Chris Writes

My life in real time

Strikes

There’s a room in my basement.  It’s the best place to hear the raindrops fall.  I lay down on the small guest bed and look up at the high window.  I can hear every pitter, like in a tent. A thousand little strikes. Every second.  The water lurches down from the gutter system, draining into the soil.  I see beautiful purple flowers swaying, absorbing the shock of each droplet.  They were made to do this.

Yet if I dumped a bucket filled with water over top they get washed away.  They don’t bounce back.  The petals are flattened against concrete.  They are violently pulled away by sheer force.  Washed away.

They are no longer beautiful.  No longer even one living thing, but many little dead things.

They are strong and fragile.  They rely on Sun, air, soil, and rain.  All in moderation.

I look up through my basement window.  Their stems are firm.  The flowers are upright and proud.  They brace themselves against the wind, then settle to their former place.

How does one find it’s way back to it’s former place?  Are there former places or just new one’s?  Washed away.  Eventually coming to a halt.  In a new field.  With new soil.  Waiting for thousands of little strikes to make us whole.

Old Relics

Capture

I find a coffee shop because I need people around me.  I need movement, talking, and indirect interaction.  Then I put on my headphones and go back inward.  I look over to the other tables and see at least 10 other people playing the same game as me.

From as long as I can remember I have felt my loneliness in a room full of people.  I’ve been in remote areas of Alaska, 10 miles from the nearest road and probably 20 miles from the nearest human being, and felt so alive.

Isolation has nothing to do with the proximity of people.

I logged into Gmail and pulled up an old piece of writing.  It felt familiar and distant.  Before love or fatherhood.  Who was that person?  Why was he always so sad?

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”                                       – Stephen King

I pulled up 50 old essays, clicked on Select All, and the finger hovered over Delete.  My body had this tingling feeling, as if I had already done it.

Then I see the emails.  I still have our entire interaction.  This long email.  It was the end of our relationship.  It was horrific.  You wheeling your luggage down one of those steep Seattle hills.  I got in front of you, trying to reason,  trying to stop gravity from taking you away.  I didn’t succeed that day.  This one stays in the archive.  A reminder that all could’ve been lost.  Can still be.

I’ve been sick for the past few days.  This is must how my father feels.  I saved this attachment, a picture.  It was the moment I left him.  He cried.  He never cries.  The death of boyhood.  Now he cries again, for real deaths.  They are all real though.

I haven’t cried yet.  Maybe I will later.

I found this old email from a guy named Joe.  He was abused throughout his childhood.  This was decades ago.  This was the first time he told anyone about it.  I see that I started to reply to him, but I never sent it.  It was too difficult to tread those muddy waters again and again.

I hope Joe found peace, good health, and someone worthy to receive his darkest secret.  His imeasurable moment.

I take the email, place it into the stream and it drifts away.  I release you.

 

 

 

What We Carry

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I was supposed to be in the mountains today.

It may seem odd to say, but snow scares me.  I had an accident many years ago that has stayed with me.  I fell down a steep snowy embankment, picking up speed.  Like a rolling pin, I impacted a ledge which hurtled me into the air.  My body went across an exposed slope of loose rock, like a banana slide.  It was so quick.  I did not know if I was going to die but I had enough time to consider it.  I didn’t.  The worst part was left to the end.  I loosed a cascade of rocks high above me.  I lay there in shock as volleyball-sized rocks came down on me.

When rock falls the instinct is always to look up, which I did.  It was in that moment that a rock the size of a canteloupe struck me just above my right eye.  I got into a sitting position.  I looked down at this stream of blood dropping into my lap.  I reached up to the loose flap of skin of my eyebrow.  I couldn’t see.  I had lost my eyeglasses.  I really couldn’t see.

I was not alone that day.  Ed was waiting at the base of the long slope when he heard me, then saw me.  Later he told me it would take a long time for him to get that image out of his head.  My body hurtling down hard snow and ice.

Ed came up to me.  Asked me if I was alright.  All I could say was yeah, I think.  The adrenaline in my veins disguised any injury, at least for the moment.

He reached over for some webbing to bind my wound, then hesitated.  He pulled out his camera instead and told me, “You’re going to want a picture of this.”

I laughed.  Ed, always the photographer.  Always looking for the perfect picture.  He bound my head so tight my head throbbed.  Then he slowly led me down the mountain.  I was blind without my glasses.  Everything a blur.

Ed was one of my first climbing partners.  Many years later he disappeared off a ridge on Mt. Forbidden.  I was told he fell, just like me.

I told them that I wouldn’t be climbing the mountain today.  I made up an excuse.

It may seem ironic.  A climber who is too afraid to climb.  It happens.  Trauma is something we carry with us.  It doesn’t heal.  When we are strong we may not even remember that it is there.  Then it reminds us.

We are not always strong.  If I don’t think about it, my body remembers.  The feeling of helplessness right before the fall.  I remember looking down the slope at Ed right before I fell.  It was like he was in another universe and I couldn’t get there.  I knew I was going to fall.  I was too scared, too anxious, too panicky.  I had received no training for a moment like that.  I fell over 10 years ago, but I still remember.

I was not supposed to be in the mountains today.  So I didn’t go.

Do Not Disturb

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“Chris, you are very clear about what you want, but you are horrible about conveying it to others.”

I go to text messaging.  I click on “Do No Disturb”.  I do this three times.  Then I compose an email.

“Hey all, I won’t be seeing any future texts.  If you want to contact me call me on the phone or send an email.”

Then I turn my phone off.  I log off Facebook.  I begin organizing my emails.  Unsubscribe.  Unsubscribe.  Unsubscribe.  All newspapers are cancelled with the exception of New York Times and The Atlantic.

I take a few days off from work.  I contemplate my current social circle, residing largely online.  I wonder how I can rebuild my network in a more meaningful way.  An offline way.  Tethered in real-time, but in a physical world.  An existence curated for self-preservation.  Not opened up to any stray trending item in a feed.  Feeds are troughs filled with grain.  Pigs line up side-by-side to feed on it.  Are we all pigs lined up at the trough?  Feeding.

“So what you are saying is you are repulsed and disgusted and you have very little control.”

It hurts to see him in pain.  A father crying in front of son.  He never did.  He pleads with me for help.  I have very little influence.  Now I know that.  I am angry and filled with mixed-emotions, but I see that these words I speak can’t move the needle in the right direction.

I go back to texts and fingers hover over one last “Do Not Disturb.”  Mom.  All of these things converging at once.  Dying.  Grieving.  Old sibling discontent bleeding over for decades.  My own realization that I have given myself over to others, waiting for them to judge me, accept me, reject me, or ignore me.  I carry the weight and it is heavy.  My child and wife don’t see me because I am not there.  Squinting, shoulders compressed under it.  I look vacant.  I feel so exhaustibly tired and miserable without knowing why.

I press it.  Then I look my child in the eyes again.

 

One Is Enough

Sometimes I feel like a sick child being force fed my black soup.

I woke up this morning and opened up the laptop.  On Safari, I had a great article on how to eat in remote alpine environments.  There was three articles discussing today’s repeal and replace debacle.  Another article on Trump’s continued fascination with everything Putin.  Then there was my Facebook account, feeding me today’s trending articles at a rapid clip.  My last screen was an empty blog post on my WordPress account.  Just tempting me to write something.

My eyes glazed over the articles, reading a paragraph here and there.  I tossed the laptop in my bag and took the bus to work.  On the ride, I listened to an excellent Sam Harris podcast focused on how the rest of the world is perceiving this surreal reality that is America today.

At work, I pulled out the latest edition of The Atlantic and Harpers and set it aside for my lunch break.  The covers of both figured prominently many articles about Trump.

Meanwhile, all I could think about was that empty blog post waiting for me.  Then I thought about Thoreau.

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

-HR

Our world is so drastically faster.  Our hungers too.  Yet, we want to move backward to a simpler time.  A time, not too long ago, where we didn’t have instant access devices.  We could disconnect and we would.

How few opportunities we have to just be present.  I met my wife over the internet.  One of the funny things we do is sit together in front of our laptops making snide comments about each other on Facebook.  We are so wired in.  I am so wired in and sometimes I can barely move.

It isn’t how I want my daughter to experience her childhood.  I got a chance to run around in wild places, to get lost, and imagine my own worlds.  There was no visuals guiding me.  There was no Lord of The Rings movies.  We only had the books and what we imagined each character to be.  We exercised our creativity always.

On an ordinary day, I spend at least 7 hours at work on the computer.  I go home and burn a few more on my laptop or watching television.  Yet, all I ever want to do is drive to Yosemite and stay there for a month.  I have these guidebooks to places like the Bugaboos.  Otherworldly places I have yet to visit.  Beautiful places I have been meaning to come back to.  The Cordillera Blanca in Peru.  The High Sierra.  I see pictures on Facebook from my favorite climbers.  They are in these places now.  These places feel so far away from a laptop screen in Seattle.

We are always forgetting to let fresh air in.  To save our capacities for the meaningful things.  There is so much going on in this world and we try so hard to keep up.  I guess I don’t ask myself what is it all for?  Why do I need to know so much about what’s going on in the world?  How is all of it contributing positively to my life?  If I am unable to filter the information, should I just turn my back on it completely?

I feel that I am well acquainted with the principle.  Is that not enough?

 

 

 

 

 

Men Who Were Violated

In another life I used to write and speak about child abuse.  It was hard work.  I worked for a nonprofit which required me to go there with audiences.  In public venues, I shared details of my life I thought would remain buried forever.  I was often attacked by victims just like me.  Men who were violated.  Men who hadn’t come to terms with their abuse.  I shared something that gave them hope but raised an intense anger within them.

They questioned my story of abuse.  I was labeled a liar or gay or a coward smearing his family without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.  I was impossible to many.  Boys and men can’t be victims of abuse, especially those abused by a woman.  If they are, they probably let it happen.  They must have wanted it.  It is this dark psychological soup we are churning in.  Us invisible men.  Every man learns to hide their weaknesses, all of them.  We hide it through denial, overcompensation, or hypermasculinity.  A male survivor talking about his abuse gives up the game.  It’s a betrayal.

It was a difficult period.  I needed it to survive.  To be a good father.  To acknowledge and grieve my own devastating losses.  The loss of a relationship with a parent.  The death of the child I had once been.  A sudden, ripping death without reason or explanation.  I had to make my own reasons for what happened, and they all came to the same conclusion.  He chose me because there was something wrong with me.  I was a disgusting and rotten apple.

In every other way he was the typical dad.  Working hard.  Sacrificing personal goals.  Sacrificing everything to make sure his family was fed.  There was just this one tiny thing and it only had to do with me.  They say that we carry the voices of our mothers and fathers with us everywhere.  It is in our superego, lecturing us, judging us, incriminating us, and destroying us.  I can’t rid myself of this voice on my shoulder that scrutinizes everything I do.  That tells me that I am nothing and there is nothing consequential about my life.  This voice explains away every victory.  It refuses to take credit for anything I should be proud of.  It is my father’s voice.  My mother’s too.  She couldn’t protect me, and maybe she always knew.  Those lingering questions stretch off into infinite and there is no satisfactory answer.  No way to recover all those essential things that were stripped away.

I’ve come a long way.  I have shared my experiences with many family members and received their reactions, and sometimes forgiven them for the damage they continue to cause. This was not the man they knew.  So I have taken something from them.  An ideal.  I didn’t ask for this burden, but it is mine to bear.

The irony of all of this is that I have become an advocate for this man who abused me.  I am making the preparations for a respectful departure.  He is so weak, as I was when he took away everything, and I want to rage.  I want to scream in his face.  I want to let him know that I hate him for what he did.  I just can’t do it though.  The vulnerable should be protected.  I know what happens when they aren’t and no one deserves that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dying To Give Life

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She has a hard exterior, perhaps too hard.  She can lull one into thinking that she can deal with any setback.  That she will bounce back.  She is fearfully anxious of being judged, being found out.  Being abandoned.  The loss of a friend can be catastrophic.  Whether that friend was good for her or not doesn’t always matter.  She is incredibly capable and at the same time incredibly vulnerable.

Her greatest moment was the birth of her child.  I was there when it happened.  I saw it.  The locks of hair protruding then receding back in.  Then an incredible physical push and out came this tiny little cabeza and face to match.  This was my greatest moment too.

You don’t really understand what this little thing will become.  They become you.  Reflections of you and her.  I still look into her eyes, like a pool of water, and ask is that me in there?  Is that who I am?

The other day my daughter said,” Badges?!  We don’t need no stinking’ badges!” then she farted on my leg.  Confirmation.  No DNA test needed.

Her mother was sick for 8 long months.  It’s a condition that debilitates expectant mothers.  You are sick every day.  You can’t eat.  You are too weak to walk or sit.  You take intravenous fluids 5 times a week to maintain.  It’s visually indistinguishable from those who are dying.  She suffered through it and I was her caretaker.

Our daughter was the result.

Only the love of a mother would make any woman want to go through that again.  It is in these times when I understand that women are built differently.  They possess a drive that feels impossible or incomprehensible.  It goes largely unacknowledged and under appreciated.  Some call these things instincts.  To me, pregnancy and birthing are miracles of sacrifice.  I will cede that there is no other earthly feat that compares.  To willingly do this with hyperemesis gravidarum is something else entirely.

Yet, she was built to survive.  She only needed me to say yes, let’s do it again.  All that pain and suffering ahead of us felt like a gift from the highest power, to her.  Me too.

 

 

 

 

 

Mother

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Am I allowed to be angry with you?  I keep asking myself that question.  Dad is dying, so why am I so angry with how you are handling it?  We’ve all seen the movies.  Dad is dying.  His wife never leaves his bedside.  Her concern is only for him.  Every decision she makes is for that purpose.  That’s what I believed.

We are losing our father.  You are losing your life partner.  Your only real relationship.  He’s provided stability for you your entire adult life.  He was the calming yin to your serially anxious yang.  Now he is a confused old man whose body is shutting down.

I see him in that bed, his stomach ballooning from all the trapped liquid in his system.  His small face, wracked with anxious glances, hovers above this wasted shell.  I want to take that small face and spirit it off to a healthier place.

I realize that little of this is in my control.  Not even you, mother.  You spend all this time complaining about how much work it is taking care of dad.  A record player that keeps skipping endlessly into his ear.  He just looks at you, feeling like a burden, wanting to go away to ease your hardship.

We spend all of our time trying to figure out how to ease your hardship.  There is very little left to focus on our dad.  On giving him some peace.

This is real dying I guess.  It scares me.  I am not religious or superstitious but there is something about dying in the middle of chaos and turmoil that lingers on in the earth.  Will we not give this man his moment of reflection?  Of comfort?  The moments are less and less and we are squandering them.  I just want a moment.

That’s all I want.

Hello Again Blog

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It’s been a while.  I wanted to write in you every day, but i’ve been struggling.  Some of it good, some bad.  I’ve been trying to stay away from current events, but every new tweet seems to introduce something sinister and partisan and exclusive.  I now know how it feels to have a President in office who has no interest in my concerns.  Not even an effort to pretend to be inclusive.  No token gestures.  Just nothing.

I have never read so many great and insightful articles on the current state of America today.  It feels like journalism is entering another golden age.  Unfortunately it’s almost all about one man.  He magnifies our fears, almost consciously.  This atmosphere of chaos and petty actions and petty arguments seems intended.  To accept him we have to buy into his warped sense of reality, which is an impossibility for Americans like me.

I just don’t know how much longer he can dangle his delusional road trip in front of our shaking heads.  Will the Republicans save America?  Will they intervene for the sake of the people, or even in the name of their own questionable principles?

There is no more expectation that this man will tack into the winds of reality.  I fully expect him to waste our money on the wall that we never asked for.  The wall that was already there.  There is a wall between Americans like me and everything he brings forward every day.  Obama was so warm and open and human.  He used reason and common sense to guide him.

I understand that many of us are disgusted with these Cabinet picks.  Yet, all these people flow from a poison lake.  He is the ultimate unsuitable incompetent.  So how enraged can we really get with DeVos and Pruitt and the rest?

These concerns have a way of drowning out the day.  The things we do to take care of ourselves.  I realize more how my family is such a source of happiness and renewal.  I need to cuddle with my daughter and read books to her, for her benefit and for myself.  This is normal.  This is healthy.  This is a reminder that the reach of narcissistic misogynist leaders is limited.  They can’t get to this.

The truth has never been more valuable.  I see it in the resurgence of Dan Rather on Facebook.  I see in the David Frum’s surreal How To Build An Autocracy.  I see it in Jake Tapper refusing to yield to Trump’s latest talking head.  With chaos comes opportunity.  The stories that are being told are heartbreaking and disturbing and sober.  But they need to be told.

It’s a time to assess what is meaningful to you.  It’s a time of action.  Adding your name and address to the Moveon.org petition just does not cut it in this world.  We have grown lazy in our cozy little worlds.  But it feels like many of us are waking up and being citizens.  For the first time.

We love our country.  Our institutions.  Our neighbors.  Whether they be immigrants or transgender or excluded by this administration.  We want to protect all those people and all of those things.

Blog,  I wish we had other problems, but this is it and here we are.  Thanks for lending an ear.

Chris

 

A Message To Her

I wonder how it was we came to be here.  In some ways our relationship is better than ever.  We have a foundation built on our family life.  Our daughter binds us together forever.  We are able to pursue our individual passions with the comfort of knowing we have each other.  I feel a confidence in myself that I only feel with the presence of you.  You know me and my inner demons.  You give me space because I am the kind of person who needs alot of space.  So are you.

We used to be reckless.  We used to have very little responsibility.  We were young and in love.  I look back with fond memories.  It was nice to just wake up and be out the door in minutes.  If anything i’ve learned about us now is that we can carry the weight.  We have held onto some backbreaking burdens.  We have struggled and clawed our way back into the light.  In our beginning we should have broken up.  What I put you through.  I don’t know how we got through it.

Every struggle we have now is informed by that initial scar tissue.  I see the person you’ve become and it is surreal the you that is you here and now.  Your motherhood.  Your independent businesswoman.  Your nasty woman.  Your advocate.  Your goddess who sings and practices magik.  Your wife who pleads for more intimacy.

I was never scared off or bothered by who you have become.  I admired it and wanted it to continue.  It continues.

It’s a weird time to be in my 40’s.  I feel so uncertain about so many things.  All I have is you to rely on.  My constant.  I need you to believe me and convince me again and again to believe in myself.  I don’t always do.  I love you.  I know you.

I don’t know many people but I know you.  I have watched you for many years.  You pushed me away.  You inspired me.  You showed me how to be.  You angered and frustrated me.  You were in my grasp and perpetually out of reach.

Sometimes I feel too selfish to wait to have you.  To be with you.  To have you tell me that I do exist.  To confirm that I am here and that you love me.  It is hard the sacrifices we make to have something more.  We don’t always get what we want or need but we have each other.

So I guess I could say you are the love of my life and that you are my one and only, but I guess I want to make a plea for a little more water and sunshine.  It’s how living things grow.  We have grown together.  We will continue to celebrate on the day after.  There’s too much to do.  So once again we defer us.

I just want you to know that I see this invisible thing.  Even though it doesn’t come first or second or third.  It is there and it is filled with love.  On long days when we forget and in brief moments when we remember.  I love you girl.  I wouldn’t know how to live a day without you.

When we first met I am not sure that I knew about what real love meant but I know it in you.  It’s not perfect.  It ripples like a current and lashes out in surprising and profound ways.  It’s the calm underneath the waves.  It’s quiet and nonverbal and knowing.  It’s how I can read your mind and you can mine.  Knowing.

Thanks for being my love.  For giving me a beautiful daughter.  For just being you, and trying to be more of you with each day.  I may mock you and smile knowingly, but I really am just filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be with you even if I don’t always know how to express it earnestly in that moment.  Happy Day After!

C.