Monthly Archives: November 2013

How to Feel Grateful, Vol. 2

daily-gratitudeI’m on a never-ending pursuit of happiness.

You are, too. You might not realize that’s what you’re doing. But you are.

Our human instinct is to grab, and take, and capitalize, and steal, and stuff our pockets, and hoard.

Me, me, me.

How can I have more?

How can I benefit?

How can I feel the best?

Sometimes, I don’t have answers. Only questions.

But sometimes, I have answers.

Sometimes, I actually know what the hell I’m talking about.

How to Feel Happy

I titled this post “How to Feel Grateful, Vol. 2” (You can read Vol. 1 here—though it’s among my least-favorite posts), because gratitude is a prerequisite to happiness.

You will not feel the thing we label “happiness,” if you are not first grateful for all that you have.

And you have A LOT.

“Life is short, life is very short. I like life. I like it. I feel like even if it ends up being short, I got lucky to get—to have it, because life is an amazing gift when you think about what you get with a basic life. Not even a particularly lucky life, or a healthy life. If you have a life, it’s a—here is your boilerplate deal with life. This is basic cable, what you get, when you get life. You get to be on earth. First of all, oh my God, what a location.

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks. So bad! It’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth! I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhh. Every time I’m eating bacon I think, ‘I could die right now,’ and I mean it. That’s how good life is.” – Louis CK

Here’s how to feel happy:

1. Love yourself.

2. Give more than you take.

a. Give more than you take in your human relationships. Do the little things. Say nice things. Don’t say mean things. Apologize. Say “Thank you.” Say “I love you.” When you feel like you’re getting more than you’re giving, you should work extra hard to give more. Like a contest.

b. Give more than you take in your career. Treat the people you deal with—coworkers and customers—with respect. Give, give, give. Do more. Try harder. Be the best. Then, they give you more money. If they don’t give you more money, another employer will because they want the best person on their team. When you really figure it out, you eventually just make your own job.

c. Give more than you take spiritually. I don’t know what you believe. For the purposes of this, I’m not sure it matters. Just don’t pray and plead and beg when the shit hits the fan. Don’t cry out for help without being appreciative of life’s blessings also. Pray when it’s good. Or just say “Thank you” to the universe. Mean it. Feel it. Bottle that good. Then give some of it to someone else so that they can do the same.

3. Get plenty of sleep.

4. Exercise.

5. Be kind to others.

6. Don’t procrastinate.

“But Matt! You’re totally miserable! Why should I listen to you?”

Don’t, if you don’t want to. Feel shitty, like me. Knock yourself out.

I know I’m right because it’s hard. I know I’m right because it sounds like work. I know it’s hard because these are all of the things I’m NOT doing.

My favorite writer has already written it all a hundred times a hundred different ways and he says it all much better than I do.

You should read it. And you should pretend it’s the most-important thing you’ve ever read.

Then you should change your life.

Thank You

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States.

A day to count our blessings. A day to say “thanks.”

I am grateful for the air I breathe.

I am grateful for my beautiful son.

I am grateful for a warm home on a cold day.

I am grateful for a reliable vehicle to get me to my destinations.

I am grateful for food.

I am grateful for music.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for you.

I am grateful for another opportunity to keep trying. Each day, a chance to make my life what I want it to be. A chance to wake up and do what is necessary to achieve peace. To seize happiness and make it mine.

It won’t be by frantically grabbing scraps as if there isn’t enough to go around.

It will be by sharing the treasure trove with others. By sharing a bottomless well of joy with everyone willing to make the journey there, and by encouraging the unwilling to try.

I am alive.

I am blessed.

I am loved.

I love.

You keep looking for miracles, but you don’t always see them.

Go find the nearest mirror and take a good, hard, long look.

Because you’re the miracle.

And I’ve never felt more gratitude for you than I do right now.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Nothing is Sound

loud-silence

We were standing in the kitchen, drinking, but not yet buzzed.

There was a small party at our house, but most guests hadn’t yet arrived.

One of my favorite Switchfoot songs was playing.

“Happy is a Yuppie Word.”

Most of the time, I gravitate to music because of how it sounds. But more and more as I’ve aged, I’ve been drawn to music with lyrical meaning.

This song isn’t phenomenal musically. In fact, I don’t particularly like the chorus. But it’s lyrical perfection.

“Happy is a yuppie word? What does that even mean?” asked my buddy’s girlfriend and my wife, when they heard it playing.

They both made fun of the song. Then they made fun of me for liking it.

I didn’t bother defending it. It wasn’t the time or place.

And some people will never understand.

Back when my wife and I were still newlyweds, we were at a NASCAR speedway outside of Chicago. She had attended the Daytona 500 with me a couple times in Florida, but this was her first time at the only other track I’ve ever visited. The place where my motorsports-enthusiast father and many of his friends visit annually for three days of drinking, tailgating, laughing and watching cars drive nearly 200 miles per hour.

I’m not a huge NASCAR fan. But it’s fun to see in person. Mostly, it’s just fun gathering with loved ones and sharing laughs.

My dad looked over at my wife and I, and my stepsister and her husband who are just a couple years older than me.

“Hey there’s a band playing over by the track in a little bit. Switchfoot. You ever heard of them?” he said.

And I had. “Dare you to Move,” was huge. And a great song. I listened to it yesterday actually because that song has never been more relevant to my life than it is right now. There was also a new song “Stars.” It wasn’t amazing, but it got plenty of air time on American rock stations.

My wife and I, along with my stepsister and brother-in-law ventured over to the stage with a cooler full of beer.

I love live music.

Switchfoot, a band I knew very little about, took the stage.

I don’t often digest lyrics the first time I hear music.

But even in my half-drunken state, I knew what I was watching and listening to was something different.

Something meaningful.

Especially when I heard Jon Foreman sing “Happy is a Yuppie Word” for the first time. I’d never heard the song before.

And I’ve never been so moved by something I was hearing for the first time—especially considering I was hearing it during an extraordinarily happy time in my life with a bunch of fun-producing beer in me.

… I’m running down a life that won’t cash out

Happy is a yuppie word
Blessed is the man who’s lost it all
Happy is a yuppie word
word.

Looking for an orphanage
I’m looking for a bridge I can’t burn down
I don’t believe the emptiness
I’m looking for the kingdom coming down
Everything is meaningless
I want more than simple cash can buy
Happy is a yuppie word
Happy is a yuppie word
Happy is a yuppie word
Happy is a yuppie…

And then, surrounded by thousands of people in nearly 90-degree summer temperatures, I got a severe case of goose bumps and chills as Foreman started belting out:

Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!

And I’ve been in love with the band ever since. Because they care about what I care about. Whether people get it or not.

Writing Makes Me Happy

I wrote a post titled “Clean Copy” once.

It was a typical Matt spaz-fest because I was feeling REALLY sensitive about all the typos you guys read when you’re reading this stuff via email. Because that initial email records whatever is live when I first hit Publish, with all the mistakes. I almost always find something to correct after hitting that blue button.

Traffic to the blog soared—relatively speaking—once that post was picked up and promoted by WordPress editors in Freshly Pressed.

In fact, about half of you started following this blog after reading that post.

Despite securing the URL mustbethistalltoride.com back when I first launched the blog on June 22, I hadn’t figured out how to point the servers to it because I’m a Grade-A moron when it comes to backend web stuff. But after digging around last week on WordPress and Google, I figured it out.

Despite being an internet marketing professional, I didn’t give much thought to what might happen to blog traffic after making the change.

I assumed—wrongly—that most people reading were those who had been following my story or fellow writers part of this wonderful WordPress blogging community.

But now, traffic is down 70-75 percent since dropping the .wordpress in the URL.

And at the risk of seeming vain and hypersensitive (I am certainly the latter), it has really made me sad. Because the one thing that’s not my five-year-old son that has made me happy in my life as a single adult is this.

This silly little chunk of the Internet. Because it’s mine. Because it’s me.

And people cared. Which surprised me. But I grew to love it. To need it. Because it’s the thing that has made me feel connected during the most-disconnected period of my life. It’s the thing that has made me feel the least alone during the most lonely period of my life. And because it has given me purpose after everything I was living for walked out the door on April Fool’s Day.

I didn’t set out to try and grow an audience. To try to make this into anything more than a misguided attempt at journaling.

But then it sort of became a thing all by itself. Not for everyone, certainly. Not even for a lot of people.

But for some.

People like me. People who hurt. People searching for light. For meaning. For purpose.

And the web helps us find each other.

And then I had purpose again.

To write. For me. But also for those other people. Those people on the same hunt for answers.

People who want to feel.

People who want to live for something more.

And it made me smile. And it made me feel like I mattered a little. And that motivates me to write more.

For the people who care.

But then, BAM. Traffic gets wrecked. Just, poof. Gone.

And it’s literally painful. Because a rare source of happiness is no longer providing it. In fact, it’s making me sad.

But, really? What is happiness?

It’s a Yuppie Word

It was 1991. Bob Dylan turned 50. And Rolling Stone magazine interviewed him about his life.

“Are you happy, Bob?” the interviewer asked.

“You know,” he said, “these are yuppie words—happiness and unhappiness. It’s not happiness or unhappiness. It’s either blessed or unblessed.”

Bob Dylan.

Dropping knowledge.

The lead singer and songwriter for Switchfoot wrote “Happy is a Yuppie Word,” based on that quote by Dylan.

Whenever I have heard Foreman screaming “Nothing is sound!” during my favorite part of this song, I always thought he was saying:

Nothing is okay.

Nothing is safe and sound.

Nothing is alright.

But then I heard the song on my morning commute today.

And it got to the bridge—the part I adore—and Foreman belted: “Nothing is sound! Nothing is sound! Nothing is sound!”

And for the first time in eight years of listening to this song, I questioned whether I was hearing him right.

Maybe he wasn’t saying what I thought he was.

Maybe he’s saying:

Nothing IS sound.

Silence is sound.

Emptiness is something.

Because silence can be loud.

When you’re used to the noise. The buzz. The movement. The life.

And then one day it’s just… gone.

It’s loud. The silence. It’s one of the reasons I listen to so much music now. Even more than I used to.

To replace the deafening silence. To push out negative thoughts. To feel.

Nothing is sound.

Happy doesn’t mean anything. It’s a word we associate with feeling good. A yuppie word, Bob Dylan said. And sadly, feelings are fleeting. They don’t last. It’s why so many people turn to sex and alcohol and drugs. To feel something. Something like happy. It doesn’t satisfy. So we just keep doing those things to prolong the fake happiness. Because it’s better than nothing. Right?

Maybe.

But I want more than fake happy.

I want more than simple cash can buy.

And I want that for you, too.

Which is I why I try to think, feel and pray each day. Chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But there’s no pot of gold. We’re really just chasing an idea.

And when the weather changes again, there won’t even be a rainbow.

Because the weather always changes. Like feelings.

So maybe we shouldn’t try so hard to chase the pot of gold we know isn’t there anyway.

Maybe we should just slow down and breathe.

And maybe just try to enjoy the rainbow while it’s still here.

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How to Feel Proud of Your Child

Learning-is-Fun

I’m hard on my son sometimes.

To the point where I make him angry. Because I want him to be the best person he can be even if that means he has to be upset with me for correcting him.

It’s like a dangerous high-stakes game. Risking his affection in exchange for his good behavior and character development.

I made him cry last night after scolding him for making a mess because he wasn’t following directions.

“You’re never nice to me,” he said.

We talked about that for about 15 minutes. I think he actually understood when I explained how I’m his father first, and his friend, second. And that my job is to help him learn lessons and be the best person he can be. That I must hold him accountable when he doesn’t follow rules.

He’s a good boy.

And I’m often very nice to him. And he knows it, too.

They Grow Fast

Too fast, most parents will tell you.

His loose tooth finally came out Sunday. So the tooth fairy visited for the first time overnight.

He was as surprised as some of my disapproving co-workers to discover $5 under his pillow.

I was brushing my teeth as he counted the single bills on the floor outside the bathroom.

“Dad, I can’t believe I got five dollars for one little tooth!” he said.

“What would you like to do with your money?” I said.

He thought for just a minute.

“I want to put it in my piggy bank,” he said.

“You do? What do you want to save your money for?”

“I want to save it so you can buy me presents for Christmas and my birthday,” he said.

I smiled.

“Buddy, you are so thoughtful. But that’s your money. Mom and dad will use our money to buy you Christmas and birthday presents. This money is for you,” I said.

“Okay. I still want to save it,” he said.

Good boy.

Little boys like to pull their pants down to their ankles when they first learn to potty standing up. It’s not a big deal at home. But it’s not the kind of thing you want them doing in public restrooms or at school.

This morning, he went potty while I was still finishing getting ready for the day. He did so without pulling his pants all the way down.

“Look dad! This is how I potty now!”

“You’re getting so big, buddy. I’m very proud of you,” I said.

Big boy.

We were running ahead of schedule this morning. So we took a few minutes to work on some at-home learning activities for school. He knew what the Mayflower was, the ship our early settlers used to come to America. Well, at least the version of the story they tell American children. I was just impressed he’d heard of the ship and could rattle off some history about it.

He told me all of the months in the calendar year, in the correct order. It was the first time I’d heard him do that.

Smart boy.

He stuck a large yellow smiley face sticker to my shirt this morning.
“So you remember to feel happy,” he said. “Every time you see it, I want you to feel happy.”

I haven’t taken it off.

Sweet boy.

He does this thing where he always wants to race me. Because it’s winter and he hasn’t learned to be careful yet, he slipped on a sheet of ice while sprinting toward the day care family’s house this morning. He fell pretty hard. Cried a little.

“Hey. You’re okay, bud. You’re tough,” I said.

He continued whimpering.

“You remember what we’re going to do after I pick you up after work?” I said.

“Get Christmas lights and marshmallows for hot chocolate,” he said.

And cracked my favorite smile.

“That’s right. Christmas lights and marshmallows. Now you go have a good day at school. I’m so proud of you.”

And off he ran to tackle his day.

Brave boy.

This morning my son displayed innocence. Delighted by the wonder of the Tooth Fairy’s overnight visit.

He displayed kindness and generosity. Wanting to contribute to the family Christmas fund.

He displayed wisdom by choosing to save his money rather than spend it.

He displayed maturity. Going potty in a more-thoughtful, more-grownup way. By demonstrating new things he’s learned at school and home.

He displayed resiliency. Falling. Being hurt. And getting up and shaking off the pain.

Finding his smile as he looked forward to the good times that lie ahead.

That’s my little man. My beautiful child.

Growing, growing, growing.

Thank you for being you, son. Every choice led me to you.

No regrets.

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From Now On Our Troubles Will Be Miles Away

New_Year_wallpapers_Lonely_decorated_Christmas_tree_in_the_forest_047669_

I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want… real estate.

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

Minus one.

The Christmas tree is up. No lights or ornaments yet. I promised my five-year-old son I’d wait for him. He’ll be here later today.

I decorated my house for Christmas alone yesterday. My first holiday season as a single, divorced father.

The most-interesting and occasionally unpleasant thing about my new life is how emotions creep up and surprise me.

I wasn’t so naïve as to believe I’d be unaffected by the experience of going through boxes of holiday décor to see what I would set out versus what I will deliver to my ex-wife this afternoon.

But, damn.

I was really surprised by what my insides did.

Through the Years, We All Will Be Together

I opened a small tin.

There were many ornaments from her childhood. I closed it.

I picked up her stocking, her name stitched across the top. It has an angel on it. She loves angels. Has an entire Christmas tree dedicated to them every year. I folded it and put it back.

I went through a phase as a college student and young adult where I didn’t really make a big deal out of Christmas.

But it truly was a magical time of year for me as a child.

And as an adult—particularly as a father—I found myself softening up and gravitating back toward all of the goodness I’d always associated with the season of Christmas.

I even started listening to Christmas music again after avoiding it for several years.

These changes took place in large part because of my ex-wife. That girl oozes Christmas this time of year.

“This place looks like someone vomited Christmas EVERYWHERE. I love it!” said a former co-worker about my house when attending my ex-wife’s birthday party two years ago.

We had kicked around the idea of starting a new tradition where we had an open house party every Christmas evening. After the presents have been opened. All businesses closed. Maybe people would feel like getting out and drinking eggnog with us.

I always thought that sounded like fun.

If the Fates Allow

My last really nice memory with my ex-wife was this past Christmas.

Just the three of us and her brother’s family of three at her mother’s house.

I knew we were in enormous trouble.

But the spirit of the season poked through. It’s the last time it felt like family.

We had friends at our place for New Year’s. The clock struck midnight. I leaned down and kissed her cheek.

“This is the year everything gets better. 2013’s gonna be the best one yet,” I promised her.

“I hope so,” she said.

Faithful friends who are dear to us, gathered near to us once more.

We celebrated with fake smiles and sparkling wine.

But in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2013, we went to our separate bedrooms, starting the year just as it will end.

Thinking about Christmas paralyzes me. Because it matters again.

But I can’t run from any of it. There’s nowhere to hide.

Opening gifts and eating turkey with my family back in my hometown? Hours away from my son?

Staying home? Alone?

Accept my ex-wife’s Christmas invitation?

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic (for once) but, shit. No. Right?

All of it sounds horrible. And I’m an optimist!

Is it possible to live vicariously enough through your child to overcome the shock from all the changes between last year and now?

Seems like a lot to ask of an oblivious kindergartener.

He’ll pick up an ornament later today.

“Where do you want to put this one, dad?”

I’ll glance over.

It will be the one with a photo of my ex in her wedding dress. Or the one with the bride and groom figurines. Or the one with a pretty ring jutting out of a red jewelry box. Or one of the dozens of ornaments an aunt or uncle had sent to both of us over the years.

Happy golden days of yore.

“Not that one, kiddo.”

Or.

“We’re going to give that one to mommy, bud.”

Or.

“No, sweetheart. We’re not going to hang that one on the tree this year.”

But we’ll soldier through, my little man and I.

Maybe watch a Christmas movie.

And I’ll hang that shining star up on the highest bough. The one being held by the angel who sits atop the tree, watching over the proceedings between now and early January.

2014.

The calendar flip.

A simple act. Turning that page. But hopefully a meaningful one.

Hopefully one that delivers the good tidings I falsely promised would come this year.

When our troubles will be out of sight.

But first, we tackle December 25. Together.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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The Saturday Post

You're actually not reading this right now. Because it's Saturday.

You’re actually not reading this right now. Because it’s Saturday.

No one reads anything I write on Saturday.

Statistically, about half as much as every other day of the week.

And I understand why.

It’s Saturday and you have lives and family and friends or are scrambling to get everything done you don’t have time to do during the work and school week.

But I have a sickness. And I’ve become addicted to writing and posting daily.

So, I write, even though no one cares.

The Fringe Readers

But maybe there are some of you. Some of you, like me. In life transition. Being a little reclusive. And maybe you do care.

Maybe you do think: What ever could that whiny dude be up to today?

And maybe you peek in. And maybe you’d be sad if there wasn’t something new here.

A wannabe writer can dream.

I looked at some old Saturday posts and the traffic numbers for them.

And it turns out, some of my favorite posts are some of my least-read posts because I chose to publish them on Saturday.

“But Matt! You’re publishing THIS on Saturday! No one’s going to read this either!”

I know! I make bad decisions! It’s liberating! I can sort of do whatever I want! Type whatever I want!

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

And it won’t really matter.

I kind of like it.

Posts I Like That Were Ignored Because of Saturday

Parenting Class

When you get divorced in Ohio, they make you go to a mandatory parenting class. This post has started to pick up some traffic lately because it’s ranking No. 3 on Google for “Karl Malone Divorce Video.” True story.

How to Rescue People with a Keyboard

This is one of my all-time favorites. A man rearranged his day to help a stranger at the expense of his own time and money. And he credits things he read here. That made me feel exceptionally good.

Good Shit

I’m not a genius. But I’m kind of awesome at a handful of things. Want a few tips to make your life better? Sure you do. They live here.

Mr. Balls Proves Anything is Possible

Learn how a huge, hairy, glistening scrotum can create an entire world of possibilities. You won’t need your thinking cap for this one. Just a gargantuan Roman helmet.

The Profanity Dilemma: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In the most immature and profane way possible, I explore to what extent profanity in my writing benefits or detracts from its quality. You should only read this if you’re not my mom or grandma.

Saturdays Happen

There’s a possibility I will still be alive on Saturdays in the future. In the event I am, I’ll probably want to publish things here.

In the interest of entertaining myself, I may use Saturday posts as my experimental laboratory.

Maybe I’ll draw crude pictures in Microsoft Paint.

Maybe I’ll write terrible poetry.

Maybe I’ll take a crack at writing fiction for the first time in my life.

Or maybe, just maybe, there will come a Saturday where I don’t post at all!

Maybe because I’m day-drinking and having the time of my life.

Maybe because I’m traveling and immersed in excitement and adventure.

Maybe because I’ll find a bedroom partner and refuse to leave that room.

Haaaaaaaaaaaa.

I know.

Unless I croak first… see you next Saturday.

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How to Live a Regret-Free Life

Choose happiness. Choose love. Choose yourself.

Choose happiness. Choose love. Choose yourself.

You’re going to die.

Just like me.

It might be in 80 years.

It might be in 10.

It might be today.

Is there anything troubling you today that would matter on the last day of your life?

One of my Facebook friends posted this article yesterday. It was the first I’d seen it. It was written by a nurse who cares for dying patients. She takes those final days to talk with them about their lives. To ask them probing questions about what it all means. About their hopes and dreams and regrets. Then she took the five most common regrets mentioned by her dying patients and wrote them down.

I intend to spend a lot of time thinking about these.

I hope you will, too.

Live Like You’re Dying

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’” – Kurt Vonnegut 

Life’s biggest regrets? According to one lady who knew more dead people than most of us, these are the highlights:

1. Live a life true to yourself; not the life others expect of you. 

This was the big one, the nurse wrote. We make choices every day. How many do we make because other people want us to? How many do we make for ourselves?

How many of you chose a particular area of study because you were trying to please one of your parents? How many of you choose your job or where you live or your hobbies because of other people?

This is a big one. This idea. Being true to yourself. What if you have three children who depend on you? A spouse who loves you? Can you pack up and travel the world because that’s your dream? To go cave diving? Or minister to the poor? Or work on a fishing vessel? Or study at Oxford? Or work part time at a beachfront surf shop? Or own a boutique bakery?

It seems almost selfish. This message is best served on the young. And I hope any teenagers or young adults reading will really think about what it means to pursue your passions and dreams and not what you think other people expect you to be.

But what about the rest of us? Those of us “tied down” to families or children or mortgages or other dependents?

These are tough choices. Tough conversations to have. Especially if the people we surround ourselves with are unsupportive.

My favorite writer James Altucher doesn’t mess around. You’re either with him or against him. And if you’re against him, he cuts you out of his life. Life’s too short to surround yourself with energy takers, he said. He only spends time with people who lift him up. Who make him happy. And as a result, he’s happy.

Ruthless? Maybe. Impractical? I can see how you might think that. That was my initial reaction too. But then I just kept thinking about it.

What if I spend the rest of my life NEVER doing things I don’t want to do? And ALWAYS doing things I want to do with people I want to do them with?

What’s stopping me from making that choice?

I’m not sure there is anything. But do we have the courage to choose happiness? To choose ourselves?

“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” – Henry David Thoreau

2. Don’t work so hard. 

This is one of my biggest crimes. Which will make some of you who know me, laugh. Matt? Work hard?!?! Hahahahaha! But I don’t really mean it in the context of how industrious or productive I am. I mean it more in terms of my mindset.

This was a common regret of husbands and fathers who toiled in careers their entire adult lives, missing their children’s entire upbringing, and often leaving their wives to fend for themselves.

It doesn’t mean don’t work hard. We absolutely should work hard in whatever it is we’re involved with. What it means, is maybe we don’t have our priorities straight. Maybe making thousands of extra dollars so your child can join ski club or wear LeBron’s newest shoes or live in the nicest neighborhood isn’t as valuable as simplifying your lives and “needs” so that you can give them more individual attention. So, instead of one weeklong vacation each year in some wonderful place, the family is together all the time. Growing together. Communicating. Feeling loved. Appreciated. Connected.

Maybe waking up EVERY SINGLE DAY and going to work just so we can have houses to sleep in and cars to drive to our jobs doesn’t make as much sense as so many of us have been programmed to think it does.

I’m not advocating being a bum. I’m not sure I’m prepared to start slashing luxuries in my life. I’ve always been more of a fan of acquiring more money.

However, does any of this shit matter if we’re going to die today? Does it?

Maybe it’s time to ask yourself that. Maybe it’s time to start ridding yourself of burdens you carry that won’t matter when you’re gone.

Or better yet. Maybe it’s time to start ridding yourself of burdens. Period.

Because 99 percent of the stuff that ails you will hardly be an afterthought in five years.

Stop wasting time.

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

3. Express your feelings courageously. 

This is the thing I’m learning how to do best in this new world I’m living in. I’m still MUCH more shy in person expressing feelings and showing courage, but I must say: Being as open and honest with you guys here as I try to be has really helped me show more courage when I’m looking someone in the eye. I’m not all the way there yet. But, give me time.

The truth is liberating.

And I don’t mean, spilling your secrets.

I just mean, being courageous.

You like that girl? Well, dammit, stop being a pansy. Go tell her.

Maybe you’ll get her. Maybe you won’t. I’m learning each day to give less of a shit about the bad things that might happen to me when I’m brave. And the good feelings I feel for being brave tend to offset any disappointment I might feel from an undesirable outcome.

The new me isn’t awesome. Not yet.

But as they say in the scouting athletes business, I have a lot of upside.

You do, too.

Say what you feel. Be as honest as you possibly can without hurting people.

That’s where peace lives.

That’s where happiness lives.

That’s where a regret-free life lives.

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” – Lucille Ball

4. Stay connected to friends.

I’m horrible at this sometimes. HORRIBLE. I wrote yesterday about being reclusive. And I have been lately as I try to reassemble all the scattered pieces of my life.

I love my friends. I love my friends more than they can or will ever understand because I can’t put them all in the same room and hug their faces in a world-record-breaking sweaty and really uncomfortable group hug.

But if you know me in real life, I love you. I do. And I appreciate you so much. And I’ll never be able to thank you properly for all the memories you’ve given me and all of the memories we’ll eventually get to make.

I might die before I see you again.

If that happens, I pray you’ll remember our friendship with fondness. And I pray you understand that my most precious memories unrelated to my closest family members revolve around you.

Yes, you.

Whether our interactions were few. Or whether you’re a fundamental part of my life.

Aaron. My best man. All those years. You’re family. Forever.

Z. You’re the best. Give me more time to figure this life out. I’ll be back.

SP. I’m probably not me without you. I’m probably an even bigger asshole. Thank you.

Ben and Andy. You anchor my other world. Love you guys.

Dani. I knew you for five minutes. But you were the pretty girl who let the new guy take you out once or twice. You don’t know how big of a deal that was to me.

SK. You’re my all-time favorite grumpy person.

O. My first friend in my hometown. Solid gold family. Solid gold man.

ATH2O. The next time I have a bad time with you will be the first. Same for you, RR.

Work people. You’re my now. You represent adult me. You keep me steady. Anchored. Balanced. Focused. All those hours we share together when we wish we were elsewhere. You make it more than tolerable. You make it pleasant. Appreciate you so much.

Florida people. You were the first life savers I ever met.

SC. I seriously had one of the best weeks of my life with you. Thank you.

CD. Remember when you got upset with me because a drunk girl named Jill crawled into my tent with me at Country Concert and you heard about it the next day? I swear, on my heart and soul, on the life of my son who is the very reason I live and breathe, that I didn’t so much as hold that girl’s hand. Because of you. Because you mattered.

If we went to grade school together, high school together (in Ohio or Illinois), college together (so many things I DON’T remember), or worked closely together, you can take to the bank that you matter to me. That I feel connected to you. That I’m sorry for any role I’ve played in any disconnection that now exists.

And if I die today, my biggest regret will be my failure to show you how much you matter.

The nurse wrote: “That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.”

Nothing matters more.

Focus on what matters.

It will be unselfish.

But you’ll really be doing it for yourself.

“A man has cause for regret only when he sows and no one reaps.” – Charles Goodyear

5. Give yourself permission to choose happiness.

Give yourself permission to choose yourself. To be happy. To let go. To not give a shit what that person thinks. I worry SO MUCH about what people think of me. It’s likely my greatest personal weakness.

When you choose other people’s feelings about you over your own feelings about you, you always lose. Your life will be dissatisfying. You’ll constantly be chasing approval that doesn’t matter.

No one’s opinion of you matters except your own.

Today, you decide who you are. Not your friends at school. Not those people at work. Not those guys in the car next to you. Not your parents. Not people on television. Not your boyfriend. Not your wife. Not your kids.

Your past doesn’t define you.

If you’re the kind of person like me who chooses to behave sometimes out of fear of what others might think of you, then you have a bad habit.

Like smoking. Like eating poorly. Like biting your fingernails. Like belittling your spouse even when you’re “joking.” Like procrastinating.

Bad habits can be broken.

And I hope you’ll try to break this one. I’m going to try.

Because all I want in this world is happiness. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what it looks like. It’s just a word. But it describes how I occasionally feel. And I choose to pursue that feeling. To pursue happiness. With vigor.

I choose myself. And I choose to feel good. Not shitty.

Sometimes I’ll succeed. Sometimes I’ll fail. But I’m going to keep trying.

Because practice makes perfect.

Because I know we can do it.

Because choosing happiness can be habit forming.

I make bad decisions.

But not all the time.

“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” – Oscar Wilde

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Watch For Falling Prices, Vol. 2

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

A few days ago, I found a brown package tucked behind a planter on my front porch.

I smiled.

Could it be one of those two books I ordered from Walmart?

I had received an email from them informing me that my orders had been cancelled the day after taking advantage of price glitches on their website to order $50 worth of books for about $11, including a small shipping charge. So I guess they screwed up twice. Yay me.

I had made the joke in the first post that I was going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—which I’ve never read—and use its contents to propel me to unimaginable success as I continue to move forward in my personal and professional life.

I wrote this:

“I’ll pick up the package. I’ll smile. Hell yeah, I’ll think. I just got a good deal.

Then, you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to read Gladwell’s Outliers. Then I’m going to spend 10,000 hours doing something.

And a decade from now?

I’m going to be so rad at something, you’re not even going to be able to recognize me.

I’ll be tall and rich and smart and funny and getting laid and happy. Everyone’s going to be like: “Hey Matt! You’re so amazing and happy and sexually active! How ever did you pull off this magnificent life!?!?”

And I’ll say: “Walmart.com, baby. A glitch in The Matrix. I seized opportunity.”

They won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

But you will.

Carpe Diem.”

So, I picked up that package. I smiled. I opened it.

And sure enough, it was Outliers. And I thought to myself: Hell yeah. I just got a good deal. Because I try hard to keep my promises.

And then I got excited.

Because I’m going to be so freaking tall and rich and sexually active now.

The world is mine.

10,000 Hours

There are many nuanced, well-researched and brilliant observations made by Gladwell in this book (Which I haven’t started reading yet. I’m afraid of the growth spurt and having to buy all new clothes).

But the one most people seem to focus on is the idea that to master something, we need to spend 10,000 hours doing it.

All the greats do.

Musicians.

Painters.

Athletes.

Chefs.

Adult film actors.

Teachers.

Writers.

And I wondered: How close am I to putting in my 10,000 hours?

So, I began a crude analysis based on lots and lots of possibly incorrect guesswork.

It looked like this.

1. I’ve been writing quasi-professionally or professionally for 15 years.

2. In those 15 years, I have:

Written and edited news stories.

Written and edited shitty poetry.

Written and edited marketing materials, including email, brochures, web copy, advertisements and video scripts.

Written and edited blog posts—both corporately, and here.

3. From age 19-21, during my college years, including countless hours in the college newspaper’s newsroom and my summer and winter break internships, I estimate spending about 1.5 hours per day writing. For three years. That’s 1,643 hours.

4. From age 22-34, during my professional career, including even more hours in daily newspaper and weekly business publication newsrooms, operating my own freelance copywriting business, working in internet marketing in my current job, and all of my private writing including what I do here, I estimate an average of 2 hours per day writing. For 12 years. That’s 8,760 hours.

5. If my math is correct, and I have no reason to think it’s not damn close, that’s 10,403 hours.

6. Holy shit. I’m an expert.

The Definition of Success

My mom always defined success as getting paid to do something you love.

And I do.

In the grand scheme of writers, I’m probably even paid well.

But I want more. Because I’m selfish and greedy and want to go on vacations and have an in-ground swimming pool and maybe even a really fast car I don’t drive very often.

Also, I wouldn’t mind having financial security for my son.

Okay, fine. And maybe I would try to do a little good with it when I wasn’t busy sipping fine tequila by my pool while writing books people actually wanted to read.

And while I appreciate what my mother is saying, I can’t agree. I won’t agree. Because I don’t feel successful.

I feel grateful. But not successful.

My dad probably defines success more in financial terms.

He makes a lot of money now after pulling himself out of poverty and making a good career move in his late 30s. He reminds me all the time that we were all just as happy back when we were clipping coupons, driving shitty cars, and living in mega-humble conditions along a Mississippi River tributary. And he’s right. We were very happy despite the absence of money.

I know that money will not make me happy. I still want some. But I know there are wealthy people who are miserable. Money does not fill the voids in their minds, hearts and souls.

That can only come from love. And spiritual balance. And good health. And family and friends. And gratitude. And generosity.

Merriam-Webster defines success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” and “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”

I think I like that second definition best.

Because that’s what I always want to happen—no matter what we’re talking about. The correct thing. Whatever’s best.

That’s my desired result.

Since the day I decided to pursue writing people have asked me what my goals were.

It’s so easy to say you want to have a novel published. And I always have. That was always my canned response.

But that’s bullshit. Because I can write a terrible book tomorrow, self-publish it, and fire it out to the world in hopes that a sucker or two reads a third of it.

Writers don’t want to write books.

Writers want to be read.

And I remember always saying that, too.

If just one person reads something I wrote and likes it. If just one person reads something I wrote and feels better. If just one person reads something I wrote and it compels them to be better, stronger, wiser, braver.

Then I’ll have done something. I’ll have been successful.

I’ve put in my 10,000 hours. Paid my dues. And I’ll continue to pay them because I have a love affair with the keyboard.

Think about all of the things in your life you’ve put 10,000 hours into.

There’s something.

Thinking. Loving. Tasting. Caring. Feeling. Praying. Hoping.

You’re a master of something.

Just like that guy over there. Just like this lady over here. Just like me.

It took a Walmart pricing glitch to see it.

But I’m just a little bit taller today.

And so are you.

Let’s go dunk on somebody. And be awesome.

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Mr. Balls Proves Anything is Possible

Mr. Balls. An actual, real thing.

Mr. Balls. An actual, real thing.

If anyone ever tells you that you can’t do or be anything you want, you now have irrefutable proof they are wrong.

It’s a message of hope from Brazil.

And because of its existence—its simple purity—I can no longer doubt that ANYTHING is possible.

You want to be president of your country? It’s possible.

You want to move things with your mind? It’s possible.

You want to be a movie star? It’s possible.

In fact, after seeing something so unlikely, so impossible, I’m beginning to think my hopes and dreams are likely to happen.

And now, you can too.

Oi, Senhor Testiculo

Meet Mr. Balls.

His mission: To raise awareness about the dangers of testicular cancer.

His appearance: Tall, dark and handsome. A friendly face. Plump cheeks. Nice dental work. Covered in pubic hair. Clearly doesn’t manscape.

His existence: Improbable. Yet, real.

He’s the mascot for the Associação de Assistência às Pessoas com Câncer in Brazil.

“Both children and adults love taking pictures” with Mr. Balls, the AAPEC website said.

So, to recap: Mr. Balls is a massive, friendly faced, pube-covered, glistening ball sack to whom children are encouraged to nestle up next to for photo ops.

This is real, ladies and gentlemen.

This gargantuan, smiling, two-toothed, Portuguese-speaking scrotum man exists. A marketing team thought it up. Spent money creating it. And now it’s a thing.

Not only is it a thing, it has been so effective in raising awareness for testicular cancer (and for being a huge, noteworthy hairy man bag) that some random guy in Ohio found out about it and is sharing it with even more people.

Mr. Balls is a champion for hope. Hope that we can prevent, treat and perhaps one day cure testicular cancer. And hope that there is no dream too far-fetched to be realized.

Dream Big

One of my friends says this a lot. She has it tattooed on her wrist in her father’s handwriting, because it’s something he always said to her.

Dream. Big.

Nothing can stop you. Nothing.

“Mr. Balls!?!? Are you freaking shitting me right now with this!?!?!” the executive director of the Brazilian non-profit organization MUST have said in Portuguese when first presented with this idea.

But then some earnest little marketing person stood up to her or him, saying: “Yes. Mr. Balls. Because he’s the hero testicular cancer deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

“And so we’ll exploit him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A massive, hairy ball sack.”

And then the executive director shed a tear.

“My great uncle Gustavo had testicular cancer. And maybe Mr. Balls could have saved him,” she/he said. “Let’s do it.”

And now at public events, parents are snapping photos of their children hugging a walking set of huge, unshaven testicles.

It defies every bit of logic I possess.

It is almost, literally, inexplicable that Mr. Balls walks this Earth.

Yet, he does.

A smiling mascot. That looks like this.

I still can't believe this. If this can be real, then there is truly no stopping me. I can do ANYTHING. And so can you.

I still can’t believe this. If this can be real, then there is truly no stopping me. I can do ANYTHING. And so can you.

Doesn’t this mean anything is possible?

Doesn’t this inspire you and give you endless optimism about life’s possibilities moving forward?

If Mr. Balls can be a thing—a real thing—posing in children’s photos. Doesn’t that mean the sky’s the limit?

That I can make all the money I ever need from writing?

That I can find Mind-Body-Spirit balance once again?

That you can do anything your mind can dream up?

I say yes.

Mr. Balls says yes.

And now it’s time for you to look in the mirror, and say “Yes,” too.

Because I believe in us.

Today, we spell hope: B-A-L-L-S.

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The Tooth Fairy: An Economic Analysis

tooth-fairy-money-ftr

What’s a tooth worth? I’m about to set the precedent, so I’ve got to get it right.

My five-year-old son has loose teeth. Three of them.

One may come out as soon as today.

He’s pretty excited about it. Made me call mom this morning to tell her.

I quickly realized: Oh, shit. I’m the Tooth Fairy now!

I almost never have cash laying around because I don’t listen to my father.

So, I need to make sure I have money on hand for situations such as this moving forward.

But, how much to give?!

A great question, it turns out. I started thinking about my childhood. Growing up with next to nothing.

How much did I get?

As memory serves, $1-$2 per tooth. I might have even approached little-kid baller status with a $3 molar a time or two.

That was 25-30 years ago. So, my initial reaction was to give $5 per tooth. Which is almost enough to go buy something cool when you’re a little kid.

A couple of my co-workers thought I might be overdoing it.

And while I value their opinions, I tend to do what I want. And what I want is whatever the best-possible thing is. And what’s the best-possible thing?

Let’s discuss with an economic review.

Make the Money. Don’t Let the Money Make You.

I’m pretty sure I lost my first tooth in 1984.

The equivalent buying power of $1 in 1984 is $2.25 in 2013 due to inflation. You can check my math here.

Which means me getting $2 or so in the 1980s is not far off from $5 in today’s dollars ($4.51, to be exact) if we want to maintain Tooth Fairy equity three decades later. And fairness totally matters to me.

It pisses me off when people who stay at the same job for several years can’t even keep up with inflation with their annual “cost-of-living” wage increases.

It pisses me off when I see colleges and universities raising tuition 6 percent or whatever the maximum cap is every year and saddling generations of young professionals with enormous debts that take more than a decade sometimes to pay off—even with high-paying jobs in the legal and medical sectors.

My little man isn’t savvy enough to know better. He may be equally happy with $1 as he would with $5. I don’t anticipate him getting online and researching today’s going rate for lost teeth.

But the Tooth Fairy can’t be reckless. Not on the cheap side. And not on the excessive side. Certainly not the first time.

The Santa Parallel

This is something my ex-wife and I used to disagree about. Very respectfully. No fighting. But we’re both products of our respective upbringings.

At Christmas throughout our childhoods, the perceived value of the gifts under the tree were not consistent with one another.

At my house, Santa Claus brought me most of my best, high-value items. Almost all of my favorite gifts growing up were from Santa. My Nintendo Entertainment System Action Set in 1987, being my all-time favorite gift. There were a thousand other things. And I always did everything twice, because I would have a “Christmas morning” with both my mom and stepdad, and then again with dad and stepmom a day or two later.

I always got a lot of awesome stuff from both Santa and my parents. But the real standout stuff came from Santa.

At my ex-wife’s house, Santa would only bring four or five gifts. Not anything shitty. But still lower-value items. Huge gifts? Like video game systems, or family four-wheelers or whatever, were given by the parents.

The thinking is that you don’t want your kid running off to school talking about what Santa brought them and mentioning big-ticket items, or to have another kid run home and ask mom and dad why she only got a board game and a crappy book with a public library sticker still stuck to the inside back cover while her friend got a new pony.

That makes sense to me. I grew up with a higher-percentage of wealthy friends maybe than the average kid due to attending a small Catholic school. However, I was never jealous of my friends. I don’t really get jealous of people having “things.” Never have. And also, I had such a magical time at Christmas every year—TWICE—that I just didn’t waste any energy wondering why someone else might have got something that I didn’t. My brain didn’t work that way.

But still, I don’t want to make other children feel bad, or put unneeded pressure on other parents due to the stories our children might swap at school. I’ll be sensitive about that at Christmas (though an abundance of cash will most certainly not be a problem this year!) as I am now with this Tooth Fairy situation.

C.R.E.A.M. Get the money. Dolla, dolla bills, ya’ll.

One dollar is not enough. I’m sorry. It’s not.

But $10-$20? That seems outrageous. That’s not happening either.

I think I’ve convinced myself that $5 is the right monetary ceiling here.

And I think I’ve convinced myself that lessons in money management (which I could certainly use a refresher on as its perhaps my greatest personal weakness) might be in order for my little man.

I am not financially disciplined. I want to be. But I’m not. I might even be a little reckless. Not majorly. But a little bit.

I think if you had a heart-to-heart with my ex-wife, she would tell you that this is in her top three of Matt’s Most-Undesirable Traits.

And I’d be quick to agree with her.

On a human-relations level, I very much want my son to be like me. I think I know how to treat others, and I think his observations of how I treat others over time will give him a blueprint for appropriate manners and decorum, depending on the audience. I hope so, anyway.

But on the money-management level? I have some very serious changes to make in my life before I can be a credible teacher.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Right?

Right.

So, maybe the Tooth Fairy gives $5, with the caveat being my son has to put $2 of it into his savings account. Otherwise, he only gets $3 next time.

I’m going to consult the Tooth Fairy’s ex-spouse to see if she co-signs on this strategy. Because we must still be a team. Even on matters related to dental folklore.

My guess is she’ll think this is a decent plan.

Which means I have two new chores for today:

  1. Build a Tooth Fairy emergency fund.
  2. Write a note to my son from the magical little wealthy tooth collector.

I’ve certainly had worse jobs to do.

Regards,

The Tooth Fairy

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The First Date, Vol. 2

Diamonds. Virtually unbreakable. Not unlike my date. The jewelry store girl. Who knows what will happen next? I'm not sure it matters. But I'm grateful to have met her. And I've already grown because of it.

Diamonds. Virtually unbreakable. Not unlike my date. The jewelry store girl. Who knows what will happen next? I’m not sure it matters. But I’m grateful to have met her. And I’ve already grown because of it.

My shirt was untucked so she wouldn’t see the pleats.

I was running late from work and hadn’t had time to change.

I pulled into a parking space in front of the jewelry store where I had promised to pick her up 20 minutes earlier.

I hope she’s not too mad, I thought.

I beeped my horn for her to hurry. Applebee’s was probably going to be slamming.

She tried to tell me about her day at work, but I was only half listening while answering some text messages and driving at the same time.

I can only do so many things at once, lady!

Rod Stewart was blowing my mind on the radio and I turned him up so she would know to change the subject.

We got to Applebee’s and sat down right away. The Olive Garden next door was packing them in because of unlimited salad and breadsticks so we totally lucked out at the neighborhood grill and bar.

I invited her to order anything she wanted… so long as it was on the Two for $20 menu. Like a boss.

She texted one of her friends, probably telling her what a charmer I was.

I’m getting lucky tonight, baby.

<Insert vinyl record-screeching sound here.> C’mon now. Non-punctuality? Applebee’s? Rod Stewart!?!? You didn’t really believe that.

Only the untucked-shirt part of that story was true.

I arrived right when I said I would.

I sipped a sugar-free Red Bull because I didn’t want to yawn during our dinner conversation. I brought her a bottle of water, just in case. She appreciated it.

She’d had a tough day, she said. She manages a jewelry store owned by a man she calls her dad, but who isn’t her biological father. The vast majority of day-to-day responsibilities at the shop belong to her. Almost every day, she experiences all of the negatives of being a business owner without any of the financial perks. I bet it’s exhausting.

It took about a half hour to drive to the restaurant. We were a little early but were still able to get a table pretty quickly.

She likes sweet wines.

I prefer dry reds.

So, we ordered by the glass.

The conversation was effortless. I remember being curious what we would discuss. Wondering whether personal topics would be broached.

Her divorce was finalized only a month ago. And from a separation standpoint—she is three months behind me on the healing curve.

She’s an incredibly open person. Just puts it right out there. No walls. I’m learning to appreciate that more and more.

It’s amazing what you can learn about someone in five hours—the length of our time together. More on that later.

Dating as a Divorced Adult

The stark differences between 34-year-old me and 20-year-old me were on full display last night.

I seriously didn’t think about sex one time. Okayyyy. Maybe once. But only because I have a man brain and she mentioned a couple tattoos.

Honestly, there was zero sexual tension as there would have been several years ago.

Maybe because we’re both still reeling from our marriages ending.

Maybe because it felt foreign to be sitting in a dimly lit restaurant with a relative stranger.

Maybe because we didn’t drink enough.

Maybe because we consumed 89,000 calories.

Maybe because she thought I was stupid and ugly, but faked it well.

Not thinking about sex is a wonderful thing. It helps you focus on substance. On listening.

And you are less anxious as a result. No one likes anxiety.

On the flipside, I was worried about feeling pressure because the stakes are so much higher now as an adult. At least on paper.

When you’re young and a date goes bad? Who cares?

I could have two more the next day!

When you’re Divorced Single-Dad Guy who knows approximately ZERO single people?

The field narrows.

So, it’s like: OMG! OMG! I gotta be amazing! Brilliant! Funny! Sexy! Skinnier! Richer! Stronger! Braver! Taller!

Because if I don’t, maybe it will be another seven months before I meet an attractive available woman to share dinner with.

When you’re young, you have your entire life ahead of you. You’re only worried about which club or pub or keg party you’re going to attend this weekend.

When you’re me?

You wonder how many weeks it will be before you’re even able to coordinate schedules to be in the same place at the same time again.

She has a very hectic professional and personal schedule.

I have my son half the time.

So, even if she wants to see me again—and I am inclined to ask—it could seriously be, like, January the next time we’re both available.

But maybe I’m just exaggerating. I totally do that sometimes.

A New Kind of Tough

This woman is a brand of tough that would take me a long time to fully understand.

Hers is a story filled with tragedy and heartache. And you only know it because she’s not afraid of telling you who she is.

She’s been through so much shit that she doesn’t know shame. She doesn’t know fear.

I’m whining about divorce all the time.

And divorce is just barely sneaking into the Top 10 of her Shitty Things That Have Happened to Me list.

I hesitate to share her story, even though three times she has told me to write whatever I wanted.

But I also want to give you a taste of who I spent five hours with last night. Because so much of it surprised me. That pleasant, smiling, pretty girl behind the counter of a family owned jeweler? How could she have baggage? How could she be tainted by all the shit?

Here’s how:

Her mother abandoned her, leaving a 21-year-old father to raise a baby daughter alone.

Her father loved and cherished her. He painted. Made crafts for his daughter. Took her fishing. Loved music. Metallica. Aerosmith.

But we all have demons.

My date’s father was a drinker. Like my dad, in a lot of ways. Because he never had any of the problems commonly associated with alcoholism. He went to work. Maintained healthy relationships. Stayed out of trouble. No violence or sexual misconduct or anything like that.

He just drank.

My date recalled stories growing up in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her dad.

“I went for the coffee and donuts,” she said.

Sometimes, her father’s hands would shake from withdraw symptoms, so they would only fill his coffee cup a small amount to avoid spilling.

A total goofball, his adoring daughter called him.

Her father was killed in a car accident when she was 12.

Mom’s been gone forever. And then the person who matters most is gone, too. Out of nowhere.

My chest tightened as I started to see my date for who she was. As I started to realize the depths of trauma and tragedy that have touched her.

She started tearing up. She almost never does that, she said.

The waitress showed up right then. I hoped she didn’t think I made my date cry.

She regrouped quickly. Told me happier stories about her father’s art. She has one of the last paintings he ever made. Showed me a photo of it. A small boat nestled up against a palm-treed peninsula or island. Calm waters off on the horizon. I liked it.

She also lost a best friend unexpectedly. I don’t know the details. I just know she’s an only child like me and keeps her best friends close. Which makes it extra brutal, all that she’s endured.

By the time her failed marriage came up, I had a healthy dose of perspective.

A healthy dose of gratitude.

And an inkling of a clue as to the kind of woman I was with.

A special one.

Whatever Comes Next

She likes football.

And playing card games.

And non-traditional family.

She likes making crafts—really creative things with a needle and thread.

And designing jewelry.

And music.

She wants to learn how to play guitar to honor her father. She worries about her small hands, though.

She has reconnected with her biological grandmother who she didn’t know growing up. They sew together now, and have built a loyal and loving grandmother-granddaughter relationship.

She likes the number 13. I always have, too. We joked about how shitty 2013 was for us despite our affinity for those digits.

I have absolutely no idea what my future is with this woman.

Perhaps friendship.

Perhaps nothing.

Perhaps something.

I don’t know that it matters. Which was my favorite part of going on my first date in 14 years.

Because I don’t care what happens next. Whatever happens next will happen.

The world will keep spinning.

The sun will rise and set.

The clocks will keep reminding us that yesterday is yesterday, we can’t know what tomorrow will bring and that we only have right now.

And today I choose gratitude.

Because someone volunteered to share a moment with me.

Because someone trusted me enough to share their deepest wounds and vulnerabilities.

Because someone proved to me that no matter what happens next, there is life after divorce, there is life after death, there is as much life as we choose to live.

This too shall pass.

I’m inspired by her perseverance. By her courage. By her fearlessness.

I’m inspired by her ability to love after all of the, just, totally epic pile of shit she has endured since forever.

I’m inspired by her faith. That her spirit endures. That she wants to discover more, and be generous, and love her friends and family.

The world tried to break her.

But she wakes up every day, and says: “Not today, bitch.”

I can use a little more of that in my life.

And, platonic or otherwise, I hope to do that very thing.

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