This week’s publication is dedicated to my friend and fellow writer Deb Dauer, who recently passed away from complications caused by ALS.
Although my time with Deb was brief, she taught me to live, to write with courage and spirit and that true happiness can only be found in the connections you make.
Thank you and be well my friend.
What I’ve found that it is connections with other people that really make me happy. And in turn time and experiences with them.—Deb Dauer
At 10 years old I learned about envy.
It was 1990 and Nike had just released the Air Max 90 sneaker.
To the uniformed catholic school boys, sporting navy blue slacks, yellow dress shirts, navy blue ties all accented with black pleather shoes, which were sold exclusively at a local mom-and-pop shoe store that resembled a shoe museum rather then a working shoe store, fashion-wise—gym class was a big deal.
A pre-adolescent parade of parent-bought sneakers.
In a corner of the gym, a gym which was actually an oversized classroom, stood a loose ring of cool boys— all wearing Air Max 90s.
They were fingering their soles, the soles with the little plastic window that might have been windows into their young souls because the boys were outwardly happy—laughing and smiling and worshiping the Made-in-China-Manna stitched with a Swoosh, that fell from Heaven and slid onto their feet.
Across the gym/classroom I stood on my assigned red dot, alone, staring down at my pedestrian sneakers.
I felt something sour inside. A sudden smallness. An inferiority. A failure to appreciate what I had.
It had nothing to do with running faster or jumping higher.
The Nike Air Max 90s were cool. And at 10 years old, I was learning the world was cruelly split into two— the cool and the uncool.
At 38, as a parent and writer I’m constantly comparing myself to others.
Which makes me feel like I’m in gym class all over again—standing outside the circle of well-laced people, hoping for inclusion.
Let me be clear—comparison is not a healthy practice. Comparison will always prevent you from discovering and maintaining lasting happiness.
I teach my children and my students that envy is a corrosive emotion. A cancer that will always lead to dissatisfaction which often trigger destructive behavior. Yet I’m guilty of envy, of comparisons.
I told you last week I meet a young woman who was an aspiring fitness blogger.
She had a defined blogging niche and a growing audience. She was 15 years younger than me, had been writing for only a few months and spoke with a confidence and coolness that I was envious of.
After she pulled from our conversation, waited at the bar for another Pinot Grigio, I couldn’t help but feeling like I was back standing on my red dot in gym class, looking down at my unbranded sneakers, feeling small again.
I know self-inflicted comparisons hurt. Yet this knowledge doesn’t stop me.
Like knowing too much tequila triggers nuclear hangovers and liver disease and bad decisions yet still we fasten our sombrero, throw caution to the wind and drink more than we should.
A year later, in 1991, Nike released the Air Max 91. When my neighbor got the Air Max 91s, I bought his Air Max 90s for $20.
I remember how that night I went home and tried out my new/old shoes in the backyard.
The Air Maxs didn’t make me run faster or jump higher. I didn’t feel cooler or happier with them on my feet. It fact, I was uncomfortable. The shoes were a size too big and insoles were molded to the topography of my neighbor’s feet.
As a father and writing teacher, I want my children and students to be authentic and honest with themselves. Be affable to their dreams. Invest in their uniqueness and voice.
I want them to know no matter what products the world flexes on them, no matter the level of success their competition achieves, sustained happiness is purely a product of authenticity.
Now, like an adult, it’s my responsibility to heed my own advice.
And with official entrance into the late-thirties rodeo, I’ve finally gained enough confidence to admit –I’m lost.
A few weeks ago at a party, I fell into a conversation with a young woman who recently graduated from college. A mutual friend introduce me as a “writer” and informed me that young woman had started a blog.
“A blog. That’s great.What do you write about?”
“Thanks,” she smiled and nodded, “It’s a fitnesss blog. I’m currently training for my third full marathon and I’ve always enjoyed writing. I feel now I have some experience and knowledge to share with the young adult fitness niche.”
“So, what do you write?”
I smiled, “Words.”
Not amused, she pressed, “Seriously, what do you write? What’s your niche?”
Niche is a popular word in the modern writing community. Niche is your area of specialization–fitness, parenting, politics, education, drunken knittting.
The internet affords anyone the ability to start a blog and write on absolutely any subject. And any modern writing tutorial will explain the importance of having a clearly defined niche–especially in the hyper-competive internet age.
Write well about a specific subject, write well for a specific audience,and over time you’ll achieve success.
“I write stories. Mostly personal stories, about… well about a lot subjects.”
“How long have you been writing?”
“Everyday for two years. And I’ve published at least one story each week over that time.”
She took a sip of her Pinot Grigio, “Cool. So…what’s your niche?”
I hesitated, did a quick inventory of the everything I’ve written and said, “You know, I don’t know my niche. I guess…I guess, I’m lost.”
Over the past calendar year, I have explored a variety of subjects.
Below you will find 13 excerpts from stories I have written over the last year.
Each on a different niche, each furthering my lostness.
In the throes of life, when life is not romantic as hell, the health of a marriage hinges on those little, private moments that you create for one another.
It’s in those moments where you reconnect, rediscover each other all over again.
A chronically sick man (me) whose hands are shaking, whose body aches, whose teetering on the edge of self-destruction is sitting beside his wife in a Las Vegas ballroom. They’re high school sweethearts. They have three children together. But seven months ago things suddenly got harder.
And yet she still takes notes.
As the professor speaks and the damaged brain that holds the screen looms like a thundercloud over the room with her free hand, she reaches across the table to hold his hand, to ease him, to feel his pain.
Young men, like the gods we dress ourselves up to be, often believe we are the sole creators of our success and happiness. So we distance ourselves from others.
We forge fantasies.
We mask our unhappiness and insecurity with false bravado and empty dreams. We puff out our chest, turn our hat backwards and pretend we’re in control of our life and that fate is just a motif found in ancient Greek theater.
“Do you have any advice on how to cross a threshold?”
“Crossing a threshold is often mental. The initial fear of just transitioning from one place to the next often prevents us from progression. But when you find the nerve to finally cross, you realize there was nothing to fear at all. ”
I stood up, shook his hand, said I was looking forward to seeing him in six months. He smiled, spun away, opened the door and disappeared.
I slipped on my coat and strode through the threshold, from the examination room into the hall and back into life.
A life born of thresholds, waiting patiently for us to simply brave up and cross.
Writing is more about the reader then the writer. Yet the fate of the relationship is solely the writer’s responsibility. The writer has to sacrifice and bleed and refuse compression for the relationship to work.
There were times in 2017 I didn’t bleed for you. Sometimes I winced. I wrote for clicks and likes and shares. I wrote easy. I was a glory whore.
In 2018 I resolve to do a better job writing for myself. I need to write hard. I need to bleed for me. Not for recognition. And not for you.
This is not to shut you out.
I need to be more selfish, more self-examining to engage you on a more honest, more visceral level.
In 2018 I promise to work on me so that we can work on us.
Together I hope we find better ways to appreciate our lives, to tell our stories so when the time is right–we may find our way back to each other.
Choices become harder, they have more gravity and greater consequence. Time is suddenly finite. Reality is tangible. You realize you need to do something with your life. And as sad as it is, you realize your on the verge of comprising your dreams to appease the status quo.
You’re not a kid but you fear judgement and criticism the way you did in high school. And sometimes redefining yourself becomes dangerous work. Drugs, alcohol and other destructive habits become your new definitions.
But I’ve learned that if you redefine yourself positively and purposefully you can tap new potentials.
When you write your new definitions you find new ways to in be strong and empowered and your life is suddenly swirling with exciting possibilities. You discover new energies. New angles. You begin to realize your potential.
You can’t be happy and ungrateful at the same time. Show gratitude and you’ll find happiness.
Chase (my 7 year old son )and Deb (my friend with ALS) confirmed what I already knew, what most of us know — that relationships are the fruits of happiness. A 7 year old boy, a dying woman cemented such truth — we are fragile and finite but in relationships we find strength, we experience forever.
Why is such simplicity so hard to understand? Why do we foolishly think that one more material possession will sprout the happiness we so desperately desire?
And so if growing up is a just matter of perspective, it’s curious to think that we’ll spend so much pain, energy and money trying to realize what we knew all along.
Because real, lasting happiness requires you to do uncomfortable things. Let go. Give up. Be honest. Move on. Admit flaws. Admit mistakes. Accept judgment.
“It was nice meeting you,” the young woman smiled, moved to the bar, poured another Pinot Grigio and struck up a conversation with a young woman holding a plate of pita chips.
I don’t have a niche.
I’m not a blogger. I’m not concerned with SEO or affiliate links or popular trends. I’m not here to tell you about 5 easy ways to find romance or 3 foods you must eat before lunch or how to survive a nuclear apocalypse.
And I’m not a fiction writer either. I do not have the patience and imagination to create new worlds for invented characters to get drunk in, have sex in, slay dragons, rob banks, bypass time, build robots, dismantle bombs, dismantle children, befriend tigers and on one fateful afternoon, get shot and tumble into lifelessly into a swimming pool.
I’m 38 now– eight years too old to lie to myself.
I’m lost. I don’t have a niche.
All I have are my experiences, my voice, my conviction to write as truthfully as I can and a growing desire to be found.