My Secret Paradise

Leave a comment

“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.”  – Dante Alighieri

It was with mixed anticipation and trepidation that I moved back into my condominium this past February.  I was dreading the specters of so many bad memories I had of the place – and not just from the past year, but also the preceding four that I had lived there since my first divorce.  There were some good ones, of course, but even those were painful to recall.  On the whole, my history of living there had been one of unending loss, and I practically expected to feel the walls still reverberating with tension from all the loud squabbles that had been fought within them, and dank from the myriad buckets of tears that had been shed – my own, as well as my wife’s.  It had become a place of pain and sorrow.

I was anxious to reclaim my own home and space, however, and the fact was that I had nowhere else to go.  So I pushed all those painful memories from my mind as I stepped through the doorway, for the first time in many weeks, into my new old home.  It was eerily quiet and half empty of furniture, but I had chosen that at the beginning of the year, when I gave away much of what I owned to make room for her stuff.

I had just enough left in savings to purchase a sofa, some chairs, and a new bed.  After a few trips to Big Lots and Ikea, I was able to pretend as though I’d moved into a brand new place.  Total sobriety still felt new to me also, since it had only been a few weeks since I’d had my last drink.  Most of all, and best of all, I had my work desk and computer set up again.  I had a place to write, and the hope sprang up in me anew that the time was finally here to turn all my loss and misfortune around, so that I could say it all had happened for a reason.  Of course, I wasn’t sure yet exactly what that reason could possibly be for making such a tragic and heartbreaking, albeit well-intentioned, mistake.

The following month, on one of the first days of spring, something possessed me to go for a walk one evening.  It was unusually warm out, and I suppose I wanted to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise, but I had no idea where I was going.  I just followed the treeline along the back lawn behind my place, until I spotted a narrow footpath that led into the woods.  In all the time I had lived there, I was unaware of its existence, and it occurred to me only then that I had never been even slightly curious about what lay hidden behind the dense thicket of woods that I had seen every day looking out from my balcony and bedroom window.

The forest seemed impenetrable, and the tiny trail nearly disappeared beneath fresh growth of vines and shrubs a few times as I followed it through the trees like an unraveled string from a ball of yarn.   I was intrigued and curious now.  So much timber had fallen in the October blizzard, it was necessary to climb over a few tree trunks that blocked my path.  For what seemed like half a mile, the trail weaved back and forth, up and down and around, seeming to take me in all directions until it finally opened up to the bank of a large, marshy pond.

I was stunned as I looked out at the ethereal beauty of this place.  It felt as if I’d been transported to the remote wilds of Maine or New Hampshire, and it was only the air traffic in the sky above that reminded me I was not far from home.  When the airplanes overhead had passed, a serene quietness returned and set in that allowed me to detect the movements and activity of its denizens.

The first thing I heard was the quiet splash of a turtle who pushed off from the log where he and his mate were sunning, just before she followed suit after him.  Looking into the water, I saw several bluegills swimming just below the surface.  Then another series of plops and splashes erupted as I drew closer to the water’s edge.  A line of frogs had all leaped from the muddy bank into the water for safety as they hear my approach.

I sat down to avoid any further disruption, and the moment I did so, a lone white swan swam silently into the frame of this surreal picture, far out in the center of the pond.  I watched it for several minutes, unnoticed until I stood up again to continue my adventure and walk further down along the bank.

I saw more turtles sunning, and more frogs, and I heard their frantic splashes despite my efforts to tread as quietly as possible.  I heard a different type of noise then, the sharp report of a slap on the water’s surface.  It was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw a plume of water rise straight up in the air, and I was mystified as to what type of creature could have caused such a large splash.  My best guess was that it was a large carp, until I walked a little further along the shore and spotted a very old and large beaver dam, whose builder I had apparently startled.

Standing on one leg in the shallow water right next to it was a very large and majestic blue heron.  Immediately, it hit me – I knew this old bird.  I had seen it fly in both directions over my place dozens of times over the years, and always wondered where it was going, and where was its home.

Since that evening, I have returned to this enchanted place several times.  It never ceases to amaze me that it exists and that it is real, and has been there all this time, unspoiled and hidden behind those woods that I am looking out at now through my window.  I have quietly observed the antics of the hermit swan as he has angrily defended his corner of the pond against unwelcome geese, and have even managed to sneak up on the beaver once as he was gnawing away on the moist bark of a fallen tree limb.  I have seen the heron again only once, but I often see him flying back and forth in the sky overhead.

These past several months, I have felt as though I was living under a curse for having ended my second marriage, and for breaking those vows I had taken “to love, hold, and cherish, for better or worse, until death do us part.”  The burden of guilt and disappointment in myself was overwhelming, and I had become resigned to living alone for the rest of my life.  Until recently, I could not allow myself to even dream of finding the happiness of being in love again, knowing how bitterly I had disappointed the woman I had promised to spend the rest of my life with.  Recently though, to my complete joy, I discovered that there is a happy ending to that story after all.  It will need to be told another time, but the relief I felt when I learned that she is doing well, is happy, and has fallen in love again, is beyond measure.  Hopefully, she has forgiven me by now.  If she hasn’t, I’m sure she eventually will.  She has found a good man – a better man for her than me.

My secret pond has served up the perfect metaphor as a reminder that paradise can still be found just on the other side of whatever hell I may think I’m going through.  God still wants to pour out His blessings upon me, however unworthy I may be to receive them.  First, though, they must be sought out, discovered, and received with open eyes, open hands, and an open heart.

For the first time in a long while, I am now open and ready to receive whatever blessings may come my way.  And already they are beginning to fall down like rain…

The Decision I Made & The Choices That I Chose

Leave a comment

“If you did not write every day, the poison would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.”

~ Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer

Yesterday was officially the last day of summer, and I am grieving yet another passing of my favorite season while at the same time relishing the burst of productivity that will ensue now that the siren’s call of balmy weather can no longer be heard outdoors to make me fidget in my chair or lure me away from my desk.  With the same uncanny timing that I have seen almost every Labor Day weekend for the past twelve years I have lived here in New England, summer’s calendrical ending has been punctuated today by grey skies and dreary rain that arrived like pre-ordained clockwork, just before dawn, and is forecast to continue throughout the week.  You wouldn’t have guessed this to be possible, however, if you had looked out my window just twenty-four hours ago and seen a perfectly clear blue sky that was strewn with only a few wispy plumes of cumulus floating high up in the atmosphere.  It is like a switch gets thrown on this day each year.

Metaphorically speaking, however, the sky has cleared and a very large and somber cloud that was hanging over me these past few months, whether I’ve been indoors or out, has finally lifted with the dénouement of my second divorce.  While it was still overhead the past few months, the feeling often crept up on me that I had been cursed, and deservedly so.  Usually, I was able to shake it off by reminding myself of the utmost necessity of our split, but sometimes it became unshakeable whenever I would think about the pain that this was causing the woman who I pledged to spend the rest of my life with.  Of course, then I remind myself of the greater pain we would both endure if that promise could have been kept.  I am at peace now, and I hope she is, too.

Our final separation seems like a lifetime ago.  I had arrived at Tuff Decision Farm on the second day of November with my pillow tucked under an arm, carrying my shave kit in one hand and holding a battery-powered lantern with the other.  The power was still out in most of Connecticut, and it would be eight more days before it would be restored there to that heavily wooded town that was the hardest hit in the state.  I was grateful for this refuge, however, and I can’t begin to imagine where I would be right now if my friend had not taken me into his home.  Little did either of us know that I would be there for nearly the entire winter – the winter that wasn’t.  (https://dudesatmidlife.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/the-winter-that-wasnt/)

When I arrived there, I believed I had just one major decision to make, and I felt at the time that I had already made it.  I had decided to end my marriage of 10-months and file for a divorce.  As time went on, however, I grappled with this decision and went back and forth when my wife made it clear that she still wanted to work things out.  God knows we had tried already, but I was willing to give it another shot while we were still living separated from one another.  I was certainly in no hurry to get divorced a second time.

Anyone reading this must be asking the question that I’ll be asked for the rest of my life.  Why did I marry her in the first place, and why did I marry her so soon after we met?  The simple, basic truth is this:  I married her because I’ve never met anyone with such sterling character as hers.  The woman is incapable of telling a lie, much less cheating – at cards or anything else.  She is also beautiful, in a way that is both stunning and natural, but that is the least of her qualities. She is a woman of the caliber that many men never get to find.  (For a full elaboration of what I mean, see Proverbs 31:10-31.)

The deeper, God’s honest truth is, I married her because I thought that being married to such a good woman would help make me a better man.  In turn, she married me for the better man who she envisioned I would soon become, instead of seeing past my flaws to accept me for the good man I already was. When both of our fallacies were exposed, I felt doomed, and completely robbed of the optimism and hope I so confidently felt on my wedding day.  Worst of all, I lost all faith in myself.

Here is the bitter irony – the silly truth that I must now confess.  Ever since my first divorce, I have had a dream of writing – and publishing – a book that tells men how to become better men by finding themselves, post divorce.  If I could successfully impart this knowledge and wisdom, it could change the world and make it a better place.  I knew it could be done, and I even knew how it could be done from studying the paths of others, but the real truth is that I had never done it myself.  I had broken every rule I had written for getting on with one’s life, in my quest for love and the validation I was seeking that I am not unlovable.  I was a fraud, I told myself, and so the writing came to a dead stop.

Then, my brief but odious stint as a generator salesman came to a very acrimonious and abrupt end.  As I reeled from that ego crushing experience, there were other huge, daunting and pivotal decisions to be made, and they stared me in the face whenever I looked in a mirror.  Bereft of a home to call my own, or a career, much less a job, I was at a terrifying crossroads.  What the hell was I to do with the rest of my life, and where was I to go?  My original family was far away, and the connection I felt to my second wife’s family was a tenuous strand at best that had been badly frayed by our many fracases.  I felt helplessly adrift, with my anchor dragging loosely across the ocean bottom.  Worst of all, I completely lost my courage to look out over the bowsprit, much less ascend to the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for rocks and shoals.  I retreated below deck and fell into a state of putrid oblivion.  The truth is, I became a drunk; in the truest sense of that term.

I have been a drinker my entire adult life, but I had crossed the dreaded, invisible line that so many folks talk about as they describe their alcoholism.  I had gotten to the point where I no longer derived any real pleasure from drinking, and pleasure was the last thing that I was craving.  For the first time ever, I craved nothing more than to immerse myself in stupefaction and nothingness, because the only something that I could feel otherwise was unbearable pain, self-pity, and self-loathing.  And the more disgusted I felt with myself, the more disgusting I became.  Please pardon the cliché, but I truly hit rock bottom, with little hope of getting back up.  And so, when my second wife made it clear that she was not ready to give up on me or our marriage, I clung for a little while longer to the hope that she would somehow be able to finally rescue and redeem me.

It was the return of my children to Connecticut that truly rescued me, however.  I had never gotten used to them living so far away, and my attempts to travel down to where they lived were foiled by impossibly expensive holiday plane fares and day-long itineraries with multiple connections and no direct flights.  In the blink of an eye, that phone call from their mother gave me purpose and direction.  My anchor immediately caught and held fast, since New England would still be the place I would call home – at least, for the foreseeable future.  The minute I got off the phone, having agreed to go down there and move them all back up, the first thought that came into my mind was that I needed to get strong again, and of course this meant that I needed to get sober.  My marriage had officially failed and I had now failed twice as a husband, but failure as a father simply wasn’t an option.

Older Apple computer owners are familiar with a peculiar form of maintenance for their computers known as “firmware updates” – downloadable algorithms that somehow update the circuitry of their machines, rather than the software or operating system.  These updates are  irreversible and unalterable, and this is the best metaphor I can find to describe what a man goes through when he first becomes a husband, and then a father.  Once I became married and then had offspring, there was just no way of going back to being a swinging bachelor or a newlywed groom.  First and foremost, I am a father.  I am also a writer, and by holding fast to these truths, I am still here to write today.  When I denied them, I nearly destroyed myself.

As to the extent of my drinking issues, I never received a clinical diagnosis.  I just knew I was drinking too much.  In the eyes of some, I was just a regular, steady drinker.  In the eyes of others, I was a dangerously habitual, heavy drinker.  Few people ever bothered to come right out and tell me that to my face.  As long as someone said it with a drunken smile so that I knew it’s only in jest, I didn’t take offense at being called a drunk.  The “A-word,” however, was something I was not willing to accept as long as there is so much disagreement over the definition of what and who is an alcoholic.  According to the conventional wisdom of AA, alcoholics are genetically deficient and they’re born that way, you know – born with a disease and a defective liver.  Alcohol is something that only “normal” grownups can enjoy, and the sooner an alcoholic discovers that he or she isn’t a “normal drinker” and can’t try to pretend to be by playing in the same sandbox as all the other normal grownups, the less miserable his or her life will be.

I have since discarded the notion that there is such a thing as “normal” drinking, and instead embraced the fact that it is perfectly normal to simply not drink.  And by the way, anyone can become an alcoholic.  For some, it just requires more practice than others.  I also learned that it is not nearly as relevant to gauge one’s condition by how much or how often one drinks, but rather why one drinks.  And I certainly knew that I had a problem on all three counts.  Whether or not I fit the textbook definition was a moot point, though.  I was ready to climb out of the grave I had begun digging for myself, and just stop drinking.  At least, for as long as it would take to stop craving something that I no longer enjoyed and get myself completely healthy again.

I was to discover that giving up alcohol isn’t simply a matter of making a simple choice to quit drinking, however.  In fact, I’ll postulate here that the real work of beating any addiction is to come to the decision about whether, when, and how to go about doing so.  It’s a matter of examining the why’s, the what-if’s, and the what-could-be’s.  Laying out all the pro’s and con’s, as silly as it may seem to suggest that there are any con’s to giving up a toxic substance.  In an addict’s mind, there are serious con’s that are terrifying to consider until they are brought into the light of day and reason.  In this sense, it can truly be likened to climbing a mountain.  Coming to that presence of mind requires concentration and contemplation – two faculties of which the addict is robbed while indulging in using his or her drug of choice.

It is essential to get to the top of that mountain first, however, in order to clearly see the what lies on either side.  Most of all, to be able to look out and see the promised land – the valley of endless possibilities and opportunities that is waiting if the mission is a success.  The valley on the other side, the valley where you’ve been living, well, you only need to take a hard look at the certainties that exist if you make the choice to return there, because if you retreat to go back after standing on the mountaintop, that’s probably where you’re going to stay for the rest of your (shortened) life.

It helped tremendously that two stories appeared in the news while I was struggling with my decision.  Josh Hamilton, the tremendously gifted outfielder for the Texas Rangers, suffered a very public and humiliating relapse that threatened to destroy his career and marriage.  Less than a week later, exactly one day after I took my last drink, Randy Travis (one of the greatest songwriters in Country music) fell off the wagon after many years of sobriety.  These two men who had so much to live for, and so much to lose, bore a powerful testimony to the awful, destructive power that alcohol has to rob a man of his self-control and everything he has worked for, every relationship he holds dear.

Once the question of if I wanted and needed to quit drinking had been answered, and then reinforced, it just became a matter of figuring out how and when.  After all, of all the substances out there to which one can become addicted, including meth, heroine, crack cocaine, and ecstasy, alcohol alone can kill you if you detox from it too suddenly after years of heavy drinking.  This is what killed Amy Whinehouse, and it can be a very non-sobering fact to consider.  My dependency on alcohol was not advanced anywhere close to that degree, thank God, but it was essential to anticipate the pain of withdrawal that I would suffer, and brace myself to cope with it after first tapering off.

The fact that I am presently sitting here and writing this bears testimony to the fact that I succeeded at getting sober – for the present, at least.  My drinking had gotten out of hand to the point where I completely lost my ability to form a coherent paragraph.  So what has changed?

In a nutshell, I instilled in myself new cravings to replace my craving for inebriation, stupefaction, and numbness.  Today, I crave lucidity.  I crave clarity.  I crave strength and power, and the ability to persevere.  Most of all, I crave the ability to create that can only come from a sound mind, and the satisfaction that can only come with the accomplishment of set goals for my creativity.  Just like everyone, of course, I also crave joy, affection, admiration, self-respect, good health, and an abundance of blessings in my impending old age, but it is not enough to just crave these things.  Every day, I must coach myself and feed the hope that a happier future is not only possible, but it is within my grasp even still, after all my failings and missteps.

Of course, all of this is ultimately made possible by the fact that I am writing again…

Unanswered Prayers

Leave a comment

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

- Garth Brooks, Unanswered Prayers

Exactly four days after returning from Gainesville with my family in tow, I was back at Tuff Decision Farm when an email came in that nearly made me cry at first when I read it.  Then, as I pondered the possibilities of chance and odds of random coincidences, I had no choice but to laugh out loud.  It was the email I had been waiting to get for eight months – the email that would turn my life around from being a living hell to a joyous and prosperous heaven on earth.

You see, right at the time I learned that my ex-wife and kids were moving to Florida, I also learned about a job opening with a large magazine publisher in Orlando.  It was not just any job, though – it was my perfect dream job that would have my name appearing on the mastheads of three monthly magazines.  There’s no such thing as coincidence, right?  So it seemed like my destiny was unfolding before me, guided by heaven above.  Yes, the time had come for all of us to leave Connecticut, and it all seemed to make sense now that everything really was… happening for a reason…

Right away, I applied, and kept pestering until I finally heard back.  “You’re perfect for this position,” I was told.  “If only we had received your resume a week or two sooner, the job would be yours, but we’ll let you know if anything changes.”  My heart sank and the tears started to form when another email message came a second later, marked confidential this time:  “P.S. – We do expect there will be a change, eventually, but just can’t say when.  Please stay in touch.”

This then became the core issue in my new marriage.  From that point on, I clung to the faith and conviction that it was just a matter of time before a Northerly wind would come up to push me South where I could live closer to my kids.  I was also dying at the thought of being able to enjoy a fulfilling career once again.  After ten long years of working in an endless sea of cubicles for a Fortune 50 corporation, I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to that or any type of job that felt stale, meaningless and empty.

My new bride felt very differently, of course.  Her kids, who were all grown, lived a hundred miles away in the opposite direction, in Massachusetts, and they had given her three adorable grand-babies.  So we fought like cats and dogs over moving North versus moving South, until we finally agreed that the only reasonable compromise was to remain at anchor here in Connecticut.  I will submit, however, that compromise is not always such a great thing in a marriage.  Sometimes, it means that instead of one person getting what it is that he or she wants, both people agree to accept something that neither one wants, and settle for being equally miserable.  After all, fair is fair – right?

Every day, I was on my knees praying to God that I would hear back about the job in Orlando, certain that it was just a matter of time.  By summer’s end, though, my hope and optimism was beginning to wane.  Worn out by all the fighting, and tired of being unemployed, I was all too happy to take a job here and settle the issue for good.  And if you’ve been following this blog back as far as this post (https://dudesatmidlife.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/the-winter-that-wasnt/), you already know how well that turned out.

And now, after all that, and just four days after my kids had returned home, already back in their schools, I could scarcely believe my eyes as I stared at the email on my screen that read, “Dear G – the Director’s position is once again open, and we’d like to know if you’re interested…”

When my tears and laughter subsided, I finally wrote back:  “If only I had received this email a week or two sooner…”

This was not the tough decision to which I’ve alluded.  I didn’t agonize over it for a second, although God knows that for months, I had fantasized about getting the hell out of here and leaving scores of bad memories behind for the balmier pastures of the Sunshine State.  And then, as my second marriage was ending and I found myself twice unemployed, I found myself a man without a country, without a home. Without a doubt, if that email had come in before I got the call from my girls’ mother, I would have told her to stay put.  Now that my kids were back, though, Connecticut was once again their home and mine, ineradicably.  Leaving here suddenly became out of the question.

I felt whole again.  It may sound trite, but I am at a loss for a better way to describe it.  Like a man shaking off an evil spell, however, I was now fully aware of how badly diminished I was, physically, spiritually, and mentally.  It would be a few more weeks before I would be able to leave Tuff Decision Farm and return to my empty condominium.  My strength was returning quickly, though.  For the first time in months, I was finally able to sit down and write.

From Lost Boy To Major Dude?

Leave a comment

ImageLike I’ve always said, I am fascinated by the way people are capable of changing, both for the worse and (especially) for the better.  From the sounds of it, Charlie Sheen has been coming around, and discovering the things that are truly important in life.  Good for you, Charlie – this story warms my heart.  You may be on your way to becoming a Major Dude…

http://tv.yahoo.com/news/charlie-sheen-im-retiring-anger-management-134246730.html

Godspeed, Ray

5 Comments

The sequel to the saga of my near ruination, and how I pulled myself back from the edge of a steep cliff has been put on hold.  Today, I must pay homage to the man who first convinced me that I wanted to be a writer, more than anything in the world.  Here is a Major Dude who never lost his way, never lost sight of who he was, and stayed married to one woman, the love of his life, for her entire life.  When she passed on before him, he overcame his unfathomable grief and kept on writing.  His strength of spirit made him unstoppable, right up to the day he finally went to be among the stars and the heavens that he wrote about.

I was first introduced to Ray Bradbury in the third grade by a schoolchum who was himself way ahead of his grade and time.  Mark Frauenfelder, who grew up to help create the ezine Boing Boing and from there was one of the founding editors for Wired Magazine, was one of the strangest kids I went to school with.  So it was natural that he and I became friends.  We seemed to get each other right off the bat, and together, we got Ray.  Ray wrote about such things from his boyhood that we as boys could still relate to back then – such as the magical power of a pair of sneakers that could make you run like a gazelle and leap over buildings.  Ray was still a boy at heart, and he never lost the wonderment and excitement that usually disappears when boys grow into men.

Among the many tattered paperbacks that Mark loaned me with Ray’s name on the spine was my all-time favorite, The Martian Chronicles.  It rocked my world, because I totally got the fact that it was an allegory for many things.  By writing about the future and life on Mars, Ray was able to tell many unpopular and unpalatable truths about our life in this present age, here on Earth.  I was stunned by the power this gave him, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned from Ray about the power of the pen.  Or, in his case, a manual typewriter that he insisted on using for his entire writing career.  Ray had a real disdain for electronic devices – especially computers and the internet.  He never wrote a single word with Word.

Today, some may say that he was not a real science fiction writer, since he never really got into researching the science of his fiction.  They miss the point, however.  Ray was a poet.  He was also a visionary genius, and was once handpicked by none other than Walt Disney himself to conceptualize many of the rides and exhibits you’ll see today at EPCOT center at Disney World in Florida.

Most of all, Ray was one of the kindest and most generous men I’ve ever met, especially among celebrities and superstars.  He was both, but I’ll never forget the time I first met him, aside from the first book signing I ever attended, where I managed to shake his hand among two hundred other people that day.

The time we really met was far more intimate and personal.  I was driving up the 405 from Orange County to Los Angeles, where I was to join my then wife, Diana, at an event she was managing for Spectrum Restaurants.  It was the Bad Hemingway Competition Dinner, being held at none other than Harry’s Bar and Grill in Century City.  It was impressive enough that Charlton Heston was the Master of Ceremonies, but when I learned that Ray was going to be there as one of the judges, judging parodies of Ernest Hemingway’s writing, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away.

Somewhere along the way, I pulled off the freeway to dash into a Barnes and Noble, and emerged with a stack of books, all written by – you guessed it – Ray Bradbury.  I racked up my credit card, since they were all hardcover, with the exception of one softcover, titled:  Zen in the Art Of  Writing.  Ray had written a book on writing?  I had to have it!

By the time I got to Harry’s, my bladder was stretched to its limit after sitting in traffic for nearly three hours.  It hurt to take a full breath.  I was compulsively early, however, and the place was relatively empty with no sign of anyone except Diana, the manager, and the bartender.  Gingerly, I pranced through the front door and kept going, right past Diana with just one thought.  Men’s room, men’s room, men’s room….

I flung open the door and was blinded by the reflection of bright  fluorescent lights, bouncing off the checkered white and black floor.  The walls were bright white, as were the urinals.  The optical illusion it created was like a scene out of a Stanley Kubrick film.

I stopped in my tracks when I saw an elderly gentleman of medium height and build, standing in front of one of the urinals.  He was wearing a badly wrinkled black suit, with a long shock of untrimmed white hair tumbling down over his collar.  While his back was turned to me, I studied him in disbelief and wondered – could this really be him, the master himself?  It could, and it was.  I also realized that there was nobody else in therethe stall was wide open and empty.

As he stepped away from the porcelain and zipped up, I pronounced the obvious with unabashed fervor and yes, love.  “You’re Ray Bradbury!” I exclaimed.  With that, I balanced my stack of his books in my left hand, and thrust out my right.  I swear, if he had his tucked into his hip pocket, I would have reached in, pulled it out and shook it anyway.

With a droll chuckle, however, he extended his hand to shake mine, and politely replied in his loud, booming voice, “Yes, yes I am!”  It didn’t bother me in the least that I felt a warm dewdrop, transferred from his hand to mine, and I was in no hurry to wash it off.  The funny thing is, anyone who knows me understands what a germaphobe I normally am.  If it had been anyone else, I would have immediately soaked my hand in alcohol.  This was completely different, of course – I would take any type of annointing I could get in hopes of tapping into Ray’s fire and brilliance, and his muse.

I can’t tell you exactly what I said to him after that.  I was babbling incoherently, I’m sure, about the many books of his I’d read, and how profoundly his work had touched my life.  Seeing my stack of books, he tactfully suggested, “Would you like me to sign one of those for you?”  I nodded, slack jawed as I tried to figure out how to explain that my real plan was for him to sign all of them.

He took the one on top, though, and whipped out his pen.  To my delight, it was the title that I had not read, Zen in the Art of Writing.  Dazed, I took it back from him and waited as he washed up and cheerily exited out the door.  I stood there for a few seconds, unable to feel my toes much less my previously aching bladder, and slowly opened it to see what he had written in his signature scrawl.  It was the perfect memento of that moment that I will cherish and keep forever:

GEORGE!  IN A CLEAN WELL LIGHTED PLACE… Ray Bradbury

A few days later, I wrote to Ray, at first to just write a quick note for accosting him in a restroom.  Then, I couldn’t help myself as I went on to spill my guts some more about how profoundly he had touched my life.  It didn’t even occur to me that he would ever write back – it was just something I needed to share with him.  I had been reading his books nearly my entire life.

Several weeks had passed when I was having a particularly bad day at work, handling complaints as the manager of the customer service department for a large, well known scuba equipment manufacturer.  Buried in the large stack of of mail was a letter that practically jumped out at me.  The envelope seemed to beam with goodwill and friendship, and my heart raced when I saw the name on the return address.  To my astonishment, when I opened it, I saw that Ray had sent me an early Christmas greeting, with his own personal message to me typed around it.

I got to speak with Ray again several times over the next few years, and he was always a gentleman.  Cantankerous, funny, and eccentric, but always a truly gentle man.  There has never been anyone like him, and never will be.  He was inimitable and unstoppable.  His imagination and his spirit knew no bounds.  Most of all, his love and enthusiasm for writing was infectious.  While other authors gripe and complain about the drudgery and misery of the creative process, Ray delighted in bounding out of bed each morning to write.  He was living proof that writing, most of all, could be – and should be – fun.

Godspeed, Ray.  I imagine you have already had the chance to sample the golden apples of the Sun, on your way to Mars…

A Calming Wind After The Storms

2 Comments

Image

Control-sensitive people can be very hard on themselves, especially when the quality of their lives erodes to such an extent that a flat tire or an unpaid bill can cause anguish, panic, or despair.  As the strategies of control continue to fail and frustrate you, as you become more and more depleted by worry or depression, one inescapable truth begins to emerge: control is an illusion.  Life cannot be controlled. – Self Coaching, by Joseph J. Luciani, Ph.D.

This is a hard truth that I learned all too well this past winter.  Life cannot be controlled, not with any amount of determination, good intentions, or perseverance.  You can set out on the water and hoist your sails, but there is no way to make the wind blow, or change its direction.  The best you can do is chart your course well away from the rocks and shoals for a margin of safety, and constantly tend to your sails and rudder, adjusting them with knowledge and skill to make the best of whatever wind is blowing.  Most importantly of all, check the calendar and be sure to sit out the hurricane season to wait for that time of year that offers the most favorable conditions for both the wind and the tides.  Or at least, stay close to a safe harbor at all times until the season arrives when it is safe to venture out over bluer waters.  You have to know the seasons…

In my determination to control my life, I ignored these basic rules of nautical science.  I jibed when I should have tacked, and a vicious headwind tore my sails to shreds and left me a marooned castaway.  In early January, after our best attempts to save it, a final fracas occurred that erased any lingering doubt that my second marriage was simply not meant to be.  I was now a man with no job, no money, no family, and no home to call my own.  I wasn’t even sure where home was for me anymore.  I only knew one thing for certain – I couldn’t stay at my friend’s home indefinitely.  There was only one thing to do now, since my rescue off this island was going to take a miracle.  I prayed, of course, straight from my heart, to the One who controls the wind and tides.

Ironically, my friend’s property is named Tuff Decision Farm.  I had certainly arrived there with more than a few tough decisions to make, but now I thought I was left with just one.  Since I felt like there was nothing holding me in New England anymore, I was now bent on leaving at all costs and moving back West to live with my folks.  The only question was whether it made sense to rent a truck to move the few possessions I had left in storage, or just leave them there for a few months and make a dash for safe harbor with whatever clothes I could jam into my car.

Exactly one day later, just as I got off the phone with Penske, my phone rang.  It was my ex-wife – the first one, calling from Florida.  The first words out of her mouth left me stunned and speechless.  It was the last thing in the world that I expected to hear, and it took several seconds to sink in.

“I want to come home,” she said.  Then, after a pause with no reaction from me, she added, “We all do – the girls miss Connecticut, and we just want to get out of here and move back as soon as possible.  There’s nothing here for us.  I need your help, though.”

Suddenly, I didn’t have any more decisions to make.  Only a choice.  Thank God, I chose to stay put and be a father again, and to crawl out of that pit of despair into which I had fallen.  I was getting my kids back.  This meant, of course, that I still had to not only get my strength back, but become stronger than ever.  In the meantime, my parents needed me back in Colorado, since my father was having surgery on his back.   I booked a flight to go help them for a week, and then I booked another one for Gainesville the week following.

When I returned, I would still have one more Tuff Decision to make – a tough choice…

The Winter That Wasn’t

1 Comment

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It is springtime here in New England, and I am actually mourning this fact as I look outside at the dogwood trees and lilac bushes that are in full bloom, and everything else that is blossoming, sprouting, and shooting forth buds that will soon grow into leafs.   I bemoan this change of season because it makes it so damned difficult to sit here firmly rooted in my chair and write, when I am finally ready to do so for the first time in months.  More over, I feel cheated, because the season arrived more than a month early, while the winter season never really came at all.

Historically speaking, even when I lived in California, the months of February and March have never failed to bring the post-holiday doldrums and consistently grey weather that makes it possible for me to stay indoors, planted contentedly at my desk.  Here in New England especially, since the landscape outside would usually be covered with many accumulated layers of ice and snow, with more on the way throughout the end of March.  The local lakes and ponds would normally be frozen over, and littered with the ramshackle bob-houses of ice fishermen.  It’s a scene out of Currier and Ives everywhere you go, until the pre-spring thaw of early April ushers in the much less attractive (and altogether undepicted) “mud season.”

This year, however, it has felt spring-like outdoors ever since a very brief snowfall came and went back in early February.  March felt like April, and April has felt like May, until today, that is – when the mercury is predicted to spike well above 90 degrees.  At this rate, summer is just a couple of weeks away, and will likely culminate in a blistering inferno by the time July gets here.  Now, I’m not one of those zealous acolytes of manmade global warming theories, but there’s no denying that the climate, it is a-changin’….

Last year, in contrast, was kicked off by one of the harshest, snowiest winters in history, both in terms of frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls that collapsed buildings throughout the Northeast.  The subsequent spring thaw brought us hundred year floods, followed by tornadoes, an earthquake, and Hurricane (tropical storm) Irene at the end of summer.  Freakish doesn’t begin to describe it – all that was missing was a plague of locusts and frogs falling from the sky.  And then, on October 30, autumn was cut short by Nor’easter Alfred, which rained down huge, heavy wads of wet snow upon the leaf-laden limbs of millions of trees – an event that had not happened here in New England since the Civil War, long before there was such a thing as a power grid.  Hundreds of thousands of trees bowed and snapped under the unprecedented weight, taking down power lines with them everywhere.  For more than 10 days, much of New England and the entire state of  Connecticut resembled North Korea from the air at night.  Meteorologists declared it to be a harbinger of much worse storms to come, and predicted a winter that would be even more severe than that of 2011, with record ice storms that would decimate the already weakened timber.

As previously mentioned, however, this year has so far been the polar opposite of last, so to speak.  And now, of course, the same doomsayers are already saying that we will soon pay a price for these unseasonably mild temperatures. (http://news.yahoo.com/freakishly-warm-winter-4-unwelcome-side-effects-150000944.html)

All this weirdness has piqued everyone’s interest in the Mayan calendar, which ends mysteriously and abruptly, with 2012 as its final year.  So far, there has been no apocalypse, but ah, the year is young…

From my personal perspective, these past winter months were a season of blankness that was suspended in time.  Ever since that late October snowstorm upended my life in more ways than I can count, it seemed as if my heart and mind were in a deep hibernation.  I had fallen into an abyss of despondency and emptiness that I had never known before, and to which, by the Grace of God, I hope to never return.

Speaking of Him, I can say with all honesty that my faith in God never left me.  He made it impossible to not know that He was still there throughout it all.  I could feel His unmistakable presence and His love, but I was having a crisis of faith nonetheless.  It was me who I found it impossible to believe in, because nothing in my life made any sense anymore – absolutely nothing.  I had fallen down so many times and picked myself up again, while repeating that same mantra over and over ­­– Everything Happens For A Reason (EHFAR).  While it may sound trite, it actually echoes a favorite Bible verse of mine:  “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.” – (Romans 8:28)  And The Lord knows, this foolish sinner most certainly does love Him.

So I’ve always been a big aficionado of stories about second chances, comebacks, and second acts.  Rocky is on my Top 5 list of favorite movies of all time – not just the story itself, but the story behind how the story was written, sold, and turned into a major motion picture.  I’m also a huge fan of that expression about turning lemons into lemonade.

Just two weeks after Hurricane Irene hit New England, it looked like things were really about to turn around when I was offered what seemed to be the perfect job, in the perfect place, at the perfect time.  Things were finally happening for me, because I had been bound and determined to take the bull by the horns and make them happen, with my mind set on a list of goals and objectives.  I got the cart before the horse, however.  At the very top of that list was settling down again, since I’d had it with dating, post-divorce, but didn’t want to live alone the rest of my life.  I met a good woman – an awesome lady – and I married her to make sure she didn’t get away.  The problem was, we got married smack-dab in the middle of “or worse,” and we had troubles from the get-go as we found ourselves torn in opposite directions between our two families, and our very different cultural backgrounds.

Nevertheless, I kept telling myself that things would smooth out and get better as soon as I was back to working at a salaried job again, and providing her with the security that is essential to every happy marriage and happy home.  It seemed like the hand of Providence, then, when I found myself employed again, selling a high-ticket product that had gone from being regarded as a luxury item and status symbol to a coveted necessity, thanks to Hurricane Irene and the other freak weather events of 2011.  So I abandoned the silly notion of being a full-time Freelance Writer, and happily accepted the illustrious title of Sales Manager, managing the sales of automatic standby power generators, of all things.

The stress of the new job was nerve wracking, though – to put it mildly.  I was blindsided by issues with my new employer that I had naively ignored or chose not to ask about before accepting the job.  At the same time our problems at home (blended family issues) became a thousand times worse, and our situation finally became untenable after that Halloween snowstorm sent the demand for backup power systems through the stratosphere.  Overnight, it all fell apart as my “dream job” became a hopelessly insurmountable nightmare from hell, and the very next fight at home was the last straw that sent me packing.  I moved out, and moved in with my closest friend, despite the fact that his house was still without power and would be for several more days, since his town was among the hardest hit in the state.  The following month, exactly thirty days after I separated from my wife, the job finally came to a bitter and acrimonious ending.  It is an understatement to say that I felt lost, beyond comprehension.

The distance between me and my children now seemed more impossible to span than ever.  While I was working, there was no time off to get down to see them.  Now that I had the time, I was strapped for cash.  My marriage hung in limbo as I was still separated and living with my friend, without a place of my own to call home.  The truth is, I wasn’t sure where home was anymore.  My whole life was in limbo, and I was hardly the beacon of hope  – or Major Dude – that I’d hoped to be for other men, as they face their own crises at midlife.   I didn’t recognize the life that I was living anymore, because as Steve Jobs would say, I was living someone else’s.

I began to question everything.  My marriage had become my sole priority, and in making it so at the expense of all other priorities that I held so dear, I became someone I was not, and very different from the man my wife had married.  It was not the first time I had fallen into this trap, and as I denied this truth, I fell even further into a horrible malaise that took its toll on me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I was in a weakened state that was approaching moribundity.  It was time to revisit my list of goals and objectives – my “roadmap” of sorts that I had set out to plan my life, and stage my second act and comeback.  The list was thrown out.  There was now only one goal and one objective to focus on, and it trumped all others:

GET STRONG.

But how??

Some nameless idiot coined a popular axiom – “That which doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”  While I can think of numerous exceptions to this, I have come to a major conclusion at this curious stage in my journey here on earth called midlife:  That which isn’t going to make me stronger, will sure as hell make me weaker – and eventually end up killing me.  It was time to reevaluate my choices and my priorities, and examine the choices I was making that made me weak, and make new ones that will make me strong.  In all aspects; physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, repeatedly, is that there are no shortcuts in life –particularly at midlife.  You have to pay attention to the seasons, and know what season you’re in.  You can’t reap before you sow, and it’s not as simple as just starting over again.  If your field has been salted, it will do no good to plant again in the same soil.  It will also do no good to plant until the new soil has been plowed, the thistle has been cleared, and the correct season has arrived to do so.

This past winter, after everything had so obviously broken down, the time was here to build up again.  To do so, however – to clear the rubble and rebuild from scratch – would require the strength of Samson and the optimism of Zig Ziglar.  It was time to examine what was making me weak, and what would not only make me strong again; but stronger than I’ve ever been.  It was time to make some hard choices, and a tough decision…

Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.