Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Writer and Tough Choices

I'm up early today, having come out of a deep sleep thanks to a dog scratching at my leg. The good news is that for the first time in two days, I wasn't plagued with nightmares about failing, losing or being forgotten. Instead, I had a rather fun dream where I was at some diplomatic dinner that featured Bill Murray in drag playing "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" as Lao Che from Temple of Doom argued with me about how he was going to kill me for helping his daughter get married to her long-time boyfriend. I dunno, I thought it was cool. Writing it out certainly challenges that idea.

What I wanted to talk about today is something wholly different. It's a cloudy day, humid and swampy, and I'm looking at the dress pants and shirt I have to put on in a few hours. There's a big-deal personal life event that I'm attending (it's not for me, I'm just going to be supportive and proud), and there's a dress code, which  is going to be ... not comfortable.

Forgive me for tap dancing here, I'm both trying to talk about something personal and not reveal a lot of personal things. But I'll say this: I'm proud the accomplishments of my friends and loved ones, and I'm honored to be witness to their payoff.

Today let's talk about tough choices. I've had to make a few of them lately, and while I'm no pro, I'm starting to see some patterns and wanted to get out in front of them, with the hope that my experiences help you out too.

For me, the tough choice is best exemplified cinematically - where the hero, usually an underdog, stands somewhere on the precipice of a monumental decision, the music swells, and the hero makes their choice, invariably to do the right thing, even if that has some hard consequences, some tough follow-up decisions or hard work ahead.

And that's what I want - aside from the swell of orchestra awesomeness - I want to be the sort of hero who makes the tough decisions in the face of hard realities, to do the right thing even when that option isn't the easiest or the most self-rewarding.

I never really learned how to deal with loss. As a mentally ill teenager and even as an adult, I was kept somewhat sheltered from the harder emotional places and contexts, usually to prevent me "from going over the edge". I don't blame my parents and friends and family for doing this, I understand that they weren't really sure what would make me spiral into days or weeks of mania or depression, but that they were pretty certain that people dying or people moving away were likely triggers. (note - they usually are).

In the absence of loss, I grew up selfish. Or more specifically, without learning about loss and hardship, I grew up with a lot of my needs anticipated and catered to, so that I became selfish and all about "me and my life", thinking the world did, to some degree, orbit around me.

When love came along, and I was totally without a context for it, I transferred that sense of orbit to the other person -- so instead of the world spinning around the John-axis, it totally now spun around the other-person's-axis. Everything I did (go to school, go to work, shave, shower, eat ...) I did for the other person, so that they'd be proud of me or so that they'd praise me. It's still selfish, but I went ahead and found myself a release valve for the guilt of being selfish - I wasn't doing it for me, there was this other person.

This stunted growth continued as my illness and anxiety worsened, costing me a lot of relationships and opportunities. I was, to put it mildly, shit at making decisions. Better to run away, better to avoid the tough choices and reality and not make these decisions where I could get hurt or have to change what I was doing or how I was doing it. Avoidance became more than the watchword, it became a philosophy.

Now that attitude is great when you're on the most simplest of levels. Avoid the big dangerous creature trying to eat you, cave person, you've got to chew some meat and maybe make a fire before you call it a day. But that's an awful attitude to have in the 21st century, where people, you know, want to live not on simple levels. Cinnamon dolce lattes, smart phones and elliptical workouts abound as life goes on and it has tough choices in it.

There are people who will tell you that all those trappings and materials are just evidence that we're still running away, that we're still not dealing with our feelings, and maybe that's true. I don't know how true, but maybe to a degree. I'm not sure that the people who erect altars and vibe out with New Age-y psuedo-science really aren't dodging their lives when they ask crystals for guidance, cures for impotence and listen to the universe tell them what to do when a traffic light changes color. Sounds to me like it's the same hustle, just with different props.

So life has tough decisions. Life has choices you have to make, and these choices are not easy. I mean there are easy solutions, ways to solve the problem that are drastic and unsupported, but working in those extremes isn't always as gratifying as you'd imagine. There's a great initial burst of excitement, and then it swiftly peters out when the bloom fades. And then it's right back to hard living, although maybe not in the same circumstances as before.

My hard decision of late has been a deeply personal one, at least since I got medicated and stable and really discovered what it's like to love another person. And yeah, you can tell me I got spoiled by having that person within walking distance of the room where I'm writing this, and that in seeing my friends together and married I was maybe more than a little motivated to be a part of a great relationship. And possibly, yeah, this all teeters back on that selfish precipice.

So when that partner says there's an opportunity and they're going to take it, it's somewhat natural, at least for me, to feel like this decision hurts me. I can remember being in similar situations when I was sick and thinking that their decision was an attack against me, but that was illness talking. A decision can hurt, and I guess some people somewhere can make it out of spite, but on the whole, other peoples' decisions aren't really about you. They're about them: what's good for them, what helps them, what makes them happy.

The trick, I've learned is being happy with their happy. Even if it means something doesn't go YOUR way, the world is bigger than you. I'm not the axis, my partner isn't the axis (even if she might have a really cute axis outfit). When the decision got made, yeah, I hurt. And I've cried a lot about it since then. I've melted down even right in front of my partner, and bless her, she sat there and we talked it out. But all that hurt, all those tears, all those moments of oh-god-what-am-I-going-to-do, none of that changes the fact that in two days she moves, and it'll be weeks before I can even see her again.

And in that lies the lesson. Life has hard parts in it, you have to supply your own soundtrack, but you do get to be the hero who makes the tough decisions. And those tough decisions teach you that you're going to find an actual solution, maybe even a healthy one, to the challenges you face.

I made my decision. I'm still her partner. I'm going to miss her, she's going to miss me, but we're going to still be us - because there's more to us than distance and location. It'll be tough sometimes, because we'll each want to be in other places than wherever we are, and we'll be busy and I'm going to honestly have a lot more free nights and weekends, but it'll be okay.

I rambled a lot here. If you're wondering what you can do, what support you can offer, how you can help or in what ways can you make things better, you can always email me. Also, my GoFundMe campaign is still running, at least for another week or so, and every little bit you give helps. And you can buy my books.

Thanks for reading.

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