Backpack Lust

Your husband desperately wants a new and slightly larger backpack, one to replace the others.  Despite his most fervent efforts, he cannot come up with even the simplest reason to justify such a purchase. But, by god, he is still at it.  He might slowly be slipping into madness. At least he thinks he is.  His mental state is ping-ponging with so many tumultuous thoughts that the thought of replacing the backpacks he uses and does not use with just one seems incredibly freeing and completely logical.

What about the seemingly suitable backpack you got last year you ask?  Well, yes, that is a good one, but it could be just a little bigger and have a few more pockets. Wait. Selling a bunch of perfectly useful backpacks seems foolish.

That, my dear, is the plague of our consumeristic society which clearly has wormed its way into your husband’s brain telling him that this new shinier thing will make him feel better, subdue his depression.  His rational mind knows this is a basket of lies. But will you look! It has an integrated rain cover.   It is simplicity that drives this lust. Now that makes sense. Less is more!

Because the pack is larger, he figures that it is big enough for him to fit at least the top half of his body into it. This, to him, seems very useful for he can hide from the world when it all seems like too much. Which, he would like to add, is a regular occurrence as of late.   He really does feel as if he is going batty and thus is worried that all this talk about a new backpack is probably driving you batty as well. For heaven’s sake, he is writing in the third person, that alone has to be some sort of red flag. You should probably check to make sure it is not someone else writing this. Like another personality. That would be bad.

Now he has begun to barter and promises never to ask for another backpack as long as you both shall live.  Unless the bottom falls out of this one. But the company says they’ll replace or repair it even if it happened when you are both 90, well you’d be 91, and by then all he would be carrying in the backpack would be all of the pills you will both probably have to take, along with directions on how to get home, just in case. Perhaps some Ensure, hopefully not Depends, and a spare pair of agile dress socks.  Which he plans to wear pulled up to his knees with white Velcro sneakers, shorts, and his Indiana Jones Fedora simply because he can.

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Ingredients of a Dream

You believe the lies you’ve told yourself. Now that dream you held long ago has been pushed down, buried so deep that much of the time you forget that you ever had it.  When it rises to the surface, you release the excuses: I have no time, I don’t have the proper equipment or skills, I don’t have space, I live in the wrong part of the country or the world. When I’ve saved more, when the children are older, the list goes on.   It is easier this way, you tell yourself, as you continue to create a false narrative.

 

It’s all a load of malarkey.

 

What are your dreams? Big, small, simple or complex it does not matter.

A mohawk at forty, to walk to the end of the block, an Indiana Jones fedora, warrior chief tattoo, a camper van or a beach house. A job in a completely different field. To live abroad, to move out of your parents’ basement, to move into your parents’ basement.  Whatever the dream, no matter how big it is or how crazy your loved ones, friends or your second cousin Buck thinks it is, it does not matter.  It only matters that you stop dreaming, make a plan, and then make that plan a priority.

You don’t need to know every detail; a rough plan will do. Once you make it a priority take small steps. Do not decide after reading this that next week you are going to quit your job, sublet your apartment and move into your Yaris so that you can create your version of an Endless Summer.  You’ve hit the priority mark but you seem to have skipped over the planning and small steps piece.

It is going to be harder than you think. You’ve got to have determination, chutzpah. There are no overnight success stories. We just wish there were because we like instant gratification and overnight successes make for catchier news headlines.  There will be setbacks and failures, but you’ll need to keep going.

My father was fond of passing out No Whining mugs to people he worked with. He saw them as a reminder to buckle down and work hard. I have the one he kept at his office and I’ve been using it a lot lately as I once again work at my dream of making writing a priority. I also pull it out when the darkness of depression greets me first thing in the morning. A silent shot of encouragement.

The Letter

10358328_248852965318295_57029763_nAs the lugs of my sneakers bite into the soft earth of the trail, I begin to compose the letter they would read should I die. The wilderness wraps around me, the river calls to me–two old friends welcoming me back.  It is the letter telling them that I am now at peace because I have gone to our Heavenly Father.  Telling them to hold fast to the belief that I’ll always be with them, waiting for them. My heart leaps at the prospect of seeing my dad again–I list the places I want my ashes scattered, all the spots I’ve loved and we’ve loved together.  I tell them to have the kind of funeral party they want, encouraging a more joyous than dour one.

A mile on, standing in the middle of the suspension bridge that straddles the Big Branch, I watch the water weaving through car-sized boulders, cascading into a deep clear pool, and think how wonderful it would be to bring the boys here. My eyes flit to the spot along the shore where, when I was a boy, I camped with my dad and brother.  We slept in a maroon and tan tent that a few years later succumbed to the elements after being set up in the backyard for too long.

When I left for this run, I thought this would be a good place to die, a peaceful place. From the bridge, I pick out a rock to lie down on, and like the old tent, allow the elements to take me.

I call out to Dad, for at that moment I know he is there beside me. I can feel him; I can see his kind and understanding face. I tell him I don’t want to die. I know, he says. I miss you every day I tell him.  I know, he says. For the moment, the knowing comfort of his voice fills the void his death left in me.  No matter how hard it gets, I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  My eyes overflowing with tears, I continue on for another mile.  Here the river is wider and calmer. I stop for a moment wipe the salt streaks from my cheeks, take a few deep breaths and turn back.

As I draw nearer to the bridge, I think that if I committed suicide I wouldn’t deserve to see my father.  No matter how painful daily life gets, in killing myself I am only transferring my pain to the boys and Erin and that, in my eyes, is selfishness beyond forgiveness. I am red-lining with effort, vainly trying to outrun the darkness that threatens to consume me. But there is no way to do that. I slow my pace and let my old friends comfort me as I put one foot in front of the other.

The Art of Manliness

The house has been clutter free for two and half weeks! No, I did not ship the boys off to boarding school. I just happened to listen to a podcast (Number 214 from the Art of Manliness) with author Caroline Webb who wrote the book How to have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform your working life. It was a fascinating interview that touched on a lot of great ideas and changed the way I run the house and how I approach each day. Here is what I learned.

The rule of three. Not three strikes and you’re out. Rather, pick three things, yes, just three, that you want to get done in a given day and focus on those things above all others.  There is a good chance you’ll be so productive you’ll be able to do more than three things, so you should. The key is to not be too ambitious. For example, if you’re going to tackle cleaning the oven then don’t also put down washing the windows. On a given day I may have the following: clean bathrooms, sweep/mop floors, write

I always try to get some writing done during the day and by putting it on the list I am sure to at least get in thirty minutes to an hour.

Set your intentions. Think about what you are ultimately trying to achieve, and, for lack of a better term, write a mission statement. This seems like a rather odd thing to do for us stay-at-home types, but amazingly it makes a difference. It does not have to be anything fancyjust what you want to focus on an ongoing basis. I wrote mine in about five minutes and posted it on a note card by my desk.

Keep the house uncluttered and clean, be a writer. Model how a Christian man should act by living for Jesus, acting in his image and being selfless. Along with Erin work to provide for our family and bring a united front for the welfare of the household.

Plan for the fires. Not the kind were you get to roast s’mores but the ones that always seem to pop up when you have children. You do this by taking a moment to troubleshoot at the start of the day. For example, when one child has an epic meltdown as we are trying to leave for school I am simply going to go sit in the car and say serenity now, serenity now, over and over while sipping my coffee.

Do something physical. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Run, walk, hike bike, burpees, jumping jacks or yoga. Something to get your heart rate up.

Positively prime your mind. Think of positive outcomes more than negative ones and your mind will start associating more positive thoughts with the things you need to do. For me, that means to tell myself that there is enough time in the day, which is something I have always struggled with. Since I’ve put this plan into action, however, I have been working very hard to ignore the parrot of negativity squawking on my shoulder and have been telling myself I do have enough time. Time for at least ten minutes of exercise, time for the run I have planned and time to get everything done on my list. Its taken a bit of effort but it is certainly paying off.

There is no foolproof plan to making life run perfectly smooth and perfect isn’t fun anyway. But this is the best I have found thus far and the best part is that it is straightforward and simple. Having to stick to only three tasks a day helps me focus and not get too overly ambitious. I have found that I am far calmer because the house is not cluttered and the laundry is all put-away, and I am able to finish my list each day. I have found that I have extra time to get more things done than I had planned. I feel more accomplished at the end of each day.

Erin also feels calmer and I like to think the boys do as well. They certainly are not beating on each other as much as they were before I started this. But that could just be a coincidence.

Grand ambitions & wayward dreams

This may not happen to all stay-at-home-parents, but for me, by the time August rolls around my goose is cooked. I have run out of ideas and the energy to get the kids out of the house for an adventure. The boys seem to think that bickering and fighting is a great way to pass the waning days of summer while I stare at the calendar like a kid waiting for his birthday, fantasizing about all that I am going to get done and be able to do once the boys are in school. I know this will be the case because during those long last weeks the days are never ending, just like when I was a kid in school staring out the window of a stuffy classroom.

Before the school year started I made a list of goals, like put the laundry away right away, keep up with the clutter that materializes on every flat surface, have dinner prepped before the boys get home, go paddle boarding, exercise every day. I saw myself doing yoga in a clutter-free house, because the kids were out of it all day and I had all the time in the world.

We are now three weeks into the school year, and my grand ambitions are mostly wayward dreams–even though I’ve been writing out a list of daily tasks each morning and I tell myself I am going to stay focused and get these things done. I do fairly well until high noon and then, due to what is clearly a time paradox which disrupts the space-time continuum, time speeds up and I turn around to see that I need to meet the kids at the bus stop soon. My list is only half finished. I just don’t know where I went wrong. But it is such a nice day outside maybe I’ll go out and lie in the hammock for a bit. I need to take some time for myself anyway. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself; now, where did I hide those bonbons?