Next Lap/Last Lap

Every day is a borrowed bet that it’s not the final one.

As we walk the familiar path of looking back at yesterday to plan for tomorrow, it’s important to realize that no minutes or months are guaranteed. We assume the ritualistic rising sun affords us a constant opportunity to embrace a clean slate and start anew. Regardless of the mistakes and indiscretions that spurred our insomniac nights, a fresh morning canvas stands motionless in the middle of the room, floating in the nebulous space between inspiration and regret.

But what if that sun doesn’t surface?  What if tomorrow never arrives? What if yesterday was the end of the song?

The tired, clichéd advice to “live each day like it’s your last” is a hackneyed platitude…until it’s true. But the irony remains. We couldn’t embrace that lap because we never knew it would be the last. Now the hourglass is empty and we don’t have time to sweep up the sand.

Whether due to erratic geopolitics, super viruses, tragic happenstance, or our own free will, this past year may have been our curtain call…even if we were prematurely pushed out in front of the audience, unprepared for the bow.

There is an incredibly fragile balance constantly at play between nature and society, and we ride this edge of an eggshell crack existence desperately hoping the precarious shaking of the scales doesn’t suddenly shift and forever knock us off our trajectory.

We are fools to believe a ship’s sails will only be propelled by favorable winds, but it might be wise to recognize a perfect line when it presents itself. There isn’t always a patient second opportunity waiting in the wings, so cross your fingers and carpe diem.

Adolescence Interrupted

My Dog Is the Reason I Keep Going

Life is a treadmill run. A hamster wheel sprint. Boxes to check. Items to cross out. Duties to finish. Obligations to fulfill. Appointments to schedule. Tasks to accomplish. Habits to maintain.

Commitments. Responsibilities. Itineraries. Pointless repetition without real purpose. Ceaseless pressure to be productive. A self-generated tinnitus-causing crack of a constantly snapping whip refusing to rest.

For someone with that rare combination of being both tetherless and rudderless, this modern world is an impossibly burdensome weight to manage.

Shoulders can only struggle and labor under a load of stacked resistance for so long before they start shaking.

Until you get a dog.

The realization that things were indeed darkest before the dawn feels too poetic to be fact and not fiction. But the arrival of a truly selfless soul with the primary imperative to simply love and be loved is authentic and grounded.

All the clichés, memes, and T-shirts were right all along. Who knew?

Vastly superior to humans in myriad ways, these canine companions are here to teach us more than we thought we needed to know…and to allow personal growth to take shape, regardless of how much we resist against the grain.

They are the world’s best listeners and perfect partners, armed with a finely tuned radar for our pain…and bottomless patience for our delays. They’re watching us when we think they’re asleep and waiting for every opportunity to connect. They are honest, forgiving, tolerant, loyal, hopeful, eager, dependable, and genuine.

Always up for an adventure, they jump at the chance to hop in the car and drive all day without a destination…and find delight in even the most mundane things. A simple walk is a constant cause for celebration. A special biscuit is an impossibly precious reward.

Any time together is time well spent.

You are their leader, protector, and very best friend.

Sometimes there isn’t much of a reason to keep grinding along.

Until you get a dog.

Adolescence Interrupted

F for Effort

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  ―Thomas Edison

It’s more comfortable to gather your chips and walk away from the table than to risk everything, especially when everything is at stake.

But those are the moments that test our resolve and willingness to step to the precipice of ruination, armed only with a gut instinct to stay in the box, waiting for that one last swing. 

Maybe we make contact. Maybe we don’t. But both results carve two very distinct paths. How we navigate the walk is more important than the shape of the route that was forced upon us.

It’s easy to get lost in the twists and turns and missteps and regrets and hindsight and remorse and blunders and miscalculations. But the gate is closed behind us, so the only option is to move forward.

That might mean celebrating success or revisiting the drawing board. But there is no time or room for stagnation, and the clock isn’t waiting for us to reach a definitive conclusion before our feet get going.

Perspective is something much more easily seen in the rearview mirror, so it’s not always simple to plot a plan in the present moment. But the only way to avoid failure is to continue rolling the dice and hoping for favorable combinations. 

What we do to manage the reality of the results after all the bets have been placed says more about our character and resolve than any ephemeral “luck” doled out by the universe.    

Each day is an opportunity for improvement, regardless of the possible obstacles. Some steps might need to be taken more gently than others, but the pivotal moment comes when you decide to lift that heel and begin.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Nerds Are Driving the Bus

In recent years, a troubling trend has been developing that feels worthy of exploration. With the exponential rise in the rate of computer development, we are given the opportunity for some groundbreaking advancements in medicine, science, communication, learning, etc. But those presents often come with a caveat and the tradeoff may not be worth the sticker price.

The leading “tech gurus” seem to share a similar, disconcerting vision of our future, and it requires bending the planet to the whims of the insulated and isolated. Society is being influenced by and molded to the preferences and impulses of introverts unable to express themselves or make human connections in the real world. So the creation of alternate, virtual realities to hide those inadequacies behind cartoonish avatars or absolute anonymity feels like a warm safety blanket of protection. They can cower beneath a cloak of invisibility, never forced to reveal their authentic selves.  

Innovation directed toward helping hermits spend more and more time detached from reality to compensate for a total lack of social skills should not be the ultimate goal for humanity. If anything, we should be looking for ways to walk away from our desks, engage with our environment, and embrace the living, breathing ecosystem…while the air still passes as tolerable.

As someone who regularly stares at a screen, processing hundreds of pages of text every day, I see technology’s value as a powerful learning tool. But I also recognize the perilous nature of its quicksand construction. Our mental health and physical well-being are suffering under the crippling weight of split-second attention spans and an incessant pull to constantly redirect focus.

We’re spinning in place and dizzy from the effort.

Finding a balance between the body and the machine before the electronic puppeteer pulls the last remaining strings should be the primary objective.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Tragic Reality of a Broken Rewind Button

Carpe diem. Swing for the fences. Close your eyes and leap. Dive into the deep end. Roll the dice. Put it on the line. Take a shot in the dark.

Be brave. Be bold.

These romantic notions evoke images of successful risks taken in the face of mounting odds. But what about the missteps? The airballs? The stumbles and falls? The shaky landings? The face plants? The skid outs? The crashes?

We routinely go for broke without considering the possibility of being broken.

In this instant gratification snapshot of human history, we rely on the convenience of continual personally catered satisfaction, equipped with an easy undo keystroke, always ready and waiting. But not every sentence can be erased, and not every step can be walked back.

The unfortunate realization that some decisions are set in stone, no matter how much we chisel and sculpt, adds an even greater gravity to the soles of our shoes when we take that leap into the unrevealed abyss.

We need to accept that many of our unfinished chapters will be written in ink, without the benefit of easily erased edits. Although that concept can be a terrifying prospect to process, perhaps the additional heft could serve more as a gentle reminder than a shouldered burden.

Anything worth the risk is worth the rumination.

Don’t necessarily forgo the dive…but check the water depth before you commit to the cause.

Adolescence Interrupted

Square Peg in a Sea of Circles

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears however measured or far away.”  —Henry David Thoreau

Feeling like life never quite fits correctly, regardless of setting or circumstance, can be an exhausting existence. Navigating near misses for fear that fleeting targets offer only temporary comfort is a stamina test that turns a neighborhood dog walk into the Iditarod.

Wool sweaters don’t belong on naked summer skin, regardless of how much they’re adjusted.

The impermanence of satisfaction may be the most slippery section of the obstacle course, so we dance along the stable edges of the path, trusting the mud won’t slide beneath our feet. But it always does.

We trip and fall and stand up and clean our clothes and get back on the bike. We aren’t aware of another way, and we don’t generally have a surplus of alternative options. The hamster doesn’t abandon the wheel every time it can’t keep pace with the spin.

But the monotony of the routine realization that rainbows don’t always follow the rain can make even the sunniest skies seem heavy with projected impending clouds. The mind’s eye is 20/20, even when blinded by the truth.

If discomfort comes from the core, chasing a moving target is a circular dance where the starting and finish lines share an eerie similarity. External factors only color the periphery. The internal engine is the one that needs regular maintenance.

If you also walk through the world feeling like an alien dropped on a foreign planet without a translator, don’t despair. You are not alone.

When enough square pegs are stacked in a row, they eventually form a bridge.

Adolescence Interrupted

All the Broken Brains

We are spiraling. We are drowning. We are blinded by the harsh light of reluctance. We choose complacency over change and comfort over the scratchy-sweater need for action. We scream and shout. We seethe and shoot. The pressure release valves are clogged with the muck of a million excuses. The desire to heal is buried beneath a sea of social media distractions and disconnections.

We are mentally ill.

It’s time to admit that no thoughts or prayers or patience or compassion or tears or sympathy or best wishes will fix this collective broken bicycle.

We can blame it on genetics, parenting, toxicity, education, or bad luck. But it’s blatantly obvious to anyone still awake enough to see through the fog of this modern zombie society. We are walking around this planet with faulty wiring and a gross inability to solder the severed connections.

The glue is all gone and the pieces of our sanity are strewn across the floor like the remnants of a shattered cookie jar at the slippery hands of an overeager toddler. Yet we continue to think that the cracks will magically mend if we just cross our fingers tightly and pray for better days.

It’s imperative we travel upstream to see what’s been constantly poisoning the river instead of simply building dams to keep it from seeping into our pipes.

Soon no spaces will be safe. The mundane will turn murderous, the banal brutal. The seemingly innocuous daily activities will be weighed down with a constant head-on-a-swivel sense of mistrust and nervous agitation.

Each subsequent generation will be forced to live under the heft of unbearable levels of sustained insecurity. The already spiked national stress numbers will become incalculable. Drug abuse will numb the sounds of incessant mental static and we will retreat into caves of isolation simply to survive.

Or we can stop the cycle. Rediscover our common sense. Recognize the patterns. Remove the blinders. Wipe the blood from the money. Treat the roots to save the tree. Prioritize effort over promises. Engage the brakes to slow the train.

Admit that we were very very wrong.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Compounding Effects of Failure

Brick by brick, inch by inch, and year by year…the weight of missteps buried beneath a wall of wrong turns becomes unsustainable and impossible to maintain. Cracks begin to crumble under the stress of compounded, mislaid materials. Weeds grow in the moisture pits of poorly sealed perpends. Stained stretchers and broken beds tell the tale of what transpires when marks are missed and goals are gone.

But the best bricklayers know that no wall is impossible to correct. Viewed from even a slightly different perspective, the crooked can straighten and the slanted can slide back to center. No mortar is impermeable with enough gusto behind the grip. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the tools needed for the task are hanging at the hip, armed and ready.

Defeat is found in the repetition of bad decisions written on the lines of poor planning. Every blueprint needs an editor and a second set of eyes. Misjudgments often come from a place of sincerity and hope. It’s not blame-worthy to feel your feet find an uneven edge of the sidewalk. It’s simply a matter of summoning the confidence to pretend you intentionally tripped.

If your wall is disproportionately weighted with a seemingly static past, muster the courage to start again, brick by brick, level by level…until you can be proud of the clean lines and fresh overlay you’ve created.

Walls should be built for safety, not suffocation.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Beauty of Black and White

Those slippery, spiky spaces between the protective pillars of definitive views and steadfast opinions have always been frozen front steps without the salt, bumperless bowling lanes, and unmanned manholes. Like recklessly careening around a roller rink free of sidewalls, the notion of warmly welcoming “floating maybes” has routinely felt equally bizarre and dangerous.

Yes or no. Right or wrong. A or B. Greater good. There is no gray. There is no doubt. Stack the facts, introduce the variables, and make the calculation. Why waiver? Why wonder?

Although we arguably have little control over our individual brain circuitry, I am immensely grateful for this robotic programming. Blowing in the breeze of endless conjecture can be a time-sucking, fruitless endeavor. Scratching at stone walls, feeling stuck in a bottomless chasm of emotional self-flagellation, endlessly weighing potential outcomes, and ceaselessly questioning past choices only help to construct locked cages around a torture chamber of regret. It seems like most of that discouragement and frustration could be avoided by simply picking a path and getting those figurative feet walking.

That is not to say there is a dearth of creative currency in collaboration, brainstorming, or the sharing of ideas. I think there’s a unique vitality to the energy produced in a room full of spinning frontal cortices. But much of life is lived outside of those spaces, and a quickdraw ability to choose among the proposed options without protracted rumination could help keep society’s trains running more swiftly on the rails.

Look at the presented choices. Listen to your gut. Decide.

The time and toil saved from avoiding another trudge through the mental mud pit will pay dividends down the road.

Adolescence Interrupted

A collection of reflections from pedaling through life on a bicycle built for one