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Monthly Archives: January 2020

Do one thing every day that’s hard—but maybe find what you love first.  §

“Do at least one thing every day that’s hard—that you don’t want to do.”

“Successful people never quit just because the going gets tough.”

Those are the things that I heard growing up, and I internalized them. They’ve served me reasonably well, I have to say. I’ve said “yes” to a lot of things in my life that I wasn’t sure I could do. In fact, I’m still not sure that I can do them, despite having done them.

I wrote a pile of books for major publishers that were translated into a pile of languages and wound their way into a pile of libraries. I went to the University of Utah and did a double major. Then I went to the University of Chicago and got a masters degree, then to the New School for Social Research and did a Ph.D in sociology. I taught a bunch of different courses, over years and years, at a bunch of different campuses. I edited big encyclopedias on world history with dozens of volumes and hundreds of contributing authors, all doctors themselves. I became a senior communications and public relations manager, then a marketing director. Did television and radio. Became a father. Filed for divorce and fought a custody battle. Last couple of years, I’ve taken up taekwondo and worked my way up to a couple colors away from black belt and I’ve learned to rebuild my own car engine, remediate asbestos-contaminated areas safely, and redo plumbing and interiors.

I had no business doing any of these things, but I did them. I had no formal training in any of them before I did them, but I did them. I was never the A-list candidate, the obvious gonna-be-a-success, but I took them on and by god, I did them. I said “yes” even when I thought it was likely that I was going to fail, or even when they seemed insurmountable, or even when the costs and pain involve were likely to be huge. Often, the costs and pain were huge.

But they’ve all been done. To successful completion. By me.

This is a blog post, by the way, about Kobe Bryant. No, I’m not comparing my achievements to his; obviously they’re apples and oranges (and, in fact, some very large apples and some comparatively very average oranges).

When I heard about the helicopter crash, I was driving across a suburban parking lot on my way to buy groceries. I stopped, mid-parking lot, and just sat there, thinking.

In the days following the crash, I’ve heard one thing over and over again: Kobe loved basketball. He found something that he loved and he lived that love, lived it body and soul, achieved greatness and didn’t care because it was love. Simple love.

— § —

I’ve done a lot of hard things.

It’s second nature in my life now: every day, I do something that I don’t want to do. Something hard. It’s a rallying cry, even. I see something that I don’t want to do but that maybe could stand to be done, that maybe is the right thing, and I say to myself: that’s why I have to do it—because I don’t want to.

And then I do it. The fact that it’s hard is, precisely and directly, motivation for me. I do it.

Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but all in all it’s led me to climb from lower-middle class kid in a poor minority neighborhood with no particular prospects to multiply-published author, doctor, former professor, boss, single father with reasonably well-adjusted kids, and a bunch of other stuff. All in all, yes, I’m proud of what I’ve done in life.

But—what do I love?

What’s my basketball?

There’s never been a love. I have never once, ever, in all of this, done something that I love. The closest I’ve ever come was probably at about ten years old, learning how to code in C. Before almost everything else. And I can’t really even say that I loved that—but at least I enjoyed it.

The rest?

The rest has been doing hard stuff, because it was hard stuff. Taking it on, stumbling through, coming out the other end “triumphant” having succeeded and—quite often—silenced some naysayer or other.

That was enough, for a very long time. But now, I’m about to turn forty-four years old.

Life is finally in the process of passing me by, as it does to everyone. I have a kid that’s about to become a tween. My body is starting to give out—if I’d left this taekwondo stuff for another five years, it would have killed me. (In fact, it may still do so.)

— § —

I didn’t realize how much I admired Kobe Bryant until I was sitting quietly in that parking lot, stunned at the news. I sat there for maybe a full ten minutes in silence. Part of me caught under the weight of the moment, part of me wondering just why it seemed so weighty to me.

I’m not a basketball fan. I’m not really even a sports guy, and when I do do sports, it’s football, and then because it’s my alma mater.

Here’s the thing. I admired him so because he was the world’s purest embodiment of—in a state of direct unity with—that which he loved.

I realize only now how captivating that was to me. And that I knew, as everyone knew—without a moment’s thought—that he wore his love everywhere he went. He wasn’t just good at what he did, he reveled in it. He savored it. He lived it, breathed it.

Me? I’m just doing shit because it’s hard. As I’ve been doing all along, for dozens of years.

But what do I love?

Years and years ago, before all of the things in my life happened, my father asked me what it was that I loved to do. I told him then that I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer. He warned me that that just wasn’t going to be enough. He was right.

All these years later, I still don’t know.

What, pray, do I love?

It’s time for me to be doing that. If only I knew what it was.

— § —

I’m forty-four years old. Time’s a wastin’.

In American life, few actual people remain.  §

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it—just how shallow and lost everyone is in American society today.

Read the articles. Watch the television ads. Look closely at the smiles. They obscure empty souls. These people are ciphers miming the performance of human being.

You feel pity for them. Pity and revulsion.

Removing the child locks is something you’ll likely only do once in your life.  §

My daughter is sitting in the living room assembling a Lego set while singing a tune. The set has nearly 1,000 pieces. It isn’t presenting much of a challenge. She’s cheerful and full of melody as she works.

My son, he’s in the other room reading a book. A thick book, with words. Lots of words. A thick book.

I didn’t tell them to do these things.

— § —

We began the morning by de-decorating.

Okay, actually we began the morning with the handoff. Dad drives to mom’s house. The kids are finishing breakfast. There is chat. Everyone is pleasant. They get up from the table and put on their clothes. We all tell jokes. We talk about our pets, and about literature. Mom asks dad about work. Dad asks mom about comic books when she was a child.

It’s all normal. The kids are as comfortable as any kids anywhere. Eventually, they get dressed. We all get into dad’s car and we drive back to dad’s house.

Dad gets down to de-decorating. They help out here and there. At length, they drift into their own activities, happy and content.

— § —

Around the holidays, this old house becomes laden with hooks. You know the ones—they’re made by some plastic company or other, and they have foam pads on the back with which you stick them to walls.

The idea is that they’re easy to remove—you pull on the foam pad, which extends just a bit beyond the hooks, and slowly, slowly they stretch. Then, suddenly, snap! They’re off the wall.

The stockings and their hooks—down. The wreaths and bells and their hooks—down. The hooks remaining on the ceiling from October’s Hallowe’en decorations—down. One by one, the hooks of the fall and late year seasons come down, and another year is retired.

— § —

Without thinking much about what I was doing after the final hook, I moved a yard to the left and began to fidget with the foam on other plastic attachments—not quite hooks—on closet doors. The cleaning closet. Then, the bathroom cabinet.

These bits of plastic didn’t have little foam tabs extending outward from behind them, but these days I carry a Swiss Army knife with me and while absent-mindedly hearing my daughter sing and not hearing my son quietly read, I wedged the blade in and cut through the foam adhesive pads holding them to the doors.

They popped off and I began using my fingers to rub and scrape off the residue, bit by bit. It came away cleanly.

“That was easier than I thought it would be,” I said to myself.

Then, I stopped and looked at the doors, and at my hands.

— § —

These last items for removal, they are the child locks.

You know the ones—they keep little crawlers from opening the doors that lead to cleansers, and bleaches, and toilet brushes. They close things. They create strange spaces that no longer properly exist within the comfort of a home, send them outside time, into the future, to some unknown day in the future, in fact, when such locks will no longer be needed and the spaces in question will return, with a kind of redemption, as though they’d never gone.

That day is, apparently, today.

For years and years—eight of them, I suppose—those locks have been there, always. They became invisible, an unquestioned part of the business of the everyday, like air or the floor underneath you.

I hadn’t noticed their existence in years.

Now, suddenly, they’re gone.

It’s time for them to be gone, after all. No one has been stopped by them for ages and ages. I mean, the kids don’t crawl any longer. Crawling is this hazy memory, like something from another life. No, they walk. They ride bicycles. They make themselves sandwiches and vacuum their own bedroom.

— § —

At the outset—of your own life, and of theirs—early childhood is forever.

At the other end, it’s done. It passes, unseen and unheard, into an unsettled genre of legend.

My children have had a wonderful childhood and a terrible one. They have been blessed and they have been cursed. Loving parents—who divorced. First-world plenty—marred by the excess and strange kids of discipline that come from having to maintain two sets of everything, from having to remember which winter coat and hat belong at mom’s house and which coat and hat belong at dad’s house.

Their early childhoods have been times and places of very real happiness, and very real pain.

But what is now most real of all is the fact of them. Their early childhoods are concrete, completed. Facts. Not environs. Not possibilities. Not futures yet to be written.

— § —

Whatever we as parents may have intended, our children have had their early childhoods and finished with them.

Their completed reality is a reality of divorce, of multiple homes, of strained conversations and of many wonderful moments always marked nonetheless by a strange surplus of people in them and too little time to live them before the two most important adults in their lives need to separate once again—and go in unavoidably different directions.

It’s all done with; it’s all just memory now. It is what it unquestionably was. That is a bewildering reality to sit with, to take in.

— § —

I took the child locks down, every single one of them, and threw them in the waste bin under the kitchen sink, just like that.

Just like that.

I can’t say the house looks any different at a glance. These little details of life aren’t the sort of thing that busy adults notice.

Reality marches on, undeterred and unsentimental.

— § —

The Lego set has been completed. She’s built a series of three birds with little plaques showing their scientific names in binomial nomenclature. My daughter quietly took them and put them on the mantlepiece above the fireplace, and moved on to other activities.

My son is still reading because the book is a long one.