Friday, July 13, 2018

The Power Of Love


Six years ago, today, I was two days away from my second wedding. Despite numerous “red flags,” I was committed to that union. Indeed, red flags should not influence commitment, they should, however, influence unions. Those warnings turned into patterns that I found not only unacceptable, but also unsustainable. My commitment, perhaps, could be admired, my judgement, however, could not. The union part of that marriage lasted about nine months, the legal entity would keep breathing for another year-plus. I know what the final straw was, but I’m not sure when I became aware that it was, indeed, the last straw. However, once I knew, there was no turning back.

That marriage was so short that some conclusions must be drawn, some questions are begging to be asked. Probably the most obvious is how I did not see it coming. Well, I did. But I ignored it in the name of “love.” The red flags were not warnings of potentialities, they were actual indiscretions that I rationalized, forgave, overlooked and ignored. In the name of love, “it will never happen again,” was good enough. Why? Because love is all you need. Because love conquers all. Because love is a many splendored thing.

Bullshit. Love is not all you need. Love cannot conquer all. And while it might be a many splendored thing, there are also many things about it that are anything but splendorous. Love is blind, it is also deaf and dumb. In the name of love, I made some very serious errors in judgement. When I finally finished with all of that and two other far less committed forays into the world of relationships, I’d had enough. Too much trouble, too many headaches, too much heartache. Who needs that shit?

Besides, being single meant being free to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. While I did (still do) have to plan around the time my job requires, even that, my dream job, comes with large blocks of uncommitted time. And I love my job, planning around it does not feel like freedom limitation. My kids are grown and, although the job of parent is life-long, the daily minutia has long since disappeared. In fact, two of my three are living that daily minutia themselves. I did my time. Freedom. The more I embraced my singledom, the more I liked it. Fuck relationships - who needs them?

Here is where it gets a little weird. First, to be perfectly clear, when I speak of relationships here, I am talking about romantic relationships. It is impossible to live a human existence without relationships with other humans. Done. But romantic relationships? That is a different story. The answer to that question is that we don’t need them. That is, we are capable of getting along in the world without a significant other. There are too many examples to show this reality, they are not simply anecdotal. Surviving in the world without ever having an “SO” can be done, just one example is proof enough, but there are thousands.

But aside from those who early and actively live a life of celibacy, what about the rest of us? It seems to be that something can be said of instinct, the drive to preserve and perpetuate the human race. That is surely a drive in all living things, to continue living, to survive not only our own lives, but also the survival of our posterity. However, procreation and romance are not the same thing. The former is the mating of the bodies while the latter is the mating of the hearts, minds and souls. The former certainly does not require the latter. And the latter has no need for the former, either. While I made the clear distinction between sex and love many, many years ago, this ingrained idea that we all need this romantic sort of love in our lives was subliminal and pervasive. It drives many of us to jump into relationships that have that elusive element of love, but nothing else. And, to repeat without equivocation, love is not all you need. Love does not conquer all and, if love is all there is, love may well show up as a decidedly not splendorous thing.

Yet, here I am, happily committed in a loving relationship that has breezed through two years - so far. For romance, there must be romantic love, but for a relationship to thrive, there must be so much more. Look at just basic, boiler-plate wedding vows - they don’t say “to love…” and that’s it. There is a whole lot more that can be condensed to simple virtues that anyone would do well to live by generally, but are absolutely required for a successful relationship. Honesty, loyally, integrity, trust, fidelity, empathy… I could go one, but without all that and more, there is no relationship. There might be love, but there is no romance.

And I wasn’t looking for it. I was happy with my single life. I am happier now. I didn’t lose any of what made my singledom so great - it’s all still there. I am just as free now as I was two years ago - my girl trusts me unconditionally. Does that mean I go off and ride my motorcycle into the sunset when she needs me? No, but I am not making choices based on what I have to do, but on what I want to do. So, I am still doing whatever the fuck I want whenever I want to do it, but what constrains those things are things that I value. My job is one, my relationship is another. Having said that, I put just as many miles on my bike now as I did before I met Christine. Many of them are with her on the back.

So, do we need romance? Do we need that sort of love? I don’t know that “need” is the right word, but I can say that it certainly adds to my life in ways nothing else (including too many unsuccessful relationships) has. Could I have gotten by without it? Sure, and without knowing what this kind of ├╝ber-compatability feels like, I never would have thought I was missing a thing. But having a partner - true partner - to walk through life with is nice, especially when considering that walking it alone isn’t so bad, either.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Fifth of July


I intended to write in this space much more often this year. I wanted to post some newly arranged words at least once a month. If this one makes it to The 25 Year Plan, it will be only the fifth so far this year, and July is the seventh month. So much for intention - this is not the first time, nor will it be the last that good intentions, good ideas and even good fortune have slipped through my fingers. Welcome to the life of the of the pathologically lazy. Be all that as it may (or may not), this morning I woke up thoughtful, as in “full of thoughts.” Being full of thoughts is an invitation, if not always a motivation, for me to write. Today I am so motivated and, as a result, have accepted the invitation.

Today is July 5th, 2018. Just looking at that year, “2018,” makes me feel a strange combination of nostalgia, disproportion and some degree of regret. All of it stems from the ability to look back over more than a half century of life. My life. My life in America. I have a lot of stories, more chapters than most, perhaps, and a book that has been simmering for about 10 years now.

Independence Day, AKA “The Fourth of July,” was, historically, one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, it meant summertime, hanging out with friends, swimming, barbeques, neighborhood block parties, and, of course, blowing shit up. Many of those elements have been more or less prominent as I passed through the various stages of life, but I always enjoyed seeing things blowing up - whether or not I had a hand in it. Other holidays have changed for me over the years, too, but today, and likely for years to come, the Fourth of July will be less… let’s just say less explosive.

So, what did Independence Day 2018 look like for me? Well, I was invited to a handful of celebrations along with those “standing invitations” where a traditional annual celebration always has room for me and mine. My girlfriend and I committed to one that was an all afternoon and evening affair. Our kids - hers and mine - had their own things going on as they venture out in their own lives. We didn’t plan to stay for the “safe and sane” California legal home fireworks display, thinking we might catch one of the bigger community or commercial displays later.

Sidebar: The so-called “safe and sane” fireworks are a joke that has become less funny over the years. Why bother? It’s a racket for fundraising by both legitimate and illegitimate “good causes.” Good luck figuring out which is which. Now, back to our regularly scheduled post.

My girlfriend got to the party a couple of hours before I did because I got hung up at the local tattoo shop bringing a 25+ year-old, badly faded and blown-out bald eagle tattoo back to life. The two-hour job went past four hours and it’s still not finished; suffice it to say that I was late to the party. When I figured out that the tattoo appointment was going to fall on, and conflict with, Independence Day, my initial reaction was to reschedule. But my tattoo artists said she was happy to work on the holiday and what is more appropriate than a bald eagle tattoo on the Fourth of July? At this point, the thought of shit blowing up is residing very quietly in the back of my mind.

Which is where it stayed. By the time we both got home from the barbeque, we were content with staying there. Despite the state-wide ban on private use of illegal fireworks, there are plenty to be found here. And this despite penalties that are way out of proportion to the crime (a rant for another time). In my quiet little suburb of Sacramento, it stayed relatively quiet. In some neighborhoods it was a veritable war zone. We and our dogs slept peacefully.

That was our Fourth. No big deal and, for myself at least, a paradigm shift in that blowing shit up (personally or vicariously through others) was not motivation enough to leave my house. And it was good. So, why is this even worth writing about? Because of that last part of the date as we write it - 2018. That is now 18 years past the dreaded “Y2K,” it is long enough for those who were born in the 21st century to have reached adulthood. It is a long, long way from 1962, the year I was born. So much has happened in the world. So much has happened in my own life. If I remove my earliest years, those before any solid memory could be formed, I have 50 years of what life was like stored in my head. This is part of the ongoing project of getting it on paper (or its virtual equivalent).

I try to remember and tell those stories for a number of reasons, but maybe the most important is personal. I don’t want to view the world through the fog of the historical bubble I grew up in, but at the same time I do want to use that history as a lens to sharpen my understanding of the world around me. To the extent I can share that insight, so much the better, but if I cannot see around myself to the bigger picture - in terms of geography, history, politics, social constructions and institutions and so much more - then the history I share is not historically accurate.  

Beyond all that, I am feeling like most of my life is behind me, not ahead of me. At just 55 years old, it is not all doom and gloom, there is still a long road ahead and I am truly looking forward to living it. However, I am also crystal clear about the many and sometimes significant mistakes I made. For the past almost 14 of those 55 years I have made changes that eliminated most of the “significant” variety, however, this aspect of “wasted time” becomes more profound as my own time crosses midway on the lifetime continuum. I still do it. I still waste time. It seems to be part of who I am. But I am not doing it like I once did and, more importantly, I am not wasting others’ time. And, while 55 years is a long time, so is 13 years, 10 months, four weeks and two days. They say, “one day at a time,” but those days add up to weeks, months, years, decades and lifetimes. But I live it in the now and that now is in the year 2018. It makes me think all too often, “when the hell did that happen.”

Peace.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spring Reflection


This time of year, historically, has been somewhat eventful for me. I guess I should thank technology, generally, and Facebook, specifically, for connecting the dots necessary to see back so clearly and, eerily, precisely. Indeed, I cannot say whether this time of year held any more or less "profound" memories before the social media boom (which, coincidentally enough, started around the same time I got clean), or whether the memories that are documented are only profound because of that documentation. The profundity could also be a function of the strides I have made in that same period of time.

Regardless, spring, in the recent past and for whatever reason, has been an interesting time of year. It's been a time of new beginnings, new hopes and new dreams and it has been a time of closing chapters, the letting go and the passing on. In the not too distant past, this has been the time of both finishing school and completing goals, one of moving on to new goals and degrees. It has been a time of marriage and divorce. It has been a time of preparing for my permanent relocation and the time of my return. Spring, it would appear, is all that and more.

This is the end of my sixth semester teaching as a full-time gig. I have been working in my career, my fifth or sixth (seventh?) major career change so far, for about three years. It’s actually much longer, but I was doing it as a grad student and only part-time before. I don't know what is normal, but it seems most people stick to one or two, maybe three (probably related) careers in their lifetime. Not my story. Anyway, while perhaps not a major profound milestone in the life of Mike, it is a reasonable time to look at where I am and what could be coming down the pike.

I hope nothing is. I am content. I am not looking for the next place to go, the next job to have, the next anything in the short term. Long term, yes, I am within maybe ten years of retiring and at that point I'll be making new decisions, looking forward to new adventures. But right now, I am good. There is one thing that is coming up this summer which could fall into the major life altering category, but it is also in the "new beginnings" sub-category, and, as such, is one that holds great promise. Some risk? Sure, everything new has some risk, but I’d like to think I have learned a thing or two about such things in recent springs. I am confident that this consolidation of households will be as strong as its components.

And, of course, there are motorcycle treks planned for the summer. But even those, while seriously gratifying, are not "new." Every ride is different and the plan is still largely a non-plan, but I have many, many miles of experience doing just like that. I can’t say that spring is my “favorite” time or year - each season has something special about it - but one characteristic that defines it, that of renewal, certainly applies.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Talk to Me


I have two very different books rolling around in my head. Both have been there for some time, but one is evolving almost daily. The other is a memoir, a real memoir, not an embellished one that shares the so-called “emotional truth” of my life. It didn’t work for James Frey and his epic lie, A Million Little Pieces, and it won’t work for me - probably for very different reasons, however. Whereas his downfall was getting caught in a million little (and not so little) lies, mine would be in writing such fiction as nonfiction in the first place. When I say “real,” it means what I write really happened. I believe what an old mentor of mine told me when he said, “everyone has a book in them.” Everyone has a story and every story is necessarily interesting. I’ve been told more times than I can remember that I should write that book, and I intend to, but except for the new adventures I encounter in real time (some of which are very adventurous), that book is static. It has been, for the most part, written. I just need to write it down.

The other book is fiction. It takes place in the future, but I am not sure yet how far into the future. It is a dystopian future, a post-apocalyptic world in which humans are living in a much different environment. That world will not be one reduced to prehistoric living conditions, it will not be devoid of technology; in fact, some technology would be more advanced than what we have today. Most infrastructure will be gone, but not all of it and governments, countries and the like will be different in significant ways - and they might not exist at all. Our planet will have become a vessel that contains life, much like it does now, but in a much more integral way. How it got that way, what happened to it and us is still a big question mark, the story has not revealed itself in all its detailed nuance just yet.

Lately, on at least a daily basis, a moment of inspiration hits, an element of the story becomes clearer. Like so many puzzle pieces, each new revelation is like another piece of the picture coming together. At present, I have a good idea who the protagonist is and what he is all about, but the antagonist is still in development. I can’t quite see who he or she is yet. Although I am getting very close to visualizing the setting, the plot still has no ending and only a foggy direction. There are some twists, there are some secrets that will be revealed both to the readers and the characters. In some instances, the readers will know what the characters do not and some twists - many, actually - are still a mystery to me. Life, I think, will turn out to be something much different than we think it is, but I can’t say how, yet.

I can’t because I don’t know. When I started blogging and writing regularly, much more regularly than I do now, I met a fellow blogger who was also a published novelist. With a few books to her credit, she would often blog about her current writing process. One of the things that fascinated me was that her characters would tell her how the story would unfold. As she wrote and these characters developed page after page, they would dictate where the story would turn next. It fascinated me that she never knew how the story would turn out, how it would end. I remember her blog posts were, for an extended period of time, about her waiting for a character who was murdered to “tell” her how he was killed. One day it came to her and her character spilled the beans. She moved through that chapter and finished the book.

It made sense to me. It made sense because even at that time, I was writing with a purpose and that purpose was - still is - discovery. Although these two books are vastly different, each will have elements of identification and where those nuggets occur, the discovery happens. That’s how good stories work, when we can see ourselves in them. Both my memoir and my novel will, hopefully, tell me about me and in doing so, will be of interest to others who see themselves in the pages I write. It is a daunting task. Both books have been started and discarded more than once. They were not telling me what I needed to know. This summer, hopefully, one or more of those characters will start talking. Equally hopefully, when they do, I’ll be writing it down.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Jack's Harley


I bought this motorcycle out of desperation, sort of. My motorcycle got hit and although the damage to it was primarily cosmetic, by midway through last October I knew it was going to be down for a while – months, not weeks. It turned out to be longer than even my worst nightmare due to an all too real nightmare, but that story is over, it has already been told. This bike is one that I have long admired, long thought, “that’s my kind of style,” but when it came time to plunge into a particular line of Harley Davidsons, it would not be the Softails that I ended up falling in love with. Stylistically, yes, the Softails are sexy, but from a purely mechanical, functional point of view, the touring line of bikes became my future steeds.

So, why this 21-year-old Heritage Softail Special, AKA, “Nostalgia?” Serendipity certainly played a role. I know the prior three owners of this bike – its legacy is well documented. It came up for sale right at the same time my bike was down for an extended count. It belonged to a friend who was fighting cancer with everything he had and he didn’t need a bike in his garage he wouldn’t be riding anytime soon. And it was that bike. It was the one whose looks and stance had me right from the beginning. Add that the bike was a limited production model, had only 26,000-plus miles on the odometer and was, for a 21-year-old bike, in very good condition, it was as though the planets were aligned just so. It was, dare I say,  preordained?

Or maybe not.

I put about 1,500 miles on her, but now that my 2017 Street Glide Special is back on the road, the choice about which bike to ride at any given time is clear - and it’s not this old classic to-be. I told Jack when I bought her that I planned to keep her, and I did mean it. But things change and sometimes those starry-eyed promises cannot so easily be kept. If I had more financial freedom (more money) and if I had more space and if I had more time, she would certainly remain part of my stable. Such is not the case and although I have not yet formally listed her for sale, it is known within our circle of circles of friends that I am looking for a buyer.

In the meantime, Jack was battling his last battle. Sadly, his battle is over and he can rest peacefully now. I don’t really know how such things work, but if there is any kind of ethereal essence that can be aware of anything, Jack would be happy to know that the bike is staying in the family, as it were. I will not have to offer her up for public sale. A former owner and friend to us both will be reuniting with what is becoming “our” bike. The price has not changed, it has and will remained profit neutral – nobody is “coming up.” And Jack, in a very real way, will live on through this bike.

I’m really going to miss Jack. He was an early and prominent presence in my recovery. He was opinionated, obstinate, sometimes abrasive, but he was also one of the kindest and big-hearted men I know. He and that old bike had a lot in common. He touched a lot of lives and, hopefully, he knew that he made a difference. I'm sure he must've. He left an indelible mark on my life and thanks to an odd chain of events, that mark is now associated with the unmistakable lope of an 80 cubic-inch, 1996 Harley Davidson Evolution motor.
Rest in peace, Jack.

Friday, January 12, 2018

An "Ah-Ha" Moment

A little more than 13 years ago, I was rebuilding my life, again. It was not the first time I found myself in the throes of a crisis aftermath, but it turned out to be one with a key difference. This time, I addressed the root of all of my problems. That root was, of course, me. Not all of me, but a key characteristic of what drove me. I had a void in my life that would not be filled with the things that satisfy most people. Success didn’t elude me, but every time I started down that path, I’d find some way to chase it away. The core symptom of it was manifested through an insatiable appetite to alter my consciousness through chemistry. Getting “high” was no longer a passing phase of adolescence, it was no longer “recreational,” it was a full-time job. Indeed, the party was over long before the partying was. I just didn’t know it.

It took me a long time to discover that drugs were the problem. Once there, it took less time to understand that drugs were only a symptom of an underlying condition known as addiction. People view those who cannot “control” their drug use (and in most cases - historically, for sure, but also due to its social acceptance, today as well - the most common drug is alcohol) in different ways. Addiction and its special case, alcoholism, is now considered a disease and while there are those who still view it as a moral failing, an inability to control oneself, the idea that I do not have the power to stop once I start is a good starting place to address this characteristic that has caused me so much trouble. And it comforts me that I am not only not alone, but also that there are means available to treat this disease. That holds true whether or not others believe it to be a disease. It doesn’t matter.

There is a lot of science behind what different substances do to the brain and the nervous system, but that science is not as important as the reality of what my story tells. That story, to those like me, holds numerous familiar themes. The common denominator is an inability to deal with life without resorting to self-medication. As I mentioned, there are a number of treatments, or therapies, that have proven successful, but for anything to work I first had to accept that what I was dealing with was not drug use, but that underlying condition that compelled me to use drugs, often against my own will and counter to my best interests. Getting to that place almost killed me. I am not here to recommend any particular path, and I am not here to say that the way that worked for me is the best way for everyone. I am here to say that if I didn’t do something, I would not be experiencing the success I am today.

I shot this picture just a little while ago. I was in my garage brainstorming what the next steps would be in putting the motorcycle in the middle (the white one) back together. It’s a long story as to why any reassembly of a 2017 Harley Davidson is even necessary, but suffice it to say that the experience has taught me much about how far I’ve come. The fact that not only it, but also my 1996 Harley as well as a 2009 Harley, my youngest son’s, are all parked in my garage just on the other side of the wall from my office, are all things that I came to gradually, things that I can sometimes take for granted. But other times, like just a few minutes ago, it strikes me: My Harleys, my garage, my son riding alongside me, my office… my house. All of these things and so much more - being present for my boys and family, being a productive member of society, not being a sheep - I managed to put together in a relatively short period of time and, truth be told, all are things that I have desired, consciously and not, for a very long time. While it is true that brief periods of success have seen me with some of this stuff, it was always fleeting. This time it’s different.

But the stuff is more than just stuff - it’s more than just my stuff. It is representative of what I am capable of when I stopped chasing that which drove me to have nothing. What came along with that stuff was responsibility, integrity, deep, meaningful relationships, a career that I never dreamed possible, and respect. The really cool part about it is that I am still me. I am still a “non-conformists.” I still take chances. I still travel the path least followed. I am an explorer, a traveler and a seeker, but I do it without the need to alter my consciousness through any artificial means. I took this picture because I was experiencing an “ah-ha” moment, a wave of pure gratitude and the ability to recognize it as such is special. Really special.

I try not to put too much importance on material things - they come and they go. Success is not determined by the stuff I acquire, it is much deeper than that. But there are times when I think of the things I’ve wanted in life, the things I’d do “anything” for and found that I could not do anything to achieve them. When the focus became internal, when the things I strove for were not immediate or tangible, the rest fell into place. I even have an 18-month romantic relationship with a beautiful woman, and we have had exactly zero fights - none, not even a disagreement or cross words. I have always believed that I, like most people, can achieve virtually anything I put my mind to. When I couldn’t, it was always because of someone or something else. As it turns out, it was, but that someone was me and that something else was part of who I am. And it was true, I could achieve virtually anything I put my mind to, but now I have a mind that is clean and clear. It seems to make a big difference.