Category Archives: Philosophy

I fucked up

Hey dad, I fucked up. I spit in the face of True Love, and I lost my girl. I didn’t care for the movie “High Fidelity,” but I am experiencing some facsimile of it, with an uncertain ending.

I see that I mentioned this breakup as some minor sub-point in my last email, but it’s really eating me alive. I’m really committed to my fitness and my work, but I’ve thought things like, “Great, so I can be all ripped and rich and alone.” I didn’t mean to lose my girl, and when I add it all up, I just don’t think we should be apart anymore; none of the reasons seem very compelling to me. Moreover, we ran into one another last Sunday (not yesterday), and it was just so romantic. I was sure we would immediately back together, but she texted me two days later informing me otherwise. Now, it appears we’re back to her pretending I don’t exist, and my pretending that’s OK.

I feel so confused. I miss her so much, but she made it sound like she’s making a good use of her time and developing herself and her interests. I’m happy for her, but I just love her and hate being without her. Ostensibly, she’s distraught that I’m a decade older than her (now that we’ve been together 2-3 years…), but in reality, I’m in pretty much excellent shape for anyone of any age. Not to mention, as you taught me, we never know how long life will go. That reaper is always lurking.

Anyway, I have remained steadily focused on my fitness and recovery from my spasms/pain/neck thing and on my work. I have been going to boxing once or twice a day — it’s a fierce workout! I finally went back to yoga the other day, which I used to think was hard work, and it was like…boring. It was good, though. I needed to stretch and slow down. Plus, I wanted to send my girl a video of me descending the stairs so she’d know I went back to class: Another point of contention was that I had quit going to yoga right when she had moved her membership back to our shared studio. She still goes there but not the same location as me.

When she broke up with me in May and didn’t talk to me for a month, I was crushed. I saw where we had fallen into a handful of bad habits that didn’t foster a loving and caring relationship. For instance, she had invited me to visit her parents, and I just didn’t feel like adjusting my routines for a few days. I mean, COME ON! I just needed light encouragement, maybe. Or maybe I needed to be dumped so that I could reflect on all my little shortcomings and missteps. When we got back together in June, I really tried to show her how much I love her, but I also saw us fall back into the same patterns right away. I wish I had been more cautious in getting involved again, but within two weeks, she was falling asleep on my couch, while I stayed up late studying. But, I mean, what’s so bad about that? I miss having her asleep on my couch. If she were here, I’d be snuggling her, not writing to my dead dad. I am almost certain that would be more fulfilling.

Anyway, that’s not an option right now, and I feel pretty much like out of hope and like I just wasn’t good enough at being in a loving relationship to deserve one. And I feel like I was so fortunate to have my girl, but now she’s gone. And though just the other day, she_felt_ like my girl and _talked_ like my girl and _acted_ like my girl, she “has decided that we should not be together.” And maybe I’m parsing words too closely, but the whole thing feels like intentionally depersonalized to make it more palatable for herself. And that just seems so wrong and unromantic. I want to be with her because I love her, and I love her because of the totality of whom she is to me and whom I am with her–everything else is just details. Right? If we can’t have romantic relationships based on unadulterated desire, what’s the point of any of this?

Man, I didn’t mean to ramble about all this, but here we are.

Dad, dad. Dad. It’s too bad you got yourself killed, but I see how easy that shit is. Especially when you DON’T ADEQUATELY ASSESS RISK AND VERIFY CONTROLS. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you caused the problem or failed to prevent the accident while we were in flight, but man, we just let some rando airport mechanic work on it. You really should have taken any aberrant engine behavior or unexpected sounds more seriously. Of course, I only have that opinion deep into my career that heavily involves assessing risk and examining risk mitigation strategies. I have you to thank for all this, dad. Left to my own devices, I think I would have liked to be a cartoonist or professional rockhound or some other sensitive boy job. But I was so young so who knows.

All I know for sure is that the one constant in my life has been the experience of traumatic loss. And maybe redemption and recovery; still working on those. But I know the feeling of losing love so well, and I was just thinking the other day that I feel like maybe I didn’t get adequate attention following the accident, leading me to alienating myself by just separating myself from the group to go listen to my walkman (discman by then, of course). I think this was my way of crying for help or for some kind of connection or respite or solace, but I feel like it was [reasonably] perceived by any group to be more or less anti-social behavior, to be avoided. Thus exacerbating my experience of alienation.

And don’t get me wrong, I grew up in Texas, so I know that if I want to belong, it’s up to me to assimilate. I’ve just never been excellent at all facets of assimilation. I will do my best to perform academically or athletically, but I’m not typically inclined to join in on the social activities. I’m too tall and weird for being part of anything. I became a loner, but I do know how to love–with my heart. I don’t know how to break it all down into matrices for quantitative analysis. I only know how to love with my heart and to want to be with the person I love, but I’ve tended to not take romantic relationships very seriously as long-term vehicles. I’ve figured my partner would really get to know me and get tired of me being the way I am, which I guess has now happened. But now I see that a lot of the way I was being was just …preoccupied.

Ever since this godforsaken neck spasm thing began, it has held the majority of my attention span captive. It’s hard to ignore intense pressure in the middle of my neck/head/shoulders that obstructs my breathing and frequently causes a visible jerk in my larynx. But I’ve been working like a motherfucker to get rid of it. Today, the teller at the bank asked, “May I ask you a personal question?” “Sure, I replied.” She proceeded to ask how I “stay so fit.” I told  her I exercise a lot, and when she asked how I could have the discipline, I explained that I have had a chronic pain condition that really only abates when I’m moving and warm. I struggle to sleep, but when I’m about 20-30 minutes into a boxing class, I’m like fully alive.

This past decade has been very challenging for me, physically. It was just about exactly 10 years ago that I had “the incident” and began having this feeling that something was wrong inside. And while the pain and bad feelings still linger, I feel like I have come along way. I used to feel so hopeless and spend hours on my heating pad every day. I used to know life was passing me by while I lay on my floor or in bed, feeling scared that I was slowly rotting away, going from appointment to appointment, from PTs to chiropractors to neurologists to rolfers to osteopaths and round and round and round.

In 2015, after my last girlfriend finally broke up with me (for totally legitimate reasons), I finally started going to yoga, pretty much daily, and it started me on a path of rebuilding confidence in my body. Very slowly. Man. I think about how I would like feel that I was making progress and looking good, but I was also so easily scared and rattled. And it wasn’t just in my head! One day in class, I lost my voice doing an updog. I felt something sorta snap in my throat, and I was limited to a whisper for several days.

I know my girl was eventually put off by the way I have become as a result of living with this condition and the limitations I impose on my life because of it. I know it’s made me boring, and that shit breaks my heart. I’m so proud of myself for being dedicated to getting well that I have become totally preoccupied with physical fitness, because I still have the spasms. And I *still* feel like only exercise opens me up a little bit to where I can calm down (or have a parasympathetic response, as my trainer puts it).

At the same time, I really like being active. I don’t love that I have had to suffer for years to have this appreciation for my body and physical fitness, but I think a threat to my ability to exist and move comfortably has been a highly motivating force in my life. I have learned so much about biomechanics and patience and just everything. I feel like I merit great love and satisfaction in life, and I guess that’s why I feel like I *get* the love and then burn through it, by being too much of a burden, even though I sincerely put in my best effort. But I know I could have done better. You can always do better, try harder.

I fucked up.

Hey dad

Hey dad, how’s it going? It’s weird to write you, on account of your being dead and all, but I just wanted to say hi. It’s been just over 26 years since you’ve died, and it’s just been hard for me to let it go.

This year, I really wanted to talk to you, to let you know what my life is like, but it’s weird because if you were around for me to tell you about my life, it wouldn’t be anything like it is. It’s funny because I remember you as like a fun and happy-go-lucky kinda guy. You seemed really smart to me, back when I was a boy, but I bet I’d judge your intellect as less impressive now. I’d probably judge a lot about you because I judge everything–everything and everyone. The day you died was the most formative single day in my life. Up until then, I was a privileged little jerk. Like you identified months before your passing, back when I was in 7th grade, I was not on a great path. I just wanted to be cool and to like work as hard as I needed in order to get A’s and B’s or whatever. But when you died, I immediately had to navigate many more complexities of life, and the experience of grappling with your passing really taught me a lot about taking care of myself and the importance of pursuing my interests and passions.

I have so much more I want to say, but it’s almost midnight. I’ve been trying to get to sleep ….well, I haven’t… I’ve been *meaning* to get to sleep earlier, but I keep on staying up working until 2 or 3 am. I’m so tired from sleeping so little, and I’m additionally just exhausted from dealing with chronic pain for years. It’s this whole thing I don’t really have the time to explain right now. Maybe I’ll write more later, but for now I should get going.

I should thank you, though. Leaving aside the sorta sad lessons you taught me by going off and getting yourself killed, you and mom really gave me a great childhood; one that allowed me to be a privileged little jerk for several years. Moreover, you helped foster my interests and helped me develop into a critical thinker. I remember all the times you or Jimmy used to drive me to the city library after school so I could navigate the Dewey Decimal System and the card catalog to write random-ass research papers. I think back often to how that speech class that taught me how to make outlines was one of the best pedagogical experiences I ever had, and I attribute my command of outlines and my thoughtfulness to the support you showed me by dropping me off to pursue my independent studies. That was really a great experience, and I wish I had a way to show you all my accomplishments and challenges and everything so you could see that I have really done my best to make something of myself, despite significant challenges along the way.

I miss you and wish you had lived. I was always afraid I’d lose you, and I lost you the worst way a person can lose. I really wish you had been more careful.

p.s. my girlfriend dumped me like the day after the anniversary of your death. She was great,  and I miss her. Unfortunately, I think some of the effects of losing you have stuck with me and made it harder for me to like “share a life.” Plus, this chronic pain thing I mentioned is really a downer for people who feel comfortable inside their bodies. I’ve been working for 9 years to get out of pain, and I’ve made some progress….but it’s slow. Unlike my many digressions, which come so easily. Take care of yourself, dad.

 

Spiritual Warfare

Just now, I watched a youtube video linked from a front-page Reddit post entitled “Monster Energy drinks are the work of Satan.”  I expected it to be a video explaining the perils of diets comprised of synthetic preservatives and sugars, for instance, but the video actually featured an apparently midwestern white lady explaining the semiotics of the Monster energy drink branding and its mockery and disparagement of the Christian God.

I hopped down into the comments to feel the satisfaction of knowing I’m on the same side as the Internet’s peanut galleries, and I almost immediately came across a comment that sent triggers up my spine:

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Although I grew up in a reasonably churchy household–and although our church was both protestant and even included “Evangelical” in its title(!), I was only rarely exposed to fire and brimstone in my own churchgoing experience.  Indeed, the only memories I really have of hearing threats of hell and damnation from people in my church as a child were typically other kids trying to scare each other or adults trying to enforce discipline.  Apart from those sorts of incidents, the most off-putting teaching I can really remember learning from my own church was that dogs don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls.  Frankly, I think the pastor was talking out of turn by being so presumptuous, but maybe he learned soul-detection in seminary and is just not at liberty to disclose practices and methods.  But I digress.

What I’m getting at here is that, while I grew up in a house where church and Sunday School attendance were both compulsory on a weekly basis, the point of church seemed to be about being part of a community rather than top-down moral authority.  In fact, I reflect on the church of my childhood as not even having a particularly in-group focus:  there was no special process for receiving communion for visitors, and I recall pretty much every event having some focus on expanding and developing the community.  Obviously, this agenda isn’t all smiles and rainbows, as it’s precisely what fuels missionary work, but it’s important to thoroughly contextualize my own religious upbringing; when I was a boy, prior to the death of my father, I sincerely wanted to be a good Christian.  I can remember reading Proverbs in bed one Saturday night, yearning to be more insightful and/or righteous and/or decent and/or whatever else I was supposed to derive from solemnly poring over so-called ancient wisdom.  I did this, not to escape any pain or to find salvation so much as because I’d been raised to admire and respect my elders, who appeared to understand life and who showed up weekly to …sing about it and drink coffee, I guess.

All this brings us to 1992.

And actually, I bet that Saturday night I spent reading Proverbs was also 1992…  Maybe that was around the time that I had discovered I really liked NWA.  My Muslim friend had made me a tape of I-forget-what, but Side B of this tape contained about half of Niggaz4Life, which quickly became a favorite lawn-mowing cassette of mine.  And if I can guess about my mental state at the time, I probably felt conflicted about liking such vulgar music (don’t matter just don’t bite it) while also feeling a commitment to Jesus, his teachings, and the general level of decorum and respectability I saw in the church community–these were people putting on their Sunday best and getting together to pay homage to their creator and to sing and laugh and dote on their associates’ babies; it was a million miles–no, a hundred miles and runnin’–away from the world NWA described.

NWA, of course, wasn’t the first rap group I’d heard or liked.  I think maybe I started getting steered towards rap in summer camp between 3rd and 4th grade, when I first heard Milli Vanilli.  Sigh.  My first “real” rap tape, though, came around Christmastime in 1989; my dad took my brother and me to the music/bookstore, and I picked up a calligraphy book and Young MC’s “Stone Cold Rhymin'” album.  It was great.  Then, in the spring of fourth grade, I was elated to pick up a copy of MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em.”  These two tapes quickly became my long-distance running soundtracks, as I trained to set the record for most laps completed annually in my local elementary school’s once-every-other-week running program.  Oh shit, I’m getting way off-course.

So Summer 1992.  Here we are:  it’s the summer before I start junior high, which entails all kinds of social changes both in school and in church.  First of all, the junior high has “socials,” which are school dances outside of school hours.  Secondly, many church youth groups begin the process of “confirmation” around the same age (and, at my childhood church at least, also had after-hours dances).  In preparation for all this, I would be going away for a week to a Lutheran camp with the rest of my church youth group.  In addition to this, because I had a good friend who was Episcopalian and who spoke highly of his own church camp, I would first be going away for a week with his church youth group.  For me, this was (I think) the first week away from home since 1989, when I spent a week at Spanish camp, and I was pretty excited about it.

When my friend and I finally got unloaded at his camp, I was feeling enthusiastic but also felt a little stressed at first, since I didn’t know all of the prayers and songs that his people knew by heart; I remember reading from the song book while most everyone else expressively sang along to these songs they already knew.  Still, the camp experience was fun, and I would even go so far as to say it seemed a little more adult than my own church youth group and camp experiences.  For instance, they watched Jaws as a group, whereas at my church camps, pop culture seemed to be eschewed.  Also, I remember our camp counselor at my friend’s camp leading us to a girls’ cabin for us to serenade them, though he rejected “You’ve lost that loving feeling” in favor of something more benign and circumstance-appropriate.  Maybe this is just a bias of my perspective, but my feeling at the time and in recollection was that my friend’s church camp treated us early adolescents more as adults or at least beings of flesh and desire.  I found this conflicting at the time, because I simultaneously felt his church culture seemed to involve many more formalities than the one to which I was accustomed.

Once again, I’m just trying to establish context, because where his church’s camp diverged from my own religious experience, that shit got real fast.

A few nights into my experience at his camp, I first heard the term, “Spiritual warfare.”  The preacher who was running the camp, who dubbed himself, “Father Dog”–and who generally seemed like a fun guy, explained that at every moment of every day, God and Satan were fighting for our souls.  I remember feeling terrified by this (and also curious about how I might witness or experience this condition).  Father Dog had a right-hand man called Tim, if I recall correctly, and Tim was the life of the party–a very fun guy who would wear silly hats and sing in silly voices and generally loosen up the campers, making people feel comfortable away from home.  Mostly.  There was a Muslim kid at the camp who had come with a friend, and I remember Tim giving him the third degree, wondering aloud why he’d even come to the camp given that he was a nonbeliever.  I remember wondering if I’d attract similar treatment for being Lutheran rather than Episcopalian, but (SURPRISE!) it never became an issue.

The camp continued to be fun for the rest of the week, but I remember a sense of momentum leading towards something.  On one of the later days of camp, we played a massive game of capture the flag on the sprawling camp grounds, which was great, but I remember finding it odd that some of the camp counselors had donned army face paint in order to blend in with the dark.  On another afternoon (maybe the same afternoon?), we had a massive shaving cream fight called “Bedlam,” a term I had to look up upon returning from camp.  The shaving cream and/or water balloon fight seems like a staple of church youth group activities, but I remember a greater sense of ritual than I’d ever experienced before.  Again, it felt like we were moving somewhere–towards something.

It must’ve been on the last night of camp that we were finally taken on the night hike.  They led us into the woods after dusk, and if I recall correctly, we were in groups holding on to ropes so that we could be led without seeing (poetry).  Early into our hike, one of the camp counselors who had been wearing army face paint during our game of capture the flag jumped out of a tree to startle us.  We continued forward into the woods.

During the last few days at camp, different people had been talking about rumors of “Pierre,” who ….did something with a chainsaw or something.  I forget the story, but I remember that gossip about “Pierre” had just emerged out of nowhere and suddenly had the talk of the campers, who were very interested in the details of his story and whether or not his ghost still lived in a cabin in the woods at the camp.

We continued hiking into the woods, and as we came upon a rotten, flimsy cabin in the woods, Tim and Father Dog were there.  Tim first told us the story of old Pierre and whatever he did with the chainsaw or axe or whatever and whatever happened with his ghost.  The story may or may not have ended with him or someone else making scary noises; I don’t recall.

Then it was Father Dog’s turn.

Father Dog proceeded to tell us the story of how he got his moniker.  You see, Father Dog had been traveling with his family when he was a young boy, when they encountered a bad storm while in an airplane.  If I recall correctly, it was a snow storm of some kind, and he wound up being tossed from the plane when a door opened mid-flight.  He fell to the ground, survived, and was cared for by a pack of wolves until authorities were able to find him several/many days later.

Even as I type this out, twenty-two years later, I can’t quite bring myself to call the story fake.  After all, within 13 months of hearing that story, I was in a plane crash, myself, and I freed myself from the wreckage to go find help; strange and unexpected things do happen, no doubt about it.  However, as I recall the totality of that camp experience — as I recall hearing this shit about spiritual warfare, it’s hard for me to accept this story on its face, simply because it appears to have been part of a regime for scaring people into faith (irony alert).  From the easygoing check-in through the late night ghost / survival stories, the camp experience seems to have fit a narrative of escalation–specifically an escalation of intensity and anxiety.  Much like the woman fearing the devil in Monster energy drink tries to do, these camp clerics seemed to manipulate us juvenile campers with their conviction and interpretations.

And so, after decades of contemplation, the best sense I’ve been able to make of anything is that when people roll up and start telling you how it is in your soul and how invisible symbols mean something sinister and this sort of thing–when people try to diminish your spirit with their wide-eyed warnings and judgments… *That* is spiritual warfare.