On Love and Influence and Plans

It’s a rather grey afternoon while I sit down and write this, having just gotten up from a nap and well aware that I haven’t written a thing for a bit. So I thought today, as I sit here with a head full of good thoughts but a body full of pain and fatigue and a slight fever, that I should use a few minutes to write.

And when I sat down to write, I knew immediately what I wanted to put words to. It’s something that in the last few weeks has become very important to me – love.

See, when someone suffers a loss, either of their own design or something that catches them off guard, it can easily shake up whatever foundations you’ve built for yourself. The person who says they’d love you forever? They might not. The job that always promises security? Could get downsized. The pet you always think will greet you at the door? One day they won’t. These are incredibly hard things, and I have come to realize that for a long time I didn’t value them properly. Whenever I come in the door, the dog is excited. Whenever someone loves me, and I reciprocate, that makes me feel good. Whenever I get a chance to write or edit, that’s a privilege and a blessing. It took me a long time to figure out why I stopped seeing each of these things are the great treasures of life and thankfully, it hasn’t taken too long to see them that way again.

It wasn’t even terminal illness or fast-approaching mortality that made me see things in a new light. It wasn’t wild monkey sex or nachos. It wasn’t sunrises or classical music or babies. It was butterflies. Two of them. One large and blue, the other small and spotted red.

Recently, I went on a trip, though you can say it was more to escape the impending wave of bills I can’t pay or the stress of still being kitchenless or just to forget for a few days the struggle of being me and being sick and being without work and being afraid and tired. When I left the house, I wasn’t expecting it to change my life as much as it did. I thought it would be good, maybe even great. It didn’t even occur to me that it would be day upon day of true transformation, some profound rebirth and rekindling of faith and innate sense of purpose. I thought I was just going to have some mexican food and some laughs. Funny how when you’re open to any experience, the truly amazing stuff can surprise you.

I’m being vague on the specifics, because I promised people I would respect their privacy but I have to admit that a part of me is putting words on the internet so their friends get a little jealous. Hello friends. Part of me is also writing because I don’t need to break my promise of respecting privacy when I just talk about how watching butterflies brought me back from a very dark place.

Medical bills are expensive, my money is dwindling, work seems scarce for me right now, and I spend an awful lot of time existing in some state between “I really am tired of being tired” and “I just need one break to go my way”. So when I had a chance to get away from doctors and pills and tests and early mornings and my lack of kitchen, I took it (I can’t say I jumped, because jumping sounds exhausting). It didn’t matter how long it took to get away, I just needed to get away. It didn’t matter how many times I had to stop and use a bathroom or how many times I questioned the dental hygiene in other parts of the nation. I was going somewhere new, and it didn’t matter if I was sick or tired or sad or lonely or dying or stiff or hungry or depleted or feeling creatively bankrupt. I needed to not be here for a little while. I needed new things to look at, new people to interact with and I was desperate, truly begging, for something to re-spark me.

I’d love to say it came in the form of tamales and nachos. Or in watching television. Or ads on Youtube. It didn’t. They were good times. I learned to love old couches and big beds and warm blankets and hot showers. I learned that it was absolutely essential to be myself, and that being myself wasn’t making someone else’s life worse or that being myself wasn’t a hindrance to the planet at large. But that was before I saw the butterflies.

Lately, I’ve been very comfortable in warm places. Humid rooms or places with lots of sun seem to make me far more pleasant. And in this particular space, I sat, like an old man, and watched butterflies. It had already been a great chain of seconds, minutes, hours and memories that I have burned not only into my memory but also into my very essence. I found so much of my self that I was missing and presumed irrevocably lost.

A blue butterfly, I don’t remember the name, but I remember it was the exact color of blue as the best pair of eyes should be. It was the best color of the ocean when light hits it. It’s my favorite shade of blue, flew near me. Peacefully. As if I wasn’t even there. I wasn’t stopping it from being a butterfly, I also wasn’t influencing it to be more of a butterfly just because I was watching. I look again and there’s this tiny butterfly, maybe no bigger than a binder clip, with red and cream dots on it. Striking red dots, the color of fire roasted vegetables, and a color I have always wanted to paint walls. It lands on a leaf. It too, isn’t amping up its butterfly-ness just because I’m around. It’s just being itself.

And that’s the clicking moment.

Watching those things flutter silently around, truly one of the most benign and peaceful things ever, I realized that I spent a whole lot of my life being more-John than I needed to be, because people were watching. I sought attention the way drunks need liquor. I craved it. I let it validate me. I let it influence me. And woe to me when I was foolish enough to believe that a person was a gatekeeper who could bring me more or less attention if I only pleased them … that whole treadmill of trying to be good enough for someone else so that they could fulfill their promise of giving me attention robbed me of needed power and agency in my own life, I just hung out on strings waiting to move when the puppetmaster told me. But as James Spader will teach me later this week, “There are no strings on me.”

He's very glad I've improved my life.

He’s very glad I’ve improved my life.

When I make things, I make them for me. Noir World is my thing from top to bottom. Yes, I share it with other people so they can poke it with sticks and tell me what I’m missing. Yes, I sometimes tinker too much with it. No, it doesn’t have art because I have no loose money (see above). No, it’s not done yet. When it’s done, it’s done. Maybe someone will help me publish it, maybe I’m on my own. That’s for later. The point is, this is my creation, and I am the craftsman of its development.

I have never struggled to say that about projects. Words have always been tools, and there’s always been a level of detachment from it, because I could walk away and go have iced tea and come back. I always feared being the craftsman of my life regarding people, I for too long thought I wasn’t good enough.

But it was these two butterflies that didn’t “teach” me I was good enough, they just reminded me. I used to be very aware I was good enough. That it didn’t matter if I was sick or small or frail or had glasses or was fat or nerdy or whatever, because at my very amazing nougat center, John is good enough to do amazing things. Like make a game. Like live with a bad heart. Like find inspiration in butterflies. Like knowing the third thing he’ll do when he goes full supervillain (remove all lemon candies from civilization).

I am the craftsman of my life. I choose to engage the people I want to. I engage them on the level of interaction I want. I don’t water down my opinion or my idea or my wants and needs just so they’re not inconvenienced (or so that I don’t perceive them to be). I want a life now that’s full of love. Love for passion. Love for creating. Love for good people. Love for honesty. Love for food. Love for sharing lives and memories and futures. Love for crushing your foes outright. Love for finding your place in the universe, whether that’s anywhere in the world with a partner at your side or whether that’s seeing all of time and space with a new partner who you replace every two or three years on average while you explore different fashion styles and everyone on the internet bitches that you’re not good anymore.

Likewise, I decide what influences me. Life is rich with choices. Do I write this down? Do I tell this person how I feel? Do I eat salmon for dinner? Taking full advantage of the choices, being smart about the way the decisions impact others, is how life gets better. And I want a better life. I deserve a better life. No matter how long or short it is. We all do.

I’m sitting here, and thinking to myself that it was a week ago that I was first there. I think a week ago this time I was half asleep or at the very least stretched out comfortably. I miss that week. I miss those moments. But what’s come from those moments: this clarity, this happiness that I have always sought since I was a little boy and thought a fool’s quest has to be here now. I need that stuff now. I’m staring down the barrel of some tough days ahead, and I’m going to need to take all the +1’s forward or ongoing, not the re-rolls.

There are people I love. Some I love more than others. Some I love differently than others. There are some people I would prefer not receive my attention or my consideration. These are my choices, and this is all my design. I couldn’t say that before. It means a lot to me that I can now.

Tonight, I’m going to sit bundled up with a new blanket and have some laughs. I need it.

Go enjoy your Sunday. Go seize your diems and take steps to making your dreams happen. Tell people how you feel about them, support the people who need it, get out of your own way, Make your life better, every day, one decision at a time.

Find the butterflies that will change your life, and appreciate them.

We’ll talk again soon.

Jumping Out Of The Plane

Let’s take a break from the discussions of my terminal condition and the heartache, and talk about something positive. I’m in a fair bit of pain so let’s talk about something practical and safe and worthwhile.

Jumping out of planes.

Not the “oh man, I’m plummeting towards the earth as a bajillion miles an hour and allegedly woo this is fun so oh man isn’t this cool as I possible die” jumping out of planes, I mean the sort of risk taking where you can really make a difference to your world without even needing to wear goggles.

I use the phrase “jump out of the plane” whenever I talk to someone about pushing themselves in a new direction, in the hopes that they actually make the transition from all-talk to talk-plus-action, because I believe that when you take action, your dreams become a bit more realized and tangible, and the results of those first actions motivate you to find additional things to do, and before you know it you’ve built up this momentum AND accomplished your goal.

It doesn’t matter if the goal is learning a new skill or starting a family or a relationship or even and apparently more frightening than both of those things, starting a new career path. What makes all those things scary is the unknown-ness of it. You don’t know how it’s going to go. You don’t know what’s out there, you don’t feel like you have a lot of control because you’ve done a bit of thinking and are overwhelmed by the variables you worry about than take pride in the elements you can control.

I encourage you to look at what you have, not what you don’t, and then rally your courage and remember that this goal is what YOU wanted, not what someone else wants or what someone else expects. (It isn’t right? You’re living your own life, right? If not, start back at the top of this post and re-read it until you are).

What you have is ambition. What you have and might not count as having is resources. An awareness and knowledge of both is critical.

For the purposes of our very broad example, let’s suppose you want to change jobs and get yourself into a situation where you can write for a living. It’s a tough choice, for sure, because maybe you’re leaving a job that’s provided insurance and stability but has thus far left you stressed and unsatisfied. I understand that stability is important, but ask yourself, what’s the point of stability and playing it safe if it requires you to feel so uncomfortable? What if there was a way to not be those things AND get what you want? Aren’t you good enough to at least deserve the basics of hope? Shit, I’m dying and I just lost my engagement and people are jerks to me and I still deserve hope. You do too. Even without all the emotional turmoil I’ve had lately (Sidenote: Sometimes there are really good people and really good things that happen and it becomes easier, go #TeamJohn) So let’s take your hope and your want to be a writer and go forward.

But what’s next? What are the next steps? Use your resources.

First, I’m going to assume that you write. You want to be a writer, the activity is in the job title. You’re going to need to be writing regularly, setting up a disciplined schedule where you write more than just one word a week, where you know this is your dream and your goal and you designate appropriate time towards it because it’s important to you. Sorry League of Legends, random television shows with laugh tracks and Law and Order re-runs, you’re on a mission. There’s no going back. Just like you can’t un-jump out of the plane, you can’t let your goal stop being a goal because you’re scared. Fear is not the boss of you. So write. Put your words on the page. Put your soul and your guts out there. Take the risk. Your efforts will be rewarded. Maybe not right the second you write them (If you want to test that, write the sentence ‘Please send [INSERT ATTRACTIVE PERSON’S NAME HERE] into my room right now, then wait 25 seconds. If they don’t show up, I’ve proved the point. If they do show up, I’d love to know if you can teach me this sorcery), but eventually with persistence, your efforts will find a reward. You have to believe in yourself, believe in the fact that you can accomplish your goal in some way/shape/form and that you can do this. No one should be a louder cheerleader for your success than yourself. So write.

Second, I’m going to assume you’ve at least looked at the playing field. It’s far more diverse and open than you may have realized. You can head out on your own, self-publishing or traditional publishing manuscripts. You can serialize work, you can start a podcast, a Patreon, a comic book, a screenplay… etc etc. You have options.

But let’s take a second and talk something with a little more structure and a little less “I have some many options I don’t know what to do”. Suppose you wanted to ease yourself into writing. Let’s say you wanted to write for pay. There are many great websites and online magazines that will take submissions and pay by the word. How do you find them? Check social media. Talk to writers. Ask questions.

What if you wanted a career writing for someone else? I’d super strongly advise you to consider this, especially if you’re coming out of school, because while I never had the pleasure of student loans, I’ve heard they suck and I’m guessing you’d want to be able to have a little stability as you emerge from some academic cocoon. Check out TheLadders, for instance, get used to the idea of promoting yourself, and make use of the opportunities that career hunting can offer you. Again, just know your goal, demonstrate to people that you have skills and a want to work, and see where it takes you.

When I say promoting yourself, I sometimes hear that people are discouraged from doing that, that it’s selfish or arrogant or somehow defies a gender role, so let me say this — All people, regardless of who they are or what they are or how they identify or how they live their lives deserves an equal chance to speak their minds, advocate for themselves and have an opportunity to prosper. Ladies don’t ruin gaming or publishing or writing, you guys. They don’t get lady-cooties on your stuff, and they aren’t monsters who want to dumb things down. They’re ladies. They’re humans.

And ladies, the bulk of the male population is not spoken for by the very loud cretins of the internets. Do not mistake volume for clarity of message. Put down the paintbrush and the victim attitudes and treat everyone better. We’re all in this together, we can all work together, we can all coexist. Let’s all agree to stop being jerks and cooperate. There’s plenty of room at the table for all our awesome.

So promote yourself. Get on social media. Talk about your life, talk about your goals. Don’t just shout your sales potential into the void, that’s like walking into a job interview screaming “Hire me” over and over. Put away the idea that you’re a brand. Brands are for cattle and horses and caffeinated beverages. You’re a person. Share your person-ality with people.

And over time, pursue opportunities. Go after those writing contests. Submit things to open calls. Follow accounts on social media that tell you when companies are interested in work (@Submittable on twitter, for example)

Be brave, you can do this. Don’t let rejection stop you. Rejection doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing this at all. Rejection can mean anything from “your approach was off, re-adjust and try again later” to “it’s not you, it’s me, so try again later.” The key part is “try again later”. Don’t give up. Fight back. Stand up for yourself. You can do this, if you make the effort.

So jump out of the plane. It’s not a freefall, it’s about taking the risk armed with parachute of certainty in your goals and ambition and the parachute of education (not necessarily academic).

I’ll see you when you touch down.

Stay awesome.

A Whole Lot Of Something Going On

It’s Friday morning, and by the time this goes live, I’ll be exercising. More accurately, I’ll be complaining pretty loudly and likely profanely at the people cheering me on to exercise. Because they’re way too happy to see me lift three and four pound things while a heart monitor beeps like a drunken metronome. You’d think if they were that thrilled about it, they’d join in, but no, they’re just going to sit there and clap like my team just drove down the field 80 yards in one play.

I don’t think “hard” describes the last few weeks for me. Maybe “super hard” does. Maybe “oh John that is goddamned terrible” is the best way to paint this picture. So let’s get through the tough news first, then we’ll talk about some good stuff.

For starters, my relationship is over. I’m not engaged. I’m not seeing her anymore. It’s over. There are many reasons for this, and it sucks. It sucks a lot. It’s absolutely a life-changer for me, you’ll see why in a second.

Secondly, my heart sucks. Like physically sucks. Like doesn’t want to be a heart anymore. I’m dancing around this trying to make a joke, but the fact remains that hypertension can bloom into a lot of worse things, and those worse things are terminal. And that’s scary. To realize how fine the line is between a little bit of chest pain and “this is evidence of organ failure” is beyond sobering, and when you couple that with a broad spectrum of doctors who give hazy-at-best information about prognosis, you don’t have many jokes. Terminal heart failure is a very big bad thing, and sure, there are treatments and surgeries, but those come later. Those come when things worsen. So you end up waiting for things to worsen. You have to live with dying.

There’s a thing called Takotsubo Syndrome. It’s also called Broken Heart Syndrome, because it’s a thing that happens when you suffer a severe emotional trauma (say a relationship ending), and rather than just keep it emotional or mental, your body takes it physically, and your heart decides to be less of a heart because you had a lot of eggs in that relationship basket, and the absence of caring about someone seems painful. It’s this syndrome (and its variations) that kills someone after their spouse of sixty years dies. It’s this syndrome that makes swans suicidal after a mate gets killed. It’s not a joke, I’m not laughing. This isn’t some emotional discord, this is physical decline prompted by emotional trauma. This is the life-changer, seeing all the physical and emotional change in my life tie together in a cruel box with a black bow on it.

While there are many parts that aren’t fun to navigate, the worst has to be feeling like a ghost while other people move ahead in their lives as if you don’t, didn’t and won’t matter. I get that the world keeps going, and that people have jobs and families and lives and plans of their own, but my world has come off its axis and wobbled, and what might be an inconvenient or immaterial blip to some people, is much bigger to me. I’m not asking for everyone to drop everything and attend to me (I do a lot of sleeping, there’s not much to attend to), I guess I’m saying I want to know that I still matter. That I still have an impact, not just with these words or words I’ve written in the past, but with people substantially.

The weird coincidence/irony of this is not lost on me – human intimacy (the emotional and the physical) is a treatment for Takotsubo’s, yet it’s pretty easy to feel like no one’s going to want to invest more than however long it takes to read a text message in being with me. Also, trauma around intimacy is one of the factors in the syndrome, yet it’s also what you do to manage it. Humans are weird tribal social primates.

Loneliness is a monster I have fought many times, usually in a cerebral depressive way. I felt physically fine but mentally I believed I was alone and worthless. It got bad, and I’ve written about that on this blog several times before. But, after finding a treatment, I got better. Now I *KNOW* I’m not worthless, it’s just the physical body is the screwed up part. Tables have turned, and it’s still loneliness by any other name. To feel jettisoned from the rest of people, to feel abandoned, betrayed and angry is not a great cocktail but it’s one with free refills through memory and discouragement. I go to dinner with friends. I talk to friends daily. And that’s good. I like those things. But they’re not a relationship. They’re not the secret keepers on that most interior level. They’re not the ones standing side by side with me through the tears and the doctors and the frustrations. They’re not the ones who show they still love me despite all this by being there at night and still being there in the morning. I find myself wanting to scream, “Why can’t someone love me?” (I’m stopping that train of thought here, because it’s too early in the day to start the massive waterworks)

I do the best I can everyday. I do as much as I can. I follow the plans. I take the pills. I am honest and kind. I have learned from my mistakes as best I can, and I work hard to avoid the patterns of behavior that led me astray. There’s just a whole lot of stuff going on, and I on some levels have to do it alone.

But it’s not without good things.

I’ve lost a lot of weight. There’s a project to get me under 200 pounds, and I’m slowly getting there, one glass of water a day. I’m down three pants sizes and nearly three collar sizes in shirts. I’m wearing clothes I last dug out of the back of storage bins sometime while I was in college. I can fit into clothes that used to be pipe dreams for me. Underneath that water weight I apparently have muscles. Maybe not ripped six-pack Hugh Jackman as Wolverine muscles, but muscles enough.

I’m growing a beard. This is significant to me, because I know many cool people with beards, and I have for years been very envious of the “sexy stubble” cliche on television (you know the one, where the lead actor looks more rugged while not shaved and the romantic lead shows interest in them). It’s a slow process, but it’s coming along.

I’m going to put out Noir World. When I have energy (which is usually mornings or midday until just after lunch), I make sure I write something. A page here, a page there. I’m so proud of myself for doing this. It’s a comfort to spend time and create this. I might not feel very loved all the time, but I can channel love into this game and make it something special. Whether or not that translates into something other people enjoy, I can’t control that.

I started recording random thoughts I have. I want to start tracking and logging my ideas about writing and storytelling. It’s a podcast without a pod. It’s me talking into a microphone about something. Here’s where I talk about Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love doing it. I will continue to do it.

I wish you all well. If you want to talk, come find me on twitter.