Do you ever go down a residential street and feel a strange heartache? Not from feeling a dark pity for those who live there or a menacing jealousy. This is a heartache brought on by wonder of what else could have been. Not in a sense of missed opportunities or the ethically-troubling “there for the grace of God…,” but just a longing to know or understand the infinite other lives we could be leading right now. No? Just me? Whatevs.
When I feel this way, I wonder what other people’s lives are like in these homes. What is the day-to-day? Is there something they know, something they’ve unlocked that I haven’t and may never do? What have they seen or known, good/bad/indifferent, that I may never experience?
I thought about this often as I walked home to my flat in Glasgow some 7 years ago now. I’d look into the ground floor sitting rooms of lovely places and crummy places and everything in between and have that heartache for the lives I’d never know.
(As an aside, it should be noted that heartache is a comfortable state for me and not something I see as wholly negative. It is often satisfying. My mother claims this is because I was born into and spent my early years surrounded by family loss, tragedy, and heartache. This makes her feel guilty and I do not like that one bit.)
I thought it again recently as I drove through a coastal suburban street filled with bungalows and tidy yards and frosted bathroom windows. It is foreign to me and I felt an ache about it all that I couldn’t quite place or reconcile.
I love my life. I love my home. And I am also filled with an ever-present wanderlust. I want to try everything. I want to try being other people and living other places. But I am at peak comfort right now in both my location and self. Hot damn, I’ve made great strides of late in really loving who I am. This is a big deal for me. I’ve learned to not argue with compliments received. That’s a very big deal. It’s another phase or evolution/reinvention. Still, though, I have an itch for more. I just don’t know what that more is, nor do I believe I have the strength or interest to find out.
Anyway, I think that heartache is actually longing for access to unlimited alternate planes of existence where I could test out places and personalities and passions and careers and interests and selves. All somehow without any ramifications.
Let’s get on that, science. There’s just too much out there to miss out on.
windswept beaches in the off season
shells (both intact and fragments of larger, more mysterious creatures)
unexpected silliness from others (my silliness is passé, I fear)
odd facts about odd topics (i.e. the world’s largest tire or the youngest girls to give birth)
comfort in one’s own skin (an elusive thing I close in on moment by moment)
traffic (once a daily staple, now a foreign concept for me)
the heartbreak of watching someone’s insecurity create painful behavior
the lack of teletransportation
Things are pretty blasted wonderful right now. Today, despite run-ins with what could have become stressful or bad moments, I was repeatedly overcome with the brilliance of humanity, the loveliness of the natural world around us, and the inherent goodness, kindness, and joy inside every person.
Each moment today was a gift (and that included fighting a cold, going home sick, uncooperative windshield wipers, and erroneous tax liens in the mail). I realized today how far I’ve come and the factors that have contributed to this.
Many people and things have saved me (often literally) over the past few difficult years. Now’s as good a time as any to acknowledge them. Here’s a partial list in no particular order. If you are having a tough go of it, it can’t hurt to try one or some or all of these (where applicable).
modern and contemporary poetry
mom, brother, uncle
Jennifer McCartney at Skyhorse Publishing
Led Zeppelin, Elliott Smith, The Kinks, Feist, The Grateful Dead, Arcade Fire, Alexander Ebert/Edward Sharpe, Spinnerette, The Smiths, Puccini, Audra Mae, Band of Horses, Elvis Costello, Jane’s Addiction, Neutral Milk Hotel, Okkervil River, Neko Case, Goldfrapp, + countless others
Arnold Palmers made with unsweetened tea
letting go (that means not listing the people or things that made things so shitty for a while there)
an honest understanding of loving kindness to myself and others
and more medicine
thank you to all
The past crashed my dream and now I’m awake.
I was at the store the other day, dodging holiday shoppers as they filled carts with baking supplies and gift cards and perfume sets and bright plastic toys and television sets and the occasional bike wheeled alongside. People seemed pretty happy and not too stressed by it all. I walked around and got what I’d listed in my head as needing: salad greens, socks, hair product, some oranges. I realized that these were things I wanted, not things I needed. I guess the greens and oranges are needs for sustenance, but socks, hair stuff, or hangers are total luxuries. I didn’t feel some sort of guilt about getting this stuff, just an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I felt lucky.
I headed home and as I drove on the four-lane highway back to my town, a funeral procession approached in the oncoming direction. As is the custom here, a police cruiser led the way for a hearse and a stream of cars with headlights on mid-day. There is not a lot of traffic on this highway. Most days as I drive to and from work I see only a handful of cars. This was a Saturday before a holiday, so there were perhaps four cars visible ahead of me and five or six behind. All of us pulled over and stopped out of respect for the passing funeral. The older gentleman in the well-loved and well-worn pickup truck in front of me removed his baseball cap, smoothed back his hair, and bowed his head. The funeral procession rolled on and we started back up again to our various destinations.
It was such a sweet moment of tenderness among strangers and one that has been swimming in my head since. I felt even luckier. And I felt great love for the people mourning a loss and the other drivers who took a moment to respect that pain, that passing, that cycle.
Little moments should overwhelm us with love. Shit, man, EVERYTHING should overwhelm us with love.
Happiest of holidays to you all and here’s to new years and new seasons filled with love and strangers who aren’t strangers because they are us.
I stand by my assertion that Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays. Not because of the food, but because it is all about spending time with people you care about and love, being grateful, and reflecting on the RIGHT NOW of things. Plus, there are no Thanksgiving songs, which I think is fantastic.
That said, I present to you my annual list of things for which I am grateful:
→ family/friends/friends like family/total strangers/acquaintances
→ those who irritate or test my patience (because they remind me to address all things and people with compassion…and then I feel better and they no longer annoy me — we all win!)
→ poetry and the delicious lyricism of words and phrases
→ journalists who risk their sanity and lives to tell important stories
→ access to clean, running water
→ musicians who open their souls for public consumption in the name of creativity and a greater truth
→ the life-affirming opportunity to work in education and the heavy responsibility of positively contributing to another human being’s learning process
→ strong dog shampoos that erase the scent of rolled-in dead animal
→ sincerity and the courage it takes to express it
→ the technology that allows me to speak or type in real time with friends and family anywhere on this planet
→ the Kirkland ® brand merino wool socks I got at Costco (it’s like having my feet gently shrouded in angel whispers)
→ the work of artists that challenge the way I see or experience things, for good and for bad
→ my solid education and all who contributed to it, both in and out of the classroom
→ that my wild, reckless days are behind me
→ chicken salad
→ the use of my limbs and senses
→ weird bugs (and normal bugs) who live in their own tiny, infinite worlds
→ really wonderful documentaries
→ when right beats might
→ proper weatherizing
→ all the untold and unknown histories that brought us to this moment right now (I wish I could know and understand them all)
→ the fact that everything is made up of atoms, which makes me the same as you and the air and a boat and an apple and the stars and an evil person and a saint and a plastic bag and a smooth river stone and a computer and a tree and a gun and a building and dog slobber
→ those who take pride in their work and those who respect the workers
→ arresting visual images that somehow transport us to a specific moment and place in time (video as alchemy)
→ I am grateful that you, the person reading this right now, are able to read this and that you are living and breathing and (oh, I hope upon hope) you are happy and at peace.
and just like that, my heart broke into thousands of other happy hearts
thank you, avett brothers
I’ve made another one, another poem. Tell me what you think.
T-shirts with No Logos
(with a nod to Stevie Smith)
Will you ever marry?
Why no children?
Have you heard this song?
The man I loved has died.
I live in decades past.
At 37, I am an old, wooden ship.
I am a creaking carrack.
I carry no cargo, never will, just
delicious words and puffed clouds
that roll lazily about
I am no clipper,
I roam open oceans,
my curves comical and oversized,
my sails blowsy,
my lines askew.
I look to horizons
The horizon simply IS
and whether it holds that line
of sea and air
or a distant shore
is not up to me.
It just will BE.
I am an old, wooden ship
in crests and valleys of now;
not drowning, but waving.