The Things I Tell Myself
(In the Shower at 3:55am)
A few times a month — in order to make pretty regular trip to Struck HQ in Salt Lake City — I set my alarm for 3:40am. Three. Forty. A. M. Waking up at that terrible hour gives me eight minutes to wake up, seven minutes to stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, nine minutes to shower, eight minutes to get dressed and twenty-six minutes to get to the airport (plus seventeen minutes for security, twenty-one minutes for breakfast and fifteen minutes to get on the plane). It’s a routine I no longer think about. Muscle memory has eliminated all decision-making and often, when I arrive at my destination, I remember nearly nothing about how I got there.
The only lucidity in the whole process occurs during the nine-minute shower. I’m fully aware that asking all of you to read about my shower might be a bridge too far. I don’t blame you for walking away from this story right here and now. Because, seriously, it’s going to be hard to make it much further without thinking about a 38-year-old dude contemplating the universe while standing buck-naked in his shower. You’ve been warned.
Also, nine minutes is not an environmentally responsible shower. It’s an Oregonian middle finger to the kind people of California. But it’s also the time and place where I tell myself things, where I sort out all of the stuff. In no particular order, these are the things I tell myself in the shower at 3:55am:
It’s all worth it.
This is probably a lie. I have no idea if it’s worth it. Is anything worth it? For all I know, I’m making a tremendous mistake every time I kiss my wife and kids on their sleeping foreheads and leave town for a couple days. Maybe I should be writing a novel. Maybe I should be teaching high school. Maybe a career in advertising will lead to a nervous breakdown. But I tell myself it’s all worth it because, honestly, I have no other choice. I am doing this, therefore it has to be worth it.
I like to travel.
Well, I used to like to travel. It’s like most things, I suppose — it’s all fun and games until you have to do it. Getting to the airport early and buying the latest issue of Spin used to give me a little thrill. I’d try to complete the in-flight magazine’s crossword puzzle before the plane took off. I’d ask for a second bag of pretzels or (gasp!) even the whole can of soda. Maybe I still like some of those things? Maybe I like being unreachable and pretending the in-flight wifi doesn’t work? Maybe I don’t mind waking up in the morning and spending 30 terrifying seconds trying to figure out where I am?
I’m not missing out.
Do I always lie to myself? Is that all I do in the shower? Is this some side effect of that fancy new caffeinated shampoo I’ve been using? Because it isn’t even close to true. I’ll just be gone for a day. I’ll FaceTime the kids tonight and text my wife throughout the day. I mean, I’m not really home even when I’m home, right? But then I hear my 4yo daughter’s voice cutting through everything else bouncing around my brain, “But, daddy, I want you to stay home so I can wrestle you.” Dammit.
I will never run out of ideas.
An attempt at positive thinking, guys. The Secret and all of that stuff. This is the drug of creative work — the belief that the ideas will come, the unreasonable self confidence, the bravado that masks a sea of doubt and uncertainty. I will stare at a blank page until magic happens. I will cover a whiteboard in scribbles until it all makes sense. I will soak up everything I can and pray that I’m not just regurgitating someone else’s brilliance. Is this true? I’m not sure. We all run out of ideas eventually. We all end up making No Line on the Horizon or The Crystal Skull. That’s the way this works, apparently. But not for me. I will never run out of ideas.
The water heater in our house is powerful, but short-lived. Right around Minute Eight, the temperature starts fading and I start adjusting the flow. More hot. Less cold. There we go.
It’s all my fault.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s my fault I’m awake at 3:55am. I chose this. No one forced any of this on me. It’s kind of empowering, actually. If everything is my fault, then it means I can change it. I can fix it.
I can’t fix it.
Of course I can’t. I’m not that smart. I’m kind of smart. But not that smart. But maybe I can fix a few things. Just the ones that are really, truly and honestly my fault. Like when I don’t rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Like when I have a bacon-and-egg sandwich for breakfast instead of steel-cut oats. Like when I say I’m going to read four stories but then I only read three. Those things, I can fix.
And then, suddenly, the nine minutes are finished. I have told myself the things I needed to hear. I am ready.