Tag Archives: family

The Feeling of Familiar

Walking around the world as creatures of contentment and relishers of routine, it’s easy to assume that breaking a pattern to add some spice to the monotonous mix means upsetting the setup by tossing a pot of pasta against the wall to see what sticks and what falls.

However, having recently upended my entire life to return to the place where the building blocks of those comfort zones were first stacked, I’m learning that revisiting the starting line can serve as a thoroughly unexpected chance to refresh and reload. There is a certain novelty to presumption, and jack has been waiting to pounce from his hiding place boxes at even the slightest turn of his crank.

Time is impatient. While I was off chasing adventures, the town that imprinted itself onto my core code grew its own legs and learned to run…and with a heavy hunk of my heart still stuck in another city, it’s been taxing trying to keep pace.

But the breeze that blew me back to basics and the rationale to bunt and steal home remain front and center. I’m constantly reminded of the clock and its speedy sand.

Without the arms to control anything outside my direct reach, I’ll focus on what matters most, strap on those running shoes, and continue to track that elusive feeling of familiar.

Adolescence Interrupted

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Goodnight, L.A.

“‘Cause I could break like a bird.
Or I could swallow the sea.
It seems like the daylight is coming,
and no one is watching but me.”    —Counting Crows

With a weighty heart, I’m walking away from the city I’ve called home for the last 15 years. The only other time I was ushered toward the exit was at the completion of my college internship with the Beastie Boys in ‘99. I knew I still had so much left to accomplish, so much to explore. But I was dragged back east by the cuffs of my jeans, fingernails scraping the sidewalk. The most electrifying and enlightening period of growth I’d had in my young life was stamped with a finite expiration, and it was time to turn in the keys and retreat to the familiar. But I vowed I’d return to plant my flag.

I fell in love with this town from the minute my toes touched the smog-laden sidewalks. The energy. The hope. The constant buzz of brains consumed by a solitary pursuit. The land of dreams and dreamers, populated by an army of idealists and artists, is precisely where I found the welcoming, open arms I’d been waiting to fall into. It’s been almost 20 years since I was first smitten with a seductress disguised as Southern California, and it all zipped by in a hazy blink.

People talk about the nice weather and the constant traffic, but it’s so much more than that. The pound of the pavement and the cycles of the Pacific are inspiring, fueling, energizing, and driving us to be more fully engaged versions of ourselves. It’s less about the artificial sheen of glitz and glamour and more about the grounded grind. “Making it” doesn’t make us better, and most of the memories we’ll carry are collected during the pursuit.

This time, I’m leaving with a lot more knowledge about how the pistons move inside the grand Hollywood machine, but I remain just as enamored with the progressive perspective and overwhelming sense of hope that lives in this coastal town. I’ve seen the man behind the curtain, and I still believe he’s a wizard.

Over the last 14 months, I took a deep dive into this battered psyche on an exploration to find a meaningful justification and a greater sense of purpose for the next chapter. I slid a series of scenarios in and out of vacant brain spaces like a manic game of Tetris, and the only feasible fix for the constant trepidation about the impending tidal wave cresting above my head was a severe shift in my course trajectory.

Taking time to take stock of the reality that dwindling days disappear at a greater rate with every passing year is an important practice. Routines and rituals serve to speed our clocks, and if we don’t come up for air to check in with ourselves, we’ll drown in the monotony.

So, I watched another year slide off the calendar, spent some minutes trying to remember more than five truly significant moments from the last decade, and then made the decision to not allow ten more rotations around the sun to vanish by simply ignoring their pace.

We have very limited screen time on this show. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see how the shoes fit when we’re 80 or 90. Only a select few will push much beyond that.  Some of us get half as many chances to wipe the slate clean and start again.

Splitting the people I care about most into two groups on opposite sides of the country has never been a comfortable arrangement to accept. But I refuse to live with the regret of inaction. If I don’t spin the wheel to move the rudder, the scenery never changes. I’ll wake up an old man, wishing I’d better preserved the bonds that built me, and I’ll think of all the sunsets I took for granted, arrogantly expecting the following day to dawn.

I’m so grateful to have spent the majority of my prime years in this uniquely special city. To have been surrounded by an ironclad support circle as I navigated the wildly unpredictable waves that routinely accompany a creative life was the sole reason I was able to swim for so long.

But it’s time to switch tracks and replace stations. Let’s see where some of the other trains travel.

Adolescence Interrupted

New York State of Mind

photoI guess I’ve never thought of myself as a real New Yorker. I was raised an hour north of Manhattan, and I had ample opportunities to visit the city for a variety of reasons. But, other than watching those twins crumble with the rest of my Midtown co-workers and finding unity inside the chaos, I never identified with the New York mentality, attitude, or aesthetic.

Los Angeles felt like home the moment I stepped foot on the Left Coast. I bathed in the energy and the crunchy, earthy attitude, and wrapped myself in the beachy progressiveness that permeates SoCal living. But, I never realized how important a role my Northeast concrete played in that foundation.

See, whether I knew it or not, New York pumped a lot of grit and grind into this blood and inside these bones. It made me street smart, tough, and able to see directly through the smog-sized fog of bullshit that hangs over this city like a storm cloud. I knew when people were lying to steal more fuel for their personal rockets, and I learned to never give the benefit of the doubt before it was earned. I gravitated toward a predominantly East Coast-rooted group of friends, and I’d bet that wasn’t due to freak coincidence.

But, having recently returned from my annual US Open pilgrimage, where I was able to take in the joys of family, unimpeded roads, and…rain, I have felt so far from that giant security blanket near the Hudson. Plane rides provide the illusion that we’re not on opposite sides of the country, but the brevity of travel can’t make up for the reality of miles.

I will adjust, as my history has shown. I will embrace all the benefits of evading fall and winter weather like a clever cat burglar sitting in the sun with his spoils. But, this renewed appreciation for my provenance will remain.

Thank you, New York, for mapping my route and filling my tires. Your infused weight has grounded me beneath this persistent charade.

Sharpened Perspective

Thank you for being a wonderful mother

It’s often too easy to get lost in the mundanity of daily life. The interval between turning a white noise sleep machine off and turning it on again can feel like a timeless loop of repetitive habits, vibrating on skipping needles, powered by hamster wheels.

My Groundhog Days are normally of little concern. I accept that baby steps lead to Olympian leaps, so I tackle my routine tasks and always sweat the small stuff. As a writer and proofreader, details are kind of a big deal. These are my cards, and I’m happy to play them.

But, sometimes—even when the marathon tennis sessions have beaten my body and emptied my energy reserves—I find myself squirming inside my skin for a change of pedestrian pace.

Normally, I ignore these impulses and continue punching computer keyboards in my never-ending attempt to accumulate tension headaches. But, two weeks ago, I was delivered a surprise fuel injector in the form of a fellow tennis aficionado from NY with the desert on her mind and a pro tournament in her sights.

Mom knows just when to rescue her overthinking, word wrestler of a son from his stationary bike, and exactly how to throw some excitement and a change of scenery into the mix.

It was just what the proverbial doctor ordered, and I was able to unplug and detach from the busy, serpentine track of LA life.

My chiropractor believes that the mountains in Palm Springs have a way of inexplicably extracting the stress from our bodies and, although I don’t normally subscribe to  teachings of the mystic variety, I’d have to agree with him.

So, now it’s back to work and back to that hamster wheel. But, like mainlining lemon-lime Gatorade, I feel refreshed and ready for the race ahead.

Thanks, Mom…for always knowing what I need, even when I don’t.

Beneath the Heft of Hourglass Sand

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“The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.”

A few days ago, I woke up with the unfortunate impulse to reach for my phone for some helpful advice. Still half-asleep, I found myself dropping into a familiar Google search sinkhole of facts and opinions, unsubstantiated claims, and broad generalizations. But, between the lines, I found pieces of heart-wrenching truth.

See, I live with an incessant worry about the future. Now, I’m not speaking about the glorious, hyper-technological, world-revolutionizing future. All notions of our impending singularity do nothing but paint a Jack Nicholson-sized joker smile across my mug.

What I’m referring to is a future of dwindling time, limited resources, and the daunting prospect of uncontrollable aging. I don’t sit, wrapped in a panic poncho, because of concerns about my own mortality. I never much feared or questioned death. I see it as a necessary component of the cycle of life and I will face it with as much bravery as my age and mental capacity can muster.

My fear and—more specifically—my sadness live under the weight of losing my partner.

It’s always been just Mom and me. I don’t have any siblings and I reside in a city 3,000 miles from any member of my family. I only get major holidays and my annual summer trip to connect through a means other than Skype, and her 30-year head start is beginning to feel like a lead I can’t catch.

So, I thought I would research the notion of caring for an aging parent as an only child. It took less than three results for me to realize I had bitten off a much bigger quandary cookie than I wanted to swallow. It was fear wrapped inside of speculative projection. This was no way to start a day and, contrary to popular belief, streaming tears don’t help lubricate a sun salutation.

The role-swapping will be one of the more difficult transitions. As I’ve mentioned before, I often feel like a young kid walking around playing pretend in a grownup world. To not only own the idea that I am an adult, but to take full responsibility for the physical and emotional well-being of the one person who wore those gloves so perfectly seems like some Copperfield-level form of deception. I’ve been awarded the job and I’m utterly unqualified.

But, I can’t say all the literature was discouraging. One story emphasized the sense of relief the author felt being able to control the care and health trajectory of his mother. He wasn’t lost in sibling bickering and he didn’t harbor the resentment that can arise from feeling like no one else is pitching in to help. He was able to direct every aspect of her treatment and could ensure her best interests were protected. Obviously, bearing the full brunt of responsibility isn’t easy, but knowing that each detail is carefully coordinated can help avoid a messy meal made from too many cooks in the kitchen.

Reading this information wasn’t a relief. I still walk toward the future like an ice skater checking the depth of a frozen lake. But to know that there are people out there grappling with the same doubts and fears made me feel less alone and momentarily quelled my trepidation.

This isn’t painless. It’s not supposed to be. When you care about someone else’s life more than your own, there is an inherent price tag on that love. If something is worth preserving, it has value. If that value is greater than the premium you place on yourself, all your cards are on the table. It is the very meaning of vulnerability, and it’s terrifying. But, attempting to control the uncontrollable is an exercise in futility.

Enjoy each and every shared moment, and savor the small stuff. The rest is just an illusion.

Now, it’s time to take my own advice.

Fatherless Figuring

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The only thing that I can even remotely relate to the notion of having a child is someone handing me a scalpel and asking me to perform a complex medical procedure. It’s wildly intimidating, I’m completely unqualified, and a human life is at risk.

For those of you with children, this concept probably seems absurd. You’d argue it’s the most natural, most biologically-hardwired thing in the world. You barely remember a single day before parenthood provided you with purpose, granting you a gift that made you feel alive and empowered. You were waiting, wandering without focus, until you were blessed with this tiny bundle of instant selflessness.

I get it. Well, I get the general drift. But, I just can’t seem to choke down all the Kool-Aid.

I imagine a number of factors are to blame. I’m an only child. I grew up without a father. I think the survival of the planet hinges on population reduction. Blah, blah, blah.

But, recently, I had a mini revelation. I’ve lived (for longer than I care to admit) with the general belief that serious life decisions and responsibilities are handled by adults. Grownups are experienced, knowledgable, and capable of tackling whatever unplanned catastrophes happen to surface. They can get married, buy houses, have children, organize barbecues, and generally have a damn fine time.

Well, now I’m considerably deep into this “adulthood” everyone keeps talking about, and I don’t feel I have even the simplest skill set required to navigate that world. So, since I live in a constant state of contemplation, I’ve arrived at a couple of conclusions.

1) It’s difficult to foster someone else’s childhood when you still want to revisit your own.

-Many thanks to Mom for this one. Ages 0-18 were a self-actualized dream come to life…full of wonder, hope, love, excitement, and security. Sure, there was one major bump on that perfectly-paved road, but that’s why George Hansburg made the pogo stick.

2) You can’t have a kid when you still ARE a kid.

-Obviously, this isn’t true. Every major city in America proves this thesis false on a daily basis. But, I’m referring to a state of mind. Undoubtedly, there are some who would argue I’m a 90-year-old man, living in the body of a weird, writing hermit. However, habitual handcuffs and erratic sleeping patterns aside, I watch the world with the same discerning eyes I had at 15. Maybe everyone feels like that. There’s a saying that we never realize we age until we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Well, that may very well be the case. Regardless, these teenage peepers still see the news of impending fatherhood with the same, balanced mix of pity and terror. It’s not celebration. It’s sympathy.

But, I suppose there’s some future awakening or dormant life event waiting to flip those tables and make me one of the “normals.” Anything is possible.

For now, I’ll continue to stay in awe of these crazy youngsters and their fancy adult lives, living like an old man with a teenage heart.

RSVP + 0

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The anxiety-inducing realization that the only thing accompanying you to most social functions will be a hefty gust of wind whipping through an empty passenger’s seat is a daunting prospect. But, in a world of significant others tagging two steps behind to every conceivable soirée and backyard barbecue, the unescorted visitor is often met with sideways glances, overcompensating high-fives, and hearty hello hugs.

But, why is that something seen as sad? We’re okay. Granted, the first few seconds from the car to the front door of the house, bar, restaurant, coffee shop, graduation ceremony, funeral, etc. are instant pulse raisers. Fight or flight takes the wheel and tries to steer us back to safety. Sometimes it’s even enough to make us call the whole thing off and dive into another Netflix Portlandia marathon. But, after the initial awkwardness, the party pieces fall into place and everyone settles into a communal space. There was a reason we decided to attend. We like these people. These are friends with shared histories and they’ve seen us at our best and worst. Sure, they’re dropping off into family mode faster than flies stuck in a Raid cloud, but that doesn’t mean we’re lost on an island of misfit toys.

We’re just as funny and personable as ever. Besides, maybe the fact that we’re not spending the entire time bickering about some mundane squabble we couldn’t leave at the house, or chasing behind a two-year-old with a penchant for destroying anything at adult knee level, makes us the more desirable company. Let’s face it. Freedom packs some serious appeal, especially to those who have lost it.

So, let us embrace the solo label, wearing it like a crown of independence. We are the kings and queens of our sequestered castles.