Whoa, Nelly

How different are you today from the person you were last year? What about five years ago?

Fifteen?

Change is not only inevitable, it’s supposed to be desired, right? We hope we’ll grow and change and learn.

I’m in a position where I need to let go of an identity and responsibilities I’ve grown accustomed to and rather enjoyed, and I admit I’m having some difficulty with it. It’s been a part of my identity for a number of years, but someone else has stepped in and I need to gracefully release the reins (rather than ungracefully hanging onto them as I get dragged behind the carriage, face full of mud and spluttering “but…but…”).

Or… perhaps I need to accept that it’s a shared venture now. That some aspects remain with me, while others less so. And in the future that too may change yet again. I have a tendency, one I wasn’t aware I have, to sometimes see things as more all-or-nothing than they need to be.

I’ll get there. The last several years have been about learning who I want to be, and taking the steps to be that person. So it will happen. But as I feel the control and decisions sliding from my grasp, it doesn’t mean there won’t be a pang or two. A recognition that sometimes you’re simply no longer the person for the job. Hopefully it means something else is around the corner; I always like a new adventure.

And letting go can definitely be a big adventure. New paths often lead to new places.

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Coated Memories

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Whenever I teach a writing course, there’s always a session on the senses. The ‘sensual envelope’ used in writing can evoke strong emotions. Certain smells can remind you of specific moments, some colors can remind you of special events. The smell of bacon reminds me of Sundays with my grandmother, and Saturday cartoons with my mom.

We went on a trip last week to Cumbria, to the Lake District. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a spectacular part of England, full of lakes, waterfalls, open fields, and more sheep than you could throw a sweater at. It was beautiful, cold, and calming.

It was also the place I began my journey in this country what feels like an entire lifetime ago. I spent a grand total of eight months there, and the memories…

Rather unexpectedly, they came flooding back. I hadn’t expected that; I don’t know why, given my awareness of the link between the senses and memory. But as I passed the village I lived in, and the castles I visited, I was reminded. I was reminded by the mists rising from the fields, by the clouds hanging just below the mountaintops, by the thick accents I could still barely understand. There were many good times, and some pretty rough ones. The most difficult one, that I tried to take my own life there, made me quite contemplative.

Life since then has had a huge number of ups and downs, and I thought about all that wouldn’t have happened had I succeeded. I’m not attaching any positive or negative attributes to these memories, or to the actions after. They simply…are. I don’t think anyone gets out of life without regrets, and I have plenty of my own. But this trip made me realize that for all the past holds, we truly can’t conceive of what the future will bring. Our darkest moments really can be followed by absolute light. We learn, we grow. We change. Lessons come in many forms.

Sometimes, we even revisit, and we can see the road behind us as clearly as if drawn on a map. It’s the road ahead yet to be discovered; this lesson is one I’ll cherish.

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Confessional.

Confessional under new management.

Friend, forgive me. For I have (probably) sinned against you, repeatedly.

I’m sorry.

I really am. It’s not that I don’t care. I do. I wonder how you are. I hope you’re okay. I smile when I think of our times together.

I’m just really, incredibly, surprisingly awesome at being a shit friend. And there’s no excuse.

When it comes to getting out of my head, when it comes to picking up the phone, when it comes to starting an email… Words become elusive. What do I have to say that you’ll find interesting? What responses will I give that won’t make you wonder if there’s something, anything, else you could be doing?

I don’t want to intrude. And I don’t want to sound about as interesting as that fleck of peeling paint on the abandoned building. Plus, people are busy, right? We’re all insanely busy. I respond (if I respond) to personal stuff when I’m in the bathtub at night, because that’s pretty much the only time I stop to do things of that nature. That means if we were supposed to talk during the day, I’m probably running late, or I’ve forgotten altogether. Or I’ve gotten the time wrong. Or all of the above.

And so, I end up being a shit friend. I forget to write, I forget to call. And when I do remember, it’s usually with just a quick hello, so I don’t take up a lot of your time, and because I’m not going to bore you with my everyday life.  And you probably have no response to it, because I haven’t actually said anything worth responding to. At some point, I’ve probably also offended you, and have no idea. So my question becomes: are they just the same kind of friend I am? Or are they finally pissed off enough with me they’re not going to bother with me? Obviously, I’m not going to write to ask. That kind of open communication with possible confrontation side-effects is way beyond my capabilities.

I have no idea where this deep lack of ability to be a good friend comes from. Being rootless for most of my life, maybe? Moving around constantly and failing to develop deep connections? Or, maybe I’m just too selfish for friendships. Too self-involved. Friends give up time for one another, right? They’re always available. My life as a hermit means I’m available to the birds in my backyard, and my wife. Interaction beyond that requires preparation and thought, as well as a whole host of what-if conversations no one else is party to (that they know of). Also, it’s not just friends this happens with. It happens with my family, too. Communication outside my head just isn’t my forte.

Whatever the reason, I’m sorry. Know that I value our friendship, even if we only talk once a year. Know that I look forward to seeing you, one day.

Thanks for putting up with me, and for sticking around.

Quite.

I’ve been in this country for quite a while now. I’m used to the language discrepancies, to roundabouts every three feet, and to the Brit’s eternal optimism that the weather will, by ‘summer’, get better. (It never does.)

But there’s one area that appears to be decidedly different, and it has to do with strangers. It’s a conversation I’ve had a number of times in this country. You may not even be aware that you’re the stranger…

Not just a stray stranger on the street. Rather, strangers they’ve had contact with.

Here’s a situation for you:

A person you’ve had occasion to deal with via social media and/or professional circles says, ‘Hey, I’m coming to England.’ Or, ‘Hey, lets have a meeting at your place. I’m bringing Joe.’

In my very California mind, this is absolutely normal. Someone I’ve spoken to via blog for several years wants to meet up because they’ll be in my neck of the woods? Totally. A FB person with loads of ‘friends’ who is traveling and looking to couch surf and meet folk all over? Obviously cool.

Or…maybe not. Apparently, the Brits (yes, huge generalisation) are a little more wary about this type of thing. Invite someone you’ve never met into your home? What are you, a savage? Meet someone from social media just because they’re around? What’s next? A ship and anchor tattoo that says Mom? What chaos! What absurdity!

You may not know this about me, but I’m not a hugely social person (yeah, yeah. Scoff away), but these things seem quite normal to me. (*psa: quite in American means very. Quite in British means just okay. I said something was quite good and her face fell, assuming I meant only passable. Consider yourself warned should you want to pick someone up in a bar and you say they’re ‘quite’ attractive.*)

Anyway…

Be aware when you’re headed this way you might get a bit of side-eye from the Brit you’re visiting. They may take a few moments to decide you’re not don’t-take-candy-from-strangers crazy. Once you arrive at topics like word choice, (toss can be dirty, biscuits are cookies, chocolates and candy can be different things, and you probably shouldn’t be talking about your pants with strangers), things will be fine. The weather is always an excellent topic, too.

And if they say, ‘You’re quite nice, actually,’ they were expecting you to be even worse than they found you to be. Well done.

Never Underestimate a List

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An old friend of mine used to say that when coherent words escape you, start a list.

  1. So I’m starting a list.
  2. Christmas and New Year were absolutely perfect in every way. Food, movies, snuggles. Exactly the right amount of each.
  3. My wife literally gave me the moon. (a 3D printed topographical light-up version.)
  4. A girl can never have enough blank notebooks.
  5. I can never find one of those notebooks when I want one.
  6. In 2017 we went to five different countries. I think Greece (Lesbos) might have been my favorite.
  7. We realized that we have yet to take an actual vacation (more than four days) that is just about us. No books, or book things, or other people.
  8. America is on the list this year. It’s a book thing with other people.
  9. January is the hardest month for me mentally and emotionally. I hate it.
  10. I am beyond lucky to get to play with words all day, every day.
  11. And to do so with my wife.
  12. I want to read more. A lot more.
  13. I have two novels coming out this year.
  14. I’m also writing two more novels this year.
  15. I seem to have lost several friends.
  16. But I’ve gained a few others.
  17. Coffee spritzer is not meant for humans. It is vile.
  18. Bird seed eventually smells like the ass end of a sewage plant.
  19. I have a whole new understanding of who I am. It’s not always the same on any given day.
  20. I’m going to blog more this year. I’m going to take more photos. I’m going to love deeper and play with abandon.

Thanks for being around

And so the year comes to an end.

I’ve been pondering and puzzling about what to say in my final blog of 2017. Something witty or wise, playful or poignant.

I can’t think of a dammed thing.

Part of that is because I’ve become rather private about my thoughts and feelings. I share less out of a sense of self preservation. Trolls get under my skin, so best not to give them fodder.

I’ll say it was an amazing year with far more ups than downs. It was insanely busy, in pretty much every way. And it was fantastic.

I learned more about myself and who I want to be than ever before. It was a year of growth and understanding, and I’m feeling very fortunate I got the chance to be here to discover it.

I think I’ll leave it at that. To all the friends I got to see this year, and those I’ll get to see next year: thanks for being around, and for the laughs. I’ve come to understand that it’s okay to have people come and go from your path. Thanks for being on mine this year, in whatever capacity we came across one another.

I’m excited to see where 2018 leads. See you there.

Happy New Year.

An alley in the snow

Sometimes the unexpected can really make you stop and pay attention.

It’s cold in England right now. As in, it’s been snowing and below freezing. Right this moment it’s snowing and the temperature reads as -3C. We’ve been wrapping up, layering, hiding from the cold.

One night last week we were on our way to the cinema and a young homeless guy sitting in the alley asked for change. We stopped and had a chat with him, and it seemed clear no one had done so in a while. He looked both surprised and excited just to talk. When he heard my accent he told us about his travels through the States; he’d been all over, traveling from one coast to another. He rolled his eyes when he said Alabama and we all laughed.

He also told us he was getting enough money together to get into a hostel for the night, as the shelters were full. Someone had stolen his sleeping bag, so sleeping outside definitely wasn’t an option. He wished us well and we went on our separate ways.

I cried.

There I was, warm, fed, and spending money on a movie, when this guy was just hoping he wouldn’t have to sleep on the street, in the snow.

I know we all have our own paths in life. I know how close to the edge many of us are. More than once I’ve thought of the idiom that goes something like, “there but for the grace of god go I”. I’m not religious, but I do feel like I’ve been blessed to be where I am today; sometimes that path that leads to the story in the alley on a winters night is all too close to pulling us in as main characters. We have a sleeping bag in the car now, should we run into the situation again and can help. Still, I berate myself for not doing more for him that night. I continue to feel guilty.

I can’t stop thinking of that young guy. I hope he found a warm bed. I hope he finds his way back to the life that took him on travels. To be honest, I feel lost for words when I think of him. It makes me want to be a better person, it makes me want to scream at the unfairness of life. It makes me angry, ashamed, frustrated. It humbles me and the sense of gratitude inside threatens to tear through my skin.

So, as we head into the final run-up to the holidays, I’m going to focus on what I have not what I don’t), how insanely lucky I am in every way, and how important it is to remember that we are all humans on a journey. Kindness costs nothing, but can mean so much.

And we can only hope we’re never sitting in an alley praying someone stops to notice us.