Post No. 150: Various Forks in the Road (v.3)

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Every 25th post, darkadaptedeye takes a planned break from normal business to plumb the shallow depths of its author’s psyche and/or overtly explore the locked attic of memories it only ever really dabbles in otherwise. You might think of it as a pit stop, or maybe a soft reboot. In “Danse Macabre”, Stephen King termed his own such digression “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause”, which I choose to think was kind of charming. Please know I take seriously the challenge of making patent self-indulgence interesting – actual results be damned – and I appreciate you being game. We’ll return to our irregularly scheduled programming shortly…

You can’t get here from there. Believe me, I’ve tried.

What you are currently reading is the third drastically different iteration of/attempt at DAE’s milestone 150th post – labored over, intermittently but to an insipid degree, over a five-month hiatus during which bystander and well-wisher alike could’ve been forgiven for believing I’d abandoned the store entirely instead of merely neglecting it shamefully. I vomited forth some 5000 total words in one way or other attached to Post 150 in that stretch of time – by turns dry and flowery, anecdotal and heartfelt, narrative and non-sequitur, a veritable shotgun marriage of breathless, stream-of-consciousness reporting and rank amateur pseudo-poetry – and much of it felt immediately wrong. Wrong not necessarily because it was without merit but because I was trying too hard. Exhausted and increasingly dismayed, I surveyed the landscape, littered with literary flotsam, and, as is my wont, imagined all that detritus not as the orphan puzzle pieces they were so much as so much moldable clay. Objectively, I’ve always been a passable writer but a fairly hideous editor. I have an unfortunate tendency toward irrational satisfaction in the moment with most anything I write – that tends to fade, or refocus, with time – and I’m forever keen to prove to myself that it all has worth. This stubborn refusal to sacrifice for the good of the order led to an unholy lot of frustration on my part, as I expended entirely too much effort trying to knock those oddities into shape and integrate them into my latest opus conspicuous, however occasionally ill-fitting the result.

That virgin spring/Indian summer period was one for the books, for better and worse, and I just had so much I wanted to say here, so much to relate, and, I eventually conceded, frustratingly limited tools of expression with which to do so. With a healthy, unexpected assist from the enigmatic smartphone app I’d been using, which, only the other day, mistook the fundamental purpose of an “Update” button and instead mercilessly  shredded my draft in its final stages, I’ve officially accomplished nothing of what I first set out to do, and, after five months of on-again/(mostly) off-again toil, those 3500+ words now decorate the cutting room in perpetuity, as perhaps they were always destined to do. In the near three years since its launch, I have invested as much time in the care and feeding of this website as I’ve spent engaged in any other “leisure” activity, and I can pinpoint the terrible moment DAE changed for me wholesale from an avocation into something that felt uncomfortably like an obligation. It was the initial inspiration for this post, in fact. My work suffered as a result, my mind alternately wandered or fixated on the wrong things, and a general malaise bled into multiple aspects of my life. Post 150 progressed in fits and starts to the degree it progressed at all, and, soon enough, grew ungainly and beyond my control. I spent weeks at a time completely, blissfully unengaged, and took that as a sign. One month away became three, and my previously ingrained twin senses of responsibility and urgency deserted me.

There was never a question that Post 150 – codenamed “Various Forks in the Road” from that aforementioned flashpoint moment on – when it finally materialized, was going to focus on the assorted curveballs hurled my way by life in the interim. Whether yon light might eventually break as the result of my legit efforts or those of, say, a team of reasonably literate gremlins working on my behalf, I couldn’t have said. For a long time, one seemed just as likely an outcome as the other. Part of the problem became that my life changed faster than I had the will to document it. Over the course of a three-month period: 1) the sudden, heartbreaking death of a family member threw the lives/ futures of his survivors into rank uncertainty; 2) I was tantalized by new prospects, and, with them, bold, fairly unprecedented new horizons, at work, with an embarkation point the morning after I returned from the funeral; 3) I started dating a truly awesome girl, and, amazed and mildly punch-drunk, slowly reconnected with an aspect of my emotional life I’d all but abandoned; 4) the worm/screw at work turned dramatically and decisively, and I was summarily laid off the morning after I met my soon-to-be girlfriend; 5) after a whirlwind overnight/mid-morning courtship by an overcaffeinated headhunter and a hyper-motivated hiring manager, I accepted my new job by phone while driving home from the interview – meaning that I was officially unemployed for one week and three hours.

So, hey, I just distilled three months of perpetually shaky ground into a nutshell just shy of 150 words. That’s roughly 1/24th of the total plantation acreage co-opted by the heartfelt but gluttonous “Various Forks” I and II, the former a meandering, largely scrapped audition, and the latter a gargantuan post you’ll recall wasn’t even a finished product. Some days, “Forks 2.0” felt even less finished than it actually was, so completely did I become mired in, and almost swallowed up by, its emotional terraforming requirements and tedious construction. It’s a comparative relief to be able to unload – if, admittedly, not unpack – its contents into the space other pop culture writers might commit to a capsule review. In so doing, it is in no way my intention to gloss over those very real, difficult, and impactful events, which shape my day-to-day to this very day. Still, my original impulse was to wade through and wallow in the muck publicly, a level of self-indulgence I can now barely wrap my head around. I’m grateful that the app’s weird act of sabotage, bordering on hara-kiri, essentially forced me to chart a different course. Even if this Post 150 isn’t the one I envisioned – any boxing promoter will tell you the card is always subject to change, particularly given an extended buildup – it is representative of me as a writer, and more or less fits into the structure I’ve carved out here…more so, at any rate, than the diva behemoth for whom it loyally understudied, unsubtly outclassed, and eventually beat to the stage.

Above all, since only a scant few days separated its (re)conception from its realization, this Post 150 was actually fairly fun to write. It’s a vital gift to give oneself, permission to enjoy what you do and the space necessary to make it happen. As I mentioned earlier, it had been not a little while since DAE offered that sort of haven for me, and I’m thankful for small favors. “Various Forks – The Early Years” began as a knee-jerk reaction to a terrifically trying time before snowballing into a phenomenon I’m a little embarrassed in retrospect to have allowed such free reign over my creative faculties. Initially, I saw it as something much humbler – a simple, essential, emotional release where there had seemed none, a makeshift dialogue where there hadn’t been one, maybe even a life raft of sorts. I crept by moonlight through my mother’s still farmhouse and struggled to describe how different it suddenly felt from the one I’d known. I sat, restless and discombobulated, in a weird, plush Dallas hotel room and tried to articulate the terrible gnawing in my gut. One thing happened, and then another, and I soon became entangled in a game of catch up I’d never truly set out to play. “I don’t really know what’s next,” began the narration in both versions. I’d even dust off the phrase a section time in v.2 to underscore the uncertainty. Truer words I’ve never written, but of the other three grand+ surrounding them like a mercenary army? The less said, the better.

Best of luck with that, by the way. I’m not a prolific writer – not anymore – but I recognize I am still an absurdly comprehensive one. I abhor shortcuts, and I don’t take hints readily. Hell, it took a brazen act of digitally-abetted vandalism to convince me that, no, maybe this edition of “Forks” actually WASN’T ready for prime time, and that, having obviously crossed some cosmic threshold of sustained self-importance I’d somehow never before approached, no act of omnipotent authorial magic would make it otherwise. I actually just finished skimming the pre-app meltdown version in case I might identify some clever bon mot or winning turn of phrase I could appropriate for this piece, but was quickly turned off and away by its ponderousness. I’d happily chuck the thing stem to stern into the nearest lake, were its being physical not digital, and were I not concerned it’d fit. This has just been a long road, all the various forks notwithstanding. Part of me feels honor-bound to apologize to long-time readers of this site – many of them far-flung, offline friends – for the way I’ve so often let self-indulgence get in the way of a good story. I could easily have left all “Forks’” particulars undefined, or at least opaque, and still turned out a wholly adequate addition to my lineage of purely personal DAE posts. Indeed, that’s what I tried to do with this last minute reclamation project, though I suspect that, for many, its length and/or sedentary weight will remain an issue.

That semi-conscious tendency of mine, to write as if my opinion matters alone, yet still play like a ham actor to the back row of a packed theater that exists only in my imagination, has always been tough for me to reconcile. “TOO LONG. DIDN’T READ.” sang one of the more impassioned responses to my Batman v. Superman review, left back in May by a snarky/bored/altruistic anonymous visitor. ‘Twas a deceptively deep conceit, one well worth pondering. Then, as now, I enjoyed greatly the contrast between his capitalization and punctuation choices, and what they suggested/betrayed. I found fascinating the push/pull internal conflict of a man who seemed to be yelling vociferously about a near-complete sense of indifference, and making damned sure that I knew just how much he couldn’t be bothered to read what was, to be fair, my lengthiest ever published review, one I personally enjoy despite all the rambling, and one that even received a handful of good notices from others. There is always a compelling case to be made for brevity. There is also such a thing as overcorrecting too far. Whatever the hell it is that I do doesn’t exactly split the difference, I realize. Fun, instructive comment, sort of a kissing cousin to those periodic Facebook screeds everybody’s encountered that solemnly explain why – his/her limit apparently reached, straw back finally in shambles – the author is officially leaving social media. Nobody asked you…the same way no one ever “asked” me. That’s the internet for ya.

Good times, that comment. I regret reflexively deleting it now.

Much as I might long to entertain the notion that finally seeing Post 150 to fruition is some bellwether event signaling a runaway creative resurgence, I’m afraid that, for me, too much has changed to allow it. My family life is still unsettled, my resulting sense of place precarious, balanced against an edifying but uncharted romantic relationship and a challenging day job that vacillates between incarnations of carrot, stick, treasure, and anchor, depending on how the wind blows that day. Simply put, I lack the time and stability necessary to freely return to the way things were, and the requisite fighting spirit to force that kind of hard reset against the prevailing grain. I won’t go into specifics here. That kind of thinking is why you’re reading an all-new “version” of 150 to begin with. With new limitations calcifying even as certain other horizons expand, I do feel that a tiny bit of my underlying passion for this site has also taken wing, although only a bit. That’s also probably a function of getting older. And if I still don’t really know “what’s next,” at least the question doesn’t fill me with the same sort of dread it did months ago. DAE is certainly in better shape atop fresher legs than it was when I unwittingly began this stealth trilogy approximately 118 years ago.

Once upon, well, several times ago, I pegged this post foolishly as both be-all and end-all, as pure, uncut catharsis, as a makeshift war journal, then a therapy session, as a de facto finish line intertwined with a preemptive requiem. Leave it to me to simultaneously lose track of the forest and the trees. Stepping back and allowing myself just a little space made all the difference.

Now I recognize it simply for what it is, and probably always should’ve been: what’s next.

Previously on ABC Family:

Post No. 25: Powder Burns and Uncertain Terms

Post No. 50: Iron Maiden Saved My Life.

Post No. 75: Unlimited Mileage

Post No. 100: Centennial Homesick Blues

Post No. 125: Alone in the Dark

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