Thursday, July 16, 2015

A bad romance

My Dearest,

I don't know where to start, exactly. But I just feel like we need to look at our relationship. There, I said it. I know, it was tough for us from the get go and looking back I wonder how we made it this far. And I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like if we had never gotten together at all. I know you've thought about it before too. You've actually said as much. But in spite of our many differences, we always seem to pull it out, especially when we really need each other.

Broken Heart image courtesy
I remember when we were young and full of life and energy and wanting to try new things together. Sure, we had our disagreements but it was so easy to just, well, look the other way, I guess. At the time I thought we had accepted each other for who we were but it’s hard to see it that way now and not believe we simply ignored those differences thinking the other one would change. I know you never really understood my urban and more industrial ways and looking back, while I viewed your philosophy of a simple agrarian life with romantic eyes, I later could not deny how I had simply ignored your use of slaves to make that all work. I know I tried to change you, and really couldn't. After our separation and everything that happened after that I thought we could go on. We no longer had to make compromises that ignored the core issues and I really thought it would work. Because, and you have to admit it, it did work and we did great things together. We built the world's largest economy, invented lots of really cool new technologies, we destroyed the notion of oppressive, dictatorial leadership as a viable model, and spread our concepts of democracy around the planet. We even sent humans to the moon and brought them back. Others looked to us as role models. And even though they don't admit it now, they are better for it.

And as good as it all was I now see we were really mostly focused on our careers and raising the kids. I thought this whole time we were growing together, in union. But now I'm not so sure. Now I see that it was really me trying to force you to change and that, well, it seems you were never really up for it. Somehow you went along with it. Maybe you just went along with it because you believed we were still right for each other too. But now all those times you'd joke about the "the south will rise again" I thought it was just playful teasing. Now, I see it that, well, you were serious, weren't you?

It really hurts me to think that all these years you saw yourself as an individual first and as part of our union second. And all this time I saw us as a union first and individuals second. I never wanted you to give up who you were, at heart, nor did I want to give up on who I've always been, but what happened to "united we stand?" Do we no longer believe that anymore?

I'm really confused by all this and I worry the pain we've caused each other over the years can't be reconciled. I don't want to separate like we did back in the 1860's. That was far too painful. But I don't want to keep on like this either. I don't like that we sleep in separate rooms or spend most of our alone time with our friends complaining about our union.  And I just have to say, we used to have great sex together. It was really amazing. But when was the last time we even had sex? In the 1990s? But looking back I think you were just going along with it. It may have been the late 1950s when we last really had great sex together. That's along time, even for an aging country like us. What happened?

Oh, South, I don't know why I am writing this. I still love you and want this to work out. At least I think I do. I do love your gentle ways and the slower pace of life you tell me about. I love your sunny beaches and the gentle rolling mountains. I've grown to love your okra and I even love bluegrass music. Yeah, I know I used to complain about it but I've grown to really enjoy it. And I know I must come off as a nag sometimes and you feel like I'm always telling you what to do, and how to spend or save your money, and I know you don't understand why I go to different churches now, but it is where I feel comfortable. So I feel like sometimes you nag me about that too. But, I don't want to start that argument again.

And I also know you really, really like your gun collection. You don't need to tell me again. I get it! And you must know how nervous it makes me having them around the house - how many times have I told you so?  But I've backed off lately, haven't I? I mean, let's be honest: I haven't tried anything to make you sell your collection, or even lock them up in the basement so the kids won't get them, have I? But you keep arguing with me about it as if I am. I wish you'd just relax for once about that.

And I know I'm not perfect either. I know I have crime in my cities and not all my people are happy. I know you don't like some of my free-spirit friends I hang out with. Okay, I'll admit, maybe some of them are a little too free-sprited, but mostly I just feel good when I'm with them. And I know I'm not in as good of shape as I used to be and some parts have become run down and neglected. I've been trying to get back into shape, but its hard. I've asked if I can join the new gym, but you keep saying we don't have the money for it. And the whole racial divide we thought we'd gotten past in the 1960's, well, turns out it's still here for you and me. We've ignored it like we ignored a lot of things and now look what's happening. I know you hate it when I suggest it, but I really think couples therapy could help us. If you agree, I promise I won't mention the flag you seem to like so much. But you have to know how much it reminds me of our separation and sometimes when I see it, it just makes me cry.

I didn't want to end this note to you like that. But I just had to get those things off my chest. I want to think about the positive. I want to put positive energy out to the universe about us. Think about us the way it used to be when we are together, laughing. When we'd be out and about the other countries would see us with our purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain and they'd want to be just like us. I want to be like that again.

How do we work together to fix it?


Friday, July 10, 2015

Can you see the real me?

People often ask me, "John, what is the secret of your success and happiness?" Well, one secret to my success and happiness is my morning routine.  I'd like to share it with you.

I wake up each day at 5:00 a.m. I change into loose fitting comfortable work-out clothes then head downstairs to the kitchen. I drink 16 ounces of filtered water, take a multi-vitamin, then heat up the water (tea-kettle filled the night before) for my green tea. While the tea is steeping, I take 5 minutes to log my dreams in a journal I've been keeping for over five years. Then I press the tea (I use loose leaves in a tea pot with a incorporated filter with a plunger). After a sip or too of the fresh-brewed tea, my head is clear and I feel focused. I take my mug of tea, the one with the Sanskrit for "peace" written on it,  (and some more filtered water) to the back porch for some stretching, simple yoga posses, and light resistance work for 30 minutes. I've adapted the workout from several sources that I'll share later. What I particularly like about this routine is that it creates for me a sense of the seasons. In the winter the chill on the back porch and darkness create one reality, in the summer, like this morning, the gray of the dawn along with the heaviness of the air signal thunderstorms later in the day.

After my workout it's 5:45 a.m. and that's when I head to my home office for 15 minutes of journaling (important - write in long hand not on the computer!), followed by 60 minutes of writing and editing for my current project.

It's now 7 a.m. and the kids will be up soon for summer camp and I move to the kitchen to prep breakfast. Some mornings its a simple homemade muesli or granola cereal and cut fruit. This morning I'll make my from-scratch whole grain vegan pancakes (yes they are delicious!) and some scrambled eggs for the non-vegans in the house. By 7:45 a.m. I am wrapping up breakfast and we double-check the gear for today's summer camps (older son: music camp; younger son: swimming). From 8:00am until we need to leave at 8:30 a.m. I give the boys some screen time as a reward for being ready promptly. I use my last 30 minutes to answer a couple email and clear a few pieces of paper from my desk (some to filing, some to recycling) thus keeping my desk, and my mind, clutter free.

It's now 8:30 a.m., the kids are ready to go, as am I, and we pile in the minivan to camp. I kiss Lori goodbye and check if there is anything we need while I am out. I know when I get back in 30 minutes I'll feel a sense of accomplishment and with the sense of a strong body, a clear mind, and clutter free desk, I can have a productive day. Since I reviewed my calendar and action list the night before I know I have until 11 a.m. before my first meeting. It will be a good day.

And that is how I start every morning. At least that is how I start every morning on my alternative fantasy planet called "John Feels Really Good, Every Day." I couldn't find a suitable ancient Roman or Greek god or even mortal to give my alternate fantasy planet a proper name, so I use the long name. Meanwhile, back on reality planet "Earth," which is also not named for an ancient Roman or Greek god or even mortal, my day actually started thanks to a meowing cat at the top of the stairs. I am pretty good with cat meow interpretation and this particular cat meow translates to this:

"Hey! Hey you! Yes, that's right you! Guess what? Your alarm is set to go off in 30 minutes! Only 30 more minutes of sleep left! Just thought you should know!"

I should be thankful for the 30 extra minutes of day I'll get. Maybe a third cup of coffee will bring me that joy.

My fantasy morning schedule is just part of a larger fantasy world of who I am. Productive and reliable. Clean desk. Organized. Magical as a father and always one-step ahead of the children and their needs. Ready with Band-Aids and sage advice. I play music and write poetry and my wife thinks only of me and my amazing toned and athletic body. She notices other women, younger women in particular, giving me "that look" as we pass them in public. She just smiles because she knows what she has and the others never will. Professionally I am successful in all things, never doubting myself. Sometimes difficult situations arise and that is when I shine the most. Danger and risk are everywhere but I am confident in my choices and know that true leaders, like myself, are differentiated by our ability to see through the turmoil and envision a new world. As a result I am admired and people follow me.  Because of this ability I am sought out professionally. It's a good life I have here on planet John Feels Really Good, Every Day.

Meanwhile, back here on so-called Earth, my desk is a mess, I'm way behind on several assignments, and I think older son will just have a glass of milk for breakfast and we will call that a meal. I still think I'm a pretty good parent, and spouse, and a productive member of society, but there is still this tension with who I really am and who I think I "should" be or "want" to be. I'm not sure the precise wording and if I were seeing my shrink today she'd have a field day with this.

I wonder how many of us walk around with this notion of who we are and who we ought to be? Maybe that tension is a good thing. It keeps us moving and changing as humans towards some more idealized person. There are whole shelves of self-help books at the book store (if we still had book stores) that offer different strategies for living better, fuller, happier lives. Why is that so? It's a strange thing if you think about it. There really could be just one book titled, "Just Chill the Fuck Out and Be Yourself!" If you open that book up to its one page and read it, it would say, "I told you to just chill the fuck out and be yourself!"

I'm guessing one of you readers schooled in Freudian psychology could help me out with the concepts of id, super-ego, and ego and how these three selves are in conflict or mediate with each other.  Perhaps there is a more contemporary model that explains it. But I wonder if there is a simpler way to think of who we are and about being honest about whom we are, warts and all.

There is the "me" I want to be: The aspirational me. There is the "me" I present to the world: The facade me. Then there is the "me" I really am: The real me.

But we can't see the real me, can we? (Yeah, you had to read this far to get to a bad Who pun). There may be a fourth "me" distinct from the real me: That is, the real "me" I think I am but am not. This is different from the aspirational me and facade me in that we truly believe it is who we are, but since our self-observation powers are limited our view of self is limited too. And, no, I am not going to make an Austin Powers reference to "Mini Me." Sorry about that.

I wonder if great people in history like the Buddha, or Jesus, or Ghandi had the introspective abilities to align those distinct "Me's" such that the inner-conflict from them was reduced or eliminated. I wonder. Or maybe they were filled with self-doubt too and just dealt with it better.

Anywho, if you got this far in this essay, thanks for sticking with it. I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments below. And have a great day, regardless of which planet you are on.