7.31.2013

What I Did With My Wedding Ring

One of the decisions you've got to make when you get divorced: What do you do with the wedding ring? 

Of course, "sell it" is the number one most popular course of action. But for me, it was a lot harder than that. I'm a very sentimental type. I also tend to think things out way too many steps beyond where I really need to be thinking. So, when I thought about selling my ring, the thought didn't immediately end with "Get cash." It had to delve into "And then, what do I do with that cash?" and of course it snowballed from there. Anything I buy will be tainted with the knowledge that I bought it with wedding ring money. And because things did NOT end nicely for us, there will always be the patina of  my resentment and bitterness and anguish, as well as all of the memories the ring contained, all over whatever I bought. 

So it wasn't an easy process. It took me a while to finally get up the gumption to go through with it. And when I did, I was utterly stymied with what to do with the money. I didn't want to buy clothes, because I knew I'd never wear those clothes. I didn't want to buy collectables, because I'd never value them. 

I left for New York a few days later, and a friend of mine took me out shopping to cheer me up. She bought me some really nice clothes (I was also much skinnier due to my lack of eating and none of my clothing fit right), and told me a piece of advice that, to this day, is still one of the most helpful things I've heard throughout my divorce process: "You should date yourself." 

She meant I should take myself out to movies I want to see, eat nice dinners, go on trips, and otherwise just treat myself as well as I would treat my ex. And the best part: I was guaranteed to get laid every night. 

And that's when I realized what I needed to do with my ring money. 

I have some really, really amazing friends, and they have some even more amazing friends. One of my friends has connections at the most exclusive restaurant in all of New York, Per Se. So I called him and asked if he could pull a few strings and get me dinner reservations. It was Valentine's Day, so I thought the chances were non-existent. 

He pulled it off, and on Valentine's Day night, I took myself out to one of the best dinners I've ever had in my life. I had a Chef's Rare lamb shank with homemade mint jelly. I had truffled mashed potatoes. I had lobster. I had one of the best split pea soups I've ever had. I had two desserts. And to wash it all down, I bought myself a bottle of Dom Perignon. 

I've always wanted to just say "bring me a bottle of Dom." And that's exactly what I did. And you know what? It tastes just like champagne. But that wasn't the point. 

The tab came to just a little over what I got for my ring. It was perfect. I took myself out, treated myself nicely, paid for it with my ring money, and went home and shit it all out. No objects to remind me of what poison memories were contained in the money it was bought with. No reminders that I only have that possession because something else so much more important, ended. Just a lovely dinner date for myself.

And for the record: I totally got laid.


7.30.2013

I'll Write For You.


Give me a few minutes of your time. I'll write for you.

I don't pretend to think you'll read everything I write. But I promise that, whatever you read, It'll be the truth. It'll speak to you. And when you've read it, talk to me about it.

I'll respond.

I'll tell you what you need to hear. It may not be what you want to hear. It may be harsh, it may be tough. But it will be the truth. Even if it hurts me to say, it will hurt me more to lie to you. So you'll get the truth. You will get honesty. And it will come from my heart.

This is my promise to you. Spend whatever time you need with me, and take as much time as you need to hear what I say or read what I write - even if that time is no time at all.

I don't write to be read or heard. I write because I can.

I write because I must. And I'm going to write anyway. So give me a few minutes of your time. I'll write for you.

7.29.2013

Joe Does Spoken Word Crap (Video)

I believe that everyone has at least one secret thing they do for themselves that they tell no one about. Some people sneak a cigarette (or joint). Some knit. Some take two weeks and go someplace they've never been and climb a mountain and tell no one.

Until about 2 years ago, whenever I would travel, and had a free night, I would do spoken word poetry at open mics. I've done 10 or so since I started writing. As you saw in another post, I'm pretty shy about posting poetry, because poetry gets pretty emotional. I can write 20,000 words on just about any subject you want me to, but you ask me to open up and share a poem, and I start physically shaking.

So, doing the open mics was pretty much like therapy. The vibe in most places is VERY welcoming and open, so it's fun and I rarely if ever feel like I'm being judged. Given that I'm going through a pretty thorough reboot in my life, I felt like it might be fun to jump into it again, so I went to Java Monkey in Decatur and shared a piece I wrote.

Because it's my first time in a while, I went more for humor than for feelings and gushy stuff (I'm not exactly ready to go there yet, I might sob on the mic). Also, most poetry readings / slams consist of political, racial or gender related pieces that tend to skew on the angry and emotional side. I know Java Monkey does. So I decided to see what I could come up with to be angry about in society. This is what I went with (co-written with Jeremy Halvorsen):




Sorry about the audio quality from 0:32 to 1:00, it's iPhone video. I didn't think I'd actually be sharing this, but it went pretty well so I decided I'd be brave (again) and do so. Very very very special thanks to my amazing friend Colette Bennett for shooting it!

If you guys like this stuff, I may start posting more of it. I'd love to know what you think!


7.27.2013

July 27th, 2013, 2:00 AM

Yet another long road trip done. Yet another long drive home completed. I pull into the driveway and grab my suitcases from the truck. I head on up to the porch -and unlock the door. And as soon as I walk in the house it hits me:

This is no longer my home.

It's been nearly eight months since the house became mine and mine alone, and it's the exact same amount of suck this week as it was the first. I walk past the sink full of weeks-old dirty dishes (which really aren't that dirty, because all I used them for was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) and past the kitchen island stacked high with clean but unfolded laundry, into the living room.  

That's where I sleep now. My guest bed mattress sits in the floor, butting against the couch on the long end and the love seat on the short. My pillows and blankets and sheets are strewn about.

I sigh. The sheets need to be changed. I don't sigh because I have to change them. I sigh because this means going upstairs.

I hate upstairs. 

You see, shortly before we began having trouble, my ex-wife and I completely redesigned the downstairs. So while it was "our" home, it underwent drastic change just before I ended up living here alone. So it's somewhat safe to be downstairs. When I'm not out on the road, that's where I live. 

But upstairs? That's a completely different matter.

Screws are still all over the walls where our pictures once hung. Every room upstairs has been abandoned, relegated to storing all of the memories we once shared. We spent the vast majority of our time upstairs. We slept in our bedroom. We hung out in our "entertainment" room. I worked in my office. We fostered cats in one of the spare rooms, and the other we stored whatever we didn't really feel like putting in the attic.

There are so many memories in the walls of each and every room upstairs. They float through the closed doors like apparitions. I don't need to walk in to know what I'm going to be reminded of. Each room's layout is burned into my brain. 

But alas, the sheets must be fetched. 

I walk up the stairs and the smell of familiarity hits me. It even smells like it used to. I don't even make it half way to the hall closet before I lose my shit and start choking back tears. 

Why oh why didn't I think to just bring down all the sheets from this stupid closet and store them downstairs?!? Oh, right, because it only occurred to me a few weeks before to actually move my mattress down there. I don't have to sleep on the couch. There's a bed with no history and no memories I could use.

I grab the sheets and head back downstairs. I make the bed and I lay there, listening to music because I keep it on 24/7. I cannot stand coming home to silence. Despite being exhausted from another week on the road, I can't sleep. 

So I write.

It's all I've got. 

7.26.2013

A Small Victory


I am celebrating a small victory today.

Last night, I was out with friends I haven't seen in a long while. When we used to get together, we drank legendary quantities of alcohol and ate extremely well. In fact, it's a point of pride for the reputation of the place we all worked at together (and they still do). Last night, we were all headed out to a very amazing upscale barbecue place with great beers on tap.

Now, I've been on a recent “cleanse” if you will. And trust me, it's necessary.  Shortly before separating from my ex, I was very nearly anorexic. I ate maybe 1000 calories a day - and that's only if someone forced me to. At one point, I weighed in nearly sixty pounds lighter than I was merely three months earlier.

After she split, I went on a nationwide tour and ate and drank literally every night. The binging was insane. I ate and drank and ate and drank and ate... Workouts were sporadic; barely enough to keep what I was ingesting burned up. I gained back some weight which was necessary, and some more which really wasn't.

But worse, I'd lost my focus. Mentally, physically and emotionally, I was lost.

In recent months, I've pulled fitness back into my life, but the eating poorly and drinking have still been a huge part of my routine. So, a few weeks ago, I made a pact with myself: no more booze, eat right, exercise and write every single day. The goal is to get my head, body and heart in line and get my life straightened out. It's as much about the health and wellbeing as it is about establishing discipline.

It's been going pretty well, I think.

Tonight however, I contemplated a “cheat” day. I thought about it all afternoon. I could have some beers and really delicious rich food tonight. I've been good for a while now. I deserve to unwind with my friends in the manner we are accustomed to. Plus I'll totally work out extra hard tomorrow and get right back on the wagon.

...And so on. All the lies you tell yourself when you want something.

By the time we got to dinner, I thought nothing of ordering a beer when the server came by. And as soon as I did, I felt it well up inside me: the creeping feeling of betraying myself. I knew I was giving in to something I shouldn't be. I was bailing on my plan. I was betraying my oath to myself. This wasn't about sobriety, it was about keeping a promise to myself.

I excused myself, got up, and cancelled my beer order with the server. I didn't make any big deal of it. I just got up and did it. I also peed, but I'm not sure that serves the narrative I'm telling here. I felt relieved and proud. A small victory, to be sure… But one to be counted.

Counting the small victories is every bit as important as the big ones. Moreso, in fact, because the small ones are the easiest to let go of and discount if you don't succeed at them. And before I went to bed last night, I got to add another red “X” on the calendar I'm using to keep track of how many days I make my goal. I got to keep the chain unbroken.

It's not the only game in the playoffs of life, but I did win that small victory. Can't wait to get up and play again tomorrow.

7.25.2013

Be Careful What You Get Angry About


Anger reveals vulnerability. Whereever you get angry, you're not fortified. You are insecure. You have unresolved issues. This isn't a bad thing. It's just true.

Be careful then what you decide to get angry about. Pay attention to your triggers for yourself, so you know where to focus your healing. But more, be careful what other people see you get angry about. You're showing them your underbelly.

They may stab at it. And then you're not just angry, you're hurt too.

7.24.2013

Sappy Crap That I Don't Want To Admit Is Free Verse Poetry

A secret I'm sure you already know: sometimes I write sappy emotional crap. Some people call it "poetry."  I refuse to use the "p" word. It's more just free-form stuff that spills from my brain and doesn't feel right when shaped into paragraphs. So I just throw it down, line by line, as it comes out of me.

Then I quickly close the cover to my journal and pretend that shit doesn't exist, because come on... Poetry? Joe writes poetry? Yeah, no.

But I figure, hey, it's 5 PM and I need to get something up today. Traffic on the internet is really low after a certain point in the afternoon, and I don't have a topic to write about. So I'll share a bit of my sappy crap. If it sucks, we won't do this again, ever. But if it doesn't, maybe I'll revisit it... Maybe. And just for the record, none of this stuff pertains to my divorce. Trust me... It wouldn't be this flowery.

Just know, I'm really sensitive about this shit right here. So be kind.



***************


I am in love with people I've never met.
I am proud of accomplishments I never got to see.
I am sad for losses I've never experienced.
I am lonesome for loves I've never had.
I am homesick for places I've never been.
I love in the hope that you may one day recognize it.
I celebrate so that you know joy.
I hurt in the hope that you won't have to.
And with any luck,
If I do my job well,
I just might make you remember these things you've never done
When you're stuck in the middle of doing them yourself.



***************


Sometimes, I wish...
But mostly, I believe.


***************



You only want to give the world your heart.
It's the only reason you even make an attempt at art.

And of course they don't get it. Of course they don't care.
How inconvenient of you to even attempt to share!

You want to give up. Maybe you even do.
But it's only for a while, because you can't hide from you.

The only ways to scratch that itch at the back of your brain
Is with black cold steel and one big Bang...

Or, the better way, with your pencil or pen
Scratching at that itch again and again.

And you put it out there, not to be told it's good,
But in the hopes that it is understood.

It's the beautiful struggle, and it can tear you apart.
But it's the only way you'll ever be true to your heart.

And all the failures and losses and horrors and pain you've ever suffered in your life fade away
The moment someone finally looks into your eyes and says:

"I understand. Thank you."


***************



I'm not very good at a lot of things.
I can't paint you pictures because the beautiful things in my head won't come out of my hands.
I can't sing to you, because I smile every time I look at you and it makes my voice crack.
I can't play an instrument.
I can't sculpt.
I can't do a lot of things.

But I can write.
So I will write to you.

And If I lose power in my house, I'll write by the light of the sun.
If the sun burns out, I will write by candlelight or moonlight or starlight.
I'll write in no light, and be guided by faith that my words come out right.
I will bring you books I write, in pieces and fragments; splinters of larger works.
I will share with you whatever you want to read.
I will bring you my thoughts and my stories.
I will capture my days and nights and bring them to you...

As long as you want them.





***************



She is a walk in the rain after wine and brie
She is what the sun rises to shine on
She is the smell of coffee first thing in the morning
She is a smile greeting me from the top of the stairs as I hold a conversation with the dog
She is both arms wrapped around me (with a leg draped over mine)
She is a face buried in my chest
She is the stain on my shirt of tears cried in earnest
She is worth the drive
She is the embers of a fire that once burned in my heart
She is fair
She is honest

She is gone.


***************


Tonight we dance with words
We share the lead in conversation
We glide through it so easily
As if we were made for this.

But you keep your distance
Something about me scares you
And what you won't accept
(Or perhaps, keep forgetting):
We are not permanent,
And neither are our mistakes.

My toes are not fragile.
Don't be afraid to step on them.

They will heal.


**********




7.23.2013

My Writing Process, Distilled


Let's take a break from all the emotional gobbledygook and discuss something I genuinely love: writing.

I've been getting a LOT of feedback since I came back to writing regularly (and thank you all for both reading and writing me -- you have no idea how much it means). A few folks have been asking me how I write the way I write. The truth is, I never really thought about it.

I've kept a journal since I was 12 years old, the first time I read a Henry Rollins book. He kept a journal, and had the balls to publish it and share it with the world. That wasn't exactly my dream at the time, but that was the start, and oddly enough, what I do now. I never had any formal training. I just write what's in my head.

So if I'm dissecting my process, that's basically where it starts. I heard once somewhere that great sculptors don't start by trying to sculpt an elephant, they start by chipping away everything that doesn't look like an elephant, and they stop when it does. So often, when we set out to write, we have all these thoughts all over the place, and we try our best to edit them into sentences as we put them down.

I don't do that. I treat all my thoughts like all the clay I could possibly ever want to sculpt with and I pour it all out on the page. One thing that really helps with that: I learned to touch-type. I now type far faster than I write by hand, and almost type at the speed of my thoughts. It really helps, because the lag time between thinking and forming words on paper or screen gives wayyyyyy too much opportunity to edit while the thoughts are coming out.

Then, just like the sculptor, I start chipping away. Anything that doesn't tell the story, illustrate a point, set a tone or convey my attitude gets gone. Then I read it "aloud" in my brain (or sometimes, I'll actually read it aloud) to make sure it flows.

The last step is editing. And that's a skill you cultivate. I recommend highly getting a copy of Strunk & White. Don't memorize it, it's not necessary. But you do need to know subject-verb agreement, proper grammar and the other basics. I give it a good once-over and make sure it all reads like someone above a 4th grade reading level wrote it.

Then I hit "Publish" and I hope to God it makes sense.

As far as where I get my ideas: uh... I don't really know. They just pop into my brain. But as soon as they do, I try to capture them, useful or not.

I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go, both paper and on my iPhone. The vast majority of my journaling is for me and me alone. It's not even "practice" at this point (although it really is good practice), it's keeping sane. I use Day One for the vast majority of my journaling, because it's dirt simple and immediately available at all times. It also syncs over to my laptop, which makes things really simple.

I use Evernote for the little jokes, storylines and concepts that I want to hold on to, then every week or so, I go through it and consolidate thoughts into one file, or stick multiple thoughts of one type into a folder. I also tag the absolute shit out of every single file, so I can sort through them by concept, idea or term.  When I'm stuck, I go through Evernote and look for sentences, ideas or concepts that might trigger something in me. Again, it syncs with my laptop, so I can just write something while out on the road, and when I fire up the laptop to begin tip-tip-typing, it's there.

I have no idea if any of this helps any of you with your writing, but there it is.

7.22.2013

Of COURSE I Still Believe In Love


It's natural to want to defend yourself once you've been hurt. You want to protect yourself from ever feeling that pain again. So defense mechanisms fire up. But I don't want to become imprisoned by walls I put up.

It's a really hard thing, not letting what I went through with my ex-wife jade me and make me hard and closed off from other people. But one thing that helps is remembering the fact that I've been hurt before.  Badly, in fact. By people who were supposed to be just as close to me as she was. And somehow, I still found the capacity to open myself to her. And I'll do it again. Maybe not right away, or even anytime soon... But I will.

Because regardless of what she did, or what anyone before her did, I know one thing: I believe in love. I believe in honor, respect, openness, faithfulness, wholeness of being and truth in the face of pain. And I cannot be the only one.

It's something I keep in the front of my brain: I'm not alone. I exist, and I believe these things. That makes at least one of us. And I hold it in my heart that there ARE other people like me. People who actually believe in love the way I do. People who know that it's scary to open your heart and your past to another person, and they do it anyway, because they have courage and conviction. They know, as I do, that it is better to face an uncomfortable truth than to live with a comfortable lie.

I like that about me. And I'm not going to change it. Just like I believe in the sun even when it's not shining, I believe in love. I might hurt again (and again, and a lot), but I'm not giving up. Because love -- real love -- is worth it.






7.21.2013

Give Yourself Permission

Something bad happens. You feel sad. What's the first thing you start doing? If you're like me, you start stifling your natural feelings and trying to pretend it's not hurting. 

That's dumb.

My friend Casey gave me the best advice ever when he told me "Give yourself permission to be sad." He explained that you're using energy that could (and usually is) better spent on actually dealing with the situation. 

Accept that you're angry when something makes you mad. Accept that you're hurting when something hurts you. And on the flip side, accept that you've got a crush when someone smiles at you and it makes your heart flutter, and be proud when you get recognition for doing something great.

You can't help how you feel. So feel it, instead of fighting it. Don't waste the energy. You'll need it for other things.


7.20.2013

Back To Basics




My life has gotten sloppy. I've lost a lot. I've let go of some of the things that made me, me. So I've busted myself down to the very basics:

  • I have a responsibility to the people who read what I write, to bring them what they've come to rely on from me. I have the honor of being read. I have a responsibility to keep making things for people to read.
  • I have a responsibility to the young folks in this world who need someone to set a tone of honesty, directness and openness when it comes to discussing life. I owe it to them to let them know that it doesn't matter if you fit in, or if people like you, or if the odds are against you -- you can do ANYTHING you decide you want to do, and it's going to be hard as hell every step of the way… And completely worth it.
  • I have a responsibility to myself to be fit and to fuel my body with the best possible foods and nutrition. Physical strength leads to mental strength, which leads to emotional strength.
  • I have a responsibility to my friends to earn the energy, time and support they've given me. In the past two years, I've experienced an amazing growth due to cutting bad relationships out of my life and forming real, equal friendships with some amazing people. Those amazing people have been by my side and helped me through the past 10 months of hardship. I owe it to them to earn what they've given me.

I have responsibilities. And I can't fulfill any of them by sitting on my fucking couch in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia (well, technically I can write while on my couch, but like, whatever. Shut up, okay).

Time to get to work.

7.19.2013

It's Just A Song...

It was just a stop for coffee. Just a quick run-in for some caffeine before getting to work on a new project with my friend John. Just a short, easy-breezy, shoot in-and-out java run.

And as soon as I walked in the door, I heard those strings. Those magnificent strings resonating and humming, closing out the ending of U2's "All I Want Is You." It was near the end of the song, and all I got was half a second of it, but I knew exactly how far into the song it was, almost to the second. 

"I have to go," I said to John as I spun on my heel and walked right back out the door. 

I took out my phone and pretended to read an email or a text or a funny post on Facebook or something... Anything so that I'd have some form of plausible deniability when John inevitably asked me just what the hell that was about. The entire front of the store was composed windows, so I tried to walk around the corner while staring at my phone so everyone in the shop wouldn't think I was crazy. Nevermind they weren't even watching me... That's not how it felt. It felt like every single eye was on me. Everyone in the shop, everyone on the street... Everyone, watching me try my best not to cry. 

And I didn't. Not this time.

A few months ago, however, that wasn't the case when the exact same scenario took place just down the street at a different coffee shop. Only that time, I was with John's wife, Jen, working on something completely different. And the wound of my marriage ending was much fresher. The same thing happened: the song that played during my first dance with the woman who had just become my wife... It came on over the radio of a coffee shop and I lost my shit. I had to run out of there and cry in the snow on a strange street in LaFayette, Indiana. 

This time... No tears. Just a sock to the gut as I heard those strings play at the end of the song. 

I stood there around the corner from the shop as I counted the notes and let the song play out in my head. I didn't want to hear the damn thing, even in my head. I tried my best to force it out, but I couldn't. Note by note, those strings played and played and played... I swear to God, that fucking song goes on forever at the end. That's actually part of the reason we chose it to dance to, so our dance would last. 

How ironic that it would be playing in a random coffee shop in another town the day after I finally posted publicly about the fact that I am divorced. Maybe that was the point. Maybe fate is trying to test me to see how far I've come. 

The song finally ended in my head. I felt it was safe to come in. When I did, John didn't ask what the hell happened. In fact, he didn't say a word. He just handed me my coffee and we discussed the art on the wall. And like that, the moment was over. There was no further pain. There was no lingering sadness. I heard the song; I ran from it and saved myself. 

But that's the great lie, isn't it? You can't outrun yourself. Maybe you can avoid a song playing on the radio or in a public place that reminds you of something painful. Maybe you can avoid addressing the situation directly and run from your pain... But it'll find you. Even in a small town in Indiana while visiting friends, it'll find you.

As near as I can tell, that's the healing process in a nutshell. You run from your pain as long as your stamina holds out, and then at some point you run out of breath and it catches you and you have no choice but to feel it. 

And then, it's over. 

The song stops playing. The person you're arguing with walks away. The movie ends. The smell of her perfume fades. The sound of a laugh sounding just like his from a stranger is drowned out by the crowd. Your heart keeps beating. Air moves in and out of your lungs. At some point, your feet start walking and your arms start swinging and before you know it, it's months and months after the fact. And then that song comes on, or you see that person you fought with, or see that movie or smell that perfume or hear that laugh, and you don't cry this time. And next time, you don't even have to catch your breath. And the next time after that, you have to remember why it is it bothered you in the first place.

As Robert Frost said: "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." 

7.18.2013

I'm Divorced.

I'm divorced.

There. That was easy enough.

I wrote and re-wrote the opening paragraph to this post about 30 times over the past few months. I've tried just about every permutation of that sentiment, only to highlight-all and delete and start over. Days and days of blank stares at a blank page, all of them filled with thoughts which amount to "How in the hell am I going to address this?"

I've also sought the advice of many of my friends on how to handle this moment. Suggestions ranged from "tell the whole story" to "don't say a word" and everything inbetween. And there were days where I set upon writing this out and thought "okay, I've got this... I know what I'm going to say, and how, and today's the day" only to sit there at my keyboard, elbows on table and face in hands with tears  streaming down my fingers and wrists and forearms.

And why? Why would I bother writing this out in the first place?

Writing is how I handle shit. Everything -- Every. Little. Thing. -- That happens in my life ends up in words somewhere in my world, sometimes publicly and sometimes in private. But I write. It's how I deal with everything. It helps me sift and sort through thoughts and ideas. It keeps me sane. It gets problems out of my head and into a physical (or digital) form for me to work with them.

So it makes sense to write this... To me, anyway. And I've been fighting it for a long time.

It's obvious by the timestamps on the posts on this blog and at the sites I write for, it's been a while since I've written regularly. The past 10 months have been some of the roughest of my life, without question. The downward spiral that was our final days as a couple took all of my energy. So there was a substantial period of time where I simply could not find the energy to do much more than repost shit from the past as a feeble attempt to keep at least some form of content current on this blog.

So last week, I made a decision to get back to it. I've been posting my notes to self, keeping blog posts going, contributing to HuffPo and some other periodicals, and even working on a new book. And I guess the sudden reemergence of my writing, posting and chatting was enough of a trigger to get people asking questions.

I've gotten a lot of email, messages, texts and calls from folks the past week and some days. Folks have noticed a distinct change in my activity online the past few months. No articles, no blog posts, staying off of instant messenger, and most notably, a distinct lack of mentioning my ex-wife in status updates and posts. I guess seeing me reemerge was enough to get folks comfortable with asking what the hell has been going on.

Some of you have been reading my writing for going on 15 years now, and you've followed just about every nuance of my life through my books, blog, articles, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. And because of that, you've read about my life with my wife and all the facets therein. Our successes, both together and individually, were part of your life -- if only through a computer screen or on paper. But you've grown with me, and you've become involved with my life. And it may be a stupid thought, but I honestly feel that you deserve to know.

So there you go. I'm divorced. It's really simple, right? And yet, it's not. There's so much I want to say about it. And I'm sure it'll come out in posts in the future, as it's sort of spilled out over the past few weeks. There's so much I never thought I'd have to face, and even more I had no idea was even an aspect of what happens when you lose your partner in life.

I'm 10 months into watching my relationship dissolve, 7 months into separation, and a month and a few days into being divorced. And one thing I've learned beyond a shadow of a doubt: It takes a LOT more than 1, 7 or even 10 months to get through this shit. I've done all of the classic band-aid bullshit: rebounds, traveling obsessively, running, shutting myself into my house for extended periods of time, and disappearing into just about every distraction possible.

Last week, I just decided it was time to stand up, dust myself off, and get to work getting better. So that's why the writing. That's why the new articles. That's why the newfound commitment to fitness. And that's why this post.

This is my mile marker. I'm starting it at zero, after crawling out of the negatives. I'm done avoiding. I'm done ignoring. I'm done patching. It's time to repair.


7.14.2013

"Anything You Need..."

It's simultaneously the nicest and also the worst thing anyone can say to you when you're going through a hard time:

"If there's anything you need... Let me know."

Sometimes they even add emphasis on the "anything." They verbally embolden it, like "If there's anything you need..." Or maybe they capitalize it: "If there's ANYTHING you need..." The really helpful will repeat it, italicize it and make sure there's plenty of dramatic pause in there too: "If there's anything -- ANYTHING -- you need..."

It means a lot, really it does. You mean it when you say it to friends in need. And when you're in need, it really does mean the world that they want to help you.

But there's a major, major problem. When shit goes south, often times the one thing you really need, you can't have.

Friends will do just about anything and everything else possible to help you... Except that one thing that fixes it all. They can't bring back the dead relative. They can't make the spouse un-cheat on you. They can't make your boss un-fire you.

And that's where you, as the person who has to face the tough situation, have to realize that to place that level of requirement on people is just plain unfair. You will turn all of your friends away and push them out because they can't do that one thing that fixes it all... So you feel they can't do anything.

If you're like me, you will bottle up all of your emotions, push forward, put on a smile and pretend like everything is fine. You'll fix your own meals, you'll take care of your own house, you'll do everything in the world for yourself, because if you can't have that one thing, you don't want anything. Or even ANYTHING.

It's a mistake.

Rely on your friends. Let them help you, even if all they can do is sit there and be in the room and make sure you're not alone. Let them cook you a meal. Let them clean up a little. Let them help you pack things if that's required.

Burdens are heavy. Lifting them alone risks throwing your back out... Then where are you?

And as the friend who offers assistance, your job is to be the passenger in the vehicle. Be there when they need you, point out hazards if you see them, but otherwise, they need to do the driving. Your job is to work the radio, unwrap the drive-thru food, and put the straw in the drink. Otherwise, your job is to keep them from steering into a ditch or playing chicken with oncoming traffic.

7.12.2013

Tearing Your Emotional ACL

We are idiots when it comes to our emotions.

Yes, all of us. People, as a general rule, are dumb about our hearts and brains. We get hurt, and for some reason, we think the best solution to the problems of our days is to immediately plunge right back into a similar situation that got us into trouble in the first place.

Nowhere more is this apparent than in affairs of the heart. We get our hearts broken, and we immediately go out and try to patch the wound with the attentions of someone else, as if that is the actual problem -- the absence of a person, any person, from our life.

I've done it. You've done it. We've all done it. Because we're dumb when it comes to our emotions.

We're slightly less dumb when it comes to our bodies (for some of us, only SLIGHTLY less dumb, but still). When we suffer an injury, we usually have no choice but to give it the time it takes to heal. What if we treated our emotions and our psychological state like it was a physical injury?

Imagine it like being a pro athlete. Your knee was just slammed into by a 260lb linebacker, and you've torn your ACL. You can't walk. You're injured.

Of course, you're going to have to go to the doctor and get the bad news. Then comes the brace and the crutches and the surgery. This takes weeks. And the entire time, you're in severe pain. How do you alleviate that pain? Pain killers, sure. Anti-inflamitories. Video games and movies and ice cream. Lots of things that take the pain away.

But you most certainly don't deal with it by hopping on the field and playing four quarters. That's fucking stupid. And that's what you're doing with your emotions when you insist on treating your pain with the exact same thing that caused it in the first place, instead of letting them heal.

Now, the really hard part to swallow -- just because you had the surgery on your knee doesn't make you ready to hop right back into being the starting running back in the NFL. Far from it. You've got to heal from the surgery, then you've got rehab. Months of it. Just to get back to walking normally.

Then, in order to actually compete, you've got to hit the gym and rebuild the strength you had in that leg. You've got months and months of training to do before you're ready to get back on the field.

Imagine if you did that with your emotional state when you've been hurt or suffered a loss. Instead of patching, actually taking the time to repair and rebuild. Instead of marching right back in front of the train that hit you and continually ending up in the emotional Emergency Room, take a break and heal up. Then, do some research and study the patterns that put you in that place in the first place (yours, or someone else's).

What if we took the time that's necessary to actually get stronger, instead of constantly ripping the same hole in our hearts?

7.11.2013

My One And Only Rule On Love

You cannot make someone love you. The best you can do is make yourself someone who can be loved.

You can try. And if you do, you will fail. It's impossible. We can't help how we feel, for better or for worse. Or you can be open. Available. Understanding. Tender. Kind. And above all, be yourself.

 If that's not enough, then it's not love. You can choose to stay or go, but whatever you do, you can't force them to feel something they don't. And even if you could, why would you? Making someone love you is selfish, and selfish is the opposite of loving. It's like force feeding a baby, only it's not for their own good.

If that's what you want from someone, you're not in love, you're insecure (and in trouble).

7.10.2013

The New You

If you're even remotely self aware, at a certain point, you want to stop being the person everyone expects you to be.

So, you try new things. You branch out. And everyone is shocked or estranged or some combination of the two. A few good friends stick around and watch, and some of them even like this new you.

But eventually, you realize you've wandered off from your group to explore something shiny at the carnival and you get lonely and seek the group again, so you return to the old ways and the old things. But something feels off. You don't really like doing the old ways and the old things, and the group doesn't appreciate you doing them nearly as much.

This moment of awareness is the moment you realize you're no longer who you were. That moment doesn't happen when you venture off. It happens when you come back and realize you can never be what you were. It hurts, because you realize you've permanently changed the dynamic and you're going to lose friends and interests and familiarity.

But there you are. Aware. You're not the same person anymore. And it just won't work the same way anymore.

Now, you can lie to yourself for a while. And you probably will. You'll try to convince yourself you can rejoin the group and the old things and the old ways. You'll behave how you used to. You'll laugh at the old jokes. You'll go through the same routines. It'll be just like the old you and the old days.

But something inside you will keep stinging. Like a blister on a march, every step will remind you something's just not right. And eventually, it'll fester and rupture. And you'll be out – if not because you elect to move on, because they will eventually kick you out. Either way, things are going to change.

It's much harder than you can possibly imagine if you've not been through it yet. But with any luck, you'll get to see what it's like, because once you make it through, you'll realize life is vastly improved on the other side. Lonely, yes... In the short term. But eventually the new you will find new friends and new groups that fit who you've become. But even without them, once you've accepted the reality that you are who you are, now and in every iteration, you'll be a much happier person.

7.09.2013

I'm Not Sorry.


When I care about something, I engulf myself in it. I pay full attention. I soak it all in. I want to study every single corner, seam, side and stitch. I want to know it, fully and wholly.

When I love, I love with my whole heart. I don't have room for embarrassment or regret, because my heart is 100% dedicated to love.

When I trust, I trust fully. I subscribe to the theory that the best way to figure out if you can trust someone is to trust them.

I get hurt. A lot. Sometimes, very badly.

And yes, I get sad. I have to face memories and pain and periods of time being alone and broken. And I'm not sorry. I don't regret it one bit. I don't have time for it. Regret is distraction. Wishing something never happened is basically saying I wish I hadn't lived. And having actually been clinically dead before, I'm not about to wish that. I'm going to live as hard as I fucking can.

When I die, I don't want a perfect shiny heart, protected in plastic and encased in a safe box. I want my heart to have scars and stretch marks and all the signs that show it was well used.

7.08.2013

Putting The "Fun" In Funeral

Only me. I am the only one. There are no others for whom this kind of shit happens (pun intended). I am certain of it.

As you may have read, my best friend, Jeremy, lost his mother last week. The funeral was this past Saturday. It was a beautiful service. Very well attended. It was obvious that Mrs. Halvorsen reached a lot of people in her life, all of whom loved her and wanted to celebrate her.

After the service, we all gathered at Jeremy's parents' house for a reception. It too was lovely. There were sandwiches, pasta salad, sodas... All the things you have at a reception after a funeral, including all of the friends and family. Dozens of people. You might even call a gathering of people that large an audience. Maybe not when you first join the gathering... But certainly after you've done something so wildly inappropriate (even by accident) that you stand alone as they all watch.

The reception was going well, and the time for my flight home was nearing. I knew that I had quite a trip ahead of me, complete with a long layover (again, in my home city of Atlanta, and yes, it still felt weird... But I did make a new friend, as you'd expect. Another story for another time :) ). So, I figured it made sense to go ahead and... You know. Poop.

Far better in the comfort of a home you're familiar with, than at the airport. Judge all you want, you'd have done the same.

The downstairs bathroom was occupied (but even if it wasn't, I couldn't have brought myself to poop with all those people floating around nearby). So I asked about the upstairs commode.

"Sure, you can use that one," Jeremy's father told me. "The water runs though, so we shut it off. Be sure to turn it back on."

I made my way upstairs and did exactly that. As I sat down to use the toilet, I began playing XCom on my iPhone, a new favorite pastime of mine with an old favorite game. Suddenly, I felt cold water touching my bum.

I squealed. That's not something one expects; cold water on the butt while doing their business. But there it was. I leapt up and turned off the water. It was obvious -- the commode was clogged. Now, no one who was there will ever allow me to let this be true, but it's true. That's why the water touched my butt in the first place. I did NOT clog the damn toilet.

But, because I had just befowled it, I was now responsible for it. So, I looked for a plunger.

No luck.

"Shit," I said, no pun intended.

I called Jeremy. "You're calling me from the bathroom?" He asked.

"Yeah man," I replied. "I need you to be as tactful as possible with this -- apparently the toilet is clogged, and there's no plunger up here."

He laughed the first genuine laugh I'd heard from him in days. "Alright, I'll be right up," he said with a sigh.

He brought the plunger upstairs amid a cheering crowd. So, I already knew there was going to be music to face and hell to pay. But when I went to plunge the toilet, all I was able to accomplish was splashing some water around and making a mess. The water wouldn't drain. I tried and I tried. I could NOT get the damn thing to go down.

With a heavy sigh, I washed my butt off with a towel and cleaned off my pants as best I could (as they were on the floor when the water initially spilled over), then went down to tell the bad news. The applause was loud. The cheers were jeering. I was beet red. But I wasn't through the worst of it.

"I have bad news," I told his father.

"NO!" John replied.

"Yes," I said with another sigh. "I can't get it unclogged... And I have a flight to catch."

The entire kitchen and living room exploded with laughter. John and Jeremy both looked at me in horror. "I'll pay for a plumber," I offered. "Call one right now. But I gotta go or I'll miss my flight!"

"You're NOT going to take a dump, clog the toilet, then bail on us!" John said. Jeremy was too busy trying not to fall over laughing.

"I didn't mean to!" I said, pleading. "I didn't want to do this! I tried to fix it..."

"You took a dump... In my mother's house... and clogged the toilet on the day of her funeral!" Jeremy managed to say between guffaws. The rest of the family was simply attempting to breathe through the laughter.

It was brought to our attention that there was indeed a plumber in the family. He was summoned from the patio, came in, removed his jacket and shirt, and got the situation handled. I felt HORRIBLE. Not only did I clog a woman's toilet on the day of her funeral, but I'm not even capable of fixing it myself.

"Don't worry, man," my hero the plumber said. "Happens all the time. There's a trick to it." He showed me the angle and method he uses, and it worked like a charm. He then added that this was hardly the worst thing to ever happen to him, and told me a story about a sewer pipe that exploded and left him covered in an entire neighborhood's worth of sewage.

We came downstairs to even more applause and laughter.

"I have to commend you," John told me, "for facing the music. I would have ran out the front door screaming. I would shake your hand, but..."

Ah yes, because there was a clogged toilet, my hands must certainly be soiled with fecal matter. "Don't worry," I said, extending my hand. "I licked my fingers off when I was done."

We hugged. In fact, I got hugs from a lot of the family. And it was absolutely wonderful to see my best friend in the world completely lost in a moment where he could just laugh and find something truly funny.

If I have to eat that kind of shit for that to happen, I'll do it every time (pun intended).

7.03.2013

Why I Talk To Strangers


I'm stuck at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta for the next few hours. Of course, I live in Atlanta, so it's always strange for me to have to connect through my home city while on trips. But it's even stranger when there's a delay on that connection, and I end up stuck here for hours at a time.

It's not the actual being stuck that does it. That's just annoying, as it is in any city. Something about the idea that my home is literally a few miles away, but I can't just leave and go there, trips me out. Some sort of weird prisoner's syndrome, I guess. I'm sure someone with a lot more schooling than I've had has come up with a name for it.

One big advantage to my current situation: I never really get to check out the restaurants and shops at Hartsfield, because I'm always showing up just in time to catch a flight, or dashing off one to go home. So being here on connections gives me a chance to eat at one of the best airport restaurants in the nation, One Flew South. It's a lovely place. The food is astounding. The ambiance is relaxing. The drinks are exotic.

The only problem: it doesn't open until 11 AM, and it was only 10:30 AM.

So to kill some time, I thought I'd hit the food court and have a cup of coffee and write a little. I got halfway through that plan when I noticed a woman with an odd characteristic. Not that she was weird or anything. She was a nice looking lady, to be sure. Pretty. Snazzy dresser. Really nice hair. And she had a huge black eye.

Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, as yours would be. It's not every day you see someone with a black eye, and it's especially rare to see it in the airport. But to see a pretty lady in the airport with a black eye... It's hard for your brain not to run in spirals as it writes all sorts of narratives about what could have happened.

So, while my brain told me stories about possible domestic abuse, or a particularly ill-fated bike ride, or a freak accident involving a hunk of a passing jet liner shearing off and falling on her car, I stared at her.

Now, it's not like this was a decision. I didn't think to myself "You know what I'll do? I'll just sit here and stare at this lady whose appearance is at least two standard deviations from the norm." It just kinda happened. And she just kinda caught me.

Busted.

So I smiled, and I did something I've been doing a lot lately -- I got up and I went over and I talked to her.

Since January of this year, I've made a goal of talking to at least one stranger a day. Of course, if you've met me, you know that this isn't particularly strange for me. I can talk to anyone, about anything, and I take great joy in doing it. But for the most part, most strangers I meet come with some sort of introduction. Maybe a friend introduces us. Maybe we both end up aggravated at an airline counter. Maybe we're both looking for the half and half to be replenished at the coffee bar and we strike up a conversation.

This goal isn't about running into strangers and finding reasons to talk. This is about flat out approaching someone new and different and talking to them, every single day that the opportunity presents itself. And it has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

I've been on the internet for going on twenty years now, and in that time, I've seen "social networking" become "Social Networking" and beyond. It's become the de facto method of communication between even the closest friends. Likes and comments have replaced handshakes and smiles. And while I'm not planning on issuing some sort of anti-digital manifesto, I have found myself pulling away from the internet by and large for a while now.

I've decided to build an entirely new social network in my life. Instead of connecting via Facebook, I've decided to simply connect face to face. And it's been lovely.

I met Linus in New York in February. I walked up to a guy in a coffee shop who was writing Perl code. I told him I was sorry for interrupting him, but I was very curious what he was creating in Perl in 2013, instead of using PHP or Objective C in an iPhone app. He told me about a lightweight "white box" software he hoped to sell to companies to help streamline end of month reporting. We had a great conversation about how he quit his job and started following his heart, because he knew that this software had a future. He was feeling down in the dumps -- he couldn't get any traction on it.  I handed him my card and asked him to keep me posted, and if he ever needed encouragement, write me. He did a few times, and I cheered him on.

I just got an email from him a month ago. His company was just purchased for several million dollars. I got to be party to someone's amazing success story.

In March in Indianapolis, I met Susan, a single mother of two recent college graduates. Her laptop had a GelaSkin cover with a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on it, and I thought that was pretty cool. She was embarking on a tour of the United States, something she'd dreamed of doing since she was a teenager. Of course, getting pregnant by her high school sweetheart and having to raise a child changed that plan for her (or at least, delayed it). And when she had her second child the next year, her then-husband died while working in a factory. He was 19, she was 18. She emails me pictures from every monument she visits.

I met Stephen, a short order cook who just opened his own restaurant, in Mobile, AL in March at a gas station. He was wearing a Levi's Button Your Fly shirt from the 90's. He is an avid thrift shop hunter, and found that gem one day along with some original Nike Flight Lites from 1993. He invited me to his place, and I had the best grilled cheese and bacon sandwich I'd ever had in my life.

On a flight to Dallas in February, I met professional wakeboarder Adam Eerington, who was sporting an old school Nike SB bag that I actually had in high school. We hit it off swimmingly (pun intended), and I've seen him demo a few times now at various lakes in various cities I visit.

To date, I've met 122 amazing people by just randomly striking up conversations and saying "Hi." To date, 121 of them have been really nice, cordial, or outright awesome. Only one guy, a stockbroker, was a dick to me. And if you've read even one thing I've written, you know I was a dick right back. But that's another story for another time.

 I keep in touch with a few dozen of them. Some of them entertain me with a short conversation. Some of them kill time with me when I'm in coffee shops or at conventions. And then today, I met Ashely, the pretty girl in the denim dress with a black eye in the airport.

When I went up to her, her smile said two things: "I totally busted you staring at me, and I know why you were."

"So," I said, "You know what I'm going to ask..."

She laughed. "Yeah, I figured that's why you came over..."

"Don't worry, I'm not a creep," I told her. "I'm a writer, and I write stories in my head about things and people I see in the places I visit."

"...Okay, so a big tattooed guy stares at women in airports and writes stories about them in his head?" She asked. "No, that's not creepy at all!" She laughed and told me she was just kidding, and it was totally okay.

"Well, if it's not too personal, can I ask what happened?"

"Sure," she said. "But it's a pretty lame story..."

"Okay, the mere fact you said that about a black eye means it's probably an AWESOME story!" I said with a laugh.

She told me about how she was assembling a laundry rack one day, and while frustrated, pulled a rod just a little too hard through the assembly. It went straight into her eye.

"I had to have seven stitches," she said, showing me the scar.

"Jesus!" I said.

"Yep... It's been this way for a month and a half."

I sat with her and she shared her story with me over coffee. She recently moved out on her own after a long term relationship. It was the first time she's ever lived on her own, and she's determined to make it without anyone's help, despite the fact that her father offered to come help her put together her new furniture.

"That's what I get for being stubborn, I guess!" she said with a laugh.

"Hey, look at it this way," I said. "You just figured out a really great way not to put together a laundry rack!"

We chatted a bit longer. 11 AM hit and I bid adieu so that I could go and enjoy some of the finest food the airport and, really, the city of Atlanta, has to offer (it was Duck Noodle Soup with a garnish of smoked sea salt, if you're curious).

Another friend made. Another crappy day made better by simply talking to people.

It may not be your bag, but I recommend trying it out. You don't have to be a weirdo about it, nor do you have to be a showman of any sort. I recommend picking something striking about someone and simply asking them about it. Maybe you recognize their brand of shoes or bag, or their cool 90's shirt, or their laptop. Or maybe, you can simply say "Hi, I'm bored and thought I'd talk to a stranger."

Let me know the results.



7.02.2013

When Time Is Gone, It's Fucking Gone

Shit happens. And when it does, you're going to look back at all the time you had before the shit happened and how much of it you lost.

I have a best friend. His name is Jeremy Halvorsen. This guy is amazing. He's never let me down. Every time I've ever needed him, he leapt up and joined the fight, whatever that fight may have been. He's been with me through thick and thin for over 10 years now. And I only met his mother in person for the first time this past March.

Michelle Halvorsen raised my best friend. She is a terrific mother. She's taken good care of this guy I look up to and respect. She made him who he is today. And I only just met her three months ago. Sure, we've heard everything there is to hear about each other through Jeremy. We've talked on the phone a few times, and the love and respect for each other was there even without face to face contact on a regular basis. I felt that when I finally got to hug her. I loved her instantly.

Sadly, yesterday, she passed away from cancer. Three months after I finally met her and began visiting Connecticut regularly and could see her more often, she's gone. And that makes me sad and angry, both for the loss of someone wonderful that just came into my life and for the fact that I let ten years pass without meeting her.

Did I waste all that time? Well, in that ten years, there was work... Oh, there's always work. Books written, tours taken, websites built, companies run, money made, money lost... Work, work, work. It has to get done. I can't beat myself up for that, can I?

And then there was the times I wasn't working during my travels, where I visited lots of places and saw lots of neat things and needed to relax. I can't really punish myself for that. It's how life goes -- you tax yourself; you have to recharge.

Hours and days spent hanging out with Jeremy, in person and via Skype, working on projects and building cool things, playing video games... That wasn't wasted. It was bonding and it was fun.

So did I really waste ten years where I could have met and gotten to hang out with Mrs. Halvorsen? My brain wants to tell me yes. Over and over again, yes, I could have gotten up there and met her way sooner. But it wasn't a priority.

But that's unfair. It was my friend's mom. I loved her and respected her from afar. And now, I have no other choice but to do that, because this amazing and lovely lady has passed on. And I'm left to think about all the opportunities I didn't take to meet her, see her, get to know her, and most importantly, let her know I loved her for bringing my best friend into the world.

She knew that I loved her, even though we never hung out. I know that. But that's just not enough. It's NEVER enough. Sure, work got done, but there's ALWAYS more work. Money was made, but there's ALWAYS more money. Games were played, but there's ALWAYS more games to play.

You never, ever have enough time. When it's gone, it's fucking gone.

Don't waste a second of it.

Talk to strangers. Get to know new people. Share your stories. Laugh and cry with them. Make them your friends. When they are your friends, spare no opportunity to tell them how you feel about them and why. You don't have to obsessively talk about it, but you can absolutely show it in literally millions of ways. Help them. Be there for them. Take care of them, and thank them when they take care of you. Meet their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. You don't have to like them, but hey, what if you do? Get to a place in your life where you can understand what "family" really means. It's the only thing that matters. Blood does not make family, love makes family. Understand that, and you understand life.

And for your own sanity's sake, say "I love you" more than you think is necessary. It never gets old. Ignore that conflicting voice in your head that keeps whispering about how embarrassing it is to say and just say it (but only if you mean it). Because when their time runs out, you're going to wish you had... But more importantly, when yours runs out, they'll know exactly how you felt.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Halvorsen.