Happiness is not a place

A guru I am not. I’m as fucked up as the next fella and I can only offer what I’ve seen to be true.

In fact, I’m only posting this close to New Years Eve 2017 so I can mark my progress not because I think resolutions are a good thing (more about that below).

So, caveat emptor, in loco parentis, pro bono, sona si Latine loqueris, etc, etc.

Mad World

2017 has been a pretty fucked up wobble around the sun. Whatever excrement was left over from 2016 became a stain in the underpants we forgot to throw away on December 31st. (the royal “we”, mind you)

Sure, politically, the embodiment of fetal alcohol syndrome was elected President but let’s bring it down to ground level a bit. I started the year with a mess of a relationship, a job I hated, lackluster health and a few bills that should not have lingered as long as they did. Above it all, I wasn’t as consistent in the things I want to do as I would like.

Not one to eschew the good points — I wasn’t homeless, I had food on the table and dog who adores me but there was much room for improvement.

So there it was — need for change + consistency.

Desire

I don’t make New Years resolutions. There’s just something about the impermanence of setting an arbitrary date that makes the structure of ’em all noodle-y.

As 21st century humans our want for instant gratification has a way of gumming up the works if improvements aren’t visible post haste. Our problem is we want the world and we want it now even though it’s not possible.

I am, however, a big fan of incremental changes that build upon one another. Figuring this out was a new concept to me. Maybe you, too?

I’m a sprinter who needs to become a marathoner.

To make changes you need a desire for something better. What we do, what we say, and how we live has resonance through everything and everyone we touch. The changes we make should be metered, thoughtful and willful.

Further, they should be layered and never started all at once. That’s a surefire way to kill all the lambs, Clarice.

So with a desire to change I started a mental list that needed planning:
• Write more
• Find a new job
• Get healthy
• Repair relationships

Using the additive process I could start each of these at any time and layer as improvements took root.

While we’re on the topic — psychology studies prove our brains receive the same dollops of good vibes if we tell people our goals even if we haven’t accomplished them. It’s true. So, when your friends “ooh” and “ahh” about your proposed hike up Kilimanjaro your brain accepts the praise as if you’d already accomplished the task. Then, your brain works against you by helping convince you that it’s not necessary to continue. So, word to the wise: don’t tell people what you intend to do unless you’re well on your way.

Paperback Writer

The first goal was was to write more. Thanks to a friendly writing group in my hometown and copious support on the web I found out about a 52 week writing challenge. The object is simple: write and publish something new every week. Simple enough, I thought, and started. Btw, writing something new every week, for me, is fungible. It doesn’t have to be an expansive essay or hyper-detailed narrative. The premise is simple: write and publish every week.

As of today I’ve published 52 pieces in 2017. You can read them all here on Medium in the Epoch1 publication. Some are wonderful, some are noteworthy, some suck. I’ll let you decide.

Workin’ for a Livin’

Next was work. Sometime in early February, when I had a good head of steam writing I started looking for a new job. I wasn’t sure what but I knew it had to trade on what I’m already good at: creating order from chaos. I put out some feelers and had a few phone calls but nothing made me stand up and take notice.

This effort didn’t need to go anywhere immediately, the forward momentum was enough to give me a boost of purpose. There were indeed people out there who wanted to chat with me, who wanted my talents. In early March I found another gig — one that would challenge me, give me a whole new group of friends and the advantage of being early in a new field ripe for big wins later (read: $).

I Wanna Get Physical

When I rounded 2016 it was entirely possible for me to eat a three person serving of Chinese food along with nearly a whole bottle of bourbon. I had stopped smoking quite a while back but I wasn’t doing anything active outside of sitting on my assets.

Fortunately, I had been paying penance to a local gym with the hope of someday going on a regular basis. Or, at least, for the front desk staff to say hello instead of call security as I enter.

Again, I needed a plan but didn’t want the expense of a trainer. So, I scoured the web, sifting through more than enough exercise plans to triangulate a regimen that suited working toward a set of goals. Always slim and hovering around 12 stone I’m not a likely candidate for being a bodybuilder (nor was I willing to put in 2–3 hours/day to accomplish it). I could, however, pop in to the gym a few days a week to gain a little strength and improve my attitude.

A little exercise, a more thoughtful diet and a curbing of my drinking paid immediate dividends. I had more energy, my sleep improved, my debit card could take a breather and I just felt more clear. Huzzah!

I’ll point out one more thing, of which I’m not alone — I suffer from bouts of anxiety. I’ve learned not to be too shy about it and have built wonderful coping mechanisms in my world but nothing helps relieve stress and calm anxiety if you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin. Exercise does that for me, your mileage may vary.

Get Better

The next piece was to fix my relationship. I’d been seeing someone on and off for months. Well, more off than on. In short, I was a jerk. We never lost contact, always weaving in and out of touch but the clock was constantly tick-tick-ticking toward…kapow! (put your favorite onomotopeoia here)

Remember the additive nature of layering? Writing, job, health. You see the pattern, right? Getting that decision-making under your control, finding ways to like what you do, remembering who you are and liking yourself. They’re all part of a better self that you can’t share with anyone if they don’t exist.

She had every right to just walk th’ fuck away. But she didn’t, not fully. She saw something when I couldn’t

Right about when time was expiring (or had as she would put it) I put enough pieces in place that made room for sharing. It took some hard conversations, some of which are still happening, for her to see that real change was afoot. Over the Christmas holiday we spent our time moving in together and beginning the planning/layering of what may come next.

Neither of us are perfect people but we’re trying.

Happiness is not a place

Music has been a massive part of my life since I was old enough to ruin my parents records (sorry about that Iron Butterfly album!). Throughout this year I’ve been building a playlist of anthems. I amend it now and again as I hear something that inspires me, drives me, makes me laugh.

These aren’t merely songs but an audible reminder of where I was and where I’m going. In fact, I called it “Get Your Life Back”. You can find a link in the byline below.

I use music & writing but you should find some way of marking your progression to a better, more consistent you.

Credits

The last piece of advice I can offer isn’t wholly original, you’ve heard it before and it goes like this: Try.

Make small improvements and build on them. Don’t do it all at once and do it for you.

Best of luck!


Week 51 of 52 Week Writing Challenge | Music to write by: Get Your Life Back


J. Curtis is writer and product developer living in the East Bay. He’s always hatching another story idea and balancing a dozen interesting projects at work and home.

Follow me on Medium and Instagram. If you like what you’ve read, please share.