Saturday, March 13, 2010

But nevertheless why not

I think I've always believed that if you jump into something without thinking, but you do it with all of yourself, however it turns out is never a mistake. When I was 27 and found out my 19-year-old girlfriend was pregnant, I was in between freelance jobs, running out of money fast, and running up a credit card debt that would hang around my neck for the next 10 years. We'd only been together for six months. I didn't even hesitate choosing to keep this child. We were infatuated with each other and thought we were in love. What the fuck, right? The relationship didn't work out, but having my son did.

The situation I was in at that time, being broke and living in one room in a filthy house full of hippies, came from another one of those decisions.

I had been working my first real job and I was constantly frustrated by the sense I wasn't doing enough with my creative life. It was a marketing job, and I got the idea you could use marketing, which I kind of liked, to promote stuff that mattered, like the arts. I met another guy who had had the same idea. He was an artist living with other artists in this knotty house that had once been a hunting lodge and fronted on a river bank. The New York/Connecticut State border ran directly through it, there was a marker on a stone out front. Everything was crooked, every surface lined with found objects placed or glued there by previous waves of creative, wayward people perhaps going back a few decades. I decided to quit my job, survive on freelance, and move into the house to start that company, which never got started, at least not because of anything I did. I was too busy getting my girlfriend pregnant. Later I would move to Minnesota with her without ever having visited there.

In between the times when I make decisions like these, that could be considered ballsy, I criticize myself for being scared. I should've enrolled in Graduate School in England like I wanted to. I should've moved to New York City or San Francisco like I wanted to. I had a free plane ticket to New Orleans I never used, even for a weekend. More than anything, I should've finished the ten different novels, plays, screenplays, songs, and poetry manuscripts I'd written only one or two pages of. What I'm afraid of in all these cases is steps. The individual steps it takes to do something seem really boring or inconvenient (e.g., applying to Grad School, doing research, booking hotels) and I find that kind of stuff agonizing. But when something is handed to me I almost always take it.

A year-and-a-half ago, I separated from my son's mother, who I'd ended up marrying and having another child with. Just a few months after the first one was born we had started having these fights that got worse and never stopped getting worse. It's another story, suffice it to say I'd been so frustrated for so long I couldn't breathe anymore, and anger might have been the only thing keeping me alive, because when I wasn't angry I felt fat and domesticated.

Suddenly I was again living in a room in another filthy house full of wayward people. I spent a lot of time alone on my kid-free days doing the kinds of things I'd missed out on for the previous ten years, like taking a four-hour-long run all the way from Uptown Minneapolis to Theodore Wirth State Park, or going to movies by myself, or sitting and meditating for hours, or taking hours to just walk quietly in the woods. I started writing and playing music again. On free weekends, however, I complained of being bored. I said this to a coworker and she suggested I try an online dating service. I had no interest in dating if it meant working toward finding another relationship. But what the fuck, right?

A few weeks after I signed up someone called "butnevertheless" winked at me electronically; the dating machine had matched us up. A few times I was matched up with women because we both liked cats or were carbon-based lifeforms. Having had one nearly bad date, I knew that a pretty smile that hints of a sense of humor; and eyes that might flash with intelligence; and tousled hair that might feel soft twined around your fingers; and that might elude you trying to call it any one color, because it changes in the light; and what could be, as far as you can tell in an over-exposed vacation photo, a body that makes you wish you could paint a picture of it; that these might not be enough. She could've been dumb. Or cruel. Her personal description sounded witty and literate, but that didn't mean the first time she opened her mouth she wouldn't say something awful. My senior prom date did ("You know what I think is really funny? When dogs get hit by cars.") I considered these things and decided to write her a note anyway.

She wrote back, and then we talked, and it was obvious we should try meeting. When we did it was daytime and I saw the pictures had been good pictures. When we met again at night she told stories and she made me laugh.

That night, we were in a restaurant. The air was subtly energized like it can be when the lighting is a certain way, and there was just something about her that darted back and forth and danced around behind whatever it was she was saying or doing that made me want to take hold of her, so I could pin it down. One day three weeks later we were writing to each other. We'd been writing for hours every day between trying to do our stifling jobs, which were even harder since we were so tired from staying up past one in the morning every night, and she said, "Am I your girlfriend?"

Not liking uncertainty, my mind had been been trying to put labels and definitions around what was happening with her and I'd get anxious and push them away. It had been four months since I split up with my wife. The ten years before that had worn away just enough space, between me and my thoughts, to hesitate before making any more of these impulsive decisions. I knew I was holding on too tight to the idea of those four months and I knew saying the wrong thing now could screw me forever so I kind of laughed at myself, and shrugged, mentally, and put my hands on the keys and typed "Yes."

It's more than a year later and I'm still saying Yes. To building a relationship with her kids, to letting her build one with mine, to half moving in together, to introducing the idea of totally moving in together to my kids, to building a room for them in her house. Right now, I'm in another one of those minute spaces between two worlds separated only by my own tight grip on one of them.

One one side, getting officially divorced is another one of those things with steps, steps in this case that include lots of money and potentially, if I don't have enough of it to get good legal advice, spending all kinds of additional money that should be shared between me and Elizabeth. There's the inequality between the money I have now, and the money she has, that means for a while she'll be floating more of the bills. There's a pride thing wrapped up in there, and in the fact of at least still owning my own house. There's a family me and my boys (who I haven't said enough about) have built together, our rituals and our foods and the little adventures and guilty pleasures we have for ourselves.

On the other side is the rest of my life, which I also haven't written enough about, that promises with more certainty than the uncertain options in all my previous courageous decisions to be absolutely perfect. Our kids love each other, we love each other. There are brief moments between kids sprawling and thumping and jumping on couches and shouting, sometimes screaming, when all six of us have sat eating pizza and I've thought "This is my family" and I know those will grow. But this is the option requiring more of a leap and I'm being just a little too cautious.

I read about Tim Leary's death in the Times a few years ago. The last words he spoke after years of making many of what could be considered the wrong decisions were "Why not, why not, why not." Now I'm looking head on at what I fully intend to be the rest of my life until I die, and I'm pausing just for a second before saying "Why not?" too. I'll let you know how it works out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When my oldest son gets mad at his brother he says, "You're fired."