God I hate the blank page so much. Decades of doing this and it’s never actually gotten any easier. Not the beginning anyway. Sure once I’m off and running it’s better than it used to be, and it continues to be. But staring at that blank page or black screen still makes me a bit short of breath.
It’s Star Wars Day, 2021.
And…before you roll your fucking eyes, look…let people enjoy things. Just…let people enjoy things. Keep your smug “I’m too cool to like Star Wars” PBR swilling “Look what a cynical toolbag I can be to people having fun because I don’t like myself” hipster horseshit to yourself. There’s no moral high ground in trashing such an entrenched institution. It’s not like it’s Star Trek The Next Generation (Kirk > John Luck Pikkerd you Phillistine), Seinfeld (shut up, every character in the show is deplorable), Anime (What are you, 12?), or fucking furries (seriously, Yiff in hell you fucking degenerates.)
But more importantly it’s May 4, 2021, one year to the day since I closed on my first house.
A few things are somewhat startling to me about that:
- How much has changed
- How much has NOT changed
- How little I actually have to say about it all. [heh. Whups]
I was sure, when I was packing my bag to head down the hill to the cigar lounge that I’d have a lot kicking around in my head that would just dump on to the page about being a homeowner, how much it’s changed my life and all that. “It’s a great new beginning….another chapter” and all that.
But…it’s not. Not much has changed overtly. Well…I lie…everything has changed. Everything is different. But not nearly as much has to do with being a homeowner as I expected.
Of course…maybe it does. Maybe not having rent to pay, having some security in the fact that I own my home outright has brought me forward in my outlook.
It’s impossible to say. You can’t unravel time to uncover causality, not really. Oh sure, there are things you can point to in your past here and there and say “that was a great/horrible idea” or “I never quite recovered from that.”
Aside from the fact that something is really on your mind, you really can’t trace the circumstances of your…what…”mental state?” No. (Well, yes.) More than that, the internal landscape of your life. You really can’t trace that to specific events. Too much changes. Too many decisions and circumstances have strange second and third order consequences on our life for us to have even a hope of unraveling it all.
In fact it’s SO hard that I can only talk about it by an example that goes forward in time, not back.
Let’s take an example I’ve used before: Quitting smoking. (Note: I’m PRETTY sure this example comes from someplace else, I want to say P.D. Ouspenski’s “In Search Of The Miraculous”, a truly outstanding book.)
You’re a “couple pack a day” smoker (or a video gamer, or a heavy drinker, or…whatever, but let’s take smoker) and are determined to quit. You work in an office.
Okay. There’s the chemical addiction. You’re reasonably sure you can get a hold of that. It’s going to be rough, but you can do it. So you quit smoking, cold turkey (“What do you smoke now, ham?” – Yakov Smirnoff.) Suddenly you’re not getting up from your desk every two hours (or, let’s be honest, 90 minutes tops) to go outside for a break, so you’ve incurred stress in a whole different dimension on yourself.
Then your social crew at the office smokes and you have that dragging on you. You notice that, they notice it and friction is created. Forget how you deal with it for now.
The ritual of taking a deep intentional breath of a smoke is gone. Turns out that was at least as much a calming contributor to the habit as the actual nicotine hit. Hell, maybe you don’t even notice that.
You’re a spider web (only infinitely more complex) and you’ve just deleted a connection, ripped out a node, and the rest of the web has to rebalance itself into a new equilibrium. There are side-effects and tendrils that habit had, cascading into several dimensions of your life together in a series of mutually-supporting subsystems you weren’t even slightly aware of.
Your stress level goes through the roof both because you cut out what may have been your primary coping mechanism.
The cascade of quitting smoking throws your life into chaos.
A month goes by and suddenly your sense of smell returns (this weirdly happens this way, I’m told by several sources.) Your home environment is just untenable the way it is, and so that needs to be changed.
You can see where this all goes…well…no you can’t. You can see what I mean.
You need to come up with other ways of dealing with your ambient stress level. Yeah yeah, maybe you start sucking on lollypops (Who loves you, baby?) But that only takes care of one dimension.
Your friends change. Your habits at home change. Your vehicle finally gets purged of the ashy smell and cigarette butts. You start noticing other smokers and you get angry, frustrated, or disgusted with them.
Things improve in ways you can’t possibly have foreseen. It sucks. It’s a bitch. It’s a hard road.
But here’s the thing, once you’re nominally on the other side of a big decision like that, having cast yourself into chaos, you settle down. You’re in an unarguably better place in every way that can be measured.
Your mind is prone to a certain level of negative emotion, comfortable with a certain level of stress, so you’re on to new things to fill THOSE voids. So maybe you make up things to be stressed out about, to the degree you’re inclined (enter the literal First World Problem.) Yes, life has improved, and maybe you’re tremendously thankful for having taken that journey (and maybe it’s something addictive enough that it’s always on your mind…at least a little.)
But you still feel “the same.”
Maybe (probably) a lot of what could be considered “ancillary side effects” of having quit smoking aren’t things you directly tie to that decision, that event. Hell, maybe it was something different. Maybe you got a promotion or a new job circumstance. Maybe you decided you’d had enough of a “friend’s” bullshit.
My example is canned so it’s easy to trace. But the points are hopefully clear:
- You don’t really know for sure what it was that resulted in a change in your life.
- With some extremely rare exceptions, after such an improvement you’re still going to “feel like you.”
So it’s a year since I’ve been a homeowner and I can’t really tell what effect that’s had on my psyche. My life is immeasurably better in every way that can be measured. But…is that because I bought a home? Is it the protracted effect of having moved from New York to Tennessee? Is it because I finally had enough of working for shitheads and am “nominally retired?” Is it because I committed to shedding a fuckton of dead weight when I went to Ivan Throne’s “Feast of War” in February 2018 in Denver finally coming to fruition? Is it because I listen to a few hours of Jordan Peterson lectures or interviews every week? Is it because I’m, as of this morning, at my lowest weight in 30 years? Is it because I’ve got two new groups of friends who actually seem to enjoy my successes and encourage me when I’m in the midst of my failures?
I’m still me. I still have moments of indescribable fucking darkness. Sometimes they’re truly awful, but that’s vanishingly rare.
I don’t FEEL different. But then, I wouldn’t, would I. Sometimes it takes some strength to zoom out and look at things with the hope of some objectivity. Sometimes a lot. The result is always encouraging.
When push comes to shove I know in general terms what it is: It’s because I don’t accept myself as good enough and focus on the process of improving myself in some small way, daily while having faith that I can do that. Now, whence comes that impetus? Who cares. It doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.
Any deep change in your life, however small, throws your life into disarray, even (especially?) if it’s to the good. You are a work in progress, always. Once you settle yourself into that “Beginner’s Mind” and stop looking for yourself to be some fantasy of a completed picture when you watch yourself brush your teeth, you can embrace the evolutionary process, with all its warts, picking up the pieces of things you’ve taken a shotgun to while racking another round and looking for another target. Life gets better and what’s better about it is that “life is getting better” and THAT is the goal, the adventure of it all.
You can hope to achieve the goals of self-improvement as a side effect of the process. Life is always a fucking mess. It’s terrifying. But the goal isn’t peace, stasis. The goal is to be on a shaky upwards trajectory. Push yourself a little more. Watch your improvements. Be grateful for the power you’re granted to exert on your life. Forgive yourself your failings along the way.
Only then can you be free.
And thank God for that.