A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck

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.

the bridge over the River Laune in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, Ireland

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.

am I looking at the glass or the room or the glass in the room?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.

Another Ending/Beginning

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.

with my Best Beloved on the Sacramento River
with my Best Beloved on the Sacramento River
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.

Quiet, How?

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.

water isn't dangerous but slippery stepstones might beExcept 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.

Awareness.

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?

hopscotch, but I prefer IrishWe’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.



10 thoughts on “A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck

  1. Yay! and Double Yay!

    Just like they said about Downtown LA: “There is no There there.”
    Or as Cordelia reminded me, months ago:

    Me: I AM making strides, but keep getting that “Are we There yet??” voice in my head. Gaakkkkh!
    Cordelia: I know that voice well. Tell it you *are* “there.” “Here” is the journey. “There” is just speculation.
    (That either deserved deep finger snaps or a roll of the eyes. Can’t decide if it was wise or just cheesy.) :D

    1. Ha! You are there.

      I’m gonna write that on the walls here and there. “When are we gonna get there? We already are there!”

  2. A while back I read a fascinating article (Which I neglected to bookmark! What a Baka!) on the “cue – routine – reward” habit loop which offered excellent ideas on how to program yourself for sustainable change

    1. Have you read Charles Duhigg’s “Power of Habit” ? His interview with Dan Pink (or maybe Jonathan Fields; they’re both ubiquitous these days) was excellent, but I don’t have the book yet.

    1. Great link, Ron!
      I heard a discussion of the “habit loop” on the radio recently, and it makes all kinds of sense.
      Berating someone for not changing the “routine” (the habit you want to change), when neither the “cues” nor the view of the “rewards” have been changed, fits precisely this definition of Insanity: *Doing the same things and expecting different results*!
      Thanks

  3. This isn’t quite enough, Joel. Not the realization which sounds profound and meaningful for you. But my gut tells me there is something more. There is the next layer.

    And, not just because I am a seeker. I do not think I seek with the same fervour as you do. It is because (as I think deeper circles around this) I do not believe you are especially lazy, selfish, or impatient. Quite the opposite most of the time – or all of the time with lazy, selfish, impatient moments here and there over the decades.

    Experience tells me it is trauma. There is a cage around you. Clearly, you feel it. It’s comfortable in there and scary out there but it is also what you seek to escape. Can you learn happiness inside the cage? Of a sort. You have Sue Lynn and Fiona in there and that is happy.

    The profound state of happiness and contentment that one might have probably (I’m guessing) requires the dissolving of the cage, not the occasional escapes. How does one dissolve the bars of one’s life? Healing the hurts and traumas – and you touch on this.

    And, discipline. Intense, frequent repetition of behaviours that are helpful to your emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. I think that means walks every day – even if you aren’t feeling the wonder and the seeking. Dark green vegetables every day (or you will end up looking like me! Vegetable-deprivation syndrome is a terrible thing. ;-)) And, so on.

    I like this post because it is tickling the edges of something I know but can’t quite bring to consciousness. I’ll let you know if something arises.

    Will be curious to see how things are percolating for you after this post.
    cj

    1. And now, besides our offline conversation, a bit more, in no particular order:

      1. Rewatching the entire series “Due South” which I’d forgotten is a good bit about a nearly superhuman guy trying to live up to his father’s flawed ghost, who he doesn’t exactly see that way. First time Fraser talks about his father, it was me talking about mine. Mining (hee hee) much from the humour of the paradox as we watch it.

      2. An average week used to go like this: struggle struggle struggle struggle write h’ray! and after your reminder about pattern and order, this week is struggle write h’ray! practice music h’ray! struggle write h’ray! The more I write and practice for my upcoming recording session, the more relaxed and content I feel. What a concept; art as therapy. Who knew? (Sue knew. She rarely rolls her eyes at me, and I appreciate it.)

      3. Multivitamins and extra D and B seem to have had quite an impact the past two weeks. Dermatologist reminded me that up north, there ain’t enough sunshine for proper amounts of vitamin D unless you lay out every sunny day. December 21st, we’ll have 16 hours of dark and 8 hours of light. 8am to 4pm, with a bit o’ dusk each side. S. A. D. is wonky.

      4. Pondering the journey rather than the end, I’ve revisited and confirmed my two “making a living” goals. Still excited about both, but I’d wandered from the True Path a bit, and now I’m putting stuff in place to help us all focus.

      Yes, Caitlyn, this was a layer, not the core, but it’s a layer I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, which means I just might be moving the right direction.

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