Archive | January 2014

Right in the feels

I wasn’t the most popular kid in school—especially middle school, where kids are especially good at being dicks. High school got a little better—I found a small niche in the theater crowd; but I never really found my stride. I was always on guard from the jocks or the wannabe gang bangers (was around DC, so there were a lot of kids trying to play the game). There were always people ready to shove me, knock the books out of my hand, get a group to laugh at me in the halls, make up names or spread rumors. Now sometimes I wouldn’t just take it. Haha, I had some pretty gnarly standoffs that my boy James could tell you about, if he was on here. Whew.

But I had to keep my heart bottled in—keep it away from the name calling and teasing.

College was a tad similar. I ran into a brand of Christian legalism and put-on piety that I didn’t really vibe with. Nearly got expelled from the Baptist school I attended, though that’s another story. Still, I had to keep my heart bottled in—away from the judgment of people I thought were my brothers and sisters. If they knew the stuff I did or wanted to do, I might lose my place in the club. That was my mindset at the time.

Military was along the same lines. They wanted me to be all hard and ready to die for my buddies or my country. There were good times and bad. Made lots of friends; lost a couple of them. Largely, I had to keep my heart bottled in. No time for feeling when there’s war about, you know? Weakness and all that.

But after the military, I started to let my heart out a bit. It was hard at first. I focused too much on work. Especially at my last job in North Carolina, I lived at the office. It was a startup, we all did, but after some initial loosening, I realized I was bottling in my heart again, keeping who I was locked behind the mountain of stress and responsibility.

Since on this quasi sabbatical after leaving my last job, I worked on my heart more. I talked a lot with close friends. I dated around—another area that was new for me, as some older friends can attest.

And I found that my heart has the propensity to feel deeply. Now, I’ve never been a cold person—I’ve always had friends and held a great interest for charity, helping others and fighting for causes. But when it comes to relationships, especially, I was surprised at how ready my heart is to charge off…and invariably get itself banged up from rejection. Ha! Silly little dude.

Yes, it hurts like a mofo every time I hear “just as friends” or “you’re not for me,” but it’s great at the same time. For all the emotional hangups I’ve had—the sessions with the VA, talking through deployment stuff, medicine and the like, it’s great to feel like I’m finally growing in these areas. After a lifetime of keeping my heart bottled up, it’s nice to see I didn’t kill the thing.

I sometimes describe it as rediscovering my naiveté—not in an ignorant or mindless sense, but in an effort to again hold the world as new. It’s painful and exhausting, but also pretty rad.

So to my vet friends who are struggling with rage or dreams or guilt or crap from our lives, talk to someone. I did and I’m better. Took some time, but it’s all gravy.

I’m reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis that my friend Nan shared with me a few weeks ago. I’ll leave you with that.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis

This is my bag. There are many like it, but this one is mine

After basic training, soldiers go on to attend advanced individual training. There, they learn the skills necessary for their chosen jobs. Mechanics go learn to be mechanics, infantry learn infantry stuff…that sort of thing.

Lo’ and behold, I was attending my AIT, trying to become the least embarrassing writer I could in the span of three months. One of our little rituals was walking to and from class in formation—that is, all orderly, neat and with called cadence and marching. Since clutching an armful of books, pens and binders didn’t exactly contribute to the ‘orderly’ part, most of us went to the local base exchange (store) and purchased an all-black backpack. All black being the only real approved color of bag to carry while in uniform.

The base exchange of course carried the no-logo, no-show stitching, completely boring backpacks. I think they all ran about $10.

I still have mine, and it is a complete badass.

I’ve carried this thing all over the world. Not only did it assist me during AIT in becoming the prose-flinging orangoutang you see before you, but it has been through more life and hard living in the last 10 years than some people experience in their entire lives.

It went on vacations to see the folks on the West Coast, friends up in the Midwest, New England, the south; spending time in the cold confines of airline luggage bays. It was lashed to military pallets, carried by Chinooks and Blackhawks to war-torn corners of the world. I would stretch out the straps and toss it on top of my ruck while deployed—as a little secondary pack. It was tied to the outside of humvees, sat with me in the gun turrets of trucks on mission. It has endured smoke, dust, paint, CS gas—even got some blood on it from unarmed combatives training and a not-so-fun time while deployed.

The thing was shot at, shoved, crammed, yanked, attacked by animals (feral dogs in Iraq are no joke). It was dropped off boats, left in the blistering sun on tarmacs and bored to death under my cots during unending field problems.

And after returning to civilian life, it was with me as I traveled to Europe, enjoying the sun on leisurely drives up and down mountains. It stuck with me on my quest for Incan ruins as I huffed it in the Andes during not-so-leisurely climbs up and down washed out paths and harrowing drop-offs.

Scuba diving? Yup. Its black fabric was encrusted with salt from the spray and splashing of both the Atlantic and Pacific. The thing tagged along when I learned to surf in Nicaragua and almost made a trip to Japan for snowboarding, but its owner had to be a jerk and cancel. Whoops.

And it still works like a boss—zippers zip and all that. I joke about how attached I am to the thing, and in writing this all down, it is sort of crazy.

But, be that as it may, that was the best damned $10 I ever spent on a bag. Keep on keepin’ on, little buddy.


New Years New Years hooray for New Years

Well well, look at that…2014. Going to take me a few months to get used to writing the new number.

I remember back in 1997-1999, I was a little punk kid (ok maybe not THAT punk of a kid for reasons stated after this parenthetical) who was overly concerned with the Y2K bug (see…science/tech geeks have limited punk appeal). I was honestly and significantly worried that society was about to collapse—or that, at the very least, our economy was about to take a tumble.

I had read lots of articles and coincidentally started learning the art of the informed diatribe—something I’ve stumbled into on many subjects in the subsequent decade. Whether it was in front of family members, friends or parents of friends, I would often get the ear of an interested adult and enrapture them in 5-15 minutes of impassioned conversation about the impending end of the world when the clock struck 1/1/2000.

I had enough wherewithal and actual data to seem like I knew what the hell I was talking about—all of us Y2K believers did. It just made sense, right?

And it turned out to be total bupkis. That was the end of that.

I even remember a TV movie that tried to cash in on the paranoia. Jennifer Lopez had a video where the power went out for a few seconds, but then reconnected to a flurry of oomp-oomp-oomp-oomp dance beats.

In my thousand years on this earth, I’ve seen a lot of New Years. People get ramped up about this or that, someone has a kid, someone gets a divorce, there’s a new car, new something else…whatever. There’s plenty to get wrapped up over. Mostly it turns out to be nothing.

Sometimes people make resolutions at New Years. Sometimes people don’t (and lob a long explanation of why resolutions are terrible). Mostly, though, people go on living.

And so, that’s what I’m looking forward to—the whole living thing. I’m going to enjoy life more. Truth be told, I already am. God loves me, the folks love me, and I have a group of friends that grow me into a better man. So I’m good. More than good. I’m fantastic—especially considering that every year after Y2K has been a bonus, right?

So happy New Year! I get the feeling 2014 is going to be pretty awesome.


The mind’s remembering

I made it to the West Coast to see the folks a couple of weeks ago.

My father is from Kentucky and my mother is from Oregon. They met at a holiday picnic in San Diego while they were both in the Navy. They’ve ended up in Oregon after long last and I get the chance to see them as I can. Being the crazy world traveler myself, there are often spans of time when I’m away.

This time it was two years since I’d been back—longer than I had anticipated. The last couple of years have been a bit tricky, from a workload perspective. The good news is, as many know, I’ve been making strides to take being a workaholic off my priorities. That should let me get back to more regular connections.

What I noticed in the days leading up to visiting, though, was how immediate my memories were of my parent’s house. While I was packing and getting ready to leave Texas, I thought back—two years ago, and remembered things about my parent’s house like I had just been there.

Funny how our mind does that, isn’t it? Some memories are immediate—seemingly hard coded into who we are, able to be brought to the forefront despite time and space. I thought back to the recent year I spent in North Carolina, with all the meetings and deadlines and late nights at the office, trade shows and dramatic competitive developments…I thought back to all that and they didn’t seem as vivid as the things remembered from my parent’s house.

I spent far more time in the halls of my office rather than those of my folks’ house, but I could still remember the detail of some of the lighthouse miniatures, the way the photos were hung in the computer room, the glossy leaves of the bonsai tree in the kitchen.

Some memories are towering monuments of our lives, standing tall and in vivid detail, despite their passing years or decades ago. Some are put away and forgotten, despite how important they may have been.

It doesn’t fall along “things I want to remember” lines. There are often times I wish I remembered more about high school or my day-to-day in Iraq that I simply don’t.

I just think it’s interesting how the mind’s archives coalesce.


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