Risking love, part 1 – finding it

She warned me all along not to get too close, too soon. “Things are complicated –I can’t make promises right now.” I didn’t listen. Finding someone that I can love is rare –to pass up the chance to love felt like the wrong thing to do –regardless of if that decision would turn out to be foolish. I wanted to see –I had to see- I had to know. My own safety did not matter. If something went wrong then I’d deal with it. Even if my heart got broken, there would still be a bright side: Sure, I’d hurt –I’d hurt deeply and I’d hurt a lot- but I’d have a clearer picture of what I value and at least I’d know that I have the ability to love. I’d also gain a deeper understanding and empathy for others who have had a broken heart –maybe even one that I had caused.

I remember how it all started. She told me that she was uncertain about my commitment to her. At the time –she was right. I have a lot of high standards and defenses to get past before I am willing and able to whole-heartedly commit to something or someone. I was avoiding allowing myself to be vulnerable. I was avoiding the deep searching that would risk me finding truth –maybe (probably) a truth which would require me to admit that I could not feel love for the person in question –an occurrence which has happened for me nearly every single time in the past. The thought of yet another dead end wrenched my insides. Still… the time had come, and I had to be true to myself and I had to “go there.” It only took me about a day of soul searching before what I wanted became clear. I’ve grown and matured to the point where I am ready and want to put all of myself forward. I’ve held back before and I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn from those experiences. Now was the time, with such a beautiful person in front of me, to risk being all that I was able to be –even if that meant risking a broken heart. I knew I was ready for love –but had I found the right person to experience that love with? The girl that fate put in front of me wasn’t my “type” –but I came to learn that that didn’t have to mean anything at all for me. She had all of the qualities that I could hope for: she was compassionate, intelligent, accomplished, sexy, driven, creative, introspective, the list continues… Yes. All the pieces were there –it was up to me to make a leap and commit.

I still had hesitation, but with examination, time, and help, I came to realize that those hesitations were simply byproducts of fear about taking such a hefty risk. “What more would you need to fall in love with this person?” I recall being asked. The only thing that I could think of was that I’d prefer a more “Disney-esque mutual infatuation ever-lasting type love.” “Ahh, yes –but, are we in real life or are we living in a fairytale?” … The question offended me. I grew up watching Disney –I grew up being told that real and deep true ever-lasting love is possible. My brain flew to the only other example of deep romantic love that I’ve ever had. With this person from my past it was possible for me to feel that level of love –but was it real? It was in the moment that it occurred, but there was a problem –one that wouldn’t materialize for several years to come. This person from my past whom I had loved so deeply was living far away from me -so far away that we rarely were able to see one another. In our time apart, our few short moments of love that I cherished in my memory morphed into what I felt our entire relationship was. I thought our relationship was proof that fairytale love as true… With time and a test, however, this person from my past moved to my area and became fully available to me. At that time, it was discovered (much to my dismay and heartache) that my love for her was sadly of a love and a woman that existed only in my head. I was no longer in love with the true girl from my past –merely a construct of her. How could that be? Love can vanish? What about happily ever after? … This was the moment when I chose to accept that fairytale love is not sustainable –and that is okay. What is sustainable is a deep and genuine caring and commitment with its occasional moment of magic. If done correctly, I believe, one can find complete happiness and fulfillment from a more realistic sort of love –but, as is always the case with love, it wouldn’t come without risk. I remember thinking, “I’ll have to ante up. I’m scared but… I am ready. The time, place, and person are right.”

My first and most potent feeling of being “in love” with my current partner came without warning. We were together on a day trip to the beach. We were just sitting together and not really talking about anything, per se. The wind picked up so I moved to keep my girl warm and then there it was… with the warmth of her touch also came a kind of warmth that arrived from within and amounted a certain degree of pleasant drunkenness. I was caught off guard. “This is it.” I remember thinking. “What do I do?!” … My favorite movie line of all time blissfully provided me the answer: “…enjoy it.” The magic of a moment is fleeting… As I sat there with my girl I began to tear with awe, love, beauty, enjoyment, and sadness all at the same time. I was alive. I owned that moment, and by doing so I made it slow just enough for me to fully wrap myself in its warmth and truth. It was beautiful. I had done it –if only for an instant. I could love with all my heart –and I could love this girl with all of my heart. I had love and it was marvelous.

While my moment on the beach did hold its own perfection for what it was, with time, the obvious became clear: something critical was lacking in my moment of love: its return. My girl could not return my love. “Things are complicated –I can’t make promises right now.” She had warned me… but I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen and now I would have to keep a secret –a beautiful little secret, but a dangerous one -one that could undo me if I wasn’t careful or if fate deemed that it must be so. I loved my girl –but I would have to keep that love to myself –at least for the time being. Maybe things would work out –or maybe I would be crushed; either way would be an adventure and I would have at least given my all. That, itself, has made my whole endeavor worthwhile –despite whatever outcome there might be… (to be continued)

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The anger dilema

“Give me the check, Vince! I can’t believe that I have a cussing academy award and I have to call YOU back! Again, and again! and again you CUSSUCKER!! GIVE ME THE CHECK!!”

“Wow, Seth! You really like to quote movies. What is it that you like so much about the angry parts?” Kristin asked me one Saturday afternoon. I got embarrassed. She was right -I do like quoting the angry parts of movies. Why is that? I’m not totally sure. Ever since I was a little kid I remember my mother singing or talking to herself while she was busy working alone somewhere else in the house. She would quote movies, or music lyrics, or just simple nonsense from the top of her head (and my Mom’s head sure seems to have a lot of nonsense to spout -believe you me!) Some of the time it would annoy me -but some of the time I found it amusing or even it oddly soothing. I’d ask her why she’d do that from time to time and she’d say “Oh, it’s just how I deal with stress.”

I guess it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that stress relief is probably why I spout off random quotes as well. It was a skill that I learned from Mom. Yet, why do I seem to particularly favor spouting angry parts? I don’t feel like an angry person. People who know me wouldn’t label me as being very angry, I don’t think. So what is it? I’m gonna guess that I choose to quote angry parts of movies because, actually, I do have some anger inside that I am uncomfortable about directly acknowledging. Anger isn’t usually an attractive or desired emotion -either for the person experiencing it or for the people around that have to witness or be subjected to it. Yet, of course, being angry from time to time is part of being human. By venting stress via angry quotes (even if they are in humor as with my quote above) I am probably venting or working through some aspects of my own anger indirectly and in a safe way that I wouldn’t necessary have to be held directly accountable for. Plus, it can be fun to be angry! You get to feel “in the right,” you may feel more alive/focused/awake, you get to feel powerful, etc. Anger can be very motivating! It certainly has been for me: I was angry that my life wasn’t where I wanted it to be after grandma died so I took action to apply to grad school and re-arrange my life to be more what I wanted; when I got mono I got angry and decided to create a blog -which spurned this whole thing which you’re reading right now; I got angry about not getting straight into graduate school so as a result I decided to stay on course for another year with my job that I was considering quitting so that I could really focus on improving myself in ways that will better prepare me for when I do start.

Situational examples are easy to point out when it comes to trying to figure out why I might occasionally experience anger. With me, however, (and probably with most of us) I am sure that there are more deeply rooted issues behind why I might from time to time experience anger. Unfortunately, with these deeper issues, I often find it can be more difficult to access and understand my own anger because the anger becomes entangled with many other emotions. Fear, self-doubt, guilt, and even love can get wrapped up with my anger in ways that make it difficult for me to see or trust what I may be feeling. I am grateful that therapy exists to help me attempt to sort everything out.

Let’s look at attachment theory to help illustrate an example for how, in deeper core issues, I may struggle with anger because it can get tangled with other emotions: In normal healthy attachments, when you are young and something scares or threatens you, you run to your attachment figure (usually mother or father) for safety, love, and/or protection. Biologically, that is what we’re programed to do. It is in our nature to move in close to our pack because that tends to grant us our greatest chance for survival. But what happens, when, in a less healthy attachment, the source of the scaring or threatening becomes the attachment figure itself? Would you just run away -and go to nobody? You can’t, really -when you’re a little kid- so what ends happening is -you run to your attachment figure for safety, love, and protection anyway -even if they are the source of what is scaring you. This can jumble up your emotions and link and cross wire them in unfortunate and complicated ways: “You scared or hurt me but you’re the one that is supposed to love/protect me -so hurt/fear becomes part of love.” or “You made me angry but you’re the one that cares for me and teaches me what’s what, and you tell me that I am wrong for being angry with you so I no longer can trust what I feel.”

I got embarrassed when Kristin caught me and called me out for being a sucker for repeating and persevorating on the angry parts of movies. There are complicated ingrained sources of anger (and other difficult emotions, for that matter) inside of me that I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out and get in touch with. I’ve made a lot of progress with my explorations -yet I still have fears about the unknown parts of my difficult emotions. There is a part of me that fears that, at this time in my life when I’m preparing to find a mate (and eventually become an attachment figure myself when I become a parent), I might get rejected as a “broken” mate -or worse, I might have a hidden self-destruct buried deep within my unexplored emotions which would sabotage the happy life that I want for myself. I don’t think that that would be the case for me -but it is scary and hard for me to know for certain when there are parts of my own feelings that I feel like I may be out of touch with. Additionally, sometimes it feels difficult for me to trust how I feel.

Looking at the big picture, however, I do feel pretty okay about everything turning out well and relatively, if not mostly, on the path for what I want in life. That makes sense for me. It probably, also, would do me some good to not blame or displace my own struggles onto other people (like my primary attachments.) My energy would seem better spent enjoying what is in front of me and risking the assumption that it okay for me to move towards making the lovely life that I want for myself. We are all human -and I’m sure that whatever partner I end up with will be just as human as I am. Life won’t be perfect and I won’t be perfect -but I’ll be the perfect version of myself. I’ll continue to explore and grow, and as I risk more, my demons will be drawn out for me to handle bit by bit. I probably wouldn’t be exploring these thoughts right now if it weren’t the case that I was taking a chance in a relationship where I am willing to be vulnerable and willing to put all of my cards on the table. Worst comes to worst I’ll at least be able to say that I lived life with all I got.

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Your life is a dream and it has no “meaning.”

Inception is one of the few great movies that can really get you to question what it means to exist (or not exist?).  I am such a sucker for these types of films that make you think and really challenge you to consider some pretty heavy ideas. To warn you: this blog post is going to go to some pretty deep places –you better have your “kick” ready in case you need to snap out of it.

It seems to me that a lot of people can’t handle (or don’t like) considering the notion that perhaps all of existence is nothing more than a “meaningless” dream. I use quotes around the word “meaningless” because I suppose it depends what frame of reference you’re viewing “meaningless” from. In the scope of altering cosmic matter, we’re pretty damn meaningless. I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s quote recounting his realization in looking at the voyager probe’s final photograph of earth from afar:

“…if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam”

In terms of the cosmic scope of being 1 soul among trillions of trillions (of people/creatures who have lived on our planet throughout it’s life span) we may also appear “meaningless.”

In terms of altering time –our existence may at first appear “meaningless” –yet, in actuality (as comically illustrated by Simpsons episode) the faintest of our actions will affect matter and our universe for all of remaining time.

For some reason it makes us uncomfortable to think that everything we ever do will, quite possibly, be for “nothing” in the end. … If that were the case, why, then, would anyone ever bother to do anything? Why not just end your life right now and be done with the bother of having to live out your life? Well I’ll tell you why I bother to live: living is fun! I am one of the very few lucky privileged people who has had and will likely continue have a whole slew of amazing things to do in my life –so humbly, I shall enjoy it!

In my little “meaningless” life I have a whole slew of extremely meaningful connections, thoughts, ideas, values, etc. The value of “love,” for example, is one of the most meaningful reasons for me to live. I love to love! I enjoy it! It is fun! It is amazing –and for me it can equal the epic and cosmic proportions of our bewilderingly large universe. But what physical matter is involved with this experience? -Probably just a few very tiny electrical impulses in my brain and perhaps also a chemical release of dopamine into my blood.

Let’s get back to the movie Inception. :::SPOILER WARNING::: In Inception we traverse multiple layers of the human subconscious which are navigated through via dreams. Dreams, like the feeling of love, are nothing more than electrical brain activity (in terms of the physical world). But –to the people dreaming, as the trailer for Inception points out- dreams feel as though they are real. Scientists have found, in fact, that there are very few differences between how people perceive their own existence in the waking life versus the dream life. All those nightmares you’ve had about showing up to school late in nothing but your underwear? Those dreams were real, dude –for you, they might as well have happened (aside from the fact that only YOU were the one aware of them.)

I applaud the way Inception ended. The ending was purposefully left vague so that you could believe that the main character (Leonardo DiCaprio) had either successfully left the dream world and achieved his goal of re-uniting with his children –or he was stuck (forever?) in the dream world where he was able to re-unite with his memory of who his children were. I notice that I am tempted to say that, in either case it doesn’t matter because Leo was still able to achieve his emotional catharsis of getting to believe that he was with his kids again. Yet, I remember an interesting point that was made earlier in the morning when Leo was commenting on his experience of spending time with the memory of his dead wife. He said something like –the mere memory construct of his wife can nowhere near equal the beauty, complexity, and depth of the real woman herself. His construct of her, by comparison, was quite feeble. It is almost as if mystery and intangibility defines our greatness. So if Leo actually was stuck with only the memory of his kids… eventually he would probably realize that and it would probably suck for him (unless he realized that he needed to wake up –or die or whatever.)

“For who knows, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” Who is to say we aren’t already “dead” right now? Who’s to say that we aren’t just some weird aliens plugged into a machine somewhere to experience what we perceive as being our life (a la Matrix)? Who is to say we don’t exist in a mere illusion? What is the benefit of even thinking of any of this crap? … well –for me, I find, it allots me the opportunity to relax and be at peace. Rather than feeling dismal and depressed about the vastness of the unknown or the “meaninglessness” of my life –I find comfort in knowing that, with perspective, the universe will always be way larger than any of my little problems. Then, with that comfort in mind, I find that I am better able to live a life worth living. Relax, everyone! What will be, will be.

“Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait
Ni le mal, tout ça m’est bien égal
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie car mes joies
Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi”

Ready?! … KICK!!! (ignore everything that I just told you –it was all just a dream.)

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Destroy the Ring and find your fig!

Perhaps it is dramatic of me to say but… sometimes I feel like Frodo Baggins tasked with carrying the One Ring to be destroyed in the fires of Mt. Doom. There are a slew of demons that my quest requires of me to face -both internal demons (i.e., the corruption of the ring as exemplified by Gollum) and external ones (scary monsters which, sadly are a reality of life); there are set-backs and unforeseen tragedies; and there are also tests of courage and strength with moments that bring me closer in fellowship with those who are with me. I don’t know what it is but… something about Lord of the Rings really resonates with me. I get it. The imagery and metaphors make sense to me; they fit.

I see Gandalph the wizard as being someone who I strive to be. He is wise, loving, adventurous, intelligent, lighthearted, and enlightened; a bridge between the world and the heavens; a guide to those in need. He knows that everything that will be will be (faith) -yet he still see’s how he is an agent in it all and has tasks that he must piece together to bring about destiny (action). That is a wonderful dialectic. Hello “feather of lead.”

I relate to Frodo in that I feel like a gentle soul in a harsh world. In a way, like Frodo, I grew up in a sheltered, “safe,” and loving community -yet, part of me has always yearned for adventure –for something more and greater than what I can see around me. As I grew up and left the safety of my shire (My white middle class suburban hometown? The limited scope and awareness of my fear-laden parents? All of the above?) I came to learn a great many things and my awareness of the world and myself grew and thrived. Yet, by leaving the confines of my safe shire, like Frodo (and Gollum), I have found that the greater world is a scary place laden with obstacles –perhaps the most challenging of which would be my own struggle with internal demons.

It is so fascinating to have Frodo and Gollum to compare together. In my mind, Gollum is an example of the worst-case scenario: when your own demons win the battle for your soul and you are forever lost. For the Lord of the Rings movies a song was written (below) which is a lament for Gollum’s state of being forever lost. Gollum is annihilation. Frodo, who faced similar battle for the Soul -it is interesting to note- is saved by the strength of his fellowship -and his fellowship’s faith in him. Gollum was alone and so he became consumed. Frodo had friends and love that believed in the goodness and the need for his plight. Both Frodo and Gollum carried the Ring which poisoned and burdened them.

What does “The One Ring” represent? There are a number of answers to that question, I am sure –which is brilliant. In my case –I find it fascinating to interpret quest to destroy the Ring as a metaphor for one’s need to self-actualize. If you fall short of your calling (as Gollum did) you may become destined to be estranged from yourself to live and die “as an old man filed with regret” (that quote is a reference to Inception –that awesome movie that I intend to write about soon in an upcoming blog post of it’s own). The evil that the ring attracted could be viewed as time and natural entropy that may seek to stop your self-actualizing if you hesitate too much or delay for too long. You can choose to hold the ring for yourself if you want –to dream and pretend the world that you want for yourself- but, do that for too long and then you’ve got problems.

A story within Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar illustrates this notion very vividly: In The Bell Jar the main character is a youthful and promising young woman named Esther who was born to a life of privilege. The book tells of her transition into adulthood and her eventual downfall. Esther describes her dilemma of moving forward with the life she always wanted for self through a metaphor of a fig tree (which came to her in a dream). Because Esther was so privileged, it appeared to her that she had the freedom to choose any of a number of beautiful life outcomes. She likened these outcomes to delicious figs on a tree. Each fig looked so delicious that she had no idea which fig to select and which branch to pursue –each fig looked more delicious than the last. As Esther hesitated about which fig to choose, however, the reality of her disillusioned idealism developed and she came to discover that the figs were shriveling up and dying. She started to panic, which severed to only freeze decision making ability even further. Before she new it, to her great horror, the tree rotted up completely and she had no desirable option. She became forever estranged from the happy life that she had always dreamed of.

The theme to all of this (and, apparently, the theme to my blog in general) is… once you know yourself (as I believe I now do) you must take action to move forward to actualize your dreams. It is likely that you will be faced with many fears, doubts, and challenges –but you can’t let that stop you. You must destroy the ring. You must select your fig. Count on your blessings, your loved ones, and your faith –they will be your saving grace. Have you moved closer to your dreams today?

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Mortality and immanence

Unexpectedly facing your own mortality is not something that you ever think would end up happening to you –at least until you’re, like, a grandpa or something. The truth of the matter is: (and you hear this all the time –but it doesn’t really sink in unless it pertains to you) you can die at any time. Not to scare you but… You! Yes, you –whoever is reading this: your end could come at any moment! Apparently appendicitis is something that many people contract and it happens randomly with seemingly no specific known cause. Even though appendicitis is quite common, shockingly, it can also be quite deadly! If your appendix bursts it puts you at risk for blood poisoning that can kill you! Fortunately, (and thank GOD) I had Kristin with me to suggest that my initial abdominal pain could be more than just gas –it could indicate something potentially serious (which, it did!) To be safe, even though it was 11:30 on a Sunday night before work, we decided to not take any chances and go into the emergency room. (Note to all you people out there: if you ever arrive to a situation where you or a loved one is questioning if you or they should go into the emergency room: DO IT. Don’t mess around!) Our decision to go in when we did –even though the pain that I was experiencing felt bearable- could have been one that saved my life. How strange it is to say that! I could have died…. Crazy. One of my facebook friends responded to one of my hospital posts saying “Dude! If it weren’t for modern medicine –you’d probably be dead several times over by now.” (This comment was referring also to when I had Mono and Hepatitis earlier in the year –AND WHAT IS IT WITH THIS YEAR AND MY HEALTH STUFF?!) Anyhow… What an odd idea to consider –that I’d be dead before 30 if it weren’t for hospitals and doctors. What if I was some hyper-religious person that didn’t believe in any sort of medical interventions? Then I wouldn’t be here typing this.

I recall 2 particularly poignant moments of recognizing my mortality while I was in the hospital. The first came early on in my first stay in the hospital –before my appendix came out: Kristin, despite having work very early the next day, was so lovely to stay with me overnight in the ER while the hospital did their tests to determine what was wrong with me. After finding out the shocking news that I had appendicitis and would have to go into surgery to have my appendix removed in only a few hours, my mind state took me to a strange place: there was a real (if very very slight) chance that something somehow could either go wrong with my appendix pre surgery (it could burst) or something could go wrong while I was having surgery and I could, in reality, die. To cover my bases I asked Kristin to please tell all my family and friends that I love them if anything bad were to happen to me in the coming hours. I’m sure this must have been an ominous request for Kristin to hear –one which, no doubt, any normal person would push to the back of their mind in hopes that it would never have to come to fruition.

My second moment of being aware of my mortality came a few days later when it became apparent that something had gone wrong with my initial appendectomy and as a result I had to go back to the hospital and receive a second corrective surgery. Before they opened me up and came to discover that I had internal bleeding and an intestinal blockage (which, ultimately they were able to repair) I recall a particularly striking moment lying on my hospital bed in the surgery room before the anesthesiologist put me under. The head nurse who was my primary contact amidst the sea of busy bee blue surgery technicians, I recall, had a very resounding and comforting aura about her. There was something so warm and peace-making about the sincerity and confidence in her eye contact with me. It was shocking –like she was an angel (maybe she was =). I remember, in my pain medicated loopiness, squeezing her hand and very sincerely and simply telling her in words that I wish I could recall now (but can’t for some strange reason) that I was so grateful that she was looking over me and being so comforting. Before they put me under I recall thinking it odd how they had music playing in the room where I was to have my surgery. The song “Breakeven” by The Script was playing and I remember it brought tears to my eye. “Breakeven” is a song that has had particularly significant meaning for me in wake of my recent disappointment with not getting into graduate school in addition to various other significant life changes. I couldn’t help but tear up at the idea that it wouldn’t be impossible for “Breakeven” to be the last song that I ever heard before something could have gone wrong which could have resulted in my death. (A strange –if not disturbing- idea to consider.) Even though I felt scared, in an odd way it felt fitting that that song would be the last one that I’d hear before I went under (perhaps forever?). This may seem silly, but –it felt as though God was present and was being the DJ for the event that could potentially shuffle me into whatever event occurs after death. This idea comforted me, strangely.

Thankfully (and obviously) everything turned out okay. After a less than enjoyable week stay in the hospital, I was able to return home and I’ve been feeling okay ever since –making my steady recovery. While recovering I was able to take advantage of my reduced mobility by getting caught up on some movies that I had been meaning to see. I watched Cars (how I have made it 4 years without managing to see that awesome movie shocks me) and then later, when I was feeling well enough to leave home for a bit, I saw Toy Story 3. What beautiful, excellent, excellent movies! I was surprised by how good they both were. I was also surprised by how many times I began tearing up during the films. There was something about seeing these characters that had such clear intentions and dreams go through their quests of change. Lightning McQueen in Cars wanted fame and came to learn that love, brotherhood, and family are more important qualities to seek. Woody in Toy Story 3 wanted all of his toy buddies to stay together to live in Andy’s attic. The stories and the goals of the characters were so simple and clear-cut –much more so than the reality of how life is very complicated and intricate. For some reason, this notion made me cry at a hairs notice during both films. My experience with the hospital enabled me to realize how precious and mortal our lives are. We don’t really have time for complications that confound our simple dreams. Why must people and life make things so complicated? (I don’t now! I’m seriously asking that question right now.) I suppose for my part –the lesson learned from my tears of Pixary goodness would be as follows: Please, everyone: don’t add layers of complication to your dreams –life is to precious for time to be wasted on excuses or fears. Take the chance –move down the path of who you want to be with reasonable reckless abandon. Yes –this can be risky… but as far as we know, we may only get one shoot. We’re all little ticking time bombs –some of us (could be you next) have our appendix explode when our time comes up… and that’s it. That’s the end. Others of us may be lucky enough to have long enough fuses to make it into old age before we terminate. … It’s gonna happen, though -one way or another. Our time on earth is merely rented and some day the landlord is going to make us move out. Take a simple and beautiful piece of advise from Rent: “Forget regret –or life is yours to miss. No other course, no other road: no day but today.” What’s slowing you down from your dreams right this moment?

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Home from the hospital

My blog has seen nary a post of late thanks, in part, to my recent glorious experience with a botched appendectomy which resulted in me having to stay in the hospital for over a week. Experiences like hospital visits can really prompt a guy to re-evaluate and perspectivize certain aspects of his life. I was so incredibly lucky to have the support of Kristin, my family, and my friends through my whole hospitalization ordeal… Kristin, especially -she watched over me and was there for me the whole step of the way through my nightmarish situation: making sure I was never alone, staying over night with me on the uncomfortable hospital couch, even talking to doctor friends to make sure I was getting the best treatment. She looked after me in an incredibly touching and loving manner -one which (brings me peace and happiness to know) I would have likewise extended back to her had our situations been reversed.

Apart from all my medical hoopla, (of which I will spare the details for the sake of my own sanity and -pun intended: weak stomach) the experience of having my immediate family spend so much time in close proximity with the girl who I am dating and am very close to was an adventure all in itself… I recall a moment that was particularly interesting to me which happened early on into Kristin’s experience of getting to know my parents. In a window of opportunity Kristin discreetly whispered to me a very apt candid observation of her initial impressions of my family: “I feel like I’m some crazy hybrid of your parents,” she said to me. A statement which felt both pleasing, yet, awkward in it’s accuracy. I love my parents… so don’t get me wrong (and I’m sure that many people could say the following about their parents:) but… Mom and Dad are probably some of the most neurotic and opposite people that I know -a fact which has very strongly colored the man that I am today (Remember my blog title? “Featheroflead” -opposites coexist and are juxtaposed.) Perhaps I am so in love with diversity and extremes of life as a result of having such opposite parents -in any case… I try to take away as much strength from my unique and diverse situation as I can. Still… having Mom and Dad (who have been divorced since I was 6 years old) in the same room with me and my love interest FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK proved to be more trying that I would have anticipated. Being hyped up on 5 or 6 different types of meds -in addition -some of which increase restlessness… was not helping my situation to say the least. In the end -looking back- it really feels as though Kristin was my saving grace through the whole ordeal. I’ll explain why:

Kristin is right: I have no allusions to the fact that I want to find a lover who holds similarities that resonate with my parents. The fact that I am attracted to Kristin is likely to have significant relation to the idea that I see qualities in her that are similar to the people who I’ve had my primary attachment to while growing up (my parents). … but it also goes further than that: see: my parents -just like anyone else -they have their flaws: specifically -I’d argue- some of their flaws may include the fact that they jump-started their lives sooner than what would have been ideal. (They had their reasons). My mom was only 20 years old when she married my 25 year old Dad. I know that things were different back in the day but… yikes! That seems kind of young (and it certainly turned out to be so (that they were too young)). As a lesson learned I have found it necessary to give myself adequate space, time, and experiences with regards to getting to know myself –before jumping into any sort of committed life choice (course of study, job, school, lover, etc.) This has been something that has really worked for me -of late, in particular -because I feel as though I have finally arrived at a sufficient definition of myself in a state where I am “ready to go!” as it were. That is to say -I’ve found myself and I excitedly am ready and wanting to move forward in all fronts of my life. One of my favorite movies of all time is Revolutionary Road -a movie that deals with two young lovers at transitional time on their way to full adulthood. (Although, things don’t go so well for Leo and Kate in that movie…) Hmmm. I think I need to make a separate post sometime to cover all the ideas that I have for how Revolutionary Road relates to me… stay tuned for that. I digress.

Backtracking on my previous sentiment: so my parents have flaws… it’s true (who doesn’t?!) And yes: being stuck in close quarters while being on meds which increase agitation and restlessness can make for one hellish experience. There were moments where just the mere way my Mom or Dad would say a word would make me feel so frustrated, embarrassed, and/or impatient with them -particularly in front of Kristin. My parents both struggle with anxiety and, at times, in the hospital it felt to me as though everything they did or said was riddled with anxiety (LOL: that sounds like a sentiment that someone with anxiety would say… yikes :/ So much of my life’s work, though (perhaps in response to my parents), has been me learning and developing strategies and attitudes to ensure that I would not become someone crippled by anxiety -like how I imagine my parents are/may be. It brings me pleasure and pride to be able to confidently say that this endeavor has (for the most part) paid off successfully. Following much work, I feel as though I am a very healthy person and I am living life in the moment in a way that is fruitful and blessed. Kristin -I see- is also a person who has been able to achieve this -which I find incredibly attractive.

Almost a year ago when I was beginning a big push in my life to reform myself and my goals, I recall something that my then new therapist told me: “It is not uncommon for people to seek partners with whom they can re-write (and hopefully improve) the stories of their parent’s struggles, troubles, or shortcomings.” Although it may be embarrassing or somewhat odd to admit, my therapist’s observation seems eerily appropriate to my current situation. As she herself noticed: if I really look at it: Kristin appears to me to be a combination of many of the best qualities that both of my parents have… and more. She is on the level of the person that I feel that I am and that I want to be (strive for). This is, indeed, an excellent sentiment -and yet, with it… brings a potential theme/dilemma: one which this blog seems to touch on frequently: Taking the step forward into a self that is more who I feel that I am / more who I want to be. It may seem simple but, in reality, taking steps forward can be scary -especially when you take a pause to look backward and see how far you’ve come. My situation with the hospital was exactly such moment -although with higher stakes because I had no option to run away or tell my family to not come and look after their gravely ill hospitalized “only child.” In my hospital room -during the times when I wasn’t preoccupied with my smorgasbord of very uncomfortable illness/medical experiences, I was left with my own thoughts and observations about and of my family in response to who I am today. I couldn’t help but have fears like “What if I’m destined to slip into being like my parents?,” “What if I’m not good enough to be the person that I dream of being?,” or “What if being around my parents enables Kristin to see me in a light where she would stop being attracted to me?” -all things that my brain knows are silly -yet my feelings of fear and doubt can’t help but ponder.

Which brings me to additional tid-bits of wisdom and human tendency brought to you courtesy of my therapist: 1) There is a risk wherein some people may feel as though they are betraying their parents by being “more successful” than them. This is something that I must be aware of so that I don’t irrationally sabotage my endeavors to be “healthier than them.” 2) The fact that I am providing focus to trying to be and/or not be like my parents in xyz ways will lead me on a path to either be “successful” or “not” in being like or not like them. That is to say, because I am aware of how I am in comparison to my parents -I will make decisions in relation to trying to be or not be like them. While this may seem harmless -it may, actually, not be ideal. What WOULD be ideal (which is what I’m shooting towards) would rather be that I would live my life for me: be who I want to be -separate from what my parents are or aren’t. The reality is that I am not my parents -I am my own person. I need to live life for me and what I want -apart from fear or joy about becoming or not becoming my parents. (I’ve included a scene from my favorite comedy, Community, to illustrate this idea when Jeff talks to Troy about the act of wearing his letterman jacket.)

But all is not in vain. There is strength in seeing what of me has come or not come from my parents. There is strength in realizing what, of my parents, I do not want for myself. The true strength wisdom will come, however, when I can let go of my fears of becoming or not becoming some external notion -so that instead I can simply become myself. This concept can be likened to to an Aikido lesson: “We train so that we don’t need our training.” So much time in Aikido is spent mastering techniques for encountering and neutralizing situations before they even come to pass. My goal is to do likewise with becoming the man that I want to be: I am learning who I am in relationship to my parents so that I can ultimately forget or drop the whole focus so that I can pickup simply be myself. Can I overcome my own fear? Can I follow Paulo Coelho’s advice and “[not] be someone that searches, finds, and then runs away”? I think, “yes.” Let’s “MAKE IT SO!”

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Grandma’s Teddy Bears

I flew to Southern California last Friday night with my family to celebrate Grandpa’s 90th birthday. Ninety. That’s hecka old! Visiting my grandparent’s home is always a very soothing warm experience. Grandma and Grandpa’s life here grew (just as they did in their old age) to slow down and become simple -something I find relaxing in stark contrast to my 20 something busy big city lifestyle. For my entire life growing up I spent extended Summer visits with Grandma and Grandpa here at their cozy little 2 bedroom house in suburban Fullerton -about 5 miles away from Disneyland.

At this very moment I am at Grandpa’s house sitting in a room that we call “The Den.” This is the space where us grandkids spent most of our indoor time watching old Disney movies like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Peter’s Dragon, Marry Poppins, The Sword and the Stone, and Pinocchio to name a few. For some reason my parents never really had these kinds of movies in stock back in Northern California -so it was always a real treat to get to watch them whenever I was spending lots of time with my grandparents. Looking around the room at this very moment, I am struck at how many of Grandma’s Teddy bears remain patiently seated on their shelves -sentry warriors of warm and loving stares. Grandma died last December -this is the first time I’ve returned here since her passing. Five days after her death, me, Dad, and everyone else arranged a “celebration of life” for Grandma here at the Fullerton house so that loved ones could be invited to remember and honor Grandma’s 84 years of life. Towards the end of the evening of Grandma’s celebration, Grandpa invited all 50 or so guests to take a few of Grandma’s bears with them on their way out to remember Grandma by. Just last night during Grandpa’s birthday dinner, Grandpa proudly recounted how, years before grandma’s passing, he had counted every bear in the house for the sake of enjoying the experience of having guests try to guess. He’d even go so far as to write down their guesses in a log book. 345 was the magic number. Today, with even less than half of that remaining, there still are enough bears around for me to clearly sense Grandma’s love and presence -and I don’t think that will ever change, really -even when all the bears are gone. It boggles my mind how lucky I was to have grow up with the magical childhood that I was blessed enough to have.

The innocence and joy of my childhood is something that I now carry around inside of me and it gives me a feeling that is hard to quantify: One where I am mystified and in love with the adventure and beauty of the world -yet, at the same time, I am disillusioned by some of life’s harsher realities. Sometimes I feel glad to have the convenience to be able to mold my life into a safe world built on belief, where I’m okay no matter what, everything is happy, and bears surround me showering their love and acceptance. Then there is the other side of the story that feels harsher to me: one that touts the existence of deadlines, expectations, production, and “cold hard facts.” Just writing that out makes me feel so biased. Clearly these paths are formed from the dichotomy of how I was raised: Mom and Grandma endowed me with the Teddy bear notion, while my Dad, endowed me with the “production” notion. I am biased because, so much of my life I have lived with an anxiety that I am “not enough” in the arena of “producing things.” Sure, for an outside it is easy to say “pfft! Seth, you produce a ton -it’s silly for you to think that you’re not ‘enough’ -what does that even mean, anyway?!” -but for me it is not that simple. I’ve been programed with a lifetime of experiences where I was given the message that I am completely apt as loving being, while, in terms of creating work output, I fall below the mark (which *reality check* -is not really the case -that is just the message that I emotionally picked up from my parents who had good intentions -but they just didn’t come across in as healthy of a way as what would have been more ideal… But hey, that’s life, eh? (<– One of the harsher realities that I’m talking about.)

So what’s it gonna be? Feather, or lead? I guess it isn’t really an “or” though, is it -more of a question of how much do I want to find balance in which directions. Lately I have been visiting the notion that perhaps my life has feels tipped a little to much toward the Teddy Bears. As a result of this feeling, I’ve been venturing more and more into the “production arena” (pushing forward with school, re-structuring and revamping my work ethic, getting my home and my appearance to be more how I want it to be, -Hell, even writing this blog!) What I’m finding is that, even though focusing on producing more does make me anxious (because it is an area where I battle with feeling “good enough”) -when I do produce and develop in areas that are important to me I feel happy and satisfied (if only, at least, halfheartedly -which is better than nothing.) “Short term pain for long term gain” 😉 It could be so easy for me to not push myself to excel -to avoid anxiety and just bask in the Teddy bears of “life is simple, beautiful, full of love -and that’s all that there is and that’s all that matters” but you know… I think I’d rather save that for when I’m retired, have earned it, and I have grandchildren of my own to spoil. For the time being, I’ll do my best to hybridize elements of the “Teddy bear notion” to wield it’s comfort and blend it with my emerging and ever strengthening “production notion” as I move forward with building the life that I want for myself.

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