A certain time ago, in a headspace far far away…

Life never seems as consequential as when elucidating on milestones that significantly changed you – graduation, marriage, first home, birth, job loss, death. Over the last five or so years I’ve experienced each of those, a few several times over.

In the years surrounding these many milestones of my life, my mental wellness was being punctured. My self-esteem and self-worth were bullied, beaten, berated, and buried. I became empty, and over time started to put all of who I was on vacation. The me that was left was just a veneer of a human with my name, designing things, writing words, saying stuff, minimally existing to avoid fully dissolving.

I didn’t feel like a person, at least not the person who I thought I was or wanted to be. I was more like a yes machine. A production pawn. A startup shill. Compromised and ridiculed and bedraggled.

So in what might have seemed insignificant or ordinary, I turned myself into an avatar. I drew a flat, expressionless illustration of myself (with the proper amount of gray hair and facial stubble) and replaced any photo of my actual face with it. On every digital platform. In every virtual exchange. The real me was gone, and I welcomed a vapid, agreeable, inoffensive, polished product of my desolation.

Over the last five years I’ve been forced out of a company I helped create (there’s a large and complicated story there that I’m still not fully comfortable talking about), had a child threaten suicide, lost two dogs and a cat while also gaining four dogs and three cats (this is why we have called ourselves the Armstrong circus), dealt with family wide anxiety and depression and medications and doctors and therapists, witnessed teenage breakups and graduations, watched my mother whither away in dementia and die, was laid-off from a job in a company-wide downsize, got personally diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, diagnosed our oldest with EDS, and many more mundane and routine and random and tragic and beautiful life milestones.

And for more than four years this avatar has protected me. This stupid and meaningless symbol teeming with burdens. All the while I’ve been digging out and digging in. Searching for healthier dialogs to my inner tormentors. Moving up and moving on. Covering over and covering under. Ceaselessly crawling forward toward wholeness. But never resting. And I’m exhausted.

I need a rest. I need to recuperate so I can be full and connected and whole.

I’m ready to be real again.

Contemplation is a rare commodity that is only afforded to those with the privilege and means to buy emptiness. The exclusive price of buying oneself the precious jewel of time and the ability to drift into long uninterrupted periods of reflection. A simple act. Effortless and hidden, yet costly. The luxury of thought.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how we as humans make every choice, every act, every trait, every thought, every decision we encounter or experience as a binary unit. This or that. Here or there. Wrong or right. Love or hate. Success or failure.

It’s very simple to approach things in such a limited way. It reduces our cognitive load. The brain loves patterns and simplifying choices, and therefore it creates binary outcomes. Direct opposites. Contrary poles. Except nothing in our modern life is as simple as what our brains want to achieve. While they might be factual, they are not truthful.

We often feel like failures in our lives. If we haven’t achieved all the things we set out to accomplish, that we are deficient and disintegrating into futility. We’re often told to understand our strengths and weaknesses. Positives and negatives. Except that hardly contains the full picture. What constitutes our reasoning behind these comparisons? What is a positive? What is a weakness? What is a failure? What is a good decision? How much time is needed or number of people involved or branching and layered outcomes examined to determine our binaries?

Our weaknesses are opportunities for strength and our strengths are just a step away from being a weakness. Failures are wisdom and learning. Choices are steps in a direction. Normalcy is an illusory perspective. Our binary guardrails shortcut communication, eliminate empathy, hobble logic, obscure understanding, and diminishes collaboration with all other humans who we feel are “opposite”.

You are contradictory set of double negatives and illogical thoughts and complicated threads. You are an array. You are a spectrum. You are a rainbow. You are wonderful chaos. It’s time to stop being so 01100010 01101001 01101110 01100001 01110010 01111001.

Recently started watching (the much hyped) Amazon series “The Boys”, and I can say that it’s much deserved hype. It’s very good. And dark. And violent. And surprising. It’s a worthy follow up to the spirit and tone of “The Watchmen”. I highly recommend if you like not just dark and gritty, but also twisted and disturbing (which I understanding it’s everyone cup of water).

There is no starting or stopping, no beginning or ending, only the push of currents in the ceaseless estuary of presence. Our lives are threads woven into the quilt of eternity, covering the universe, forever expanding with no edge, no direction, no definition, no time, no memory.

Is It Honest? Is It Wise? Is It Helpful?

The longer I do this “adult” thing, the more I realize how meaningful and affecting words are to others. I’m still quite far from being the type of friend, spouse, father, or leader I’d like to be or hope to become, but there are a few things I have learned over my years of surviving this life.

It’s really hard, if not impossible, to think about what you’re going to say before you say it. I mean, you might have plans to say something, but far too often the dialog in your head doesn’t match reality. But with enough practice and repetition you can build the habit of giving yourself the time to think and give an appropriate response.

Here are three things I always ask myself before I speak:

  1. Is it honest?
  2. Is it wise?
  3. Is it helpful?

Honest: Because if you’re answering from a place of hurt, or anger, or frustration, or fatigue, your words will not be honest. They won’t be founded on the purpose of a having a conversation, they’ll be skewed by our intent to vent, or unload, or win, or inflict pain; and there is no good outcome when your words aren’t honest.

Wise: Because measured, informed, and knowledgable words understand the impact and effect of their utterance. How might what you say be received and perceived? How could change or shape the conversation toward positive outcomes? Flippant words can create more confusion and resolution.

Helpful: Because a conversation isn’t about waiting for your turn to talk. It’s about listening, reacting, and responding — but you knew that. Not having an answer is just as helpful as providing advice or insight. What’s most helpful is dependent what is needed and wanted.

When you take into account all three of these questions before speaking or writing, you might see your conversations completely change. 

The smell scape of hotels fascinates me. I also wonder where they get their scents from because I sort of want it as a cologne. “Odeur De Lobby”. Or “Hotel, For Men”. That idea is free, you’re welcome.

A telephone

We recently bought a phone for our home – so that in the case of an emergency our youngest could call us or 911. And by phone I mean an old school, coil corded, landline dependent dinosaur of communication past. We wanted something very simple. We didn’t need it to be cordless. We didn’t want a charging base or wireless handset or anything remotely digital. Just a cradle, a receiver and handset, and some buttons. Simple. Well, it wasn’t so simple.

We scoured Target and Lowe’s and Amazon looking for what we imagined would be both easy to find and inexpensive. Neither was true. Like records players today, the once voluminous and affordable has now become rare and costly. The more simple and sturdy the phone, the larger the price tag. 

Eventually settled on a black, wall-mounted, push button. One that reminded us of our childhoods. Yet it’s absent the heft and rigidity that I remember – the kind of quality that allowed an angry 13 year old to slam down on the receiver or pull on the cradle or swing the cord without the entire package disintegrating. 

I suppose we’re officially in the “they don’t make it like they used” phase of our aging. I don’t like it.

There can be comfort when you’re in the fog of the unknown. There can also be unease. Without definition we either imagine context and invent boundaries or we wait for clarity. The fog will clear and you might find you’re not where you imagined.