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.”
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.