In the past couple months more than one person has, out of the blue, asked me what was wrong. I’ve noticed it myself: more tough mornings, more cancelled work days, more struggle to create, then flopping into TV-watching or eating instead.
During the past year I’ve been aware that there’s a seismic shift making its way from my inside out.
During the past six months I’ve realized it’s the rest of what I started 10 years ago.
The rest. As in, perhaps it’s the end of an era and, by definition, the beginning of one.
Some Helpful Background
I grew up in the woods of Wisconsin. My father knew practically everything, and could do almost anything. He knew enough to build a house in the woods with his own hands, then live in it through the winter with nothing on hand but his wits and some tools. He could play any musical instrument you handed him. If your car had trouble, he could fix it. He taught himself to knit and crochet, and looked manly doing it.
He was a hard act to follow.
My mom lived a life of angst and worry, and still does to a large degree. Much easier path for me to follow: just do what comes naturally to the middle child in a poor family. Give up, and let life flow by until it’s over.
Married far too young for all the wrong reasons. Chose, very much, the wrong person.
After 23 years and four children, I left.
Morally Unambiguous . . . Except This Time
As a person who has always valued morals over anything else, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to accept about myself is that I would leave my wife and make a new life with someone else — who also happened to be married.
There are a thousand reasons. I felt trapped by choices I’d made when I had no business making them. My first wife lost interest and got angry and made me feel miserable. On and on and on I could go.
Everything that happened was a consequence of choices I made, but back then I believed life was something that happened to you, not something you caused to happen.
So, I defaulted to the choice not to choose.
Unexamined and Unlived
I chose not to resolve any of life’s other challenges until I’d resolved my marriage’s problems. And since that never happened, nothing else happened.
I didn’t write music, I didn’t write books. I didn’t travel. I didn’t grow spiritually or emotionally. I didn’t take care of myself physically.
I stopped living, because I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything until I’d solved the problem of my marriage.
Finally I thought, I’m dead already. What difference does it make what I do?
I considered formalizing my death, but never seriously considered acting on it. Then, I rediscovered a friendship from my past, and then, that it was far more than friendship.
And four o’clock one morning, we both walked out of our old lives and left everything behind.
We’ve lived under the same roof for just short of 10 years. It hasn’t been boring. Significant events:
- She almost died of a rare physical condition which now, thankfully, is fully resolved.
- I lost my job and couldn’t take another because she was too sick to be left alone.
- I relaunched my business and struggled along with help from others.
- Eventually, we grew tired of the pain of poverty and charity, and found a way to travel full time while spending less money than we needed to rent a house in California. For a year, we traveled the US and Canada, working as we went, showing our little girl what the world looks like.
After a year we semi-settled in New Jersey. The situation was not pleasant, but it gave us some time to build up reserves, not of cash, but of resolve, determination, grit.
Six months ago, we came back to the place I grew up. Not the same town. As a kid I lived so many places I’m not sure I remember them all. But they were all within 40 miles of here. And northern Wisconsin is pretty much the same, top to bottom, left to right.
Home Again, Home Again
I love it here. Rolling hills and shallow valleys. Every valley has a stream or river. You cannot drive five minutes in any direction without passing a body of water. If you look at the right-hand-mitten that is Wisconsin, the tips of the pointer, middle, and ring fingers are almost as much water as land.
The biggest town in this county (Rice Lake, where we live) has a population of 9,000. There are only 46,000 in the 900 square miles of the county. Some towns have a population of less than 300 people. Roseville, the suburb of Sacramento where we lived our first 7 years together, fits 122,000 people in 30 square miles. Population density of over 4,000 people per square mile, compared to Barron County’s 50.
It’s quiet. Like me.
My biggest challenge in life is crossing my own threshold. Going out for business meetings, for other events — no matter how important or worthy the reason, leaving my house is physically painful. I’ve recently gotten help with the rampant ongoing panic attacks. It has helped me stay in control enough to get a semi-detached look at myself for the first time in decades, maybe the first time ever.
I’ve been on a mission to lose weight, to overcome my social anxieties, to do more, better, faster, longer, bigger. To undo all the mistakes caused by laziness, selfishness, impatience.
Once again, I’ve been putting off living until I solved these problems. Once I lose 80 pounds, I can be happy. Once I make enough money to have some savings, to have a bit left over, I can be happy. Once I finish this book, this project, I can be happy.
One thing I miss about our nomad life is that driving is so very good for my unconscious mind. Gives it a chance to bubble up and get found. Driving home from a doctor’s visit in the big city an hour to the south, Eau Claire, a profound truth hit me like a bug on a windshield.
It’s not going to sound very profound to you, but I tell the story how it happens. You get what you get.
Seeking the Seeking
I’m a seeker. A wanderer. A creator. I’m always looking for an answer, a place. Always planning the next book, song, thing I can’t even describe. (That’s not the profundity you’re looking for.)
Always moving forward.
In this world of “getting things done” that sounds great, doesn’t it? I’m very effective. Ten books in 4 years. Over 150 songs in the past 8 years. Built 3 businesses, traveled the US, Canada, even Ireland.
Except I’m still putting off being happy until the journey is over.
When I get there, I can be happy. When I finish this thing. When I find that ethereal mysterious elusive something I will finally be able to lay down and rest and be happy.
The profound truth is that I am a seeker. I will never find, because nothing I ever find is the thing I’m seeking. What I’m seeking is the seeking.
The only thing I’ve ever wanted is the movement. The journey. The creation. The forward motion. It’s not where I’m going or what I’m doing, the things I’ve made or the money I’ve made.
It’s the making, the moving, the seeking.
That’s what I’ve been looking for, and I’ve been finding it every day and not noticing.
This is a Good Thing
Now, before you try to commiserate or console or pontificate, stop and listen: This is my truth. I am the journey. I seek. It’s who I am, what I do, what I will always do.
It makes me deeply profoundly satisfied, knowing that I know who I am.
It also gives me the only tool I need to stop seeking happiness and start living it, every single day.
When I get up in the morning, what I eat will no longer be “what’s healthy?” but “what’s worth discovering?” I’ll eat the same things, most days, but for reasons which will serve me better.
When I take a walk, it won’t be about losing weight or maintaining my mental health by forcing myself outdoors at least once a day. It will be about being on that walk, right there in the middle of it, listening and smelling and thinking (or not) and moving.
And when I don’t take a walk, that’ll be okay, because I’ll be searching for something else. Seeking out the words for my book. Enjoying the process of writing instead of seeing it only as a mechanism for finishing the book, which is what it has become some days. If I find myself worrying about when it will be finished (children’s voices from the back seat: “When are we gonna be there?” “Yeah, we wanna be there.”) then why will I waste time on a process I don’t like, to accomplish something of dubious value? Do my books benefit me? I don’t know. I’ve never stopped to ponder their benefit. It’s always been about the writing, which was then just a vehicle for finishing, which may or may not have any value of its own.
But at least now I have the awareness to wonder: does it matter if I finish a book, or is what matters that I’m writing every day?
We’ve all read the trite posters saying life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. Everybody nods sagely, as if they actually understand.
I think one person in a million does.
I think, finally, I’m one of them.