I entered the sauna and it was pretty full: faces, towels, varicose veins. Most of the occupants had bunched at the door as if expecting a fire alarm to go off at any moment, so I put on what I thought was my most “excuse me” smile and stepped past most of the legs, faces, people, up onto the top of the two benches that ran the length of the two furthest walls, and turned and sat directly where the two walls intersected. I had to set my back against the wall gingerly because it was just that hot in there.

Silence for a breadth, then the man sitting nearest to me got to his feet and fetched the empty pail and the ladle sitting next to the bank of hot rocks near the sauna exit.

“Mind if I get some more water to create some steam in here?”

To which the other people in the sauna all agreed excitedly, exclaiming various types of affirmative gestures: here an enthusiastic hand wave, there a loud “ohhhh yesss.” It felt to me that everyone was a little too excited for the idea of adding some water to a bunch of heated rocks, but shit, maybe these people were just that jazzed about everything, the kind of people that view life as a ripe fruit dangling loosely from a fertile tree, begging to be plucked and bit into, fruit soft and wet, the juices running down their chin.

He moved to exit, and then he was held in place by a small murmur. “Actually…”

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Night’s Watch

Look outside, it’s screaming at you.

Leaves waving in the wind. Cars driving by wildly, people living lives idly. Grocery store once more, chicken is on sale and your chips have gone stale so it’s time to restock, fill the cabinets with the quiet satisfaction of knowing you have something to fill them with, all the time feeling the emptiness within you, and you make some ridiculous metaphorical connection to your kitchen cabinets and the cabinets and chambers of your heart, and boy don’t you feel fucking intelligent doing so, mighty satisfied with yourself, and congratulating yourself that you are mighty intelligent and that you are deserving, you pour yourself a drink, and keep pouring it over the ice cubes until the ice starts to melt away, and you recognize another metaphor, and like the person who found Waldo first on the page, you feel proud of yourself and a bit haughty and you beam silently, smiling to the empty room, because there’s nobody there.

There’s nobody there.

But wait you got a text message, and you bound across the room and snatch your phone up and open to the message, breath held, the harsh electric light playing over your features harshly, turning you into a ghoulish Halloween decoration strung up with kite string over the hedges to harass the approaching mad crowd, and there, now you don’t feel so alone anymore, because whosoever is texting you, and if whosoever is texting you, why, you have purpose once again, and connection, and you beam again, taking care to put the phone down lest you text them back too quickly and they assume from that that you have nothing better to do, that you weren’t in the middle of climbing to Machu Picchu, or running at the gym, or at a dinner with friends, or even (and they gasp at the terrible thought of this) with another woman or man or whoever they must imagine in order to blend their liquid thoughts into a frothy mixture of jealousy and doubt.

But eventually, counting the minutes, the seconds even, you relent. And text them. And then the wait, the watch begins.

We are every one of us the Night’s Watch, peering into the blackness, waiting helplessly for the coming light.

Yawn yarn.

Ugh. Having to resort to writing prompts already. Where is this ceaseless fount of creativity that I claim to have within me, by fashioning myself an artist, a writer?

I’m bored of writing. Write write write and nothing changes. Word after word after word, sentences jilt-y and uninspired, the cadence fragile and mundane, the bedridden whisperings of a man who has lost his mind and regressed to baby talk. I am not the man who looks at a blank canvas and sees a masterpiece waiting to be created. I am a man who looks at a blank page, at the blinking cursor, and sees only an uphill climb, a ceaseless struggle to put thought to fingers to page. Even what I’m writing now makes me bored. It’s inescapable, this feeling.

I’m bored of me. I’m bored of the same endless peaks and valleys that I travel over and into, the same anxieties and weaknesses that persist through my occasional attempts to break myself of them. As of now, January 21, 2016, I am refocused: I am taking time away from dating, taking time to write and play guitar and go to the gym so I can be the person I’ve always imagined myself to be, in my rose-colored mind’s eye. And yet still, just to the side of my focus, like a mote caught in the edge of my eye, there remains the truth that instantly deflates: that I am the same man I always was, that the habits of mine are too deeply ingrained; wheel-worn grooves in a rutted dirt road.

Or maybe, and even more devastating, I think that because I so want to go back to my old ways: by pretending there is no chance of changing, I can more easily accept defeat and revert back into those grooves. Maybe I like these grooves. After all, because they are still warm from when I first crawled my way out of them, they are so comfortable and inviting.

See? This is the roller coaster I find myself on. Some might find it exhilarating; I find it boring, watching as if from a distance with the same glazed, uninteresting look of someone who is watching a movie they have seen, and disliked, and are forced to watch again.

( YAWN )

Thoughts at 35,000 feet

How does Internet access work on a plane? I’m sure I could just open a browser and look it up, but let’s you and I pretend we are in the pre-Internet age (and ignore the obvious contradiction that I’m crafting this pre-Internet fantasy on an almost-always-Internet-connected smartphone).

And why am I so afraid of flying? It flies in the face of statistics, and if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t like to fly in the face of statistics. One website says that you have a one in 7 million chance of being in an airplane disaster. Another says that you could board a plane every day for 19,000 years before you board a plane that crashes. And yet here I am, sitting in an airline seat, white knuckled and having to remind myself to breathe.

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Stupid Brain.

Stupid brain. Stupid stupid brain, awash in anxiety, scrolling through the Yahoo home page and superimposing my children’s faces and names over today’s horror stories. Five men chase a father off by gunpoint so they can rape his 18 year old daughter, and I imagine myself in that position and my heart clenches like a fist. Dozens killed at a mall in the middle east, and I imagine our own trip to the mall this weekend being disrupted by explosions and the sideways rain of gunfire, and my insides leap like I’m on a roller coaster.

Funny how anxiety works. For a time I tried to justify my anxiety by saying that by imagining me or my family in those horrific situations, I was being empathetic, walking a mile in their shoes, etc…but I think that’s a clever trick that anxiety tries to pull. Anxiety is good at masquerading as other things, including empathy, but really, at least for me, it’s simply anxiety. To me, true empathy never seems like real empathy unless there is some sort of spur to action, whereas anxiety serves to do the opposite: paralyze you, leave you in stasis to fear.

One way to look at the world is: every day we walk on a razor’s edge; yes, we are happy, and safe, but at any moment, we can lose our balance and slip from the thin edge and tumble into the dark abyss of loss and sadness. I love the metaphor of being swallowed by sorrow, not because I long for it, but because I appreciate its accuracy: I see how sorrow, how utter loss, could subsume you, could change you in a myriad of lasting ways, how the “you” that you are today could simply disappear and not reemerge.

How do I keep this way of the world from becoming my default worldview? Well, first off, I navigate the hell away from the Yahoo home page. While some might deride this as the equivalent of an ostrich burying its head in the sand, I see it as a way to save us from the constant message that the media is trying to bury in our own heads: that we are not safe. Thinking about it now, I’m not 100 percent sure why they would want to do that – I suppose that’s another thought for another time – but I’m pretty sure that when we all step away from the news, far enough away so we can see the larger themes begin to emerge, we can see that goal as one of the overarching focuses.

Second off, I pause in my day and think of all the days I’ve lived in safety up until now, and the almost countless days that I have spent safe, without harm coming upon me or my children. Again, this doesn’t guarantee that we will continue to be safe, nor, if I understand my math correctly (which is not a given at all), does this mean that there is a greater statistical chance that they will continue to be safe, but it does help me to remember all those times where I worried and worried with such a strength that I had never had before, and still, even with that worry, nothing bad came to pass.

Just words to help me go on, words to help me take a deep breath and continue living, and living well.

500 words.


2016: The year of me

If 2015 was the year of meh, then 2016 is the year of me.

2015 was a down year. It’s funny, when I was younger, I never understood how older people could talk about “a bad year” or even a bad decade, as in “the 70’s were a rough time.” It felt so unreasonable and simplistic to hang a single banner over such a long stretch of time. And yet I’ve come to realize now that such broad brushes are often accurate. So I can say with little or no feeling of oversimplification: 2015 was a down year.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t punctuated by happiness, or even that I wasn’t happy for large stretches of the year. Really, I’ve said all I need to say about 2015 in the first sentence: 2015 was the year of meh. It wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, or overwhelmingly negative; it just kinda sat there, like beets on a salad.

A large part of that meh feeling for me came from my dating life, or lack thereof. I ended my first real relationship since my divorce at the end of 2014, so come 2015, I was back on the horse that was dating. But before I could even remount it, I knew that the horse was tired, and I was tired of riding it. The reason I was dating in the first place was the reason most people date: so they don’t have to date. We date to find a relationship so we can quit all this dating rigamarole.

Ugh, this is the part of the writing where I start to lose patience, and start to lose wind, and let these thoughts die on the vine. Because ultimately none of this matters. Fucking fuck, none of this matters.

Anyway, 2016 is the year of me. I’ve decided to quit my dating apps and quit the powerful yet transient dopamine rush that I would get from new messages and new pokes and new likes and new matches and simply set a spell, by myself, with myself, play guitar more, play piano more, maybe buy some electronic drums so I can start playing drums again, write more, learn to cook some new dishes, focus on being a present and accessible father, fill myself up with good things to overflowing so I can pour out those good things when I’m bumped, so that I can become a full person, a person that doesn’t need someone to make me complete, but who is complete by myself, with myself.

I guess I didn’t realize that the road would be so lonely. Of course, it’s only been three days, so I’m withdrawing like an addict from the dating apps and the seduction and the witty repartee that I so loved when two people are establishing a flirtatious rapport with each other. Hopefully this is the uphill climb to the valley just over the ridge, and the road gets easier once I’ve reached this first crest.

Hopefully. We shall see. So come at me, 2016, and I’ll come at you.