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The Journal of Possible Things Posts

Something Old, Something New

You start off single. You meet someone, and you lose touch with your single friends and become closer with your coupled friends. You marry, and in that you cross another threshold: you lose touch with your coupled friends and you become closer with your married friends. Having kids has the same effect: is it easier to be friends with those people who have kids.

When you divorce, all your friends are there for you and you lean on them. Time heals things; soon you are able to stand on your own. You try to relate to those folks again, but you realize you are a third wheel and you cannot expect them to remember that you are alone. You stop calling and find a place to start a new path.

You make new friends, you date, you move on. You stop trying to fill your own scarred foundations with the mortar of other peoples lives: you build your own.

Eventually, those old friends note they haven’t seen you in quite a while. You say, “Yep. I’ve been busy.”

It’s no lie. You have been busy with your own life, which is more intricate and rich than you ever expected. Your life exists in a space not tethered to anything but the most minimal of things…yourself. You are no moon, scarred and barren, orbiting someone else’s verdant world. You have become a comet, coming around once in a great while, traveling your own path and moving at your own speed.

That’s when you realize that you like your life. That’s when you smile and mean it.

All Your Friends Jumped Off A Bridge

It started as individual voices in the wilderness. We bonded around our interests. We used the technology to communicate across the real distance between us, to generate ideas, to push our needs forward. We blogged and we podcasted and we encouraged one another. We were misfits that found our community, our tribe, our people.

Eventually the businesses noticed. They began using us to market to ourselves. The goal of marketing is to create a need, and in this, the marketers barely had to do anything at all. We were all so very needy. We needed to be Liked. We needed comments. We needed validation.

We’re all trying to find some sort of contentment with who we are and how we live our lives. These days, the voices telling us how to be happy are everywhere, thanks to our connectivity. Articles have been written about how Social Media has failed on a business and media level, but we should also consider how it has failed on a personal level.

Our social feeds are filled with tips and tricks, 8 Simple Ways to Do This Thing, 12 Easy Ways to do The Other. Articles about “doing meaningful work” or “fostering your creativity” abound. All the humble brags, all the ways we either display our pride or reveal our need for love; they don’t help us grow as people. They augment the void within. In the end, it is all talk, words on the winds of cyberspace, here for a moment then driven away when the page is refreshed.

Social media has become little more than a machine for generating envy and discontent. Businesses that run social networks make money on our insecurity ; they have made peer pressure into a measurable science. The things that we have created are kneecapping us by exploiting our weaknesses instead of bolstering our strengths.

All is transience, all is vanity, and we are willing, complicit participants.

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

I remember my parents saying to me, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

I can see the cold water rushing up to greet us, holding hands while we fall. It’s not where we thought we’d be.

Contentment, accomplishment, and happiness are not digital services. They cannot be subscribed to.

Let’s rethink how we interact with this thing we call The Internet. It’s a tool, not a destination. It is an abstraction of real life, not reality itself. It will never love you. It has an off switch, and we need to remind ourselves of that.

Five Years Later

The ice cream shop is gone. This is the second thing I notice about how the city has changed since leaving it. Scooters, the homemade ice cream store run by the older couple with all the Euclid Beach Park memorabilia has gone the way of Euclid Beach itself; the space replaced with something newer.

The new paves over the old.

Some places are still there. I make a note to stop at the Arabica coffeehouse and grab a mocha before leaving the area; I have fond memories of sitting in that place and working on backend code for my previous job, back in what could be called “the day.”

Five years is not so long ago, but thinking back on it is like trying grasp hands with someone on the other side of the Grand Canyon.

Much in my life has changed since in those five years. I’ve held three jobs, moved four times. I’ve gotten divorced, become a single parent. One of my daughters has started high school, the other is in middle school. My son has moved from potty training to beating me at board games. I live miles away, literally and figuratively, from this city where my ex-wife any I bought our first home/

Some things collapse. New things are born.

Valet parking abounds here now. The whole place has gone upscale: Erie Street wears the new restaurants and stores well. It feels alive, vibrant. Some high school kids are playing chess while smoking outside The Wild Goose, one of the new bars on the strip. Sandwich boards line the sidewalk advertising wine, beer, smoked oysters, walk-ins welcome. There is barely any parking, which speaks to how well the downtown is doing these days.

It would be easy to use the revitalization of the street as a metaphor for my own inner life, but I resist this: it’s crap. It’s the mind seeking a story, a pattern within change. To bind oneself to a physical place is to try to make time stand still: the delta between reality and memory is read like cards spread on an altar. The trumps are recognizable, but the pattern is invented, and in the end, turns out to be something you already know.

Sometimes, all you can do is find a bar you’ve never seen, step in, and have a beer.

Tonight, I opt for that plan.

The Dishonest Library

“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.” -Roger Zelazny

When I moved into the first house I owned, I had forty boxes of books. When I moved to Los Angeles, necessity forced me to trim that number to twenty boxes. Moving back to Cleveland, I cut it to twelve. When I moved to where I am now, I cut it back to nine.

I understand loving your library. I enjoy running my eyes and fingertips over the spines, remember the pleasure each book brought me, recalling why each is special.

When they are special, that is. As a younger man, I owned a lot of books I never read. They were the showcase books; the books that projected the image I wanted to foster. I wanted people who came to my house to believe that I was the sort of person who reads those sorts of books. When I bought them, I intended to read them…and never did.

How badly did I want to read them, then? Not very, it turns out.

You may think that those were the first books to go. No…the first were the books I’d read and knew I would never read again. Next were the books that meant little to me beyond some passing academic interest. Next were the old paperbacks I knew friends would enjoy. It wasn’t until the fourth pass that I got rid of my Let’s-Pretend section of books, and it was a hard thing to do.

Giving up that section of books showed me that I was not yet the person I wanted to be, but also that I had not become the person I thought I would be. When I got rid of them, it was a release of personal expectation, there came a freedom to not be bound to what had come before.

As I write this, I’m looking bookshelves that are full of computer programming manuals that either I have not read in years, have never read, or, in the minority, some that are well worn and time honored. I’ll keep the latter. It is time to get rid of the former two.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by their library, and I believe that is true. But I also know that you cannot tell a book by its cover, and while stocking all these extra titles might bolster the self esteem, it’s possible the spines have never been cracked. At that point, are we fooling our visitors or ourselves?

The Nothing Under The Bed

Jack didn’t think Mom would come, but he called her anyway.

“Mom?” A pause, then louder, “MOM?”

A loud sigh, a shuffling of steps, then his mother was opening the door to his room. Her voice was a sharp hiss. “What. Is. It. Now?”

“There’s…under my…” Jack faltered, not really wanting to say it.

“Dammit, Jack. NOTHING is under the BED,” his mother seethed in a fierce whisper. “No. Now…go to SLEEP.”

The door was shut quietly but firmly, then Jack was alone again.

Sitting up in the glow of the night light. He waited.

And waited.

And…waited.

There was a rustle, then a ghostly arm reached out from under the bed. It pulled a body…shrunken, withered, wasted away, out into the open. Jack stared. It was pale like moonlight, like what Jack imagined a ghost would be like. It pulled itself free and then turned, pulling itself onto the foot of the bed. It sat there across from Jack, legs folded underneath indian-style. it stared at Jack.

“Hel…hello.” Jack said.

It nodded.

Jack pursed his lips, then, “What are you?”

It smiled. “Nothing,” it hissed.

“Are…are you going to eat me?” Jack asked.

The creature smiled wider. It’s teeth glinted.

Jack swallowed. “Why?”

The creature’s smile widened more than any mouth could widen.

Jack said again. “You tell me why. What did I do?”

The creature’s voice was a growling whisper, like two stones being rubbed together, “Nothing.”

Jack slouched. A tear started to roll down his cheek. “But…but…”

The wraith reached out, sharp nails drawing blood on the the boy’s cheek.. Covering Jack’s mouth, it tilted the boy’s face up to meet it’s cold eyes. Inside its eyes was…nothing.

Jack was pretty sure he didn’t want to be eaten. . Staring into the mouth of the thing was like staring into one of those black hole things he’d seen on the Internet. Jack didn’t like where this was headed, so he did what any little boy would do. He grabbed the Nothing’s arm and bit its hand.

There was a lot of thrashing. The Nothing tasted, Jack thought, like cold jello and dust, but he didn’t mind. There was something about it that made him feel warm inside. Like…he was waking up. Like he was supposed to eat the Nothing. He continued to bite and lick and suck and chomp, all the while the Nothing’s thrashing becoming weaker and weaker. Finally, only the head was left, held in young Jack’s hands.

His mother’s voice called out from her room, “Jack…what are you doing in there?”

Jack smiled, and the smile was not so different from that of the creature. ”Nothing, ” Jack called back.

And then he finished his snack.