Words in My Head

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The Battle to Minimize Self in an Expressive World

Recently I had some time to reflect on the differences I see between myself and my wife and daughters. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m the more shy and reserved one. Haha.

Though I started to doubt whether I’d truly renewed my introvert card while during the stay-at-home period of COVID-19, I am pretty sure it’s still valid. I rely on quiet and solitary pursuits to recharge my batteries. I retreat when overwhelmed by the sheer volume of input presented by the world. And I’m more at home with my head in a book, movie, or music (with or without headphones) than anything else in the world.

Photo by Daniel Adesina on Unsplash

Falling Inward

During the pandemic, I was disconnected from a few of my more extroverted tendencies that I also use to recharge. I couldn’t go work out (which is as much a social exercise as a physical one). I couldn’t go eat at a restaurant or sit quietly in the corner of a coffee shop. I couldn’t go to the movies. And as a result, I fell even further inward. So much so in fact that I returned to extremely old habits like retreating into my work and letting everyone else do their thing.

As I collapsed into myself, I realized that it was a way to seek control over a situation I felt powerless to do anything about. I set up games I could play over the Internet via video chat and screen sharing so that I could share the one thing I know how to do… help people create stories. I’ll save that conversation for another day. But I minimized myself to save energy for the moments I wanted to expand again.

It’s a bit like breathing.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

As an inhale, I exerted control over a very few things. I would work (I work from home and that didn’t change much) or putter around the house cleaning up or fixing meals, whatever needed to be done. I read books. I listened to music. I watched a LOT of television and movies. Things I could do by myself even if I was technically around other people.

As an exhale, I wrote. I created. I worked out a couple of blocks away in a friend’s garage. I set up and ran two hour sessions of a couple of role-playing games I’ve designed.

Some days it worked out that I inhaled just enough to exhale again. I was exhausted many of those long days. I crashed hard and would do my best to repeat the process again when I woke up — inhale, exhale, sleep.

My wife and daughters express themselves differently.

Expanding the Scope

Even as I was falling inward, they were letting it all out. Yelling at one another. Laughing loudly. Singing at the top of their lungs. Talking over each other while ostensibly watching something on TV. Speaking loudly over the phone or computer doing chat after chat.

Remember how I said I try to get smaller when the sheer volume of input became too much? Do you know how hard it is to do that when you can’t find a place to do so in your own house and you can’t escape? That’s what I felt.

As quiet as I tried to make myself, they filled the void. And I don’t blame them, but it was a bit like being in a pressure cooker. I’d look for a place to sneak away for 5 minutes of peace and quiet and inevitably I’d hear my girls, or my wife, or my dogs expressing themselves to the world. Move. Hide. Yelling again… on and on.

I fall inward. They expand outward. The world is a big place, but not big enough during a pandemic it seemed.

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash

Trying to Hold Together

Slowly I seem to be hitting some sort of balance again, but for a while I felt like I was losing my mind. I’m hopeful that I will continue to stay on an even keel for a bit — maybe even make progress on some fronts I was stuck on before.

We shall see.

Leave Me Behind

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

Leave Me Behind

I am always here,
cheering you on
through it all,
good and bad.

Never second guess
how much I love you,
or wonder if I
still walk behind you.

Be stronger than Orpheus.
Resist the urge
to look back
as you press on.

Fly far and fast.
Sing free and strong.
But leave me behind
and know I’ll always be there for you.

BTF 15-JUN-2020

The Fallacy of #alllivesmatter and My Cautious Steps Forward to Help

Let me preface this by saying that I am a middle-aged white American male. I was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood. I made my first Black friends in college and afterwards in the workplace. And I know that I might as well be one of the poster children for White privilege.

In my heart, I believe that all lives matter. I was raised to treat everyone with respect, “from the janitor to the CEO,” though I hate that particular turn of phrase. Kindness matters. Meritocracy matters. Empathy matters. Actions speak louder than words and I am always listening.

But even with all of those ideals, I have come to see how #AllLivesMatter does a disservice to #BlackLivesMatter. All lives DO matter, but that does not change the fact that some people judge others based on the color of their skin and see them as lessers. Black lives are disproportionately harder in our country. Period.

I have heard tales from friends and acquaintances of being pulled over or stopped on the street just for being Black. Questioned or looked suspiciously upon on the way out of a store just because you’re Brown. Or had your word doubted simply because you met some vague description rattled off by a scared white person.

Though I’ve never seen those things with my own eyes, I don’t doubt that they exist. Even if I hadn’t heard those tales, the media is painting a pretty dark picture of race relations these days and our country’s leaders aren’t doing much to help.

We have friends on both sides of this divide. Police. Protesters. And I can only hope that things stay civil. I know they haven’t been civil in some places and both sides have done wrong. There’s plenty of blame to go around even though it helps nothing move toward any kind of reconciliation or promise for such.

I am heartbroken, like so many others. I said this week that it seems we’re on the corner of Disappointment and Despair wondering which direction to turn. But no one thing is going to solve this problem created by generations of abuse going back to the founding of our country. No one thing can right the wrongs or fix it overnight.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Never one for crowds or shouting, I have been listening and watching for ways to help in some small way. Hoping that a cautious step forward is better than none at all.

To ensure that Black voices are not only heard but that I keep listening, I’m reaching out and seeking voices to support. I ordered a copy of the Haunted West project from Chris Spivey from Darker Hue Studios that features stories I haven’t heard and a community working towards telling them. I am seeking artists, writers, and other creators whose work to support publicly and privately so that I can learn from them whatever I can. And I am always willing to listen and learn.

All lives matter, but I hope that each cautious step we take moves us forward to close the gaps any way we can so that we’re all eye to eye and seeking common ground. We’re all human.

#BlackLivesMatter

Five Decades

It’s been a long time since I was a fan of celebrating my birthday in any meaningful way. I don’t like the attention or the pressure that comes with it. I would much rather enjoy a quiet day doing the things that I love with the people I love to do them with.

This year is stranger than usual with the worldwide COVID-19 crisis and the fact that I turn 50. The big 5-0.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

The Party That Didn’t Happen

My wife, wonderful human being that she is, threatened to organize a big party this year like she did when I turned 40. I just smiled and told her that I know whose aid I would enlist when the time came to do the same for her. Though the pandemic hasn’t done anything to help my state of mind, at least it got in the way of a dreaded party held in my honor. 🙂

UPDATE: Instead of a party, she has done something amazing. “For your birthday since I can’t throw you a party. I have organized a 50 messages/memories for your 50th. I have asked family and friends to send pics/video messages/special memories of you!!” — I have seen pictures (and videos!) of faces I haven’t seen in years and years, not to mention getting to hear from some wonderful people.

THANK YOU HONEY!

I’m only half joking about parties. About the only “birthday” thing I remember looking forward to from my youth was being able to “play hooky” on my birthday with my Dad. We would go fishing. He would call it “fishing fever.” Often we would take my grandfather with us and just have a pleasant day.

But this year is different. Five decades is tough to wrap my brain around.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

Diving Deeper

My mind is wired for books, games, movies, music, and television — I’ve always been attracted to anything with a story I could create or consume. I saw a sign on the side of the road recently that made me ponder some of the bookmarks along my five decade journey so far.

Note that these are in no clear order of precedence — just in the order in which they emerge as I write this post.

  • Decade 1 – NASA, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Space: 1999, Star Wars
  • Decade 2 – D&D, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Take Five (Dave Brubeck), Spyro Gyra, David Sanborn, Huey Lewis and the News, The Last Crusade, Aliens, Icehouse, the Nylons, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Erasure, high school, jazz band, college
  • Decade 3 – Moebius Adventures, technical writing, Depeche Mode, The Matrix, The Fifth Element, T2, Ren & Stimpy, Batman TAS, X-Men TAS, Animaniacs, Indigo Girls, Fiddler’s Green, Red Rocks, Robert Jordan
  • Decade 4 – loss, Ev, kids, Phoenix, remote work, Iron Man, Gladiator, Game Knight Reviews, work, V for Vendetta, so many book/movie/music reviews, Jonathan Maberry, Harry Dresden
  • Decade 5 – Aliens & Asteroids, writing, work, Avengers, Iron Druid, Mira Grant, Larry Correia, Alan, my girls growing up, crossfit, Italy, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic

I’m sure there are other things. These are impressions… feelings… random thoughts. And yet, so many memories.

Now let’s see if we can do another few decades to add to this, shall we?

Thank you to everyone who has dropped me a message via text, phone, e-mail, or carrier pigeon!

Cheers!

Poem: Status Quo

Photo by Oumaima Ben Chebtit on Unsplash

Status Quo

Broken,
the door slams
back and forth with the wind.
We’d grown used to the noise.
Tuned it out.
Refused to see, hear, or accept
its brokenness.
Then, a stranger points it out.
Can’t you hear that?
Doesn’t it bother you?
Hear what? we ask,
returning to our phones.
Status quo.

BTF 11-MAY-2020

Marks

Made of memory,
we are but moments
wired together
into patterns
that make us who we are.

Every song we sing,
word we write,
thing we make,
and tale we tell
leaves a mark.

Those marks are us
in that instant,
captured for eternity
as part of the checkered whole
everybody sees.

Perhaps
we should focus more
on leaving marks
on the world
before we go.

BTF 1-17-2020

Poem: The Mirror

Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash

The Mirror

Afraid, I wander
many empty roads
full of people
fulfilling lofty goals
and wondering
if my little dreams
stood up.

I used to sing.
I used to dance.
I used to draw.
I used to tell stories.
But now I stop
for fear
they aren’t good enough
for the ones
who stop to care.

To hell with them all.
Create. Create. Create.
And let the world see
what I can do
with a damaged soul
and a fragile ego.
So I may once again
look in the mirror
and see me
for who I really am.

Brilliant.
Misunderstood.
Creative.

To hell with the doubt,
the agony,
the fear.
Embrace the love.

See the journey
for what it is.
Let it all run free.

BTF 9-28-2019

Fear is the mind killer…

Frank Herbert, author of Dune, has an oft-quoted section about fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert, DUNE

In the last few weeks and months, I’ve come to see much of my own emotional response to the world is driven by fear. Anger. Anxiety. Depression.

Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

Good old Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, had something to say about fear as well…

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Yoda

It all comes down to the same thing, right? Much of the fear we face is the root of irrational thought, which leads to poor decision making. Poor decisions lead to consequences we may not want to face.

But what if you’re afraid of what else life is going to throw at you in some arbitrary time period? The last 6 months have been throwing personal challenges at me left and right, but I’m left wondering if that’s truly the case.

Through it all, I’m left asking what it is I truly afraid of? Lack of control probably. None of the things that happened really happened to me, they happened around me to other people. Crises of mind, body, and emotion.

Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

Turns out that I don’t have much agency in those crises. In one case, I was able to help a bit, but all the rest have largely been completely out of my control. Couldn’t or can’t change any of them. Eventually I came to realize that, but it took a lot of mental anguish to get there.

All I truly have control over is my reaction. Reaction to events directly affecting myself or others. But still it comes back to fear. I’m afraid for other people and the challenges they are facing. I feel for them, which means I feel their fear and possibly project it onto myself. Empathy is a double-edged sword. I fall on it both ways.

But all I can do is let those people know I’m thinking of them and help in some small way if they request it. I can’t force my help upon them. I can’t force them to see the world differently than they do. We all have our own way of seeing and interpreting our lives.

So I’m left pondering how to accept that sometimes the fear I feel isn’t my own, but a mirror I’m projecting back at myself from the people I care about. Can I change my own thinking to wrap my mind around those emotions and modify them to avoid falling into the traps of anger or anxiety or depression?

Good question. Definitely a good question.

Poem: Seeking Solace

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Seeking Solace

World weary and
soul tired,
ground down
by the daily grind,
I wonder where
to recharge my batteries
so my heart
might sing again.
Gone down the tubes
and down the drain,
trying to find bottom
only to sink in the muck,
I seek a quiet place
to find my center
and reconnect
with a world gone mad.
Instead I am downtrodden,
beaten senseless
and feel like I been
hit by a train.
Where is the peace
I need to survive
in this mad place,
I ask the universe.
And then I realize
the quiet has been inside
this whole time,
waiting. 

BTF 18-APR-2019

Poem: Light the Path

Light the Path

The stars above lay clear for miles and miles
hinting at a cloudless sunny morning to come.
Left pondering these twinkles from long ago
unobstructed for a momentary glimpse
through billions of years of history.
Ironic that we can see those burning dots
and yet our path through tomorrow
is impossible to pick out
through the debris of recent yesterdays.

BTF 31-MAR-2019
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