Monthly Archives: January 2014

Guest Post: How to Adapt to Dating After Divorce

The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

The key to dating after divorce? Adaptation.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of guest posts scheduled to run while I’m out of town getting a little R&R with friends and family. This post is from Lisa Arends, author of the book and blog “Lessons From the End of a Marriage.” I asked Lisa to guest post because divorce recovery is a central theme of MBTTTR, and I don’t believe anyone can bring more to the discussion than she. I can’t impress upon you just how important I think her story is for people dealing with divorce or the end of a meaningful relationship. And if you’re one of those people, I hope you’ll visit Lisa’s blog and immerse yourself in those stories. Healing and enlightenment live there. Thank you, Lisa, for your generous contribution.

When change happens,

You can complain.

Or you can adapt.

Guess which one the dinosaurs chose?

One of the trademarks of marriage, especially long ones, is that we become comfortable. We know our environment and we know how to survive within it.

And then divorce changes that environment as surely as an asteroid stripping the earth bare. The behaviors and habits that once served us well become vestigial or even maladaptive.

It makes me think of Darwin’s finches, stranded on islands with plentiful food and yet no way to access the sustenance as their beaks had evolved for other food sources. Some of the birds never changed and they failed to thrive, bloodlines becoming extinct. While others, slowly and over time, adapted to their new environments, their beaks changing to reach the available nutrition. And those are the finches that have thrived, their offspring populating the islands to this day.

Divorce treats us like one of those birds, suddenly abandoned on an island that may possess the resources we need to survive, yet we are unsure how to access them. Our metaphorical beaks developed for the married life, with its unique demands and challenges, not for the suddenly single world that we now find ourselves in.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

Adaptation occurs when you use your experiences and environment to create change and continually modify your approach based upon your circumstances. Adaptation is a process, not a state. It is ongoing, responsive. It is imperfect; using trial and error to make the tiniest steps forward. It challenges us, requiring growth outside our comfort zone. It forces us to continually reevaluate our self-image and assumptions.

Change is hard.

But it’s reality.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

I first became acutely aware of the need for adaptation not too long after my husband left. I started dating relatively quickly, probably from a combination of wanting to be more healed than I was and wanting distraction from the hell that was the legal system.

I didn’t have a problem finding men or attracting them. But I had a major problem with dating them. You see, I was adapted for marriage, with its intimacies and vulnerabilities. I knew how to be married, but I had no idea how to date. Those first few men (apologies, guys!) found me, almost upon introduction, acting as a wife.

It wasn’t intentional. I certainly wasn’t looking for a husband. But I was maladapted to the dating world, so I reverted to what I knew. And what I knew included being way too open too soon. Looking to my date to fill the role of life partner before I even knew his life story. And making plans for the next step before the first one was even taken.

Needless to say, that behavior didn’t work out very well.

So I adapted.

I learned to recognize my wife-like behavior and stop myself before I asked a man after a first date if he needed anything from the grocery store. I committed not to a single man but to practicing dating until I could get it right. I looked for clues to determine if my approach was appropriate or not. I looked to others who were more adept than I at dating and I used them as mentors, imitating what I observed.

I erred too far on the other side at first, going from wife-like to almost clinical detachment, keeping dates at a pro basketball player’s arm’s length. I would initiate a date with the proclamation that I was moving out of town within a few months and that I was doing just fine on my own.

Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well either.

So I continued to adapt, eventually finding a balance that led to a new marriage.

Where I then had to adapt again. Because one relationship isn’t like another. I may have known how to be married to my ex but that’s different than being married to my new husband.

Change is a certainty.

And we have two choices.

We can either complain.

Or we can adapt.

You are more malleable than you realize. You can adapt to conditions that, at first glance, seem unable to support life. You can adjust and readjust until you have developed strategies that allow you to conquer your circumstances. You can use change, even unwanted change, as an opportunity for growth.

And it begins by truly seeing your environment. Look with your eyes, not your assumptions, at what is around you. It’s scary to face change. We often want to put our heads down and run through it as if it’s not there.

But it is.

See your new world. Feel it. Accept it.

And then try something new.

You may fail. That’s okay. Remember that adaptation is a process. And failures help us learn what works and what doesn’t.

Keep trying. It took Darwin’s finches generations to adapt. You can be patient with yourself.

Use imitation. Mimic the success of others, modifying it to fit your needs.

Slowly, ever so slowly, you’ll learn what works. And you’ll begin to adapt to your present reality.

And that island that once felt so barren and inhospitable will be teeming with possibility.

Control is an illusion.

Choice is a certainty.

And you can choose to complain.

Or you can choose to adapt.

Lisa Arends works as a math teacher and a wellness coach. After using her own sudden divorce four years ago as a catalyst for positive change, she now helps people navigate their own divorces and transform stress into wellness. She loves to lift heavy weights and run long distances, and she is still learning how to meditate. She can be found at her blog, Lessons From the End of a Marriage and on The Huffington Post.
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A Vacation From My Problems

A vacation! A vacation from my problems!

A vacation! A vacation from my problems! Only with less sun and more snow.

For the first time since the Fourth of July 2013, I am getting out of town.

Much-needed time away.

To see family and friends I love.

To eat, drink and be merry.

To laugh.

To just be… me.

The last time I took any sort of legit trip and felt like me was the summer of 2011.

My son was three.

I still thought I was going to get to stay married for the rest of my life.

That’s a level of comfort and security I think most married people take for granted. Because they get bored. That’s a sad thing.

We went to Myrtle Beach, S.C. It’s a little cliché for Ohio families to go to Myrtle. But it also makes a lot of sense. Because it’s probably the best family spot not named Disney World I’ve ever been to. Kids can be kids. Adults can be adults.

On the drive home from that trip, I was deliriously tired.

We stopped at a McDonald’s with another family with whom we were traveling.

I had to go to the bathroom.

You know, number two.

You know, poop.

I have a slight phobia about this sort of thing in public places. You can read more about that here.

Because I don’t want to get Public Restroom AIDS, I try to use lots of protective layering in the very rare instance when I’m required to do this.

On this particular fateful morning, the protective layering was lots of toilet paper.

I finished my business. Washed up. And walked back out where my wife, son and friends were sitting.

My friend Josh started laughing at me right away and taking photos.

I looked down. I had about a half roll worth of toilet paper sticking out the back of my shorts and flying around behind me like a Hawaiian grass skirt.

I muttered an expletive and walked back to the bathroom. Dozens of people were amused. But we were in West Virginia, I didn’t know anyone, and I was pretty hungover, so I didn’t really care.

But that’s still one of those moments that sticks with you after your wife leaves.

Like maybe that was just one more piece of straw that finally broke the camel’s back for her.

The asshole with the toilet paper dangling from his shorts.

New MBTTTR Voices

A few awesome bloggers agreed to guest post for me in my absence. I may skip a day. I may write. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do.

But tomorrow, you’ll get a really great post from Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

The next day, you’ll peek inside the heart and mind of David at The Marmot in My Head and Sounds like Orange.

On Sunday or Monday, I’m sharing an already-published post by Gretchen at Drifting Through my Open Mind which had really resonated with me when I’d read it.

And then, there may be something from a Mystery Guy. I can’t say his name because I don’t yet know his plans.

I hope you enjoy these writers as much as I do. I can’t thank them enough for helping me out with this.

I’m heading west.

About 16 hours in the car there and back, eight each way. Plenty of time for self-reflection. Plenty of time to choose myself some more.

A visit to my father’s.

An opportunity for everyone to see how big my five-year-old son is getting.

They grow so fast.

An opportunity to hug and laugh and let go.

It’s been a while.

An opportunity to be somewhere else.

Physically AND mentally.

I think a person needs that.

To heal more.

A vacation from my problems.

To be free.

See you on the flipside.

bob1

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Being Nice Isn’t Enough

Kindness. That's where peace lives.

Kindness. That’s where peace lives.

For years, I wouldn’t hear it.

The complaining. Some men call it “nagging.” Or “bitching.” Or “PMS-ing.”

She must be crazy.

“How is it that I get along with every person I’ve ever met, but the one person I love above all else is the only one complaining about me?” I’d say. “Why am I never good enough for you?”

And it’s that easy.

You use cognitive bias to alleviate yourself of all responsibility and put the onus on the other person to shape up like the rest of the world.

That’s how you spend years never taking responsibility for your own actions.

That’s how you stunt your own growth.

That’s how you destroy families.

By being nice.

That’s the problem. I’m a nice guy. Legit.

And I always thought that was enough.

What do I mean by “nice”? I’m well-mannered. Polite. I hold doors open for people. Say “please” and “thank you.” I treat strangers well. I’m very friendly. I tend to make good first impressions in social situations.

I’m not for everyone, I’m sure. But the vast majority of the time, people just like me. Or at least act like they do.

And I figured it out young. If I act like this and use good manners and be generous and say funny things and don’t be mean then people will like me!!!

So, that’s what I did. From whatever point in grade school I figured it out, until now.

I can work a room.

It works against me sometimes. If you meet people who have been burned by “nice guys” in the past, they sometimes react negatively. Others probably think I’m too obnoxious. Or that I’m fake. Insincere. Putting on a show.

But usually it just works. Being me yields positive results. So, I never change. And I’m not sure I could if I tried.

The only way to know whether I am who I say I am is to really get to know me. To see how I treat people when no one’s watching. To see how I behave during conflict or in the face of inconvenience.

I fall short. I can raise my voice. Morally outraged. How DARE you say I’m not nice!!!

But it’s all bullshit.

Not the me-being-nice part. That’s true.

But the part where acting like being nice gives me some kind of Get Out of Jail Free card anytime someone has a problem with my behavior or the way I made them feel. Most specifically, my wife during our marriage.

Being nice? It’s not enough. Not even close.

Nice – adj.good and enjoyable; exacting in requirements or standards; socially acceptable.

Kind – adj.having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others; wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.

Kindness.

I try to use that word now. Over and over again. Kindness.

Being kind is different than being nice.

Axe murderers can be nice.

Rapists can be nice.

Child abusers can be nice.

But only truly decent people can be kind.

It’s a critical distinction. And I’m trying so hard to choose kindness. Because sometimes nice doesn’t cut it.

Sometimes nice will leave you sad, angry and alone.

She Must be Something More

She must.

Your spouse. Or partner. It really applies to everyone. All genders and sexual preferences. I just view it through the prism of husband-wife stuff.

But she can’t just be another person. Every single day, she must be treated like the most-important thing in your life.

We get so frustrated with one another. We take each other for granted. We use unkind language. Because: “She’s not leaving!”

A. Don’t bet on it.

B. Don’t you want to treat your spouse like the most-important person in the world? Why on Earth would you have married her otherwise? (And to be clear, the partners need to give back in return. THAT’s how you make it work. Choosing love, and out-unselfishing one another.) Please lead by example.

C. Even if you’re selfish and only care about yourself, I have a secret for you. *lowers voice to whisper* Your life will be infinitely more pleasant if your wife and the mother of your children is madly in love with you, wants to treat you well, wants to pleasure you physically, wants to make you happy. EVEN IF you don’t want to do it for the right reasons, why not try to do it just to make things better for yourself?

You can be nice and hurt her with words.

You can be nice and hurt her with inaction.

You can be nice and hurt her with self-centeredness.

You can be nice and hurt her when you politely decline an invitation to join her in bed.

You can be nice and hurt her when you leave her alone to watch a Reese Witherspoon movie while you’re off doing your own thing.

You can be nice and hurt her by dumping the lion’s share of child-raising duties, housework, errands, and other responsibilities on her lap while you sit well-mannered, watching football, playing video games, sitting at the computer, or doing whatever else you like to do.

You can hurt her accidentally.

You can be physically present but not really be there.

You can love her on the inside, and she can still feel unloved and abandoned.

That’s what leaving your wife alone in your marriage looks like. No matter how nice you are, that’s a one-way ticket to divorce. Or her having an affair. Or both.

Goodbye normal life. Goodbye kids. Goodbye everything.

Hey Matt! I just don’t understand how a woman could ever leave such a nice guy like you!”

Well, thanks. But I do.

It’s because just being nice isn’t enough.

And it never will be.

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The Bookend Dreams

It could mean so many things. Or nothing at all. Photo by Erich Veith

It could mean so many things. Or nothing at all. Photo by Erich Veith

I woke suddenly and sat up. Terror reverberating throughout every piece of me.

Breathe.

I looked over. My five-year-old son had crawled into my bed at some point during the night. That’s not uncommon.

Just breathe.

He’s okay.

I’m okay.

In. Then, out.

At some point a little over a year ago, I stopped remembering my dreams.

I remember some. But almost never anymore. This sticks out to me because I’ve spent most of my life having very vivid and memorable dreams.

I can remember reoccurring ones from my youth. Some frightening. Some happy. Some sad.

I can remember some sexually explicit dreams. Basically, if you’re female and we’re not related, my subconscious has had sex with you while I was sleeping.

  1. I’m sorry.
  2. I hope Fake You liked it.

But this week, I’ve had two dreams that have REALLY resonated with me.

They are different than any dream I can ever remember having before. And I want to be open-minded about what that might mean.

Dream #1

The night after reading this post by a lovely wife and mother that goes by K—and who says nicer things about me than anyone who is not my grandmother—I had a dream about an owl.

A white owl.

It was huge. I was in a strange house. The kitchen in this house was sectioned off by a large L-shaped island with overhead cabinets.

And looking through the gap between the cabinets and the counter below, I could see the owl.

Gigantic.

Majestic.

Beautiful.

But I was afraid. So afraid.

I didn’t want it to know I was there.

Still. So still.

Then it turned its head toward me.

Eye contact.

white owl

And then I awoke.

Weird.

“To see an owl in your dream symbolizes wisdom, insight, magic, expanded awareness and virtue,” according to Dream Moods. “You are highly connected to your intuitive senses and psychic power. The owl is also synonymous with death, darkness and the subconscious. The appearance of an owl may be telling you to let go of the past or certain negative behaviors.”

Dream #2

First I was walking the streets of a foreign town. Asia, maybe? Street vendors. The kind I’ve only seen on television.

And then, as dreams often shift suddenly, I find myself on a commercial jet, flying home.

I was in the front row. Alone, on the left side.

There is so much talking. Talking. Talking. Talking.

And then most of it stopped. And it sounded like it does on red-eye flights in the middle of the night.

Dark. Just the hum of the engines and air conditioning system.

I turned around, surprised that the talking had stopped suddenly.

Everyone had bags over their heads. Everyone for as far as I could see. Bags like this.

bags on head

I turned to my right. There was one other person sitting up in the row opposite me. Then he leaned forward and covered himself with his coat.

I looked in front of me.

Even though there’s no way it could ever happen in real life, I could somehow see into the cockpit. And through the windshield into the lit sky.

And then the plane dove. Hard.

Straight down.

As if the pilots had done so intentionally.

No one screamed.

Like they knew it was coming. Like I was the only one to get on the plane without realizing it would never arrive at its destination.

I knew I was going to die. I accepted it more easily than I would in real life.

“Father, forgive me.”

Then, before the lights went out…

Awake.

Breathe. Just breathe.

Still alive.

Your son is safe.

“To dream that a plane crashes signifies that you have set overly high and unrealistic goals for yourself. You are in danger of having those goals come crashing down,” Dream Moods said. “Alternatively, the crashing airplane represents your lack of confidence, self-defeating attitude and self-doubt. You do not believe in your own ability to achieve those goals. Loss of power and uncertainty in achieving your goals are also signified.

“To wake up before you crash in your dream may simply be the anticipation of the crash that jolts you awake. It is similar to the notion of waking up before you hit the ground from a fall.”

Maybe there’s some truth there.

After all, it’s not hard to recognize because it often hurts.

But I didn’t like the part suggesting I don’t believe in my ability to achieve my goals. Because I do believe I can.

And I don’t like the part where both dreams signify death.

Because I’m not ready. There’s so much left to do.

But we don’t control that. The hourglass balance is what it is and none of us will know until those final grains of sand hit the bottom.

All we can do is make the best of right now. Today. This moment.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Because I woke up this morning thinking I was going to die.

But I didn’t.

My child, sleeping peacefully at my side.

Breathe.

In, then out.

Still alive.

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If My Grandma Married a Liam Neeson Movie Character

Despite being the most saintly woman in the known universe, I'm pretty sure my grandma wants to bang Liam Neeson.

Despite being the most saintly woman in the known universe, I’m pretty sure my grandma wants to bang Liam Neeson.

My grandmother is almost 80 years old.

She is the sweetest, kindest human being who has ever existed. Anyone who says differently is a dirty liar or possibly just someone who hasn’t met her.

She has 18 grandchildren, 19 if you count my son. I am the oldest. And possibly the awesome-ist.

It is of the utmost importance that my grandmother never read my writing. She thinks I’m an angel. Which makes sense because I’m always on my best behavior in her presence.

My grandmother loves Jesus. She prays and prays and prays for every single person she knows and even all the people she doesn’t. All she wants—ever—is the very best for every single person in the world.

While I’ve never seen her act particularly judgmental, she certainly exists in the upper echelon of conservative behavior.

Which is why I was so shocked to learn she has the hots for Liam Neeson.

My grandma was sleeping peacefully in the hospital following a procedure that a better grandson would be able to name. And had this next part not happened, maybe I would remember:

Grandma woke up. My grandfather at her side—her husband of 55 years and counting.

She looked to her left where one of her daughters was standing—my aunt—and said: “Oh my. Liam Neeson will be here any minute and I haven’t even done my hair.”

I know what you’re thinking: “Matt. That doesn’t seem very scandalous.”

I need you to trust me on this. My grandmother saying THAT is the equivalent of a normal person saying: “I need Liam Neeson to violate me right this second. Hard.”

So I got to thinking: My grandma doesn’t really like Liam Neeson. She’s never met him before! I don’t think. Who she actually likes are Liam Neeson’s movie characters.

Which begs the question: What would those Grandma-and-Liam-Neeson-Movie-Character relationships look like?

I’ve maybe seen a dozen Liam Neeson movies.

I STILL haven’t seen Schindler’s List. I know. It’s embarrassing. Back when I used to smoke pot, I once got high and sat down to watch it. Then some freaky candles showed up on the screen in the opening scene. It weirded me out so I shut it off and watched a comedy.

Some of the Candidates to Fulfill My Grandmother’s Liam Neeson Fantasy

Qui-Gon Jinn

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

qui gon jinn

Qui-Gon is the man responsible for the Jedi training of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and to a lesser extent, pre-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker.

I like this idea. Qui-Gon and Grandma. I’d get to eat freshly baked cookies AND do lightsaber training during my visits.

Qui-Gon would never scream at my grandmother: “Hey! Bring me a beer!,” because he could use the Force to float it right to his armchair.

Jedi knights take vows of celibacy. Which means my grandmother would not be having sexual relations with, potentially, the worst Jedi—ever. 

Bryan Mills

Taken

 taken-2

Bryan Mills is a retired U.S. spy. A badass. If you kidnap people in his family, he will straight-up kill you. I like the idea of Grandma being safe from international kidnappers looking to sell 80-year-old women to the black market sex trade.

We’d meet next time I go visit my grandparents. I’d be pissed that Bryan won my grandmother’s affections over my awesome grandfather.

“Hey Mills! I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want,” I’d say. “But I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.

“If you leave my grandmother alone now, that will be the end of it. I will not come after you. But if you don’t. I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

neeson death stare

“Heh. Just kidding, Bryan. I mean, Grandpa Bryan!

Henri Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul

Batman Begins

Ras_Al_Ghul

Another tough guy. This is the man who taught Bruce Wayne the skills needed to succeed as the Caped Crusader.

He is an evil man.

And my grandmother is a saint.

And they say opposites attract.

So I can totally see this happening.

Zeus

Clash of the Titans

clash_of_the_titans

Let’s see.

He overthrew his own father. He throws thunderbolts at anyone who pisses him off. Ruler of Mt. Olympus. Brother of Hades and Poseidon (who might have got the big-boy job over Zeus had he not had such a laughably small penis). And is legendary for his many affairs.

Yeah. Great. Cheat on my grandma, you sonofabitch!

Of course, with Zeus being my stepgrandpa, I could potentially get the inside track for a date with Venus or Aphrodite. I hear they’ve aged well.

Daniel

Love, Actually

love actually

I’m not Romantic Comedy Guy. It’s one of those things that really helps me pass the Is He a Man? sniff test.

However. Love, Actually is awesome. Hilarious. My all-time favorite romantic comedy not involving Tom Hanks.

And I adore this particular character. I, legit, hope to emulate his parenting style as my son ages.

On the heels of his wife dying, Daniel is left to care for his withdrawn stepson.

Daniel thinks he’s super-depressed over his mother’s passing. And certainly he is affected by it. But he’s a young boy in school. And he’s fallen in love, he says, with a girl at school who doesn’t know he exists.

All of the remaining scenes in the film are Daniel not dismissing his stepson’s thoughts and feelings.

He doesn’t say: “That’s bullshit. You’re just a dumb little kid whose feelings and opinions don’t matter.”

He invests in his stepson’s problem and goes to great lengths to help him win this girl’s affections.

It’s extraordinarily sweet. And as a father, I hope I can respect my son enough to validate all of the things that really matter to him, instead of always treating him like my feelings are more important because I’m the old-and-wise adult.

I love this guy. And at the risk of insulting my ridiculously awesome grandfather, Daniel can be my bonus grandpa anytime he wants to.

Rob Roy

Rob Roy

rob roy

Rob Roy is like, part-Robin Hood, part William Wallace from Braveheart.

He’s an 18th Century Scot.

I bet my recently turned-saucy grandma totally digs that sort of thing. And I want her to be happy.

And I can’t kick his ass anyway.

“Yes, Grandpa Rob Roy. Of course I’ll get your reading glasses and Dr. Scholl’s inserts for you.”

Dr. Martin Harris

Unknown

martin harris unknown

In Unknown, Neeson’s character Dr. Harris wakes from a coma with little memory of who he is.

Since my grandmother’s memory worsens as she ages, the unintentional comedy would be off the charts.

I’m so desperate to listen to those conversations, I’m almost hopeful this happens.

Grandma: “Can I help you, mister?”

Dr. Harris: “Are you joking?”

Grandma: “No. I don’t remember any jokes. What can I do for you?”

Dr. Harris: “Sweetheart, you’re scaring me. Don’t you know who I am?”

Grandma: “Yes. You’re Liam Neeson.”

Dr. Harris: “That actor you want to bang!?!? Babe, I’m your husband. It’s me. Martin. We’re married.”

Grandma: “Oh my. How long have we been married?”

Dr. Harris: “Not sure. I have a shitty memory, too. We met right after I came out of a coma at the hospital. Or maybe it was the pub. I honestly don’t know.”

Grandma: “Yeah. I’m not even sure what we’re talking about right now, Lester.”

Dr. Harris: “It’s Martin, actually.”

Grandma: “Hi Mark. I really just want to eat some toast with apple butter and rest my eyes.”

Dr. Harris: “Okay, hon. Would you like to watch a movie?”

Grandma: “I hear Taken 2 is quite good.”

My grandma had emergency surgery yesterday.

Weeks back, she had an accident with her car which resulted in her own vehicle running over both of her legs.

I know.

If I didn’t love her so much, I’d laugh at the absurdity I picture in my head while trying to imagine how this happened.

She’s had a series of infection flare ups, and is currently in a hospital bed with intentionally opened wounds on both legs so the medical staff can treat the infection directly.

This is the second time she has needed emergency surgery in about three weeks because the doctors treating her apparently have the same medical training that I do.

She is one of the sweetest, most-beautiful human beings to ever walk this earth. And my prayer today is that she is able to recover fully from this incident and eventually get around physically as well as she’s always been able to.

The world is such a brighter place when she’s lighting it up.

And that can’t return soon enough.

Even if after all this, she ends up making old-lady sexy time with a Liam Neeson movie character.

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My 15 Minutes

Let the countdown begin.

Let the countdown begin.

They say everyone gets theirs.

Fifteen minutes.

And near as I can tell, this is mine.

Today, WordPress has featured Must Be This Tall To Ride on Just Another WordPress Weblog.

I’m something well-beyond flattered.

But there’s also some anxiety.

What if thousands of people read about me? What if they think I’m a dipshit? What if I get a bunch of new followers? What if I don’t get any?

Maybe I have pantophobia.

THAT'S IT!!!

THAT’S IT!!!

Anyway, if you’re interested, I hope you’ll come be a part of it. I suspect I’ll be playing over there for a few days, digesting whatever feedback might come. That’s assuming I’m not curled up in the fetal position or self-medicating with tequila shots.

You’ll notice by the headline that Krista at WordPress clearly hasn’t been online dating.

You can read the profile here:

Single, Divorced, but Plenty Tall Enough to Ride:

A Blogger Profile

You might not realize it, but you’ve given me something to love when I needed it very much.

You’ll never know the depths of my gratitude.

Thank you.

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A Robot That Does Everything For You

I don't recall Andrew wiping any butts in "Bicentennial Man." But I might have to watch it again to be sure.

I don’t recall Andrew wiping any butts in “Bicentennial Man.” But I might have to watch it again to be sure.

“Hey dad,” my five-year-old son said. “Wouldn’t it be cool if for your birthday, I got you a robot that would do everything for you?

“Like, you could say: ‘Hey robot! Clean those dishes,’ or ‘Hey robot! Pick up my toys,’ or ‘Hey robot! Give me a bath,’ and then the robot would just do it for you.”

I smiled. Funny kid.

“Yeah, bud. That would be amazing. I would love a robot just like that,” I said.

My desk is a disaster zone. Bills. Things that need filed. Photos.

A total mess.

A metaphor for my entire life from an organization standpoint.

I still have some Christmas decorations in my bedroom that need put away. It would literally take me less than two minutes. A few boxes sitting right next to the storage doors.

I have a pile of laundry by my dresser. It would literally take me less than 20 seconds to pick up the pile and carry it down the hall to a closet where a laundry basket lives for that very purpose.

Both my son’s bed and my bed are unmade. I had strep throat this past weekend and haven’t washed my sheets yet. It would literally take me three minutes to make both beds.

There’s a pretty disgusting fish tank sitting on my kitchen counter right now. I intend to clean it tonight, assuming I don’t drink myself into a nerve-wracked stupor.

Several months ago, a little girl who was at the house playing with my son dumped an entire bottle of water-treatment bacteria into the tank. (There were no fish in it. It’s the Tank of Death™.) The water got really cloudy and gross.

I just left it there to run every day until two nights ago when I took it downstairs to my kitchen.

It’s a freaking miracle we don’t have SARS or bubonic plague or scurvy.

I’m glad it’s there, because it makes the stack of dishes seem less unsightly.

Can robots get scurvy?

“Hey dad!” my son yelled from the bathroom. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a robot that would wipe our butts for us?”

He thinks things like that are hilarious and it’s totally my fault.

“A butt-wiping robot? I don’t know, man. That sounds dangerous,” I said.

It was bath time.

Every time we had a new task, it was: “Dad. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a robot to do…” whatever it was we were doing. Scrubbing with soap. Washing and rinsing hair. Drying off. Brushing teeth. Combing hair.

A butt-wiping robot? This boy is displaying subtle signs of laziness.

I worried for a minute. I’m a worrier.

I stepped into the living room to shut off a couple lights before taking my son upstairs to tuck him in.

When I’d last left the room there were plastic and rubber reptiles and dinosaurs scattered everywhere.

He had picked up every single one without me asking and put them in one of his toy bins.

Good boy.

I worried less.

Today, I had to take my son to school for the very first time. Usually the day care lady manages this process.

Somehow, we didn’t have any of his shoes at the house. They were all at his mom’s or at the day care family’s.

Shit.

Snow boots weren’t going to cut it. It was gym class day, he said.

I called my ex-wife. She was kind enough to leave her office and run home to get us a pair.

Thank you.

Maybe a robot could have made us a cool pair of shoes or run to my ex-wife’s house for us to pick them up.

I drove to the school.

When I was in school, things were simple. There was a building. And when you arrived at the building, you could just go inside of it.

Now, thanks to shitbags and psychos intent on harming children, there are all these rules preventing such convenience.

And it became obvious right away: I was doing it wrong.

I was waiting in a drop-off lane.

One lady two cars back was VERY disappointed with my choices. I could tell by her honking her horn.

She pulled out of line and drove up next to me. I thought she was going to say something to help point me in the right direction because clearly I looked like someone who didn’t know what he was doing.

I rolled down my window with a smile on my face eagerly awaiting her helpful advice.

“There’s a whole fucking parking lot right there, asshole! Why don’t you try parking in it?!?!?” she yelled, not very nicely.

And because I’m REALLY tough when I’m safe in my car and firing back at bitchy soccer moms, I was preparing to retort: “Yeah! Cool! Yell at me! I’ve never been here before, you mouth-breather! Thanks for the help!”

But I didn’t have the satisfaction, because she drove away like a coward after verbally abusing me.

“Why did that person yell at you, daddy?” my son asked.

“Because I’m parked in a very bad place and because she is a very bad person,” I said.

Maybe a robot could have gotten out of the Jeep and robo-punched her in her stupid face.

I am getting better.

I am.

At managing my life. The adjustment is a gradual one. And I’m a talented procrastinator even in the best of times.

I was joking with a few guys at the office about how I need to invite people over to motivate me to keep my house in tip-top shape.

“So THAT’s why you don’t have parties anymore,” one said.

There might even be a little truth there.

Another guy said all will fix itself once I have a woman back in my life again.

I half-snorted.

“I have enough trouble getting dates as it is,” I said. “Maybe I should throw in the all-enticing offer to help clean my house.”

That does sound nice, though. Right, single people?

Someone to talk to?

Someone to sit with?

Someone to wake up next to?

But maybe the kid’s onto something.

I wonder what Johnny 5’s up to these days?

"When you gotta go, don't squeeze the Charmin." Johnny 5 seems uniquely qualified for my son's unusual request.

“When you gotta go, don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Johnny 5 seems uniquely qualified for my son’s unusual request.

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The Calm Before the Storm

Like this. Only infinitely less cool.

Like this. Only infinitely less cool.

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already…” ‘Lose Yourself,’ Eminem 

Hundreds of thousands of people used to read my newspaper stories whenever they would get distributed nationally or globally by one of the news wire services.

My full name. First and last. There for a reader’s judgment.

But when you’re a newspaper reporter, most people don’t pay attention to the little byline.

All that matters is the masthead.

The Wall Street Journal. The Chicago Tribune. The Washington Post.

Or the papers I wrote for.

That’s who wrote all those stories in the minds of most readers.

The publications themselves.

I love when that little notification goes off on my phone letting me know that someone new is following the blog. Someone read something. It resonated with them. Then they hit the button.

Let’s see what else this guy’s got, they think.

Maybe they read some old stuff. Maybe they only read whatever happens next. I don’t know.

Slow, steady growth. That’s how business owners like to do it. It’s manageable. It’s sustainable.

It’s not scary.

But Sometimes it is Scary

I’m afraid almost every day.

I’m afraid of what you might think of me after I write something.

I’m afraid of what any friends I have reading this blog might think of me.

I’m afraid of what my ex-wife thinks of me.

Because now the masthead is me. I am the publication.

And even more?

My heart and soul lives in the words on the screen.

If people don’t like them, it means they don’t like me.

That always stings.

I Have No Idea What’s About to Happen

A WordPress editor contacted me last week.

She indicated she plans to shine a spotlight on the blog for a regular feature called Choosing the Perfect Blog Name. It’s something that was published at The Daily Post, and is the way I discovered a handful of really good bloggers.

She said she loved the name Must Be This Tall To Ride.

Choosing the Perfect Blog Name is such a popular feature, she said, that WordPress is going to start running it on its primary news blog in 2014 for a larger audience.

The number of people following that WordPress news blog as of right now?

13.4 million.

Holy. Shit.

I wrote about 500 words for a three-question Q&A. It’s scheduled to go live on Wednesday.

And then more people will read things I’ve written than ever before.

This blog has 500 and some followers and averages between 300-400 views a day.

I don’t have the first clue how many of those 13.4 million people might click through to the blog. And I don’t know how many of those might stick around to see what’s written next.

I just know that the unknown scares me. A lot.

But then something happened and I’ve felt better ever since.

A popular blogger—Opinionated Man at HarsH ReaLiTy (30,000-plus followers)—asked readers to, in less than 500 words, tell him what they would do with a larger audience.

“What would you promote or what are some of your goals in regards to blogging towards a larger portion of the world?” he asked.

I pondered that question for a minute.

Then I wrote him this…

What I Would Do With a Larger Audience

I didn’t start writing to help people.

I started writing to help myself.

But then, one comment at a time, the truth revealed itself to me.

When you tell honest, personal stories to people—to people who feel the same pains, the same fears, who have the same hopes and dreams—you help people by accident.

A selfish project turned unselfish overnight.

When your wife leaves you, son in one hand, suitcase in the other, your worldview is shattered.

She’ll always love me.

No, she won’t.

I’ll always be there for my son.

No, I won’t.

I have a bright future.

Do I?

When you have a wife and son, you have purpose. A reason for breathing. A reason for waking up every day and doing all the things we don’t necessarily want to do.

Go to work.

Pay the bills.

Run errands.

Maintain the house.

Without the family, you don’t have purpose anymore. It evaporates. Instantly.

You can’t make sense of it because she said “forever.” I’m sure I heard her right.

I never bought life-explosion insurance. So when the bomb went off, I didn’t know what to do.

I freaked out. Called a therapist. She found out I write. Encouraged me to journal.

Write for just me? Spew words onto the screen but don’t let anyone else see?

What’s the point?

I took her advice and started journaling. Only, dammit, it wasn’t going to live in the shadows.

THIS IS WHO I AM!, my writing would scream.

I’d cry the words. Scream the words. Bleed the words.

Because it has to matter. Or else, what’s the point?

I want people to know that I cry sometimes.

That I’m afraid.

That I’m insecure.

That I make mistakes.

That I sometimes get stuff right.

That I’m working harder every day to not be the kind of man another woman will leave. To be the kind of man a five-year-old boy can aspire to be.

I’m not courageous. I’m not.

But I’m not afraid to tell people who I am and who I want to be.

These are the things that move people. That stir their emotions. That light fires.

We connect.

And lift one another up.

One powerful word-inspired feeling at a time.

That’s how good spreads.

And despite my tendency to wander off into immature playfulness from time to time, at the end of the day, my writing exists to explore as much humanity as I can squeeze into a thousand-word post each day.

So, what would I do differently with a larger audience?

Absolutely nothing.

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Things I Learned About Myself From My Baby Book

memory-lane

I once shit my pants four times during a wedding and everyone in the church heard each one.

Four times.

Last time my mom visited, she asked me whether I ever looked at my baby book.

She had given it to me to keep on my 30th birthday. I put it with the photo albums and never thought much about it.

I told her no, and I think it made her feel bad.

My ex-wife asked me recently for the cabinet in which we kept keepsakes like that. So now I have a bunch of old photo albums and my baby book sitting out.

I decided to commit some time to going through them.

Reading my baby book—which I haven’t completed yet, as I want to do this in real-time—I’m learning some things about myself I didn’t know.

That’s fascinating to me. I DID all these things. And I have no idea I did them.

Like all those keg parties in college.

I’m kidding.

Probably.

A Trip Down No-Memory Lane

I was so blessed to know all four of my great-grandparents on my mother’s side. A perk of being born to a young mother. They were beautiful people.

On my father’s side, I only knew my great-grandmother—the mother of my dad’s dad. The other three had died, as had my dad’s mom, prior to my birth.

I now know all of their names.

Earl and Laura. Lewis and Edith.

Maybe I’ll look them up someday.

My mother (who did a ridiculously good job detailing my early years) wrote that it took me four days to recognize her, but that I recognized my father almost immediately.

“He really is a Daddy’s boy!” she wrote.

My first word was “Ma-ma.” Good for mom. She deserved that.

I apparently loved to sing. Which is weird because I’m really terrible at it now, when I can speak well and know a lot of songs. I can’t even begin to fathom how shitty I must have been at singing when my vocabulary was predominantly baby gibberish.

My favorite stuff to play with were things I wasn’t supposed to. Shocking.

They used to call me Matrick Fitzpatrick as a nickname. Rad.

Oh, hell no…

My mother wrote that my first “girlfriend” was a girl named Kristy. When we were both babies.

The reason this is awesome is because I remember who this is.

When we were in junior high, Kristy’s dad used to come over once in a while and bring her along.

She was uncomfortably hot (you know, in junior-high terms). And I was a lot more confident back then.

One night, I stole some of my stepdad’s cologne so Kristy would think I smelled sexy.

We fell asleep on the couch together watching the original 1960s Batman film with Adam West.

Kristy and Batman. I must have been on Cloud Nine.

But when I woke up, Kristy was gone. And my mother was sniffing my neck.

“Are you wearing… cologne!?!?”

“Umm. No! What? No way. How would that happen? Of course not. Why would I be wearing cologne?”

I’m not sure I ever saw Kristy again after that.

Thanks a lot, mom.

I was two months old during the quad-shit wedding incident.

One of the gifts I received on my first birthday in 1980: “A leisure suit.”

Even+Goldmember+is+grossed+out+_7287f853faf49e5d134885d168995d81

One of the gifts I received on my third birthday (1982): 50 cents.

You’ve got to be shitting me. So this is what gypped restaurant servers feel like.

My first celebrity meeting?

*drumroll*

TOM POSTON!

Wait. What? You don’t think that’s awesome? Tom freaking Poston, baby!

No?

He played Mr. Bickley in Mork & Mindy!

tompostonsmallerYeah, I didn’t watch it either.

I was busy being a toddler.

In October 1986, I took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and scored better than 89 percent of all the other second graders in the United States.

Suck it, other second graders!

My worst score, by far? Word analysis. I ranked 59th for that.

I got three 93s. Vocabularly. Spelling. Math concepts.

59th for word analysis?!?!

inconceivable“Hey Matt! You keep using that word. I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

What they should have tested me on was my sick art skills.

If you need a reindeer drawn that looks like a cow, I’m your huckleberry, according to my letter to Santa in 1986.

IMG_0577

Just as I was feeling bad about my subpar art skills, I stumbled upon this gem, created by my aunt, who is just four years older than me. I’m assuming she made this for us when I was born. And I’m also assuming she didn’t mean to draw a bunch of multi-colored penises and upside-down Ls. If that’s my dad in the middle, he’s about to have a really bad day. But at least he has his entire body. I look like a turd with limbs.

IMG_0576

My letter to Santa in 1987. I didn’t believe in proper punctuation or capitalization back then:

“Dear. Saint Nick,

Please tell the Reindeer I said hi please give me some Ghostbusters and some Ghost

Please give me the Ecto 1 and Headquarters

Turn Over!”

*turns paper over*

“Hope you like the cupcake! Please Write Back!”

And then I drew Santa a very nice picture of himself with a black ink pen. He has just one boot on and a bunch of stars surrounding his face.

No wonder I didn’t get the damn firehouse headquarters.

I received my first-ever phone call from a girl in the fourth grade.

It was on May 6, 1989 at 9:38 a.m. This was apparently a big deal to my mom. But she didn’t write down who it was.

Which is a bummer because I was just about to call her up to see if she is single.

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It’s Okay to Hurt

hurtheart1Sarah was just a child when she lost her big sister.

A gorgeous 17-year-old. Stricken with cancer. Died in her bedroom in her father’s arms.

I’ll never forget it because it was my first funeral.

Second grade. Sarah was 8. I would turn 8 a couple weeks later.

Sarah watched her parents lose their first born. And she watched her four younger siblings struggle to make sense of it all.

Thrust involuntarily into the eldest-sibling role, she was forged in pain. In loss. From some of her earliest memories.

Now, Sarah’s a mom. She gave birth to two children. And after learning she would never bear children again, she and her husband adopted a child in 2010. Not two weeks old.

Baby M.

He was a beloved member of their family before he even got there. A brother to an adoring big sister and big brother. And the pride of two parents who felt immeasurable joy being able to love and raise another child.

But Baby M’s birth mother lied when going through the adoption process. Hiding the identity of the birth father.

The birth father discovered he had a son and eventually filed for custody of Baby M.

The court had to choose between a biological parent whom the child had never met, and a loving family who had raised Baby M for more than two years—his entire life.

The judge awarded custody to the birth father in a case that set legal precedent in their state of residence.

Sarah watched her two children lose their brother.

She watched her husband crumble under the weight of it all.

And she watched her baby get taken away, and handed to someone else.

Her marriage disintegrated.

And she’s now separated, too. Just trying to figure it all out. Just trying to keep her children in one piece.

She recently attended Baby M’s fourth birthday party. She maintains an as-pleasant-as-possible relationship with the birth father.

She watched her son—who doesn’t remember her as his mom—open presents. Play. And do all of the things she must imagine him doing in her quiet moments of reflection.

And then, at the end of the evening, she had to crouch down in front of him. Say goodbye. And hope that she’ll get to see him again next year.

I don’t have many friends that I’ve known longer than Sarah. I certainly don’t have any I respect and admire more.

As such, we have a close relationship, where we talk about all of the messy stuff.

All the stuff that really hurts. 

The Hurt

The first thing to go is your breathing.

What you do reflexively about 15 times every minute of your life becomes work.

The chest and stomach respond accordingly. Tightening. Unforgiving. A reminder of our weakness.

Our muscles tense. Our heads ache. Our eyes water.

Our hearts break.

Not in pieces like we watched in cartoons back when life was simple.

They simply stop functioning properly.

They break down.

Then we break down.

When it hurts too much.

Then We Reach Out

Because that’s what people do. We connect.

To not feel alone. To not be alone.

Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we hug. Sometimes we cry.

Almost always, we talk.

We write.

The most tried-and-true forms of therapy since the dawn of the mental health profession.

Sarah and I reach out to one another when it hurts.

And that’s when it always hits me.

I’m crying about losing my son 50 percent of the time.

But she has LOST her son. Someone took him away. Forever.

I’m crying about divorce, isolation, loneliness.

But she has had it so much worse. And now divorce may be on the table for her, too.

I’m crying about financial concerns as I continue my adjustment to my one-income life.

But the legal fight for their son wiped them out completely.

Sarah would NEVER try to one-up your story. That’s not who she is. But she can always do you one better.

Sometimes I realize the absurdity of my whining relative to all she has been through.

And that’s when she stops me. Because she really dislikes that.

“It makes me sad when my friends minimize their troubles or pain because they think mine are greater,” she said. “There is no need for that. I don’t hold the monopoly on pain.”

And while she’s being noble and selfless, she’s also, just, right.

Your Pains Are Yours

I’ve never lived in a place without running water before.

So it was hard for me last week when my pipes were frozen and I had to go a couple days without indoor plumbing at home.

It is frustrating when you’re without electricity for a long time.

It is challenging to not have internet access in 2014.

When that’s all you know.

You just broke up with your girlfriend? Your dog needs surgery? You have expensive car repairs?

Your pains and fears are real. And it’s okay to hurt. And the people that love you will invite you to talk about those things and not trivialize them.

You mustn’t either.

Sarah’s so tough, I could go on a weekend Vegas bender courtesy of her credit card and it would only be the 27th shittiest thing that’s happened to her in the past few months.

Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Ernest Hemingway. Countless others.

Beloved celebrities. Adored by the masses. Had all the financial resources in the world.

How is it even remotely possible for their lives to suck?

Yet, they sucked. So much so that these people took their own lives because being dead sounded better than feeling hurt all the time.

Everybody hurts. In their own ways.

And people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. People shouldn’t have to apologize for the pain they feel.

I broke after my divorce.

Broke.

Now what am I supposed to do with my life?

Who will want to date me?

How will I trust again?

I miss my son.

This house is so quiet.

The empty bed, so cold.

Who do I want to be?

Am I strong enough?

When will this go away?

There’s no fast-forward button.

The shit hits. You have to eat a bunch of it. And then you make your next move.

The clock ticks.

The Earth spins.

The calendar flips.

Then one day you wake up and the bed isn’t so cold anymore. The right person will show up.

The house isn’t so quiet. Because you’re comfortable in your own skin. Because you’re living again.

You find purpose in other things.

You give all the love you can to your child during those precious moments together.

And then you cry less.

Or maybe not at all.

You find your smile again.

Laugh.

Discover beauty.

Find joy in the little things once more.

The scars form.

And you emerge from the fire a little stronger than before. A little braver than before.

Like my friend Sarah.

Maybe even like me.

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