Monday, March 14, 2005

Stupid Things That Make Me Happy (Vol 3, No 1):
A Spring of Consciousness

The Grass is greener…on this side
I gotta warn you, this post is likely to be all over the map. It will be long and sometimes intense. I’m going to make some very personal statements here that I hope will not be misunderstood, but which might help you to know who I am a little better. Hopefully it will allow me to understand myself better by simply saying them out loud. I had planned to write about something completely different this weekend, but then Saturday happened and it changed everything.

Saturday was a beautiful day here in Middle Tennessee. It was a good day to be alive. It was a good day for me to feel like me again, and to be thankful to God for allowing me to draw breath at this particular moment in time. I know it’s dangerous to think it, let alone say it, but I love my life, especially over the past few years. However it wasn’t always this way.

I suppose I had Inanna’s blog post from a few days ago in the back of my mind when I set out thinking about all of this. She wrote about her journey out of the darkness that was her life three years ago onto the new, more positive path on which she now treads. I am on that same path — hopefully we all are. I’ve been reminded of that fact over the past couple of days and decided that I need to allow my thoughts to spill out so that I will always remember them.

2005 is a somewhat dubious anniversary year for me. It’s the ten-year anniversary of the time in my life that I looked over the edge and nearly jumped; nearly deluded myself into thinking I could survive the fall; nearly believed that I was out of options and had no other choice. Ten years ago, almost to the day, I was utterly lost and confused. I completely turned my back on everything I believed in and everyone in whom I had previously trusted. I was alone. If you had told me back then that I could have the life that I now enjoy, I would have verbally laid you waste for such a ridiculous notion. I would have rejected out of hand any possibility of that kind of a future for myself. I would have told you “Thanks, but I know what I’m doing. YOU don’t know what I’ve been through or how I feel, and FUCK YOU for even thinking for a minute that you do."

As I sit here typing this out, my vision blurred by the tears of emotion that grip me every time I think about that time for more than an instant, I can say without an ounce of hesitation or hubris, that today it is good to be me, right here and right now. To be who I was ten years ago was not good — it was a disaster; a train wreck waiting to happen. To be who I was in 1995 is a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

Fortunately or unfortunately — depending on your level of curiosity — I’m not going to get into the details of that very dark period of my life. I may at some point in the future, but not now. It would take much too long and be much too depressing — for me anyway. I guess the reason I even brought it up is simply that Saturday put me in such a reflective mood, as the renewal of all things reminded me how blest I am, and how much I truly have to be thankful for.

I don’t know about you, but springtime affects my mood like no other. I suppose that’s true because it bursts upon the scene with the most contrast to its predecessor of any other season. It always seems that winter's gray skies continue on and on until suddenly a warm sunny day appears out of nowhere to remind us of what lies just ahead — to tease us if you will — but oh, how we love to be teased. Now it usually happens that this portend of winter’s end is immediately followed by a few more days or even weeks of cold weather before spring actually arrives. But that first breath of warm air and sunshine always makes me feel jubilant that the renewal of all things has cycled its energy back into the pathway of my life once again.

Such a day was Saturday. The sun was brilliant, the air was crisp but not too cool. The sky was a deep indigo, dusted with but a wisp of white cirrus clouds. It was a perfect day to get out into the yard and survey the damage done by Old Man Winter.

The first day of yard work. Yeah, BABY!

No, I mean it. I actually like to do yard work. It soothes me, fills me with a sense of accomplishment, and affords me precious time to think.

It’s stupid, and it makes me happy.

My back yard, which doesn’t get a fraction of the sun that the front yard does, has always been a challenge from the standpoint of trying to keep a healthy lawn growing. By the end of the summer, the Fescue grass base has been beaten into submission by the summer heat, rocky soil and poor drainage of my property, which is located on the side of a hill, backing up to a wooded, undeveloped area. I always have to re-seed in the Fall with Winter Rye grass to avoid having a mud wrestling arena behind my house all winter long. And naturally since the rye grass thrives in cooler temperatures, it starts growing a couple of weeks sooner than the Fescue in the front yard, which is still dormant. So Saturday was not only first yard work day, it was also first mow-the-lawn day, in the back yard anyway.

Even better!

I could be wrong, but I think I’ve blogged about this before. Yard work, particularly the lawncare aspect of it has always been my therapy. I love it. No matter how tired, hung-over or burnt-out from other things I happen to be, I always look forward to mowing my yard. As unlikely as it might seem, I owe my love of gardening to the years of slave labor inflicted on me by my Stepmom Maxine, who used to make going back to school in the Fall an event to be relished. The months of concentration camp existence that were my summers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen did have one benefit though, they taught me the value of hard work and the reward of a job well done. It took a lot of years before I truly allowed myself to believe that the upshot of Maxine’s tactics were more good than bad. But since that time, the first day of spring has never ceased to be a day of remembrance to her, as the terra firma of a new season first soils my hands.

I can hardly believe that in a few more months it will be five full years since Maxine’s passing. And in each of those springtime moments when my rambling mind stumbles upon the realization that I really like what I’m doing, this portion of the eulogy I delivered at her memorial service echoes through my mind as a prayer to her memory…

“Maxine was many things to many people. But to me, she was not only my Mom, but also the author of my work ethic, and my sense of duty and principle. She is my conscience, and I am very proud of that fact.

When I strive to go the extra mile to do a job to the best of my ability, it's because that's what she taught me to do, and because that's what she did.

When I try to explain to my teenagers, "It's the PRINCIPLE of the thing!" it's because that's what she taught me, and because it is (dammit!).

And when I sit back and survey the results of an afternoon of "sweat equity" in my yard, at my workbench, or after a home-improvement project, I see her, because she taught me the value of hard work, and because she lived it.

— May 31, 2000

Thanks again, Mom. Nice seeing you again this weekend

Blogging to myself
I made a rather surprising discovery while I was mowing along on Saturday. I started blogging — out loud. Of course no one could hear me above the din of the machine, but if any of my neighbors were watching, I’m certain that my lips were moving. It was completely unconscious until I caught myself, and then I remembered that I did the same thing last summer. I remembered that this above all other reasons is why I love yard work. I love the freedom it gives me to put my brain on autopilot and think, dream, and create.

I remembered the literally dozens of blog posts last summer spawned from my thinking-out-loud ramblings behind the lawn mower. I wondered (and still do) if it was that outlet which allowed me to churn out so many stories last summer, when blogging was new and the posts almost wrote themselves.

Hmmm…something more to think about.

At any rate, my mind was working as hard as my body, developing ideas, posing questions, even challenging myself as to the truth to my own opinions on a number of topics that may well become blog entries in the coming weeks. Some of them are highly charged for me emotionally, and may not be suitable for public consumption, I will have to weigh on them a bit more before making that decision.

All that being said, the one topic that practically branded my consciousness was a simple one: I am one very happy guy. I could list a dozen reasons why, but the only one that matters is that I just am. And to be honest, I’m a little reluctant to crow about it because I know I’m in the minority. I know this because I realize how much different my life is now than it was ten years ago. And back then I was “normal.” Now I’m just weird.

Now be sure to understand that I in no way believe I have cornered the market on happiness, nor do I purport that unless you do things the way I do, or believe the things I believe, you’ll never be as satisfied with your life as I am with mine. Let’s be honest here — I am happy despite my life. I’ve learned to find my happiness where I can find it. All of the turmoil and heartache of my childhood, combined with the uncertainty of what may lie ahead in my later years with Alzheimer’s potentially looming has taught me to not place too large a weight on any one thing or person in deriving satisfaction out of life. I take joy in little things, often-insignificant things. Things that others consider a chore or too mundane to be worth anything other than their contempt.

I choose to be happy. I know that it is my decision and mine alone. No one can make me feel any particular way, except for the man in the mirror I shave with every morning. It has been this realization that has made all the difference. And if 1995 had never happened, chances are I would never have learned that.

And just in case anyone mistake my tone of thanksgiving for boasting, allow me to assure you that the aim of this blog has never been to take what certainly must be considered at least in part, my good fortune in some areas, and shove it down anyone’s throat. For certainly unless you believe that I’ve just made up all the stuff about Alzheimer’s disease in my family, no one could really consider my life anything but cursed from that standpoint alone. And though that period in my life ten years ago taught me much, in hindsight, it could never be confused with what anyone would consider a “good situation.” The fact that I made it through those dark days in one piece is truly miraculous.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that as I both lament and celebrate the events of my life through this blog, and in so doing I hope you understand a few things about me. One, that I do not wish to be pitied, and two, that I certainly do not wish to be envied. I only wish to remind myself of how it all feels. Because feeling is real, and real is the only way to be. It is the only way to live.

I sometimes try to remember when it was that I found myself again after those dark days of the mid- 90s. At one point I believed it was when I decided to finally get off my ass and got the job delivering pizzas, which was the first step in the process of getting my family out of the financial hole I had dug for us. Yet again I later re-thought the question and decided that my redemption arrived on that day in August of 1999 we wrote out the last check, paying off the last bill that had kept us under the thumb of personal debt, and made us debt-free for the first time in our then-twenty years of marriage. And while that was indeed a powerful event, I know that I still wasn’t free — until last summer — when I discovered blogging. Prior to that my thoughts were still trapped inside my head. The voices that haunted me from years ago were as loud as ever and I was still restless much of the time. The catharsis of blogging has silenced those voices, and the warm and supportive comments from the friends that I’ve made in this community have replaced them with words of affirmation, respect and love. You, my friends have made me feel very special, and I relish every opportunity to return the favor.

I wish I could properly describe to you all what a joy it was for me to write my recent series of blog posts paying tribute to old friends who are no longer active in Blogland, as well as those ones who are either new to the medium, or just new to me. I just really enjoyed doing that. Not for any kind of recognition for being “Mr. Magnanimous,” but because I believe that there is no greater joy than to give joy. And everyone here in Blogland has given me so very much. I am so grateful to you all. If doing these types of things are one way I can show my appreciation, as long as it won’t get me arrested, then I most certainly will.

So I suppose that’s my roundabout way of tying everything together. I am extremely grateful for everything that life has given me — the good and the bad — because to add to or take away from any of it would make me a different person than I am today — and I like who I am today. And Blogland is a huge part of that reality. It’s not that my life couldn’t be any better, but I seriously doubt that I could be much happier.

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