Words in My Head

Spilling on the page...

Category: Musings (page 1 of 3)

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.”


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,

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

Beware the Devil on Your Shoulder

Thanks to the Daily Stoic, I get an e-mail every morning to ponder. Some days they magically seem to smack me upside the head. Other days, I can push them aside as irrelevant.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Today’s e-mail? “Beware the Voice in Your Head.” And it takes the words of Seneca when he spoke about Crates, expanding on them… Crates was walking and noticed a young man muttering to himself. When asked what was going on, the young man replied “I am communing with myself.” Crates’ reply? “Pray be careful, then, and take good heed; you are communing with a bad man!”

This is Aristotle, not Seneca, but still portrays a good look for a philosopher I think!

It’s not that the kid was necessarily a “bad man,” but that we sometimes get led astray by our own dark thoughts.

I can definitely identify, as I struggle having unproductive conversations with myself on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easier to listen to those voices of self-loathing or despair than face up to the fact that they are wrong because they are always in our ear — the devil on our shoulder as it were leading us down dark paths into darker days.

But we can’t always listen to the angels either or we start to believe the stories we make up about ourselves. There has to be a balance between the good bullshit and the bad inside our heads.

This is a very real battle for me, as I am constantly trying to reconcile the positive words I hear from others about my acts and deeds and the dismissive nature of my own interior thoughts about those same things. I never live up to my own standards and sometimes I need to give myself a break — that’s the balance and the challenge.

Dwell in the dark too long and it becomes impossible for the light of the truth to reach you. Maybe I’m full of crap, but it’s taken me nearly 30 years to figure out how to take a compliment more gracefully — and I’m still awful at it. Those are our angels offering praise. And our devils are right there to tell us how full of shit those people are.

You never know what you’ll see in the dark

I remember a “talent show” at a holiday party years and years ago when the daughter of a coworker told me I sounded great and I let the devil lead. I said something to the effect of “Nah, I sucked.” And she laid into me pretty good explaining that I needed to learn how to take a compliment. I was young and stupid. 🙂

Was it a great performance? I honestly don’t remember — I think I played my guitar and sang a song. We had a couple of years where we had big holiday parties and different folks would perform (I did a duet with a friend one year and sang on my own another). I’m an ok musician and have an ok voice some days — that’s the balance I’ve struck with the angel and devil on my shoulder. It’s not — “I’m fantastic, I should perform on The Voice!” And it’s not — “Never do this in public again, ever.” It’s somewhere in-between. 🙂

That’s the battle – achieving some sort of happy medium and using my own insecurities to temper any sense of glorious achievement I may get from the world outside my head. And I’m sure I’m not alone in watching the battle lines push back and forth on a daily basis.

A Week of Highs and Lows

The saying goes “Adulting is hard.” And this little guy definitely reflects the way I’m feeling at the end of this week. A bit like I’ve been run over by a truck.

I feel ya, little dude.

Does that mean this was an awful week? No, there were some great highs to go with the lows. I’m just in full on overwhelm mode right now and trying to keep myself together like everybody else.

Honestly it’s a lot of little things. Everybody needs something. And it would be great if I could do it now. Sometimes that works. But the longer the week has dragged on, the more I’m going to have to practice my No face. 

No, not this No Face, sorry Miyazaki

One of the highs was easy to spot. We had a great time in Breckenridge for a 24 hour getaway to see the Bluegrass trio of I’m With Her, featuring Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins. The concert was amazing – fantastic vocals and insane musical skills – and we enjoyed a couple of good meals and some fun before heading back. 

That was in the middle of the week, in addition to dealing with all the back to school craziness for two busy girls, one of whom is starting with a different soccer club at the same time. Add to that the fact that we have car troubles that are driving me bonkers and all the other stuff that’s all wearing me down quickly.

The other high was the fact that I ran three miles in about 49 minutes, with two sets of 50 push-ups and sit-ups between them. One of my miles was a bit over 11 minutes while I ran with a 20 pound weight vest. Even without the vest, 11 minutes is a great time for me, so to do it with the vest was very surprising. 

I’m trying to weigh the positives and the negatives. Trying to rise above the crap. But it’s not all wine and roses even if we have gone through a few more bottles than usual lately. 

So I will do my best to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving in the “right” direction — wherever that leads me. If you see me and I seem a bit down, just know that I’m doing my best to keep my head up and keep on chugging. 


The Grooves of Story

A weekend ago, I attended my 30th high school reunion and I was surprised. Surprised at how social I was this time. Surprised at how some people became more of what they were in high school, just weathered a bit by age and experience. And surprised by how little we all changed. 

In the days since, I’ve begun pondering those deep grooves of the past, and how easy it is to slip into them.

Finding a Groove

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

What the hell does that mean? Yeah, I’m kind of wondering that as well.

Starting the Groove

We are all products of our own experiences. Perhaps we’ve learned a bit from others along the way, but I’ve found that often we only learn what we are willing to learn as we take in the sights, sounds, and actions of our own lives. Sometimes that’s easier than others and we find a groove right away. And some lessons take a few spins on the record player to scratch that first faint groove. 

Once we have that first groove, it’s there in the record of our experience forever, barring some form of injury that affects our brain or our mental state. Like they always say, “it’s like riding a bike.” I haven’t ridden a bike since college, so I haven’t tested that for a while…

Rediscovering the Groove

I’ve never been a social butterfly, but once I get to know people I am more likely to share some time with you. I tend to use that time listening more than talking, but I like hearing about people’s lives and may even toss in some of my own stories, observations, or insights every now and then.

Photo by Gades Photography on Unsplash

For several hours at the reunion, I fell back into old grooves. I gravitated towards the same folks I did in high school — the nerds and the band geeks. Funny enough, that groove never changed – I still like hanging out with those same people.

Just like at the 10 year and 20 year reunions, the same cliques formed that did when we were in school. We all fell in line easily as the ’80s music played all night long, seeking solace and comfort in the familiar while catching up on what had happened since the last time we saw each other.

But it quickly became apparent that each of us was worn by that time between. Some spent time in the military or the police. Others went into artistic careers. Many married and had children. A few were divorced and single or re-married. Some battled cancer or other illnesses themselves or with family or friends.

We all had new grooves in our records. Some were deeper than others. 

One individual had suffered memory loss due to an event, so she was being re-introduced to us all — trying to find those faint scratches from years before. 

We all had a shared history, whether we remembered faces and names, deeds or experiences from those decades ago. It was good to find the grooves we’d left behind.

Keeping the Records Spinning

We all have stories from those years in high school, and yet I was much more interested in hearing the stories I hadn’t heard; tales of jobs and children, travels and experiences. I am not convinced I shared enough, but I did listen to it all with as much focus as I could muster.

Reconnecting with the past reinforces just how far we’ve come and yet how little we’ve changed. It’s a strange dichotomy in many ways. But I’m glad the records still played. 

A Messy, Detached Mind

The last few weeks have been a long mental struggle for me. I can’t point to any single element that’s the cause, just the combined weights of myriad stressors and challenges without end. The bad part is I know there are other people with much larger pressures and challenges, so I even feel guilty writing about what is essentially me quietly going crazy for no good reason.

But let me back up. I’m not crazy. I’m human. And though I understand that other people are going through much worse situations than I am, this is important. So for a time, I’m going to toss off the yoke of unnecessary angst and guilt and talk about the positives and negatives I’ve noticed of late.

First, the positive…

I’ve never been someone who enjoys conflict. It is emotionally draining and mentally crushes me as I do everything I can to avoid it. And this week I had something arise that I always knew in the back of my mind could come up as a blogger, but never had to deal with myself. (The situation is still evolving or I’d write about it here. Suffice it to say I had to chat with two friends about it – my business partner and a high school friend who is a lawyer. They are helping me deal with it as things develop.)

Yeah, I know – that sounds pretty negative. And it is. The positive was the weird way my brain processed this event.

Lately I’ve been reading more about the Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and listening to folks like Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) and Aubrey Marcus (Own the Day, Own Your Life). And generally just trying to chill the f*ck out. I’ve always lived too much in my head, making mountains of mole hills. My last few years of learning to love CrossFit has changed my mental outlook to embrace adversity and change much better than ever before.  And it helps that my wife, a force of nature, has been whittling down my resistance to change over the last two decades.

Apparently that has all added up, internally, to a better head space for me.

As the events unfolded in my e-mail and chatting with my friends about the situation, I became almost detached. I watched as my emotions bubbled up as always, with panic, fear, and anger, but it was as though they belonged to someone else. The rational part of my brain apparently decided they wouldn’t do me any good anyway, so it just shoved them to the side in a safe space and let them go while it processed the rest of it mentally.

It was bizarre. And awesome. Though the whole situation is infuriating, it didn’t overwhelm me emotionally like it might have in the past.

So that’s a positive amidst all the crap on that front (and the next).

Then, the negative…

Adulting sucks. I have a billion things going on that I need to do. Some for work. Some for home. Some for my family. Some for my publishing business. It’s all piling on.  And I know I’m not handling with all of that well.

I’ve tried some different things with to-do lists and they lasted a week as the overwhelm rose and fall in waves. So now I’m just trying to deal with things as I remember them and have the bandwidth to do so. Some days are better than others. And I’m coping, but not well.  (Remember that guilt I cavalierly tossed away earlier in the article? It’s back with a vengeance.)

So here’s my request for help. Does anybody have coping strategies for how to deal with the overwhelming minutiae of modern life? I’m interested in hearing about them.

Let me know.

The Power of Story

For years, I’ve been attempting to find my “raison d’etre” or reason for being. Sometimes the water of life gets muddied by the debris kicked up by human experience and those bedrock notions get lost. In my case, I’m not sure it’s ever something I really stopped to consider until fairly recently. As we get older, I think those moments of clarity have become more important, but it’s a bit like an archaeological dig at times.

I’ve never led what I consider an exciting life. A moment here or there, perhaps, such as falling in love or witnessing the birth of our children, watching the events of the Challenger Disaster or 9/11 unfold, or dealing with the sudden loss of a dear friend. For the most part my seas have been relatively calm with a few storms now and again. My history is not one of epic moments affecting others.

In the end, my goal is to lead a quiet life where I try to do the right thing when I can and accept my own mistakes and limitations when I can’t.

Some days I succeed.

However, I realize that when I’m happiest, I’m usually wrapped up in a story of some sort told in the company of friends and family. Sometimes they’re my stories. Sometimes those of others. Sometimes they are fictional. Sometimes factual. And all have some element of truth to them.

What I’ve come to find out is that everybody and everything has a story to tell, happy, sad, or ridiculous as they may be.

When we look at history (or herstory), it’s the “story” part that’s key, told from a particular perspective with it’s own biases. And yes, we all have biases.

Good nonfiction lets us draw our own conclusions about real events and people from the facts. Good fiction lets us follow along as our favorite characters stumble along, drawing THEIR own conclusions from their experiences and relationships. And no two people will read the same story and come to the exact same conclusions because no two people have the same life experiences to draw upon.

Consuming a story is not a passive act any more than creating one. We process it through the lenses of our own lives, generating an internal retelling of the tale using our own stories to relate whatever truths we find there and store them to memory.

Stories are magical. And like all magick, it can be beneficial or it can be dangerous.

That’s the beauty of art. Whether you are singing its praises or detailing its faults, you’re right. But others may not share your opinions. Feel free to share them, but don’t be alarmed when others’ opinions differ from your own.

My reason for being is to find and tell stories, both real and imagined. What’s your story?

No Need for Resolutions

As every year ends, there seems to be a rush to dictate the rules for the new one. Eat better. Exercise more. Do something… anything to get back on track.

What’s funny is I gave up on resolutions a long time ago. There’s really no need for the nonsense. Every day can be a new beginning.

So every day, I do my best to do what I can with what I’m given. It’s not New Age mumbo jumbo or Old School philosophical thought. It’s just reducing things down to where they are manageable.

Do I have plans? Sure, there are many lines in the sand on my calendar. However, being married to my wife for 17 years, I have taken away one simple lesson that I have had to learn many times: plans change. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But change is the only constant.

Uncle Fred says “Life’s lessons will be repeated until learned.” This one took a long time for me to accept. And I won’t say I’m good at it yet, but I’m getting there.

My plan for 2018 is much like my plan for 2017 was: Every day do my best with what I have, for as long as I can.

May your 2018 be full of moments of peace, love, and happiness so we may overcome all the other days.

Accepting Compliments is Impossible

One of the challenges I have had to try and overcome in the last 25 years has been accepting compliments from people. And yes, I know that sounds weird.

Many years ago at a Christmas party, we had a “Talent Show” of sorts and I sang and played guitar on stage. We did it two separate years and I don’t remember which year it was, whether it was when Dave G and I played “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel, or another year when I performed but honestly don’t remember what I sang. Might have been a Christmas song even. But the daughter of a coworker complimented me on the performance and I essentially rebuffed it, telling her I was crap. Her response was that I really needed to learn how to take a compliment.

She wasn’t wrong.

These days I have become a bit better at it, choosing to say “thank you” and leave my own opinion out of my response. But inward, I’m still harsh and usually tell myself all sorts of entertaining stories to convince myself it’s not true.

Today, for instance, Coach Drea complimented my ability to push through today’s workout, noting that she can see the change that’s come from the changes we’ve been doing through the nutrition challenge. And I said “thank you” and let it go at that as I cleaned up my equipment. But on the way home, inwardly it was a different story.

Let me preface this next part by saying this has NOTHING TO DO with Drea. She’s an amazing person and coach and I value her has a friend, this is just purely my brain ticking off the ways she must be wrong. So again, I’m not saying any of this crap is true — the opposite in fact.

Watching my inner dialog, I questioned her intent.  She was encouraging me as a coach simply because it was her job to do so and she wanted me to continue paying my monthly membership fees. She was encouraging me because she wanted me to continue on the nutrition challenge and not give up (we’re on day 12 of a 62 day challenge).

Let’s walk through the bullshit factor in those statements. The nutrition challenge is free to members. I’ve been a member for nearly 5 years, so it’s not like that’s going to change unless something drastic happens. She is ALWAYS very positive and every day asks how we’re doing, what she can do to help, and is a wonderful person.

Her intent is pure. But inwardly I still beat myself up about various things. I could have done better. I can always do better. I should have run more. I should have done more weight or larger sets. I should do more mobility to take care of the grip issues plaguing my left hand and forearm.

As a result, her compliments were meaningless to my inner dialog because the inner critic rules the roost most of the time. How’s that for twisted?

I was even encouraging to every other athlete at the box this morning — cheering on Carrie, Logan, and Nick as they fought through the same workout I was doing. It was easier than listening to the supportive comments from other athletes like Caleb & Bill who were cheering me on.

Yeah, my brain is a mess.

Several weeks  ago, Coach Nicole asked me to focus on the positive in my write-ups more than the negatives. It’s something I need to do more often.  Nit-picking is so much easier than looking for the good things that are all around and within me. Family. Friends. Happy things. Life is good if I look at it the right way. There will always be issues, but the good usually outweighs the bad.

So moving forward, I am working VERY hard on being more positive. Accepting things as they are in the moment. And being more thankful for the positive vibes I get from those around me.

An impossible task? Perhaps. But it’s time to make some changes. I fight change constantly, though it’s truly the only constant in the universe.

Who’s with me?

« Older posts

© 2019 Words in My Head

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑