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

Regimens, Rituals, Routines, and Repetitions

There is an inherent beauty in the spotless design of unbroken uniformity. A placid pond without ripples. Endless assembly line loops. Dominoes sitting stacked like obedient soldiers, primed for the fall. We marvel at the meticulousness and take comfort in the reassuring sense that we can anticipate what’s approaching, whether secretly emerging from the shadows or blatantly barreling around blind corners.

Many of the highest output producers have established deliberate methodologies to maximize efficiency and minimize waste. Even in artistic pursuits, there is normally a series of steps taken before the comfort of creativity has a chance to blossom.

History’s most revered thinkers, philosophers, and intellectuals instituted various structured systems and behaviors that allowed them the unencumbered freedom to simply ponder. When we are buried beneath the oxygen-depriving load of checklists, appointments, strain, stress, responsibilities, and distractions, our mental hard drives are too busy spinning plates to thoroughly question, dissect, or explore.

Time management and prioritization are elusive little devils that keep their pitchforks purposely pointed in my direction with far more regularity than I’d like to publicly accept. Staying lost in thoughts that do nothing but add to the tally of uncontrollable variables—drowning in a sea of projection and conjecture—exemplifies the dizzying, dehydrating hamster wheel sprinting that stands in direct opposition to productivity or a legitimate sense of accomplishment.

Find a habit, build a plan, schedule a working window, wait until inspiration strikes, and then let your mind wander free. That seemingly baffling juxtaposition is exactly the recipe required for baking the bread of ideas.

But don’t let the wander turn into maze-making. Hunt for exits and solutions, not walls and hidden cheese.

Adolescence Interrupted

Heart of a Lion

What does it take to summon the strength to exceed and excel? Is the will to be great born from some deep-seated desire to prove ourselves wrong by pushing our own definitions of limits? Or is the pull to persevere in the face of adversity a hardwired, coded blueprint tattooed on our baby blank canvases before we even have the chance to decide?

If the shake and toss of those circumstantial dice fuels a fire to fight the gremlins guarding the gate, it stands to reason that those dealt the worst cards would be the first to spit in the face of misfortune. But we have seen countless examples of people who quickly succumb under the weight of far less. I guess a steady tolerance for intolerance might be perceived as noble when viewed in the light of some convenient kaleidoscopic colors.

However, convenience and comfort can’t generally breed champions.

Grit and gumption. Whether it is in our personal lives, friendships, relationships, careers, or private checklist achievements, a fire in the belly and a couple of nagging stones in the soles of our shoes can be wonderful kicks in our collective ass. But forcing someone’s hand into action as a better way to walk a particular path will most likely engender animosity, resistance, and ultimately, insufficient results.

Listen to that whispering gut instinct and follow it blindly. We have only been gifted one compass…and it’s internal.

Stoke your own fire. Blaze your own trail. Burn down the notion of boredom. Life’s too short for backseat lazing. 

Adolescence Interrupted

A Very Merry Variant

Turning calendar pages and looking forward to a future without daily reminders that humanity is on the verge of annihilation…a hopeful, tasty dish dashed when another one of Mother Nature’s tireless foot soldiers brought heavy artillery to our collective knife fight.

With each lap around that big, bright glowing ball spinning well outside our stratosphere, we meager humans are given the opportunity to take a momentary inventory of our most burning existential quandaries. Do we continue to plod along like obedient ants, resting in the rut of routine and ritual? Do we finally unsheathe the bats and clubs and take a swing for the fences drawing the border between our inclination toward convention and our dreams? Or do we burn the playbook altogether, eschewing any semblance of strategy, and watch those chips land however and wherever they please?

Regardless of the size of the soaring stacks sitting proudly at our opponent’s hands, there’s always the chance that an ace will show its face. We cannot predict the unpredictable, and crystal balls are often crying out for cleaning. History books aren’t written in the moment, so some distance, time, and perspective are prerequisites to fill the pages of this tome.

Any advice to sit back, relax, and watch the wolf blow your house apart is understandably met with resistance. But there’s no room for oxygen when your lungs are full of seawater. We simply have to wait out the wave.

May this year be an unreserved aversion to the new normalcy. May we travel upstream to investigate what’s intentionally being dumped at the top to kill us at the bottom. May we finally care enough to strike a balance on this planet before the scales are so tilted we all slide into the fire. May we hold tightly to what matters most and preserve those fleeting flickers of hope sparkling in the distant dark.

May tomorrow always be a little bit better than today.

Adolescence Interrupted

There Will Always Be Monsters under the Bed

They will continue to wait, whether we remember to check or forget to inspect. On bended knees, our eyes remain peeled for a glimpse of anything unusual sitting on the planks. But it’s pointless to pretend the floor is clear. They were hiding there last night and last year. They’ll be back again tomorrow…and forever.

The nagging knocking behind the eyes that keeps us awake. The sense that we are barreling toward the inevitable edge. The lists of boxes that remain unchecked. The threat of impending doom. The planet on the verge of collapse. The infighting. The declining educational system. The poor. The sick. The sad. The struggling. The confused. The hurting. The hurt. The loop stuck on a loop. The dubious distrust. The fear. The uncontrollable variables. The time. The schedule. The appointments. The wasted opportunities. The cost. The consequence. The imbalance. The chasm. The loss. The hammer. The nails. The virus. The variants. The worry. The wonder. The sense that any plan must be penned by our own hands. The inattention to intention. The lack of air. The lack of breath. The search for courage. The responsibilities. The falling hourglass sands. The questioning. The projecting. The diet. The disease. The swing. The strike. The call to action. The answer. The bruises. The blood. The tightrope walk. The guns. The drugs. The laws. The disconnections. The deleted lines. The money wearing masks. The trust split into pieces. The rankings. The rancor. The voices. The voiceless. The hardened. The heartless. The abusers. The abused. The race toward a constantly drifting finish line. The ridicule. The neglect. The bottom line. The ringing. The spinning. The tension. The waves. The shortened fuse. The easy ignition. The order. The angles. The criticism. The denigration. The obsessions. The compulsions. The rigid routines. The punishing patterns. The reaching. The rejection. The shooting star wishes for a second chance at another lap.

There will always be monsters under the bed.

Be a scarier monster.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Risk of Honesty

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”  —Fyodor Dostoevsky

A culture of cancellations and filters and the constant traversing of eggshell-laden paths has made for a gun-shy society terrified to whisper a word. But born from the mumbles trapped behind duct-taped mouths are the keys and strategies to bridge divides, lower the gates, and meet in the middle.

The more we are silenced, the more we stay silent.

A consistently suppressed people will lose the desire, inclination, and (eventually) the ability to question the status quo, speak truth to power, or identify expanding cracks in the concrete of a widely accepted and often forgotten foundation.

All muscles eventually atrophy from lack of use.

Protecting people’s feelings is a vitally important endeavor. No one should shuffle down the sidewalk wearing the weight of a thousand slurs, nursing bruises felt from a ceaseless barrage of barbs. But with every drawn line, there is an opportuity to cross. An ounce of prevention has now become a ton. But the cure still weighs a pound.

Constructing and fortifying a personal fortress is just as valuable as confiscating everyone else’s arrows. Perhaps we should shift focus and teach brick stacking or force field raising. Find a way to never feel hurt and you won’t.

I’ve always subscribed to the personal inventory formula. The only thing we have pure control over is ourselves and the way we react to the actions of the masses. So shining the light inside will eventually let the glow escape. It just needs to work its way around a few resistant walls.

Stand on that stage. Sit at that keyboard. Look into that camera. Pick up that pen. Turn on that microphone.

Tell a truth that is yours and let the cards drop and sit wherever they scatter. The world is far too fragile for this much fragility.

Adolescence Interrupted

Green with Nothing

“The grass is greener where you water it.” —Neil Barringham

Envy, jealousy, and the need for other people’s affirmation are the three human attributes I’m most grateful to be missing.

Fundamental to the core neuro/emotional wiring in the majority of the species, these “craving catalysts” can be both potent motivators and crippling knocks to the knees. Like Wilson peeking over Tim Taylor’s fence, far too much of our focus is directed on what the neighbor is doing, saying, and collecting.

For whatever reason, I simply lack that circuitry. Eschewing any desire to walk in someone else’s shoes, I celebrate my circle’s accomplishments and milestones from afar. Watching from the sidelines, I generally track trajectories with a well-balanced mix of support and detachment. I am genuinely happy, proud, and encouraging of their roads and the courses they’ve chosen to chart, but I have no deep-seated desire to join the jog.

If driving toward some lofty goal attainment is only possible by comparing yourself, your talent, or your abilities to someone you hold in higher status, respect, etc., keep chasing the rabbit. If that’s the only protein powder you can use to shake yourself into a state of motivation, so be it.

But turning that light inward might scare away some of those jealous shadows and reshape your target practice. There’s always more work to be done when we’re brave enough to take that introspective dive into the darkness.

We certainly have a lot of Wilsons in this world right now, checking on the neighbor’s grass growth instead of splashing their own yards with a hose from time to time.

Plant your own seeds. Grow your own trees. The other forests will still be standing there, waiting to be explored when you’re ready.

Adolescence Interrupted

A Chapter Closes

Two weeks ago, I lost my last biological grandparent. Defying all rational convention about some hardwired human acceptance of the inevitability of life’s ultimate conclusion, I found myself at odds with the abrupt presentation of this unmistakable new reality.

On a loop or in a wheel, we are only granted so many spins. It should be no surprise that someone who has lived a long, full existence will eventually read the words on that final page. But reaching the coda does not always arrive free of regrets. There are some who scrape and scratch and claw in the desperate hope for one more second to say what’s been hiding, dormant, during each previous solar lap. With the chronometric click of a stopwatch marking that last finish line cross, there are many who will suffer under the weight of internalized regret.

Any finale free of an encore is a bitter pill to swallow and a harsh concept to stomach, regardless of the strength of your constitution.

But there are a rare few who can float above that burden to find the gift of a truly peaceful passing. Leaving this terrestrial plane with the satisfaction felt from completing a comprehensively explored journey is not simply uncommon. It’s downright remarkable.

The only matriarch I had the opportunity to know, my paternal grandmother was a queen in her castle, surrounded by a ceaselessly devoted and doting “royal household.” She was a ringmaster and supervisor, discreetly directing the proceedings with a simple glance or folding of the hands. A subtle conductor, she left little doubt about what she thought or felt. But everything was wrapped in a warm, inviting embrace behind kind, wise eyes that seemed to see the soul.

The finality that follows death is not something I have ever been able to fully process, and there is always this nagging notion that something was waiting…undone, unsaid, or unanswered. But I can take some comfort in the fact that this one human being lived her life to its greatest potential and left nothing sitting on lists. No buckets. No wishes.

Still, there is a tangible vacuum created when a wheel is suddenly absent from its hub, and every earthquake sends out shocks from its center.

We are all still rattling.

Adolescence Interrupted

The Beauty of a Broken Record Is the Skipping

Noons and nights. Suns and shadows. Rise and rest.

Well before the mind-numbing repetition of the pandemic clock dictated our daily existence, we slid from week to week, slaves to the schedule. We were wind-up toys wobbling in the waves of whatever felt like an accepted societal standard of a “good day’s work,” and we celebrated our victories by planting flags in some piece of future soil to mark a personal milestone or forever honor an arbitrary date of achievement. With fingers crossed and blinders fastened, we strove toward a fantastical finish line in some desperate hope for the fleeting opportunity to take a knee and finally catch our collective breath.

The needle dropped…and the record spun.

Resetting back to one, we built a fresh blueprint to pursue an even more impressive objective. A greater goal worthy of our newly acquired skill set…and all those gains gleaned from the grind.

But there is always a higher peak to summit. A wider chasm to traverse. Hotter coals to cross.

So, when we are presented with an opportunity to shatter the monotonous glass—even if we can only muster a few cracks in the corners—it’s important to let those shards fall. There is a deep release felt from the freedom of cutting reins and remembering how to run on our own two feet.

A lifted needle dragging along bumpy vinyl on a tilted table is specifically built to help us remember what sits in the cracks between the tracks.

Leave the broom in the closet. Watch the translucent time pirates sit helplessly in heaps on the floor.

Let the song skip.

Adolescence Interrupted