Sticking to Convictions

What do you do when faced with a disaster?

So many of us tend to disregard the emotional impact of negative things.  As though it shouldn’t matter how you feel.  We make practical excuses to disguise the emotional decision we have made.  But why?  Emotions are a huge part of us, and why should it be a bad thing to acknowledge that they inform our choices?

When faced with a major setback in a project, it is normal to want out. No matter how strong your desire and conviction to pursue your goal, your emotional commitment can be waylaid by a disaster.  Knowing that this is temporary, and allowing yourself to acknowledge the feelings but wait them out before making a decision to walk away, is the responsible way to handle it.  Throwing up your hands and making what could be a solvable problem into a permanent defeat is the cowardly way.

The work of coming back from catastrophe is in itself a confirmation of your commitment, and a reaffirmation of your conviction.  Even if you do it badly, just the act of doing it puts your heart back where it needs to be.

Sometimes that work is made worse by the degree of the disaster.  Sometimes, it’s hard, back-breaking, filthy work.  I wrote about such an event that happened to me shortly after I started work on my log cabin.  You can read about it here.

wheelbarrow

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Touchin’ Stuff

I like touchin’ stuff.  Do you?

I remember the first time I touched a bass guitar with the intent to use it.  I was twelve.  Nothing I did sounded good, and the songs I was learning were ones I didn’t like much.  But there was a complete sensory experience involved in having the instrument strapped to me, and laying my hands on it.  The weight of it.  The finished wood of the neck.  The strum in the amplifier.  The smell of metal on my fingers.

It is intoxicating; the experience of interfacing with a reality that holds a potential for you.  Linking with a corporeal present that you could bend into the shape of an as yet impossible future.

I wrote about this in my log cabin chronicles this week.  You can check it out here.

telepolebench2

How Short Can You Horror?

worm

Another month, another Misfortune 500.  Very short tales I come up with to go alongside random images.  The pic above is a banana peel with a bit of stringy banana material on the end of it.  I thought it kind of looked like a worm.

I’ve talked before about how the backstory is what makes the pictures into horror, or into whatever you’d like.  You, the writer, have all the power.  How many words do you need to exercise it to your satisfaction?

Check out the story I set down to go with this image here.  C’mon, it’ll take two minutes.  Lemme know what you think.

Moving: Progress or Regress? part 2

doorhandle

Last week I discussed the decision-making process I went through in choosing to move in with my girlfriend, and I hope that you could see echoes of your own cognitive approaches to heavy decisions. I wanted to make it clear that the decision wasn’t easy, and that my requirements and desires were being addressed in the choice. I needed to elucidate the process for you, because I planned to share with you this thing that has happened when I have shared the news with others: I have been ridiculed for it. I thought about it for a time, and decided what I believe is going on. Perhaps you’ll chime in as well.

What would you say to me, were I to tell you in a conversation over a drink, that I am moving in to the downstairs apartment of my girlfriend’s duplex? Keep in mind that I am 37. Here are some of the responses I have had:

“Well, that sounds like you’re moving forward.”
“She’s keeping you in the basement now?”
“She won, huh?”
“Finally joining the rest of us stiffs.”
“I guess we know who’s calling the shots.”

Now, not everyone talks to me this way. Some folks congratulate me and wish me luck. Some of them even mean it. But the comments above and others like it have prompted me to shut my mouth about it.

There’s a peculiar pattern about those comments. They all come from a single demographic: middle-aged, married white men. Men that fit into the classic stereotype of the bread-winner milquetoast father and husband whose wife controls the household and to a degree, him. Ideas like the “To-Do List” that she writes for him, the one room where he is allowed to decorate as he pleases i.e. “Man Cave”, the withholding of physical intimacy based on her whim which he must not challenge, even at great personal difficulty, etc. It’s an antiquated gender role that isn’t quite out of prevalence in the US, coming after the male-dominated home stereotype of the 50’s and before, but before the more modern equality-based models.

These men who deride me when they hear that I am giving up my own place to live with my girlfriend all grew up believing (and consequently still believe) that the right and normal course for an American man is to marry and become a domestic slave. A man whose only respite is when he can get away from the wife, into the garage, or out drinking with the boys, or other activities that she scarcely tolerates. A man whose spare time is spent working around the house at her bidding, on jobs he does not believe need to be done. A man who desperately wants sex but is only given it once in a long while when she deems his recent behavior (see: housework) rewardable.

This is the situation they looked for, found, and now struggle with. They believe it is fitting. They perpetuate it. And of course, they see it as appropriate for everyone else, too. And as they say, misery loves company. They delight in projecting their own deplorable situation on another male, because it confirms the validity of their choice to put themselves into awful circumstances.

But I do not believe it is fitting. Thankfully, neither does my gerlf. She and I plan to approach things from a position of equal footing, and to respect each others’ needs, plans, and desires as being of equal importance. Supporting each other, rather than limiting each other. I have found, partially because of the derision I’ve experienced when sharing the news of my move, that such an equality-based approach to cohabiting is not just what I’d prefer, but it is actually a hard boundary for me. I become angry at the suggestion I might do otherwise. And I wonder if this points to my own childhood. Did I flinch when my mother handled my father’s sincere feelings as trifles? I am unsure.

Perhaps it is the fact that one approach reflects love, and the other reflects resentment, and the fact that I see this makes me sensitive to suggestions that I would accept the latter in the guise of the former.

How does this reflect your own living situation? Are you and your partner on unequal footing, even if you planned to be otherwise? Did you ever date someone considerably younger or older than your own age and find their values in regard to living together were skewed compared to yours?

Moving: Progress or Regress?

doorhandle

So I’m doing a thing next month that has been a long time coming. Though I have my reservations, I’ve decided it is the thing for me to do: I’m moving in with my girlfriend.

I’ve always been fond of living alone. I had no siblings, and when I went off to college I hated the idea of sharing a room (and didn’t, for the most part). I had to share a home with others for much of my lengthy six and a half years at school, but not a room, not almost at all. When I moved to New York I shared my place with the girl who moved here with me, and the crucible-effect was a part of why we split not long after. Since then a few important ladies have come to live with me as romance bloomed between us, and left as it wilted. But I am still here, in this apartment I moved into more than thirteen years ago.

Next month I’m trying out another domestic pairing of the romantic kind, but this time I’m moving in with her.

This apartment I’ve inhabited for a third of my natural life has a heavy weight of memories in it. Hard to face, impossible to uproot. Since my best friend and canine companion Blake died in March, it just hasn’t been right. I had never set foot in the apartment without him prior to that. Even on the day I arrived after driving 5 days, in the middle of bitter January 2004, he and I fell asleep on the floor under a single small blanket together.  He was a part of my home, and what’s left is incomplete. Add to that the work that my . . . we shall say “motivated” . . . landlord has done on the bathroom and kitchen, forcing me to move out of them and cram my things into the rest of the apartment, and my home becomes a place where I feel unwelcome. An interloper. Every day I come home and I don’t even know which workmen have been in there. They handle things they have no business handling. They break things. They have even stolen.

But as uncomfortable as my home has become, the discomfort is still not why I’m leaving. I’m leaving because my gerlf and I have been together for almost two and a half years, and the relationship hasn’t deteriorated at all. No dealbreakers. No major upsets. No ebb and flow of doubts and hopes. Its simplicity is its strength, and now it has stood the test of time. Well, some time. A considerable amount.  And it is the norm, the done thing, to try living together when you’re in a relationship.

She’s a home owner, which changes things. Dating in your thirties is a different ball game than in your younger years. Where fashionable disillusionment, occasional willful irresponsibility, and uncertainty about future prospects were chic in your twenties, romantic in a classical way, and even sexy, they smack of immaturity and stagnation in your thirties. Things like that must be no more than infrequent meanderings into indulgence, sitting atop an established set of life-circumstances. Money. Job. Home. Security. Rather than exulting in an ongoing level of hardship due to consistently shying from responsible decision making, we build a situation than can withstand such deviations, as long as they come in moderation.

In addition, sharing her mortgage and utility bills will be markedly cheaper than paying my own, to the tune of three grand a year, and twice that per year soon based on rent projections for my apartment. It makes financial sense. Also, more amenities await me there. I’ve been a laundromateer for so long, it feels like I never quite grew up in that respect. Folks over 30 in laundromats smell of a bad life decision or two, don’t they? I’ll be able to join the great self-laundering adult crowd once I begin cohabiting with the ladyfriend. And of course there’s the simple fact of trying out our relationship in a home-sharing situation. It has not been tested against this challenge, and it’s worth a shot, as the potential reward could be grand.

But one of the biggest reasons why moving in there seems do-able is that her home is split into two, with the downstairs being its own complete apartment, and the tenants she is renting it to are leaving. I would get my own complete apartment, right in her home. This takes off the pressure of sharing a home to a great extent, allowing me to set up my own space once again, in a new location. For those of us (you, perhaps?) who attach themselves to their living spaces, this is huge.

And I am one of those, no doubt. My home is a centering space. A jumping-off point from which I launch my life like an assault on my goals. I need it like clothes, food, and water—a place that is solely mine, where I am alone, comfortable, and able to think. To relax. To watch cartoons and eat pizza and not bother putting on clothes to do it. Privacy. Without such a place, I am never comfortable. And my stress level rises and rises.

So, the decision to move is going forward. I told my landlord. I started planning. I don’t even intend to move back into my kitchen after he finishes work there. Just going to keep receding, until nothing is left.

But there’s a thorn in my side as I go through these motions. Something to do with the way that other people are reacting to this news. That’s why I’ve composed this journal-esque blog entry for you this week. I want to know what you think about this kind of life choice. What would you say to me, were we discussing it over a beer after work?

Next week I’ll unpack the feelings of animosity that my coworkers and friends have lent a hand in creating, and talk about the way that our reactions to others’ choices reflect on ourselves.

How do you Deal with the Daunt?

What is it about new beginnings that makes them so exciting?  The thrill of the unknown?  Or, more:  what makes us bite off more than we can chew when we start something fresh?

Let’s say that you love movies.  You watch the special features on new DVDs, you read interviews with the production crews and the cast, you attend new releases the night they come out, sometimes go to advanced screenings.  Or maybe you don’t.  Maybe you just love movies and watch the same old ones you used to like, once in a while when you feel like it.

And you decide to become a filmmaker.  How does that even happen?  Do you start with your phone camera, taking little snippets of things and editing them together?  Do you find a cheap or free video editing program for your computer?  Maybe you want to be the next James Cameron, but you know as much about focal length and lighting a set as a fish knows about toboggans.  Where do you start?

The bigger question is, how do you overcome the trepidation of trying to do something you’re not just unprepared to do, but vastly so?  You have years of work ahead, dedication, perseverance, luck, trials, failures, and work, work work.  How do you push yourself to pick up your little digital camera and start noodling with the buttons to figure out what the heck they do, on a given Sunday afternoon in the hour before you go get groceries?

Have you tried this?  It’s extraordinarily difficult.  Why decide to push a boulder up a mountain when you can just stroll by?

But that is what we do, so often.  That is what James Cameron did, and any other great achiever.  It is also what you do when you enter into a relationship with someone new, or sign a mortgage, or get a new job.  You may consign its ups and downs to a simple daily effort, but it is a much larger scale project than that.  And the projects you see as enormous, like a career in filmmaking, are made much the same way:  with a simple daily effort, over a long time.

cabpanora

This is a panorama of the cabin at Salamander City, not long after I started in on it (click to see a larger image).

I tossed some things in there I thought I’d need.  Gloves.  A ladder.  A table.  Some water so I could stay hydrated while I tried to figure out what to do and how to do it.  I didn’t know I’d need borate salts, or sandable silicon, or rust-proof copper meshing, or telephone pole pieces, or that I’d deal with an incompetent excavator or a quarry deliveryman or an angry retired county clerk, or that I’d learn how to heat a bath using a woodstove or divert water using a french drain or cut curved coping into logs to fit them together.

I just knew I wanted to try to restore and enhance this cabin and property.  And the way to do it was one small step at a time.

This week a new page on this topic is posted here:  Tabula Rasa part 2.

What gargantuan projects have you taken on, and how do you deal with the daunt?

The Triumph of Tranquility

NYC

New York City.  A symbol of human achievement.  Countless busy souls have spent their lives here, crafting.  Building the engines that make the world work

If I were to ask you what your idea of bliss is, what would you say?

I asked a few people, and the answers tended to fall into a few categories:  financial windfall, tropical relocation, and sex with an ideal partner.  They all make a kind of sense we can understand.  Who wouldn’t like to have these?  But for the most part, when asked what bliss meant to them, folks presented a version of inactivity.  Being someplace special or having some kind of amenity at their disposal was wrapped up in it, but they mostly just want to relax.  To sit in place in the sun on the beach as the tide rolls out.  To recline in an old chair by the fire and read a good book.  To leave work so they can travel overseas and just see things.  No labor, no projects, no purpose except to enjoy.

But for me, pursuit of a purpose and enjoyment are inextricable.  My idea of bliss is to choose a thing that I want to work on and accomplish, and to be able to do it, unfettered by responsibilities that interrupt and steal time.  The idea of total inactivity does not appeal to me, except after a long day of work.  Doing nothing, experience has told me, is actually awful.

Nest

This empty bird’s nest at my camp in the Adirondacks is also a labor, but one to create a space for peaceful safety.  A toil to escape toil.

I have been wrapped up in the race of purpose my whole life.  Every day, finding the motivation to pursue, pursue, pursue.  Imagine the great things I can do, then fall in love with the work of doing them.  Then, exult in the accomplishment by imagining the next thing.  I have disconnected with the part of me that slows down and finds solace of any kind in relaxation for the sake of relaxation.  Relaxation that is not just a relief from some labor of some kind, but is an intentional act.  An occupation of itself.

And I have chosen this.  But I did not know how deeply this disconnect was affecting me until recently in my life.  Until I forced myself to experience the other side of the coin.  As it turned out, doing this was extraordinarily difficult.  But the rewards are many.  I am still trying to grasp the triumph of tranquility, the purpose-that-is-unpurpose.  And it is not bliss, at least not to me.   But it is valuable, for a different reason.  It is a widening of one’s cumulative intellect:  There are whole worlds of perception and understanding within lengthy, peaceful repose that are invisible to the eternally goal-driven mind.

If you’d like to read about how I came to this understanding, and see some pictures of the setting for the experience, click here.