Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out...

I usually look forward to this annual reflection. This year is different. On December 31st, for the past several years, I have been able to look back on the year and assess it as one of the best years of my life. While there have been many really good events that have occurred in most any given year of my 51 years on the planet, one, or even several great events does not necessarily make for a good year. The years in which my children were born, for example, are forever memorable, but for a year to be a good year, there must be a consistency about it; it should be marked by steady forward momentum that carries into the next year. While forward momentum certainly exists today, and 2014 holds much promise, that promise exists despite a dismal 2013. It has not been a good year.

Exactly 365 days ago, the signs were already there. Still a “newly wed,” that marriage was already experiencing trouble, but I had no idea that it would disintegrate into the divorce that is in process right now. By the time New Years Eve night rolled around, my wife and I were at odds about what the plans for the evening should be. She wanted to go to the casino – a place that recent experience had shown to be a bad idea – I didn’t, because of the problems gambling had already caused. She got pissed. Happy New Year. But the gambling was only the tip of a very large iceberg, one that slowly revealed itself as the year progressed. Before we got to our one-year anniversary, I could no longer trust my wife in any capacity. Any capacity. As much as commitment means to me – and marriage is a commitment of solemn proportions – I could no longer carry the burden myself. My commitment was not enough to overcome her lack of it. It also meant breaking a commitment I made to her kids, but again, it was one that I could not follow through on by myself.

It was not the only commitment I have made in the recent past. I also committed to complete an education that was once beyond what I ever thought myself capable. That commitment is ongoing, but it was nearly derailed by the turmoil that was present in my personal life. My wife and I were separated by considerable distance for weeks at a time, a hardship for any couple, but not an insurmountable one. Many couples – especially when one partner (or both) is in the military – experience much longer and more difficult separations. At least we were able to be together every four to six weeks, for five weeks over the holidays and for the entire summer. Not the best situation, but better than many – and temporary. In addition to that, she lived in my house in California (with the utilities paid by my parents), had the use of my car and did not have to pay for insurance or many other monthly expenses. Meanwhile, I lived in a shit-hole apartment in Baton Rouge. I guess we all have sacrifices in life to make…

As a result of lie after lie, financial mismanagement, infidelity and other “issues,” my head was never really in Baton Rouge, at LSU, where it needed to be. It nearly killed my career, but thankfully I had a lot of support and the wherewithal to pull through. My work was not stellar by any stretch of the imagination, but by whatever grace I was granted, it got me through. I would say it is remarkable how this relationship could turn my whole world upside-down the way that it did, but in a way I am glad it did; I’m glad it meant that much. There was nothing superficial about it to me. I was in it because I was in love and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I was committed to helping her raise her boys even though my own kids are grown. I wanted to make this new, “blended” family work. But there were too many obstacles – and the external influences of so-called “friends” – that prevented it from even getting a start. And the signs were there even before we got married. I am not a victim, I volunteered.

The end result is a shitty 2013. I am glad to see it go. The good news is that 2014 is poised to be another record-breaking good year. While not 100% entirely “past” it, I am close. I am far enough past the bullshit that I can now focus on what is in front of me rather than what has happened. The reality is that if I want to go there, it only takes a few seconds before I get pissed off, sad, wistful, emotional… whatever, all over again. In have shed enough tears, and it helps knowing that the feeling isn’t and likely never was mutual. I am free; free to pursue whatever my heart desires. It looks as though it will be a happy new year after all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Home for the Holidays

For a brief moment it was surrealistic. I was up relatively early, grabbed a cup of coffee and went out front to smoke. In the quiet solitude I could hear the echoes of the past, see the shadows of my childhood. This is where I learned how to ride a bicycle, where the Fourth of July block parties were, where the kids would gather on school mornings and walk the two long sub-rural blocks to school. We did not live here when I was born, but by the time I formed my earliest childhood memories, this house has been home and this town, my hometown. That surrealism has now left me, the world around me has caught up. This is no longer the house I grew up in; this town is not the same as it was in the 60s and 70s. For one brief instance, however, I was home again.

Everything changes. This town, this house, indeed the entire world has changed in ways great and small. My parents bought this house almost 50 years ago. At the time most of the houses in this quiet neighborhood bore a striking similarity to one another. No longer. Virtually every home has been remodeled many times – the resemblance these 25 or so homes have to one another is scant. This town, once populated by more apricot trees than people, is now known as one of the premier locations for Silicon Valley millionaires – and today it would take a million dollars to even think about purchasing a home here. It still has the humble character it once had, but probably only to those who can see its shadows from the past.

In that quiet moment I could hear the voices of my childhood friends laughing. We played tag here. We raced our bicycles up and down the street. Some of our favorite hiding places for hide-and-go-seek are still here. But those kids are all gone now. They now have their own children. Some still live in this town, one still lives in this neighborhood in his parents’ old house, but most have moved on. This house looks almost nothing like the house I grew up in, but vestiges remain. My old bedroom is still there. The fireplace mantle is also among the lone holdouts. Many of the remodels occurred while I was still living here, others much after. Old photos, framed and hung on the wall or placed on accent tables, are the thread that holds this 50-year tapestry together.

I have lived in many houses and a few towns since moving away from this town many years ago. In fact, I have not been back here in many months and I have not spent a night here in at least a year, maybe more. But coming back here is always coming home no matter where my home at the time happens to be. I spent more years in this house than anywhere else. And I have likely spent more Christmas mornings here than everywhere else combined. Even my own sons, who did not enjoy the same stability I did growing up, have this home to claim as theirs, for many of my memories were repeated for them right here. This past year has seen more profound, bitter, trying and, at the same time, beneficial change for me than any other in recent memory. But one thing remains constant; this home has been an anchor. Once again, I am home for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Hamster Wheel

I am floundering. I have stuff that needs to be done. I know how to do it. I am more than capable of producing the work I need to produce. But I can’t seem to get into it no matter how hard I try. I opened this word document to make something happen. Anything. At least I am writing. Am I burnt out? Depressed? Decompressed? I haven’t a clue. This entire semester – this one and last… actually, my entire time at LSU has been a rollercoaster ride. No, it has been the entire carnival that came with the rollercoaster. And it has absolutely nothing to do with school. Despite the external bullshit I have had to deal with - bullshit I voluntarily walked into - I have been able to progress and succeed. That, in and of itself, is a minor miracle.

I started here a little more than two years ago in a relationship that turned into a long-distance romance; it became a long-distance engagement; and, last year, turned into a long distance marriage. Now it is an almost finished long-distance divorce. The long-distance part was mitigated as much as possible – more than possible, truth be told – but it didn’t solve the underlying trust issues. And I should have known, right from the start. The cheating began almost immediately, the lying, stealing, gambling, etc. that went with it continued non-stop and no matter what I did or did not do, it wasn’t enough. It could never have been enough. Now that all that shit has evaporated, I have slowly rolled to a near standstill. It is making me question everything. Is this all that is left? Is this all there ever was? What the fuck am I doing here?

I know the answers. No, no and I am chasing what I once thought was unattainable. I don’t miss Sacramento as much as I miss the fellowship of some very close friends I have there. However, I like Baton Rouge and have some great friends here now, too. I miss my home in Sacramento, but I have an awesome and equally nice home in Baton Rouge. I am a third-year PhD student and an instructor at a highly regarded R1 university. Everything looks great on paper. I am out of and past the most toxic, sick relationship I have ever been in. I am able to look at my own stupidity and own it. I don’t hate myself for entering into what turned out to be a fool’s errand – my heart was in the right place and my intentions were pure – but all the same I feel like something huge is missing. And no, it isn’t “her.” Could it be that I had grown so accustomed to the madness that I miss it? God, I hope not.

I spent a couple of hours earlier doing some editing and rereading of past posts in my blog. I’ve been meaning to fix some of the hyperlinks so that they are visible (I changed the background from black to white a while ago and the yellow hyperlinks were impossible to see). Up until early 2011, my posts had an underlying energy to them, a contentedness that I could feel coming from between the lines. I was happy. I didn’t have nor did I need a “her,” and I certainly was not seeking what I found. Yet, slowly, the maintenance that relationship required eventually became all-consuming. But I managed to get through my schoolwork despite it. Now that energy and mental space has been freed. I knew I would get here eventually and figured that my productivity would greatly increase as a result. It seems as though exactly the opposite is happening. I just don’t get it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bad Medicine

It seems like it’s been a long time. I used to do this much more frequently - even regularly - way back when. It could have taken place just about anywhere, but it was always best at a coffee shop, at a park, in my backyard, anywhere but the more “official” writing places at the more “official” writing times when I wrote because that is my job. This writing, in these places, has nothing to do with anything remotely resembling any of my various and sundry writing requirements. Today I am just a short distance from my desk with all my required work piled upon it. I am at once at home, but also a long way from home. Right now I am in my backyard, a park-like setting in its own right, laptop open and actually on my lap, and thousands of miles away from the place I last wrote from my backyard. It seems like it’s been a long time. Such a long time.

The first semester of the third year of my doctoral education is now half over. I am not sure how that happened, but when placed in context with the entirety of my Ph.D. work here at LSU, it is just another piece of an excruciatingly long two-plus years. So much has happened. So much has gone wrong. So much has gone right. I wouldn’t know where to begin or how to finish the saga of what this period of my life has seen. At 50 years old, shouldn’t I be looking forward to the twilight of a long and illustrious career, enjoying the fruits of my extended labors? Instead, I am once again just beginning anew. It is not the first time. The number of sacrifices I have made, the things and people I have given up and/or been forced to leave behind is staggering. To say this is the path less traveled is putting it mildly. But this time, these past two years, has made all those past sacrifices seem so far away. It seems like it’s been such a very, very long time.

Almost 13 years ago, on October 17th, 2000, my life came to an abrupt halt. It very nearly came to an end. Five weeks had passed before I regained anything better than occasional semi-consciousness, and even then it took several more days to fully comprehend where I was and how I got there. The following two months of took me through four holidays and my 38th birthday – about three months in total – in a hospital bed. I was a mess. My injuries nearly killed… and there were times that I wished they had. Combined with rehabilitation, short hospital stays for follow-up operations and learning to walk again, it was more than a year before I could even think about doing much of anything. That two-year span also seemed like a very, very long time.

The difference this time has to do with the nature of the injuries. While not physically incapacitated, the emotional damage is just as real. It could be said that the injuries are in my heart or to my soul, but they are articulated in my head. As an “academic,” as a writer, as a researcher, as a teacher, it is my head that now does the vocational production that my body used to do. This two-year rollercoaster has seen very, very high highs and exceeding low lows. Each peak and valley is counterproductive to what I must do keep my career alive. And “cutting my losses,” as it were, is kind of like going in for another surgery – the recovery from that can be extended as well. All of it adds up to a very, very long time.

There are moments, however, when events dictate a certain response and that response, while not what I necessarily want, is like that awful medicine we used to have to take when we were kids. It tastes like shit, we don’t want to take it, but it will make us better. Sooner or later. But it often takes time to get to that point. Sometimes it takes a long time. And it has indeed been a long time. And now, finally, it is time to go.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Love Is

Love, specifically romantic love, remains an exceedingly complicated entity. While it has been studied from a variety of perspectives from the sciences to the social sciences to the humanities, it is still a mystery. People have killed for it, died for it, sacrificed everything for it and made insane decisions in its name, yet it is still a core essence of human life. It is, perhaps, a necessary evil. And despite all the inconvenience that comes with it, the danger it is fraught with, the seemingly always-bad timing that it occurs with and the major lifestyle adjustments that must be made for it, even when we see it coming, knowing all this, we cannot get out of its way. Once love has us in its sights, it never misses.

Then there are the old clichés, the musicians and the poets telling of the “power of love,” proclaiming that “love conquers all” and how if we have love, nothing else matters. It sounds good. It sounds even better when one is in the throws of love. And while these are not new sentiments (people have been saying such things as long as people have been), also not new is the sheer insanity of love. It makes no sense. It is never convenient, always expensive – and not just materialistically – and the potential downside is pain so uniquely bad that it makes one wonder who ever invented such a thing. Scientists will tell us it is evolutionary. Social scientists might be inclined to view it as a social construct and humanists might view it as a binding factor that makes our existence unique in the universe. However it is studied, there is one thing that virtually everyone agrees upon; this entity, love, is a real thing.

I have been “in love” a handful of times. I have been in love mutually even fewer. In fact, I often wonder about those now failed relationships… was there really love and if so, was it mutual. I also used to believe that once “in love,” that love would never die, even if the relationship did not last. I no longer believe that, however, once love takes hold, it does not go away easily or willingly. At least not for me. My first marriage was like that. So was my second (or, technically, current for just a little while longer). My first marriage lasted less than five years, but the first two thirds of it were pretty good. I still do not know what happened exactly, but it is likely that the rapid and total change in the dynamics of life was more than it could bear. There was much more to it than that, but it is now more than 20 years later – the analysis period is long over.

But, and this is a big but that I tend to conveniently forget (love has a built-in forgetter), it took a long time for the love to fade. A long time. So long, in fact, that I formed the aforementioned belief that love is eternal. Although I cannot pinpoint the exact date or period, I can say that it did, in fact, die. I wish I knew how long it took, but it probably doesn’t matter. I would venture to guess that each and every instance of love is unique and, perhaps, there are versions of “eternal romantic love” that live beyond the end of the relationship. It takes a whole lot of love to make a commitment like marriage, so it makes sense that it would not just go away overnight.

Which brings me to my current experience. After 20 plus years since the end of that first marriage, I met someone and the magic was all new again. I should point out that I was pretty happy in my singlehood; I was certainly not looking for love. I was not “anti-love,” I was not militantly single, I made no vows to never fall in love again, there was no conscious effort to stay out of a relationship, but I was not in need of one. We fell in love relatively quickly (I say we because even though I find myself questioning whether she was ever actually in love, I always come around to believing that our love was mutual), but the timing was all wrong. The love was there, but too much else that is necessary for a relationship – any relationship - to survive never materialized. In the end major trust issues destroyed our marriage less than a year after tying the knot. In the coldest of terms, marriage is a contract and when the terms of a contract are violated, the contract is void. However, unlike any other contract, marriage is based upon this entity, love, that cannot be divvied up in a settlement agreement.

Right now, my future ex-wife and I are not on good terms. Actually, we are on no terms at all. That is probably my fault. In my anger I have said some things that, while true, were not said in a very nice way. I still care, however. But here is the problem: Is that love? Maybe (hopefully) it is just the remnants of it. And here’s a little insight that the composition of these very words inspired… that parenthetically inserted “hopefully” is, at least partially, a lie. The truth is that part of me hopes it is still love – and it’s the part that got me into this whole mess in the first place. Even more twisted is that I hope she feels that, too. She has a new boyfriend now (rant/unrant, I’m not going there today), but I still go through the multiple scenarios in which it would not have ended this way…. in which it would not have ended at all.

I might be inclined to say that I have had bad luck with love, however, the upside of love is that it is so good, so compelling, so overpowering that to fall into it at all is worth it, what ever it is. For me, this is not the end of the world, but it sure felt like it. Occasionally, not very often anymore, it still does. If it hurts that bad, it has to be real.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


It’s an unseasonably cool August morning in Sacramento. At a time of the year when the morning temperature at 8:00 a.m. is usually approaching, or already in, the 70s, today it has not even reached 60 degrees yet. The high today will be a very comfortable 86 degrees. Today’s high and low, in an odd sort of way, are a reflection on my time here in the California state capital. Comfortable. That time, however, has come to an end – for now. I moved to the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks in the summer of 2004; I purchased my home here a year later. Since leaving the home I grew up in many, many years ago, this is the longest I have ever spent at the same address. Soon, a new family will occupy that home (as my tenants) and I will have a new home 2,200 miles away. This move represents all that is good in the world, but was partially facilitated by much that is bad. Leaving Sacramento tomorrow morning will be bittersweet, but the fact that it is tells a story that I could not have foreseen nine years ago.

I never wanted to live in Sacramento. Growing up in the sleepy town of Los Altos, nestled snugly in the heart of what became known as “Silicon Valley,” I have lived in suburbia most of my life. While I do not nor have I ever lived in what could be called a “big city,” I have been close enough to San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego (briefly in the early 80s) and now Sacramento to make me realize that it would never be for me. Nice places to visit, but… And as the suburbs that I have lived in became more and more populated, and as traffic became worse and worse, and as “regulations” became more and more stifling, the suburbs took on the same character that made the cities so unattractive. Added to that, California’s Central Valley, generally, and Sacramento specifically does not have a plethora of geographic diversity. True, there are some local attractions in terms of the local lakes and rivers, but the valley is typically flat - really flat. Even with the grandeur of the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains (where I actually lived for a few years before ending up in Sacramento) to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Sacramento is only a good place to travel from, not to.

Yet, I have grown to love it here. I have established deep relationships with a great number of people who live here, the type of relationships that turned into life-long friendships. More than that, Sacramento has become my second “home town.” While I am not from here, many of my friends are and through them my ties run deeper than the time I have lived here. It is in Sacramento that my life quite literally began again. My academic achievements began here and were completed here until I maxed out at an MA degree from California State University, Sacramento. To earn a doctorate in my field of study I would have to look elsewhere. The question as to where was largely left up to the institutions to which I applied and the answer came in a letter of acceptance from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge – almost exactly 2,200 miles away from home. For the past two years I tried to maintain my home in California while “commuting” to Louisiana, but the most compelling reason to continue keeping a foot in two states so far apart has literally evaporated into the nothingness it, apparently, always was. I am now free. It was not how I wanted or envisioned my life to be at this moment – it is a different kind of freedom – but it is freedom all the same.

Tomorrow morning I will start my drive with a trailer holding just a few of my possessions. Most of my furniture and other belongings will stay in a Sacramento storage unit for the next two years. After that, who knows where I’ll end up. I hope that I will be able to move back “home,” but home might well become someplace else. The decision will be based on the job market after I have earned my Ph.D. For now, Baton Rouge will be home and I expect that when it comes time to leave there, it will be just as emotional. I have already established relationships there and with my commitment to make it my home – putting down roots, so to speak – I will form bonds that are equally strong. Part of what took me so long to establish these relationships in Sacramento is that I knew (or thought I knew) that it would never be “home.” I was wrong. While I do know that Baton Rouge will not be a long-term home, that does not mean it can’t be equally “home.” Indeed, a home really has nothing to do with “where” it is, but it does have everything to do with who is there. There are very few people in Sacramento I won’t ever miss and, to be perfectly honest, hope I never see again, but the vast majority of people here – even those I have never met, but especially my friends – I will miss dearly. They are why Sacramento is home.