It’s Good To Be Thankful

A general sense of gloom, doom, and anger have been the norm for me a while now. Worried that the job I love could come to a crashing halt at any moment, like the other jobs I’ve loved and lost in the past. Angry for Lord knows why. I’ve got no reason to worry or be angry. Work is great, family is great. Sure, I could use a few more friends, and my family all live on opposite sides of the country now…but hardly reason to be as bummed as I’ve been.

Maybe I lost part of myself? I remember being optimistic and happy all the time once. But time often changes us, and I guess that’s why my otherwise sunny disposition was replaced with a rain cloud and a constant expectation for things to just go wrong. I mean, things hadn’t exactly been ideal for years. The move to Atlanta and going to Georgia State was lackluster at best. Then the move back to Orlando was filled with all sorts of headaches. Why should now be any different?

Funny thing about all those “awful” memories, those “years” of woe…if I look back now I don’t really remember the gloom and doom. I remember late night soccer games and laughing until I cried. I remember dancing like an idiot and feeling like I was on top of the world. I remember spending time with friends, being close to my family. I remember late nights with my sister talking and writing, and talking about our writing. I remember stupid pranks her and I played on each other (although, truth be told, they were mostly pranks I played on her). I remember re-arranging my mother’s NOEL stocking hangers to spell out LEON and absolutely losing my mind over how funny I thought that was. I remember learning how to cook from some really talented people. The feel of cold, stainless steel and the heat from the range. I remember long train rides downtown to get to class, what the city felt like during the winter.

They weren’t bad years at all. Sure, did I make some mistakes? Of course I did. I quit jobs when I shouldn’t have, got fired from one that I shouldn’t have taken in the first place, and was not nearly as kind to people as I should have been. But, in spite of all of that…I was still so very blessed. Just like now.

Even though, at the time, I may not have been feeling the best I can look back now and I hardly remember the bad feelings! I remember so many good things and people and sensations that fill my heart with joy and thankfulness.

Every time I moved somewhere new, and I have done that a lot, I have always looked back fondly on where I’ve been. The most recent place I occupied always held some kind of…magic. Like everything good and worth having in this world was stuck in that part of time. If I could just get back to that place, I would always think, then I could have those feelings again. I could be happy like I was then, again! And every time I think to myself, “next time…I’ll appreciate what I have when I have it. I won’t let the good old days be a past tense thing. I’ll be in the good old days, really present.”

So here’s to the good old days! The one’s we’re all in, right now. As my dog chews away at her ball, freshly bathed and smelling of vanilla and verbena. After a long day of training at work, and a northern Georgia thunderstorm passing over head…thank you. Thank you to my family for always being there for me. Thank you for my friends, past and present, for the same. Thank you for the opportunity I have now, to do the work I do; I truly love every second of it, and the people I work with. Thank you for my home, my health, and most of all my happiness. And last but certainly not least, thank you God. Because, through you, this was all given to me.

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Watching the sunlight fall atop the shed roof, visible from my living room window, was something of a gift. Those small moments scarcely exist in such a busy life- when we take time to truly appreciate simple beauty. Staring into the deep blue of the sky, watching the leaves ebb and flow with the comings and goings of the wind. To hear an owl call out into the emptiness of a wooded forest. The crunch of freshly fallen leaves beneath your feet as you search newly found grounds. The smell of the air and slight cool snap as you get closer to a water source- subtlety has no truer definition than how moisture hangs and thickens as you approach a lake.

 

I’m not truly alive anywhere else, I fear. When I can see the large pine trees swaying to and fro, almost waving to me and beckoning me to stay, I feel at home. When I take my first steps out of my truck, left on the side of a dirt road and carrying only a small pack with a sleep system and limited rations, a fishing pole and a firearm. As I walk away I hear the hawk cries out, oh lo what a glorious song. I stop and listen, thanking the hawk endlessly for sharing his time with me. I speak a few words in an ancient tongue no longer spoken and close my eyes. I thank God and the earth and the trees and the sun for everything they’ve been gracious enough to share with me.

 

I pull my food out of the lake, removing my boots and stepping into the shallows as I cast my line out again and again and again. The lake doesn’t seem so very deep, although that can be deceiving, so I keep my bait close to the water’s surface as I reel it back in. After a dozen or two casts and several nibbles I finally bring something in- a trout. The size of my bounty only matters in so much that it will fill my belly, and this one will do nicely. The fire I had started earlier is dying as I return with my meal, so I stoke it and prepare my pot. Water from my own supply added and boiled, then rice and one of the packets of seasoning I traditionally bring with me on such trips. Not that the food needs it, no. But I’m a hedonist when it comes to such things and I enjoy thoroughly enjoying a meal. I cook the fish separately, on a spit, and wait and watch as the skin crackles and peels away above the fire. Once both are done I combine them and eat, giving thanks again to God and the trees and wind and sun and fish for everything they have given.

 

Those are good days.

Understanding my Father

When he told me to never wear a uniform. He said I didn’t want that, that I’d have a much better life if I studied and went to college. He’d worn a uniform, I wanted to be like him. He insisted and insisted, however. I didn’t want to jump out of airplanes or trek through jungles. It all sounded exciting to me and I wanted to make my father proud.

He never told me the real reason he didn’t want me to wear a uniform. Now that I know, I understand. Maybe he didn’t have the words to explain, maybe he knew it wouldn’t matter if he did. His reasoning wasn’t anything malicious or a lack of pride to serve. He just had an understanding about what wearing a uniform meant that I lacked.

You don’t wear a uniform. You don’t put it on and go do a job. You are broken down, built up, and you become a man who wears a uniform. You lose pieces of yourself, some good and some bad. The uniform doesn’t fit you- you grow to fit it.

Maybe he saw that I was sensitive and thoughtful, maybe he was that way once too. Maybe he didn’t want to see that part of me die. And now all I can do is hope that one day my son listens when I tell him to never wear a uniform.

Pissed off and Pessimistic.

I’m pissed off and I’m pessimistic.

 

The folks that know me best have described me with those two words pretty often. I wanted a moment to clarify exactly why I am those things.

 

I’m a happy guy. I love God, my family, and my job. I’ve got nothing in the world to be upset about. My friends, who I lump in with my family, are shining examples of the kind of people you want in your life. I work hard, I enjoy my time off with my dogs, and generally live a very simple life. But I’m pissed off and pessimistic because of the way society has been engineered.

 

We, human beings, are crazy, selfish, and generally messed up things. We eat and shit and piss and piss one another off. This isn’t new. We’re also pretty amazing creations- we have this incredible capacity to grow and learn and create tangible objects that either existed once in one form, now made better, or things that have no basis in the natural world. We also have this ability to imagine; imagination is a wonderful, lego block-like tool kit where the ordinary person can create within itself endless, fantastical things. All of this will be made important later.

 

Humans are, most and most importantly, selfish. Hipsters and hippies alike would agree that living in a world where we share everything, love one another not just in spite of all our differences but for them, is a glorious idea. And sure, I agree. It’s a great idea. However when you inject the very thing that makes us, us…that entire notion goes out the door. We as a species have succeeded because we are selfish. Whether you believe God placed us here or we evolved is a moot point, the fact is we are top of the food chain and as industrious and comfortable as we are because caveman don’t give a shit about no one but caveman (early homo sapien sapien and homo neanderthalis for my fellow anthropologists). We’ve grown to global power because we eat things that make us stronger, and didn’t care if our neighbor had enough. We got strong, worked together when it benefited our own well-being, and told the other guy to fuck off when it didn’t. Again, this will all make more sense in a bit.

 

You might be thinking right now, “gee, no wonder this guy is pissed off…and that does sound pretty pessimistic”. Well, gentle reader, that’s not why I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off because society, in the last fifty or sixty years or so, has started seriously capitalizing on all those baser realities of our species. In a deplorable, morally bankrupt way.

 

We’ve created this thing called the internet. Which, in its conception, was a novel and glorious idea. Share information? Translate countless terabytes of information into dozens of languages so the masses can disseminate and then consume untold amount of said information? Brilliant!

 

However, then some joker got the idea to create this thing called social media. And, again, a pretty damn good idea in its infancy. You mean there’s a place on this vast web of information where I can stay connected with people who don’t live near me? Share thoughts and concerns, tell my story and never feel far away from those I care so deeply for that actually are? Again, bravo. That’s the beauty of the human imagination at its finest. Someone created something out of nothing, just from imagining “hey, bet it’d be cool if I could show my aunt in Milwaukee how big my kids are getting without having to mail her a bunch of polaroids”.

 

But there’s been a quiet progression since the advent of our beloved phone apps. Idols like Elvis or the Beatles started paving the way for egoism to morph into the behemoth that we live surrounded by today. Because, sure; icons have always existed. Shit, you had the Greeks or the Norse huddled around a fire listening to the war-stories of some ordinary man triumphing over unthinkable odds too. But now, thanks to media and its mutant offspring social media, we’ve become inundated with icons. We don’t sit by a fire to hear story of glory anymore- all we have to do is turn on the TV. Instead of focusing on how we could make our lives better, and being softly inspired by stories we might have heard a few times around a fire…now we are constantly surrounded by the images of giants who have such “talent” and “promise” or “luck” that our own lives seem to pale in comparison. We fucking such…because we can’t be as good as the guy on TV.

 

Then comes our most defining characteristic, rearing its ugly head; selfishness. We want that. Not only do we feel like garbage because our lives aren’t as “cool” as the bright, dancing picture guy’s is…but now we want it, too. Because, shit, he looks pretty happy. He has fancy shit. I want fancy shit. Why does he get fancy shit? I deserve fancy shit, too. Never once pausing to think the very rational thought “oh, hey…he’s like one of fifty thousand guys who tried to do whatever he’s doing on TV. And he probably has no free time to do whatever he wants to, because he has to work so damn hard to keep all the fancy shit I keep drooling over”.

 

And social media has just made this problem even worse. Now we don’t just mythologize the guy on TV, but the every man, too. Now everyone has a little window into their own special snowflake life, and it’s created a serious case of “the grass is greener” syndrome. Scrolling through Instagram has hypnotized people walking down the street, filling their heads with thoughts of “oh man, that’s guys outfit is so awesome!” or “man, I wish I could go to Bora Bora for vacation like him!”

 

Worst part is, no one even gets it! The folks behind all this media that’s being produced have so ingeniously designed the crap that we just accept it effortlessly and without question. Why? Because it feeds into our most base, primal level of being. “It’s all about me”. That’s all twitter or facebook or Instagram has become! It’s a little corner where you’re the center of the universe! People come to my page to see my stuff because my life is the best…

 

Except I want my life to be just like that guy’s life.

 

Society has been engineered to not only feed into our selfishness but also make us so depressed and extranocular (outward sighted, a term I just made up) that we’ve become addicted to social media! They’ve created a circle that begs and pleads to be completed. Why do you think social media is so hard to delete and get away from!?

 

And I’d love to get into why all of the crap I’ve just spewed has destroyed socialization and the dynamic of interpersonal relationships, but as I am writing my dogs are whining to come inside…all wet and muddy. So I have to endeavor to clean them, a fruitless task. Until next time,

 

Pissed off and Pessimistic.

Smoke and Light

Memories cascade to and fro in the bubbling cauldron of my mind, all stoked onwards and higher in temperature by melody and word sang aloud. Dark nights and hands held appear like light cast against smoke, images of moments of love and togetherness that are never to be again. Gifts given and received are artifacts now; they hold some small history of a time when we were us. Younger versions of ourselves immortalized in recordings that, to me, view like the best of classic film. Words exchanged as free as the wind blows through leaves echo like the cry of a hawk, haunting and beautiful. As the fire of song dies down, and there is no more fuel for my private moment, I let these feelings fade away. Madness is the only outcome, would I allow them stay longer. In the embers I bid you farewell, to be rekindled again soon on another day when I wish to remember who we were and that we loved so purely.

 

Sights and sounds can bring you back to places you’ve long left behind. On mornings like this morning I create these small, private moments for myself. I play a song that reminds me of you. Sometimes I’ll write while I listen, others I just sit and reminisce. I’m sure some people would call this sad. I suppose it is a little bit. But these small moments are all I have anymore. A conversation here and there, coffee even less often, and then this song.

It always brings me back to all those most special moments I hold dear. That night I watched you go off and dance in that dark dance hall. The night we ran off, smoking cigarettes behind some building in the historic district of a forgotten part of town. The night you gave me my birthday gift in my car. The morning I presented the birthday cake I made for you. All those drives to your house, late at night. The morning we drove around, holding hands, recording on my phone just how much we loved each other and always would.

I see those places in my mind every time I hear this song. I look back now and think about how young we were…we were kids. I think about how different things must be in your mind now. I might think you and I are meant to be, but maybe that’s just a mistake. It’s likely I’m just holding on because those memories are so dear to me.

 

I guess, almost seven years later, I’m still not ready to let go.

The Smiling Continent

My lunch break is when I heard from you. Ours has been somewhat of a modern day romance; borne beneath halogen bulbs and between warm, freshly printed pages.

You never had to stay and talk. The lengthy work I would do for your company could have easily been left for me to labor away at, however you always entertained me with good conversation. I used to wonder why that was. Were you escaping a boring day, and I was a subtle reprieve from it? Or was there something else there, perhaps a curiosity and intrigue that I inspired in you? Now, looking back, I concern myself less and less with the why and am just thankful for the what. And the what was this: you were a beautiful stranger in a world filled with nothing but strange faces who took the time to speak with me.

 

I still have the quill you gave me, you know. I’ve used it several times, and you’ll be amused and I’m sure not altogether surprised to hear my attempts to use it were unsuccessful. I keep the bottle of ink on my desk, in fact. Next to a few other trinkets from family members and others close to me.

Shockingly I find myself living in Kennesaw now, the same place you had once told me your grandfather had lived. It’s funny how life can bring you so close to someone and never know it. That seems to be our fate, however. Always so close, and never more than just that.

 

I’ve looked you up several times. No ill will or bad sentiment drove me to do this, mind you. There will be times throughout my day when I will think of you, and those conversations that fell so naturally between sheets of newly bound plastic, and smile. It’s nice to see that you’re happy.

 

And it was during my lunch break when I heard from you again, out of the blue from whence you came all those years ago. The continent that smiled at me, showed me kindness, and made me think ‘maybe’ again; after I had spent so long thinking ‘never again’.

Good Direction

An aim would be nice, wouldn’t it? You wander around life, hopping from one such thing to another, just looking for something that gives your life direction. So many folks spend their lives trying to get their bearings. These days it seems like the little window you’re staring at right now takes focus. We forget that all the fancy things and cool places, exciting jobs that could furnish us a life of luxury and ease, are all just snapshots. We let those brief moments take focus away from ourselves, our lives. Then, one day, you wake up to your hands glued to a cell phone. You frantically swipe through your Instagram or twitter, trying to see who was looking through their window at your snapshots, hoping you can inspire the same envy you’ve felt looking at others. It’s all cyclical and it’s bogus.

 

Our generation isn’t the first. The window’s just gotten bigger. If it wasn’t Instagram or the internet, it was MTV and magazines. Or it was legends of family members or storybook heroes that made us lose focus. We lost sight of something that would have given our lives direction all along. Instead we listened to how brave great-grandfather was, or how cool The Bandit looked in his T-top. Then we fashion our lives around these mythologized individuals who are, again, only showing us a snapshot. A brief moment in their lives, and the best of a brief moment. We don’t stop to think about what comes after that moment, or even what came before it. What lead that person to where they are in that snapshot?

 

We’ve forgotten how to be ourselves. The greatest thinkers and writers of our species were folks that, sure, drew inspiration from others but they were never afraid to blaze their own trail. Because it’s easy to regurgitate someone else’s ideas. Fourteen characters has made that painfully obvious. But to take stock of who you are, all your good qualities and your bad, and sit; think about them and accept them. To come to love them and to then, in turn, love yourself…that’s something rare. That’ll give you your heading. All day long.

 

For a long time I was that way. I tried to be like other people, to embody the qualities I admired in them. It took me from this side of our great nation to the next, and a lot of places in between. I was a chef, a teacher, a singer, and a small business owner. I studied economics, medicine, and then finally anthropology in college. I let the stories of my grandfather and father make me believe I needed to be tougher. I let the window be my compass.

 

But I like who I am. I can be tough and stern when I need to be, but by and large I’m compassionate and considerate. I can take a punch when need be, but I’d prefer to use my mouth over my fists. I used to think I was some genius, but turns out I ain’t any smarter than the next guy; just clever moments from time to time. I’m your everyday, average, run-of-the-mill guy. I like fishing and reading, sitting on my ass and doing jack shit; and I’m okay with that.

 

You ought to be as well; find who you are, and don’t just be okay with it. Embrace it. ‘Cause, kid, there ain’t another you. Very Dr. Seuss, I know…but it gets the point across. In a world of people who are aimless, where the windows we’re surrounded by are distracting and often misleading, look inward. The Big Guy gave you what you’re made of for a reason. Use that, and you’ll never be lost a day in your life.

 

And I should know, I just turned twenty-seven