We all get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but occasionally we need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best friend. And it’s not just one or two of them at a time it’s all of them all at once!
Nobody’s doing anything wrong. I still love you all, you knuckleheads, but still, sometimes I just get a bit weary. We all do. I’m no psychologist but I’m absolutely sure that it’s normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?
Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself?
Geez! Everywhere you go all day, every day, there you are!
When you go to bed you go with you. When you wake up you’re still there.
Every single moment of your life you know everything you’re thinking and everything you’re going to say before you say it! Doesn’t that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?
You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have a disagreement. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.
The one thing I almost never do is surprise myself. And that’s a drag.
I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before. Or, be nobody at all just for a little while.
If you know me personally, admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 64 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn’t do it, so why should I be expected to?
I know what you’re thinking. Both of me assures you emphatically I am not having a break down or bordering on being dangerous to myself. I love every moment of life.
I love me!
Still, sometimes I begin to have a thought and then cut it off with, “Yeah, I know. — Whatever.”
When I was between marriages some thirty-four years ago I was forced to learn a very hard lesson most people manage to avoid all their lives. I learned to be truly alone for long periods of time and to love it.
I had never been alone for more than a couple of hours or an afternoon at most. I grew up in my parents’ home, moved into an apartment with a buddy at 19, was married at 20 and lived with my first wife until I was thirty. Then, the divorce. Reality caved in on me and I found myself living in a small apartment with our newlywed furniture and nothing else that would ever allow me to use the word “our” again. “Our” life was over. My life alone was beginning and I was terrified.
Forced to take a scheduled vacation alone, I rented a house near a beach north of Mendocino and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.
There is nothing more lonely than a large, empty, unfamiliar house in which the only thing that is yours is you.
People who have never been married for a long time and have it suddenly collapse can’t know the vacancy of self mourning. I’m not talking about self pity, that’s the easy part, but rather, true self mourning that has nothing to do with missing your specific wife or husband. Missing that particular person is a given, but what I didn’t expect was the sense that half of the whole person I had become over time was suddenly nonexistent and would never return. I think it must feel exactly like being only half alive.
I missed everything about my life: my wife and son, our home, our street and neighbors, our dog, our routines. I was desperate to scar my soul, to stop the pain and repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away. So, I cried. It’s all I could do. I gave in to my grief completely, nonstop except for brief periods of respite provided by fatigue. Then, exhausted, I would tumble into a restless sleep and eventually awaken still empty, still lonely but refreshed enough to well up with pain once again and resume my suffering.
That’s the key, I think. Wallow in your misery. Be mindful of your physical well-being and force yourself to take care when nothing seems to matter, including self preservation. Eat when you should. Sleep as much as you can. I found writing to be cathartic but nothing heals like embracing pure grief, for that is its purpose.
During a lull in despondency during my lonely vacation, a few days after beginning my self-imposed confinement and getting bored with self pity, I stepped outside my rented home just to take a peek at the world.
The sky and sea were bright blue. The sun and sand were golden, the air crisp, thick and salty. It was one of those perfect winter days on the Northern California coast and that’s when I first heard the voice inside my head:
“This day is a gift.”
“You’re going to be fine. You’ve survived. You’ll be happy again,” the voice said.
I was not alone, I had me.
As I listened to that calm, reassuring, wiser – perhaps divine – part of myself I suddenly understood that I had always been there and that I knew more than I ever imagined. I had a lot to say but had never been able to hear it because my world had been a cacophony of noise and distractions. And, as I listened to my internal confidante I learned something else amazing:
I like me.
A few days later, still sad but at peace, I wandered into a little shop in Mendocino and spotted a poster waiting for me to carry it home. It was a beautifully photographed picture of a tiny, empty rowboat mirrored in a calm sea. The caption beneath it read:
There is perfection in solitude. It is the reflection of serenity.
I returned to the societal circus and made my way back in.
That was many years ago and I can still hear my internal voice wherever I go, whenever I listen. He’s a good guy. He cares about me and would never give me bad advice.
Today, Carolann, and I are gloriously happy in the twenty-eighth year of our honeymoon. As Paul Harvey would say, we are “happily ever-aftering.”
But I still find time to get away by myself for a few days every now and then because I still need to be alone once in awhile, to shut out the noise, to settle down and listen to the brain in my heart. I need days away from familiar people, places and things to talk at leisure with my internal best friend and to frolic together like dogs on a beach until we wear ourselves out with freedom and possibilities and to promise each other we will do this again!
It’s a lifelong disease. There is no cure that I know of, but then I’ve never known anybody who wanted to be cured.
Though Western America is now a Happy Meal collection of fast food franchises and big box stores there is still a lot of heart to be found in the Heartland if you know where to look.
You look in small towns away from major cities and highways, in out of the way places where ordinary people live extraordinary lives.
You look by just wanting to find American treasures of passion and goodness boiled down to old fashioned common sense in very uncommon people. And by not being in a hurry to get where you’re going. So much the better if you’re not going anywhere in particular.
My friend, Chuck Woodbury, has lived the life of a motor home vagabond for nigh on to 40 years and has managed to earn a living and buy gas writing about his adventures, the oddball places he has discovered and the people he has met. Inevitably, all of Chuck’s stories are wonderful in their uniqueness and astonishing in their consistency.
Americans everywhere are all the same. When you peel off the layers of anxiety, necessity and pretense we all just want to enjoy our lives with our families, our friends, and most importantly, ourselves.
My father, Don Williams, surely wasn’t the first person who ever said this but he was the first who said it to me:
“Until you learn to know and love yourself, you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”
Like Dad, I found myself on the road.
Chuck Woodbury’s Roadside Journal can be found and enjoyed here: http://roadsidejournal.rvtravel.com/
I just took my wife of 27 years to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport and sent her on her way.
Carolann Conley is going home for the first time.
I’ve always called her Feisty One. Her Irish roots are strong and obvious. She dances with joyous abandon, lives in the moment, loves ferociously, laughs like a free angel and cries only for puppies and children, never for herself.
Her emerald eyes sparkle one minute and then cloud over the next, with the dangerous darkness of a storm borne of the cold Irish Sea.
She’s a handful, for sure, but not this week. She’s on her own now, to find her ancestral roots in the green hills of her old country. I expect Carolann to return to me with breathless stories of her Ireland and a heart filled with discovery.
This is how we grow into ourselves and learn to appreciate the thousands of lives before ours that loved us into existence.
Have you heard about the new TV show called Transparent? The Hollywood crowd is abuzz with excitement. Here’s how the producers of the show describe it:
An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone to spill their secrets.
In the industry that’s called a “logline”, a one-sentence show description designed to hook the reader into wanting more. This one strikes me as pretty bland but the critics are raving about the show and the industry insiders are fawning and fussing over themselves for being so brilliantly progressive as to create this wall-shattering, breathtaking cinematic experience.
CarolAnn and I were curious so we watched three episodes last night. They’re only a half hour each. The show is labeled as comedy.
Transparent is about a 70-ish family patriarch cross dresser coming out of the closet to his adult children and admitting he is a long suffering woman trapped in a man’s body. (“Trans”-“parent”, get it?) It’s filled with nudity, including full frontal, and people running around having sex with people they’re not supposed to be having sex with, including two happily married soccer moms having a fling together at their long repressed lesbianism and a drug addled caucasian female who arranges a ménage à trois with two African American men and explains to them that when they are finished with her she wants to watch them “do” each other. That’s when they throw her out of the house.
They have their principles.
I’m not making this up. I honestly don’t believe I could if I tried and I’m kind of proud of that.
As you might imagine there is a lot of yelling and swearing and tears in all of this but, oddly, no comedy at all, not a single chuckle or even a smile and I honestly can’t see where any was intended.
My wife and I are old enough that none of this shocks us. We’re not particularly offended by language and we don’t even lament the loss of cultural dignity and decency as much as we used to because, frankly, that train left the station long ago. We’ve sort of gotten used to it. We’re just tired of TV shows with no likable characters, no reason to care and nothing to smile about.
And, we’re tired of being told that depravity is normal and there is no such thing as a lie when it serves our own selfish desperation.
This is what passes for comedy now. It’s what we celebrate.
Because it’s easier to lower our standards than to raise our expectations.
Until I read this letter a couple of days ago I’ve excused myself from passing judgment on abortion. I don’t like it but I’m a man, it’s not my body and I have no right to an opinion.
Sorry, not my table.
Besides, morality is largely subjective, isn’t it? Who am I to tell you what’s right or wrong for you?
Then I read this letter written by an unidentified woman and posted on the social site, Reddit, and reprinted in Cosmopolitan. The writer is having an abortion tomorrow.
It’s a letter to her unborn child.
I can feel you in there. I’ve got twice the appetite and half the energy. It breaks my heart that I don’t feel the enchantment that I’m supposed to feel. I am both sorry and not sorry.
I am sorry that this is goodbye. I’m sad that I’ll never get to meet you. You could have your father’s eyes and my nose and we could make our own traditions, be a family. But, Little Thing, we will meet again. I promise that the next time I see that little blue plus, the next time you are in the same reality as me, I will be ready for you.
Little Thing, I want you to be happy. More than I want good things for myself, I want the best things for the future. That’s why I can’t be your mother right now. I am still growing myself. It wouldn’t be fair to bring a new life into a world where I am still haunted by ghosts of the life I’ve lived. I want you to have all the things I didn’t have when I was a child. I want you to be better than I ever was and more magnificent than I ever could be. I can’t do to you what was done to me: Plant a seed made of love and spontaneity into a garden, and hope that it will grow on only dreams. Love and spontaneity are beautiful, but they have little merit. And while I have plenty of dreams to go around, dreams are not an effective enough tool for you to build a better tomorrow. I can’t bring you here. Not like this.
I love you, Little Thing, and I wish the circumstances were different. I promise I will see you again, and next time, you can call me Mom.
The woman who wrote this is obviously a person of sensitivity, intellect and skill. I’ll even assume that she has a great capacity for love because she seems to understand how it feels, if not exactly what it means.
Mom is ending her beloved Little Thing’s potential for life because it’s inconvenient.
Little Thing will never open his or her eyes to the dazzling rock show of light and sound that celebrates the moment of every birth. She’ll never feel the warm rush of delivery from her mother’s womb to her mother’s arms.
Little Thing will never suffer fear or confusion because Mom spared him of all that inconvenience.
He/She/Thing will never cry or laugh or decide what tastes It likes or doesn’t like.
She/He/It will never be excited or fearful, nor consider Little Thing’s future possibilities.
The harshness of age is in its wisdom, the bitter pill of learning that as much as our younger selves still cling to hope and miracles, the truth is some people can’t be fixed.
Getting older doesn’t make us less tolerant. It makes us sadly less naive.
After 60 years of looking for excuses I’ve decided that very bad, destructive people need to be put away for life. I can’t care anymore about their personal problems. I’m sorry for them but we just can’t afford to give some people a second chance.
Arsonists are like murderers. They should either be executed or locked up forever. They blew their shot at happiness, decency and contribution.
Some of them never had a chance, of course. Some grew up in families so screwed up they never had a shot at personal salvation. These poor souls suffer more internal pain every week than most of us will deal with in our entire lives.
That’s tragic in every sense of the word but here’s what’s worse:
We just can’t afford to care.
Some of them must be sacrificed because our abilities are limited and we must make decisions.
This morning I talked on the radio about a village in India where people are terrified to walk the paths between their town and those of their neighbors. When darkness falls they huddle in their homes, fearful for their lives because a leopard has been stalking and eating humans, twelve victims in the past two years.
Can you imagine having something like that to worry about?
My partner, Amy, and I also talked about the Islamic terrorists in northern Iraq who have been slaughtering Christians and beheading babies. By comparison, that village in India seems like Disney World with a plumbing problem.
In Africa people are dying by the thousands of Ebola, which is highly contagious, rarely curable and never satisfied to simply snuff out lives. It insists on doing so in a long, drawn out, fevered, hemorrhagic horror.
People in their Ebola death throes sweat profusely as their eyes bleed and their minds scream for deliverance.
Meanwhile, here in America we’re all wound up about two very wealthy young athletes who both have apparent tendencies to snap and hit people they love. So far none of the people they love have been seriously hurt and are defending their attackers.
In our house, our dog Amelia has an intestinal virus but the vet gave us some medicine and says she’ll be fine.
Carolann and I are also trying to figure out how to save enough money to buy Christmas presents for our family in California.
We’re healthy and happy but we do stress about our weight a bit.
Sometimes we’re annoyed when the WiFi doesn’t work right.
When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21 I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. — Mark Twain
The idiocy of ageism has angered me for as long as I can remember, decades, not just in recent years.
The doorway to sexism, racism and all other isms is here, in our childish disrespect for other generations on either side of us.
Here is a link to the piece that published these memes and got me riled today. It’s a website called Elite Daily, which bills itself as “The voice of Generation Y”:
This is my published reply, by no means intended for everybody whose birthdays fall within the arbitrary range of years defined by the author of this piece:
Shocking as it may be to some of you whippersnappers, we old farts understand how you feel and think. We grew up as hippies, peace and love and all that. We were going to change the world. At the time we thought our parents were “square” and backward. Every generation does. But we still loved and respected them.
This is just nasty.
Gen Y is apparently defined as people born between 1980 and 2000. Good God, some of you are in your mid 30s and still bitching and whining.
Y’all are on your own.
Personally, I accept very little credit for my children’s wonderful qualities and no blame at all for the decline of American society, our government and our family values.
My old fart friends and I have worked hard to live honorably and remain relevant. We succeed in varying degrees but we can only fail by the self-righteous judgment of you, whom we coddled and still love.
You will ultimately define us, but at least have the decency to wait until we’re dead.
Live your life, fix your world and if you can’t show a little respect, just leave us alone.
Robin Williams ended his life nine days ago and I can’t get over it.
In the past few days CarolAnn and I have watched five or six of his movies we had never seen before, the ones that weren’t big box office smashes, the ones the critics sniffed at with condescension. We’ve discovered that we love his chiseled face, his body language and the way he spewed lines with deadly comedic or dramatic accuracy.
But mostly, we just love his simple, vulnerable honesty.
There are a lot of extremely gifted actors who can portray reality but Robin wore his soul on the outside for all to see instead of guarding himself as the rest of us do.
After all the talk of alcoholism, drug addiction, clinical depression and the early stages of Parkinson’s, as we struggle to understand how a man overflowing with enough joy to share with the entire world and yet be so tortured as to take his own life — I have finally reached a conclusion:
I don’t and can’t and will therefore never get it.
Maybe Robin’s gifts so isolated him from normal folks that the rest of us drove him mad with boredom and loneliness.
Or, maybe the cacophony of circus noise inside his unfiltered creative genius finally led him to throw the off switch just so he could get some rest.
Maybe a lot of things.
I don’t spend much time on questions that have no answers for me but I think I owe Robin Williams the gratitude and respect of not assuming he is to be pitied.
Enough of the “tortured soul” stuff.
I choose to think Robin was simply finished. He knocked off early and went home.
His work should never again be picked at with clinical tweezers by the superficial arts of critics and their students.
Academics, as Robin showed us time and again, are merely sign posts to self discovery. And unless we are instinctively inspired by a higher source, as he apparently was — we need to follow our curiosity, just dive in and live.