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When Jumping Off Cliffs Becomes a Profession


I’m gonna take off my pants
Gonna take off my pants
And your teachers can’t stop me
And your priests can’t stop me
And your firemen can’t stop me
And the President can’t stop me
Will you take off my pants?
Will you take off my pants?

Randy Newman, Pants

Culturally speaking, we are a bunch of cowards. We’re all too eager to surrender the authority of our lives. Show me how to live! Much of our lifespans are sacrificed to someone else’s definition because it’s easy. It’s encouraged. Shit, it’s taught.

Owning our lives feels unnatural, a taboo.

At least that’s my opinion.

Sorry, I’m tempted to wax philosophically often. I stroke my lofty notions for a bit but then remind myself that we are drowning in a sea of opinion. I’d just be one more white male explaining to you where you went wrong with your life and how to fix it. I mean, the Internet? Holy crap. It’s become the land of soapbox advice and belief. I fight against advice. Ask my writing coach. I have a don’t tell me, show me mentality. This is why I write through my overly-personal experiences. I’ve got no answers for you, no fuzzy woo-woo wisdom.

But maybe you’ll catch a reflection of yourself as I tumble down the mountain.

My heart was shaped with soft intent but hard blows. As a child, I felt marginalized to a point that teetered on the edge of abandonment. To try to stay one step ahead, I became adept at reading people so I could predict behavior. I pleased to feel valued. Riding the tide was my strategy to feel safe. I really didn’t have much of a choice. As a result, I became susceptible to losing myself to my surroundings. Add my diminished self-esteem due to an absent father and I had the recipe for a hot mess of a life.

Adolescence was blind rebellion. The world was not as I had been told. I turned much of my anger inward. Destruction ensued. When I recovered, my choices revolved around avoiding risk, and failure. I wanted to be wrapped in cozy blanket of predictability.

Finding my joy would require risk. I chose a career that provided security but was devoid of meaning and purpose.

Love and intimacy would require vulnerability. I chose a wife as stable and reliable as steel, but a marriage as shallow as a puddle.

I would not risk my heart. Not for anyone or anything. Certainly not for myself.

My son is only ten and I see him struggling internally. He already has parts of himself locked away. It breaks my heart. I tell him, I can’t read your mind. It’s okay to say how you really feel. I can’t help you if you don’t. I’ll still love you. I’ll always be your dad.

And at the same time, I worry how I’ll be able to take care of both of us.

It’s no wonder we have the term “midlife crisis.” If it’s true, not just some desire to relive younger days, it’s the place where the pain of an inauthentic life overrides the fear of failure.

I’ve already failed. It’s the consequence of comfort.

So here I am, 45 years from my birth trying to be my authentic self. There is no romantic way to experience this. It’s really hard and it hurts. It’s lonely. It takes longer than seems reasonable. There’s no guarantees. I cry a lot.

Almost eight months has passed since I quit my 24-year career in the grocery industry. Eight months. The problem is it seems almost all that time has been spent waiting to hit the ground.

I took my heart and plopped it down in the middle of a six-lane freeway at rush hour when I left my job – with nothing to replace it. Even though I despised every year there, it was the last chunk of my past identity. The void created was hard to cope with and I promptly went into deep depression. I was still functional, I took care of my son, I paid the bills, ate. I also spent a lot of time laying on my couch in numb inaction.

I didn’t write, which was the plan after I quit. Now the money I used to carry me through these months is almost gone. If I can’t find some cash flow, I’ll have to sell the house and a lot of my possessions.

It won’t be the end of the world, but I’m tapped out on dramatic life events and changes.

The past ten years have been rough. The past five have been a huge snowball of fuck sprinkled with chocolate chips. I really want relief and that’s a dangerous place. Choices, desires and decisions are suspect. I don’t want to end up exactly where I started.

This plane is definitely crashing
This boat is obviously sinking
This building’s totally burning down

—Modest Mouse, Shit Luck

A dull panic has settled in. What have I done? The idealist, the romantic and the realist are fighting. I don’t know who I am anymore. I am all of them and none of them.

Surety > < Possibility?

Tyler Durden: This is your pain. This is your burning hand. It’s right here. Look at it.

Narrator: I’m going to my cave. I’m going to my cave and I’m going to find my power animal.

Tyler Durden: No! Don’t deal with this the way those dead people do. Deal with it the way a living person does.

—from the film, Fight Club

Zen can’t take me there. Inspirational quotes won’t move my feet. No gods will send aid. Positive thoughts will not guarantee success. Am I willing to accept the consequences even if it all turns to nuts?

Am I willing to risk everything for the chance to find joy?

I tell myself this is part of it—if I want any chance of finding joy, I have to respect the terrain. Not like a shit sandwich I have to take a bite of each day until I die, but as a land that must be crossed without a map to reach what’s beyond.

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