Sunday, October 1, 2017

There are few things in modern American culture that are as instantly humiliating and emasculating as realizing you're a man that is about to begin crying on the sidewalk while on the phone.

I should back up.

Earlier this year, I split up with E.*,  the woman that I had thought I would marry.  This was preceded by probably six months of increasing unhappiness for both of us, probably catalyzed by her loss of a job that had been a stressful and upsetting place for her to work, but was a decent paycheck nonetheless.  I found out that E. had just been laid off while on a 12-hour layover in Peru, on my way to a guitar project, which in retrospect is fitting.

*E. is not her initial, but her actual initial makes this really confusing.

I'm not sure that it's useful, or even interesting, to recount ephemera or minutiae or anything specific about the last three months.  There were fights:  some of them more bitter than others, and some of them higher in stake than others.  But as anyone who has lived with their significant other will confirm, they almost always begin as small disagreements about matters that are uninteresting, even to the two people involved.  Listening to anyone recount an argument with their spouse or someone close can be tedious, as the opening statements are usually banal.  But what really distinguishes the big ones is the sheer velocity in which they move from banality to extremely serious.

I wouldn't doubt that you could just throw up a decibel meter and watch it like that.

The tipping point was in January, after leaving a trade show and picking her up at the airport.  The ensuing argument--utter bewilderment at my lack of caring, utter bewilderment at the anger directed at me--were the beginning of a long slide down.  I felt horrible about her not working, about not having an outlet for... anything, it seemed, but every new argument made me clam up.  I withdrew further, which frustrated her and made her even more likely to push hard for any sort of reaction from me, which made me withdraw even more.

There was one argument where she complained, justifiably, that I drove her car to and from work and I just took it for granted, while she was stuck at home.  After this, I immediately began taking the bus, because I wanted her to have the car--it was her car, after all.  This meant leaving for work at 6:00 am, and arriving home usually around 7:30 or 8:00 at night.  Even more isolation for both of us, and I was exhausted by the time I got home, so I maybe got another three hours of awake time before I began passing out.

One night, I woke up to E. crying next to me in bed and trying not to wake me up.  I pulled her close, because I missed her, and it felt horrible, and I didn't understand anything that was going on.  I wonder how many other nights I missed that.

I couldn't bear the fighting.  Especially with someone that I love, my habit when in an argument is always to assume an air of rationality, to try and meet in the middle, or at least be conciliatory.  And as the arguments ceased to be about different opinions on music and culture and started to really turn into really serious discussions about the state of us, and as the stakes rose higher and higher, I began to answer ever more slowly.  E. would ask a question that I wanted to give an honest and good answer to, something personal about us, and I would take one or two minutes to respond, or longer, because I would take every possible answer I could give and assess everything, in order to come up with a carefully constructed and non-inflammatory answer.  I constantly failed to understand that E. just wanted me to show some sort of emotion and just react.  It was not unusual for her to call me a robot, at this point.  But then, I had become so unresponsive, just as a matter of trying to not set her off, that this was sort of an accurate statement.

About two weeks before it actually happened, and I don't remember what had happened that night, but it was very late, I was drunk and extremely tired, and E. had been pushing me on what was going on with us very hard, on whether we were coming apart.  I confessed that it had been on my mind, and in my state, I remember using the words, "... bring it to a soft close."

Like pouring gasoline on a fire.  Instantly my things began moving out of the bedroom, and she began packing things left and right and yelling everything she could think of at me.  I panicked, because all I wanted was for it to stop, and was trying to make it stop, and why wouldn't she stop, and, "E., I'm sorry.  Please.  Can we try couples' therapy?"

In that moment, I really did want to try therapy.

But we never went.  The pressure had been released, and was taken off for about a week or so, and we just started to build up again.

I wish we'd gone, at least once.

At this same time, E. had been going to job interviews, and things were suddenly looking up for her, professionally.  She had several good interviews, and had one particularly good prospect in front of her.

The night before she would find out whether she got the job or not, I came home from work, to a meal that E. had made, which tasted good.  The subject of organic vs. non-organic food came up, GMO vs. non-GMO, and within minutes, after I'd taken a moment to look something up to verify what she'd said, I watched as the same ugly fighting cranked up in front of me, like someone had just pushed a button, and we stepped helplessly into the same bitter arguing, completely automatically, unable to stop ourselves.

The next night, I cried on the bus back home, knowing that she'd gotten the job.  I walked into the apartment, sat on the bed, and told her, "I think I have to move out."

Everything moved very quickly after that.  I spent most of the night pulling stuff together as E. locked the bedroom door.  The next night, I bought boxes to put everything in, and E. and I talked and sort of argued, as I began packing the boxes, and she asked if we were just taking a break, and I couldn't answer that.  Same as the night before, I slept on the couch as E. locked the bedroom door.

That was the last time I saw her.  The next night, I finished packing, but she stayed at a friend's house.  And the night after that, my last night in the apartment, she wouldn't come home, which I have always regretted.

I couch-hopped for the next month, and eventually landed in a place in West LA.  There were some text conversations, arguments, and discussions of feelings.  But no voice conversations.  I sent her money, because she'd said that I'd used her and dropped her when it was convenient, which wasn't true, but I could see how things would seem like that.  I didn't initiate any more conversations, but I was very clear when I told her that I wouldn't shut her out, ever.  We both acknowledged that we needed a cooling off period.  She was furious and angry and felt betrayed by me, and I felt horrible and terrible about myself.

We haven't spoken in five, almost six months.

I hated being told that I didn't love her.  Not just because it was not, and is not, true, but also because it was so hard for me to express anymore, and because I was hurt as well, and being called a robot and uncaring and unfeeling were in such opposition to what my experience was.  I never admitted that I didn't love her because I couldn't admit a lie.

-------

The bottom dropped out, this past week, and the crushing sense of loss landed hard, finally.  The past six days have been a miasma of intense self-hatred and doubt and anger and a single desperate question that has kept me awake and mostly not eating.  Being able to rationalize an answer is different from really knowing the answer, and not having anyone to talk to and measure out and discuss things with will really just turn acute emotion into a toneless and awful feedback loop.

Finding myself in conversation with my old teacher, V., we exchanged pleasantries and caught up a bit, and then he pushed straight into "so why did you really call?"

I was honestly surprised to find out that the breakup of his marriage and the breakup of our relationship were very similar, though his was a much more drawn-out affair.  And, after reminding me of the five stages of grief, he mentioned that he was also beginning to experience something of the same thing I was entering into:  after all the logistical matters of how to separate have been taken care of, and you've actually done the work, and you can finally come to a rest, you'll usually find that... you have to face the loss.  It's there, and it always was there, but this is your life now.  It's different than it was before.

I said that I had known it was going to be hard, and that at the time, I was fully convinced that it was the only just thing to do, that it was the kindest thing I could do.  Going back to that night, I had seen us fighting about GMO foods and realized that it was totally automatic and beyond our control, and knew that I had to do it either right then, or the time would pass, and a year later we'd really have to do it and end up in much worse condition.

It was about here that I mentioned that I was really having trouble having compassion for the person that had brought about such disruption.

"Compassion for who, for yourself?"
"Yes, I--"
"Stop.  You don't get to judge yourself for your actions."  And V. proceeded to point out that the only reason I'd brought about that disruption was because of a much bigger disruption, and that if this was what I had to do to preserve my sanity, then that was fine.

"Listen, I've known you for a while, and you're a good person, and you're a very caring person, and I know that it wasn't what you wanted to do.  But you did it, and you can't keep beating yourself up over it.  You did your best."

Even now, writing this up brings tears to my eyes.  That single desperate question that has been burning in my mind, both this past week and for some months now, has been, "Am I good?"  It's like that terrible imposter feeling:  even if you get the job, someone's going to figure out that you're not really able to do it.  I wanted to be good.

After this, V. said that it's not a black-and-white thing, and that there is a process that has to be undertaken.  There is now a void where something once was, and it would be good to stay with that void, instead of trying to fill it again.  That's a difficult process, but ultimately it's where creativity resides.

A few more pleasantries, and a suggestion that I check in sooner rather than later, and we both hung up.

And I walked inside to get some doughnuts.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Recounting - Following Up

Last night:  On the bus, having felt miserable all day, I realize I am going to go running when I get home.  I haven't run in months, and I haven't run regularly in years.  There is a part of me that is really strongly resistant to it, like there is with everybody, but my ego is weirdly tied up with this.  Having a treadmill would be so much easier.

There is a certain velocity to my thoughts when I've decided to do something.  This is a recognizable, reliable, and repeated observation for me.

Onto the street.  This area is not conducive to running, especially with toe-shoes.  But there is enough grass to cheat on that it's not complete murder on my feet.

About fifteen or twenty minutes in, I'm timing my breathing to be in for four steps, out for four steps.  The thought goes by to switch this up to five steps each, but I wave that away; this is already enough of a challenge for me without making it absurd for myself.  I realize that I can be okay with baby steps, and SBC's voice in my head says exactly that:  "Baby steps."

At about this point, I also realize that my breathing is highly syncopated, because I'm hearing it.  The impact of my feet on the ground is jolting me enough that it's effecting the in-breath, so it's a very jagged intake.  "Fixing it" isn't an option.  All I can really do is watch it.  And it cleans up eventually, but it doesn't seem surprising or amazing.  Just that it became more relaxed, less jagged, less labored.

Eventually I arrive home.  Some cool-down stretching, along with some internal self-judging.

Perhaps more surprising is that I will go for a run, the next night.  But at this moment, I don't know that.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A week's recounting - Day "I skipped a few"

As is usually the case, I skipped a few.  It's been a heavy week, though.

Was asked by my new roommates if I would be able to front an extra half-month of rent, since apparently my sublease date range is offset from the actual apartment's lease rate.  This is awkward.

An eruption in the family is threatening to really pull the unit apart, and I am caught in the middle, feeling not unlike what I imagine it must be for a diplomat for the US to feel in peace talks between Israel and Palestine, with both sides wrong in their ways, and both sides utterly convinced of their own purity of cause.

A moment from the other night:  I am listening to a family member tell me what she thinks of another member of the family, and how he has caused her a deeply felt offense that she does not feel she can forgive him for.  I point out that forgiving him is utterly necessary, and that as offensive as he may be, it will still be best to forgive him, and to tell him about his offenses without judgment--a tall order, I acknowledge.  The answer to this is that yes, she can forgive him on a personal level, but that for the sake of everyone else that his words offend, she can't forgive him on a grander scale.  It is about here that her arguments begin to be supplanted by slogans, and that I feel I am doing nothing except wasting energy.

The weekend was generally fine.  I half-summoned the courage to ask someone out on a sort-of-date, but this did not quite happen, which ultimately was probably for the better.  It does not change the fact that I continue to have a really serious problem about this.

Nellie McKay on Saturday evening:  delightful.  Absolutely wonderful.

Sunday night:  possibly the most unexpected and flagrant display of misogyny I've been party to in a very long time.  So bad that I thought it was a joke, but the weirdly aggressive driving (this was an Uber ride) really demonstrated that it was not a joke.  I may have cost someone a job by complaining about it, and I actually feel a little bit not-great about that, but I think it was the right thing to do.

Back at work today:  the continued feeling of fraudulence continues to continue, even though I know I am doing a good job.  In any case:  our warehouse manager has put in his two weeks, which means that work will become more difficult again for my boss and myself, as we'll probably begin to trade off on days in Oxnard.  This makes needing a car even more imperative than before.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A week's recounting: Day 3

Up early again this morning.  Hard.  And tomorrow morning will be the same.

Arrival at work was more straightforward.  Still sat on the bus.  My foot's bothering me as well.

Work is still fairly busy, in small ways.  The end-of-month crush is gone, so the pressure is mostly gone, but there are still a fair number of things to keep up with.

More internal nerves.

Home again, home again.  A fair amount of nothing, some practicing, and then a conversation that completely soured me on this apartment.  If I hadn't already been planning to leave, that would have completely flipped my decision.

A bit of car-shopping afterward, fairly ruined by that conversation.  And re-discovery of a very old recording of me, when looping was a thing I did a lot.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A week's recounting - Day 2

Ended up watching Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" last night, and was awake far too late.  But this was another fun movie to watch, and gave me a genuine surprise.  Very well shot, very well told.  It makes me wonder if it's possible to see a bad Nolan movie.

Up quite early this morning, and out the door before 7:30.  Planned to sit on the bus, which I did, but just barely--the bus was very late.  Still arrived at work around 8:30, even allowing for a stop by the coffee shop across the street, which yielded one of the worst espressos I've ever had.  Just yesterday I was thinking about how I can almost always drink coffee, no matter how bad it is.  This was beyond the limit.  The taste was at least as bad as the smell, and the smell was inexcusable.  But the woman that is usually working the counter is always very nice, so it gets a pass.

Into work, with a few small tasks to address.  It's the first day of the month, which usually means there's a lot to follow up on, but it's very quiet this morning--perhaps this is in preparation for the meeting at 11:30am.  Still, I'd prefer to see a bit more action, as there are some large tasks that are looming, but can't be moved forward until I have more info from some customers.  So I have to make up busywork to distract myself, which makes me jittery.

Something else that makes me jittery:  receiving e-mails from a specific party that I like receiving e-mails from.  It never fails.  And it always spurs a bit of self-loathing.

Meeting for everyone at headquarters to go over the 1st quarter.  Just a little on the long side, but not too wonky (though it was close).  Some discussion of numbers and company topics, a group pic, and a chance to play the first USA jumbo prototype.  An oddly bright guitar:  the strings were completely fresh, but even allowing for this, the guitar was jangly.  But it played well.  I'd like to hear the guitar with a thinner top, or darker strings.

Ran out to get lunch, bumped into a couple people from work.  One asked about my girlfriend, and I had to politely correct him.

An afternoon spent on the same Monday things as usual.  Leaving work a little late, and chatting with the owner for a brief moment.  Homeward bound.

Arriving at home around 8pm.  Chatted a bit with one of my roommates, and then changing strings (trebles only) on my flamenco guitar, specifically to try out some new strings I got my hands on (Aquila Granato strings).  Initial impression is pleasant, but we'll see how they are tomorrow night.  Began watching Parks and Rec while I'm doing this.

Typical FB browsing, some diarizing, and to sleep at midnight.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A week's recounting - day 1

Woke up this morning fairly early--I always leave my alarm set for the same time(s) every day, to keep myself running  on the same schedule.  This way, if I get to sleep in, it really is a personal choice.

Went back to sleep for a bit, but was back awake after maybe 45 minutes.  Laid about for a good long while, doing the usual FB/IG/whatever my current phone game preference is, and was finally out of bed around 9am.  Into the shower.  It's Sunday, so I'm taking my time.

An unusually powerful sex dream from yesterday morning is still lingering in my head; they always begin to show up when I'm not active, but this one was a bit of a doozy.  It's always some person I have known, even if the physical resemblance isn't completely there.  But this one had a pretty bizarre bit of body contortion, even for a dream, so when I woke up, there was an extra bit of confusion about the whole affair.

In any case:  out of the shower, and back into my room in this new place for a longer sitting than I've been allowing myself.  A full circuit from the eyes to the soles of the feet, back up, and into the 60 points.  Still getting distracted on the way down, the way up, and the way around, but that will always be there.  I currently have a habit of completing the 60 points and immediately moving into activity, instead of staying with the feeling of completion, but part of this is definitely because I'm regularly sitting on the bus.  Driving down to SM from the valley did have me sitting in the apartment before doing anything, so this is yet another good reason to get a vehicle.

Out of my room, to the kitchen; one roommate was coming in from the "porch" as I walked into the kitchen area.  A couple of pleasantries, and she went into her room.  The other roommate came out as I was beginning to prepare breakfast, needing to remember the name of a waltz (Strauss's "Blue Danube"), and immediately went back into her room to continue working, once she had the answer.

Breakfast was eggs with sauteed vegetables and toast.  The onions and mushrooms turned out very well, as did the eggs.  Espresso from a moka (purchased yesterday).

Back into the room.  Quick sorting of laundry, removal of sheets from the bed, and into laundry mode, browsing various websites for the first portion, and practicing for the second.  The dryer in this apartment doesn't quite want to work completely, so this ended up taking much longer.

Late in the afternoon:  laundry is done, and I've briefly considered heading to the office to grab one of my guitars so that I can restring it with a set I hadn't expected to find, but ultimately I think I just want to get some food.  A quick check to see where the closest WF is--a little over a mile away--and out onto the street.  I don't realize it at first, but this route takes me into Beverly Hills, past several high-end car dealerships.

Eventually, I reach one of the more strangely laid-out WF I've been in.  It's something of a nightmare to navigate, but lunch/dinner is acquired, and I allow myself a cupcake and some kombucha.  The last time I had some, I was weirdly able to feel the alcohol, but not this time.

On the way back, the sun isn't nearly as intense, and I find myself walking past a very ritzy motel, a very expensive restaurant, and the same car dealerships, all of which help me to realize just where I am.  The sheer money involved is enough to get me a little riled, especially when I start to actually read the pricetags and fuel (non)efficiency ratings of the cars.  Crazy--just completely crazy.

Back to the apartment.  More browsing, more thinking about the movie I watched yesterday (Colossal), some video games.  More wine, as well.

Diarizing, and into bed around 11pm.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Possibilities

Tonight is the last night that I am sleeping in a house that is not mine, or that is not my residence.  I have been couch-surfing, staying in various residences (only three different ones, really), while waiting for a sublet to open up.  As these things always turn out, the charity of others is astonishing and humbling, as is the extent of providence.

This morning:  I am leaving this house and walking down a sort of side-road in the Palisades, down towards the bus.  Less coffee than is normal for me at breakfast, but good conversation.

At this point, the time is about a quarter of noon.  The weather is in that unusual place where it's neither too hot or cold, the only breeze is what's felt as one walks down the road, and the sky is an unblemished blue.  I've just exchanged some text messages with a very good friend, one that I have trusted for an awfully long time, and one who I heard speaking to another person on the phone, a couple of nights before.  The level of care in her voice towards this person was remarkable, and this has me thinking about recent events in my own life, as well as a choice that I still feel obligated to feel some guilt over, though this guilt is likely irrational.

As I pass some tennis courts, it comes to mind that for the first time in some months, I have a sense of openness about me, but openness with a direction to it.  There is a distinct lightness to this.  Within a few seconds, I begin to think that perhaps I should not feel this, as there are still some material obligations to be discharged.  Perhaps this lightness, this lack of concern for the future, is a manifestation of some latent immaturity that I still haven't managed to work out of myself, though certainly I am not using so many words in the moment.  A clear tinge of guilt creeps in.

And then almost immediately dissipates again:  I am fully aware of the air on my skin, the pleasantness of the weather.  I also note that, it's not quite a spring, but a sense of propulsion to my stride:  I have something that I can look forward to.

The sense of personal judgment also fades a bit, and by the time I've reached the bus stop, I feel more like my full height and span.

jbh