and thoughtless.

When the females in our lives take our verbal jabs as personal attacks and react emotionally, we get confused and assume they must be hormonal, crazy and imbalanced since everyone else seems totally cool about it.

“How can you treat me that way in front of your friends? Don’t you love me?”

“It was a JOKE! Of course I love you! I married you and would do anything for you.”

“Then please don’t be mean to me.”

“You’re overreacting. Why can’t you take a joke like everyone else? We were all laughing!”

I think I’ve had that conversation, or one just like it, dozens of times. You’ll notice there was no sincere and heartfelt apology in there to the offended party.

If I ever hurt the feelings of a stranger or one of my friends’ wives or girlfriends, I would have gone to great lengths to try to rectify the situation and make sure it never happened again.

I am guilty of thinking my wife was overly emotional. Of feeling like she misunderstood me and punished me based on false premises. I am guilty of not respecting the pain I caused. Of attempting to invalidate her feelings to avoid accepting responsibility. Of not sincerely apologizing for causing pain and never doing it again.

Most importantly?

Despite feeling like my wife was the most-important person in my life, I never demonstrated that in my day-to-day behavior.

I don’t think I can overstate the following: Many times, men have no idea they’re hurting and upsetting the women in their lives EVEN WHEN the women tell them so, because it makes absolutely no sense to the man that the thing that happened could have caused pain.

It makes men dense and stupid, sure.

BUT. It also oftentimes makes them innocent of INTENTIONALLY trying to inflict pain. I think shitty things done on accident should be handled differently than shitty things done on purpose.

However—how many times can she say it before it sinks in? How many times does she have to tell you before you’ll actually believe the words she’s saying?

At what point are you being willfully negligent?

One Wife’s Take

One of my female friends who is also going through separation and divorce married a shitty husband like me. Not a bad man. Just a guy who is bad at marriage.

Because I’ve heard so many stories about him, I knew he was the belitting-your-wife type.

The type of guy to not worry about facts in a debate. He’ll simply tear down and invalidate the person he’s debating in order to win. Even if it’s his wife and the mother of his children.

I asked her to give me some examples of things he would do to make her feel stupid and invalidated.

She wrote this:

My family is all sitting around the brunch table. We are talkers—philosophers and theologians and writers. We discuss politics, theories and ideas. My husband doesn’t like this. He finds our discussion annoying and refuses to enter in the conversation. The truth is—he probably isn’t capable intellectually but that’s okay. No one is pushing him. As the topic rolls around to the inevitable “Why are we here?”-type questions, he starts to roll his eyes. But I love this part of debate and get excited to speak. As I’m explaining my thoughts to my family, he cuts me off. “Isn’t she hilarious?” he mocks. (I’m instantly furious that he addresses me as “she” but let it slide.) He continues: “I try to tell her there isn’t some big, grand life to be lived… ha ha ha. She has so many ideas about fulfillment and striving for some greater good! Ha! This is it, hon. This is your life! There isn’t some great thing out there you’re missing out on! Ha ha ha!”

My whole family stares at him… Did he really just belittle me like that in front of everyone? Yes. Yes he did. No one knew what to say. He’d done it so many times before but never this blatantly.

Some men think it’s a joke. To tease, mock, belittle, make fun of their wives in front of others. It’s not funny. In fact… it makes women feel so so so worthless and lonely and stupid. It made me feel like that, anyway.

To feed into stereotypes that women nag, are bossy, spend money irresponsibly, are sex objects, are only good for cooking/cleaning, etc… to feed into that is to erode the heart of who a woman truly is.

Things that can be said include:

“Well, I’ll have to check with the boss before I can let you know.” (Meaning the wife is in charge of him and all he does… probably somewhat true because she has to be his mother.)

“Did you spend all my money at the store today?” (All his friends laugh like I’m some bimbo-shopping wife. WTF? It’s our money and I am the only financially responsible person here!)

“I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. She wouldn’t let me! Ha ha.” (Nag implications)

“Why would I pay for her to go to law school? She already has her hands full with the house and the kids! How on earth do you think you could pull all that off, honey?? She gets too ambitious. Ha ha!!” (Implying that 1, the money is all his again, and 2, I’m stupid for even thinking I could accomplish such a thing.)

I really think men who get their kicks from saying these types of things actually aren’t joking all that much. I think, to a certain extent, they truly believe this. And I think that is why it takes away from who their wife or girlfriend really is. If one is so wrapped up in thoughts like this… are they even thinking about the real, live woman in front of them? Who is she really? Do they even know? Chances are she doesn’t think it’s funny to joke like this. BUT, then again, chances are he doesn’t even know that.

What If?

What would it look and feel like if every single day you treated your wife like you did when you first met her and you might not have tomorrow together? What would it look and feel like if someone bad was going to come hurt her or take her away—UNLESS you treat her with the deepest respect and kindness and thoughtfulness possible?

Would she ever nag you?

Bitch about you to her friends?

Make you feel ashamed or disrespected?

Would she ever tell you you’re not good enough? If you gave it your actual best effort?

We spend so much time reacting and responding to others rather than going first. Rather than being the example.

I think maybe if everyone treated their partners (and maybe others) with love and kindness without the expectation of receiving it return, that the world would change overnight.

There are a bunch of us out here who already learned things the hard way or figured it out on our own: Don’t act like a bag of dicks.

And if you, Shitty Husband, figure it out soon enough, she won’t leave you to be with one of us.

You’re a man. Strong. Logical. A skilled problem solver.

So I know you can do it.

And I’ll continue to root for you.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Misunderstood: The Rule of Thirds

Billions. More people than we can even imagine. And, given the opportunity, they will love you. We should focus on them.

Billions. More people than we can even imagine. And, given the opportunity, they will love you. We should focus on them.

My younger sister, a talented musician and vocalist, is afraid to write and share original music because she’s afraid of rejection.

“What if people think it’s bad?” she said, when I pressed her on why she’s not writing new material.

A Grammy-winning musician who teaches at the university she planned to attend after high school was making promises to her.

He was going to assemble the finest musicians he knew to play her music in studio.

He was going to get her studio time in Los Angeles and a record deal.

He was going to do all kinds of things for her.

Open doors. Grant opportunity.

But then he didn’t. He didn’t do any of the things he said he was going to do. And now my sister feels like she failed. Because the gatekeeper didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Because she’s waiting for permission to create her art.

“You don’t need permission to make what you love,” I told her. “Make it and share it. Good art will always be found and shared.”

You can see the doubt. The fear.

It’s the same look I have when I make excuses for… anything. It’s because I’m afraid too. It’s because I don’t know whether I’m good enough.

At writing. At work. At being a father. At being someone’s romantic partner.

“Have you heard of the Rule of Thirds?” I asked her.

She hadn’t.

As I explained it, I realized that the Rule of Thirds applies to more than just art.

That all of us are misunderstood. By someone. By our partners. By our parents. By our children. By our friends. By our co-workers. By our supporters. By our critics.

We Are All Misunderstood

By someone.

It’s because we’re the only species of which I’m aware in which two of us can look at the exact same thing and describe it completely differently.

Did she leave him for someone else? Or did he drive her into the arms of another?

Is that same-sex couple’s union an abomination? Or an example of love and courage in its purest form?

Was that deadly attack an act of terrorism—of pure evil? Or an instance of patriotism and the pursuit of justice?

Sometimes it can be as simple as words on a page. One sentence.

Without visual cues. Without tone of voice. Without knowing how the other person felt when they wrote the sentence, we apply how we’re feeling in a particular moment to fill in the knowledge gap. To apply meaning (that’s probably only correct a third of the time) to the sentence.

Relationships break over this type of misunderstanding all the time.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule exists to help artists understand and deal with criticism, but I really think we all need it as people to understand that the world does not see us as we see ourselves. Sometimes, that’s good. Othertimes, it’s bad.

Here’s the rule:

With anything you do or create, one third of people will love it (or you); one third will hate it (or you), and the remaining third won’t care at all.

This is an idea worth embracing, because there are a lot of people out there like me who aren’t very thick-skinned and who have an unhealthy desire to be liked and accepted by everyone.

I might get 40 nice comments on a post, but once in a while someone will let me have it, and I tend to focus on, and feel shitty about, that one comment. Should I ever expand beyond the WordPress bubble, I imagine this will get infinitely worse.

Most people I meet and know seem to like me. Maybe they mean it. Maybe they are being fake. I guess I don’t care as long as they don’t make me feel bad.

But there are others who clearly don’t like me.

Why does this person over here think I’m so nice and makes me feel cared for and respected, while this other person makes me feel like the lowest form of pond scum imaginable?

There are people who think I’m a shitty writer.

Why do these people over here think I’m special and talented while these other people think I’m worthless?

Should we spend our time trying to convince all the people who don’t like, respect or appreciate us, that they’re wrong?

That seems like a colossal waste of energy.

Because the truth is that one third of people are always going to think you suck. Let them.

Another third won’t pay any attention at all. I don’t pay attention to all kinds of things. How can I fault them for that?

Then there’s that last group.

The people who save our lives.

Make Things For One Person (Or 2.4 Billion)

In your artistic pursuits, everyone has one raving fan.

In your life, you have the equivalent of that.

So, maybe we need to be making things for that person. Living for that person.

Maybe we should be making things for the third in our corner. Maybe we should be living for those people.

There are people in my life who think I walk on water. People who tell me I’m their favorite writer. People who think I’m smart and kind and worth something.

Why not live for them? Why not write for them?

People will doubt us. Hate us. Tell us that we think, feel and do things that we actually do not think, feel or do.

People will tell us we’re bad.

That our work has no merit.

That we’re not good enough.

That our honest efforts toward love, friendship, and living a life geared toward constant improvement is something else entirely. That it’s dishonest. That it’s selfish.

We all have critics. Sometimes, harsh ones.

People who will never change their minds. Because they won’t. Or because they can’t.

The results are the same either way.

I know I can’t please everyone. Even people I really want to.

My best isn’t good enough.

It never will be.

And that’s just going to have to be okay.

There are about 7.25 billion people on this planet. One third of them are going to think I’m a stupid asshole. One third of them will never, ever care, no matter what I’m doing.

But that last third?

They’re going to love me.

They’re going to love you.

That’s 2.4 billion people.

People who will think you’re amazing just the way you are.

People who believe we’re more than what we think we are.

Wow. 2.4 billion.

That’s a lot of people to reach.

We better get started.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Missing Motivation

MotivationPeople think I’m a good person, but really I’m not.

I don’t mean that I’m bad, like I hurt people and do evil things.

I mean I’m bad, like, I’m bad at being a person. I even say that a lot which probably doesn’t help because we tend to be whatever we say and think we are.

And that right there is exactly my point. Exactly.

For the most part, I know precisely what I could be doing to make my life better.

While some people fumble through life because they’re ignorant and lack resources and support and education, I’m a different animal entirely.

I’m reasonably well-informed about many things and am a huge proponent of “best practices” in every imaginable area of life.

I’m always spouting examples while standing on soapboxes because I can talk a big game when I don’t actually have to put in any work or suffer the consequences of being wrong.

I’m always wondering why the City of Cleveland can’t take cues from Chicago as to how to properly develop lakefront property.

I’m always wondering why the American education system can’t take cues from all of the other countries with vastly superior academic (and economic) results and borrow all of the good ideas and put them into practice here.

In other words, for almost every imaginable subject, someone has taken the time to figure out a really effective way of doing something.

And it’s almost always in a book or on the internet. And if it’s not? Great! That means there’s a huge opportunity there to fill that content gap and help other people solve problems or excel in that particular niche.

Almost always in 2014, the information is there. Someone really smart has figured out a really effective way to overcome <insert random problem here> and now you can benefit from their trial-and-error and do things with better results than flying blind.

So, what’s my excuse?

The Table Analogy

I love the table analogy because it’s so easy to visualize and understand.

Your life is like a table.

Your life’s foundation has four pillars—like legs on a table. Not only do the legs need to be long enough, strong enough, and sturdy enough. But they also must all be equally balanced, or else your life is going to wobble and be shitty and annoying and you’re going to have to temporarily wedge a piece of junk under the short leg to stay level and functional.

Everything good and bad in life ultimately comes down to health. If you’re not healthy, nothing else matters. It’s a lesson you don’t learn until you’re unhealthy or are close to someone who becomes sick or injured.

Problems at work and in your relationships and with money stop mattering when you think you might die.

The four legs: 

Mental health (Read, talk, think, learn)

Physical health (Good overall health, physical fitness)

Spiritual health (Peace, gratitude, forgiveness)

Emotional health (Love yourself, balance in your meaningful relationships)

People think they want money. Love (even though many people are merely craving feelings of infatuation and lust). Success, in whatever ways they define it in their individual pursuits.

I submit that those things are nice and are inevitable byproducts of succeeding in balancing their life table.

People really just want contentment.

Happiness.

The world could be blowing up around us, and if we had enough dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel happy) rocking our brains, everything would seem great.

I know these things.

I know that if I take steps to exercise my mind. To bring my body to maximum health and peak performance. To achieve spiritual peace. And find emotional equilibrium in my various relationships.

That I will feel something akin to happiness. To peace. To contentment. To balance.

So, what am I waiting for?

The Things that Motivate Us

I think it’s different for everyone.

I cleaned and (sort of) organized my home office desk for the first time since April 2013 yesterday because I’m going to have some family visiting for the rest of the week and it was getting embarrassing.

I like to exercise my mind to have things to think about, talk about and write about.

I like to be physically fit so girls won’t think I’m ugly.

I like to be spiritually balanced because it makes me feel safer and stronger.

I like to be emotionally level because I never knew what it was like to NOT feel that way until a couple years ago, and it totally jacked me up and I haven’t been the same since.

When I was married, I did almost everything for my wife, and later, for my wife and son.

She probably doesn’t know that.

She probably doesn’t realize that almost every single thing I did for the 12-plus years we were together, was because we were together.

Sure, I did some shitty, selfish things. The kind of things I do now just because there’s no one around to convince me otherwise.

I wanted to be smart because I wanted her to be proud of me.

I wanted to look good so she would like to be seen in public together and not be disgusted in bed with me.

I wanted to be spiritually whole so that she could have a spiritual partner and anchor as we dealt with life’s ups and downs together.

I was emotionally level, naturally. It’s REALLY shocking when that goes away for the first time and you don’t know what that looks or feels like.

When your partner leaves, all that motivation—all that purpose for existing—goes away, too.

And it can really jack you up when you’re wired like me.

I talk a big game. A big game about self improvement and who I want to be and how I’m always working hard to be that guy.

But, really?

I’m not.

I’m not working hard.

I’m being lazy. I’m letting depression (if that’s what it is—I don’t feel sad, I just feel nothing) win. And then I’m sitting around asking rhetorical questions about why I still feel a bit shitty all these months later.

Surprise, asshole. It’s not magic.

It’s not.

It’s not magic.

Happiness, if that’s a word you’re comfortable using, is not a destination. So many people think that if X, Y and Z happen, then they will finally be happy. You know, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

I love to talk about pursuing happiness. And I do, symbolically, feel like that’s what we all should be doing. That the primary goal of our lives is to BE and FEEL happy and then help everyone around us be and feel the same.

But the truth is, happiness isn’t a place.

Happiness isn’t a destination.

Rather, happiness is a path. A state of being.

Like love, it’s something we choose. Today. Right this second.

“I’m happy.”

Maybe you don’t feel happy. I don’t. But maybe that’s because I don’t act grateful. Maybe that’s because I don’t exercise my mind and work harder to achieve my goals. Maybe that’s because I’m not in very good physical shape and it makes me feel physically and psychologically shittier than I could and should feel. Maybe that’s because I’m not living up to the spiritual ideals I profess to hold dear.

Maybe it’s because my table is totally wobbly and shitty.

Maybe if I did all those things, emotional balance would come.

And maybe if I got my life table balanced, all of the other things, like love and money would fall into place.

Maybe waiting around for something to happen is really just a life sentence of always waiting around for something to happen.

Doing what I’m doing? Not working.

So tomorrow we try something new.

But what if there is no tomorrow?

Right.

Okay.

Right now, we try something new.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Who Am I?

man in maskI glanced at the calendar.

The year is more than halfway over. That was fast.

Maybe my life is, too. I’m 35. Many men die before turning 70.

Uh-oh.

I look in the mirror.

Who are you?

I don’t know anymore. But I want to. Need to.

I think we go through a bit of an identity crisis after divorce. Maybe not everyone. Maybe just me.

For so long, I was Matt—husband, newspaper reporter, fun guy.

Then I was Matt—husband, dad, fun guy.

Now? Part-time father. Wannabe writer who doesn’t write.

The most-important lesson I learned in a decade of newspaper reporting—bar none—was that if you want to find answers, you need to ask the right questions.

I Am My Mother

My mom is the oldest of eight children—the first four of which were born in four consecutive years. Eighteen years separate my mom from her youngest sister, who is just four years older than me.

What does that do to a person? When they spend their entire childhood expected to help with all of the younger kids, and getting less than a year of undivided attention from their parents?

She grew up in a small farm town in Ohio. Less than 5,000 people. Everyone knew everyone. People have stopped me on the town streets to ask me which family member I belong to because my facial features resemble my uncles’.

Maybe that’s why mom moved far away after graduating high school. Escape.

About 500 miles from home.

That’s where she met my dad.

I Am My Father

My dad is the oldest of four children.

His father was an alcoholic and I think his mom was, too. She died just before I was born.

When my dad and his siblings were children, their mom started sleeping with the neighbor guy and their dad started sleeping with that guy’s wife. The two women switched houses and married one another’s husbands.

My dad once spent a night in jail after riding a wheelie on a motorcycle through his city’s downtown.

He’s a high school dropout who smoked a lot of pot, and drank and partied often. He joined the U.S. Navy as a teenager and traveled the world for four years.

Mom left him when I was 4. Probably because he smoked a lot of pot, and drank and partied often.

Are We Our Parents?

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with both of your parents together. I vaguely remember one Christmas with mom and dad. And I remember the day of my parents’ custody hearing which would determine which parent I was going to live with nine months out of the year 500 miles away from the other.

Maybe when you live with both of your parents at the same time and observe them, it’s easier to identify the bits of you that come from your mom versus the other parts that make you like your dad.

My mother was a domineering wife and overprotective parent that had me craving freedom in ways that always had me at friends’ houses. It caused hurt feelings for my mom because I would avoid bringing friends around. Mom didn’t know who I was.

My father (and the closest thing to a hero I ever had) spoiled me because he only saw me two and a half months out of the year and seemed to walk on water because he was the dad I was constantly being deprived of seeing, even though that’s unfair to my mom and a romanticized version of the truth.

Mom remarried right away and committed to making my entire childhood the best and safest and most-nurturing she could. She’s a deeply religious woman, and her only priority is that I get to heaven after I die.

Dad filed for bankruptcy after my mom left and took me far away to Ohio. He kept partying and grinding at work.

Today, my mom is on her third marriage and struggles financially.

My father eventually bought the company he worked for and is now a well-deserving member of the 1%.

He was committed to helping me become the smartest, most-financially successful adult I could be.

Both of my parents are kind and decent people.

Both would go to the ends of the Earth for me.

Both, in very different ways, are great examples of what it means to love.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I don’t have brothers and sisters like my mom and dad.

I am—biologically—an only child, with two stepsisters about my age and a half-sister born when I was in high school. I love all three. But we have very non-traditional sibling relationships.

And I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know what that makes me.

Want good answers? Ask good questions.

Who am I?

I don’t know.

Single? Divorced? Father? Who makes bad decisions?

Aren’t we whoever we choose to be?

Yes.

Who do I choose to be?

Someone kind. Someone fun. A good father. A writer.

Aren’t we defined by what we do?

Yeah.

Am I kind?

I really do try.

Am I fun?

I really do try.

Am I a good father?

I really do try.

Am I a writer?

*shrug*

Today, I am.

*Publish*

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Gray Area

gray area

I prefer things to be black and white.

Good or bad.

Right or wrong.

When there are choices to be made, life is much easier when common sense dictates the best course of action.

I believe I have a good sense of what to do in those situations. Sometimes I choose the wrong thing because of selfishness or fear or pleasure or impatience or a full moon.

But it tends to be me knowing something is wrong and doing it anyway. I can live with that.

Something is often black. Or white. And I can usually tell the difference.

Then there is all the stuff in between.

The gray area.

All Bottled Up

I am firmly entrenched in the gray area.

For several months, I was publishing a thousand words a day here. I almost never missed.

I always had something to say because I wasn’t afraid to write exactly what was happening and how I felt about it.

It mattered because other people got it. Other people have shitty, broken relationships and feel hopeless, too.

It’s important to know you’re not alone.

It’s important to see how other people deal with things so you can copy them when they get it right, and do the opposite when they don’t.

I felt a strong calling to do just that.

To do stuff. To feel. And write it all down.

To write mostly fearlessly. So what, I’m scared? So what, I was having trouble dating? So what, I don’t know what to do with my life?

My wife left and my life exploded into chaos that affected me emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially.

I was fucking pissed. You know, when I wasn’t crying or drinking. And I told you all about it.

And it felt good.

Because I’m so damn scared all the time. Here in my real life. In this body. When I can’t sleep at night. When I’m indulging in self-loathing. And doubt.

What am I doing? Why?

I’m trying so hard to determine what it is that really matters to me. And what doesn’t.

I’ve spent the past 13 years living for other people. Poorly, at times. But for other people.

And so much of that purpose went away when my family broke.

It’s just my son now.

What’s best for him?

Is it ultimately a well-balanced and happy father?

Is that the best gift I can give him?

What does that even look like?

I haven’t been able to write because I can’t write honestly without hurting or exposing people.

The truth affects my personal life in profound ways.

I’m dying to tell you.

All of it. Everything.

And not even for you. But for me. Because this is the best way I know how to work through things. To find myself hiding amidst all the shit and chaos swirling around inside me.

What matters most?

My personal, social, professional and spiritual life is at stake as I sort through the mess. Picking up the things I need to keep close to me. And tossing aside the things I need to protect myself from.

The Search for Black and White

I don’t have a preference. Things can just be whatever they are.

Black.

White.

No judgment.

I just want to be able to see them. Identify them. Know what I’m dealing with. So I can move forward with confidence and choose the right path.

It doesn’t have to look safe.

It doesn’t have to look familiar.

It doesn’t have to look easy.

But they can’t all look the same.

Maybe there are clues.

Perhaps little things hidden among all the gray.

The universe tends to be constantly balancing both sides of the equals sign in our lives.

I was so sad and angry and broken a year ago.

And now I’m not.

Now I’m not really anything.

The opposite of sad is happy. I’m not that.

The opposite of angry is peaceful. I’m not that.

The opposite of broken is whole. And I’m not that either.

I’m somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in the gray area facing major decisions that have no obvious answers.

No blacks or whites or colors of any kind.

Just gray.

Just uncertainty.

What Do I Know?

I know finding spiritual peace, emotional balance, overall good physical and financial health and social connectivity would seem to be the obvious pillars on which to rebuild the foundation of my life.

So with every choice, I need to ask myself what moves me closer to those things.

I read something from my favorite writer James Altucher yesterday.

Sometimes you read or hear things that speak to your soul. That make you feel like the words were meant just for you. Altucher often does that for me.

And I think I’m going to take his advice on this one.

From “How To Go Out At The Top”:

“At every fork in the road you have a choice. This is what I try to do now: I ask, ‘which choice makes me feel better?’

“Then I don’t think about it. Thoughts are too biased by evolution, society, our past, our neuroses. My only job is to ask the question.

“Then I take a breath. Maybe more. What’s my heart say? What’s my stomach say? Eventually, if I’m healthy in other ways, my body will tell me the answer. (maybe this sounds corny, but it’s what I do)…

“Choose the path at the fork where your heart goes on fire. Go down that path.

“Don’t look back.”

Okay, James.

We’ll try it your way.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

One Year Later, Vol. 2

You don't have to be tall to stand tall.

You don’t have to be tall to stand tall.

I’m back in Illinois, where my father lives and where I typically visit twice a year to catch up with family and friends I rarely see since I live in Ohio.

One year ago, I brought my young son on this Fourth of July trip with me—the first time we made a father-son trip together after his mom and I stopped living together.

One year ago, I sat poolside, day drinking a little and reflecting on my life.

Terrified.

No sense of direction.

No idea what might happen next.

I only knew that my life had unexpectedly changed forever and I needed to deal with it. Getting away from my house and immersing myself in family had a profound impact on me.

This blog was less than a month old. My fingers were still learning this dance. My mind still trying to wrap its way around the words needing written and the life needing lived.

I had been so sad and so angry for the three months since she left.

Here I found peace. Not inner peace. But outer peace. In this place. Plush, green, open acreage.

A bunch of important things collided.

Love and support from family.

The realization that I had what it takes to care for my son alone.

A healthy change of scenery from the bleakness that was my now-empty home.

And the words were working their way out from me for the first time. What will come out next? From this place deep down inside. I was coaxing things out I didn’t know were in there.

I was mostly screaming with the keyboard. Crying and blaming and finger pointing.

I needed to do it. I needed to be mad and throw a tantrum. There’s still a child in here angry at the unfairness of his own parents’ split three decades earlier. My own divorce pulled all that anger and sadness to the surface.

From day one, writing here has felt like being on the proverbial couch. Divulging all that festers inside. Occasionally turning myself inside out and letting people see the ugly.

From where I sit now, I see the poolside table and chair where I sat a year ago and wrote An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

It’s not particularly well written. But people liked it. People like when others accept responsibility for their lot in life.

Up until that post, I hadn’t done any of that.

Up until that post, I had been a victim.

When you accept responsibility, you become empowered.

And that’s the day I became empowered as a writer. That’s the day I gave myself a real chance to contribute something positive. To turn a selfish exercise into an unselfish one.

Is There a Point to All This?

I hope so.

I hope there is a percentage of people out there who have gotten to know me throughout this process. Who have watched—for lack of a better term—a metamorphosis. From me spazzing and freaking out. To whatever this is now.

Maybe I’ve earned a smidge of credibility with some of you whose broken hearts are healing. From people who felt cheated. Or abandoned. Or broken. Because the person you loved and trusted most made choices that made you question everything you ever believed about them and yourself.

Fear and anxiety keep you from living when you lose yourself. When you don’t know where “you” went.

You remember being a certain way. And now you’re not that way.

You remember feeling good. And now you don’t feel good.

You remember having confidence as your life progressed in ways you expected and that made sense to you. And now you’re not confident. Now all your plans and dreams are derailed.

You’re in mental, spiritual and emotional limbo. And you’ll stay right there until you’re not anymore.

I Think I’m Back

I’ll never be like I used to be. I’m forever changed. Hopefully for the better.

But I’m me again.

I was in agony. I was terrified. I was crying.

And now I’m not.

I faked hopefulness.

And now I have it for real.

I felt broken and shitty. Every single second I was awake.

And now I feel stitched together and somewhat whole. I don’t feel shitty.

Everything is going to be okay.

One year later, I can measure progress.

One year later, I can see and feel change.

One year later, I know that no matter what happens next, I can handle it.

I’m going to spend the next couple days thinking about what I did and about the things I think helped me along the way in case you feel like you’re dying. Like you need something—anything—to hold onto. And maybe some of the things that worked for me can work for you.

Maybe the calendar can be a tool. Maybe time can be your friend. Maybe you don’t have to feel like you’re doing this alone.

I think maybe it’s okay to not know what’s going to happen today.

As long as you give it every chance to be better than yesterday.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Truth Hurts

Artwork by awesumbananas at Deviant Art.

Artwork by awesumbananas at Deviant Art.

When I’m afraid, I practice avoidance.

Ooohhh. This is gonna suck. Maybe I’ll just wait ‘til tomorrow.

And then the next day, and the next day and the next day. I’ll tend to the scary thing when it becomes an emergency or life circumstances prevent me from further avoidance.

It’s because sometimes the truth hurts.

Our Lives are the Sum of our Choices

It hurts when we realize we’re not particularly happy with our lives.

It’s something the less fortunate among us figure out at some point in adulthood. Because being a kid was better. And maybe back when we were all living in villages and foraging and running from wild animals, adults didn’t one day feel shock and awe like they just unplugged from The Matrix—like the wool had been pulled over their eyes all their lives.

Maybe those people always had proper perspective. Maybe they never took anything for granted.

But we do.

Because so many of us grow up protected from and sheltered from the real world. We are insulated from the horrors on television news. From the drama and dysfunction adults create in their relationships. From self-induced heartache.

And then we learn there’s no Santa.

And then we learn “freedom” and adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That all those oppressive rules while living under our parents’ roof weren’t so shitty after all.

And then we learn that life isn’t fair.

And then we start to see how stubbornness, pride, selfishness and foolish choices all add up over the years. And on the other side of the equals sign? We’re left with our reflection in the mirror. With our bank statements. With the state of our human relationships. With whatever our lives have left us of our psychological, emotional and spiritual health.

Nobody did it to you.

Nobody did it to me.

We did it.

I did it.

A bunch of little things. You start adding ones together enough times, you end up with a huge number.

A huge pile of shit. A huge pile of shit you financed, designed and built, and you didn’t even realize you were doing it until it was too big to ignore anymore.

The truth hurts.

Dating After Divorce

It’s predominantly a horrible experience.

I was married nine years and in a monogamous relationship with my ex-wife even longer. Basically, my entire adulthood. I didn’t even know how to be an adult without her.

Then one day, she left.

Even with the writing on the wall, it still takes your breath away.

I’m alone.

You take stock of your life.

You’re in your mid-thirties. You’re very middle class. You have a son you only get to see half the time. And you’re all jacked up mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Physically, you don’t look or feel 20 anymore.

You start out blaming the other person. Then God or the Universe or whatever thing you blame when life sucks. Why me!?

Then you discover you don’t want to be a whiny bitch who points fingers and blames everyone else for their problems.

You start asking difficult questions. The answers make you squirm. Because you have an epiphany of sorts: it’s no one’s fault but yours that you’re where you are.

You were a subpar husband. And she left. That’s not even rare.

You’re middle class because you don’t manage your money very well and because you didn’t work as hard as other people who have managed to create wealth and opportunity for themselves.

You’re a dad to a child of divorce because you failed at your most-important job.

The truth hurts.

No one wants to date that guy.

And it’s scary at first because it feels like no one is ever going to want you again.

But the clock ticks.

The calendar flips.

Your heart heals. Not all the way. But enough.

You stop hiding from the world. You start living again.

And you’re out there. Living. Doing things. Being among people. And the law of averages takes effect.

You meet people.

But it’s not like when you were kids. When you were kids, the stakes were low. People could just hang out. Make out. Test and try. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t as young people should. To learn important things about themselves and relationship dynamics and the human experience.

It’s not like that when you’re thirtysomething and divorced with children.

The stakes are high now.

I wanted to date. Because I was lonely. I had never in my life known loneliness until after divorce. Friends tried to help locally. Female friends from afar tried to help electronically.

First, I met the jewelry store girl. She was my first date. It was a big step.

Later, I met a single parent with children who are friends with my son at school. On the surface, it seemed ideal.

No one wanted anything serious. There were children involved. And they come first. And frankly, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to make promises to anyone.

I’m still not.

I didn’t think there was any chance she and I would ever be anything.

She wasn’t much of a social drinker. She didn’t like the same foods I did. And her schedule, combined with our mutual unwillingness to involve children, prevented us from seeing one another more than about once a week.

And that’s what we did. We had an honest, respectful relationship where we didn’t see much of one another. And that was okay with everyone.

But because adults are foolish and ignorant just like kids, everyone thought it was possible to just carry on unsustainably as if everything would work itself out on its own. And because I’m foolish and ignorant, I practiced avoiding the truth.

That there could be no happy ending.

Some things have come up recently in my personal life. Maybe I’ll eventually write about it. I can’t be sure. But some major life decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks and months.

I had to tell my friend about those things today after putting it off for a couple days.

She has made the decision to not see or speak to me moving forward.

She has been nothing but kind to me. Extremely thoughtful. Exceptionally sweet. During one of the most-challenging periods of my life, she has done as much as anyone to lift me up. To make me feel like me again.

And she got her feelings hurt by doing absolutely nothing wrong.

She got her feelings hurt because dating after divorce is a messy proposition.

She got her feelings hurt because I chose honesty even though it felt inconvenient.

Because I want honesty to be a bigger part of my life moving forward.

She’s going to make someone very happy one day.

It will be at the expense of an important friendship I’d made in this unexpected life. And that’s a sad story.

Life is not fair.

I brought this on myself.

The truth hurts.

Tagged , , , , ,

One Year Later

It's remarkable how one year can seem so long and so fast all at the same time.

It’s remarkable how one year can seem so long and so fast all at the same time.

A year ago, I was crying at least once a week.

Drinking all the time, because distracted fun was the only way I knew how to not think about it.

Terrified, because I was online dating (even though I wasn’t ready) and no one was interested, confirming my worst fears of dying sad and alone.

Everything had been going according to plan for nearly 30 years.

Grade school.

High school.

College.

Gainful employment.

Engagement.

Marriage.

A child.

Then 30.

Then fuck you, Matt, now you’re going to see how good you really had it.

I lost a job.

We lost her father.

Our marriage fell apart.

We spent more than a year sleeping in separate bedrooms.

She left.

And then everything inside me just broke.

Despite my parents’ divorce at a young age and being 500 miles away from one or the other every waking moment, and despite never having any money, it turns out I lived a VERY charmed life for my first three decades.

I had never experienced misery. True misery. You hear about broken hearts in books and movies and in whiny Facebook posts, but you don’t really know what that means until your insides break.

It’s spiritual, almost. And it pierces the soul. And there’s no medicine for the unreachable wound. You just sit there and bleed without the benefit of a merciful death. You simply hurt until you don’t anymore.

Everything in life had been going according to plan. Everything had happened, for the most part, exactly as I had mentally prepared for. I never knew failure until the job loss. And that’s a pleasure cruise compared to what happens when the person you love and trust the most checks out and decides life with someone else, or alone (doesn’t matter, so long as it’s not with you!) looks better than what they have now.

Life becomes a book full of empty pages needing written but you’re all out of ink.

I am so afraid of all the things I don’t know or understand. I am so afraid of all the questions I don’t have answers for. I used to believe that everything would always be okay, because for most of my life, everything always ended up okay.

But then something didn’t. Something didn’t end up okay. The most-important thing.

And now I don’t know that everything is going to be okay anymore.

And sooner or later, I need to learn that THAT’s going to have to be okay. That NO ONE knows how things will turn out.

And then maybe I can start filling those blank pages again instead of just rummaging around for ink.

A Year of Blogging

So far, the best thing to come out of my failed marriage is this.

That won’t seem silly to all of you who are writers, but may seem so to everyone else. Writers need to write. But I was never interested in writing for the sake of writing. I always believed it was important to have something to say.

Must Be This Tall To Ride gave me a platform for writing about things that mattered to me. A place to divulge all that human-being stuff stirring around inside. Stuff that had to come out because it was killing me all bottled up.

When you start writing stories about real-life stuff, things start to happen. People get it.

Not everyone.

But enough.

And then they realize they’re not alone. And they say “Thank you.”

And then you realize you’re not alone. And you thank them.

Then people are grateful.

And people feel connected.

And so much good can come from those things that the process bears repeating over and over and over again.

On June 21, 2013, I was drinking vodka, or tequila, or beer, or all three, and hit publish on a weird, rambling post. It was a process (minus the drinking, for the most part!) that would, for many months, become an addiction.

Writing about the things I was thinking and feeling and experiencing became more than just important for me. It became therapy. And I needed every bit of it. I probably need more.

People feel like me.

We’re not alone.

There aren’t a lot of feelings more helpful during difficult moments than the realization that other people know and understand your particular brand of misery.

We’re now one year in, and despite hitting that blue Publish button more than 300 times, I’m not sure I’ve found a groove. I’m not sure I know who I am or even who I want to be as a writer.

I want to help, but people don’t want to be preached to.

I want to be funny, but I’m sort of sad and borderline-pathetic half the time, and afraid you won’t laugh the other.

I want to document the journey because I think it’s important for people going through similar life events to see what happens and doesn’t happen to me because sometimes that helps people in their own lives, and I’m pretty sure it helps me.

I want to organize my thoughts and feelings and experiences as I try to make sense of this unexpected life.

Everything was going along as it was supposed to.

Right up until it wasn’t anymore.

I suspect that’s how everyone’s life is, and you just don’t know it until life starts firing shots your way for the first time.

Run for your life.

One year later, I still hurt and I’m still sad. But not nearly as much.

One year later, I’m still hopeful and I still believe good things are coming for me. I just don’t know what that might look or feel like or how to get there.

One year later, I still love writing. And now I have a place for that to happen.

I’m 35 years old and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’m divorced.

I’m a father to a six-year-old boy.

I’m afraid of all the uncertainty. I’m afraid because of money. I’m afraid because I don’t know what tomorrow looks like on every conceivable level.

But I’m a little bit strong, too.

Because I took the punch and got back up.

Because only shitty things seem to happen and I still have hope.

Because I look around and see a whole bunch of darkness.

And I intend to be a light.

Be one, too.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,234 other followers