Will Be

Earlier this evening, I went for a run.

Well, “run.” I was out for 26 minutes. Six of them were spent at a pace superseding “walk.”

I traveled 1.59 miles, according to Siri, who would not lie to me because she understands the importance of trust in our relationship.

Two years ago, I was able to average 14:47 minutes/mile. Today’s pace was closer to 16:47.

But, you see: yesterday I did not run. Today I ran.

Why?

I’ve mulled that question for the last few hours, and I suppose it’s the culmination of a few things: a musical, a coworker, and a book.

The musical is Dear Evan Hansen, which is (briefly) a show about a boy who is bad at relationships and self-confidence and makes some major mistakes but finishes the show (spoiler?) accepting himself. While many of the songs are actually very different depending on whether you listen to them with or without the context of plot and character, two in particular are worth noting here. The first is the non-opener opener and arguably the most famous number in the show, and if you are at all able to I really encourage you to give this a listen now: “Waving Through A Window.”

The better you know me, the more you’ll understand why this resonated with me so strongly. The less-well-acquainted need only appreciate that (like Evan) I had a fairly phenomenal fall (of sorts) a couple years ago. This summer I started working as a cashier in the same grocery store where I worked a decade ago in high school, and it was very easy to wonder, “Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?” and “Did I even make a sound? It’s like I never made a sound. Will I ever make a sound?”

But as I said, “Waving” is the beginning of Evan’s story. Really it’s the second song — and again, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you pause now and listen to this as well — that highlights the point in this musical where I’m currently living. It’s called “You Will Be Found”:

“Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten, in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear? Like you could fall and no one would hear? Well: let that lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay, ‘cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand you can reach, reach out your hand. And oh, someone will come running. And I know they’ll take you home. Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, and when you’re broken on the ground: you will be found. So let the sun come streaming in, ‘cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around; you will be found!”

It is incredibly easy to be cynical about a message like this. “When you’re broken on the ground,” about the last thing you want to do is get up. Often, we’d rather bleed out and die.

Last week, I was promoted from cashier to courtesy, a job which, when one is not feeding customers’ addictions to nicotine and gambling, comes with a seemingly unprecedented amount of downtime. The result is that I spent far more time talking with the person training me than I had with anyone else in the company since I started in May. She indicated that she would be participating in a swimsuit competition out-of-state over the weekend, and couldn’t wait until it was over so she could enjoy the foods and activities she’d been depriving herself of for, amazingly, sixteen weeks. I asked what had motivated her to do something so evidently difficult.

Her answer was both surprisingly honest for a new acquaintance and remarkably humbling. A bad situation earlier in the year had, as she put it, “shattered” her and left her with a great sense of self-doubt. But rather than take the bleed out and die option, she said, “I wanted to do something that scared me. I always quit things and I wanted to prove that I could actually finish something hard.” It was, of course, partly a way of asserting her own strength outside of the affirmation of other people. But it was also a way of taking a personal tragedy and turning into an opportunity to look square in the mirror and proactively fix something she no longer wanted to see there.

One of the things I find interesting about these lyrics is that we are not told, “you are found” or “you have been found.” The invitation to reach out precedes the rising, precedes the arrival of help. In the darkest of moments, in the most shattering of falls, when things are decidedly not ok — when we think we are weak and unable to see things through — that is when we must embrace hope. You will be found.

I pointed out to my coworker that for her to have made it sixteen weeks meant that she’d actually had the strength she sought all along. “Weak people, quitters, they don’t go through a terrible situation and decide to challenge themselves because of it.” They collapse and recede within themselves. They, I did not say to her, do exactly what I did. In the last two years I gained back almost all of the weight I’d lost. I stopped writing regularly. Then I stopped reading regularly. I went weeks at a stretch doing little more than reading comics and watching Netflix. I squandered what savings I had left and essentially guaranteed that I’d be stuck living with my parents for the foreseeable future. I left Ohio wondering whether I was dateable. But instead of doubling down on something, anything, to make sure I was, I seemingly went out of my way to confirm I wasn’t.

Enter Aziz Ansari. Well, his book Modern Romance, anyway, because unfortunately my story isn’t that interesting. I finished it this afternoon, and reading about the way the rest of the country (and, to some extent, world) thinks and acts where romance is concerned prompts a lot of reflection on one’s own romantic escapades. I’d like to think the book could be an awakening for anyone, but reading it as a 27-year-old chronically single fat guy living in his parents’ literal basement was eye-opening on a Clockwork Orange level.

I won’t go into detail as to all the things the book made me consider about myself (which is me being merciful, because I actually wrote that all out and it would have been TERRIBLE to subject you to). Suffice to say, I did not need a mirror to know I didn’t like what I saw. A week ago it’d have been easy for me to shrug that off, but I’d just seen strength in someone eight years younger than me that I envied and wondered whether I’d ever possess. Could I, too, proactively fix that reflection? Could I finish something hard without quitting?

I’m not saying I’m found, yet. But today I lifted my head and looked around.

Yesterday, I did not run. But today?

Today, I ran.

Published in: on 08.08.2017 at 21:36  Leave a Comment  

Every new beginning…

Break apart the boy I used to be and build the man that I’ve become… Now let the healing begin.
-The Morning Of


What can I say, here at the end of the worst year of my life?

Knowing me, probably quite a bit, but most of it wouldn’t be helpful and a great deal of it would be the opposite of that. After tumbling painfully down the side of a mountain I had spent two years trying to climb, I entered two months of terminal velocity, falling in utter darkness towards a ground that refused to arrive or hint at when it would.

For two months, I had to entertain the notion that this fall might kill me, and also that it might not. This morning I realized I didn’t even care which fate awaited me. All I really wanted for my birthday was for Schrödinger to open the damn box. And this evening, the falling finally stopped. Turns out, it did kill me.

So it goes.

I recognize, on a purely intellectual level, that many great things happened in the last year. But à la Pixar’s Inside Out, no matter how much joy colored the core memories of my Year 25 those spheres are now forever streaked with blue and red and green, and a few islands — let’s call them Student, Teacher, Scholar — have collapsed and disappeared into the void. And no imaginary friend of mine is going to come along to resurrect them.

However, also à la Inside Out, life goes on, change must be accepted and embraced. There will be new joy. There will be new friends, to replace the ones I’ve lost and to join the ones I haven’t. There will be new pillars to my identity to replace the ones that cannot be rebuilt.

If you’re reading this, it means for whatever reason you’ve seen fit to stay in my life. No, more than that…if you’re still reading this, it means you’ve chosen, for reasons I may never grasp, not just to be in my life but to engage with it. Where I have been selfish, you have shown love. Where I have been arrogant, you have been kind. Where I have been wrong, you have demonstrated compassion. Where I have deserved to suffer in isolation, you have embraced me.

I have nothing grandiose to declare as I turn 26. I simply want to be a better person, a better friend, a better son, a better brother. I simply want to hurt people less and help people more. I want to fall back in love with a God to whom I’ve been incredibly unfaithful.

Today was the end.

Today is the beginning.


To see the sun again, I’d give anything
But life demands a final chapter,
A story that we all must leave behind.
It’s do or die, and this is mine:
The anthem of a bird with a broken wing.
– Owl City

Do or die,
And the story goes on…
…that’s how the story goes.
– Thirty Seconds to Mars

Published in: on 08.26.2015 at 19:46  Comments (2)  

Don’t Laugh at the Ball

You can laugh at the ball, but trust me, it works. That’s what Nathan said as Matt and I somewhat scoffed at the decision he’d made, seemingly pulled from an elementary school primer on peer mediation, to introduce a tennis ball into our discussion, with the accompanying rule that you were not to speak unless the ball was in your possession. In the back of my mind, I was annoyed at the suggestion that we, educated adults, could be thought of as needing this kind of superficial check on our tongues to foster polite and engaging conversation. But what started as restricting quickly became liberating, and once the urge to speak out of turn or over someone else abated (by virtue of being denied), it never returned. At some point I realized that we were passing the ball as a simple formality, because the mindset it had created, of listening thoroughly to what the others had to say and offering your input only if it was directly relevant and useful, was now the dominant driving force of our speaking, ball or no ball.

Refusing to look at your flaws can be bad, but if you stare at them long enough it can be worse, because the more glaring they are, the more easily staring at them blinds you. Last night, in a tiny dive bar in a back alley, I was speaking amongst a group of mostly new acquaintances, and while I don’t remember what specifically I was talking about I do remember that my talkative nature had bearing on it. And so I said “And you know, by now, that I talk a lot,” and I kept talking beyond that, telling whatever story I had to tell, but my mind was derailed by the laughing acquiescence of a person I’d known less than half an hour, who said “Yeah you do.”

It is one thing to presume the sort of impression you make on people; it is another for a new acquaintance to explicitly confirm that first impression. I have long known that people who know me know I run my mouth…but here was confirmation that one needn’t know me long to draw that conclusion; in fact, it was one of the first conclusions about me to be drawn.

The thing about talking is, when you do it a lot, there’s something you aren’t doing a whole lot of in the meantime, and that’s listening. They’re two sides of one coin and when it comes to me, listening seems to be the absent tail on a double-headed dollar. I said “I talk a lot” but I could just as well have said “I rarely listen.” And call it belittling as much as you want, but the only thing that’s had any influence on that tendency at all lately is a tennis ball implicitly telling me to shut up while others speak.

I had a student, in an anonymous evaluation of my teaching, remark that “he asks for our opinions but when someone speaks he usually cuts them off and replaces it with his own words.” I’d like to get defensive about that but I can’t. Because that evaluation stands for me as a person, not me as an instructor, and if a person who barely knows me has observed and become exasperated by my propensity for interruption I cannot imagine the patience exercised daily by those who have known me for months or years and put up with it. I owe a great debt of gratitude for that. And yet it seems dangerous to acknowledge the fact, because it would be so much easier for me to say “thank you for accepting me for who I am” than to say “I really need to change who I am because you shouldn’t have to tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Which would be sufficient, were I not quite literally “all talk.” I have a history of these little moments of insight, coupled with moments of remorse and promises for change, and the only people for whom this latest epiphany produces any hope for actual change are the ones who have not known me long enough to grow jaded to my inconstancy. And that in itself is the sort of thing I’ve recognized in the past, and just sort of accepted. I’m inured to my own failings, the impulse to evolve seemingly cauterized. And while I’d like to believe that no, this time is different, I’d be a fool not to recognize the possibility that these are merely phantom pains of a conscience long since atrophied and amputated from a frigidly selfish psyche.

Evidently it is not just me. My Facebook feed this morning serendipitously delivered a three year-old TED talk on the subject of humanity’s waning capacity for aural observation. The fabulously named Julian Treasure quickly summarized the possible reasons for our general failure to hear, let alone seek to understand, the world around us. On an interpersonal level, this means growing distant from those we deceive ourselves into thinking we know, because we’re all talking but always over someone else. He provided a short list of exercises one might do to fight back against this metaphorical deafness, and the last one struck me:

“The acronym is RASA, which is the sanskrit word for juice, or essence. And RASA stands for Receive, which means pay attention to the person; Appreciate, making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “okay;” Summarize, the word “so” is very important in communication; and Ask, ask questions afterward.”
~ Julian Treasure, TED Talk: Five Ways To Listen Better

We’re all experts at feigning appreciation, if nodding your head occasionally and murmuring “mhmm” being the universal sign of pretending to listen is any indication. But the rest of it, we, or at least definitely I, suck at. We can do it when we’re motivated (Julian points out the importance of motivation in any kind of information processing). The trouble is, we’re rarely motivated.

That tennis ball wasn’t simply permission to speak; it was incentive to listen. It was the motivation that many “conversations” typically lack, to co-create discourse rather than verbally joust. For me, it was the serum that allowed a long-time Mr. Hyde to catch a glimpse of how nice it is to be Dr. Jekyll — the refreshing reality where levelheaded courtesy replaces brute force and egocentrism. Yesterday, through cracks in a laughing mirror, I saw the sort of man I want to be. He’s calling out for me…but I need to shut my mouth, and finally open my ears, if ever I hope to find him.

Published in: on 08.23.2014 at 11:38  Leave a Comment  

Almost Not Twenty-Four

“Your life is always the post of something else; where is the present in the way that you present yourself? And it’s disgusting how little that you try: the existential equivalent of pink eye. Drink alone and watch TV, you’re expecting harmonies to tap your tune with silver spoons (anthem of impending doom). Guiding Satan’s steady hand, forcing beetles to disband; it’s ego freaks and drama queens (the young at heart know what I mean). You could do better. You could do better. You could be the greatest man in the world.”
~ Say Anything, Do Better

Ten days from now, I’ll stop saying I’m 24. Though to be fair I’ve almost forgotten that that is my age anyway, due to my eagerness to reach 26; an age not particularly noteworthy for any milestone it represents, but simply a year with my favorite number attached to it. Should any lingering doubt remain as to the extent of my obsession, note that my desire to say “it’s my quarter-century anniversary” is outweighed only by my commitment to acknowledging it as the beginning of my twenty-sixth year.

I have numerous ways–more ways than could ever be necessary–of communicating how old I am, but become much fuzzier on the description of who or what I am. When speaking with people outside of academia, I can get away with vagueness: “I’m a PhD student. In Communication. No, not like… yeah, that’s communications, with an ‘s.’ Right. No, I mean, yeah I guess that was pretty close to what I did at Grove– Well, I’ll be honest, that’s what I had in mind when I applied, but– Now? What is it I do? Well… I… Can I get back to you on that?”

For a while there I got by on “gamer,” “Christian,” “writer,” sometimes “photographer,” and/or a combination of the above. I devoted enough of my time and passion to these things that they did seem fit to define me. And if time is the measure of what we are, then I suppose for the better part of twenty-four I’ve been a student. Not much of a researcher. Recently a teacher. Gaming, writing, photographing…let’s be honest, even Christian-ing…those things have largely fallen by the wayside. They’re all too big a part of me to have vanished, but none of them feel like an identity anymore. Not really. You ask any of the people I’ve met in Columbus to use a few words to describe me, and…

Hm.

I just realized I might not want to know what words they’d use. That momentary introspection brings to mind “loud,” “talkative,” “opinionated,” “obnoxious,” “argumentative.” I’d sound a decade younger, and no better for the wear. Maybe, maybe someone would say I’m smart? Because I’ve been told that. But I don’t think it’d be the thing that came to mind first. Or fifth. As for what I do, I think my graphic tees might have tipped off gaming, and the research proposals I discussed in class might bring about “comics,” — and sure, if you’re talking to academics trying to pinpoint my research, “parasocial” is bound to emerge. But beyond shadows of a maybe, I doubt anyone here could tell you who I am or what it is I do — heck, what it is I want to do. And I wouldn’t improve much on their offerings, if I’m being honest.

So August 27th will mark twenty-five years of something, this amorphous entity that has consistently borne my name, and that’s where consistency of any sort concludes.

I’d like to think that, this being Year 26, I will suddenly be motivated to discover myself and emerge with some distinct and beautiful form like sculpture leaping from marble under Michelangelo’s hand. To be sure, there are external pressures demanding some definition — within nine months I’ll have given a talk to my department on what exactly it is I’m doing with myself here. I’ll have taught three courses and might finally buy into the idea that I’m actually a teacher now.

But what of the person? What of the heart behind it? Is my identity merely the petulance and bombast of an adolescent, redeemed merely by a brain it had the good luck of being bound to, ever tolerated but never loved? Because here on the eve of a new year, I look at how lonely and empty my life has been, and on the sorts of things I wish I were, and I know they involve other people, people whom I’ve relentlessly driven away with a loud and untamed mouth. For too long I have acknowledged my flaws, as if the act of acknowledgment were also absolution. Somehow I convinced myself that ignorance was actually less forgivable than apathy.

Indeed, I could do better. Way better.

And as the twenty-fifth year of my life draws to a close, that’s what I aim to do.

Published in: on 08.17.2014 at 10:20  Leave a Comment  

Ugly Little Truth

Seen.
Read.
That fucking little checkmark.
And I’d see red if I weren’t so blue
Because now I know, see you-
I know you saw
And I know
You decided:
“He’s not important.” And
12 minutes
12 hours
12 days
And I still don’t matter. Because I never did.

Once upon a time we could pretend otherwise.

You’d ignore me, and say “Oh, sorry, guess I miss–”
No. No you didn’t. But damn was ignorance bliss.

~T.E.W.

Published in: on 03.07.2014 at 22:37  Comments Off on Ugly Little Truth