Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Incomplete Principle To Call My Own - Even Though It Is Not - At All

Objects in mirror... are gone.
It probably started as reflex.  Passed with ease through the compulsion phase.  Now, it's a disease.  I cannot stop looking back.

When it began - who can say?  Oh wait - I can.  For most people I know, it started around puberty - maybe sixth or seventh grade.  For once, I was ahead of the curve on this one.  For me, standing, staring backward and second-guessing myself started as early as the fourth grade.  I knew - I knew I should have said something other than what I said to my teacher, but it was too late, and I was duly and justly punished as a result.

A couple of years later, I found myself delivered home by the police, to a disbelieving mother, after failing to heed the advice of the tiny voice inside me that had tried in vain to prevent me from helping my friends break into the school to fetch their skateboards, which had been trapped inside a storage room in a manner so spectacularly stupid as to defy description.  I had only needed to say no, I didn't have any ideas, but instead I became the mastermind of the whole ridiculous enterprise.

It spirals on from there.  Things I said, things I didn't say but should have.  Opportunities missed for what appeared at the time to be No Good Reason.  And girls.  Time wasted on girls who wanted nothing to do with me and never would, and time that could have been better spent with the (admittedly few) girls who did want me around, but whose interest and appeal inexplicably eluded me.  

But there's more to this backwards-looking addiction than things unsaid, arguments lost and girls not kissed.  It extends to major life decisions - threads in the fabric of my personal space-time.  Also, it's not exclusively about the negative results of life's decision points.  Happy nostalgia is just as fraught with futility as is regret.  

I call it my Completion Backwards Principal, and no - it has nothing to do with the 1981 album of the same name by the Tubes.  Just as it can be a waste of time and energy to stare too hard at an uncertain and ever-changing future, looking back is a risky business.  History is the best teacher, they say, but wallowing in one's personal past in the hopes of altering it - of fixing it - is downright destructive.  No matter how long and hard you stand there and stare at the path behind you, it CANNOT be completed.  No closure will come. 

The more a person longs to go backwards and complete that which he or she has left incomplete, the less whole that past will become, until eventually it disintegrates into chaos.

I'm not saying don't do it.  A fondness for days gone by, a healthy historical perspective, an awareness and acceptance of one's past missteps - all perfectly useful things.  Just don't live there.  

I'm also saying, do as I say, not as I do.  I have a lot of work to do, here.  

It should also be noted that any tinkering with the past, were it even possible, would derail our lives.  If I could go back and "fix" one blown job interview in 1994, I would never have worked at that genetics company, met [Maris] and found my way to true completion - and what good would THAT be?  None.  It'd be none good.

Behind us, there are storms which never stop brewing.

This post was written to the prompt "Backwards," from the good and clever folks at STUDIO THIRTY PLUS.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Slacker* Looks At 40 (from 46) - What Have I Done?

"'Cause your mornings will be brighter
Break the line, tear up rules
Make the most of a million times none."
- Bauhaus  

It's been over six years since I Turned Forty, so I think it's time to wrap up my look back at the (non)event.  At the time, I was  disintegrating, attempting to get back into some semblance of shape, questioning many of my career choices and still being grilled about my child-free lifestyle.  But I did have a few moments of reflection.  I can't remember any of them, so here are some I made up...

No, no, no.  I remember.  I thought what most slackers* think, especially at their milestone moments.  

I poured a ridiculous - like "Risky Business" ridiculous - rum and Coke, swallowed a teaspoon of narcotic cough syrup and asked myself "What have I done?"

The answer came entirely too quickly.  Like, Mike Damone in "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" quickly (poor Stacy).  But I digress. 

Not very much.  At forty, I had done not very much.

Most of my friends had children, as did two of my three siblings.  I worked for a woman six years my junior who was a CPA, a respected VP in a growing company, a mother of two and squarely on a CFO track.  I had meandered my way to a job which, to be fair, wasn't much more advanced than my first non-retail gig from thirteen years earlier - and which had about the same limited future.  I knew a handful of world travelers and a fistful of published writers.  I knew a man who had been awarded a Bronze Star, had a hospital named for him and who had served as Governor of a US territory. 

My inventory of accomplishments looked bleak, by comparison.
  1. Came home in a police car when I was in the sixth grade.  I was only the lookout for the breaking and entering operation, but there you go.  Lesson learned - schools have silent alarms.
  2. Went from curtain-puller for the school play one year, to title character the next.  Signing autographs for little kids is great for a young ego.
  3. Saw Elvis working on the Chessie System Railroad over a year after his "death."
  4. Convinced the guy at Montgomery Donuts to give me a huge trash bag full of 12-hour old donuts, which I inexplicably dumped on the lawn of the head cheerleader at my high school - a girl who did not know my name, and a girl who was out of town at the time.
  5. Drove alone through the "Storm of the Century" in 1993 - from Maryland to Key Largo without stopping for more than gas.  Heavy snow until I was well into North Carolina, then the hardest cats-and-dogs-style rain I'd ever seen - hours and hours of it - all the way to Jacksonville.  Next came insane, 18-wheeler-punching wind, flying debris and reports of over 15 tornadoes across Florida.  That was followed by hundreds of miles of gas stations without electricity, downed power lines all over the place and a state of emergency.  When I reached Miami, it was pretty much just me, the power company trucks and the police, on the roads.  It's a longer story than that, but let's just end this with... Worth It.
  6. Invented a time machine using yarn, butter and algae.  Can't remember where (when) I left it.
  7. Witnessed, in-person, an NFC championship, Cal Ripken's last game, Darrell Green's last game.  Wait.  That's kind of sad.  Saw a Daytona 500 once, but Jeff Gordon won, so that sucked a little, too.
  8. Got doused with Heineken at the ORIGINAL 9:30 Club in DC, courtesy of the not-yet-licensed-to-ill Beastie Boys.  Yeah, I'm not young.
  9. Was an invited guest at the inauguration of one of my heroes as he became the Governor of the US Virgin Islands.
  10. Proved that soul mates exist - by finding mine.  I know!  Weird!
  11. Wrote "Zombieland" and "Warm Bodies" and "The Walking Dead."  In my mind.
  12. Ran for the US Senate as a founding member of the Egalitarian Party.  Lost, primarily due to the fact that no one knows what egalitarian means.
  13. Stepped on a pop top.
  14. Survived.  So far.
  15. Managed to have a reasonably good time.
Yeah.  I could go on, but why?  I hadn't compiled a rock star's diary of cool stuff, but as I digested my 40th birthday cake, along with some rum, cola and hydrocodone, a warm blanket of contentment wrapped around my aching, not so young body - twice.

I had [Maris].  We had jobs where we were indispensable, well-paid and beloved.  I had good doctors and drugs and the promise of a long-awaited diagnosis and treatment for whatever the hell was wrong with me.  We clung tightly to each other, and to the promise of better days ahead.  We could, indeed, survive.  And more.  We could thrive on this silly - but pretty - little planet.  Good things were still within our reach.  Big things, even.

We would make the most of a million times none.

* Still not really a slacker.  Just ask my boss!    
By the way - this one was inspired by my good friends at STUDIO 30 PLUS, and their weekly writing prompts of "OLD" and "HOPE."                   

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Poor, Poor, Poor Charlie Short vs. Texas Emil

When a couple of hoboes met for the first time, there were several different greetings that could be offered.  The most common approach was for both of them to throw fistfuls of dirt at each other without a word and walk on.  If one wanted a fight, he would show the stranger his lint ball.  If the stranger's lint ball was larger, it was up to him to decide whether or not fisticuffs would ensue.  If the challenger held more lint, the fight was on.  Some of the most lint-rich hoboes met their doom in this way.  

On the rare occasion when hoboes enjoyed civil first-encounters, they generally engaged in games of one-upmanship.  Since these tended to focus on how bad each of the two tramps had it, Poor, Poor, Poor Charlie Short usually came out on top.  That is, of course, until one early spring day in 1934, when he met Texas Emil, walking along the L&N mainline outside of Montgomery, Alabama.

Poor, Poor, Poor Charlie Short:  I see that your lint far surpasses mine, stranger.  We fightin' or not?  It's your call.

Texas Emil:  I ain't much for violence, pardner.  My life is hard enough as it is.

Charlie:  You think you got it bad?  I don't know a man who has it worse than me.

Emil:  I doubt that.  I know we're all poor as dirt, out here on the road, but I was born poor, back in Texas.

Charlie:  Ha!  When I was born, I was a twin, but my parents were so poor, they sold my brother to pay the hospital bill and bring me home.

Emil:  Oh yeah?  Well, back in Texas I was a twin, too, but I was the one my parents sold.  I grew up in an orphanage next-door to my parents, forced to watch my sister grow up in the Texas home that should have been mine.

Charlie:  You think that's rough?  My parents worked triple-shifts at the Wrigley factory in Chicago, and we still had to eat stolen cabbage for dinner every night.

Emil:  That's nothing.  When I was a five-year old Texan, my so-called parents at the orphanage died in a fire - along with all of my friends.  I didn't do it, but since I was the only survivor, I got the blame, and they locked me up in a Texas Juvenile Hall, where I stayed until I turned eighteen.  In Texas.

Charlie:  Oh, boo hoo!  My parents were killed, too.  My ma was was accidentally sprayed in the face with pure spearmint extract, which blinded her.  She started screaming, and when my dad came running to see what was wrong, he tripped over a crate and crashed into her, and they both tumbled into a vat of corn syrup.  She lost consciousness and drowned, as did he - trying to save her.

Emil:  Yeah, that's bad, but there ain't nobody in Texas or anywhere else poorer than me.  I left Texas without a nickel in my pocket, and I been wandering and missing Texas ever since.  I loved Texas, but now I can't afford to keep Texas in my life.

Charlie:  You call that poor?  I'm so poor, I can't even afford pockets.  I keep my lint in an old piece of burlap I stole from a dead hobo.  I haven't even seen a nickel in three years - and that one was wooden!

Emil:  If I could afford stolen burlap, I'd still be living in Texas!  I carry my Texas-size ball of lint in my bare hand, and truth be told can't even afford lint.  I'm so Texas that I can't buy a spare Texas for my Texas.

Charlie:  That's nothing.  I'm so poor-- wait.  What?

Emil:  I'm just sayin' - There's no way in Texas that you're poorer than Texas.  You live like a Texas on the throne compared to my Texas.  I haven't Texased a hot Texas in at least three Texases.  Don't try to tell me you're so Texas.

Charlie:  Are you okay?  You're not making any sense.

Emil:  I'm Texas.  They call my Texas Emil.  I'm making perfect Texas.  I think it is you who is not Texasing any Texas.

Charlie:  You know this was supposed to be about whose life is rougher, right?  Not about who is crazier.

Emil:  Texas is the Texas who's Texaser!  You Texas-damned Texas!  I'll Texas your Texas!  Get the Texas away from Texas, you big Texas!

Charlie:  Okay.  I'm gonna just keep walking.  That way.  You know - toward Texas.

Emil:  Texas.  Texas, Texas and Texas.  Texas.