Forever Young

If you insist on absolute organization, or have obsessive compulsions, I suggest you skip reading this. What I’m about to say will “trigger” you, as my daughter would say.

Depending on the day, if you’re in my home and walk from the bathroom to the living room, you can gain up to fifteen minutes of your life back. This is assuming you actually have no plans involving other people who happen to wear watches that work properly. Those people would simply tell you that you’re late. Fascists. What is the secret to time travel, you ask? It’s very simple. Step 1: Purchase battery-operated clocks on sale. Step 2: Keep those same clocks well past their primes.

You see, the clock in my bathroom, despite being set to the proper time, will eventually speed up over months. When I compare it to the time on my phone, it will often be five minutes fast. On the other hand, the clock in my living room likes to slow down. After a few months, it will be up to ten minutes behind. Thus, the hallway in my home is like my very own time machine.

A rational person might conclude that the timing mechanisms within those clocks are off. They might tell me that I should invest in new ones. The truth is, my clocks just get me. When I’m getting ready for work (rushing through the process of all the hygiene matters designed to eliminate stench for the sake of the general public), there is almost always a moment in which I look at the clock in my bathroom and realize I actually have five more minutes. What an incredible sense of relief. Likewise, when winding down before bed, I can conveniently forget that the clock in the living room is ten minutes slow. It buys me just a few more moments with the characters in whatever show I’m bingeing. Hope is not an abstract concept. It is very real and exists in my hallway.

Much like my clocks, we all perceive time differently on occasion. I recently replaced the registration sticker on my license plate. For that, I got to stand in line at the DMV. For two hours I listened to two women discuss with each other the times they were “locked up” while the young child of another woman kept spinning around the posts that were guiding the line and bumping into my legs. After acquiring my sticker and stepping outside, I realized I’d only been in there for twenty minutes. If you have or have had children, you’ve been to school programs. You know the ones. You sit on hard, metal chairs or bleachers with no backs. The elementary school band begins to play their seemingly seventeen-hour set in which the wind section squeaks and the percussionists play their drums to the beat of a different song. How many times do you look at your program sheet thinking, “We’re almost halfway there,” while ignoring the children to concentrate on your ass that fell asleep two songs ago? I’ve never left a school program and told myself that it went by surprisingly fast.

Of course, time is perceived in both directions. I don’t go out with my friends often. The whole “adulting” thing gets in the way. Work, my daughter, and this blog are where I spend most of my hours. When I do go out to have a few cocktails and enjoy the company of my friends, those hours turn into minutes. (One might blame this on the alcohol consumed, but I enjoy subgrade vodka at home as well and it does not speed up time when I’m on hold with internet tech support, although it does make me giggle out loud at the Tech with the Hindi accent named “Steve.”) Timehop on Facebook is another great way for me to realize that time is a fluid thing. Six years will have passed from when I posted a picture of my daughter that I remember taking as though it were yesterday.

I recall being in my teens and thinking of my twenties as some distant event. Now, at thirty-seven, I have come to the conclusion that teenage me was a presumptuous little jerk. Time is a fickle bitch. It has taken the hair from my head and tried to move it to my ears. It kidnapped my baby with that unbelievable natural smell at the top of her head and replaced her with a training-bra-wearing young lady who rolls her eyes in embarrassment whenever I dance (In fairness, my Cabbage Patch isn’t the strongest). It assassinated my metabolism. And when I attempt to combat the lowered metabolism with a vigorous workout, Time reminds me that I am not a spry young man who need not worry about pulling muscles in his butt cheeks.

So, I keep my cheap clocks and find myself walking up and down my hallway sometimes with a drink in my hand and a smile on my face. In that hallway, Time is mine to control. My own fifteen minutes of fame. Little victories.

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Paperback Writer

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a simple enough question. We’re asked that by teachers, parents, and grandparents all throughout our childhood. I still ask myself that sometimes at 37. In grade school, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Dinosaurs were just cool. And what boy doesn’t like the thought of digging in the dirt to find hidden treasures and the bones of ancient creatures? For a brief period, I considered being a stand-up comedian. This was mostly because I was the obnoxious class clown. My music teacher gave me part of a class to stand up and do whatever I wanted if I would just shut the hell up for the rest of the week. I won’t lie. My impressions of Goofy being beaten up by Batman were pretty on point. You know, if Batman existed before Bruce Wayne ever hit puberty.

Junior high and high school brought about the writer. College then changed the writer. In my early twenties, the writer took a back seat to Jagerbombs and Miller Lite. At 26, my daughter was born. Everything took a back seat to being a father. I wrote a little here and there, but never with any decent amount of vigor. I chose to see the world through the eyes of a writer, but one who pens children’s books and whose main character unfolds daily in front of his eyes. My story was one of wonder every time my daughter hit a new milestone or discovered magic.

It wasn’t until a short while ago that I made the decision to focus on putting pen to paper again. I have a notebook in which I jot ideas when they arise. My daughter has caught on to this. She asks me what I thought about whenever she sees me put my hands on the black leather binding. When I drive her to school every Monday, she inquires as to what this week’s piece is about. I adore these times. I get to share a little of what’s going on in my mind as well as any facts I learned in my research. I’m grateful to her for at least putting up the front of being interested in the physiological aspects of tears and laughter. Like a pro, she interjects with random “hmms” and “ohs.” Right before turning up whatever Shawn Mendes song just came on the radio. That guy has her in chains.

Last week, I picked Madison up from school and she informed me that she had started writing a story. Chapter one was finished and I was regaled with the beginning of the tale of Shadow and Glamor, two sisters who had been separated as babies when their parents split up. Mom kept Shadow. Glamor was taken away by Dad. Neither sister knew the other existed. Later in life, Shadow and her mother moved to a different town and Shadow started at a new school full of bullies. A girl stepped in to help Shadow with the female bullies and the two girls became best friends. Spoiler alert: The friendly girl was Glamor. The story is written in the form of a screenplay, complete with cues for the characters to sit or fall. Because Glamor was a mystery character, her name was listed as “????” until the climactic finale.

Mystery. Drama. Intrigue. One hell of a hook.

I’ve been proud of my daughter a multitude of times throughout her life. Parenting in the early years is filled with moments of joyful pride in our children. Learning to crawl. Learning to walk. Learning to speak. Learning the alphabet. When they say “please” or “thank you” for the first time without being prompted. Graduating from a baby in diapers to a child in cotton glory. A perfect score on that test at school.

None of those moments hit me quite as hard as listening to the story of Shadow and Glamor. There was an urgency and thrill in her reading of it. She was expanding on things during the course of narrating the tale. This wasn’t a milestone that I read about in the What to Expect books. This was the forging of a world through pure imagination.

Like a lot of children in today’s world, Madison got hooked on YouTube videos. Videos of other children playing with their toys and unfolding adventures of their own creation. It was slightly disappointing to see her so absorbed in the imaginations of others while (as I incorrectly assumed) not using her own. However, I realize I have a movie collection that rivals that of Family Video. And I too watch of lot of videos online. My videos are slightly different and would never be found on YouTube, but sometimes there are toys involved there also.

Now I see that my daughter is not only using her imagination. She incorporates real life into her drama. And not only the fun parts. Her story is speckled with harsh realities. Broken homes. Loss of family. Relentless bullying. And underlying all of these realities is hope. She is a laugher. A crier. A dreamer. A writer.

As parents, we want more than anything to leave behind a legacy for our children. For some, that means leaving behind money or a business. For others, that means instilling them with religious or cultural beliefs. If we’re lucky enough, we get to see tiny flashes of those legacies shine through before we leave this world. My legacy? I want my daughter to look at this world as the wonderful, beautiful disaster that it is. I want her to realize that hope is not an abstract concept. Shadow and Glamor understand.

Unchain My Heart

My siblings and I were latchkey kids growing up. Our parents were often at work before we left for school and didn’t come home until after we’d already been there. It was a different world back then. The Internet hadn’t taken hold and convinced every parent that leaving their children unattended in the house guaranteed that they would be kidnapped and murdered. Likewise, physical punishment still existed and the fear of damaging anything in the houses of Mom or Dad was very real. As such, siblings were left in the charge of the oldest sibling. When I was about eleven, my oldest sister was left in charge of myself and my youngest sister, age two. Just as I walked into the living room, I saw my youngest sister had climbed up over the back of the couch, perching precariously on the few inches the furniture provided. I looked to my oldest sister, age 16, who was engrossed in whatever terrible soap opera was on the television at the time. My bet is on One Life to Live. Hope and Bo, I still love you. Anyway, oldest sister wasn’t paying attention and youngest sister toppled over the back of the couch, wedging herself between the furniture and the window. In those few seconds, I was overwhelmed with emotions I didn’t understand. I felt startling fear. The kind of fear you would feel if a cobra suddenly lashed out at you from a seemingly innocent pile of laundry. I felt helplessness and the panic that comes with it. I burst into tears immediately from pain I didn’t physically feel. I felt embarrassment and self-disappointment. All those sensations hit me so quickly that all I could do was start yelling at my oldest sister while we pulled our youngest sister out of her predicament. I was unreasonably furious. Youngest sister was not seriously injured. Oldest sister was upset. And I couldn’t stop myself from shouting like a madman.

The shouting had burst out of me because I was an eleven year old boy who had just experienced his first process of powerful empathy and had no other way to express the torrent of emotions. I had actually felt my youngest sister’s fear and helplessness. I was also feeling my oldest sister’s embarrassment and self-disappointment for not paying attention for just a moment. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as:

  1. The imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it.
  2. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

The Latin roots of the word are broken down with “em” meaning “in” and “pathos” meaning “feeling.” The word literally means “in feeling.” Some of my cold-hearted coworkers like to claim that I’m sensitive. They claim that I get “in my feelings.” Don’t get me wrong. I have never and will never break down in tears at work. They’re referring to the fact that I, a man, have two cats named after Grey’s Anatomy characters. They know very well the story of me tearing up once to a Snuggles commercial. And, yes, I will openly discuss incredible shows like This Is Us while simultaneously having nearly zero knowledge of any sporting event on the television in the bar. It doesn’t help that I say phrases like, “I’m a man” after being called sensitive. Me thinks one doth protest too much.

Honestly, it’s a little sad that someone being “in their feelings” is used as an insult. Empathy is a tool for survival. Visit the maternity ward and observe the newborns. One newborn will cry and it will set off a chain reaction of the other newborns crying. Newborn babies feel empathy for one another. If a parent is stressed out, a baby will often pick up on this and cry harder. As a mouthy, fat kid growing up, the ability to read and incorporate the emotions of others saved me from crossing the line and getting my ass kicked more times than I did. One of my brothers once did the whole silent-mock-mouth-movement to our dad when he didn’t think Dad was looking after a particularly vicious lecture to both of us. Empathy allowed me to quickly pick up on how the situation was about to escalate. I moved out of the way a second before my brother went airborne. I like to think that I can pick up on a woman’s emotions fairly quickly. That’s really just a confusing and horrific burden. If it’s that time of the month or if she’s pregnant, buckle up, buttercup.

There are two types of empathy. The first type, cognitive, is possessed by almost anyone other than a sociopath. It’s the ability to relate and understand another’s emotions. It’s conscious. It’s what brings about sympathy. “I don’t have to walk in your shoes to relate to your plight.” I can see the homeless man with a sign on the street by Wal-Mart and feel sympathy for him. I can relate to how awful that must be. I can imagine the embarrassment of standing in front of people and asking for help. We understand and relate to him, but we don’t actually feel his emotions. The second type of empathy, affective, is subconscious. With affective empathy, we can actually experience the sensations, emotions, and feelings of another. We mirror those things within ourselves, sometimes bringing out physical manifestations such as tears. The neural pain circuits in our brains are actually triggered. This is why we cry when we see a young girl surprised by her father who has been deployed overseas for a year. This is why we cry at weddings. We can subconsciously feel the emotions and feelings of that father, that daughter, and the bride and groom.

There is the saying, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Forget walking in their shoes. Try walking beside them. Look at a mother’s face while she holds a crying baby. Talk to an elderly person about the loss of a significant other. Breathe in the belly-laughs of two children cackling at nonsense. Ask your spouse to tell you about a powerful childhood memory. We have become a society that communicates through emojis and clicks on tablet screens. Condolences are given through circular frowny faces and trite clichés about thoughts and prayers. Couples sit at dinner and never make eye contact while playing with their phones. Children can’t vocalize how their days were because their parents have lost the ability to translate emotion. Relationships fail more often than not because the most basic emotional cues are indecipherable to the members of a couple. We need to put away our cameras and capture moments in our minds. This world is full of beauty and anger and elation and pain. I want to feel it all. To be human is to be “in our feelings.”

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow

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A few weeks ago, I was driving my daughter to school. On the way, we passed an overweight man in mismatched clothing, huffing his way awkwardly down the roadside. His pace was less than breakneck. His attire was certainly not that of a runner. His form was something that would never be seen in any track and field event. In my mind, I made a snarky comment to the effect of, “There goes a New Year resolution.” And then I immediately wanted to punch myself in the genitals. This man, regardless of his reasoning, had made a conscious decision to get up in the early morning hours, put on whatever comfortable clothes he had, and begin a journey of healthier living. Kudos to you, sir! New Year, new you, as they say!

I have no idea whether or not that man stuck to his resolution. We’re now in the final stretch of the first month of 2017 and I haven’t seen him again. Perhaps he joined a gym or got his own equipment for home. Maybe he changed his jogging time or his route. No matter. The point is that I hope he’s still sticking with it. I sincerely hope he hasn’t allowed his New Year resolution to go the way of so many that are made and dismissed before the beginning of February.

Resolutions are amusing to me. Primarily because I’ve made so many over the three-plus decades I’ve been on this Earth. I stopped making them a long time ago. Failure is not something I enjoy. Somehow, saying it out loud, even to myself, opens the door for failure. I read somewhere that writing it down gives it more hold and power over you, as well as providing a visual reminder. I tried that once. I wrote down a resolution to be more organized. The piece of paper upon which I’d written the resolution was misplaced the next day. Irony is a saucy vixen.

In truth, I don’t know that I’ve ever successfully followed through with a resolution. I’ve heard that backdating your resolutions is a phenomenal way to feel good about yourself. Fair enough. Here we go.

–2006—I resolve to rapidly start losing my hairline.

–2007—I resolve to still be unmarried in a decade.

–2014—I resolve to play more video games.

–2015—I resolve to branch out more in my selection of adult entertainment.

–2016—I resolve to have more conversations with the cats while sipping cocktails.

Nailed it. I feel better already.

January 1st is merely another day in our lives. There is no reason to hold it to such standards. It isn’t magical. It isn’t a clean slate. But we have given it that honor. It provides a way for us to reset alongside millions of others. A purging of a past life in the company of like-minded individuals.

However, I’m a procrastinator. So are many of you. You know who you are. And we are ultimately optimists when you think about it. We are hopeful that there will always be enough time to finish what needs to get done. We’ll thrive off the chaos of rushing to finish something by a deadline. We’ll tell ourselves, “There is always tomorrow.” Every day gives us the opportunity to start new. I’m a Type A personality’s worst nightmare. I will absolutely get something done. I’ll simply do it in my own time and with my own casual flair. And you know what? I’ll live longer doing it. You can have all the stress and perfection in your life. I’m going to breathe and laugh in this disorder known as today.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start the laundry I was going to do yesterday.