Wednesday, January 15, 2014

But what in the world is a pantaloon, anyway?

My grandfather was one of my heroes. We did not see eye to eye politically (most of the time), but he was indisputably a great man. Brigadier general in the army when he retired in the early 1970s. But retirement slowed him down but nuthin'. He stayed busy, involving himself in Afghanistan and Pakistan from that point through the late 1980s...literally, sometimes. I think he spent more time abroad than he did stateside in the '80s. His military expertise was boundless. He co-penned a book back in the day called Nuclear Tactics, which amusingly enough, is actually available still. He became a political consultant, spending more time in DC than in his home in Southern Pines, NC. I found it amusing that he chose to live right next door to Pinehurst, a big golf (read: retirement sport) resort town in the nation, until I realized it was also right next door to Fort Bragg, a big army base. Grandpa never wanted to "retire." He stayed as busy as he could, and his energy seemed limitless.

But he and his wife decided to move back to Denver years ago, so she could be near her favorite daughter (my mom). He went into it, knowing that he would no longer be around what sustained him so powerfully. But he figured that Grandma had suffered his travels, being the equivalent of a single mom, then a solitary wife for so long, that he should do what she wanted now.

And cut off from his military links, he began to wither. For such a great man, having lived through three wars and being so successful, his death was sadly unworthy of his life; he slowly wasted away, turning despondent and suicidal before our eyes, until he finally died of natural causes one morning in a nursing home in his wife's arms. He had a proper military funeral back at Fort Bragg, but one of the saddest things I ever saw was his casket being driven away in a small open-framed pickup truck, bouncing around and not tied down. It was so undignified, so unworthy of him.

One of the most profound things he taught me was his view of being a man, based on Shakespeare's famous soliloquy, "All the world's a stage." There were seven stages, Shakespeare wrote, to being a full man: the infant, the schoolboy, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon, and finally, the old, doddering man. So drawn into this view, my grandfather was, that he took a picture of a stained glass representation of this, had it framed, and gave it to me as a present. I thought it was nice at the time, and it's packed away in our voluminous basement full of crap right now, but the more I think of it, the more I believe it's true.

What makes me think this? The soldier. I have fulfilled every role up to this point just fine (currently acting as the justice, so to speak), and I have no question of what lies ahead of me. Every role except for the soldier: "jealous in honor, sudden, and quick in quarrel/Seeking the bubble reputation/Even in the cannon's mouth." I never was a soldier, literal or figurative. I recently wrote about the symbolic solider (or as I put it at the time, warrior) I left abandoned on the side of the road in the wilderness, in his armor and brandishing his sword, waiting for his time to come. I picture him kicking the gravel, walking around, waiting as if for Godot. And I feel a great sense of guilt, of abdicating responsibility to myself. I feel like I should somehow make it up to him. I feel very much an incomplete man without him.

It makes me wonder if it's not too late to rectify this, to somehow turn back and channel that soldier energy somehow. I've done some of it, getting into weightlifting and such over the past few years, and people have noticed that I've gotten beefier, but to what end? Vanity? I think my newfound strength should be put to good use somehow...but how?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

"I don't know what it is, but you gotta do it."

Ten and a half years ago, I graduated naturopathic school. Great job, congratulations, here's your diploma, now get back to work and study your ass off for boards. Five weeks later, I had successfully filled in approximately 900 little circles on papers that would determine whether or not I would be eligible to get a license to practice or not. A few weeks after that, I found out that, yes, I had passed my board exams. Thrilled, to say the least.

But now what? You have your diploma, you now have your license, you have the title...what are you gonna do with it? And suddenly I became fearful for the future. I could complete medical school...but what of it? My bluff was called, and I blinked. Big time.

As it happened, Mr. Man and I had moved from Puddletown to the Chicago area after I completed my board exams. I'd unwittingly landed in the backyard of a chiropractic school that offered an accelerated program for health care pros like myself. It looked interesting. I visited the school on one of their "be a student for a day" programs. The day of the program was gray, rainy, cold, and dismal. The closer I got to the school, the drearier it seemed to get...used car lots, potholed roads, and nothing inviting. The entire day felt wrong. I felt magnetically repelled from the school, as if some huge force were trying to push me away. I came home and told Mr. Man that I couldn't see myself making that drive and going to school there at all.

But apparently I couldn't see myself using my degree right off, either. Despite what so much of my body, mind, and psyche was telling me (and there was no mistaking how wrong I felt about it), I decided to avoid the future, and retreated back into school.

And ten years ago today, on the first day of school, began the worst and most painful year of my life. I drove to school, singing a song that echoed my uncertainty but hope that this was perhaps the best path forward. Then I felt that hope collapse like the industrial dissonance and clamor at the end of the song, just as I pulled into the school parking lot for this first day of school. 2004 was a year that drove me to drink (but only on weekends), that contributed to some major adrenal fatigue (that I overcame years later, though not without effort), and that I would gladly erase from my life if given the option. I learned how cruel some instructors and fellow students can be. I learned how awful it feels to be devoting all your time and energy to a program you don't really believe in, yet one that will be significantly determining your identity, income, reputation, and mindset for the rest of your life. I learned how painful it can be to push forward when it seems that everyone has you in their crosshairs, to eliminate, to ridicule, or to shun. I learned the constant static that you feel when you had a vision for your life, but you chose a path that runs counter to it in many ways. And ever since, I've been trying to push the negative aspects of 2004 out of my brain and take what good I could from it. I've been mostly successful at winnowing the bad from the good, and I am definitely excellent at what I do, but my expertise came at a tremendous psychic and physical cost.

And 2005 wasn't much better.

So here's to having no year worse than 2004, and having every year being exponentially better and more fulfilling somehow. Because I've put in my time in hell...and it's time to turn my back on it. (Despite the fact that, yes, I did just commemorate it very unsubtly.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

So what is it?

Is it "in vino veritas," or is it that alcohol overly amplifies emotions? Because at this moment, I'm leaning toward the latter. And believe me, at this late hour on the first day of 2014, it ain't purty. Fights between me and Mr. Man never are. Then again, we don't really fight. A few bon mots, some insinuations, some passive-aggressive acquiescence, and some stomping off to another bar while the other stays behind. (I'll leave you to guess who stays behind, in a very passive-aggressive manner.) God, but relationships are agonizing.

Oh yeah. And happy 2014. Don't send me any pity. I'm over it.