Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Memoriam

As I begin to write this I’m sitting in Dallas/Ft. Worth airport waiting to board a flight to Chicago, and I’ve begun to feel contemplative. I began reflecting on events of the last week, the last year, and the last time I was here a year ago. As I walk down Destiny’s path I occasionally sneak a look back over my shoulder and see the milestones that marked the most memorable moments of the last year. Seeing old friends. A break up. Applying, auditioning, and acceptance into graduate school. Beginning a lasting exercise routine. Ending the longest job I’ve held since I left Dallas. Meeting new people. Making a few new friends. Living an academic dream. Constantly discovering and challenging my limitations. These were a host of experiences that were more original and dynamic than any I’ve previously had. In these ways and others, this was the year of Despair. It was the year of Determination. The year of Fear. The year of Anxiety. Of Accomplishment. Of Hope.

This was the year of Change.

This year was also the year of visitors in Chicago. Before this, the only people to visit me had been my parents. From June to October I saw everyone but my parents as I entertained both of my sisters, nephews, and brother-in-law. I saw the majority of my closest and dearest friends and tried to expose them all to the life I’ve come to experience, enjoy, and earn. I spent too short a time with each of them.

I came home to Dallas this year as a new man, much altered from the one who was here a year ago. Those who saw me last year validated how much weight I’ve lost since my last visit. I’ve discovered that the ripples of my absence are still being felt, sometimes quite strongly, among the customers, staff and management at Magic Time Machine. While I was here I got new glasses, new shoes, new bedding, and a new tattoo (I’m really getting used to those, this one was the easiest yet). I saw most of the people I haven’t seen since the summer of 2007 just before I moved, and I regret the ones I still managed to miss this trip. Even the visits I was able to make were far too brief, each leaving a footprint in my heart akin to one on a sandy beach. My friends left a hole in the shape of each of themselves, to be filled in only by my ache and salty tears upon my departure.

And on Christmas Day, I ended a fifteen year silence during a sixty-five second phone call.

It’s been a remarkable year. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible, always difficult, and never dull. You, Constant Reader, have heard me bemoan and whine my circumstances all the while. If you’re reading this now it’s because you either just picked up reading, or you knew one day I’d crawl out of it and start acting like a whole person again. For my fellow Dallas friends and family, I want you to know how crucial your influence over me has been in my recovery. Whether I saw you all week, the briefest of hours, or made a promise I wasn’t able to keep through text messages (you know who you are), you each lent me a rope I used to pull myself out of the mire. I couldn’t have done it without you, and I look to the new year with eyes that seek to repay your kindness.

And though we’re very, very close to the end, there’s still one more thing to happen this year that I’ve never done before – I have a blind date sometime this week. So if it goes well, I have something new and hopeful to transition me from the old year into the next (of course if it doesn’t go well, I suppose this will be the last you’ll read of it).

Mark Twain said,
“Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” I love the climate and atmosphere of Chicago; I adore the people and relationships I have in Dallas; yet n’er the twain shall meet. In this way I will always be unsatisfied. For this reason I will always be ill at ease. For all time I shall be wanting more. Yet it is precisely because of this that I will always feel an ache in my heart for the beauty of those fleeting, transitory moments of happiness and perfection that will never last. That is their tragedy, and that is their triumph.

“Touched by her fingers, the two surviving chocolate people copulate desperately, losing themselves in a melting frenzy of lust, spending the last of their brief borrowed lives in a spasm of raspberry cream and fear.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

No Excuses

I can’t remember what prompted her to do so, but shortly after I met one of my classmates she asked, “Were you a fat kid?” I answered most honestly, “I’m a fat adult. Being fat isn’t just a physical state, but a mental one as well. Though I’m in decent shape these days, I still consider myself a fat person – just one who happens to be exercising a lot lately.

My whole life I’ve had a big belly. When I was a child my parents once tried to put me on a diet, which lasted about as long as a snowflake in a frying pan. Only one glass of milk at dinner? Bloody hell no thank you.

They encouraged sports instead; I played basketball (poorly) and baseball (horribly) for the YMCA throughout elementary school, and occasionally went for a run around the neighborhood with my dad. I remember sitting with him at the kitchen table at the end of one of these runs, some cookies my mother had just baked cooling on a rack in front of me. Legs shaking, weak and exhausted but feeling better about myself, I ate one. My father told me, “You just ate up that whole run.” I was shocked and discouraged by the fact that something as small and quick as a cookie completely counterbalanced the effort I had just put out.

Middle and high school were better. My sophomore year I was training three hours a day between football, wrestling, and track. I was the shape of my life (which is much easier to do at age 15 than it is at 30), pushed by the coaching staff. Every time we hit our limit, the coaches yelled and fought for us to try harder, accomplish more, do better. They motivated us and they terrified us, but our capacity for achievement was unparalleled. The boundaries of our limitations were constantly being stretched and redefined. Every day we could run farther and faster. We could lift more. We were conditioned to extend ourselves to the brink of our endurance – and that’s when they really put on the pressure. They expected the most from us, and they got it.

I quit sports at the start of my junior year, and the tubby tummy came back within about a month. The eating habits of an athlete have quite a different effect on one who spent no less than three hours a day playing video games and watching TV. The lack of self-discipline couldn’t get me to change those eating habits any more than I could exercise without the coaches, or without the group of 30 or so others trying to accomplish something together.

Over the years I’ve tried time and time again to discover how to recover the state of mind that would grant me the state of physicality I once was capable of attaining. I could do it for a few weeks at a time. I would track my progress on a calendar, marking the days I was able to push myself into the gym. I would weigh and measure myself, and glow at every little bit of progress. But I always contented myself that I had done enough far, far before I had met the ultimate goal I had set, and months would pass before I would make the decision to pick up and start again.

Half a lifetime later I’ve finally figured out how to hit a limit and break through it, maintaining the pattern for months at a time instead of mere weeks. This past week I stepped up my routine yet again, running six days a week instead of a mere three. Mother Nature is testing my dedication and resolve on a daily basis. On Tuesday it was 28 degrees, and the wind was pushing the sleet at me sideways. My face stung as needles of ice stabbed my face. My eyes were nearly shut to protect them from the pelting, so I couldn’t clearly see the nearly frozen puddles well enough to avoid them. My shoes were constantly being filled to the brim with icy slush, freezing the joints of my toes. Both of the thick, thermal layers of my clothes were drenched to the skin and must have weighed an extra ten pounds. The wind blowing off the lake was strong enough to push me sideways each time both feet were off the ground. I had to run at a slight diagonal to stay on the path – but still I ran.

On Wednesday it was 18 degrees when I got home late from a Christmas party. After eight hours of working followed by three hours of drinking and an hour home on the train I was still a little drunk, and more than a little tired. And still I ran.

On Thursday it was 7 degrees. My sweat turned to icicles formed in my beard, my brow, my chest, my hair. And still I ran.

On Friday I was wiped out. I came home and did some dishes, and laid in bed for a few minutes. One knee was in pain. The tendons in my opposite heel were so tight I could hardly flex my foot. For some reason my back was throbbing. I felt myself start to drift to sleep . . . but I got up, swallowed some ibuprofen, changed clothes, and still I ran.

I can’t say for certain why this kick has lasted as long as it has, compared to all the other times over the years this level of progress was unreachable. Something about me has changed, and not just in my exercise routine, but in all things. I try harder. I do better. I achieve more. When I was growing up I used to fantasize about what kind of adult I would turn out to be, and by the time I was in college I was starting to get frustrated that I wasn’t anywhere close. A few years out of college I got more and more disappointed that I couldn’t live up to the standard I had set for myself when I was a friendless fat kid. But I’m proud to say that here, today, finally, I’ve become someone I can be proud of. I have a measure of self-respect that I’ve never before attained. I finally feel like I’m no longer behind.

And that thought brings a level of contentment, of inner peace, more than anything in my life ever has.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Until I Bleed

The quarter is over, but I’ve found myself with the opportunity to stay as busy as I ever have been. The final hurdle for classes was borne of my own wait-until-the-last-minute attitude; I started writing my final thesis paper at 1:00 a.m. on the day it was due. I expunged my ideas onto the page through a mental shunt, expectorated through the assistance of coffee, cigarettes, peanuts, half a 10” Godiva chocolate cheesecake (thanks Mom & Dad), and a four hour nap on the couch. I could have expanded more on some of my ideas and made the paper a bit longer; but once they were all out of my brain, onto the screen, and deemed coherent by an old friend, a quick reformat to MLA style told me I had hit the minimum page requirement, and the light in my brain flickered out like a candle at the end of its wick. Two days, two liters of Irish, and twenty-two hours of sleep later, I re-read it to find I had done a pretty decent job. I finished the quarter with a 3.43 GPA, which doesn’t disappoint me because I know I could have tried harder and done better. Good thing I have eight more of those to prove this.

We’re technically on a break, but my days haven’t gotten any shorter since it began. I work my usual 9-5, Monday through Friday office job. My current task is to compile thirteen years worth of monthly newsletters (while still putting out new ones) and input the information into one big database. I’ve been at it for about a week, and I don’t expect I’ll be done before the end of next summer. It’s nice to have a guarantee that I’ll be able to work the maximum number of allowed hours to help get the gorilla of credit card debt off my back. Speaking of, only one payment remains on one card before it’s paid off, and transferring that payment to another card for January will pay it off, too. After those two are paid, I'll only have 2 cards, 1 loan, and 1 IRS back-payment to make each month. Until I graduate, and have to start paying back my FAFSA for grad school and the deferment ends for my undergrad loan…

I hope someday between now and then to own a television. I miss watching movies and TV on the couch instead of my desk chair.

I got to capitalize on my income (and my free time) this weekend by picking up a few shifts for a friend who does building security. For three nights I sat in the lobby of the building where Bugsy Moran once lived. It’s cool being in the lobby of history; above me is the penthouse where a prohibition era gangster escaped the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre ‘cause he didn’t get the message about the meeting, and below me are the deep, deep vaults where he hid his liquor.

Then on Sunday I was a child wrangler (yeehaw) for a table reading of A Raisin in the Sun before heading over to the home of an out-of-town friend to play with his kittens and his Nintendo. Turns out the new Punch Out is just as infuriating as an adult as the old one was twenty years ago.

Wow. I clearly remember stuff that happened twenty years ago. Never did that before.

And being out of extra-curricular tasks for the time being, I’m back to taking my exercise up another notch. I’m at the frustrating point of weight loss where the progress tapers off and becomes barely noticeable. So instead of getting discouraged, I’m working out for 30 minutes in the morning and an hour at night. It’s weird how expending more energy gives me so much more energy. I wake up just as easily as I fall asleep at night (which is to say very easily), and my morning coffee is all the caffeine I need all day. So far I’ve taken 5 ½ inches off my waist at about a loss of something like 30 pounds since the day after my birthday when I started this process. One of these days I’ll have to figure out how to get a shirtless picture of myself that doesn’t make me look like a douchebag.

Fun fact – one can indeed jog over snow and ice when it’s 28 degrees outside. More on this as it develops.

These last two years have been an abusive, torturous Hell of a rich and various nature as I paid for the mistakes of my 20’s. I have been wounded. I have bled. I have despaired. For a while there I was downright pissy (don’t take my word for it, just ask anybody). But I have risen each day seeking the paths of salvation no matter how arduous, faced every challenge that awaited me and those that came unbidden. I have stood victorious as often as I have failed, each win more significant than the last. And I will sleep each night secure in the knowledge that I am better prepared for tomorrow’s trials than I was yesterday. And I will stand and face each one in turn or several at once, and those I do not master today will fall before me as a curtain of ash falls before a windstorm.

Bring it on, motherfuckers.