The Man with the Hole in His Brain-Chapter 2

The Man with the Hole in His Brain- Chapter 2

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ~ Theodore Roosevelt 


Ms. Baker knew The Man with the Hole in His Brain before he was a man. And presumably before there was a hole in his brain.

Ms. Baker knew him as The Boy with Blue Eyes.

Their story, like all human stories, sewn with a subtle yet remarkable thread, crossed its first stitch early one morning, twenty-four years ago, in a loud and stuffy classroom.

Ms. Baker was locked in screaming match with her first period class when she felt the hot-rush realization that she wasn’t wearing a bra.

She stopped screaming, locked her knees, jerked her right hand up to her heart as if she was pledging allegiance for the second time that day.

Her first year teaching 9th grade English simulated a car crash, everyday

Screaming, clutching, tightened lips, big eyes and a sudden loss of gravity as if her white Corolla spun through faculty meetings and parent-teacher meetings and back-to school night at dangerous speeds causing her jet black hair burst from their bobby pins, her axles snapped and she collided head-on with an 18-wheeler hauling bushels 14 year-old ramrods.

“What is wrong with you people? Why are you so disrespectful?”

She wanted to do something dramatic with her hands, point a finger, pound a desk, but she couldn’t. No bra.

“Are you going to cry Ms. Baker?”

“That’s enough. Quiet!”

But quiet never came. Her yelling only fed their fires. Someone threw a ball of paper across the room. Someone screamed fuck.

Ms. Baker, still pledging allegiance, verged on something wild. Clearing her throat, she felt a violence boiling in her gut however, she caught the blue eyes of the boy who would grow up to become The Man with the Hole in His Brain and the boiling settled and simmered.

The Boy with Blue Eyes was writing a story about a boy who ran away from his unruly high school and found refuge in a New York City hotel with a green-eyed prostitute during the blackout of 1977.

The Boy with Blue Eyes reminded Ms. Baker of her younger self. Quiet, friendly, imaginative. When she jockeyed with the class, he would sit at his desk and write. His assignments were always completed on time and done  exceptionally well. In fact, they often took him hours to complete. Not because they were difficult but because he was obsessed with achieving a sort-of written perfection.

Ms. Baker spun to her desk, picked-up a pack of papers, held them to her chest, turned and faced the classroom.

Embarrassment, yes, but it was the end of September, and the classroom was still warm, as if summer was coming and not going. And the streak of sweat that rushed down her spine was a combination of internal and external forces in the classroom.

Ms. Baker moved to his desk and stood before The Boy with Blue Eyes. The classroom roared.

A kid with a marijuana leaf painted on his backpack stuck his head out a window and barked at a squirrel dashing across the courtyard.Two football players arm wrestled in a corner. A group cheered. Someone threw a dollar bill down on the desk. Two girls stood in the back of the classroom by a bookcase lined with dictionaries talked fast like they were in a smoky night club.

Ms. Baker looked down at The Boy with Blue Eyes, smiled and handed him a piece of loose-leaf printed with a recent assignment where he wrote about an innocent Puritan woman accused of witchcraft.

“Nice job! You have a strong writing voice. Keep writing!”

Mrs. Baker smiled, and The Boy with Blue Eyes smiled but before he could respond, sitting behind him was a kid known as Fire Hydrant, who Ms. Baker legitimately feared, and who said things like, “Ms. Baker,  you’re sexy when you’re angry.” Leaned into the ear of The Boy with Blue Eyes and whispered “faggot.”

Ms. Baker is Mrs. Clearly now.

When she married, her and Mr. Clearly moved to Virginia where he still sells insurance and she teaches a little private school where she stills teaches English and supervises the school’s poetry club.

Mrs. Clearly’s classroom is quiet now. She hasn’t screamed or forgotten her bra in years. She was awarded Teacher of the Year at her school. Her skirts are longer now and her words have a seasoned, weighty quality to them. They are clear, direct and poised. Her teaching methods have been featured in education magazines and she facilitates a program for first year teachers in her district.

She tells first year teachers about her first year of teaching. How it is was a daily car crash.

She tells them new teachers get in trouble when they try to over complicate teaching. When they try to do too much, they often forget the fine details, like wearing a bra.

The teachers laugh.

Then Mrs. Clearly sits down and gets serious, almost sad. “I heard Fire Hydrant call The Boy with Blue Eyes a faggot. I saw his bright blue eyes dull to gray. Then, he quietly closed his notebook, put down his pen, and lowered his eyes.” Mrs. Clearly shifts her weight, “I knew he had given up. I should have said something. But I didn’t. I was afraid.”

She tells the teachers she heard Fire Hydrant graduated high school, graduated college, scored a job selling pharmaceuticals, got married and had two sons. “He has a good life. But– but I’m sure he’s ignorant of the damage he caused that day. I guess, from time to time, we’re all guilty of such ignorance.”

The Boy with Blue Eyes stopped turning in writing assignments, his grades dropped. At the end of the first semester he transferred to another school and never saw Fire Hydrant or Ms. Baker again.

The notebook remained closed for almost a half-century, until a doctor found something wrong with the boy’s brain and The Boy with Blue Eyes became The Man with the Hole in his Brain.

Finally, with nothing to lose, he opened the notebook, picked up the pen, and started writing again.

He’s a writer again. His words walk a tightrope of transparency and vulnerability while attempting to maintain a masculine balance. He writes to entertain. He writes to discover truth. He writes to feel strong. He writes to fill the hole in his brain with imagination instead of hopelessness and resentment. He writes secrets he can’t tell his wife. He writes to make his father proud. He writes in case he dies young. He writes so his voice may one day comfort his children when they’re older and far from home. He writes for Ms. Baker/ Mrs. Cleary. For Fire Hydrant. For himself. Because twenty four years ago he gave up on a dream. He let an opinion dry his pen, quiet his voice. When he was a boy he let the critic win.

He now understands how Ms. Baker, Fire Hydrant, and the fictitious boy who ran away from high school to find a green-eyed prostitute in the sitting confidently cross-legged in lobby of the Warwick Hotel in the violent heat of 1977, stitch his story.

He’s thankful now for Ms. Baker’s silence, for Fire Hydrant’s mockery, for a green-eyed prostitute who taught him how to remain still in the cold glare of the critic.

When perspective broadens, gratitude becomes profound.

It took years for the boy’s eyes to light-up a wondrous blue again. Years to pick up the pen and open the notebook.

Years to stare back at the things he was once afraid of.


Checkout Chapter 1 of my serial story “The Man with the Hole in His Brain”

“The man turns back to the mirror. His eyes are deep blue like the child’s.  Below his soft chest,  beats the heart of a child–boundless and wild. A heart that yearns to play outside again. To run, jump, tackle, and swing. To sweat, to bleed, to get dirty again. A heart that is much younger then the body that holds it.”

How to Save a Life

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
― James Joyce, The Dead

Five years ago I was farting my way through grad school.

The plan was to graduate with a Master’s degree in educational administration and become a principal.

I didn’t really want to be a principal. I wanted to be a writer.  But I did want more money, more prestige and a better parking spot.

Then I got sick.

Doctors found a hole in my brain. One doctor told me I should be dead.

I cried. I drank. I grew distant and despondent.

And then, in my most desperate hour, I dropped out of grad school, started writing. Which, consequently, saved my life.

Shakespeare believed that every third thought should be about death.

Though I don’t prescribe to the Barb’s frequent morbidity, I do believe a frequent acknowledgement of our mortality is a healthy practice.

Death is waiting in weeds for all of us.

We can choose simply to ignore him or when we need a little perspective– call him out, lock eyes, and realize how little time we have to do the things we were meant to do.

Be well,

Jay

How do people read you?

Show don’t tell is a well-proven writing technique.

As Russian writer Anton Chekhov once famously wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This technique is also applicable to life.

It’s easy to tell. Easy to issue orders. Easy to instruct others, inform them what they should do.

The older, softer we get the more telling we do. We tell our children, our spouse, the new guy in the office what they should do, how they should act.

Consequently, simply telling people how to do things inspires resentment. Genuine trust is built on honesty and meaningful actions.

If you want to know how you’re read, consider the actions you’re showing your readers.

Be well,

Jay

The Air Max 90 (Or The First Time I Learned About Envy)

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.

Picture courtesy of soletheory.com

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.

Be well.

Jay

I’m now 38 and finally confident enough to admit I’m lost

I turn 38 this week.

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.”

“Sounds great.”

“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.

On Marriage

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.

(From: How to Save a Marriage, published March 2, 2018)

On Love

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.

(From: Taking Notes: A Love Story, Published on February 16, 2018)

September, 2017

On Masculinity

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.

(From: The Love Story That Almost Never Happened, published on February 23, 2018)

On Courage

“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.

(From: How to Cross a Threshold, published on March 16, 2018)

On Writing

Writing is a contradictory experience.

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.

(From: She Doesn’t Read Your Blog Anymore: The Most Important Lesson I Learned in 2017, published on December 29, 2017)

May, 2017

On Education in America

These are hard moments.

Every time I learn about another school shooting I recoil and shake my head as if to say this is sad. This is so fucking sad.

What happened to the great American school experience that so many of us knew and enjoyed?

The one where you went to school and lived. The one where you pledge allegiance to a flag that you believed would protect you.

With all these dead children in the news, sometimes I feel guilty thinking about my daughter sitting at her desk, alive.

(From:The Great American School Experience: Hide in the Closet, Stay Quiet, and Hope Not To Die, published on March 23, 2018)

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

On Health

A chronic illness unnerves you.

For years I endured moral freezes. I couldn’t think, decide. I couldn’t, as my old soccer coach would bark, “get my shit together.”

Like a high stakes game of hide-and-go-seek, success in life is often predicated on our curiosity, our desire to seek until we find what we are looking for.

But what happens when you’re sick and short on energy? What happens  after years of blood tests, biopsies, scans and observations experts still shrug and admit they don’t know?

What happens when you simply can’t find what you’re looking for?

(From: Accepting Uncertainty: The Most Important Question a Chronic Illness Patient Can Ask, Published on January 12, 2018)

On Work

Work is a tricky thing.

Immersing yourself in work for only a paycheck is a soul-sucking existence. Working for personal fulfillment is righteous but doesn’t pay the electric bill.

Maybe, if we look hard enough, we find work that fills a previous void.

(From: Let’s Take A Look At My 11th Grade Report Card, published on October 13, 2017)

On Change

Intuition does not get easier with age.

Self-reliance comes with a real cost.

And a fear of judgement lingers long after high school.

I can only hope that you find the courage to trust yourself, to take the risk to be heard.

You’re impressionable–miles away from figuring out who you are and yet you’re about to change in immense and unknown ways.

Change for yourself and what you believe is right for you.

Trust your change.

(From: Trust Your Change: A Commencement Address, published on June 22, 2017) 

June, 2017

On Being 19

When you’re 19, life gets complicated.

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.

(From: A Moment With Tom Petty, published on October 5, 2017)

On Redefining Yourself

Redefining yourself is not easy. It’s scary.

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.

(From: The Scary Work of Redefining Yourself, published November 3, 2017)

On Fatherhood

It’s become clear, fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or inflicting my will on you or filling your head with fiction.

In fact, fatherhood really isn’t about the father at all. It has and always will be about the livelihood of the child.

In 9 years you’ll be 18 and things will have undoubtedly change.

You’ll be driving yourself. You’ll be standing at the cusp of adulthood and may not need me the way you do now.  But despite my dwindling demand, my job description remains.

You need the dad who drove you and your mother home from the hospital 9 years ago. A dad to remain vigilance and focus.

You’ve entrusted me to listen, eliminate distractions, anticipate danger, embrace the incredible and enjoy the ride.

And my girl, I don’t want to let you down.

(From Defining Fatherhood: A Letter to My Daughter on Her 9th Birthday, published on April 14, 2017)

April, 2017

On Happiness

Happiness and gratitude are a package deal.

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.

(From: What My 7 Year Old Son and A Friend With A Terminal Illness Said About Happiness, published on December 8, 2017)

October, 2017

~~~

“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.

Be well,

Jay

Nobody Cares and Other Truths I Learned During My Two Years of Writing

This week marks two years of showing up, sitting down and writing–everyday.

Some days I pumped out thousands of words. On others, I farted a few foul sentences and went about my day.

But such is the writing life.

When I first committed to writing, I held a secret position that green writers often hold– I wanted everyone to care about my writing as much as I did.

Whether it’s writing a book or losing 20 pounds we want people to acknowledge our efforts with a smile, a hug and the coveted big blue Facebook thumb.

When I launched my website I wanted people to stop what they were doing and care. I wanted people to read and be inspired. I wanted invitations to  guest speak at conferences and wanted strangers to approach me with a nervous smile, offer a compliment and ask for a picture.

Vanity? Absolutely.

But the novice is almost always too vain for their own good.

The novice falls in love with their own fiction. A love affair that, if it doesn’t end in divorce, will certainly pin them to a barstool or a therapist’s couch or sometimes both for quite a while.

Here’s What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned writers are architects.

We want people to slow down, take pictures, tell their friends and admire what we’ve built, brick by brick, word by word.

We want recognition for our ability to craft stories and mortar ideas that stretch into the sky and, if the timing is right, throw some cool shade across the world.

I’ve learned that every subject has already been written about by writers much more talented than myself.

I’ve learned that the novice would rather dream than work. The novice wants achieve maximum results for minimum effort.

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

There are three phases of the writer: novice, intermediate and professional.

I’m not a professional. Stephen King and Annie Lamont are professionals. They can offer insight on how to gain access to the heavily guarded compound where the professionals work.

However, I’ve graduated from novice to intermediate. My finely matted diploma marred with failures, doubt, fear and marginal successes proves I’m now qualified to reflect on my education.

If you’re thinking of pursuing a writer’s life or striding into the gym later today,  here’s the hard truth– nobody cares.

This is not to demean or passively-aggressively guilt you into caring.

The novice writer thinks everybody cares. The intermediate writer writes as if nobody cares.

The novice writes for attention. The intermediate writes for herself.

The novice writer writes when she’s inspired. The intermediate writes until she’s inspired.

Though she does appreciate them, the intermediate doesn’t write for blue thumbs. She likes praise but knows how dangerous it is to weave definitions from the threads of praise.

The intermediate enjoys the strain of the workout. A gym rat. A library mouse.

The intermediate pumps out 3,000 crappy words just to find 500 good words.

The intermediate is busy learning about truth and doesn’t realize that by learning her own truths she’s helping others discover their own.

The intermediate knows that even though writing is a vanity project– meaningful, enduring writing is always about the reader and always laced humility, sincerity and vulnerability.

She knows that other writers are scratching out posts, articles and books faster than she can and she doesn’t care. When she was a novice she stewed with jealousy. She’s now genuinely happy for other people’s accomplishments, but remains focused on her own goals.

And the intermediate knows there are miles of untraveled truths that need visiting before she can even pull into the parking lot where the professionals work.

This post marks two years of writing everyday and publishing a piece at least once a week.

Tonight, I’ll celebrate with a cold beer and some Charles Dickens. And then, when the 14.9 ounces of self-adoration ends, I will quietly return to my computer write again–as if nobody cares.

Be well,

Jay

PS–Thank you to everyone who has made the journey with me over the years. Thank you to anyone who has shared my work, offered a line of support or gifted me a big blue Facebook thumb. Thank you for welcoming my writing into your life.

The Love Story That Almost Never Happened

The following post is the final entry of the The February Project: Love and Marriage, a self-imposed month long writing project on love and marriage.

“After all the romance and celestial promises of the initial courtship, love becomes a lifetime of small moments that add up to make something enormous.” from Taking Notes: A Love Story


I’m proud of myself.

Proud that last week I finally mustard the courage to write about love. A  subject I have skirted for years.



Like I told you, I always knew I would marry Cindy. Just one look and I knew with bone-certainty it was love. Soul mates. Kindred spirits. Whatever you want to call us, I always knew we were fated to be together, build a life together.

However, there’s been a problem swirling in human DNA since the reign of the ancient Greeks. When Oedipus challenged fate, lost, and naturally, carved his eyes out.

It’s an inherited belief that with a certain mix of age and experience we think we’re strong enough, smart enough, and tough enough to best fate.

During my senior year of college, I read Kerouac’s “On the Road” for the first time. His images of the unfurling freedom waiting for him out on the glinting asphalt of the open road were intoxicating.

At the same time I also realized I wanted to be a writer.

Drinking beer, listening to Pink Floyd, I fancied images of heading west, attending grad school in some big university, rubbing elbows with famous writers, moving to a big city, leasing an overpriced one-bedroom loft and scoring a job as a sports journalist.

I knew I wanted a writing life. But I thought I wanted a writing life on the road. A life to offer me the excitement that my current life lacked.

I felt confined. Trapped by my small private college, my hometown and everyone in it. Including Cindy.

I thought I wanted more.

I’m not proud of myself.

I remember, as I entertained a sports journalism life, how much of an asshole I was to Cindy. How reckless I was with our relationship.

As she sat on her bed in her dorm room, white Christmas lights snaking across the joint of wall and ceiling, I told her she was holding me back.

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.

I yelled at Cindy.

I told her after graduation I was heading west. I was going to be a sports journalist. I wanted a life on the road, going to games, sleeping in hotels and writing stories. So I invented a life that a 22 year old man would likely invent for himself. Exciting, mobile, and bursting with possibilities.

When I told her to let me go she sat on the edge of the bed and cried.

When I told her it was over she protested and I grew angry and stormed out of her room and marched down to my dorm and got drunk with Pink Floyd.

When you get a chance, I highly recommend reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

It’s by far the most soul-cleansing book I have ever read.

Early in the novel the alchemist explains to a young shepard, Santiago, that all people are born with a Personal Legend.

That your Personal Legend is your destiny. It’s the person you were born to be.

According to Coelho, children are very much aware of their Personal Legend. Whether it’s writing, painting, fixing, building, singing or rodeo clowning children know, even if they lack the ability to explain it, that by pursuing their Personal Legend they will reach spiritual enlightenment and earthy happiness.

But we grow up.

And not in a good way.

We question our Personal Legend. Our passions turns bitter.  We start to value opinions over the intrinsic truths that were once as tangible as flesh.

We adopt shiny, plastic notions of happiness because they are easy to assemble and sell at cocktail parties.

We distance ourselves from our Personal Legend, leave it behind like a broken Chevy on the side of the open road and sink into a life we will soon come to despise.

Many years ago I was reckless with my relationship with Cindy. Too scared to accept my Personal Legend.  Too self-adsorbed to recognize that Cindy and I share the same Personal Legend.

Thankfully, she was not.

Sometimes she’ll read my work and laugh. Sometimes she’ll cry. Sometimes she’ll, as Springsteen once wrote, “laugh and cry in a single sound.”

Sometimes she’s quiet. Sometime she hugs me and smiles. A smile that reminds me of what I have and what I almost lost.

It’s evening and I’m writing this at our kitchen table. The table is strewn with the kid’s homework and half-filled cups and credit card bills and it’s marked with a splatter of forgotten spaghetti sauce that is beginning to harden.

There’s nothing exciting about scene. It’s painfully pedestrian. Epically suburban. It’s the complete opposite of where I wanted to be when I was 22.

But I’m happy now. I’m home.

I’m right where I need to be.

Be well,

Jay