Friday, February 12, 2010

Day seven hundred and seventy two ... Lucky at any age.

I'm getting so old.

I'm ancient.

You kids today!

Oh, woe is me.

Blah, blah, blah.

I hear it all the time and it makes me wonder if everyone forgot how amazing it is that they're alive enough to complain.

I'll be forty years old in a little under three months--May, 9th to be exact. It's quite a milestone for me to say the least. And in saying that I must add that I'm extremely excited to go through it. I'm delighted to enter a new room--so to speak--in the aging process of my life. I'm really, truly, and with all my heart prepared to sink my teeth into this inevitable occurrence.

Because if I make it that far it will mean that I've lived almost three months from right now.

Fingers crossed.

When we're young things are so different. When we say things like "I'm almost five," or "I'm four and a half," we don't say it with horror, despair, or worry in our voice. We say it with wonderment and awe--with hope and anticipation at the whole idea--because we practically can't wait to get there. Then somewhere around the beginning of our teens we stop using fractions and forecasts. We say it straight up with no hesitation or wavering.

"I'm fifteen."

And so you are.

And so it goes for many years--excluding the inevitable attempts to pass oneself off as 21 for the four or five years preceding, in order to get served alcohol--and we get through our twenties enjoying all the colors on the palate of our flourishing youth--our salad days, as it were. We fall in and out of love twenty times; we fail and ace test after test; we move from one shithole to the next and enjoy the transient nature that is living out of cardboard boxes. We leave as many things behind as we pick up from others who left theirs where we just landed. We argue with landlords and absorb with a raised ear tales of those who were in our indignant position and held out for months without paying rent. We hear stories of how our rights trump those who pay the property tax and mortgage. We are defiant in defense of our undue plight while the world on the other side of our sense of entitlement rolls along not really noticing our disgust. Because the rest of the world is a little too busy to pay heed to the guy with his arms crossed, his head in the air, mattress on the floor, with a milk crate for a table and a self-imposed static tram route from the dishroom to the bar and back to the mattress again.

And as we go through these predictable motions we creep closer and closer to thirty, that haunted island off the mainland that one has heard terrifying stories passed down from generation to generation. We see it and we don't want to even think about having to someday be forced to languish there. We don't want it because life is so unbelievably simple and serene where we are: twenty-something, energetic, and devoid of the expected medical predispositions and familial expectations that accumulate as we age. We have for nine years lived a life where it's okay to not have a plan. It's all right to sleep all day and go out all night and take and hold (or quit or be fired) the menial jobs that barely--if at all--pay the bills. And in our mind we keep checking that departure slip, rolling it around in our head, understanding that there will come a day--very certainly and irrefutably--when we will wake up and we will be looking across at the mainland from afar ... from that spot we had been staring at for almost ten years, shuddering and picturing the darkness and dread, the banality and drudgery of a life where things start to count--both physically and figuratively--where there is no turning back ... and the hills just get higher ... and the days just seem to slip away.

Then one day you wake up and you're there--you are twenty-nine no longer. You don't know how it happened but you are not on the mainland anymore. And as you stand there at the edge of the island--your new home--and peer off into the distance you see you standing there at the edge of the water looking back--arms folded, head up, convinced it'll be different when the time comes.

But as we all know, things always seem to take longer before we've traveled the distance.

And so I'm so very happy to age. I see it now as a goal and not as a predicament. I see the end of every day as a case won rather than a death sentence. Because I really believe that I am lucky to have gotten this far (and anyone who knows even a little bit of my history can understand why). I am here and I am breathing and that's about all I can say on a minute to minute basis. I'd like to say I can make plans for next year, and I most certainly will. But I have no guarantee that I will be here or that I will be healthy or that I will be sober. All I can do is plan for it and hope that I can realize my goal.

And that's why I just don't understand the many people who I hear complaining about getting older. I mean--not to be insensitive--I realize that there are many drawbacks to aging, be they susceptibility to medical maladies and the increasing attrition rate of one's contemporaries as the road lengthens. But I guess I just enjoy the feeling I get looking at the calendar whose markings and fingerprints weigh down the pages of days that came before today's, tomorrow's and all those from here to the end of the year.

It's a game--it really is. And a great, magical, marvelous, mysterious one at that. And we have so many options as to how to handle our time. When I'm in an uncomfortable position in my life--be it being stuck in traffic, or having said the wrong thing to the wrong person--I like to make a special effort to recall it in the future, to see if it was really as bad as I thought it was, and that's assuming I can actually recall it with much accuracy in the first place. These things slip away--that's what they naturally do. And we can move on and move over and uncover the next hidden treasure ... or we can become hardened and bitter and deplore whatever comes next. And unless we die now something will always come next.

Like I said earlier, things always seem to take longer before we've travelled the distance.

I'm hoping what lies ahead of me takes as long as humanly possible.

And when I say "I'm almost forty," I don't say it with horror, despair, or worry in my voice ... I say it with wonderment and awe--with hope and anticipation at the whole idea--because I practically can't wait to get there.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day seven hundred and sixty two ... On the defense.

It's so much easier now.

Really, I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart. It's so much easier to go through my life now facing its daily battles, its seemingly insurmountable challenges, moral quandaries, incongruous rules and regulations, mystifying inconsistencies and quirky interpersonal button pushing competitions.

Because all of these frustrating facets of life seemed to just become a smudge on the window to my world when I stopped trying to kill myself.

Not to be too dramatic.

For so many years before I smartened up and quit drinking I would pretty much wake up, go to work (ugh!), barely scrape by until the end of the day, hit the package store and begin the ritual. It took a little bit of me away each time I did it. But when I was in the middle of it I truly believed it was just the way I was destined to live. I had seen it in enough movies and on television--I had read enough Bukowski and even seen some of it first hand from my friends who could tell me all about what I did the night before when they were loaded beyond belief.

I was the one with the deathwish.

Now, I didn't start writing this post to get all dark and depressing. I started writing this because of a conversation I had with a friend yesterday--an uplifting one. We were speaking about how amazing it is to wake up on a regular basis and get ready for work, travel the obstacle course that is our transportation system, do what we each do, come home, and go out at night and really only be worried about the randomness of the world of everything that exists outside our own heads.

Because for the longest time what was inside out heads was the most dangerous thing for us bar none.

Shocking, right?

But so true. I know for a fact that if I had let the gray matter in my skull keep hold of the wheel for any longer than it had I would not be here to write these things that some have said are inspirational and/or entertaining. I know I would not have been able to travel the world as I have with my musical group. I know I would have missed out on helping my aunt like I did as she was preparing to die. And I sure as hell know that I would not have been around to meet my true love and develop parts of my self in my heart and in my head that I had often wished I could someday aspire to.

That said, I would have most likely never admitted it was me who was measuring, cutting, installing, and shutting the many doors I had come to believe were erected by everyone and anyone else years and years before.

I was just the way I was.

I would have never come to the realization that now the only real and present danger to my existence solely and independently exists on the other side of my eyes and ears. It's all out there. There are a million busses careening down busy roads waiting for the wrong person to cross at the wrong time. There are robberies going on right now and there are, unfortunately, people who will get caught in the middle of it and may likely end up in trouble. There are wars occurring in multiple parts of the world that ensnare the innocent and the brave in its grasp and turn out wounded, disturbed, displaced people. And that's assuming you survive it. There are probably as many ways for someone to end up in peril as there are people in the world. But there is a solace that I can take in knowing that there is one unfortunate outcome that--as long as I stay clean and sober--I will never have to endure.

And that, of course, is self-destruction.

Today I live defensively.

It's not me anymore that's going the wrong way down the highway.

It's not me anymore who's adding a minute amount of poison to my food every day.

It's not me anymore who's peering over the edge of a cliffside wondering how far down it is.

It's not me.

And I understand this because it most certainly was me for almost half of my life, whether intentionally or not. I was that guy. I was laying plans daily to make it possible for me to quit this whole game right in the middle and leave my pieces on the board. And if you ask people who knew me then they'll tell you that I always seemed like such a happy person ... until I got drunk.

But this situation, I'm sure, is common for people in general, not just alcoholics. I realize that my particular problem manifested itself in a way that was easy to observe, but I'm guessing that it happens to many of us to a certain degree which we may not even notice. I'm not saying everybody has a subliminal death wish. What I am saying is that many of us live our lives with an extra added risk. Whether it be the unchecked obesity that eventually took my mother from me, or the self-imposed stress that added to my aunt's risk of cancer--taking her from me as well--many of us have problems that are so much greater than the odds of a car accident or a stray bullet. They are greater than the possibility of a tornado or a landslide, electrocution or a runaway semi.

Because we do them and we don't have to.

And when I realized this not too long ago--that I don't have to worry about me killing me as much as I used to--the world took on a much different hue.

I began to be a little bit more aware of what was going on around me in the lane I was driving in ... and a little less worried that I forgot so and so's name at the party.

I called in a professional to fix the electrical wiring in my 19th century house to lessen the risk of fire ... and put behind me the regret of having never allowed my mother to see me live life as a sober man.

I started to look left, right, and left again, like they showed me when I was too young to realize the clear and present danger of things bigger than I was ... and allowed the line at the grocery store to move at its own pace rather than letting its frustration raise my blood pressure and take away even a few precious minutes of my life.

I know that I can call it quits at any time--we all can. But there is something magical about knowing that that's not what you desire--to really understanding that you want to be here. And not only that but I get a real rush out of waking up every day and being aware that I have to work at it to stay alive. That no one ever gets a guarantee that they'll live long enough to get a degree, or meet the person of their dreams, or star in a movie, or write a timeless melody ... and that's where it all begins to become self-evident and the sky opens up, the sun wraps you in its yellow linen, and you wake up, up, up a little bit more each and every minute until you're standing straight and tall, looking over all you have, can, and are able to do, and you know there's more to come if you live defensively and pay more attention to the world around you and less to the buzzing beehive behind your eyes.

I'm not worried so much about me anymore ... but that's only because I now know I don't have to.

Thanks for reading,