Category Archives: Stuff I Need Help With

What’s Next For MBTTTR?

metamorphosis

(Image/The Bridge)

“Shit or get off the pot,” is a fairly common idiom where I’m from.

Aside from evoking troubling images of Jesuit standoffs and triggering my (somewhat exaggerated, but totally real) bathroom-related phobias, it translates loosely to “Make a decision, you mook!” or “Start actually doing the things you keep saying you want to do!”

It’s also one of those times where it’s more okay than usual to write or say bad words. #smallwins

This blog has been a great project for me since drunkenly posting my first amidst my darkest days as a human being 40 months ago.

But we need to get serious about next steps. It’s time.

I hope you’ll help.

I want to do and be more than some random idiot writing the same stories using different metaphors over and over again on his blog.

The conversations we have here about marriage and human relationships matter. Maybe more than anything.

We all have our own individual goals and interests and dreams and pursuits. Things we chase, perhaps because we believe there will be some great sense of reward, happiness and forever-satisfaction if we ever get around to capturing it.

But no matter what is going on in our lives—no matter how wealthy, or accomplished, or “successful” we are in those individual pursuits—the quality of our human relationships is the most influential factor in how good or bad our lives are.

When we have conflict with those we’re closest to—spouses, partners, siblings, parents, children, friends, co-workers—life can get unpleasant in a hurry.

Only deteriorating health can affect us more profoundly, but even in a worst-case scenario, the unhealthy person who loves and feels loved can speak honestly about a life well lived in ways physically healthy people with crappy relationships cannot.

This. Stuff. Matters.

What Do You Want?

People ask me for books.

People ask me for coaching.

People ask me for membership forums.

People ask me for video content.

People ask me to speak to groups.

It remains difficult for me to wrap my head around that. I still think of myself as little more than some idiot blogger.

And I’m mostly right about that. I AM mostly just an idiot blogger. But for the right people, I’m something else too.

I am—for the right people—able to communicate concepts they’ve been unable to communicate in their biggest life problem regarding the things and people they care most about. Their marriages. Their families. Their close personal relationships.

Their very way of life is threatened by the brokenness that creeps in sneakily through the years, poisoning our hearts and minds, further damaging our already-shitty translators so that we can’t understand each other, adding anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, depression, cynicism and apathy to our already-heavy loads.

It’s terrifying when you feel doom coming.

It cripples you when the bombs finally drop.

There is no amount of money, material wealth, fame or “success,” that can help broken humans wake up in the morning happy to be alive when EVERYTHING hurts. People try to numb it with alcohol or drugs. Distract from it with escapism or sex. But there’s nowhere to run.

It follows us. Tries to consume us. Tries to kill us.

Until we unbreak.

There are many brilliant and scholarly people out there who fundamentally understand what it takes to heal the broken. People who are smarter and know more than I ever will.

But—and this applies to every husband, wife, person in an argument, politician, lobbyist, etc. who has ever lived—how much does it matter how true or right what you’re saying is if no one ever listens anyway?

My gift or purpose or value seems to be my ability to frame relationship problems in ways that resonate with people.

So, even if I never bring any good ideas to the table, if my ability to effectively communicate important concepts to the right people can be the difference between a family or marriage staying together and thriving, or breaking and creating life-long regrets, then—no matter what—I have something to offer.

I really care about the things I write here. It breaks my heart to see or hear about children crying as they wave goodbye to one of their parents. More than three years later, it still breaks my heart to wave goodbye to mine.

So, What’s Next?

I must decide. We must decide.

I think it makes sense for me to eventually transition Must Be This Tall To Ride into a multi-contributor publication. I think it makes sense for me to build out my own site, where perhaps I can combine my passion for these subjects and desire to help into something tangible that actually CAN help.

It seemed asinine to me to position myself as any sort of relationship expert or fake-ass therapist. That’s not what I am.

I am, for lack of better terms, a translator. An explainer. A decent question-asker.

And perhaps there’s a place for someone like that to work more directly with humans trying to find their way through difficulty, or who want to avoid it altogether.

I want to collaborate with others to create content of lasting value. I want to write books. And have conversations. I want to discuss the formulation of programs and curriculum developed by the appropriate thought leaders, tailored for the appropriate audiences and executed in ways that create fundamental, paradigm-shifting change in the way people think about their human relationships.

People are afraid, sad, angry, broken, and the thing that can help heal those wounds most effectively is the simple realization that we’re not alone. That others are fighting the same battles.

My story is your story.

People don’t read this stuff because they care very much about things that happened to me.

People read this stuff because it connects with them on a deeply personal level, and because things I thought, felt or experienced are the same types of things they think, feel and experience.

It was never about me. It was always about them.

All of this, if it ever has the chance to matter, must be about you.

Please help me take this thing somewhere where good things can happen. Good must spread.

It must.

If you care about the things we talk about here, I hope you’ll share any ideas or suggestions you have about evolving into whatever comes next.

Thanks, everyone.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A Blog Vacation

(Image/fpchiro.com)

(Image/fpchiro.com)

I try to explain how it works in my head but most people don’t or can’t understand.

It’s probably really hard for a working mother to empathize. After all, she’s a superhero. Raising children. Managing calendars and balancing them against the scheduling needs and wants of the family. She is often working harder around the house than the rest of us, doing the things I spent the first 34 years of my life taking for granted. Keeping bathroom mirrors and porcelain shiny and spotless. Keeping floors swept and vacuumed. Keeping caught up on laundry. Keeping countertops and home offices uncluttered. Keeping the pantry and refrigerator appropriately stocked. They do all that AFTER working 40- to 50-hour weeks.

I sometimes come off undisciplined. Forgetful. Irresponsible. Unreliable.

I’m not proud of it. I’m even a little ashamed. Unless other people are relying on me, I am unlikely to meet a self-imposed deadline. Unless someone (probably a girl) is going to come over and pass judgment on the way I keep my home, I am unlikely to keep it as clean and organized as I’d prefer.

To be sure, I DO like the feeling of a clean and orderly home. I DO like the feeling of accomplishment following completion of a job well done.

But if there are competing interests? Even ones that matter less? I have an amazing capacity for procrastination. And despite my self-awareness, I’ve never found a way to overcome it.

I was diagnosed with ADHD. If I’m remembering the data correctly, about 5% of people’s brains work like mine. It has its advantages. It does. But the effective management of too many things suffers when I don’t have help.

My young son keeps me busy, even though I only have him at home half the time.

Me and two partners launched our start-up company in recent months. We even have clients now. It means that all of the extra professional work I do, errands I run, and housework I (sometimes) complete, is squeezed into nights when my son is with his mom. I try to stay socially active, too, because it’s really important. But that’s usually the first to suffer when life beckons.

I spend 40-plus hours per week at my full-time office job.

I’m trying (somewhat poorly) to write a book.

I’m trying to maintain good exercise and eating habits.

And I’m trying to keep this blog active, and God-willing, interesting to a few people.

Because I’m me, EVERYTHING suffers when the task list gets long. I do good work when I channel all of my focus and energy into one thing. I can do that, one project at a time.

But I’m kind of a disaster when life demands more than one thing from me at once. And in the real world, being an adult—especially a parent—requires that I be on top of more than just one thing at any given time.

In addition to the emotional, spiritual and physical (giggity) balance having a partner provides, I’ve really learned the value of having someone who helps and supports you each day (and whose mere existence motivates me to provide return help and support).

I was an emotional disaster in the aftermath of my marital separation and divorce two years ago. And that—BY FAR—is the worst part of divorce. Feeling dead inside.

But once you get back on your feet and find the internal balance, peace, confidence, hopefulness that had been missing, what you’re left with is this realization about—for lack of a better phrase—the logistics of being an adult. Especially one with parental and professional responsibilities.

Two years later, that’s the hardest part now. No question. If I could fire myself as manager of my life, I totally would.

I’ve been feeling—I don’t know—overwhelmed?—for a while now.

I’m doing a bad job staying in touch with people. My kitchen counter is an emergency of the cluttered variety. I have a bunch of projects that need finished for our growing small business. The book isn’t progressing as I’d like. My email inbox is piling up. And I have to leave town this weekend.

Again, to virtually any mom, or probably any woman (okay, or responsible guy), I probably sound like a dumb, whiny loser. I don’t care. I don’t know whether all the chaos I feel is real. It’s probably something I just manifest in my head. But my brain can’t tell the difference.

I’m not saying I won’t write. I’m not saying I’m going to intentionally post less often.

I’m just saying, I need to slow down in certain areas so I can put more energy into others, just to make sure I don’t totally lose it.

Maybe I’ll post again soon. Or maybe I’ll post again in three weeks. I don’t know.

I just know I need to reset, and I won’t know when it has happened until I feel it.

I hope I see you whenever that happens.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Should I Be Afraid to Publish My Name?, Vol. 2

(Image/ericjames.co.uk)

(Image/ericjames.co.uk)

I had never considered using a pen name. Not really.

I don’t know why.

Maybe vanity. Maybe I wanted my name out there so everyone I went to high school with would see that I’d finally done something with my life.

Maybe credibility. Because I write a first-person narrative in a pseudo-journalistic style, I thought putting my name on it was the only real option.

I finally asked myself the question: What would really be so bad about using a pseudonym?

There are only two, and both are stupid:

  1. Vanity. It’s stupid because no one from high school gives a shit, and if they did it wouldn’t matter.
  2. Money. It’s stupid because writers don’t make any real money, and it’s foolish to assume I ever will. There are logistical challenges related to receiving checks, banking and paying taxes from money earned writing under a fake name. But if I was ACTUALLY making money from something I published, wouldn’t the hassle be worth it? Of course it would. But I probably won’t, so who cares?

I found some online resources addressing this topic. I read them and started warming up to the idea.

The internet marketer in me knows having my own URL would be beneficial in the long term. I could make sure whatever name I chose had an available web address.

I found a random last-name generator. I’ve been playing with it.

The first one I liked and researched ended up being the name of a gay porn actor. So… probably not.

Step one, pick a bunch of names I like. Matt and Matthew are both options.

Step two, research the name to make sure there isn’t another famous one.

Step three, find a sensible URL that’s available (much harder to do in 2015 than it used to be, and picking anything but a .com seems like a poor choice, though I could see that changing someday).

It would help protect my son. His mother. My friends and family.

It would protect my professional interests that don’t involve writing.

I’d like to tell you I would be the same amount of honest no matter what, but the truth is, writing under a different name would probably keep the bravery and honesty quotient higher.

I’m coming around to the idea. And it’s kind of fun thinking of names.

Do I want to be Matthew Hawkins? Or Matt Shaw? Matthew Church? Matt Jackson? Matthew J. Warren? Matt Keller? Matt Watts? Mateo Juarez? Matt Chase? Matthew R. Hendrix? M. W. Hood?

The possibilities are endless.

What I haven’t settled on is just how much any of it matters.

I only know erring on the side of caution regarding those I love and care about would seem the wisest course. And I find myself (surprisingly!) leaning that way.

As always, I’m interested in your opinions and how you feel about it.

A penny for your thoughts. An imaginary penny, of course.

Sort of fits the occasion.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Should I Be Afraid to Publish My Name?

Bloody pen

The words have to bleed. If you want to write about what it means to be human. (Image/Genius.com)

Most of you have no idea who I am (and don’t care).

Some of you know my name is Matt.

Fewer still know I’m Matt and I live in Ohio.

And a super-small group of you know my last name or actually know me in real life.

Does it Matter if it Doesn’t Bleed?

I don’t want to be critical of writers who entertain, inform or educate us. Those are great things.

Sometimes I keep it light, too. I’m immature and playful, so it’s often hard for me to leave that out of things I write.

But matters of the heart and mind are what I choose to spend most of my time exploring. I want to be a better person, and I’m sensitive to my flaws. I think it’s hard to be a human being, and it often gets harder in adulthood.

I think a lot of us frolic through childhood blissfully unaware, and then one inevitable day, that first tragic thing happens, rapes our innocence, and then we never get to be that version of ourselves ever again. Those moments take our breath away. They’re really hard. Some people freak out when life is really hard. They become addicts. They lose jobs. They have affairs. They commit suicide.

Awful things. Things I used to observe and think: What the hell is wrong with those people?

And the answer—in a macro-human sense—is: Nothing. They’re just people, and you can’t know how unmitigated fuckness feels until it’s stabbing your heart and mind mercilessly while you sob in the fetal position.

If you’re going to write about matters of the heart and mind, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for half-assing it. This is real life. When you strip away everything superficial about our lives (the jobs, houses, money, cars) the only things left are the people we love and our mental and emotional state of being when we wake up in the morning.

Mostly, we take this stuff for granted. Mostly, we feel just fine, with pockets of frustration and pockets of fun. Mostly, our relationships aren’t suffering, and people we love aren’t dying, and we’re not afraid of sickness or death ourselves.

No matter how many times a day we hear about some crazy-scary thing happening, or about some tragedy, or how many people around us get sick and die, we STILL just carry on in a That will never happen to me! sort-of way.

But bad things can and will happen. They test our character. They test our faith. They test our mettle.

And then we wallow and despair. Or we demonstrate courage. Or we climb our mountains with joyful hope. Often we do all of those things over a long period of time while we fight to find ourselves again.

THESE are the things that really matter to me. These are the things I want to write about.

I’m afraid of writing about those things, and then having my boss read them. I’m afraid of all the guys I work with, and imagining them laughing and snickering and calling me a pussy behind my back while they read about how I used to cry a lot after my wife left.

I’m afraid of my mom, or grandma, or aunts and uncles reading about how I lost my virginity or about doubting my faith sometimes or just all the bad words I use.

I’m afraid of my son reading it someday and being ashamed of his father. I’m afraid of other parents at his small Catholic school reading it and judging me. Even worse? I’m afraid of my son’s classmates reading it and punishing him socially for it.

Within the first few weeks of blogging, I stumbled on How To Be A TV Star by James Altucher and it completely changed the way I thought about first-person writing.

In the piece, he wrote about how he lied to get on television because he was afraid of flying after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His boss was asking him to fly to a business meeting, and he needed a way out, so he lied to investor and TV personality Jim Cramer about how much investment money he managed.

He wrote this, and I’ve been hero-worshipping him ever since:

“Once Jim asked me to go on I couldn’t stop shaking,” he wrote. “I knew I was a fraud and I was finally going to prove it to everyone I went to high school with.

“I assumed they would all be gathered at the same place, eating popcorn and laughing at me.”

After retelling his experience on Cramer’s show, he said this:

“Afterwards two things happened. My dad wrote me an email congratulating me. Since we were in a fight and I tend to avoid people I’m fighting, I didn’t respond to him. Then he had a stroke and died.”

Something about it just slapped me across the face. Penetrated my soul.

THIS. This is how I want to write, I thought.

It’s Just About Time

Whether I wait until I publish my book, agree to let other publications use my first and last name, or finally break the seal here, the day I start publishing my full name draws nearer.

I met an editor at The Good Men Project who charitably praises my writing and has asked me to contribute regularly. I’ve agreed.

He has been kind enough to let me keep my last name off the work for a while.

My first post (repurposed content from this blog to start with) should run this week. It will be interesting to see what happens afterward.

In the meantime, there is only one way to write anything related to the mind, heart and soul, and have it matter: Honestly.

I hope I’m tough enough and brave enough to do so even after taking off that final mask and submitting to the judgment of internet commenters everywhere.

Even if those people can affect my professional future.

Or even if they used to change my diapers and tuck me into bed at night.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

ADHD is Real and I Have It

(Image/medscape.com)

(Image/medscape.com)

I’ve always been this way, so I never bothered to consider something might be wrong.

It’s not that I procrastinate ALL the time. Often, it’s just because I forget. Sometimes I mark the calendar and write reminder notes and set alerts on my phone. And I still forget.

Sometimes I forget to pay a bill.

Sometimes I forget birthdays.

Sometimes I forget to return a phone call.

Sometimes I schedule two things on the same day at the same time.

Sometimes I don’t remember to do the same thing for several days in a row.

Sometimes I put things off and forget about them and then something bad happens, like my natural gas gets shut off or my auto insurance lapses.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think I was intentionally trying to self-sabotage. As if I prefer when my life is a stressful emergency.

I always thought it was something I’d outgrow. I believed natural maturation would work out many of these little incidents that sometimes cause much bigger problems.

Why I Think Know I Have ADHD

A clinical psychologist several states away was reading some of the stories I write here when it became clear to her that I most likely have ADHD, and like many adults, have gone through life undiagnosed.

You see, when the only thing you know is what goes on inside your own head, it’s impossible to understand how others think and feel and experience life. But this doctor has spent her entire professional career talking to, and working with, people like me. So she knew right away.

She just wanted me to come to the same conclusion on my own. She sent me a few things to read.

This ADHD test for adults was one of the first things to get my attention. Answering “yes” to 15 of them is a big ADHD red flag. I said yes to all but one. And even that’s a maybe.

  1. I have difficulty getting organized.
  2. When given a task, I usually procrastinate rather than doing it right away.
  3. I work on a lot of projects, but can’t seem to complete most of them.
  4. I tend to make decisions and act on them impulsively — like spending money, getting sexually involved with someone, diving into new activities, and changing plans.
  5. I get bored easily.
  6. No matter how much I do or how hard I try, I just can’t seem to reach my goals.
  7. I often get distracted when people are talking; I just tune out or drift off.
  8. I get so wrapped up in some things I do that I can hardly stop to take a break or switch to doing something else.
  9. I tend to overdo things even when they’re not good for me — like compulsive shopping, drinking too much, overworking, and overeating.
  10. I get frustrated easily and I get impatient when things are going too slowly.
  11. My self-esteem is not as high as that of others I know.
  12. I need a lot of stimulation from things like action movies and video games, new purchases, being among lively friends, driving fast or engaging in extreme sports.
  13. I tend to say or do things without thinking, and sometimes that gets me into trouble.
  14. I’d rather do things my own way than follow the rules and procedures of others.
  15. I often find myself tapping a pencil, swinging my leg, or doing something else to work off nervous energy.
  16. I can feel suddenly depressed when I’m separated from people, projects or things that I like to be involved with.
  17. I see myself differently than others see me, and when someone gets angry with me for doing something that upset them I’m often very surprised.
  18. Even though I worry a lot about dangerous things that are unlikely to happen to me, I tend to be careless and accident prone.
  19. Even though I have a lot of fears, people would describe me as a risk taker.
  20. I make a lot of careless mistakes.
  21. I have blood relatives who suffer from ADD, depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse.

Another Eureka Moment

I was reading a book about male-female relationships when I had my first major Ah-ha! moment. I was reading stories about common fights and communication breakdowns between spouses, and I realized it wasn’t just my wife and I that have these problems. It was EVERYBODY. It makes you feel better when you realize you’re not the only one. Moreover, this book was explaining to me the evolutionary reasons why men are as they are and women are as they are, and how the two styles (when both parties are unaware of them) cause friction in relationships and often lead to divorce.

It fundamentally changed me on the inside. I finally knew something important and believed I could be the spouse she needed. But it was so broken. I couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

This ADHD thing? It’s EXACTLY like that all over again.

Everything I read screams at me: THIS IS THE REASON.

It’s been hard to stomach as I consider the ramifications.

What if I’d known at a much younger age?

What if I’d begun to manage it years ago?

How much better might my marriage have been?

How much further might my career have advanced?

How many more friends might I have kept?

People with ADHD have trouble managing friendships and staying in touch with people.

When my wife first left, I latched on to all my friends because I felt like dying and I just wanted to be around people I cared about and who cared about me in return. As time went on and I went through several stages of healing post-divorce, I lost touch with many friends. When you’re in your mid-thirties, everyone is busy and many have kids. You have to plan several days, often weeks, in advance if you want to see certain people.

I have never planned anything weeks in advance in my entire life. I used to think I preferred spontaneity. But really it’s a stress trigger. I can barely handle everything that needs done today. How can I possibly think about four weeks from now? Four weeks from now is a figment of my imagination.

People with ADHD have trouble with marriage.

Being pleasant and kind-hearted isn’t enough when your spouse thinks you don’t love or respect her because you forget everything, or mindlessly do things that suggest her feelings don’t matter. People with ADHD have trouble with time management, with organization, with financial planning and management, and cleaning the home.

I was reading this article in ADDitude Magazine, and this quote from a frustrated wife totally hit home, because she could have said it about me and my ex-wife.

“We would be late for an appointment, and he would be leisurely doing things when we should have been rushing out the door,” recalls Patricia, who lives with Chris and their three-year-old, Gabriella, in West Chicago, Illinois. “He could walk right by a pair of dirty socks on the floor and not notice them, even if the laundry basket was just a foot away. If the house was a mess, he’d say, ‘Write me a list, and I’ll do everything.’ But I resisted. Why should I have to write a list? He should know what needs to be done.”

My wife thought I was childish and immature. (And I AM childish and immature!) But there was always more going on. Over and over again I’d try to explain myself.

I would NEVER do this to you on purpose! Why would I want you angry with me? Why do you think I want to disappoint you? Why do you believe I want to fight with you?

There were so many things to do when our son was born. I was totally lost, and I wanted to be helpful. I wanted someone to tell me what to do, and then I would do it well and I’d be useful. She always felt like I was too hands-off. Like I wasn’t assertive enough to figure out on my own what needed done and just do it.

Maybe I was supposed to do that. Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe this is all bullshit.

But then I read this:

“The Whites, it turns out, are typical of couples in which at least one partner has ADHD. In a survey of such couples, conducted recently by Wayne State University in Detroit, respondents indicated that their spouses ‘don’t remember being told things,’ ‘zone out in conversations,’ ‘have trouble getting started on a task,’ ‘underestimate the time needed to complete a task,’ ‘don’t finish projects,’ and ‘leave a mess.’”

Is this me desperately searching for answers in an attempt to apply meaning to things that have happened to me?

I don’t think so.

If my ex-wife read all these ADHD stories I’ve been digesting the past week, I suspect she’d draw the same conclusion.

I have all these things I want to do with my life.

Career and relationship goals. Financial and physical goals. Social and spiritual goals.

What if this teeny little part of my brain working just a little bit different than most other people is the primary reason I have some of these issues?

What if it’s the reason my marriage ended?

What if it’s the answer to the ever-nagging question: WHY?

Treatment begins Thursday.

And maybe after things will never be the same.

Just maybe, I’ll be unstoppable.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

I Heard Someone Upstairs When No One Else Was Home

the-purge-movie-poster

It was about 10 p.m. last night when my friend dropped me off at home.

I unlocked my back door, kicked off my shoes, turned on a light, and lounged on one of my couches, half-watching an NBA playoff game while reading a book.

I live in a two-story cape cod. Sometimes my son wakes up at night, gets out of bed and walks to a bathroom or to find me. So, it’s usually not that weird when I hear the floor creak several times above me.

The problem was: No one else was home.

Every hair on my arms stood up.

Investigate? Ask who’s there?

I’d like to tell you I boldly walked upstairs like a badass ready to take out any threat that might be waiting. I did the opposite of that.

I grabbed my wallet, keys, shoes, and walked out to my Jeep without putting them on.

I backed out of my driveway and parked across the street with the engine running, trying to go over my options.

There were three possibilities.

  1. An intruder was in my house. That was the scariest.
  2. For the first time in more than nine years of living there, I was experiencing a haunting. Also scary.
  3. My house made some noise because it’s 65 years old and I’m being a wimpy spaz. The most likely.

My brain was telling me it was highly unlikely there was someone in there. I live in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there were no signs of forced entry, and I hadn’t seen any visual evidence on the first floor of anything looking out of place, with the caveat being I’m not all that organized sometimes, so it’s not always immediately obvious whether something that shouldn’t be there anyway had been moved to another place it shouldn’t be.

I sat in the Jeep across the street staking out my own house like an insane person. I was looking for movement in the upstairs windows, or in my brightly lit living room. I hadn’t shut off the TV and it was casting constantly moving light and danger onto the walls.

I have only a few viable self-defense weapons in the house. All of them are in my bedroom. I’ll need to rethink that strategy.

My mind was racing. I have a Sheriff’s deputy friend who lives relatively close. He’s a single dad like me. He was the only person I could think to reach out to. If he was free, maybe he’d come sweep the house with me.

“You around sir?” I texted.

I just sat there behind the wheel staring at all the windows, wondering what an intruder WOULD do if he (or she?) was in there, almost certainly realizing I was in an idling car across the street.

The Possible Intruder Profiles

I’m no genius. But there are really only a few types of people who could conceivably break into my house and creep around upstairs while I’m downstairs.

Thief

I don’t own anything of great financial value, like jewelry, fine art or precious metals. Televisions and computers are really the only obvious things to steal. I quickly ruled out thieves.

Homeless Tweaker

It’s not unheard of for someone like me (a single guy with a predictable schedule) to have someone borrow my house when I’m away. Homeless person sneaks in. They use toilets and showers and eat and drink, but expertly cover their tracks. I added the word “tweaker,” for the element of danger. A threatened, cornered, mentally unstable person can be a physical threat.

Psycho Murderer

Creepy murderer lies in wait in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of killing you when you come home. It’s REALLY irrational to fear this, but I’d just had a conversation about Charles Manson and the cult killings associated with him over lunch that day, so it was floating around the back of my head.

A Sexy Stalker

Gorgeous, sultry stalker lies in wait naked in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of sleeping with you when you come home. There’s a decent chance the psycho murderer scenario is more likely to happen.

A Ghost

Ray Parker Jr. sang “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” in one of my all-time favorite comedies, but I actually am afraid of ghosts. I’ve seen and experienced exactly ZERO hauntings in my life. Perhaps if I had a bunch of ghost encounters, they wouldn’t bother me. I didn’t like the idea of going to sleep in my bedroom with a footstep-generating specter hanging out in there.

This is bullshit. I can’t just sit here, I thought. I’m sure it was nothing.

I pulled back into my driveway and turned off the Jeep. Just then, my law-enforcement friend texted me back, including in it the fact he had his young daughter at home.

I decided I just needed to go upstairs and deal with whatever.

“How ya doing?” my friend texted.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied. “If I don’t write back, really bad. And if I do, everything will be fine.”

His cop alarm went off.

“You need to call me,” he said.

So I did. And I told him what was going on. He said he would come over but I’d have to stay outside with his daughter. I didn’t think that was in her best interest, so I declined.

He then suggested the police. “I’ve been on those calls before. They do it all the time.”

I was a little bit more afraid of calling the cops and it turning out to be nothing than I was being attacked by a stranger.

“It’s probably nothing. Seriously,” I said. “The only thing I’ll say in defense of myself is that I’ve lived in this house nine years and know the noises it makes. This is the first time I ever felt scared enough to leave because of noise.”

He asked me to stay on the phone with him while I cleared each room. I systematically walked through each room in my house, turning on every light, looking behind every door, inside every closet, under every bed—the entire time, waiting to be ambushed by an axe murderer, junkie or ghost monster.

It’s incredible how much braver you feel with someone on the phone with you. At least there will be an audio witness to the brutal slaying!

I found nothing, of course. I was not murdered or even attacked.

Nothing yelled “Boo!” or impaled me with a demon spear.

Perhaps someone had been there, and they left during the 10-15 minutes I sat in my car across the street while my elder neighbor lady gave me WTF looks from her living room sofa.

Perhaps there had been a ghost of some kind in one of the closets and it stared right at me when I opened the door, but never realized it.

Or perhaps it was nothing at all. That’s usually what it is: the simple explanation.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I feared for my safety. I didn’t bravely and boldly run upstairs to defend my turf and protect what’s rightfully mine. I didn’t brazenly yell at the would-be intruder with warnings of imminent harm if he didn’t leave immediately. Instead, I grabbed a few things and hurried out of my own house without even waiting to put on shoes.

I feel more courageous with my writing.

I feel more courageous professionally.

I feel more courageous socially.

But when I thought I might have to fight an unknown assailant or a ghost monster, my first instinct was to run away.

I don’t necessarily know what that means, or what I should do about it.

I only know that I don’t like it, and should definitely do something.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

“Why the hell not?”

Holden Caulfield doesn't get everything wrong.(Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

Holden Caulfield doesn’t get everything wrong. (Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time.

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist, and while we don’t share a ton of similarities (largely because I’m 20 years his senior, and grew up in a small Ohio town), we share two ideas I think are really important.

1. We can be intelligent and well-educated even if it’s accomplished in unconventional ways and mired in self-doubt. 

Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. John D. Rockefeller. Walt Disney. Bill Gates. Richard Branson. Charles Dickens.

Icons, all.

School dropouts, all.

All that means is, while I very much respect people with advanced degrees in higher education, and people who use traditional channels to educate themselves and advance their careers, the thing that really kills me is when people don’t play by the rules.

When people don’t ask for permission to do something with their lives they really want to do.

They say: Sorry. This isn’t for me. I’m not like everybody else. I’m going to go do this other thing. My way.

And they don’t just succeed. They soar.

I may never be anything like those people. After all, I am 36 and work in a cubicle.

But I sure do admire them.

2. It DOES NOT have to be this way.

Your love life. Your financial life and career. Your spiritual life. Your physical appearance. Your mental and emotional health. Your geographic location. Whatever.

Holden calls up his old friend Sally and gets her to agree to a date. And she shows up looking good. Really good. He’s a madman. He really is. And he just comes out and asks her to run off with him. He’s got some money.

Let’s go start a new life, he says.

And she says it sounds fun and all, but people can’t just do that.

You can’t just break the rules and go live whatever life you want.

Holden thinks that’s bullshit. And it’s exactly when I decided to love him.

“Why the hell not!?!?” he asks.

I’m not advocating irresponsibility. Two 16-year-olds shouldn’t run off together and live in some New England cabin with no means of taking care of themselves.

But that’s just old-guy, parent Matt talking.

I agree with Holden’s inclination to ask WHY NOT!?

People don’t think about this enough. People never think enough. I never think enough.

We never ask ourselves the right questions.

What are the right questions?

They are the ones that challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative. A better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

You do NOT have to stay in your soul-crushing job.

You do NOT have to go to that family event you’re stressed about because your mother will be disappointed if you don’t.

You do NOT have to say “yes.” Say NO. Say “no” a lot.

You do NOT have to go back to college to get a better job.

You do NOT have to have a “job.” You can make your own.

Because you CAN do whatever you want.

Sometimes I think about how fast time goes.

Holy shit, my son is almost 7.

Holy shit, she’s been gone two years.

Holy shit, I’ve been sitting at this desk for four years.

Holy shit, I’m 36.

The worst thing that’s ever happened to me already happened. I can’t figure out what I’m so afraid of, because you CAN’T KILL ME. And the day I’m finally wrong about that? I’m not going to be around to eat any crow.

And I don’t know when that day is going to come. But it might be tomorrow. Maybe even today.

We waste so much time doing things we don’t want to do because we lie to ourselves and believe them. We MUST do this! We have to!

No, we don’t.

You don’t really have to do anything.

Write down the 10 things that matter most. The 10 things you want most. Consider everyone you love.

And then maybe spend the rest of your life only pursuing those things.

The things that matter.

Don’t tell me you can’t be happy unless you follow the rules.

Don’t tell me people can’t just do that.

Because I’m with Holden.

Why the hell not?

Tagged , , , , , ,

I Don’t Want to be a Divorce Blogger 

Fewer-divorces-are-seen-in-arranged-marriages

I don’t know what to write about.

I don’t just mean right now, even though that’s also true. I mean in a big-picture sense—I don’t know what to write about anymore.

I always intended to write whatever I wanted.

Early, I flirted with writing about dating. Not in any advice capacity because I was always so bad at it, but the stories of my experiences in doing so. I thought it might be funny reading about an inept middle-aged dater trying to figure it all out.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t have the stomach for it. I LIKE the people I have gone out with. Writing about them in the way I like to write about things seems invasive and I’m not going to do it.

Most people read this space because of stories about my marriage and divorce. I think people like reading about someone willing to point the finger at himself rather than blaming everyone else for their life circumstances.

I wasn’t evil. I wasn’t even really “bad.” I was just a subpar spouse (though I like the word “shitty”) for so many years that the negativity piled up to a breaking point and eventually collapsed when the shit pile got too massive.

You don’t know this, but I REALLY don’t like being cliché even though I totally am sometimes. I can’t NOT be a single father 23 months removed from my marital separation.

I don’t keep my house as tidy as I should. I sometimes forget things my son needs for school. I let my mail and laundry pile up.

You know. Cliché. What you might expect of a domesticated husband and father finding himself totally on his own for the first time in 35 years of life.

But that stuff is all bullshit.

I’m not going to write about all the salty-water marks (from crappy winter—not oceanfront living) tracked onto my kitchen floor, or a leaky shower head I never fix because only guests use it and I rarely have those, or some other inconsequential life thing indicative of my disorganization.

I feel like I might be getting a little cliché as a writer.

I’m tired of writing about divorce.

Life Is About Today, Not Yesterday

Only people really good at mindful mediation know how to shut their always-busy brains off for a few minutes.

According to writer and speaker Andy Puddicombe from his excellent 2012 TED Talk in London: Humans spend an estimated 47 percent of our lives (when we’re not asleep) reflecting on the past or thinking about the future.

Half the time! Not being present. Not living right now.

Seems sad considering how short on time we all are.

My divorce is yesterday. My marriage mattered. My son matters. My getting-to-a-healthy-place relationship with my ex-wife matters.

But my divorce is yesterday.

And perhaps those stories matter to a few people who can benefit from the experience of others. I’m not afraid to share them when they seem relevant.

People sometimes call me a “divorce blogger.” It’s happened a bunch of times. I don’t think I want to be a divorce blogger.

I Like Telling Stories

I worry sometimes (because I’m a little hyper-sensitive to what others think about me which is a horrible life habit and a colossal waste of time) about coming off like I think I’m a self-help writer or some guy who thinks his opinion is worth listening to.

My opinions are worth the same as everyone else’s. (Not much.)

My opinion ONLY matters when a reader closely identifies with me. They read crap I write and decide: “Wow. I’m a lot like this guy because all those same things happened to me and I felt the same way!” In THAT rare instance where we’re all on the same page is when you should be like: “Oh, Matt likes this song, and that restaurant, and believes being an insufferable cock to his wife is a bad idea! Perhaps I’ll consider that!”

All I really want to do is tell you a story. The only ones I know are the ones I’ve lived. And if you’re sort of like me, maybe there’s value there.

Or maybe not.

Like my favorite writer James Altucher often says: This is not advice. This is just what happened to me.

Divorce is shitty. And really hard. And it has mostly defined my life and certainly my writing over the past however many months.

But tomorrow and the next day and the one after that?

Divorce is going to continue to shrink in importance for me. I’m not going to let most of my life and thoughts and experiences live in dark, shitty places.

I’m not going to let the worst thing that ever happened to me define my existence moving forward.

There’s too much good. Too much beauty. Too much opportunity out there to spend so much time looking back feeling sad and angry and horrible.

We aren’t all stuck being “who we are.”

We can be different tomorrow. Better.

I’m not what I thought I would be when I imagined my life at almost-36.

I don’t know whether I’ve failed to meet the expectations of my parents. Of my extended family. Of my friends. I’ve never asked.

But I know I’ve failed myself. And it is disappointing.

I haven’t lived up to the standards and ideals I always imagined for myself.

But one of the most important lessons of my adulthood is that it doesn’t have to be this way. No matter what. We can make a different choice. A better one. Right now, if we want.

I get to decide who I am today. I’ll get to decide again tomorrow.

Get unstuck.

And then we go change things.

Tagged , , , , ,

Thermometers vs. Thermostats: You Don’t Have to be a Bystander

(Image courtesy of iowa.gov.)

(Image courtesy of iowa.gov.)

The black smoke was unmissable against the stark gray backdrop of winter.

Something on the back of an RV had caught fire while parked at an interstate travel plaza and rest stop just outside Elkhart, Ind., which is—ironically—where most RVs are manufactured.

I stopped the car and pulled out my phone, called 911, then hit record to capture video of the burning RV. I figured the explosion would be awesome if the fire reached the gas tank. A handful of cars pulled over too and the other travelers joined my gawking. Why do we like to watch things burn?

“God, I wonder if the owner knows their vehicle is on fire?” I asked.

Everyone around me shrugged.

And then it dawned on me that someone might be inside. Seemed unlikely. But possible.

“No one’s in there, right? Could someone be sleeping or showering?”

More shrugs.

I took a step toward the burning RV. Then hesitated. Then stopped.

Naw. They’re totally inside the building grabbing food or a cup of coffee…

I kept filming.

Minutes later, the fire trucks arrived, sirens screaming. And that’s when I saw it. Movement in the RV’s windows.

An elderly couple stepped off their RV—the combination of smoke filling up their RV and the sound of emergency workers pulling up next to them had woke them from an afternoon nap in the RV’s bedroom.

I took a deep breath and made eye contact with the guy next to me. I could see the same look in his eyes I must have had in mind.

“Oh my God. There were people in there.”

They lived.

What was presumably their home away from home burned to the ground in front of them. A total loss.

But one thought haunts me: What if they hadn’t woke up?

And I just stood there.

Doing nothing.

We Are Often Thermometers

It’s called the “bystander effect.” It’s a sociological phenomenon researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley observed and studied in the late 1960s and wrote about in The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help?.

Sociologists say the presence of other people creates a “diffusion of responsibility.” It means people feel less pressure to take action since the responsibility to do so is now shared among everyone present.

But we also feel a need to behave in “correct and socially acceptable ways.” When others around us are doing something or not doing something, our brains take it as a signal that a similar response is most appropriate.

In other words, we often act like thermometers. We simply reflect the current temperature of our surroundings. As thermometers, we have no other function.

We Should Be Thermostats

I was listening to the guys at Inspiring Awesome talk about this. Thermometers versus thermostats. I liked the metaphor.

A thermostat ALSO can tell you the current temperature. But more importantly? It can serve as a change agent. If something is wrong? If something needs fixed or adjusted? The thermostat can begin the process of making things what people want or need them to be.

I just stood there. Being one of those assholes with a video camera even when a little voice inside me was telling me there was a chance lives were at stake.

But I didn’t step up.

What if they had died in there?

Another time, there was an 80-foot tree in our back yard with a failing root system. My neighbor told me they had spent years trying to convince the previous owner of my house to have the tree removed. I didn’t want to spend $2,000 to have it removed, so much like the former homeowner, I did nothing.

One night, a large storm system that days earlier had been a Gulf of Mexico hurricane blew into our neighborhood.

Tropical storm-force winds blew down the massive tree. A couple neighbors saw the giant fall. I felt the impact sitting on my living room sofa. When I ran to the back window, I saw it laying across our back yard, a totally destroyed garage beneath it.

But that’s not the important part.

The important part is that we had our three-month-old son sleeping in our upstairs bedroom. And I lose my breath every time I think about the wind blowing in his direction that night.

Because of a couple thousand dollars.

Because of apathy.

Because of carelessness.

We are so careless. With our health. Our safety. Our hearts. Our human relationships.

We are often thermometers. Just people getting caught up worrying about what other people think.

But we should be thermostats. Change agents. People who do something because something needs done. Because something can be done. And we can do it.

That family stranded on the side of the road with their vehicle hood open needs help.

That person sitting alone might want someone to say hi.

I don’t want to make any more stories about that time I could have done something.

Things DO NOT have to be this way.

Don’t wait for the person next to you to start running toward the fire. Just start running.

Maybe they’ll come too.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Maybe It’s Not a Popularity Contest

America's greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it's okay when people don't like you.

America’s greatest president. Despite half of the country thinking he was an asshole AND having a civil-freaking-war break out on his watch. Maybe it’s okay when people don’t like you.

I want everyone to like me and when they don’t I sometimes obsess about it.

I think I have it programmed into my mind somehow that the most important thing in life is whether people like you. When I take a hard look at my feelings and behavior, that’s the conclusion I come to.

I want people to like me so I try to be funny even though everyone laughs at different things.

I want people to like me so I try to be nice even though sometimes on the inside I want to kick them in the shin and insult their mothers before kicking them in the other shin.

I want people to like me so I don’t write about controversial things here, and I justify it by saying that I want to be someone who connects, rather than divides. Who participates in healing more than the tearing open of scars.

There are about 13,000 comments on this blog. About 7,000 of those are from readers, and the vast majority of them contain something nice about me.

It’s funny, because in real life when you read internet comments, it’s usually just racists and mean people rehashing political talking points like: “republitards hate women and black people and poor people!!” or “barack HUSSEIN obama is from kenya and is not real president!!” or my personal favorite: “your a moran.”

One of my biggest fears about taking my writing to a bigger platform is that a bunch of those people are going to say dickhead-ish things to me and I’m going to want them to like me, but they won’t. Ever.

I’ll probably stay awake all night thinking about them even though a really smart writer says that would be a good thing.

Despite getting overwhelmingly positive feedback (and that’s generally true for my personal life as well), I am capable of putting 95 percent of my focus on the 5 percent of people acting like cocks.

Sure, I’m a little insecure. Sure, I worry about what people think of me. Sure, I just want to be liked.

But I’m not 12 anymore and seldom act like it when I’m sober.

I know that I’m going to die and so is everyone else. I know it. And it just. doesn’t. matter.

It doesn’t matter!

Maybe I should write and say exactly what I think and feel. Exactly. Instead of being polite.

And maybe if people don’t like it, they can lick my balls.

When Bill Cosby wasn’t too busy drugging and raping women, he was saying insightful things, like: “I don’t know the key to success. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody. And also sexual assault. That’s another key to failure.”

(Half of that quote may or may not have been made up.)

The idea itself is important. That trying to please everyone doesn’t get you very far in life. Millions of people either love or hate Michael Moore. And Rush Limbaugh. And Bill Mahr. And Rachel Maddow. And Glenn Beck. And Chris Matthews. And Ann Coulter. Depending on their beliefs.

These are wildly successful political commentators and anyone with a penchant for (American) politics is going to know each person’s political bent immediately. That’s how strong (and controversial) these people’s personalities and ideas are.

Maybe it’s better to be that way?

I don’t know.

I never thought a non-Christian was going to convert to Christianity because of a screaming man holding a bible on a street corner pointing at them and yelling that they were going to hell unless they believed and behaved just like him. Who wouldn’t want to be like THAT guy!?

I never thought blowing up innocent civilians in Iraqi cafes or in American office towers was an effective way to convert people to Islam. You mean I’m not allowed to have sex here, but in Heaven, I get to have a 73-way!?!?

I never thought that smart-mouthed liberals like Mahr and Maddow were particularly good champions of social change, just like I never thought the fear-mongering and pompous tactics of conservatives like Beck and Coulter were an effective way of promoting family values and patriotism. I can barely stand the ones I AGREE with. It’s maddening.

I read something this morning. I’m not prepared to discuss it. But reading it made me question everything about my approach to life and writing. This idea that I need to always be careful about what I’m saying because I want everyone to like me and end up being a big pussy any time something controversial warrants discussion.

Life consists of issues about which not everyone agrees.

Americans used to shoot and stab one another by the thousands in open fields because they couldn’t agree on whether it was okay to enslave other humans.

Maybe sometimes you need to take a stand.

The point of sharing an idea is to put it out into the world in hopes that it, if well-conceived, will start getting kicked around other people’s heads and conversations and perhaps promote change of some kind.

Some people mean well. Others do not.

I mean well.

When I say I want to be a good man. Kind. Patient. Loving. Wise. I don’t mean “good,” like: “Oh yeah! Matt was a cool guy! He really liked beer and tequila and always made me laugh when he air humped inanimate objects at parties!”

I want to actually be good.

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether everyone likes me because A. I’m going to die, and B. We’re probably not going to meet anyway.

Maybe what is popular isn’t always right.

Maybe you really will fall for anything if you don’t stand for something.

And maybe now’s the time to figure out what that means.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: