What does love really mean?

As an empath, a water sign, a healer and a writer, love is a central theme to my identity. An identity that has grown more and more complex as I’ve aged. For a long time, I blamed myself for the growing complexity of it.

I was merely born in the wrong century, a time that has long been forgotten. Where people loved each other and took care of each other based around what that person needed, and not what you were comfortable giving. And it’s only recently that I’ve come to the understanding that not only was I wrong about where I was but also how wrong I was about the past.

The past has been romanticized as this place where great people did great things to take care of their people. The weak and downtrodden were lifted up to be part of the group, a group that was viewed as a unit instead of many individuals. The problem with that is that it’s patently false.

Sure, if you fit enough of the mold, you would be accepted. But the outcasts, the ones who believed in “trivial” things like magic, feelings, vibes, and emotions were pushed out. Forced to create their own communities. And even today, the large populous looks down on groups like the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s as kooky or out of touch.

These people are viewed negatively because they embrace their feelings and emotions and listen to the stars, but these are closer to my people than any others. Luckily, in the age of social media, these people are easier to find than ever. We’re drifting toward a society of people who not only embrace their emotions but thrive BECAUSE they do so. Still, there’s a large divide in how we view things like love.

The problem with the word love is that we use it in too many varying ways. Anyone can love sports, their family, their friends, their spouse, and themselves, and each love is different. But we throw the word around with anything we like and expect everyone else to figure out what we actually mean. And for most of us, our problems expressing that love is the cause of divide in relationships. 

To be clear, I also don’t like how we use the word “relationship” either, but for different reasons. When we hear the word “relationship”, most of us default to thinking “Oh, they mean their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse.” In reality, everyone we interact with is in a relationship with us. We have relationships with ourselves, our family, our friends, our coworkers and really anyone we interact with. You don’t have to love everyone you’re in a relationship with, but it’s still a relationship.

So where do my sticking points come from? While most people’s most difficult relationship is with themselves, mine is not. I don’t say that as a judgment, it’s purely what I’ve observed and heard from people I interact with. That is the part I’ve put the most work into, and probably 99.99% of the time, I do love myself.

But it has been a lonely row to hoe. My family has been there, but I feel our paths diverging. Not in any sort of negative way, but I know that if I’m going to grow further in the ways that I want to, there will be some level of fracture. Nothing permanent or bad, just different from what it is now.

The love of family is strong. It’s almost unbreakable in most cases. People will go to extremes for their families, in ways that they won’t for other people. But that puts a level of weight to it. Almost as if you HAVE to love your family. You can severe any relationship you want, including with family members, but they will always be blood.

To highlight this, look at a family with children. The parents, in moments of honesty, will admit that if it became a choice of their partner or their children, they would choose their children. Why? Because the children are literally blood-related to their parents. The parents, as much as they love their partner, aren’t blood-related.

There are still varying degrees of this, though, so it’s not a black and white decision. Most people would probably choose a partner over a blood relative, but we’re getting too stuck in the mud by trying to assign a distinction to every relationship of every human.

No, my problem is in the friend and partner sense of the word. My desire to love in those areas has typically led me down a self-sacrificial route. When it comes to friends, I’ve mostly always accommodated, never wanting to rock the boat. I’ve gotten better about that, but I was always trying to curry favor in an effort to keep people around. I would agree to go out for a night, knowing it was going to stretch me too thin, and then flake at the last moment. And it meant eventually, I was running people off because I was a yes man, not a friend. 

And in terms of what we call “relationships”, it was more of a selfish-sacrificing pattern. In my teens and early 20s, I was never single for very long. I ignored a lot of warning signs and got into very short term relationships because it was, in my mind, better to have someone, anyone, than to be alone. It’s probably part of why I’ve been single for so long now. It wasn’t a punishment or a lack of potential matches, but I had to teach myself how to be independent.

I had to learn about myself for once and expand myself into new places. I had been running in circles for years and I finally had broken off onto a new path. And it worked. The very, very few times I’ve opened up to new people in the last couple of years, I was confident I was doing so because it was the right decision, and not just grasping at straws or trying to fill a void. Because there was no void to fill anymore.

I’ve acknowledged to myself that I’ll be ok if it’s just me. I worried a lot when I was younger that I would be alone. It’s where a lot of that scrambling to be with someone was born out of, and also why those relationships didn’t prosper. The old saying about gripping on too tightly is applicable. There are no negative feelings around relationships for me either. I had a period where there were, and even times where I was miserable at a wedding because I was making it about myself. As I said, a selfish-sacrificing pattern.

However, it’s been lonely. The loneliness, I used to think, was from not being in a “relationship”. And in a way, it is. But not in the ways we typically conflate. It’s not just about the physical, it’s the emotional and mental labor that you share with another person. It’s the type of symbiotic relationship that only comes when you don’t “have” to love them. When they choose you and you, them. You’ve both acknowledged that your life is enhanced by them being in it. 

Every time I have a rough day mentally or emotionally, it’s all on me. In a healthy relationship, it’s a balancing act. When they’re having a low day, you can adopt more of the load and visa versa. If I have a low period, I still have to make sure the bills are paid, fix the sink, cancel the phone plan, or whatever issues may come up. And for a short period of time, most people are ok. Hell, sometimes people thrive in that situation. I am usually one of those people. But after a while, it does get old. But you learn from letting things fall through the cracks and the mistakes made and you get better next time. 

The thing I wish more people would realize is how grey everything is. There is no black and white, no one single answer for any of life’s questions. People stay for a myriad of reasons. People leave for even more. And ultimately, if you can find that one person that will share your load, don’t take that for granted.

Wrapped up in that, however, is the understanding that we have to love how those people need to be loved, not how we want it to be. If they’re your friends, love them as your friend. If they’re your partner, love them like that. Same with your family. But understand that it’s not about you. It’s about them.

~

Photo by Leighann Renee on Unsplash

 

Millennial High School Nostalgia

The absurdity of being a white high school kid in the mid-2000s only became apparent to me recently. Millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20 when 9/11 happened and the internet started to take off. No big deal, just our formative years completely altered by a catastrophic national event and a culture change unlike anything seen in history. That’s a lot coming at you all at once. It was less than ideal, to say the least.

But for most of us, there was music. After all, who better to explain the feelings and give hope to a bunch of 16-year-olds than a group of 22-year-olds? Oh, shit, we really were set up, weren’t we?

Either way, a lot of us made it through some rough times because of that music. I’ve gone back several times through my 20s and listened to that music, and in some low points, it all felt very familiar. But I also realized that it was contributing to a lot of my problems at the time. I was listening to a lot of really sad, hopeless, and depressing music at that time. It fed into those feelings for sure.

Now that I’ve grown past a lot of those problems, I appreciate the positive, uplifting music more and how those songs remind me of the good things about being a teenager. First kisses, first loves, freedom from things like work, bills and heavyweight consequences. And again, I say all of this from a white kid in a midwest city perspective. If there’s one thing the internet has helped do, it makes people who are willing to listen more conscious of the plight of others. I was very privileged to have the experiences I did.

I don’t think the world has gotten easier since we were in high school. Actually, I’d argue that it’s gotten more complex, even if we have access to more information now. It’s the information overload that concerns me, combined with the spread of misinformation that has taken hold. It’s my hope that for the high schoolers out there now, they are finding music that speaks to them and helps them out through the tough shit.

Even if it depresses me now, when you’re a kid, you just want to know you’re not alone. And music provides that. Even as adults, that’s all we want. I think that’s why artists like Lizzo, Beyoncé, and Weezer (still) maintain their strong base of fans. They allow people to stay with them on the journey and continue to enjoy listening to their music.

Conversely, I think that’s why artists like My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, and Good Charlotte (all of whom I loved listening to in high school) don’t stay with us into adulthood for the most part. We grow out of that angst and frustration with the world and (generally) develop healthier ways of dealing with those problems when they come up. Music merely serves as that reminder: we are not alone.

~

Photo by Rocco Dipoppa on Unsplash

 

A Restless Soul

Just over a week removed from a month-long trip across the country and back, and I feel…sluggish. I’m taking my time figuring out the next steps and just enjoying not necessarily having anything to do. I’ve gotten some writing done, tried to catch up on podcasts, and shows that I want to finish, but no real plan. Not in the short term anyway.

My desire to be back on the road is evident. I was driving today and saw one of the nearby cities on the signs overhanging the expressway and nearly kept driving. It’s a tenuous thing, balancing that need for adventure with maintaining a life. I spent so many years refusing to go near the candy store, only to allow myself in and to eat everything in the store. Now, it’s about moderation.

I’ve always had this restless soul. Only in terms of adventure, but it’s been there. And now that it’s been indulged, it inevitably leads to a follow-up question: what’s next? And short-term, I haven’t quite decided yet. I could stay in Louisville for a bit, save some money (and pay off some debt), and then head out on another adventure. It’s arguably my “safe” option. I have other reasons for wanting to stay in Louisville, but do those inspire enough in me to stay the course?

On the other hand, I could head to my preferred destination from my trip: Boise, Idaho. It’s hard to accurately describe Boise, but it was the only place on the trip that felt like a home to me. I can think of other places that might have felt that way if I hadn’t been in a mental rut, or the weather had been better, or other mitigating factors. And even if I did go, I only spent a few days in Boise. It could end up not resonating with me the way I thought, and then it’s on to the next adventure.

Either way, I wanted to make my longer-term goals location-less. Things that I could learn and do and visit that weren’t limited by where I called my home base. Because I could see a scenario where that place changes multiple times over the rest of my life. Which is ironic, because I hate moving, but I digress…

The list I came up with can be divided into two paths: a creative/work path and a physical path. I realized on this trip that I had let my fitness fall to the point that I couldn’t appreciate all that those places had to offer. Creating those goals is a plan to get back to that point.

So, first, the physical list. These are things that others have done before me, and many will do after me, but I believe that’s a tie that binds people rather than making it any less impressive. I want to visit all the National Parks. I hit a handful of them, but there’s so many more to explore, especially in Alaska. I want to complete a 100-mile ultramarathon. As difficult as that would be for my body, I want to push my mind to that point. I want to hike the Pacific Coast, John Muir, Continental Divide, and Appalachian Trails. All of these are varying degrees of length and difficulty, and all hold an important place in my mind. And last, inspired by Mike Posner, who completed it this year, I want to walk across the country, coast to coast. It’s something I thought a lot about driving down the 101 in California.

Now, the creative/work path. This list is arguably less bold, but it’s probably the things that I view more challenging. These, to me, require more intentional work to accomplish and discipline on my part. I’ve started these (kind of), but I want to write a novel and a book of poetry. I want to continue to coach girl’s basketball as well. I really love it, and it combines a lot of my interests into one. I’m not sure what level I’d want to end up at, but it helps me stay connected to a game I love and help develop the next generation of people. The last one is centered around learning. I want to learn how to make things with my hands, be it woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, blowing glass, etc. I love using my hands and am looking for another creative outlet besides writing.

I believe all of these are fundamentally achievable for me, but I’m also not tying myself to them, allowing them to become part of me. We allow so many things to influence our self-worth because we either fail or succeed. My failure or success to do a job or achieve a goal doesn’t change who I am as a person. So, maybe I’ll accomplish all of those things. Perhaps I’ll meet none of them. But for me, it’s about the pursuit.

I have a lot of time to do all of these things. Hell, I have a lot of time just to live.

~

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

 

In Search Of…: 6 Things I Learned

For those unfamiliar, I spent the last month on the road, living in my car (save one glorious hotel night). It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I was incredibly lucky to be able to do it. But I’m back now, and there were more than a handful of lessons I took with me.

While I haven’t made any permanent changes quite yet, these lessons will strongly guide my decision-making process in both the immediate and distant future. Some of these were new thoughts, some were things that I had been feeling for a while, but didn’t have the experience to back them up.

Relationships are Everything

How we relate to the people around us is everything. This is top to bottom, everyone from your immediate family to the person you order your food from at a restaurant. We are all on this planet together and our fractured relationships are what will cause us to fall. So, when you love someone, tell them. When you’re upset with someone, tell them so you can work it out. Our lives are simultaneously infinite and short. Why waste any of it with people who don’t respect you or want to have you in their lives? Conversely…

Money is Nothing

This is definitely something I’ve been feeling for a while. We get so caught up working for more, more, more. And I’m not ignorant to basic cost of living. There’s a whole world of issues situated with the fact that there are people that have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. I’m talking about the excess. We don’t need millions of dollars to live. Depending on where you live and your familial situation, we don’t even need hundreds of thousands of dollars to live.

I have completely detached from money as an important construct. I’m more concerned with how I’m spending my money going forward. Spending a lot of money on this trip, some of which I simply don’t have at the moment taught me that the experiences I gained were worth much more than my bank account.

I Don’t Need a lot of Space…But I Do Need My Own Space

Living in my car was in some ways easier and harder than I anticipated. It was fairly easy to sleep and stay asleep at night, and I never got into a scary situation at night doing so. That being said, having a toilet and shower at close hand is a luxury I hadn’t thought through. I think I could do it for a short amount of time, but having my own (albeit small) space is very necessary.

Slow Down

We spend so much of our time racing to get to meetings, events, and classes. Why? Because we’ve overloaded ourselves. We’ve been led into the trap of thinking we have to sprint to keep up when in reality we are all running a marathon. Marathons require patience, resilience, endurance and a strong will. And it’s not just about that, it’s about slowing down to smell the roses. Be in love with every day and conscious of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going.

We Are All Tiny and Mighty, Unique and Common

There’s nothing to make you feel small like driving across the country and back in a month’s time. Except maybe standing amongst the Redwoods in California. Or standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We are all so insignificant on our own on this planet. Nothing any of us could do, on our own, could cause any real change. It’s in this way that we are all common.

And yet, when we are together, working toward a single goal, we are mighty. We can do any good or bad thing with millions or billions supporting us. But that is back to my point about relationships. It’s so crucial that we have even one person supporting us. We all have a unique story that needs to be told. No one other person has lived the same life that we have. Our struggles, triumphs, and choices shape our story. Having that backer can start a tidal wave of us living as our true selves.

Every Moment is a Brush Stroke

Painting is also something I spent a lot of time thinking about, in both the literal and figurative sense. It started in Utah, where I imagined the difficulty in expressing the beauty of the landscape through paint. Even photos weren’t doing it justice, how could paint? But through skill and practice, great painters can accurately convey those colors, shapes, and details in their work.

The same can be said about our lives. We are slowly working on a work of art if we choose to see it as such. Each moment, a small brush stroke. Some strokes are perfectly placed, and we won’t attempt to change them, because they are perfect. But some strokes are imperfect. A cramped hand causing an ill-advised pass over the canvas. But that’s the beauty of the painting. Not only can the mistake be revisited and done again, but even if it’s not, forgotten amongst the other perfect brush strokes, we move on.

No painting is perfect. It’s impossible to accomplish with a human hand. And that’s why we have to look at the big picture.

~

We don’t all get opportunities to experience ourselves on the level that I did in this last month. It’s something that I was very intentional about and took very seriously. It’s how seriously I want to make finding new experiences in my life. I’ll be speaking more about those goals and plans in the future, but for now, I hope these lessons can resonate with others.

In Search Of…: A Finish Line

I’m in Tennessee right now. A far cry from Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday. But, not much has changed.

To recap, I spent most of Saturday in Lubbock, which was a surprisingly enjoyable time. Lubbock has that perfect “college town” feel to it, with enough amenities to make it worth exploring.

After Lubbock, I spent Sunday in Austin, which was a bit disappointing. Austin is clearly one of those cities that has outgrown its size, and the city is trying to play catch up. There were so many people everywhere. I get that it was a weekend day, but even moving in some parts of the city was difficult.

I spent that night in a small town in Oklahoma, driving through Dallas in the process. Dallas was huge and predictably chaotic given that the Sunday Night Football game was being played in Arlington.

Yesterday morning, I drove to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and got to enjoy that tiny little mountain town a bit before heading here to Memphis.

Again, not much has changed in that space of time. I’ve seen and done a bit, but nothing, I feel, of note in terms of this trip. But as I’ve been slowly approaching home, I’m starting to spend more time ruminating and planning. I’m nowhere near an answer or solution yet. I want to completely remove myself from the road, have a proper shower, and reflect on the trip as a whole.

And there are some key things that I’ve learned as well. Some things were reinforcements of previous beliefs, others were new. But I’ll spend some time as well thinking about how I want those things to reflect themselves in my life going forward.

I want to see my family and friends again and in general, just experience a life where I’m not living out of my car. Bold, I know.

I may not know exactly what’s going to happen over the next couple of months yet. But I can’t wait to start figuring it out. And to everyone who has followed along, texted or messaged me, and generally been happy for me, thank you. It helped me get through the rough patches and reminded me of how lucky and privileged I am to have been able to do this.