As good as it gets?

When does one need to stop believing in oneself?

Why should one try to move forward when the results could end in failure?

Should one just be safe and spend one’s life secure in one’s little corner of the world?

What will happen if one tries?

What will happen if one doesn’t try?

Should one accept mediocrity?

Is this as good as it gets?


Some people have it, and some people don’t. I’ve never been one of those who have had it. 

I don’t think confidence is really a genetic thing, but I’m not a scientist. My parents seemed to be relatively confident, but I’m pretty sure they drank more than I do. I have infrequent bouts where I feel that my skills are adequate. There has even been a time or two when I’ve actually felt competent. But those feelings are generally short-lived.

I’m not a complete moron. I consider myself to be a relatively big thinker who can come up with really great ideas. But execution of those ideas is impossible for some reason. I’m lacking the skills to take ideas to the next level, and it’s frustrating. The more ideas I have, the more the frustration builds. Until I find myself writing a blog at 2:13 in the morning because I can’t figure out how to implement the ideas I come up with, instead driveling on through shallow words on a page.

When we’re children we don’t worry about executing ideas; we just do it without thinking about it. We get old and seem to lose that skill. I’m trying to find that child-like power to execute the ideas I have once more. 

These next six months are going to speed by. And I hope I can get my head in the place that I need it to accomplish the few things that will make me want to stick around a while longer. I need a shot of courage with a chaser of confidence.

I can’t have a slump right now, or else…

Authorial intercept

I believe it was Charles Bukowski who once wrote that it’s better to write about writer’s block than to not write at all. 

The mind, I know,  works in mysterious ways. Mine seems inordinately peculiar, however. I always have ideas. I always have words. But so often it seems that my brain refuses to let my fingers put pencil to paper. I don’t think this is particularly unusual for those who like to write, but it certainly adds an element of anxiety to the process.

I’m not a writer. I don’t claim to be a writer. I don’t want to be a writer. But I want to write. I want to see words on a page. I want to tell stories about who I was, who I am, and who I might be. I want to write a character I fall in love with. I want to write a scene that will never leave my memory. I want to write my life happy, even though I’m not a big fan of fiction.

I think people who write are often too quick to label themselves as writers just as those with crazy thoughts are too quickly labeled as crazy. I’m a person who writes, but I’m not a writer. I’m a person with crazy thoughts, but I’m not a crazy person. At least that’s what most of the voices in my head are telling me.

I’m writing today neither because I have new information nor do I have anything epiphanous to declare. I’m writing today simply because I promised myself that I would write every day for six months. Sometimes keeping a promise to oneself is enough to get through a day.

I write about nothing because it’s better than not writing at all. I write in spite of what my brain wants me to do.

Is it time to go big, or go home?

The times when I feel most alive in my life are when I’m involved in activities that are challenging, involve creativity, and make me come away with a sense that I’ve learned something. College, I feel, was when I felt my best.

I wasn’t a traditional student. I didn’t really start college until I was in my thirties. I applied more as a joke than anything, half expecting that I’d get turned down. I made the cut, although I must admit that the college I attended didn’t have incredibly high academic standards. The ability to breathe put a potential student high on their list. But the school did figure out how to get me the funding to make it work. So I did it.

It was an incredible five years. I had the opportunity to serve as the student body president for two years, I made a bunch of friends, and I was being academically challenged. And then it was gone. And I miss it.

I’ve given myself six months to do something that will make me feel as if I’m living. The world of academia is where I feel most alive. I think I’m going to pursue it.

I’m beginning to look into MFA programs. I’m not big on fancy diplomas, and I definitely don’t have unrealistic dreams about becoming a famous author or even publishing anything for that matter. I want to learn the craft of it–the art. I want to have conversations about how to create a well-written braided essay. I want to find ways to describe the world around me. I want to comparatively debate whether Joan Didion or Jo Ann Beard is the better writer. I want, simply, to Live.

If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it big, or else…

The Proof is in the Pumpkin

The sun wasn’t shining when I awoke this morning. I don’t think it was out at all today.

I can feel a part of my mind pushing back today, envious that the part of it that contains hope is gaining ground. It’s a street brawl, the outcome of which I cannot predict. It’s a familiar anxious feeling, like the end of a horror movie when you’re led to believe that the antagonist is dead. But you know he’s coming back; you just don’t know when the surprise will come.

I wish I knew the triggers for what I can only describe as self-loathing–fatigue, an oncoming cold, forgetting to have a meal–but I don’t. What I do know is this feeling has a voracious appetite, feeding off of presumed failures. Today it fed on pumpkins. They’re everywhere. Not unusual–it is fall after all. They’re everywhere…but here. Three kids. Zero pumpkins.

I never missed a pumpkin when I was a kid. My parents made sure of that, making it an event that I would never forget. I can recall pulling my little frame into a giant wagon filled with straw, the wagoner nickering to the horses to begin their winding journey into orange flecked field. On the word “whoa” I’d jump from the wagon and dash across the field as fast as my tiny legs could carry me, feet catching in the vine-ridden field. I would point to the biggest gourd I could find, and my dad would tote it back to the wagon. We would disembowel it that evening, carefully cleaning and rinsing the seeds for roasting. Butcher knife in fist, my dad would carve crooked smile into ol’ jack. My mom would turn out the lights so we could test him out with used birthday candle scrounged from kitchen junk drawer.

My kids won’t have that this year. Strapped for cash there’s no gas to the patch, no two-buck-a-ride wagon trips, no five buck pumpkins plucked from farmer’s back forty. No fingers slicked with pumpkin innards. No crooked smiles. No light.

Three kids. Zero pumpkins. Three kids. Three memories. Memories of one father who could provide zero pumpkins.

No surprises.

Fireworks in October

I have a small, cold, gray room in my basement that I like to call my office. I’m surrounded by computers, books, banjos, and jars of moonshine. A redneck at heart, I’ve an intelligent side. I love reading Shakespeare while listening to Zeppelin. I’m not a afraid to crank a little beethoven while I’m restringing a banjo. And Sylvia Plath and Nine Inch Nails seem to go together better than PB&J. My mind works in mysterious ways, and I normally just let it do its thing.

Last night I emerged from my fortress of solitude because I heard mortar rounds as if in Afghanistan. What I found was far better–fireworks in October. I grabbed my youngest daughter and stood on the second story balcony–the view perfect. I get these fleeting glimpses of normalcy very rarely, and they frustrate me. Who I am, what I am is there for a brief moment in time. And then, like the aftermath of a bright resounding finale of a fireworks display, there is only a smoky haze that dissipates and blows away.

I woke this morning in muddled spirits, anxious about a coffee date with Lisa, a dear friend and co-editor at the journal. I have very few friends, but they’re the best–supportive beyond anything I could ever imagine. They do their best to encourage me from my comfort zone, but I must admit that I don’t make it very easy for them. But I made it out today, had coffee with a wonderful friend, and talked about the future. Signe joined us a bit later, and talk turned to a studio that Lisa had acquired for her father a few months back. Her father, an extraordinary visual artist, succumbed to illness a few weeks back. Lisa has held on to the space, hoping to create a space for artists, writers, and teens. She has a wonderful vision. She took us to visit the space and share her thoughts about it. My mind lit with ideas–fireworks. I could see her vision, a vision that she inherited from her father, and I was excited, not outwardly at first, but there was a definite spark.

With this space, however, comes a challenge. Yup, money. But my wheels were turning, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Lisa was helping her mom move, so Signe and I took a walk. I needed to bounce these ideas off of somebody, and I think Signe sees the potential as well, and she seemed incredibly excited about it–and Signe rarely gets incredibly excited about anything. We walked to the end of a local pier on a beautiful fall afternoon and sat and talked about the possibilities, brainstorming potential resources, watching the Steelhead jumping as they head up river to spawn. I was in a moment where I completely forgot about my six months, and it was good. But then, as time does, it was gone. And the six months was back in there. But something was different. I had a goal. A goal not for me, but a goal to help a friend realize a dream. And today that was enough.

But these good days scare me. They’re fleeting. Like fireworks in October, these good days are a rare thing. And I’ll wake up tomorrow. And I’m not sure who I’ll be.

Snatching Bats: Trying to Grasp the Impossible

I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Montana a few months back. It wasn’t as much of a planned visit as it was a desperate attempt by my friends to bring a sense of self back into my life. My friend and co-editor of Stoneboat Literary Journal simply said to me one day, “I’m taking you to see Jim.” Although I missed him terribly since he moved a few months earlier, I fully intended to not go. But friends can be very persuasive.

Within a few days I was packed inside of Signe’s ’96 Buick LeSabre headed west, scared out of my mind.

Traveling cross country was something I’d never done before. I recall leaving the boundaries of Wisconsin once or twice before, but never for a significant trip. And while the trip was incredible, this isn’t about that. This is about a night when I realized I couldn’t catch my thoughts.

While exploring my friend’s property located in a relatively remote area just outside of Missoula, I noticed a bat drop to flight from an opening in a clapboard. Then I saw another, and another. Dozens of these furry winged creatures emerged from the house, living just inches above the guest room where I slept. This was a problem in need of a solution.

Jim and I fashioned a mesh screen funnel the next day from which the bats could safely escape but be unable to reenter. We wouldn’t know if our engineering would succeed or fail until that evening.

At dusk we set up camp to await their emergence. We set up chairs, poured cocktails, and I strapped on my banjo–a little pre-show entertainment. One by one they began to crawl from attic entrance, at first impeded by the funnel, but gravity did its job and they dropped out harmlessly. We counted them–5, 10, 20, 50, 90, 100–128 in all.

We waited to see if they could get back to their squatters ground, but we were successful. Echolocation was their ultimate demise, unable to penetrate the precise point from which they nightly emerged. Jim and Signe returned to the house, but I remained, probably unable to right myself after one too many cocktails.

I sat upon an old redwood bench, bats swarming inches around my head, unable to find their home just feet away. They were close enough to touch, but I wasn’t able to. I couldn’t simply reach out and pluck one from flight. They were there, yet I couldn’t grasp one. I realized that was the way I felt about my thoughts.

I see thoughts and ideas flying around my head every day–all day, all night–yet I often can’t grasp them. It’s frustrating to say the least, and perhaps a reason for attempts at taking my own life. I not only need to snatch these metaphorical bats from my mind but figure out what to do with them once captured. I believe this to be an important step in my six month journey.

Perhaps these thoughts, these bats in my head are the answers I need to live. So I will slowly pluck and, as has been suggested, set goals on how to achieve Life with a capital “L” within my six month deadline.




Waiting for the bats

Every Journey Begins With the First Step

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”                                             — Oscar Wilde

I exist. That is all. And it’s simply not enough any more.

My plan? Six months. I’m giving myself until May 1, 2014 to find a life that I’m content with.

The possible outcomes? Happiness, death, or simply walking away are on my short list. My primary goal is to find out who I am and what I need to live happily. I hope I can do it. If I can’t, suicide is a very real option. While I completely understand the taboos associated with the act of self-elimination in our society, I don’t fear death. Being one who adheres to the philosophy of Do as I say, not as I do, I’ll add the disclaimer that I don’t condone this type of act. 

I’ve also considered the fact that I may be too afraid to follow through with the act. In that case, I will simply walk away. To where, I’m not sure. But I know that I’ve never been afraid to walk.

You may be wondering why I’m doing this, so here’s a brief background: I’m forty years old, married, and have three kids. I’m unemployed, although I have degrees in English, education, and writing that I received in 2011, graduating Summa Cum Laude from a small liberal arts college. I’ve been turned down for close to 50 jobs in my field since graduating. I’m not a terrible father, and I could be a better husband, but I love my family. I also have a few close friends who care about me more than I probably deserve.

I’m loved, I’m supported, and people often tell me I’m smart and have great potential. The thing is, I haven’t figured out how to love myself, support myself, or use the brains I have to reach some abstract potential. I feel broken, and it frustrates me.

Before people begin writing me, telling me that I need professional help–I’m getting it. I’ve been treated for depression for the past eight years. Even during treatment, however, I experienced two failed suicide attempts and spent a few days in the psych ward. I’ve seen therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists, many who seemed burned out from seeing people like me. I’m currently working with an excellent practitioner right now who has given me a little bit of hope. But I am a realist to a fault and understand that even with the best treatment and medical services there is a chance that they will not be able to fix what’s broken. And that’s why I begin this journey.

I exist. That is all. And it’s simply not enough any more.