“Replace the bad with good…”

Part IV: Catharsis and learning to thrive

By Ryan Hussey

Edited by Jenna Rutsky


You are in your early fifties now. Emotional scars don’t fade like physical scars do. You get a new job at a law firm — a fresh start.

The first day, you notice the harsh sound the door makes when it shuts. It jars old memories loose, when your stepfather used to come home and you’d sit in your bed, trembling.

Not too long after, you notice the sound your boss makes when he walks up the stairs. The door slamming, the heavy footsteps of a grown man heading toward you — together, these should be enough to break you down into pieces.

You realize you must face the reality head-on, much like when you were five years old and it confronted you without warning. But one thing has changed since then.

You’re bigger now. Older, wiser. You’re stronger in every sense of the word. You’re prepared.

One weekend, you allow your niece to paint your fingernails. She lets you choose the color.

You recall the way teal blue makes you feel — that awful color. The color that represents your cell, the one that imprisoned you for nearly a decade and that’s held you captive ever since. The color that’s tattooed your memories, making you wish you saw only black and white. That diseased color, that monstrous, oppressive color that never fails to make you sick to your stomach. Teal is ugly.

You insist that your niece paint your nails teal blue.

Teal blue — that beautiful color. The color that matches the new blouse you bought for work. The color that brightens up any outfit or party or painting. That vibrant color — a work of art in itself — that now puts a smile on your face just as fast as it used to wipe one off.

Holding your arms out straight, you finally see what’s in front of you. Your hands, teal blue fingernails, your future.


For the rest of this piece, please head over to the full article in The Bigger Picture on Medium. You will not regret it.

Rape4

(Illustration/Kayla Spataro)

Point A to Point B

Stories about my first car

My dad drives with both feet. He uses his right for the gas and his left for the brake. I’ve seen him do it for years, and he’s the best driver I know. But you can’t pass the road test using two feet, so he didn’t teach me to drive like that. He didn’t teach me much of anything when it comes to cars. I never really wanted to learn.

I’ve picked up a few things about batteries and tire pressure along the way, and I get my oil changed every five-thousand miles. But I always just wanted something that would get me from Point A to Point B.

The car I deserved but not the one I needed

I got my license in December of 2007. Because of my black 1999 Hyundai Tiburon’s appearance, I named it the Batmobile, even if it couldn’t handle conditions like snow, heavy rain, or strong gusts. My whip sported a black cover on the front-end (sometimes called a bra, or more appropriately a mask) and sweet silver pinstripes across the sides. These, of course, came with the vehicle I’d “inherited” from my father (for the price of $2000).

Once I got more comfortable driving, I took full advantage of my sporty, all-black coupe. Late at night, when nobody else was on the roads, I used to turn the lights off and reenact that chase scene from Batman Begins. I have always been against texting while driving and I realize the hypocrisy here, but this type of danger was a rush for me. Cops and deer aside, I considered this a calculated risk and it made me feel cool as hell.

Train tracks and tow trucks

On the way back from a sweet sixteen party, I got into my first accident. Thankfully, it didn’t involve any other cars — just myself, my passenger, and the Batmobile.

I pulled up to a five-way intersection, on a road that I’d never driven at night. At this point, I had only been licensed for about four months. A few streetlights were out, making it difficult to see the road in front of us. The street forked ahead, split by railroad tracks that ran through the center of town.

As the driver, all I had to do was choose either left or right of the tracks, but apparently I couldn’t make that decision. The Batmobile wound up directly on the train tracks, wedged in a spot I had originally suspected to be asphalt.

My car had to be towed, suffering two flat tires and a bowed front axle. My dad arrived about five minutes after my passenger’s mom left and about ten minutes after the cops showed up.

RRtracksThe police stayed until the tow truck guy hooked up my car to his winch. They didn’t even ask me if I had been drinking — I guess my face told the whole story.

“You’re probably the 40th or 50th person I’ve towed from this spot. They should put more lights around here,” the tow truck guy offered some reassurance. “But then I’d probably go out of business.”

The commotion attracted one intoxicated man from the corner bar, located less than fifty steps from where my vehicle was stuck. “I hope you’re not drunk, man. You’re in a lot of trouble if you are.” I wasn’t. Just young and stupid.

Camera phones and blue balls

We pulled over to a stretch with no streetlights, in between two houses. There were no lights on in the house in front of us, and the one behind us appeared void of life.

This wasn’t the first time she said “I love you,” and it wasn’t the last time I said it back. But it was the first time I’ve tried to have sex in a car—and perhaps the last.

Sliding over the center console, my pocket caught on the E-brake (maybe a sign of things to come). We were veiled in the shadows of the darkest road in town, yet in such a secluded place, I felt anything but alone. She ran her fingers up my leg and undid the button on my shorts. I returned the favor because I’m fair like that. As we began to slip out of our skin, a flash went off outside the car.

“What the fuck was that?!” We panicked.

I jumped into the driver’s seat and turned the key, shorts barely on. The headlights shined on a woman walking a tiny dog. She squinted to see who was in the car, but I sped off before she could make us out. My girlfriend worried that we had almost hit the woman; I worried that we’d almost hit the dog. Then we both wondered if the woman had photographed my license plate.

Low gear

Fresh off a breakup, I was driving around with my best friend. On our way home, I slowed down at the top of a hill. It was one of those nights I wished I could just hit the gas and take flight, to hover over my moonlit town.

My friend looked down at the gear shift. “Dude, what’s L?”

L? I don’t know, I’ve never noticed it before.”

“Maybe it’s levitate…”

Suburban_night_skyWe were both pretty sure it stood for low gear, but neither of us said it out loud. That type of negativity wasn’t welcome in the Batmobile. You know when you’re aware something’s not possible, but you want it to happen so badly that you kind of hope you’re dead wrong?

I took one last look at my friend before shifting into L and gunning it towards the hill.

When we reached the bottom of the slope, tires still on the ground, we shared a laugh and a shrug. He opened the glove box and checked my car’s owners manual to see what L really stood for.

“Is it low gear?”

“Yeah.”

***

I’ve driven two cars since I traded in the Batmobile — an SUV named Sophia and a sedan I call Nancy. The names change, the passengers change, the ways I tell the stories change, but the habits don’t. Things I used to double check, like the positions of my mirrors or making sure my lights are off, have become second nature. Mindless rituals, instilled in me since that first car, force me to think that maybe I’ve learned more than I wanted to. Sometimes I’ll look down and notice I’m driving with both feet.

Do you remember your first car? Tell me a story about it.


A different version of this piece appears in the Medium publication Human Parts.

Costumes, Candy & Another Existential Crisis

I keep an old picture of myself behind my bed. It’s there partially because I’m more vain than anyone who’s ever thought a subtweet was about them, and partially because I needed a photo to fill an empty frame. But mostly, it’s there because I need to remind myself who I am every so often.

The plain black frame came with a photograph in it, part of an eighteenth birthday gift from my then-girlfriend. The photograph featured the two of us in our Halloween costumes, as well as a handwritten note — only after removing it from its frame, I discovered — on the back. But that’s an entirely different story.

dinosaur2

Halloween 1992

I used to keep my ex-girlfriend’s photograph in the frame for similar reasons to why I chose its successor. However, I realized that instead of reminding me who I am, her photo was making me fixate on who I was. I couldn’t be that person anymore; I couldn’t afford to be. That version of me was, uh… extinct, so to speak.

Sometimes it’s not the picture itself, it’s what the image means to us that makes it meaningful. Or painful. Or counterproductive. Or inspirational. (Or downright adorable.)

I understand that it’s lame to call a picture of myself inspirational, but the photo means several different things to me. Sure, it’s humbling to look behind my bed before I go to sleep and see myself in a stupid little costume holding a lollipop. It’s things like this very photograph — along with plenty of other factors, like my upbringing and stuff — that keep me modest. Seeing the photo after a good day or even a really good day brings me back down to Earth.

But it also reminds me I can be anything I want in this world, whether it be a writer, a teacher, an astronaut, or a green fucking dinosaur. It reminds me that no matter how ugly and guilty I feel after a bad day, I was once cute and innocent. And I believe that same person still exists.

Regardless of how cool I think I am or how cool people tell me I’m not, regardless of how much pain I feel or how much pain I cause others, regardless of how great I become or how miserably I fail…

I’m still that green fucking dinosaur. But now, instead of grabbing for candy, I’m reaching for-

Actually, still probably candy.

The Things We Keep

I am in the midst of a (major?) change in my life. Now, I am not someone who believes our careers should define us as people, but I do believe that once our careers develop a stranglehold on our happiness, it’s time to make some moves. Without going too much into it, let’s just say I’ve decided to make some moves. Even though it’s something that’s been a long time coming, I’m not sure the gravity of the situation hit me until last night.

The Nostalgic Cleanse

I was in a weird mood, so I began browsing around my bedroom. I may have been looking for something specific when I started, but within minutes I was staring at a garbage bag full of old papers — college schoolwork, songs I could never quite finish, notes about ideas I was never proud of conceiving. After creating some much-needed space on my desk, I resolved to do the same with the rest of my room. Within an hour, I filled two bags with me.

I say me because that’s exactly what it felt like. Throwing away some of those papers and knick-knacks constituted a step forward. Filling those garbage bags was my way of letting go of a bunch of things I didn’t feel I should worry about anymore. I wasn’t giving up on the unfinished songs and incomplete ideas; I was just acknowledging that maybe they never panned out because they weren’t that good to begin with. I was accepting the fact that I need to churn out a lot of shit to get to the good stuff.

Well, now there’s room for the good stuff.

And I made sure of that. Basically anything I couldn’t find immediate use for (or predict near-future use for) went directly into a trash bag. Anything that represented the old me — anything that symbolized thoughts or feelings I no longer care to experience — is now in the past with those thoughts and feelings.

My thought process was as follows:

I’ve gotten all I can out of these items, these notes, these concepts. I’ve learned from these experiences and can now use any of this in the future, whenever I want. And if I’m unable to recall the lessons these items have taught me without physically holding them, then the lesson was never important to me in the first place.

But while I was unflinchingly disposing of items I would’ve never even considered trashing a year or two ago, I found myself saving certain items with the same decisiveness. There were some things I just wouldn’t throw away. Or couldn’t, perhaps. Without hesitation or remorse, I distinguished the worthy from the worthless.

The ‘Leftovers’

Like the HBO series The Leftovers, I’m less interested in discovering why certain people disappeared and more interested in exploring why the others were “chosen” (if that is the case) to stay. The things I threw out — or the people who vanished, in the show’s case — are not coming back. But whatever remains is tangible; it’s real. And I bet there’s a damn good reason I chose to hang onto particular items while consciously disposing of others.

So, allow me to pose the question: Why do we hold onto things of little or no practical value?

Is it because of a sentimental value we assign to specific items based on the fondness of the memories associated with them? What makes these “leftovers” different from all of the things we decide to part ways with?

When it comes to items that belonged to loved ones we’ve lost or gifts we’ve received from these important people in our lives, the answer is relatively simple. In an article featured in the alternative Seattle newspaper The Stranger, Rebecca Brown writes:

We keep these material things because they represent the people we no longer have. We keep them to remind us we can do or be or mean something and that the people we admire can inspire us.

[Source: “The Things We Keep: Why Do Relics of the Dead Mean So Much to Us?” by Rebecca Brown]

Brown’s notion of finding inspiration in these material possessions extends beyond “relics of the dead.” I believe this idea pertains to my situation as well. Maybe the items I purposefully trashed wound up in the garbage because I felt they could no longer inspire me. Perhaps I still find inspiration in whatever I decided to keep around.

While I originally viewed my decision to keep these things as a refusal to let go of the past, I am now beginning to consider this alternative explanation. Maybe the items that survived this “purge” of everything useless in my room aren’t just a fail-safe for when I want to return to my comfort zone — maybe they have some sort of unfinished business in my life (à la Casper the friendly ghost).

The Lies — WHEN WILL THEY STOP???

A few of my coworkers laughed at me when I told them I’ve never cheated on a girl and have never been cheated on before. They thought I was joking. It came as a shock to them that in a world inundated with infidelity and disloyalty, I’ve managed to avoid the drama that seems to plague a majority of my generation. In a time period when “hookup” culture appears to have completely replaced the classic idea of romance, I’ve realized that my inexperience with unfaithfulness might actually put me in the minority.

That’s a good thing, I guess… For me, at least.

But why does cheating seem so much more common today than it was back when my parents were growing up? The most obvious place to look is all of the technology we now enjoy that seemed like merely a pipe dream several decades ago. While all of these technological advancements help us stay in touch with one another, they can also be detrimental to the idea of romantic relationships all together. Modern technology makes it much easier to maintain a long-distance relationship, but it also makes it a hell of a lot easier to find that horny, newly-single chick within a five-mile radius who’s “down for anything.”

Like all things in life, technology has both its pros and cons. One of the major negatives just happens to be the temptation and ease it provides for people looking to make like a tree and branch out from their relationships. However, while technology makes it very easy to meet someone new or find someone else and sneak around, it also makes it extremely easy to get caught/catch our cheating partners in the act. Now, a lot of people are — for lack of a better term — pretty dumb. So, combine this general incompetence with a relentless sex drive and a smartphone, and we’ve got ourselves a cheater asking to be caught red-handed. This idea holds true for emotional cheating as well (especially if partners know each other’s cellphone and email passwords).

I’m not sure if this only became commonplace in the last decade or so, but I know that some individuals even use cheating to as a way out of their relationships. In other words, a person may physically cheat on his/her significant other to catalyze the end of their relationship — consciously or unconsciously causing the partner to break up with said individual, or at least leading to a talk resulting in a “mutual” breakup. I’m sure not everybody who cheats does it for this specific reason, but I have no respect for individuals who use infidelity to avoid having legitimate, honest conversations with people who care about them. (I have very little respect for people who cheat to begin with.)

But maybe I’m asking the wrong question here. Is cheating actually more common today? Perhaps cheating was just as common when my parents were growing up, and nowadays people just get caught more often.

This, again, can be attributed to the vast discrepancy in available technology between the two generations. Assuming people still found ways to cheat on their significant others back in the 70s and 80s, the absence of cellphones and social media made it a little more difficult to discover their unfaithfulness. And maybe a lot of these significant others didn’t even want to know about their partners’ misdeeds. After all, victims of infidelity in 2014 don’t always have the option of looking the other way — it’s sort of difficult not to catch a significant other who is cheating when people post everything they do onto Facebook and Twitter. So, maybe (and hopefully) my generation doesn’t lack the morals of my parents’ generation; maybe my parents’ generation simply lacked the technology we have today.

The aspect of this entire problem that worries me most is a matter of discretion. Does my generation care? Is the higher prominence of infidelity simply because of the technological revolution we’re living in, or is it a direct result of our lack of commitment to anything?

According to Forbes, sixty-percent of millennials change jobs every three years, and many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers consider this statistic a major red flag when hiring. Similarly, if somebody has cheated on a significant other in the past, how can we be sure this person won’t do the same to us? (“Once a cheater, always a cheater.”) This is why I am so confused when Guy 1 cheats on Girl 1 for months with Girl 2 and then leaves Girl 1 for Girl 2, and Girl 2 is dumbfounded when it happens all over again and she catches him with Girl 3.

Though I don’t have any firsthand experience with any of this and consequently may not understand the concept of cheating all together, I can say with conviction that I care.

And when I say “I’ve never cheated on a girl and have never been cheated on,” I mean I’ve never cheated on a girl and have never been cheated on to my knowledge. As far as I know — again, all we “know” is what we think we know — every girl I’ve dated has remained faithful. And as much as I’d love to contact each girl and confirm this presumption, I’d rather keep in tact this illusion that I’m immune to the same disease that’s been the ruination of so many of my peers’ relationships. I guess the fact that I’d rather not know with 100% certainty helps demonstrate the notion that cheating can be prevalent without being conspicuous, and therefore we can’t necessarily assume it is more common today than it was several decades ago.

Death As We Know It

My grandmother passed away recently, making both of my parents orphans, in turn leaving my brother and me grandparentless. She was my father’s mother; his father passed away early last year. I never had the pleasure of knowing my mother’s father because he died months before I was born. And we lost my other grandmother in 2010 — she was better known as “Nanny.”

Fortunately, my parents never had to explain death to my brother or me when we were young. Nanny was really our first loss of somebody very close to us, and my brother and I were fifteen and nineteen years old at that point, respectively. I’ll say again that these circumstances are certainly fortunate, but I feel that they also contributed to my parents skipping an extremely important conversation with their children.

From what I recall, my first real experience with death — that is, attending a wake and/or funeral — was in third or fourth grade. One of my classmates had lost a brother who suffered from a crippling medical condition since birth. I remember hearing it was a relief, in a way, because my friend’s family didn’t have to watch their loved one in pain anymore. They no longer had to witness him being subjected to that type of lifestyle, clinging onto the withering hope that his condition would improve. Since we were in a Catholic school, the entire class attended the funeral mass and sat in the back of the church out of respect for our classmate and his family.

I would say my parents laid the proper foundation for my brother and me to understand the concept of death, but we never got the chance to have that talk about what death is — what it actually means when somebody dies. Perhaps it’s easier that way, allowing kids to formulate their own conceptions of life and death.

Of course, there is no way to know for sure what happens when we die, but this doesn’t stop kids from being curious, from asking questions. It shouldn’t stop us from being curious either, nor should it stop us from trying to comprehend what death truly means — and through experiencing death, comprehending what it truly means to live.

I have a five-year-old cousin who has much more experience with death than I did when I was her age. But still, I don’t believe she genuinely understands it. (Do we genuinely understand anything at the age of five?) To my knowledge, this upcoming wake and funeral will be (at least) her second experience of the sort. She was present at our grandfather’s wake and funeral last year, even though she didn’t have a relationship with him. However, my cousin had a very close relationship with our grandmother, which makes this situation particularly delicate.

Does she feel sad? Does she know to feel sad? A five-year-old is going to ask questions about her grandmother, and yes — it’s important how we answer them.

Is it right to tell my cousin that Grandma fell asleep and is never going to wake up? Wouldn’t that make her afraid to fall asleep? We can’t tell her: “Everybody dies, and someday you’re going to die, too.” That would traumatize her, however true it may be.

So, what do we say to a five-year-old?

Do we lie? Do we involve our religious beliefs and tell her that Grandma went up to heaven and is now an angel watching over her? Isn’t that just a way for people to avoid accepting death’s permanence?

How do we clarify that death is permanent? We can’t just tell a five-year-old she’s never going to see her grandmother again. Can we?

Do we make it a dialogue and say, “Haley, what do you want to know about Grandma?” Do we answer all of her questions candidly, even if it means responding “I don’t know”? Would she accept “I don’t know” as an answer and understand that sometimes there’s no way of knowing something for sure?

Or do we avoid the situation altogether? I know my family is good at that, so should this conversation wait until my cousin is older and more mature?

Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions here. Maybe instead of wondering how should we, I should be thinking how could we. If we don’t even know what happens when and after we die, how could we explain the concept of death to a child? What knowledge about death could we possibly have that makes us more qualified than a five-year-old to field existential questions?

What we know about death (pertaining to life as we know it) is limited to the fact that 1. it is inevitable and 2. it is permanent. All of the other details — the ones kids tend to ask about — get a bit fuzzy after that.

So, unless we want to explain how to organize a funeral or how to purchase a coffin or how to close bank accounts or how to write an obituary, maybe we should just stop trying to explain death to our children. Maybe we should just let them ask their own questions and form their own beliefs. And the way we do that is by simply answering honestly: “I don’t know.”

These are some great resources I found about this subject (obviously, every situation and every child is different, but it doesn’t make these any less useful):

Explaining death to a child – The Washington Post

Talking to children about death – National Institutes of Health

My Wet Dream

We all want something. Some of us know exactly what we want and exactly how to attain it, others know what but are iffy on the how, and some — myself included — are still trying to figure out how anybody can claim they know anything.

I asked myself a simple question: Why do we postpone pursuing our dreams?

I pondered this question for hours, developing a “brainstorm web” (recalling when middle school teachers used to tell me to create a web of ideas before writing an essay). My web included potential reasons for the postponement of dreams, as well as possible consequences for putting these dreams on hold. After reflecting on my own dreams, I decided to pose the same question to some family, friends, and acquaintances. Several people responded with the idea that maybe people don’t postpone their dreams. Maybe our dreams change based on life occurrences that are out of our control. But this notion didn’t sit well with me.

We all have dreams — that is to say, aspirations. I’ve read that goals are a way of making our dreams become reality. If we don’t set realistic, attainable goals, then dreams are just… dreams. For example, I could dream of changing the world someday, but that’s awfully vague, isn’t it? How could I possibly measure whether or not I’ve achieved it, let alone whether or not I’m even working towards it? Reshaping that dream into a goal of participating in a charity event and donating x amount of dollars to breast cancer research each year is much more perceptible. With less abstract versions of our dreams, in the form of goals, we can sort of figure out what we want out of life and ensure that every action we take moves us closer to achieving said goals.

I agree that dreams can change. But, like with basically everything else in this world, a fire burns inside me, asking: Why?

When I originally webbed out the potential reasons people postpone their dreams, I thought about why I, personally, would ever push my aspirations aside. (Now that I have written the previous sentence and read it aloud, I realize how depressing it is for me to have actually brainstorm-webbed the concept of “postponing dreams.” People are out there feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and getting laid — getting laid, man — and I’ve mapped out a web that can tell you why people give up on what they want in life.) Tying into the idea of life “happening” and changing our dreams in the meantime, one of the reasons I came up with was responsibility. Sometimes, we have to rearrange our priorities based on the well-being of others, ie. children and other loved ones. And that is completely understandable.

But what if I played devil’s advocate for a moment and argued that this responsibility and “prioritization” wasn’t the real reason people put their dreams on hold? Maybe — just maybe — this is a means for justification of their actions, or lack thereof. Some of us do postpone our dreams; it’s no secret. Some of us are hesitant to commit to goals because we fear everything from rejection to regret to failure. The reasoning behind this is tough for me to pinpoint — whether it is a confidence problem, a comfort zone issue, the crushing weight of expectations, or a combination of the three. But the truth is, this lack of commitment to our goals is failure.

Sometimes, postponing our dreams eventually leads to giving up on them, and that’s the worst part to think about. Because, when we give up on a dream (or when we allow it to “change”), maybe it means we never really wanted it in the first place — or maybe we never really believed it was possible.

To me, allowing a dream to change because of “circumstances” is inconceivable. A dream is a dream is a dream. Sure, some are outlandish and farfetched even, but if we really — and I mean really — want something, what’s stopping us?

Is it the aforementioned lack of commitment caused by our fear of failure and regret? Is it our hesitance to venture out of our comfort zones, or the fact that some of us feel anchored down by feelings and people and people’s feelings? Or is it our past experiences that seem to serve as warnings, cautioning us not to dive head first into anything without first dipping our toes in the water?

This experience that forewarns us of any potential danger usually protects us. After all, we are the sum of our life experience and without it, we wouldn’t know much of anything. But perhaps this experience — the same experience that reminds us not to stick our hands into a fire because hey, fire is hot and the same experience that advises us not to venture into relationships with people who are eerily similar to our exes because hey, there’s a reason we broke up — is actually holding us back.

This is why I believe children are so important and downright fascinating. They haven’t developed this umbrella of experience that unconsciously shields them from bad weather. Instead, they dare to dream and they don’t get bogged down with the details — they just play in the rain.

Maybe we can learn from them.

In Experience

[Courtesy: movieclips.com]

I’ve been reading articles and stories and books by comedians and writers — ordinary people who use their own past experiences to convey a message or express an idea to readers. Every time I close up a book for the night, I think to myself: I can do this. I then go to bed confident in myself and hopeful for my future, knowing that I can make my living writing someday.

I wake up the next morning asking myself why I haven’t written that book yet, why I haven’t gathered a bunch of my articles into a memoir of some sort. I wonder why people aren’t holding a book with my name on the cover, reading my stories, and learning from my experiences.

I know I can help people. I’m pretty sure I have in the past, and I’m certain I have even helped myself through my writing. There’s always a lesson to learn, so why not use my experiences to communicate that message/those messages to the masses?

Simply put, I’ve been putting the cart before the horse. I cannot expect to just write these stories and impart all of this great wisdom onto people without first experiencing the events during which I learn the lessons. Basically, I don’t have enough wisdom to do any of it yet. And that has been my biggest issue lately.

I find myself itching to write something meaningful, but I can never find the inspiration. Perhaps this is because I’m spending my time waiting for something meaningful to happen, when in reality, lessons are learned on the fly. The most meaningful experiences aren’t ones we sit around waiting for… Drama — now that’s the stuff that changes our lives.

Falling in love, falling out of love, ending relationships, embarking on new ones. Regret, apologies. Death. Adversity. True happiness. We cannot learn from living in a stagnant environment because then we’re not really living, are we? We’re pretty much just waiting to die.

Despite the dreary perspective of the previous sentence, this post’s purpose is to encourage everyone to maintain a positive outlook on life — myself included (especially myself).

We cannot learn from writing about an experience immediately after experiencing it. That is when life lessons are forced and it becomes obvious that we are waiting around more so than living. We need to give the experience time to sink in, time to show us what the lesson is, and we must give ourselves time to actually learn that lesson.

I’m not sure if this is true for everybody, but I find that the stories I tell best are ones that happened years ago. Stories I’ve had time to think about and let fester in my mind, stories whose details I’ve mulled over and decided which were vital to the progressions and outcomes. At the time of some of these experiences, I had no idea they’d be this important to me. But sure enough, after awhile, these experiences all prove to be essential pieces to my puzzle. And while I may never be able to see the finished product, I might as well enjoy the process of putting it together.

So, I will leave everybody with my newly-adopted life motto:

Ways To Beat Me in “Never Have I Ever…” Because of 2013

With 2014 approaching, I found myself scrambling to identify the highlights of this past year. While I had some trouble at first, I realized that 2013 was a year of big changes for me. But amidst all of this progress and change, there is nothing to worry about — I’m still me. I’m just more well-traveled and a little bit more experienced in the falling-out-of-the-sky department. So here’s a summary of my year, through “Never Have I Ever”s that are no longer true*:

Never have I ever…

  1. been grandfatherless.
  2. had an Instagram account dedicated to my dog and newspaper headlines.
  3. run a 5k.
  4. been *this close* to packing up my things and driving out to California.
  5. quit JCPenney.
  6. (I’m too lazy to try to phrase this in “Never Have I Ever…”-talk, but Emma Roberts read my letter.)
  7. gone ziplining.
  8. been the target of an all-out bird shit holocaust.
  9. been paid to write about costumes and cupcakes.
  10. had poison ivy.
  11. watched an entire season of a television show in one day.
  12. attended an amateur wrestling event.
  13. been part of a chicken beheading.
  14. single-handedly tried to take down the terrorist group known as “BuzzFeed.”
  15. JUMPED OUT OF A FUCKING PLANE.
  16. rocked out with Rob Thomas.
  17. been paid to write literally anything.
  18. feared that I was a sellout.
  19. witnessed a caterpillar climb up a wall and get eaten by a spider.
  20. seen Dave Chappelle live.
  21. looked for a midget to love me via online dating.
  22. obtained a “big boy” job.
  23. gotten paid to tweet.
  24. been to Minnesota.
  25. stepped foot inside the single most incredible establishment in the United States (the Mall of America).
  26. eaten a “Juicy Lucy.”
  27. actually thought about being a parent.
  28. had this written about me: “Even at 23 he gets women better than most.”
  29. tried to learn how to play the piano.
  30. been brought to tears by a five-year-old kid dressed as Batman.
  31. hand-written a letter to a friend who wasn’t a “pen pal.”
  32. hated lists but just said “fuck it” and wrote them anyway (for free).
  33. modeled scarves.
  34. gotten herpes.
  35. physically wanted to harm an animal.
  36. owned socks with capes on them (trust me; they’re cool).
  37. truly enjoyed my job.

*As always, I am open to any/all questions regarding every aspect of this list.

What’s My Age Again?

As my twenty-third birthday approaches, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone. Although my commute to work is a bit longer than I’d like it to be, I get some of my best thinking done during my drive to the office in the morning.

Twenty-three years doesn’t seem like a lot of time at all. But then I think about all of the experiences that have shaped my view of the world thus far, and I realize that age is not just a number. In twenty-three years on this earth, I’ve built meaningful relationships with other people, I’ve lost loved ones, I’ve traveled, I’ve learned how to play an instrument, I’ve jumped out of a plane, I’ve had four dogs, I’ve found something I’m good at, I’ve tried, I’ve failed, I’ve moved on, and I’ve learned a ton in the process. Over the course of these twenty-three years, I haven’t just been surviving. I’ve been living.

And, for some reason, this makes me feel old. I already know I act old; I’m just wondering how much longer it’ll be before acting and feeling and being all meet at some miserable “over the hill” crossroads.

I already find it difficult to enjoy things I used to enjoy. I don’t like “moshing” at concerts anymore. I watch movies I used to love and think: “Wow, this is fucking dumb.” I am unable to put up with people I used to consider my friends, and I have very little patience for immaturity — which sounds weird coming from somebody who’s no stranger to making a fool of himself.

But a lot can change over the course of twenty-three years. It’s just enough time to grow up into one person, change, then decide I don’t like who I’m becoming and turn into somebody complete different. The possibilities are nearly endless.

I recently attended my five-year high school “reunion.” I put the word “reunion” in quotation marks because I don’t know if five years is long enough for this shin-dig to be considered one. I know a lot can change in twenty-three years, but how much can change in five?

In December of 2008, I was wrapping up my first semester of college. I was only seventeen years old, I had just lost my virginity, and I had no idea about what I wanted to do with my life. That last point might still ring true, but I’d like to think I have a slightly better idea now.

Every day on my drive to work, my mindset alternates between I’m right where I want to be and I have the whole world in front of me and Time is running out for me to do what I want to do. I can’t help but feel like I need to rush sometimes — like my dreams have an expiration date. If not now, when?

Tomorrow? Next week? Before I know it, I’ll be turning twenty-four and I’ll be asking myself the same questions, probably with a few new ones thrown into the mix.

Many people my age have the opposite problem. While I’m concerned with the future and what’s going to happen, some of my peers have trouble letting go of the past. My high school “reunion” was perfect evidence of this. Some people don’t change.

But some do. And that’s the beauty of this part of my life. I can up and leave, and it would almost literally affect nobody. I can change basically anything about my life anytime I want. Just because I go to bed at 10:30pm every night doesn’t mean I’m old. I’m young, man. I’m right where I want to be and I have the whole world in front of me.

So when I turn twenty-three in a week, I know nobody will like me, but I’ll be sure not to worry about where the time has gone. As long as I can say the last sentence of the second paragraph of this post with confidence, I won’t worry about much at all. I’ll know the time has gone somewhere worthwhile.