Weak Brain

This morning after four hours of sleep, I had breakfast with my friend Bonnie at The Fort Smith Coffee Company. (That’s us in the picture. That’s also a guy I think I know but am not sure how. I hate it when that happens.) Anyway, Bonnie has been in freakin’ Paris (Paris, France) for the last month (a whole month!), so we decided to catch up, eat some bread, and pretend like I was there too. It sort of worked for about an hour, but it’s REALLY HARD to forget you’re in Fort Smith when you’re in Fort Smith.

Other than catching up with Bonnie, here’s the best thing that happened during our time at the coffee shop:

Bonnie’s laughing because the cup says, “ho room,” which we figured meant, “no room,” as in, “no room for cream or sugar.” But ho room is way funnier, so Bonnie took the cup home with her, kind of like a souvenir from our time together in Paris (Fort Smith, Arkansas).

I spent this afternoon running all over God’s green earth on a mission to find a new cell phone because the one I’ve had for over two years has been seriously acting up, and I finally had enough of its bullshit. Anyway, it was a six or seven hour ordeal, and it included trips to Best Buy, AT&T, the Fort Smith Public Library (twice), Sprint, and Verizon (twice). I’ll spare you all the details, but I’ve been with Sprint for eleven years, and they don’t sell the phone I initially wanted, so that led me to the other providers. Well, I figured out that if I left Sprint, I could get better coverage, the same deal I have now (unlimited everything) for less money, AND I could use my phone as a WiFi hotspot. (Specifically, that means I can use my phone to connect my laptop to the Internet so that when I’m at home, I don’t have to write blogs on my laptop, copy them to my phone, do all the editing on a screen only slightly bigger than a deck of cards, and then post everything from there.)

This is really, really good news.

I ended up saying goodbye to Sprint (It’s been real) and going with Verizon. A super guy named Gavin helped me out the second time I was there, and the dude spent over two hours with me in order to get me signed up, switched over, and set up. I mean, it’s never a fun feeling to drop money on a new phone with all the amenities, but my monthly fee stayed about the same, and that includes the new phone. Plus, good customer service, like a good personal lube, makes all the difference.

After I left the Verizon, I joined Bonnie and her husband Todd and some of their family friends for a Paris-style dinner at their home. The whole affair lasted for two or three hours. There was cheese, bread, salami, bread, crackers, bread, salad, bread, some sort of chicken and vegetable situation, and dessert (fruit, more cheese, and more bread). Also, there were three types of alcohol. (Todd told us that in Paris (Paris, France), you’re required to look everyone in the eye when you clink your glasses together for a toast. I love that.) Basically, between the bread and alcohol, it was everything I probably didn’t need to eat in order to make the yeast infection under my arm pits go away.

But it sure tasted great.

After dinner I spent about four hours setting up my new phone. This may come as a shock to some of you, but I’m pretty anal-retentive, so I couldn’t really put it down until I got all my favorite applications installed and placed on my home screen in just the right place. Plus, I had to log into all my accounts and set up my voicemail and the hotspot. Those last two items took the longest, since I guess I had to log into Verizon’s application first, but no one told me that. Still, I finally got it all done, so now I’m at home on my laptop–blogging!–and I’m actually connected to the Internet.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Marcus.

There are still a few things I need to do in order to get the new phone set up, but having it mostly taken care of, especially the part about switching networks and actually getting a new phone, feels fantastic. The whole situation has been a point of stress for a while now, so now maybe I can move on to figuring out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life or, as one friend so delicately put it, attend to my moldy armpits.

Almost ten years ago, I visited some friends in Dubai. Well, one day we saw a local medicine man, some sort of witch doctor who made his own potions and healing ointments. I told him about my sinus infections, but there was a language barrier, so I kept pointing to my head a lot. And the guy just stood there and nodded his head, and he finally said, “Oh yes, weak brain.”

That was actually his diagnosis. Weak brain.

At your service.

Even now my friends and I joke about that. And whenever I’m exhausted and can’t focus (like now), I think–weak brain. I guess the body just wasn’t made to blog until six in the morning and then get up four hours later, even if it does mean coffee in Paris. I mean, I thought I was going to take a nap today, but that didn’t happen. And really, I’m glad it didn’t because sometimes when I get tired, I can’t really fake anything. It’s like exhaustion is a shortcut to authenticity. This afternoon at Verizon and this evening at Bonnie’s, I kept thinking that I should chat more, but I just didn’t have it in me. So I chatted some, and the rest of the time I quietly enjoyed what was going on, which left me grateful for good customer service, and–even better–long meals and good friends who look you in the eye, wish you well, and don’t require that you be anything other than who you are–tired, weak brain, and all.

Quotes from CoCo

"Sickness and health come and go, just like everything else. It's just the way life is."

Well, This Is the Pits

I’m just going to say it—I think I have a yeast infection—probably everywhere on my body that doesn’t see daylight, but mostly in my armpits. (I’m sorry if this is gross to talk about.) I think it started in December when I was prescribed antibiotics for a sinus infection, but it took me a while to figure out what was going on. Well, in February, when I seriously cleaned up my diet and started taking some supplements I found in the feminine hygiene section of the natural food store, it went away.

It felt like a miracle. You know, a miracle that doesn’t last very long, since the stuff came back sometime during the last month while I was taking two additional rounds of antibiotics for cellulitis and an upper respiratory infection. I mean, I’m assuming it’s a yeast infection—I’m not a scientist—but that would make sense.

I’ve really tried to have a good attitude about the whole thing, fight the good fight, and keep a stiff upper lip. This last week I’ve been taking some of those feminine hygiene supplements and watching my diet, but I’m not being nearly as strict as I was before because diets take a lot of mental energy and frankly, damn it, I’m tired and am starting to wear down. So it’s more like I’m fighting a mediocre fight and keeping a stiff-ish upper lip.

Do they make Viagra for upper lips?

Sometimes the universe can really kick you in the balls.

Sometimes I think the universe can really kick you in the balls and make you drop to your knees. Maya Angelou says there are times when life makes you cry uncle, and on days like today, I’m just about there. This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and to make matters worse, when I rolled over, I could smell my own armpits. It wasn’t sexy. (I don’t know why I’m worried. It’s not like anyone else has their nose down there.) Anyway, every time I smell myself, it’s the most frustrating thing because it feels like (or smells like) things are never going to get better.

After I took a shower, in the midst of trying to accept the fact that I’ve become a traveling playground for fungi, I put my phone on the bathroom counter and applied athlete’s foot powder to every crevice of my body. Still irritated about my phone because the charging port is broken, I then put the powder back on the counter, and it fell over, spilling the powder on my phone’s speaker, filling up a hundred little holes with white dust.

Uncle.

There’s a saying in the self-help word—no feeling is final—so I keep thinking that my bad mood about everything going on with me will eventually pass (or I will). Wayne Dyer says, “In all of nature, no storm can last forever,” so I’m reminding myself that I’ve been through storms before, especially storms dealing with health issues I didn’t think would go away. A couple of years ago, I had little warts on my face (also not sexy), and I made monthly trips to the dermatologist for over a year. The doctor kept saying that one day they’d go away, and one day—they did. It just took a lot of time and a lot of patience.

So I know the yeast thing will level out at some point. This morning I felt like quitting, but this afternoon I went to the natural food store and talked to one of those weird natural food store people about what’s been going on. I thought, I can do this—I can try something else.

The lady at the store said my body was worn out (and all God’s people said Amen) and recommended a probiotic with at least 50 billion (!) bacteria, but she said it had to be refrigerated, so I said I’d have to come back when I wasn’t on my way to the library to use the free Internet. But the lady also said that I could up my garlic, to which I replied, “UP YOUR GARLIC, Lady!”

Okay, I didn’t actually say that.

Lastly, the lady said that I could apply coconut oil topically. So while I was at the library, I looked up coconut oil and garlic for yeast infections because I was intrigued. Honestly, I’m not sure the Internet was a lot of help, but I did come across an interesting article about a woman who put a clove of garlic up her who-ha in order to get rid of a yeast infection. (I guess that would also be a creative way to ward off vampires.) Anyway, I’ll try just about anything once, but I draw the line at vegetable suppositories.

So this evening before I went for a walk, I got out the coconut oil and rubbed it under my armpits. And actually, for a while, things didn’t smell so bad. But that was a few hours ago, and as I sit here in my tank top, I keep getting a whiff of myself and am not amused. It smells like a dead animal. And by it, I mean me. (Things not to put on a dating profile.)

However, I’m determined to get this problem figured out, and that’s one of the reasons I believe in the soul. (Bet you didn’t see that coming.) What I mean is that no matter how hard life kicks me in the balls and no matter how frustrated I get about it, there’s a part of me that never seems to be fazed, and I don’t think that sounds like the human ego. I don’t think that sounds like anything made of flesh. Maybe stardust. Of course, if it is the soul, it’s just a whisper, a still, small voice reminding me where I came from and what I’m really made of. “Keep going,” it says. “You’ve got this. The storm will pass soon enough.”

[My friend Matt from summer camp did the drawing, at least his wife and I think he did. I’m assuming that was the year I taught tennis, so I would have been sixteen. Apparently I’ve been having rough days for a while now.]

Quotes from CoCo

"No one's story should end on the ground."

Self-Critical Cowboys

Five minutes ago, I was down on my knees giving myself carpet burn. And whereas I wish I could tell you that someone was down there with me, that was sadly not the case. Rather, I was on the floor with my phone—the closest thing I have to a relationship—because the charging port is broken. So once or twice a day, I have to lay the phone on its back, futz with the cord so it connects just right, and then put a book on top of the cord to hold it in place. All this I do with one hand while I cross my fingers with the other, recite five Hail Marys, and hope to god that Mercury has moved out of retrograde.

This routine has been going on for the last several weeks, and it’s starting to get old. Honestly, I think it’s time for new phone.

Lately my days and nights have been flip-flopped, and because I got up early this morning to have breakfast with my friend Lorena, I’m currently functioning on about three hours of sleep and two pots of coffee. (I’m pretty sure union requirements state that my brain has to have six hours of sleep to work properly, so it’s a wonder I was able to dress myself this morning and not end up with my underwear on the outside of my pants.)

After Lorena and I had breakfast, I went with her in her Subaru to unload a couch at her office. Lorena’s a therapist who’s opening a clinic in Booneville, where she plans to specialize in pet bereavement, which I didn’t know was a thing, but Lorena says is for people who are grieving the upcoming or recent loss of an animal. Anyway, somehow Lorena managed to squeeze a couch in the back of her Subaru, and in order for me to fit in the passenger seat, I had to enter into a yoga pose.

Lorena called it “balls to the wall,” and I held it for forty minutes.

This evening I drove to Fayetteville to take family photos for a friend. I imagine I’ll say more about it later when I can share some of the photos, but toward the end of the three-hour session, I started to feel stressed. And although I’m sure some of that stress had to do with trying to get two adults, a two-year-old boy, a two-week-old baby, and a dog to smile and look at the camera AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME, I’m also sure most of that stress had to do with the fact that I’m tired, and whenever I’m tired I usually get self-critical and think things are going worse than they actually are.

The Old West was anything but a heyday for homosexuals.

For the longest time, I’ve had this thing with cowboys and the Old West. And no, it’s not a fetish, although I guess that could be fun with the right person. (Bad cowboy, bad.) It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s this mental game I play with myself in order to make big things seem smaller and easier to deal with. Like, in today’s world, it’s easy to look in the mirror and then pick up your cell phone and compare yourself to the entire world and end up feeling pretty shitty. But if you lived in the Old West, your world would be a lot smaller, you’d have fewer people to compare yourself to, and you’d probably be less self-critical.

Still thinking in terms of the Old West, I’m now imagining my self-critical and “things are going worse than they actually are” thoughts as outlaws or cowboys. And I guess most of the time there’s a town sheriff keeping those guys in check, saying things like, “You’re drunk. Go home. We don’t want your kind around these parts.” But all I can imagine is that my mental sheriff belongs to that union I mentioned earlier and went to bed a long time ago, leaving the outlaws to run amuck and tear up the town.

My friend Barbie says that negative thoughts are like ants. If you let one in your house, it’s going to bring all its friends. Well, I guess that self-critical cowboys are the same way because even as I’m typing this blog, I’m already getting self-critical about it too, thinking it probably sounds as if a drunken cowboy wrote it. And I guess drunken cowboys don’t have ANYTHING POSITIVE to say, since I’m also thinking I’ll probably wake up fifty pounds heavier because I ate at Waffle House tonight, and I’ll probably die alone because let’s face it—the Old West was anything but a heyday for homosexuals.

All that being said—

I think my personal battery has been running low for a while now, and when I get extra tired, I have to remind myself that I’ve been through a lot lately. And by a lot, I mean—Earth. I have to remember that life these last several months has been a lot like the Old West—new and exciting, sure, but also scary and unpredictable. (The Old West ain’t for sissies.) I guess it feels like I’ve been riding my horses hard, and that simply can’t go on forever. No, my horses need a long, cool drink of water. If only for a night, I need to recharge my battery and I need to rest. And then in the morning, my sheriff will be back on duty, the world will look different, and those bad, bad cowboys can be the ones to sleep for a while.

Quotes from CoCo

"Miracles happen."

Available Grace

Last night I noticed on Facebook that the author David Sedaris was coming to Tulsa in a few weeks and there were tickets on sale for the event that included a copy of his newest book and a guaranteed spot in the autograph line. Facebook said tickets would go on sale at ten this morning, so I thought maybe that would be a reason to get up before noon. But then I stayed awake until seven this morning watching a movie, so I thought, Eff that noise—I’m sleeping in. Besides, I figured it couldn’t hurt to save some money, especially since, you know, I don’t have a job.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about going to pay the hospital part of my sinus surgery bill and meeting a woman in the billing department who was dead-set on helping me. At that time, she said there was an assistance program for middle-aged men who lived with their parents—or something like that—and it would possibly cover seventy to ninety percent of my balance. That night I sent in all the paperwork by email, but I never got a confirmation, so I’ve been wondering if I should follow up on it. (The control freak in me said yes, but the rest of me said to chill the fuck out, so for the first time ever, my control freak sat down and shut his mouth.)

Since deciding to have the surgery, I’ve been telling myself that no matter what it cost or how long it takes to pay it off, it would be worth it. Having had the surgery, I still believe that. That being said, I have this big hang-up about not having any debt, so I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several months worrying about how I was going to take care of everything.

When I got up this afternoon, there was a letter from the hospital for me on the kitchen table, and it came in one of those envelopes with a see-through window, and I could read the part that said, “RE: Charity Approved.” Well, my legs went all rubbery, so I leaned up against the kitchen counter and tore through the envelope and tried to force myself to read the letter from the beginning and not cheat. But I couldn’t help it, and my eyes went straight to the part in bold.

Y’all, the hospital paid one hundred freakin’ percent.

So I’ve had a great day. This evening I went for a really long walk, and I practically skipped the entire time. Of course, I’m still responsible for the doctor’s part of the surgery, but the gift—the grace—I received from the hospital takes a huge load off. That’s the way I’m looking at this, as a grace. For me, it’s a reminder that good things happen even during those periods in our lives that don’t work out like we think they should, those times that seem like one disappointment after another.

For all of the things life takes away, it gives so much more in return.

They say that it’s always darkest before the dawn. First, I hate that. But I do think there’s something to be said for a light that breaks through the clouds just when you’re struggling to maintain hope. I know that’s what it felt like when I had the surgery—hope at the perfect moment. I’d been struggling with sinus infections for so long—twenty years—and I was about ready to give up. And then this magical prince of a surgeon came galloping up on a white horse and saved the day. (Okay, so I actually drove to him in a Honda Civic, but still.) And then, everyone at his office and everyone at the hospital that day were patient, kind, and professional. And if that weren’t enough, the hospital just said, “Oh don’t worry about that bill. We’ll take care of it.”)

Talk about a fairy tale.

(The above photo is of me and Lee Roy, the closet thing I could find to a prince on short notice. It was taken around Easter, which is why he looks like a rabbit.)

Of course, I don’t know why God and the universe do things the way they do. I imagine that having less medical debt means that I can start the next phase of my life sooner, but it may have nothing to do with that. But I do know that the news today has given me a lot of hope, and it’s reminded me to be patient and let things unfold in their own time. It’s also reminded me to do everything I can to walk through life with humility and gratitude. After all, each of us needs help at times. No one gets through life completely on his own.

When I got home from the walk, I decided to get those tickets to see David Sedaris for me and a friend. I thought it would be a great way to celebrate, to give something back to someone else, and to keep me excited about writing. So that’s what I did, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

When I sat down to write tonight’s blog, I started by looking through my computer files, which I sometimes do for inspiration. I came across a poem, a meditation called I Come to Him Running. It’s one of my favorite things, and the first time I heard it, it brought me to tears. I guess it feels like hope, and it does for me in words what the hospital did for me in actions. It reminds me there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, good things are being prepared for all of us, and they’re being prepared in abundance. For all that life takes away, it gives so much more in return. Whether we realize it or not, there’s always grace available.

***

I Come to Him Running
The Mishkat Al-Masabih

The Prophet said,

God Most High has said:
When my worshipper’s thoughts turn to Me,
there am I with him.
And when he makes mention of Me within himself,
I make mention of him within Myself;
and when he makes mention of Me in company,
I make mention of him in a better company.
If he draw near to Me a hand’s breadth,
I draw near to him an arm’s length;
and if he draw near to Me an arm’s length,
I draw near to him the length of both arms
wide outstretched;
and if he come to Me walking, I come to him running.
And if he meet Me with sins equivalent to the whole world,
I will greet him with forgiveness equal to it.

Quotes from CoCo

"Sure, people change, but love doesn't."

Taking Ownership in Therapy (Blog #50!)

Tonight’s blog post is number fifty, which means that every day for the last fifty days, I’ve snuggled up in a chair or in bed with this blog, held the keyboard in my arms, and poured my guts out. (You’re welcome.) In other words, this blog is quickly becoming my longest and most intimate relationship.

Over the last fifty days, I’ve had several conversations with my friends and even my therapist about the benefits that writing this blog have provided me. First and foremost, it’s the reason I’m writing, and even though I’m not getting a check in the mail, it still feels really good because writing is one of the things I want to do with my life. But above that, it’s given me a huge sense of ownership regarding the last three years in therapy and all the things that I’ve been learning.

For most of my life, I’ve felt like a child, like everyone else was a grownup and had it all figured out (whatever the hell that means), but I didn’t. Well, at some point during the last few years, I was able to look around and realize that everyone else is just as fucked up as I am. (Sorry if you’re hearing this for the first time.) As my therapist says, some people just hide it better than others.

Still, that tendency to feel less-than has hung on. Once during therapy, I was talking about how it felt like a lot of other people were “further ahead” in terms of sexuality. Maybe I was talking about a guy I used to date that had a lot more experience than I did. (I heard somewhere that the definition of a whore is someone who’s slept with one more person than you have, so he was definitely a whore.) Anyway, my therapist said that we all mature in different areas at different rates. If someone isn’t as far along sexually, it’s probably because they’ve been spending their time growing in other areas like self-awareness, business skills, or spirituality. She said it’s simply impossible to be advanced in all areas of life.

We all bring different things to the table (or even the bedroom).

I think that conversation has gone along way in leveling the field for me. It’s often easy for me to compare myself to others in a particular area of life (looks, talent, money), and walk away feeling less-than or even more-than someone else. But when I consider that all of us are good at certain things and not so good at others, I’m reminded that we all bring different things to the table (or even the bedroom). Life, it seems, isn’t a competition, but a potluck.

Sometimes I think that the very act of going to therapy has reinforced my tendency to feel like a child. What I mean by that is that since starting therapy, I’ve had A LOT of dreams about being back in school, so it’s felt like being a kid again and starting over. And even though my therapist has always treated me like an adult, the process has often been awkward and new–childlike–on my end. I can only imagine it’s what many of my dance students feel like, maybe why so many people quit. It’s easier to not learn something new than it is to constantly be reminded how much there is to actually learn.

Of course, in both dance and therapy, I think the growing pains are worth it. And here’s something interesting. For most of the last three years, I’ve kept a dream journal, and I just went back and did a search for my dreams about school. Well, for the first year of therapy, all my dreams about school placed me in high school. And then at the start of the second year of therapy, I graduated from high school in one dream, and my dreams after that placed me in college. Earlier this year, I had a couple of dreams about being a substitute teacher, and just last night, I was a teacher. (When I woke up this morning, I wanted to call my therapist and say, “I’m not a student anymore!”)

But I have boundaries, so I didn’t.

I can only assume that the progression regarding school in my dreams has to do with the work on my mental health and the relationships in my life. (If anyone ever tells you that those things aren’t work, tell them to eff off.) And even though I think the teacher dream had a lot to do with the fact that I’m sharing my experiences online, I also think it was my subconscious saying that I’ve come a long way. Sure, there’s more to learn. In the dream, I was five minutes late to class. (If you know me, this won’t come as a shock.) But just because there’s more to learn, doesn’t mean I haven’t come a long way.

And that’s the sense of ownership that I mentioned earlier that the blog has given me. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I see what I say,” and I’m finding that to be true. There have been so many times over the last fifty days that I’ve typed something only to start crying or get angry as soon as I read it. Like, Oh my god, I didn’t realize that hurt me so much, or, Obviously, I haven’t let that go. But more than anything else, I get to the end of a blog and think, Wow, I really have learned something. My life is completely different than it was three years ago. I don’t feel like a child anymore.

So to everyone who has shared any part of the last fifty days with me, thank you. And for those of you who have known me before and after the last three years and are still around, I’m grateful for your sticking by and all the space you’ve given me to grow in. I hope each of you have people in your life who do the same for you.

And, of course, if the people in your life don’t give you space to grow in, tell them to eff off as well.

[Tonight’s photo is of me as a child—in school. I was probably writing a math problem, but I like that I was writing nonetheless.]

Quotes from CoCo

"Authenticity is worth all the hard work. Being real is its own reward."

Running into the Storm

This evening on my way to the library, I called my friend Marla to catch up. Marla’s a writer and a Virgo like I am, so we get along famously. (Haven’t you heard?) Anyway, for twenty minutes, we took turns sharing our personal mountaintops and valleys, something I love doing with fellow writers because they can make even the shittiest circumstances sound entertaining, and I think any friend who can make you laugh when life is challenging is a real gift. As Joseph Campbell says, “Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.”

For a few minutes, Marla and I talked about the blog, and she asked if I ever had a day when I didn’t know what I was going to write about, and I said, “Every day. That’s part of the reason I don’t write until two or three in the morning—I have to wait all day for something interesting to happen.” But I also said that was one of the cool things about the blog. Despite my constant fear that I won’t have anything to write about, the creative waters have always come forth. Some days are easier than others, but the well has never been completely dry.

At the library, I used one of the computers to look at some old floppy disks I found at home. As it turns out, the disks were almost twenty years old, and I discovered several years worth of letters I’d written, homework I did in college, and even a journal I kept for a few years. (I also found a shirtless picture of Leonardo DiCaprio, but the quality was terrible, which made me grateful for the fact that the Internet has come such a long way.)

As I copied all the files over to my digital drive, I briefly looked through my journal. For the most part, it’s just the facts, a book report on my day-to-day life. Only a few times did I say something like, “I don’t talk about my emotions because they’re just not there,” or “I wonder if my shoulders hurt because they have so much weight on them.” Of course, that was back when Dad was in prison and I was in the closet, so it all makes sense. I was pretty shut down. But as I look at my life now, I can’t help but think that I’ve come a long way too.

When I got home, I went for a walk and listened to a speech by Anthony Robbins in which he discussed our basic needs as humans. He said that one of our needs is certainty, a sense of security and predictability. But he also said that one of our needs—and this is one I hadn’t heard before—is uncertainty, a sense of variety and adventure.

Well, sometimes life is ironic, and about that time I noticed lightening in the distance. So I checked the weather on my phone, and it said there was a tornado warning for the next three hours. A TORNADO WARNING! Jesus, I thought, this is why you shouldn’t wait until you’re two miles from home before you check the weather.

Despite the weather, I kept walking, stopping once to dig through a trashcan to look for a plastic bag to protect my phone incase God changed his mind about the promise he made to Noah. Fortunately, I found one. Unfortunately, it smelled like a dead animal. But what do you do–so I shoved it in my pocket and tried to be grateful.

Well, maybe about a mile from home, I began feeling a few drops of water, and then half a mile later I decided I really needed to pick up the pace. So I started running, and the closer I got to home, the more the rain came down in sheets and the more the winds picked up and trash blew across the road. (I tried Jesus’s famous “be still” line, but it didn’t work.) So while my earphones blared All the Single Ladies, I ran as fast as I could and reached for the plastic bag. At that point, my body was starting to hurt and I felt like throwing up, and then I dropped the plastic bag in the wind and the rain and wanted to quit. But then I thought, Screw it—I’m almost home.

Not knowing what’s going to happen next is part of the adventure.

So with my heart beating and the thunder clapping, I kept going. Before I got home, a smile broke across my face. Despite the storm ahead and the pain in my body, I was actually having a good time, so I started thinking that Anthony was right. Uncertainty is a human need. It doesn’t matter if it’s sitting down to write a blog or getting stuck in a storm or—I hate to admit this—living with your parents and not having a job. Not knowing what’s going to happen next is part of the fun.

Not knowing what’s going to happen next is part of the adventure.

The last block was the best. So much of me wanted to stop, but so much more of me wanted to keep going. After all, there’s something about willingly running into a storm during your darkest hours. There’s something about digging deep and picking up the pace when every part of you is tired, the wind is against you, and any moment the rains of life could sweep you away. There’s power that comes when you meet life’s challenges head-on. Those are the times you breathe the deepest. Those are the times the waters come forth and your heart beats every bit as loud as the thunder claps. Those are the times you know more than ever—no matter what happens next—in this moment, you’re alive.

Quotes from CoCo

"Obviously, God's capable of a lot. Just look around."

Simplifying My Digital Life

This evening I went to the library and spent most my time cleaning up emails and going through saved links on Facebooks—articles I wanted to read, videos I wanted to watch. The process started when I saved a link and then noticed I had twenty others just like it. So after a couple hours, I’m down to seven, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to have marked so many items off my to-do list. But then again, I’m the type of person who sometimes adds items to my to-do list AFTER I’ve done them just so I can mark them off, so I may have a problem.

Don’t worry. I’m in therapy.

My “things to read/things to watch” list is something I’ve started consciously monitoring since I had the estate sale and seriously downsized the number of physical objects in my world. Since I don’t have a job, I have a lot of time on my hands, so I want to use it to clean up digitally and simplify my life even more than I already have.

For over ten years, anytime I surfed the Internet, I’d bookmark a page if I thought I would come back to it. Well, most of those bookmarks were all lumped together, so I’d end up with—for example—a recipe for Paleo brownies right next to an article about 36 Terms for Lesbians You Didn’t Know Existed. (My favorite continues to be “bumper-to-bumper.”) Anyway, it was impossible to find anything, so a couple of months ago while I was healing from sinus surgery, I went through EVERYTHING. In my typical anal-retentive fashion, I checked every link, decided whether or not I could still use it, and either deleted it or put it into a corresponding folder (Dance, Writing, GAYTHINGS). And here’s what’s great—I went from 2,000 bookmarks to 200—200, well-organized, anal-retentive bookmarks.

Personally, I think the Lord would approve.

When I had the estate sale, the biggest thing I had to come to terms with was getting rid of hundreds of books, most of which I had personally purchased with the intent to read. Plus, I tend to think that the written word is sacred, so it didn’t feel like I could get rid of them. But what tipped the scales for me was a little thing called honesty. One day, I admitted to myself that although I loved to read, I didn’t love to read as much as I thought I did. I kept thinking, I’ll read that one day, but one day never came.

Several years ago, a friend of mine who lost all her possessions in a fire told me that you don’t realize how much psychic weight your stuff takes up until it’s all gone. That phrase—psychic weight—has stuck with me ever since I heard it, and I think it went a long way in helping me let go when I had the estate sale. Now that almost everything is gone, I agree with my friend. I feel much lighter without the stuff. It’s less to take care of, fewer things to dust, hundreds of books I’m not telling myself I’ll read one day. In short, less stuff is less stress.

What I’ve found is that just like less physical stuff is less stress, so is less digital stuff. When I got rid of the hundreds of Internet bookmarks, it felt just as good as getting rid of the hundreds of books. In both cases, I ended up with not only something simpler, but also something much more manageable. But whereas it’s gotten easy for me to go shopping for three hours and not make a single purchase, I still fight the tendency to save links online and add videos to my Watch Later list. Sometimes I’ll watch one video and then immediately add three more “suggestions” to the cue. But psychic weight is psychic weight, and especially for a personality like mine, it’s stressful to add to-do list items faster than they could ever possibly be checked off.

I’m simply not ready for that kind of commitment.

Just after I started typing this tonight, I looked up a Facebook friend’s podcast and added it to my digital to-do list. But then a few minutes ago, I went back and deleted it because I’m already listening to three other podcasts, I honestly don’t have that much time in my life, and hell, I just met the person at a coffee shop one time, and I’m simply not ready for that kind of commitment.

Maybe it sounds like a little thing, but it feels like I just got thirty hours of my life back.

As I think about it now, I think the big sense of relief, that psychic weight that’s gone, is largely about the pressure I put on myself day in and day out. For the last thirty years, I’ve made a habit of thinking, I should read these books, I need to organize those things, and I can’t get rid of this thing because it was a gift. But the truth was that I wasn’t reading those books, I had other things to do other than organize, and I thought that gift was fucking hideous. So I let it all go, and the pressure went with it. The truth set me free.

Of course, old habits die hard. I get on the Internet and see so many shiny things that I want to read and watch and buy. But I’m only one person and there’s only so much time in the day and John Stamos is not for sale. And sure, I think it’s fine for me to want and to have shiny things, but as soon as a shiny thing becomes an excuse to should on myself (like I should read that, watch that, or dust that) then it has become my master and not my servant, and that’s not okay. After all, I’m the only shiny thing around here that gets to tell me what to do.

Quotes from CoCo

"Kindness is never a small thing."

Stepping in Shit

For the last few weeks, I’ve had this problem, weird thoughts that have been coming out of nowhere. I’ve been thinking—and only thinking—about doing push-ups. Strange, I know. Who can say where crazy thoughts like these come from, but they’ve been showing up quite a bit lately. Honestly, I’d hoped they would go away. (Get thee behind me, Satan.) But alas, that has not been the case. So this afternoon, I gave into them, a strategy that has always worked well with thoughts about eating chocolate cake.

Y’all, push-ups are not nearly as fun as chocolate cake. Not by a long shot.

Thankfully, I didn’t get carried away. I did two sets of ten, threw in some crunches (which felt more like “squishes”), and called it good. I figured I didn’t want to be sore tomorrow (or ever). When I was doing the push-ups, my arms literally shook, so that probably means they weren’t intended to be used like that. Besides, it’s been eight hours and I don’t have pecs yet, so what’s the point anyway?

I’m probably like five years away from being one of those coupon people.

This evening I taught a dance class, and when I got home, more of those weird thoughts showed up. (They brought their friends!) I kept thinking I needed to run up and down some bleachers. So when I went for my walk this evening, I started off by jogging to the high school, and it actually felt good. But I forced myself to slow down because I have a hip that gives me problems whenever I act as if I’m twenty-three and don’t stretch first. (I’m probably like five years away from being one of those coupon people.)

When I got to the high school, I found the bleachers and took off to the top, which went well. But coming back down was awkward, and it was dark, and I kept picturing myself tripping and ending up with a new nose, so I stopped. For the rest of my time outside, I just walked, although I did stop at an elementary school playground and do four—that’s right, four—pull-ups.

In the past, my tendency has been to do something all or nothing. Like if I weren’t going to the gym for an hour, it really wasn’t worth it. But lately I’ve been thinking about how little things can add up, so all day I’ve been telling myself that I can start small with working out and add on—a little here, a little there. After all, something is better than nothing. (Please note that this theory does not apply to men who have comb-overs. In that case, nothing is better than something.)

When I got home and took my shoes off, I realized that I’d stepped in shit. (Yippee.) My shoes have really deep grooves in them, so the shit was everywhere, and there were little rocks in the shit, and all I could think was, Shit, shit, shit. This is how the universe rewards exercise. (There’s a great story about Saint Teresa of Avila, who was riding in a carriage and got thrown out into the mud when it hit a rock. She looked up at heaven, shook her fist, and said, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”)

Amen, sister.

So I cleaned the shit and the rocks out of my shoes with hot water, left them in the sink to dry, and did some yoga stretches in hopes of taking care of my hip. (The above photo is me in double pigeon, which is probably the type of shit I stepped in.) As I sit here now, my shins are sore, and I’m thinking about grabbing an ice pack for my hip. Honestly, I’m not sure I was cut out for running anything other than a fever. I mean, my feet are flat. There’s not a lot of support down there.

Fuck it. Pass the chocolate cake.

My tendency in moments like these, after I’ve just stepped in shit and my body isn’t what I want it to be (tight hip, flat feet—no pecs!), is to get frustrated and say, “Fuck it. Pass the chocolate cake.”

But—

I have been wanting to get in better shape lately, firm things up a bit, so all those weird thoughts are probably there for a reason. They’re probably the answer I’ve been looking for. Caroline Myss says thoughts that won’t let go (like “go to the gym,” or “call that person back”) are actually our intuition, or, if you will, our guardian angel. And she says that if you don’t listen to your guardian angel when it comes to little stuff like going to the gym, you’re probably not going to get much help when it comes to big stuff like your career and relationships.

If this theory is true, I can only assume that my stepping in shit this evening was my guardian angel’s way of trying to be funny, which probably means he doesn’t have a lot of friends either.

I read a quote by Winston Churchill recently that said something like, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” As I see it, that means that sometimes you step in a lot of shit. You set out on a new career, and it doesn’t go like you think it will. Or you go for a jog, and your body hurts. Maybe you literally step in shit. So maybe you have to course-correct, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to give up on yourself.

No.

You can keep going because there is a way to get from here to there, and if anyone can find it, you can. Plus, we are all supported in more ways than we will ever know. So just a few small steps in the right direction, and before long, you’ll be so far from where you started. Indeed, if you could only see it, you already are.

Quotes from CoCo

"Along the way you’ll find yourself, and that’s the main thing, the only thing there really is to find."

The Hero’s Journey

For over an hour, I’ve been scrolling through my phone looking at old pictures, desperately searching for inspiration—something, anything—to write about. So far, the closest thing I’ve found is the above picture of my mom, my nephew, and me. It was taken a couple of months ago over spring break when my nephew came to visit from Albuquerque. In the picture, the three of us are staring at an issue of Highlights, a children’s magazine, and we’re looking at a cartoon, searching desperately for hidden objects—hats, shoes, light bulbs—that have been drawn to blend in with their surroundings.

Since starting this blog, this picture is what writing feels like to me. From the moment I wake up in the morning, I look at everything that happens as potential fodder for writing. Mostly, I go through every day thinking, There’s got to be a story here SOMEWHERE. Today I’ve looked everywhere for that story, including the nap I took, the taco salad I ate, and two years worth of pictures, and now I’m thinking this—

If there’s such a thing as a muse, I think mine’s a he, and he’s only given me one thing today, one idea that won’t turn loose—a movie I watched this afternoon called Manchester by the Sea starring Casey Affleck. The movie is about a janitor from Boston who moves back to his former home of Manchester when his brother dies. While in Manchester, he’s confronted with a painful past that continues to haunt him. Basically, I regret to inform you, the story ends there. Two hours of my life, and this is what I got from it—a sad guy has some sad stuff happen and stays sad.

Since watching the film, I’ve been thinking that my fundamental problem with it is that there’s not a character arc—the hero—the main character—doesn’t change—and change is essential to good storytelling. Think of how boring The Wizard of Oz would be if Dorothy never struck out on the yellow brick road, never faced her fears. (I’ll just stay here with the Munchkins, thanks. The end.) What if Harry Potter looked at Voldemort and, like Casey Affleck’s character, said, “I can’t beat this”?

What kind of a hero would that be? Obviously, no hero at all.

No one’s story should end on the ground.

I believe that good stories should entertain us, but I also believe that they should speak to the human spirit, and my problem with the film is that it portrays the human spirit as something that can get permanently stuck, and I don’t think it was designed to do that. Sure, we all get knocked down at times, but I don’t believe we were meant to stay down. No one’s story should end on the ground.

Personally, I’ve been through a lot of shit, and every little piece of it has been talked about in therapy. One of the things I love about my therapist is that there’s always space to put all my problems on the table, and there’s always compassion for what’s happened and how I’m feeling, but there’s not a lot of room for self-pity or playing the victim. I can be down for a while, but I can’t stay down because, simply, we both know I’m capable of more.

I believe we all are.

I guess in a subtle way, it’s one of the messages I’m trying to communicate, both to myself and others, with this blog. When I scroll through my pictures, I’m reminded that on the outside, I haven’t changed that much. But on the inside, I’m nowhere near the person I used to be. Not only do I have higher standards and better boundaries, but also I’m less cynical and less afraid, which makes me kinder and more confident. All of that, I think, is a really big deal.

So I don’t believe you have to stay where you are if you don’t want to. Rather, I believe you are the hero of your own story, and you can strike out on an adventure, and you can find what you’ve been looking for. And guaranteed that adventure will take you places you weren’t expecting, just as sure as what you’ve been looking for isn’t what you really want. But along the way you’ll find yourself, and that’s the main thing, the only thing there really is to find.

Quotes from CoCo

"Miracles happen."

(A Wonderful) Mother’s Day

Judge me all you want, but I traditionally suck at Mother’s Day. I mean, my mom’s not really into “stuff” or “things,” so I usually get her just a card, and sometimes we go out to eat, and sometimes Dad pays for it. (They say confession is good for the soul, and they must be right because I feel pretty good right now.) All that being said, I did a LOT better today, but before I can tell you about it, we need to back up a year.

Last year, I totally spaced out about Mother’s Day, and I’d planned to see the musical Beauty and the Beast in Fayetteville with a friend. Well, that morning my friend called and said, “Marcus, I’m sick. I know it’s short notice, and I’m sorry, but try to find someone else to go.” So it was all very last minute, but I took my mom to the show, and we both had a great time. (I cried.) And then we headed to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse because it’s fancy and I like fancy things and they were also the only place that took same-day reservations online.

(I didn’t tell Mom where we were going to eat until we got there.)

Well, when we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Mom’s face lit up, and she said, “Oh, Marcus, Ruth’s Chris! I’ve ALWAYS WANTED to go here, but never thought I’d get to.” (Talk about a win.) And for the last year, she’s consistently told me what a great day she had, how it was one of the best days of her life. (Dad’s response was, “Uh, hello. What about the day you married ME?”)

About a month ago, I cashed in some credit card points for a gift card to Ruth’s Chris, so I asked Mom if she wanted to go back, and she didn’t hesitate to say yes. A day or so later, she said, “Let’s go back for Mother’s Day.” Well, earlier this week I noticed there were a couple shows going on this weekend, so I asked Mom if she wanted to go to one and make a day of it. I said, “The first one is a play, a comedy, and it’s indoors. The second is like a circus, so it’s in a tent.” Mom said, “I’d love to go, and I like air conditioning.”

So our Mother’s Day started this afternoon when my mom and I went to see a play called The Dingdong. (Let your imagination run wild.) The play was basically about a husband and wife, both of whom are considering having an affair, so it was this big slapstick situation with five actors playing over a dozen roles and all sorts of potential lovers hiding in closets and under couches and one person walking in just as another person walks out. It really was delightful, and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Mom laugh so much, but—thanks to three years of therapy—I kept thinking, These people have TERRIBLE boundaries.

Here’s a picture from the play. If you get a chance to see it (the play, not the picture), it’s at Theater Squared in Fayetteville for three or four more weeks.

After the show, we had a lot of time to kill before dinner, so we went to the square and did some window-shopping, and I bought a thank-you card that says, “Much obliged.” I don’t know who’s going to get the card, so if you want it, feel free to do something really swell for me. Currently I’m in need of medium-sided shirts, a job, and a husband that preferably looks like or is Zac Efron. (I know that’s asking for a lot, but this is an EXTREMELY NICE thank-you card.) Anyway, the store had a really cool neon sign that said, “I bet you look good on the dance floor,” so I asked the girl at the counter to take a picture of Mom and me below the sign. Mom explained, “My son’s a dancer.” (The girl didn’t seem impressed.)

Next we looked around at a vintage store, and then we went to Starbucks because Mom has only been to Starbucks one other time in her entire life. (Amazing, I know.) So we just sat for over an hour and talked. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Mom has spent so many years not talking because of her depression, it’s actually a big deal. Before we left, we took another photo, and Mom told me that it was so nice because we never take photos together, and she also told me that I was required to print them out so she could frame them.

After Starbucks, we went to Ruth’s Chris, and we were there for over two hours. Actually, we were the last ones to leave. If you’ve never been to Ruth’s Chris, sell everything you own and go. It’s great food and great service. Mom said, “I think this is the best meal of my life.” I said, “I really get off on fancy stuff like this—long meals, waiters who scrape the breadcrumbs off the table, bathrooms with individual hand towels.” Mom replied, “It’s like Downtown Abbey.”

Later she added, “I get off on stuff like that too.”

Our final stop for the evening was the buckyball at Crystal Bridges, this really cool geometric “art thing” that lights up and changes colors. Beneath it, there are reclined benches, so you can lie underneath the stars and look up at the lights and shapes. (Apparently, you can also make out with your girlfriend under a blanket, which is what the guy on the bench next to us did.)

On the way home, Mom talked the entire time, which she said was to help keep me awake. (It worked.) Later she said, “I hope I didn’t talk too much,” and even though I had thought, Mom is talking a lot more than normal, I started thinking about all the things I learned about her today, like what it was like when her parents divorced, and how her years with depression have made her a more compassionate person, and why she still feels guilty about that white lie she told over forty freaking years ago. And then I thought about how much closer I felt to her and said, “Mom, it’s okay. I don’t mind your talking. Besides, today literally had your name on it.”

[Mom, I love you. For everything, including bringing me into the world and a wonderful day, I’m much obliged.]

Quotes from CoCo

"Along the way you’ll find yourself, and that’s the main thing, the only thing there really is to find."