Post No. 200: Pay Attention to the Road

pay attention
Photo credit: “Full Moon Over Death Valley” by Donna Kennedy

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…

Professional musician, professional counselor, semi-professional cheerleader – it was my father who, long ago, instilled in me the central tenet by which, though so far removed now from the rolling hills where I spent my childhood, I have nevertheless carved out some semblance of a happy life as an adult: always have something to look forward to. Through repeated and jarring market fluctuations in both the professional and romantic sectors, I have intermittently thrived but stayed consistently afloat, clinging to that piece of advice like driftwood on the open sea. I’ve always been a solitary sort – introspective and dry, shy and goofy, practitioner of deadpan sarcasm and proponent of laid back empathy – more conversationalist as counterpuncher than raconteur. In groups, I’m more content to listen, sitting quietly in the shade of an occasional well-timed interjection. Give me a topic and a forum, however, and stand back/mind your fingers. I’ve lived alone since the last of a brief series of post-millennium roommates found a better offer and left me to my own devices, forcing me both across town and the proverbial tracks in search of sustained, cost-effective bachelor living. I moved three times in my first three years as a resident of Columbus, Ohio, and must have despised (and internalized) each ordeal so much that I essentially spent the next fifteen rooted into place in something that would look to the untrained eye very much like paralysis if I never had anything to look forward to, if I wasn’t so steadfastly invested in…seeing things.*

*Which is to say concerts, movies, standup comedy, bingeable DVR backlogs – all of the “things” that conspire to make DAE what it is, and have for over five years now. Perhaps mine isn’t the soundest mental health strategy due to its inherent skew toward deflecting issues instead of facing them head on. I don’t self-medicate. Instead of paying for a shrink, I buy concert tickets, and though that constant pursuit of diversion papers over a lot of feelings I would rather not explore, it has provided me with indelible memories, and instilled in me a certain unifying purpose. It’s gotten me writing again, and fretting a good deal less on the whole, though you could hardly tell from what you’re about to read, I’m sure. No, I’m not hallucinating yet, nor hearing voices, though lately it feels a bit like I am hearing footsteps.

I was twenty-five years old the winter the millennium turned – already three years removed from college, eight increasingly dispiriting months removed from writing and drumming for my latest (and greatest) in a fun but futile procession of plucky, ultra-obscure garage metal bands, carving out a virtual hermit’s existence ensconced in the upper battlements of the East Tennessee farmhouse in which my mother still lives, and irrationally convinced that I was running out of time. To accomplish what only heaven knew, but that realization, which arrived in the aftermath of the aforementioned band’s agreed upon, semi-permanent hiatus as if attached to a plummeting meteor, rattled my very soul. Forever content to go with the flow and instinctively resistant to the least hint of resistance, I was suddenly gripped by a malaise that could neither be waited out nor wished away. Addressing it required a profound realization – that I may have been confined but I was definitely not trapped, that after two decades of sustained, if unspoken, hostility, Tennessee and I had run our course as roommates, finally, officially, mercifully. I spent the final months of 1999 marinating in a soaking tub filled to the chin with tepid, if occasionally still nagging, concern, though, blessedly, subject to only a fraction of the abject terror with which I had begun that same year. From that Labor Day weekend onward, I inched toward a goal, and, as it turns out, a destination, bubbling with anticipation and secure in private knowledge that I would only reveal selectively.

It turns out that I really only ever needed a destination. For as enduring an influence and prominent a biographical detail as Tennessee is, was, and ever shall be, I have now actually lived apart from it for every bit as long a time as we were joined. Come Christmas, the scales will tip definitively in a direction I had never before lent much credence. This is a weird, surprisingly bittersweet recognition that, despite years of steady build-up and, one would think, looming self-evidence, still only really just occurred to me, not unlike how, as a still reasonably young man, I once came to grudging grips with the idea that my mother’s second marriage had actually lasted far longer than did her relationship with my father, and vice versa. Notwithstanding the steady stream of faux-earnest hypotheticals, peevish protestations, and comprehensive general nitpickery from the insufferable little voice in my head, I know there is no less validity to my parents’ long-ago marriage, or to me as its arguably most noteworthy byproduct, when seen through the prism of where they went after than there is some legitimate rivalry between my two hometowns, outside of the push-pull dynamic that both sees me regularly returning south and sent me fleeing to begin with. We all play favorites in our personal lives from time to time – background can be as foundational a component of self-worth as success or life experience – but those prize thoroughbreds are under no obligation to win as repayment for all your extra emotional investment.

These are not things about which I actively worry, thank goodness; nor are they simply esoteric bits of trivia. I’ve carved out an entirely decent life for myself in Ohio – seen a lot, experienced a fair bit, known some truly wonderful people, and continue to. The decision to leave Tennessee was by far the most momentous of my life, and I made it in a split-second, which was terribly unlike me. Those final months are little more than a blur in my memory now, outside of the trip north itself and the co-workers, conspicuous amongst the scattered few who came up to personally wish me well, who also made a point of remarking on my “bravery” in leaving. Having grown up subject to all the same sheltering, homogenizing influences, constantly at war with my instincts – my own sense of small town self split the negligible difference between “interloper” and “outlander” – I shouldn’t have been overly surprised they felt that way. They’d simply conflated quotation mark courage with what was, in fact, a well-honed, if non-traditionally deployed, preservation instinct. Playing music was the only thing that had (or has) ever truly brought me joy. My life already felt like a dead end in its momentary absence. I couldn’t bear the thought of acquiescing to that kind of existence as a new normal, and so I didn’t. Full of uncharacteristic optimism, happy to be in motion of my own volition, I moved. I never actually played drums as a steady gig again. But I moved.

The truth is that I have only ever felt comfortable in making big decisions when all other options have been exhausted. Even then, comfort is a relative term. So impressive on a self-absorbed, purely subconscious level must have been my resolve and follow-through in leaving home that the very act afforded me tacit permission to never do such a thing again. For some fifteen years now, I’ve lived in the same box, figuratively and literally. When the roommate carousel finally settled down, so, to my detriment, did I. I’ve dreaded the concept of moving again ever since, for numerous reasons, not least of which that I am a career procrastinator with a five-wide lazy streak and a work ethic that lies dormant until summoned, like a genie, by circumstance. This, in certain circles only, landmark 200th DAE post has similarly taken a terrific, unacceptable amount of time to come together, partly because there were so many tangles to work out in assessing my current mental state, and partly because I didn’t realize until too late that would be the subject. Oops. Milestones have a way of sneaking up on me anyway. Frankly, I’ve been having too much life lately to care. I collect diversions, as mentioned above, and have in one way or other since the then-chapterless original Star Wars happened to me in the theater in the months leading up to my third birthday. You might too, if only to momentarily lower the volume on the greek chorus holding court in your head.

There is no mute button I’ve found yet, at least one that I’m not convinced might seriously hurt me, one I’m not interested in test driving for fear I might never return the car. Hence have I structured my life as a fairly continual barrage of pleasing outside stimuli, the better to distract prying eyes and inquiring minds from the howling inertia at its core. This works well when the prevailing winds cooperate, of course, though perhaps you haven’t paid much attention to the weather in 2019 so far. I began the writing of this post in less a traditionally reflective mood than a minor panic, feeling those traditional defense mechanisms flickering outright for the first time in recent memory. Family concerns of multiple shades/intensities, fluctuating pressures at work, ennui and existential junk as an aggravating byproduct of my internal wiring, continual friction between what I wish I could accomplish and how much effort I feel like expending at any given time, and, above all, that stupid sense of being stuck in the mud, going nowhere, good for next to nothing and pretty much no one, least of all myself. Downshifting into nostalgia provided little relief to my writer’s/thinker’s block – if my own origin story is less convoluted than, say, Captain Marvel’s, it is also inherently far less interesting. But then the winds shifted again dramatically, this time beyond the printed page**, and I was left suddenly with a rapidly dwindling timeline in real life, an impressive list of plans to consider and consequential decisions to make, looking for nothing less than a whole new place to live, and, by extension, a new chapter to start.

**Friendly advice, simply stated: No matter what kind of tenant you are, don’t go month to month on your rent without a firm plan in mind. You’re never as decisive as you want to be until the moment you most have to be.

It is my steadfast hope that this post will bask in the glow of multiple sets of eyes some time well before I have moved into my new apartment on March 25. There is certainly a lot left to accomplish in the interim. Let me just tell you that the boy we knew, traditionally cowed into inaction was, upon intervening fate this one time, transformed temporarily into a flamethrower. Barely four hours after receiving the notice from my landlord, I had a realtor and a freshly preapproved mortgage amount. Barely four days after receiving that same notice, I had a whole new address and (literal) lease on life, plus lots of cause for constructive daydreaming about downsizing and decorating prior to collecting the keys to my apartment, which I happily speculate will prove to be both a buffer rental and significant upgrade. Now that I’ve been stripped of any excuse to stagnate, I can’t wait to get going. I’m looking forward to spring, and summer, to sitting on my patio with a laptop and a beer, and to no longer living like a college freshman, however much more that might cost per month. Forced to make lemonade, I’m adding two ounces of Don Julio and a twist, keen to demonstrate, if only to myself, that a single destination can simultaneously be the tip of the iceberg and the top of the mountain. Nor is that somehow all that I have to look forward to, as, with quiet determination, I had already taken significant – and in one case personally unprecedented – steps to ensure that 2019 would be amazing in its own right, independent of any aforementioned annoyingly random, legally mandated, paradigm-shifting personal growth.

Diversions have gotten me this far, after all. Thus, 2019 stretches before me in her considerable glory: Sixteen events – whether music, sports, or stand-up – all bought, paid for, and officially happening between now and my birthday in August…including three that take place on a hopefully charmed weekend visit full of “bucket list”-worthy activities in New York City. Yes, I scheduled my first solo trip to NYC ever as my first honest-to-dog extended vacation of any stripe in several years some two full months before my living situation went head over heels, and I’m finding it encouraging just how excited I still am, even with all the arrangements made, even as the spectre of significant day-to-day change looms above me like a thunderhead. Ten years ago, I know I would have been petrified. Five years ago, I probably couldn’t have envisioned a trip to Manhattan let alone pulled the trigger, even in the best of times. Last year, who either knows or cares? I’m finally ready to talk about right now instead of perpetually putting it off. Right now is terribly important in both concept and reality, of course, almost – almost – as much as having something to look forward to. For the first time in what have been several consecutive uncertain and unsettled months, I’m unambiguously stoked for what’s to come. I’m sure you’ll read all about it here. Post 200 was an unruly one. Tough in spots to keep my eyes on the road. Tricky, and demanding…exhausting, and rewarding, Sincerely looking forward to seeing where we might go from here. Thanks for riding along.

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

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

Post No. 175: (In Defense Of) Brazen Idolatry

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