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My Wayward Brain, Navigating Loss, and New Beginnings
A very personal essay
I have a rebellious, unruly brain.
Which is strange for someone who loves peace, fears confrontation, and follows the rules as much as I do. But maybe that’s why my brain uses every opportunity to subvert, dodge, and squirm out of any single track.
As the weather snapped decidedly into Fall a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, I snapped decidedly back into day job mode which is a mode of being that I dread, having done it for the majority of my life. It’s accompanied by the same feeling I used to have at the end of summer when the first day of school waited like the steel doors of a cellar. I descend the concrete steps into a windowless basement where my brain will be harnessed to do the bidding of an employer. The kite-flying, worm-digging, fort-making, novel-writing, star-gazing, and song-singing that moved like weather systems through my life will be relegated to fifteen-minute periods like recess.
Creative work is not just one thing for me. It is multitudes. It’s a mechanism to help me process the world I don’t always understand. It’s a way to help me understand who I am and what I think. It’s a way to soothe my anxiety and lift my depression. As a shy person, it’s always been my way to attract friends or romantic partners — like my own billboard or maybe a classified ad with no word count restriction.
This past year, I flipped the ratio of my life. For almost twelve months, my brain was not harnessed to a day job, but allowed, for the first time since childhood to spend 90% of my waking hours chasing creative projects. And I did with reckless abandon.
It’s hard to let that go, perhaps harder than it was when I was twenty-six and about to be a (surprise!) father because at twenty-six I didn’t know what I was signing up for.
I’m Still Standing
I may have to stand for the rest of my life.
That’s a tiring thought but it’s better than the alternative which is white-hot, shooting pain that radiates out from the base of my spine like a convulsive current of electricity. It’s the cost of spending my youth in a chair, hunched over a keyboard, peering into a computer screen, my six-foot-two frame bent into the letter C.
Between the back and the recent development of Tinnitus that started a year ago, I think the warranty is up on this body that’s just worked pain-free for more than half a century. If you don’t know what Tinnitus is, I made a short immersive piece of fiction earlier this year that will give you a taste. I promise it’s more entertaining than the condition itself.
This piece of writing is starting to feel like a carousel of complaints which is something I hate and rarely allow myself. But I think I’m indulging here because there’s something bigger shifting in my life just below the surface and I can’t fully understand it without plumbing the depths. Gratitude and positivity can be toxic when they’re used as a mask.
I’ve suffered a great deal of loss and change in the past few years and I’m still trying to get used to the way it’s rearranged the furniture in the rooms I inhabit. The relationship that I was in for nearly thirty years ended just over four years ago, coinciding with our youngest child leaving for college. I’ve experienced intense guilt and shame at the terrible toll our stormy and toxic marriage had on our children. They are at the stage of struggling to define who they are which is hard enough without the added brutality of having the foundation of their family crumble beneath them. As a capstone, last October I was laid off without warning from a job that was the high-water mark of my career.
I’ve been living in an emotional no man’s land interrupted by sudden floods of emotion that come without warning, tightening my chest and bringing tears. If this is all you read of me, you may come to the conclusion that I’m an unlucky, miserable bastard. But you would be wrong. There’s so much more to my story.
Endings and loss are truly the fertilizer for new life. It’s not just an affirmation on a poster at the dentist’s office. It’s ugly and messy. An entire forest of old-growth trees is scorched to cinders but in time new shoots appear, their tiny roots nourished by a millennia of compressed sunlight stored in the ash and rubble.
There are new shoots in my life and I can feel them beginning to transform me despite my decrepit state. Watching my daughter transition and come into herself, her true self is the greatest gift. Seeing my son, so courageous in his unwavering idealism and drive to unlock the mysteries of his own brain and how it connects with his body so he can help others astounds me. Helping my parents move gracefully into this last stage of their life together is inspiring. Their love for each other, their fearlessness, and their gratitude are gifts they’ve given to my brothers and me for our entire lives.
Finally, my new partner Paradis and her five-year-old daughter Bella are the most precious and undeserved gifts in my life. Paradis has survived tragic losses and struggled so much in her life and yet she remains this gentle, open vessel of love and kindness. As my old life was ending, her new life was beginning with the surprise of a child.
If you enjoy the work I produce here on Catch & Release at all, you have Paradis to thank for it. Her genuine love and enthusiasm for my writing have nudged me daily to not just make the space to do it, but also to put it out into the world. We met during the pandemic and I read the entire novel, “The Memory of My Shadow” to her over a nightly Zoom call as she was quarantined with her parents and her daughter and I was doing the same with my daughter who was sent home from college.
I have been tentative and careful in this new life with her and Bella, afraid to speak too much about it, afraid to place too much of my heart in it for a myriad of reasons. We’ve met at a precarious time for both of us. She’s an older mother with a child who has no living father, and I’m a father trying to launch his youngest after surviving a fairly brutal marriage. Our youth was spent with other people. Our many firsts are well behind us. The drive that consumed and fueled our younger selves has shifted down into a lower gear as we crest the top of the mountain and begin the climb down the other side.
In one view, we have come together at the stage in life where we will face the loss of so many we love, most significantly both of our parents and the gradual decline of our own bodies. We will not have spontaneous travel and careless nights of drinking and dancing or sleeping in on Sundays. We will not be able to live together for some time. I must keep a place for my daughter until she no longer needs me and can take flight.
In another view, we have found each other and discovered a comfort and unconditional love that our younger selves never knew existed and likely would not have appreciated.
I am a lucky man, blessed many times over. Thanks for reading.
Catch & Release is sponsored by my day job. It would be a great kindness if one day it was sponsored by you. ❤️