The Adventures of Clark Able and Me

I’m standing on the beach, a few feet from the waterline with the sun setting behind me and the pink and gold sky tumbled with tufts of cotton-candy clouds before me.

Looking around, I notice my fellow beach goers are not looking at me. A young couple snuggles on a red blanket, a man in a white hat sits by himself in the lifeguard stand smoking a cigar, and a woman walks a big dog who wags his tail and chews on a blue rubber ball.

Little do they– Snuggles, Stoogie Joe and Chewy– notice the absolute significance of Clark Able and me standing at the ocean’s edge, with the beach behind us, like a pair of conquering kings.

When Holden Caulfield invites a hooker to his hotel room in Chapter 13 of The Catcher in the Rye, he introduces himself as Jim Steele.

You don’t have to be a literary scholar to see what is going on here: Holden, an insecure, whiny 17 year old boy uses a pseudonym to present himself as a confident, secure man who has done this kind of thing before.

And in this moment, with Clark by my side–I breathe in the salty air, puff my chest, and pretend to feel what Jim Steele must feel even when he’s sleeping.

If you’ve been reading for the past few months, you know Clark Able is my walking cane. And at the beginning of the summer I told you I bought Clark after an ataxia-influenced wobbly walk on the beach. Walking on the sand, like drinking tequila, does something evil to my brain. For the most part, my cerebellum behaves like a schoolboy when I walk on flat surfaces. But on sand my cerebellum shucks and jives like a frat boy on spring break.

I spent a good part of this summer worrying what people will think when they see me with Clark Able. But isn’t this how life works– we spent our precious time worrying about things beyond our control? It’s why we don’t get that haircut, or wear those shoes, or get that neck tattoo of a dragon with a rose dangling from it’s teeth or walk with Clark Able.

I look around and nobody is looking at me. And frankly– no one cares. The couple, the dog, the man are busy with their own lives.

“Can you take a picture of me?”

“Right now?”

“Not now. I’m sitting like an old man in a beach chair. Let me get up.”

With Clark Able’s help, I pull myself and wobble a few feet forward. I tell Cindy to take a few pictures of me and Clark Able. Here’s the best one. And maybe you can tell, by my raised and glowing ear lobes, I’m smiling.

We’re all self-absorbed with our own troubles. Like a stage actor who forgot their lines, we think ourselves into paralysis. We feel like the world is watching us. Truth is– it’s not. In fact, the world is fat with things that are way more interesting than our skinny life. Like clouds puffed like cotton candy.

The modern person desperately struggles with self-acceptance– which comes from recognizing that we are enough. But this recognition is so difficult. It’s why Holden Caulfield introduced himself as Jim Steele.

If I do this, what will they say about me?

We are the stories we tell ourselves. And our stories persuade our behavior. When we narrate our own story, as opposed to letting others narrate, we become more self-assured and are more likely to make decisions that align with the personal narrative we desire. When we allow the critic, the person controlling the “like” button to control us–we will always remain unhappy.

Modern life conditions us to always look outside for validation. Instagram. Facebook. Tik-Tok. Our posts are scored by likes and shares. We’ve allowed our self-worth to be a product of other’s opinions.

I turn from the ocean back to the beach. The sun winks behind the Ferris wheel spokes as Cindy watches our children play baseball in the cool sand.

The couple, Stoogie Joe, and the dog all have their lips on something. Their minds on something. Their hearts on something.

And that something isn’t me.

Be well,


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It’s been a strange summer


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Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacherDiagnosed with a rare neurological disease that resulted in a hole in his brain– Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

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1 comment found

  1. Your thoughts echo my “what do people think of me” moments as I move further into acceptance that ataxia has changed my perception of myself. Slow progress, but I now feel my walking stick is my friend and helps me feel safe while moving. Thanks, I needed that!

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