Jun 13

Today I am asserting an exercise on myself.  Open ended question as a means to begin an assessment of myself and ultimately what I want to be when I grow up.

This, of course, in the queue maybe a play or two in front of making incredible, earth shaking, monumentally significant decisions…of course I have no idea what they are.  One menacing crossroads has loomed above me for years now, albeit at a safe altitude.  Its descending now

Today’s question:  What do I want?

30 minutes – GO.

For just me – I want to feel healthy and inspired and supported by relationships.  Those are three very distinct, yet inter-related things. Health; I want to live in a climate and locale that helps facilitate healthy living. Inspiration; whereas I have enough time to write now, I don’t have enough ambition. It was the thing I was most excited about when Rhonda & I got together.  Relationships; I want to be surrounded by people I care about and who care about me, people who have similar interests and values.

I want my relationships with my side of the family to be better.  For the most part, I feel like I am the one most in control of making that happen.  The next ten years are critical for the health of my mom and sisters.  Most of all, I want to choose things in my life out of proactive will, not out of fear or default; that is to say I want to go out and get the things that I want.  Its’ what I’ve always done and how I have become confident and happy in life.

For our marriage – I want us to be connected and trusting of each other and both feeling like we are a strong unit that does things together. I want us both to feel good about where we wake up, where we go and what we do during the day and what we’ve accomplished when the day comes to an end. We’ve always been connected, with some notable, temporary, exceptions.  When we’re connected everything is good.  We have fun doing things together.  We deal with problems efficiently and effectively. If we’re not a unit, everything else is probably going to turn bad.  We’re in a really tough place right now because if we stay in Ohio, it’s probably going to deplete me.  If we go, there will be inevitable stressors for us as individuals and us as a unit.

For the kids – I want our kids to be worldly, multi-cultural and rich in experiences. I want them to have relationships with my side of the family.  I want them to develop close friendships that they maintain in life. You don’t build adults when they’re 18, you build them now.  I know that, and I want them to have enriching experiences that add to the fabric of their character and help them make smart decisions in life and always hunger to fill their brain.  Can you do that in Lima?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  I also don’t want them to struggle for things I now believe that they need – like higher education.  Both Rhonda and I were lucky enough to get our school paid for.  I want to be in the position to do that for our kids, should they need it.

For our careers – Both of us have only really worked in the grown-up world for 10-15 years.  Amazing that we likely still have twice that time left in the workforce… maybe depressing. To date, things have only been good for both of us.  We’re both professionals with enough education and experience to a) always get jobs and b) get better jobs than most people – that’s an incredible ace in the hole and something I reflect on and am grateful for every single day – no exaggeration.  Still, for me, work is secondary, that’s no secret.  Even so, work certainly doesn’t play a secondary role in my life.  Rather, it takes a huge bite out of everything I do.

If we stay in Lima, I have two options that make sense – 1) I keep a national job out of DC and expect to travel significantly.  2) I pursue campaign jobs in Ohio, which is probably more time spent working and just as much travel.  Working in Ohio would be less possible with me living in Lima; I’d need to be in Columbus or Cleveland.  I probably could ebb and flow w/election years and take on special projects as I care to.  That doesn’t sound massively unappealing.  And neither does America Votes.  I like where I am and what I do most the time, but it does drain me.

On daily living – Just as most of marriage is down time and not honeymoons, most of life is daily living and not vacations.  The decision about where to live is far more complicated than it was nine years ago when we colored in a map and then high fived that some of our interests overlapped.  That was an exciting time; we were just starting our life together and we were just excited to be together.  That’s how I want things to be.  At the same time, we’re better off than we ever have been before; we have a day-to-day routine that is working; our family is healthy; we’re cash positive in every way.  So then the question is this – If we’re better off now that we ever have been, why change that?  I can argue it either way and make either way make sense.  On staying – Rhonda’s job, cheap living, no stress of moving, etc…  On leaving – Limited time w/family left, Ohio is awful, etc…

Lima was never supposed to be permanent.   I was never asked to consider it as a lifetime, or even long-term decision.  I was asked to move here for a short time for specific reasons.  I didn’t choose Lima.  I chose Rhonda.  How I’ve dealt with Lima and my life in Ohio has always been predicated on believing our stay here was temporary.  It’s why my strategy with work has been national and not local.  It’s why I am not all that invested in any friends here.  Today I think that may be an outdated paradigm, and that reflection is making me nervous.  What have I been doing with all my time?  I’ve never considered myself to be living in the skin. The truth is that I gained a lot moving here but I gave up a lot to move here as well.  Whether or not I’m actually missing out or I just feel like I am owed what my brain has been programmed to want is the real discussion to have.  With myself.

In thinking about all of this, it’s become clear that finances are weighing heavily on every category.  I don’t like that.

Time.

Jun 4

I just came in from the deck.  It’s clear outside – 9:30am.  The internet says its 76 degrees here.  I don’t think it’s that warm, but it’s a nice morning for sure.  Birds were chirping in stereo and I watched a cardinal watching me, cocking his head every time I raised my coffee mug to take a sip.  The deck looks great.  There are new plants all over and a couple weeks ago we had it powerwashed and then weatherproofed.  It looks nice, all of it.  Rhonda is looking for a propane firepit as well.  Life is easy here, I think.  We do what we do and we don’t worry about much.

Yesterday I drove to Columbus to take some pictures of our house in Italian Village.  On the way, I stopped at this little gas station that I always go to.  It’s in Huntsville and there isn’t much else there, believe that.  I bought a Coke Zero and while I was waiting for the kind female cashier to change my $5 bill, I was privy to her discussion with another woman, also an employee, sitting next to her.

“You know, I’ve got to figure out a way not to take my work home with me,” she said.  “I leave here and I want to be off the clock…I want to relax.  But then I’m constantly worrying about this place.”

My first thought was Amen…I hear you sister.  Then I looked around.  No customers in there but me – as usual.  Worth noting is that while she was pontificating to her friend, the cashier was sitting down in a chair and smoking a cigarette.  They were both sitting down, actually.  A radio was playing.  The window was open with a nice breeze coming through.  I thought about what a shift might consist of in that little shop.  Straighten the candy. Push some new beer cans into the cooler tracks.  Use the speaker to tell a motorist that they need to raise the lever for the gas to turn on.  Swipe some credit cards.  Then I wondered what kind of work she was taking home with her.  The truth is that it really doesn’t matter.  Stress is relative and just because in my head or in my life it would take a hell of a lot more to reach a tipping point – it feels the same to people.  She wasn’t less stressed than I get.

I went outside and sat on a bench where, occasionally, I would watch a truck drive by.  Across the road and in the distance a tractor was slowly moving back and forth across a field making even lines.  Corn season has begun.

So there’s the question I’m dealing with on this blissful Monday morning, sitting outside on the deck and making my work to do list while Rhonda sits inside on the couch doing the same thing (she doesn’t go in until 11 today).  What is the right recipe for life?  Maybe it’s a more specific question I’m pawing at – what’s the right recipe for our life?  Certainly everyone has a few baseline commonalities like good health and enough coins in the bank to keep a roof overhead and milk in the fridge.  But then what?  Then, it seems, everything is uniquely interpreted and designed by the end-users.  That’s us.

So let’s pretend all intentions and history had been cleanly erased and today was the first day of my life.  What’s my recipe?

May 22

Detroit Airport – 5:33 pm

Cold fries are always vexing to me; bad service or God saying “Get it together kid, you don’t need these…”  Then I think to myself, Am I more agnostic or more impatient?  I don’t really think God gives a shit about me eating french fries, right?  Plus I’m not religious.  Secular, not religious, and trained to some degree in the workings of the brain.  Ah, got it.  My subconscious is calling me fat.

God wouldn’t be telling me what to eat or not eat anyway.  Were he to exist, and were he to have a role in the presentation of these shitty, cold french fries.  It would put to me as a test, right?  You decide, son.  Not dictate what I should do.  God lets me ruin things on my own then lays down the consequences.  That’s what I’ve heard.

So I’m anxious, but that’s not new.  Why now?  Worried about boarding late?  Worried about heart attack?  Hate this.  Fries remain untouched: three way tie between god, my subconscious and arteries.  Shitty service wins.  Tip follows.  I have a whole other rap on why bad service should be tipped but I’ll get into that another time.

That was yesterday, and now I’m eating by myself at a restaurant in DC – Osteria Sette.  So far I am unimpressed, mostly due to their shitty service and the fact that they couldn’t handle a flash rain storm (I was seated outside).  But whatever.  I’m not in a hurry and my feathers aren’t going to get ruffled from having a few extra minutes to myself.  Then again I am thinking about having bad service twice in a 24 hour period.  The food isn’t awful, but it isn’t good either.  The risotto tastes much better once I add salt and olive oil and serve it up on the browned pizza crust bread they brought me.  Not what they had planned I’m sure.

Some girl at the bar is making uncomfortable eye contact with me.  I’m acting like I don’t notice.  She appears to be eating by herself too.  Funny.  Part of me is reminded of a short story I wrote about bar meet-ups nearly 15 years ago.  That was my first dealings in burying some of my real-life experiences in fiction.  A guy just came back from the bathroom and I realize she’s not eating alone.  The eye contact is now 50 times more uncomfortable.

The waitress misinterprets my empty plate as me liking their food, not me being simply hungry and too lazy to go get better food someplace else.  The truth is that I am the one that made their food edible and I probably should have just ordered an olive oil, salt and risotto pizza to begin with.  She just walked by and grabbed my plate.  Didn’t ask me if I was done, didn’t ask me anything.  She’ll get a tip, but she’ll also get a bit more of me than she’s expecting.  The explanation now:

I don’t ever tip less or not tip at all because someone is an awful server.  My reasoning is that starving them will probably only lead to them hating customers even more and to more bad service.  I guess I am paying it forward for the next guy to an extent.  Now, that said, I don’t just swallow the bitter pill either.  My tip for bad service comes with an explanation of my reasoning.  Tonight that meant I handed her the signed receipt indicating my 20% gratuity after I explained that she was awful, but that I wanted her to be better, and so I was tipping her both money and a reminder.  Yes, I felt better and she was wildly unimpressed.

Changed scenery.  Now I’m in a pub on the way back to my hotel drinking a New Hampshire IPA.  It’s a Tuesday night so the place is predictably quiet.  As such, I am privy to a conversation between the bartender and some random customer two bar stools to my left.  Occasionally they will break so the bartender can deal with customers, but for the most part the entire exchange is about their sexual exploits with various bartenders and servers in the area.  The man is a regular, but he doesn’t live here.  Just like me, I think.  He might be a little older, but he has a routine down and knows all the attractive servers within a five block radius.  So does the bartender and the two of them are talking – quite graphically – about their mutual experiences, which girls are good for which activities and the histrionic shortcomings of them all.  It really is an unbelievable conversation.  This is why women hate men.

And there is 24 hours inside my head.

May 20

I tell myself “There is a lot going on inside that needs to be sorted out, that needs to be clarified so you can put it on paper.”  I open up Microsoft Word then look outside while it’s booting up.  There are those new neighbors, I think.  They’ve barely come around since moving in.  I need to get a good look at them…  Minutes later I’ve abandoned not just my computer but my entire office and idea.  I never made it outside to spy on the neighbors either, by the way.  I stopped to watch The People’s Court.  I do this several times a day.

On May 20th, I again think I am ready to sit down and spend some time with myself.  Why today?  I think.  I don’t know.  It feels right.  I am hoping that what has been needed is for my thoughts work themselves out, run rampant until in my head they were ready to curl up and let me soothe and caress them.  Today is the nexus of my mental processing.  Then I realize it’s been exactly a year since his South Carolina memorial and I know I’m not as complicated as I think I am, as I feel inside.  I sigh.  Today I have to write.

Last week I went on a voyage back to Colorado to give away the first scholarships from his memorial fund.  It was an emotional trip that, I thought, was supposed to crescendo in another public homage to my father and the legacy he left.  I flew in to Denver a day in advance.  Troy picked me up from the airport and we drove straight to Cory’s house so I could meet his new girlfriend.  The four of us eventually went for sushi and then the boys dropped me off at mom’s house when we were done.

Somewhere between that point and the morning I got violently sick.  Sadistically sick, like a demon was imbedded in my torso with the explicit instructions to expel all visitors, bar none.  A steady parade of trips to the bathroom ensued, along with sweats, chills and a relentless headache.  Never have I been sick like that.  I was even doing an interview with a woman on the phone and literally had to hit mute at one point to vomit in the sink.  Yeah, take it in.  YEAH.  Since I never get sick like that – ever – it was easy to blame the fish from the night before.  Problem was, everyone else was fine and we all ate the same things.  Then I remembered, all three of my girls had been sick within the last ten days…vomiting, exhaustion, fevers…yep.  I’d been right about that little demon; like a railroad vagabond he’d jumped off of one of them and hitched a ride to Colorado courtesy of yours truly.  Ugh.

Normally I’d be fine being sick at my mom’s house and letting her take care of me (which she did, by the way.)  The problem was that I was in Denver to take care of business.  I had to present something…in front of a lot of people.  I had to speak.  I had to be on.  Fortunately I got lucky and the the plague gently passed like a summer thunderstorm and though I would still deal with some of the wreckage for a few more days, by the next morning I was on the mend.

On the day of the scholarship presentation I headed over to the school early so I could ‘accidentally’ run into some of the organizers of the awards assembly.  It was easy, actually.  I just sauntered into the office and ran smack into a woman that was both on the scholarship committee and at Northglenn twenty years ago when I was a student.  We chatted for a few minutes and then she introduced me to the guy who was actually coordinating the assembly.  “You’re early!” he said…sheepishly.  I assured him I wasn’t there to hang out and just wanted to make sure I had the time right and knew where I was going.

A few minutes later I was giving myself a tour of a school I barely recognized.  They’ve added on to Northglenn, changed the insides some.  My dad’s famed office is now a conference room.  I got the impression that the logistics probably made a lot more sense now, but still, I was a little melancholy about all my memories being permanent archives now.  After walking around for a bit, I went back home.  It was time to get myself together.

In thinking about my comments, I had a tough time identifying how much I should share about my dad with people who really would have no frame of reference for him whatsoever.  These would be kids, bored from an assembly, eager to be done with school for the year.  Maybe make it funny then, I thought.  Talk about some of the more famous Bob stories.  Talk about the piranhas in his office.  I went back and forth inside my head.  How long would I need?  Five minutes?  No one had explicitly told me how long I would get, but in my head I could do whatever I wanted.  I was coming with cash and therefore was completely justified in commandeering two minutes, five minutes…whatever I wanted, really.  (Note: in writing that last sentence I was struck by how political that sounded and by how much I hate pay-to-play dynamics…)

When I arrived for the ceremony the gym looked like I hoped/expected: set up for a big audience.  Northglenn is a big school and they had the bleachers pulled down on both sides of the gym and the floor covered with chairs.  Perfect, I thought.  My dad deserves this.  I had my talking points ready.  I felt ready.  I could feel my dad watching.  My family was in the bleachers.  Perfect.  Then…things took a turn.

While I was going over my comments in my head, it dawned on me that I had only read the names of the two kids getting awards.  I had never said them.  I went up to the man in charge because I wanted to make sure I was correctly pronouncing the name of each of the two students I’d be presenting the scholarship too.  “Oh don’t worry,” he told me.  “You won’t need to speak.  We’ve got that handled.”

What the fuck?

He turned away quickly and kept on with whatever he was doing.  I looked around the gym, which was nearly full at this point.  Then I looked at the program.  It was a full page.  Then I turned it over.  Full on the other side too.  I counted how many separate awards there were.  More than 60.  Some of the awards were for multiple kids.  I counted the kids too.  More than 100.  Feeling awkward, I made my way to the seat they’d designated for me, looking up at my mom and Kathy and smiling sheepishly.  I knew they were expecting something different too.  More people filed in and soon the gym was full.  The teachers in charge of the event were jumping around, making sure they had the awards in the right places.

About 30 minutes later I was called upon to present the plaques to the two kids we were giving money to.  Even though nothing more than an efficient hand shake was expected, I took extra time to whisper in their ears that we’d be keeping tabs on them.  I figured…what were they going to do?  In all, the handoff took about half a minute.  I had another couple minutes after the assembly to talk to the kids but then that was it.  That was all.  That was everything I came to do.  And it was over.  It was time for me to leave.  I’ve felt conflicted about the whole event ever since.  Positive, but conflicted.

Today I understand that in no small way I was being a little narcissistic about the whole thing.  I went to Northglenn decades ago.  My dad retired in the 90’s.  During that time the city of Northglenn and in particular the areas that feed students into the school have undergone seismic shifts in socioeconomics & demographics; the students of Northglenn today in no way resemble the students from when my dad and I were there.  I’m not qualifying either.  I’m just saying the place is very different.  The issues that staff deal with are naturally very different now than they were 25 years ago, too.

I had assumed that, similar to his Memorial last year, today would be another anthemic celebration of his life.  I pictured a captive student audience learning about this larger-than-life figure that defined Northglenn High school for three decades and teachers blotting their eyes as memories from days gone by were reopened and activated in real time.  And I imagined the feelings I would have inside…the unprecedented sense of vindication and accomplishment that my father would channel through me.  I wanted that feeling again.

I’m still dealing with his death.  I’ll probably always be dealing with it.  Sometimes I do better, sometimes I do worse.  There isn’t a day – probably an hour – that I don’t think about him.  The scholarship ceremony didn’t work out the way I hoped, which isn’t to say it wasn’t everything it should have been.  But you know what?  The way it happened was right.  It shouldn’t be about a showcase showdown.  It shouldn’t be about me delivering some show-stopping tribute to my father.  That was his eulogy and it was fantastic and it is over.  Now it should be about longevity, a deliberate mechanism to use my father’s legacy in a way that facilitates opportunities for others.  My dad is gone.  His legacy lives inside me and will touch whatever I point it towards.

After writing this I feel barely mature enough to understand and be ok with my week.  This is about these kids, I am thinking.

I love you dad.

Mar 28

tn_bolonchoojol2I’m in a jungle, en route to a cenote I’ve never been to.  The people I’m with are work peers, though I don’t know their names and none of them seem familiar to me.  The terrain almost feels like a movie set, like how Gilligan’s Island didn’t ever seem like a legitimate jungle.

We reach the cenote and the water is deep but clear, allowing us to see all the way to the bottom.  There is an island in the center, creating a donut shape for the pool, almost like a lazy river.  I know it’s time to get in the water and I’m looking forward to it, only mildly aware that what I’m about to do is actually work and I need to be prepared.  I get myself together and jump carelessly into the serene pool.  Then I dip underwater.

tn_SEA SNAKES-2I realize quickly that there is another world beneath the water’s surface and it’s wild; what I’m here to do is dangerous.  A treacherous current rips around the center island carrying giant red snappers, snakes and spiders.  They go around and around with no apparent reasoning.  I learn that my goal is to grab the enormous fish by inserting my hand in their mouths and grabbing whatever I can – most likely their teeth – and then hoisting them out of the water and onto the jungle floor.  It’s not that different from how I’ve seen people ‘noodle’ for catfish in Oklahoma, but it’s a scary sport and I feel compelled to keep up with the people I’m with.

tn_red-snapper-reef-fish-w-teethSeveral times I reach tentatively into the mouth of a large, passing fish and with each attempt I either pull away prematurely, out of fear, or the sharp edges of the fish’s teeth causes a gash in my hand or forearm and I begin to bleed.  There is an anxiety swelling and it’s rooted in my inability to land even one fish while my peers seem to be having an easier time.  I know if I can be successful one time it will increase my confidence; I’ll be able to identify the best way to secure the fish and will have an easier time moving forward.  The anxiety of failing is more troubling than the trickling blood from the dozens of lacerations that are now mapping my forearms.

That’s true until I see an increase in the number of snakes.  The current seems to be stronger as well, and moving more swiftly.  I am getting pulled closer to the snakes, losing my balance worrying that I’m about to lose control…and then be consumed.

tn_Photo on 2012-04-28 at 10#32:38am – I wake

This dream reads like a vignette from a Freudian psychoanalysis textbook.  My interpretation directs me almost immediately to work, where I’ve been struggling to feel confident in managing and leading a collection of people whose general existence is, for the most part, unimportant to me.

There are regular times where I suffer through a very strong belief that things are harder for me than they are for others, that my peers are more naturally skilled and capable of doing the work that I’m expected to do, that I should be better at my work and am only nanoseconds from being revealed as a fraudulent con man orchestrating the life and actions of a national political operative.

There are no indications that work is anything but good for me. Self-esteem and a hungering anxiety that can’t be soothed or sated, that perhaps exists without legitimacy…these are my ghosts.  And they live inside me and fly around.

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