Category: change

turtle crossing

I was saving the diapsids long before you VSCO girls made it trendy by ditching plastic straws in your venti Starbucks cups.

A couple of years ago, driving along my small stretch of road, I saw a turtle up ahead, smack dab in the middle of it. I slowed down, pulled off to the side, and looked both ways before stepping foot onto the asphalt. It was a rather small turtle, just doing its business, taking its time to cross the road. That is until it saw me. One look at this lumbering dude and it withdrew its limbs into its shell.

I picked it up and asked it not to bite me as I slowly and gently walked it across the road in the same direction it was headed. I hoped it wasn’t the snapping kind. I didn’t know much about turtles but was it possible it could whip its head around, elongated and angry, ready to strike my palm with its powerful jaw? Thankfully it never peeped out of its head hole and let me taxi it to the other side. Once it was safely out of rubber harm’s way, I carefully set it down and stepped back a bit to see if it would come out of its shell. It eventually did and continued on its course.

I drive a lot and see a lot of dead animals in the road and it breaks my heart a little each time. I try to swerve to avoid as many as I can but not all animals can be avoided and it should always be done within reason. And I started to think about that “within reason” and realized most of us don’t apply that logic to our day-to-day lives and routine activities. Consideration, kindness, and good deeds are all lacking in society. I’ve often wondered where that breakdown started to begin. Surely it’s not just one factor but a multitude of reasons we’ve all become rancid.

One thing that I’ve noticed is we don’t seem to be taught how to give and receive love. We all feel alone and alienated and bullied and often that bullying comes from a lack of love on the aggressor’s part. We live in an iced coffee cancel culture where it’s popular to point out everyone’s flaws. We are quick to condemn an off-color comment but we don’t try to correct it. It’s instant damnation without education and no opportunity for growth.

It’s easy to write people off and think the worst of them because when we realize people can make mistakes, we have to face the reality that we also make mistakes. And that’s a hard pill to swallow because mistakes mean growth and change and it’s more comfortable being petty. We don’t expect people to do better because we don’t want to do better ourselves.

We openly hate others expecting no consequence but expect retaliation when someone hates us. We are taught suspicion, paranoia, and protection. But it really just boils down to fear and ignorance, two qualities that are not only tolerated by #45 but encouraged. Because when you can create, orchestrate, and control someone’s fear, you can stroll in as the savior and when people feel safe, they trust you. And when they remain ignorant and uneducated, they will never question you.

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learning curve

The light from the television cradled his body, electric blue dancing in his eyes, a cool shadow on the other side of the bed. He rolled around, heavy with worry, his head thick with layers of confusion. A glimpse of a laugh, the rush of lapping it up, the memory of leaving. Crashing into him and forcing him to roll over to find a way to rest.

Beneath our bodies, we are constantly putting together a jigsaw puzzle of our portraits. Some of us are fortunate enough to find our own pieces while others need help from outside sources. People come to assist us in the form of friends, family, and lovers. They can often point out the parts that are hiding right under our noses.

And sometimes we take pieces from their puzzle to try to fit them into ours, thus changing the puzzle, thus changing our portrait. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The piece gets stuck and we end up carrying it around with us, even after the person in prior possession of that piece peaces out. The puzzle grows in complexity with all the extraneous parts, making it even harder to form a coherent picture. And when someone new comes along, they have to sort through all the clutter to help us assemble ourselves again. It gets messy and complicated and time-consuming. Some people come with a lot more pieces than others, and some with many more missing parts.

At the precipice of dreams, a hand brushed against his nose. A subtle stroke that stole his sleep. Constantly swiping back and forth, a ghost that gutted him slowly. A thief in the night, an omen of bad luck, proof that God hated him. Each imagined scenario avalanched his peace of mind, his desire to move on, his plea to just forget.

“That was the easy part,” he thought to himself. “The mouth conforms to shape and size and silence. Anyone can figure out the physical. But what lies beyond the bend? What compels someone to desire, devour, then desecrate someone else?”

It’s a balance of working at that puzzle without feeling the pressure to complete it. Because maybe the puzzle is never really complete. And maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a lifelong exchange of pieces between partners, constantly fitting and subtracting, giving and acquiring. The portrait always changes, shifting with our choices, growing as we do, damaged as we are, and falling apart as we come undone.

His eyes finally fell down. Time tripped up the ghost. The words that poured from his fingers told him he would endure. It was the effort of living, the trials of falling, the grace of patience that showed him he had a lot to learn about people and intimacy, fear and greed, boundaries and the boundless hope that still resided in him. For his puzzle, while not nearly complete, was not frayed at the edges or bent in the corners. It wasn’t so much that his pieces had been handled with care. They simply hadn’t been handled at all. But they were just as good as anyone else’s and worth working on. There was potential in those pieces.

But can’t you still enjoy the picture that’s being formed even if there are a few vacant spaces? Maybe that’s the most difficult part. We want the end result, the complete picture. But how often do we stop to appreciate the progress we’ve already made? When he looked at his portrait, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. It had changed. A few fingers were missing, a part of his left cheek, but while his eyes were closed, both his arms were outstretched. And there was the faintest hint of a smile. Like he was ready.

It was a nice thought but he wondered if he would ever find himself worthy of continuing his puzzle. Was it possible that the empty space between those arms could one day be filled? That his eyes could be opened to all the joy that life could bring? Yes. It was easy to say. Everyone deserves love, right? He could say he was worth it. And maybe someone would one day come along to convince him. But people came and went. He needed to know it for himself. He just couldn’t see how he could. It was a lesson that could take a lifetime to learn.

Maybe the steepest learning curve of all.

dogged self-deprecation

I get very confused about people and how to relate to them. What’s the difference between flirting and just being nice? What’s the difference between standing up for myself and just being a jerk? I haven’t always been so out of sorts. I used to be well-liked. And I used to think I had a grasp on grafting myself onto others. Then depression settled in and I withdrew my social self from the world. And instead of experiencing people, I just observed them. And by the time I wanted to step back into human relations, it seemed too late.

I think the best way to understand humanity is through both research and relation. I only achieved half of that. And that’s why I think I have some knowledge of correct and appropriate behavior but not enough to be successful in having fulfilling relationships with others. It’s that experience I lack, the on-the-ground research of getting to know and love and trust other people.

It’s hard to put myself out there because I’m insecure. I’m 32 with not much to show for it. I know we all have our own timeline for achieving goals in life but I have more potential than what I’ve produced. And this feeling of knowing I’m better, more capable, than what I’ve accomplished makes me very hard on myself.

It’s true that I hate who I am but unfortunately, it’s not self-contained. It seeps into conversations I have with other people. Long-term acquaintances are familiar with the inner insults I hurl at myself. I don’t even think about it. I’m so used to putting myself down as a self-defense mechanism and form of humor that it comes naturally to me. In my fear of being judged, I try to beat others to the judgment, pointing out my flaws in a funny way so we can all relax around my receding hairline or chuckle at my chunky body.

It’s usually when I meet new people that I become aware of how easily, how quickly, and how viciously I tear myself apart. When new acquaintances ask me to tell him about myself, the flogging floodgates open right up. It’s only after the conversation is over and I can reflect on the car ride home or before I go to bed at night the ramifications of my self-flagellation.

I want to be accepted but I also know I have several mental and emotional issues that could be off-putting. So I always have this need to explain away my crazy. But I over explain and end up making things worse. Instead of staying, people scatter and I’m left confused and lonely. I have to wonder if I should start keeping more things to myself. I always find it refreshing when people are open and honest. And so I try to be open and honest as well. And I never realized that other people could find that unattractive.

Should I change who I am and how much I share in order to keep people around? Or should I stay the same and hope that someone accepting will eventually find their way to me? It feels like a balance because you want to better yourself but you also don’t want to bend over for anyone else. How much change is too much? When do you go from improving your relations with others to compromising your personality for them?

I just wonder how I can be charming without charring my character. How can I make jokes without making myself the punchline? I’m sure it would be easier if I liked myself more but how am I supposed to do that? From the outside, it might seem like I’m well-adjusted and have a lot going for me. In some ways, that’s true. But only I can see the real me, the small squishy parts on the inside, the place where all the self-doubt and anger and despondency live and flourish. And it’s hard to like the person those qualities belong to, even when it’s yourself.

But I do understand that doesn’t have to be the case. And I suppose that’s at least one step in the right direction. And maybe one day, if I can get myself aligned with love instead of lashing, I might actually make a friend who will want to stick around.

14 years of whiskers

Photo Jan 11, 12 17 03 AM

This past Saturday, I came home and found my cat Moses beside my bed. He was lying on the ground in an unusual manner, his rump sticking out from underneath the bed. An odor of wet excrement wafted up from his location. This wasn’t new. He’d been having stomach issues for the past several months, a revolving door of constipation or diarrhea. And although it wasn’t my favorite job, I grabbed the pet wipes and tried to pick him up to wipe his rear end.

I picked him up and he whined. I put him down and looked at him. His sides expanded and contracted at a fast pace. A worrisome pace. I stood there for a while, took a deep breath, and picked him up again. He grabbed at my bed but I held him against my chest and took him to the den where there was more light so I could see.

Once I made it to the den, Moses meowed in pain and squirmed in my arms. I bent over to lay him down on the ground when he swiped his paw at my face and dug his nail into my nose. He ran from my arms and I went to the bathroom. I’m very anal about my face so I flipped on the bathroom light to see the damage. It felt like his whole nail had gone through my nose but once I inspected it, it was more of a deep scratch. I put some alcohol on it and then went back to Moses.

He was in the dining room and hiding underneath the dining room table, his breathing labored again. My stomach tingled now. I knew this wasn’t good.

I went to reach for Moses and he whined again. And then he looked like he was trying to throw up, his bony shoulders rising as he retched. I stood up and walked from the living room to the dining room, my stomach vibrating now, like a cell phone buzzing in my bowels.

Ohgodohgodohgod this is it.

I went back to Moses and he had drool hanging from his mouth. I’d never seen that before. My own breathing became labored. I didn’t know what to do.

I went into my parents bedroom and…and then I didn’t know what to do again.

“Mom, Dad…” I started. Mom woke up. “I…uh…Moses. It doesn’t look good.” And the buzzing in my stomach shot up into my throat. Out of nowhere, I started sobbing.

“I know,” she said. “He was really sick earlier today.” She got out of bed and I covered my face. The tears came in short, stabbing bursts. “We tried to call the vets we knew but they weren’t open,” she continued. “No one answered the emergency numbers we called.”

I stood to the side as Mom moved past me to check on Moses. I paced the den again and tried to collect myself. I thought I had prepared myself for this moment. He hadn’t looked good for a long time. There was always a piece of me that worried it was going to happen soon, that he didn’t have much longer. But I tried to shrug it off. He was old. He wasn’t as quick. He had some tummy troubles but he wasn’t in terrible shape. It was just old age at work. He was okay. He was okay.

But he wasn’t.

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the chub stands alone

My kitchen is in ruins.

My mother decided she wanted to redo our entire kitchen so last week, she had a business come and take out the cabinets, counters, sink, and dishwasher. We still have our fridge and stove but that’s it. Never one to be without coffee, Mom set up the coffee maker and microwave in the dining room. Every time I go for a cup, I feel like I’m in a hotel room. And I feel like I’m camping when plating my food on foam plates and eating with plastic utensils.

Mom estimated it will be like this for another week or so since the company is still building the replacement cabinets and need to put down new floor covering. Mom’s also started painting the kitchen so it smells like plastic and fumes.

All the cutlery and other dishes are stacked in the living room, which makes it hard to move around in there. Things are piled on the dining room table and in the corners. It makes the room a little bit smaller. It feels like my world is closing in.

We’ve been eating out a lot. It’s just easier. The problem is I was going to start dieting around this time. I told myself I would get back on track once I went back to the retail job and stayed there for about a month to get back into the swing of things.

I gained a lot of weight, all the weight I lost in 2012 specifically, while I was at the finance job. I was stressed and food soothes me. But I knew once I went up two pant sizes I needed to get myself under control.

But I don’t even want to.

I enjoy greasy fast food. I know it’s horrible for me and the calorie count is absurd but I don’t care. I’m still stressed because the retail job is slowly tanking. Our hours continue to get cut more each week and we are in the midst of a serious shoplifting problem. With the hours being scaled back, we are understaffed. There are entire departments that are not covered, which allows shoplifters to literally go in, take what they want, and leave completely undetected.

I honestly felt okay about the job when I went back. It was never my intention to stay there forever but I was okay with not trying to find a new job right away. I thought I’d work there while I focused on publishing my book and then once that was done, I could focus on a job search. But at this point, I should probably be looking now. I just hate looking. It’s so discouraging to go through all the classifieds and online job postings and not find anything interesting or attainable.

I feel like a smoker who knows the habit is bad but enjoys smoking and doesn’t want to quit. Every time I bite into a double cheeseburger, I know it’s going to make it harder to button up my pants but I’m all about that instant gratification and future consequences be damned.

I’m stressed about work and I’m stressed about my book and I’m stressed about not fitting into my clothes anymore and I don’t have the money to buy new ones and I’ve also been struggling with other stuff like being lonely and disconnected from society. It’s a lot to try to deal with so I eat to help me not deal with it.

I hope to one day get myself together again. I just don’t know what that will take. I’ve been on this journey so many times before and it’s both exhausting and exuberant. But each time, there’s a little less joy and a little bit more concern, wondering when I’ll slip again. Because I always do. Even when I bounce back, I always do.

this is why i’m fat and poor

I used to never look at my checking account. I spent money like I assumed it would always be there. I bought stuff I didn’t need. Sometimes I bought stuff I didn’t even want because buying things made me feel better. And buying food always made me feel best.

I avoid stuff. I’m good at it. I like to ignore subjects that make me feel uncomfortable. I always reason with myself that I’ll deal with it when I’m emotionally ready. But I’m never emotionally ready. I bury it deeper inside until it resolves itself or until it becomes unavoidable and I actually have to face it.

My pants get tighter and I tell myself I’ll start dieting the next day. My funds dry up and I say I’ll finally publish my book and hope to make a good bit of money from it. But at the end of the day, I go to the grocery store and stock up on candy. I eat it. And then it starts over the next day and the next week and the next month and the next year.

One of the things I’ve been ignoring the most is my student loans. I’ve been clueless about them ever since I first applied for them. My parents never dealt with student loans before and didn’t know how to help me with them so I just went for a company my college recommended.

And then when they came due, the minimum monthly payments were too high so I deferred them and then used forbearance. I couldn’t find a stable job and the money just wasn’t there. I eventually settled into my retail job and was fortunate enough to be promoted to a supervisor, which gave me a decent pay raise. About that time, my deferment and forbearance was exhausted and I had to start paying them back.

I set up automatic payments from my checking account so I wouldn’t have to look at it or deal with it or think about it. I didn’t even know where to go to check on my balance.

My mom has always dealt with the family finances. For example, my dad gives my mom his paycheck and she pools their money together and distributes it to the appropriate channels. Maybe I’ve inadvertently started to think of my mom as a bank, collecting and lending money as she saw fit and never bothered to develop my own financial independence.

Well, better late than never.

Last month, I really had a talk with myself about how much money I spend on junk. I spent money ’cause I was in pain and it was a self-medicating measure. And that’s why I can’t get mad at myself over the wasted money over the years. I didn’t mean to be wasteful. I just meant to be okay. What’s done is done and I can’t get upset over spilled savings. No matter where I was, here I am now.

I downloaded a few financial apps to my phone and researched my student loans. It was a bit disheartening to see exactly how much I owe back and how little of my monthly payments are actually going to the principal but at least I know now and from this point onward, I have a better idea of where my money’s going.

With this new job, I’m making a bit more money and I’m hoping it gets better soon enough so I won’t have to quit and lose that pay increase. In fact, at this point I should keep the job no matter how much I hate it because this is what being an adult means. I got myself in this financial mess and I have to get out of it, even if it means several years of scraping by and being poor and skipping cheeseburgers so I can use that saved money to chip chip chip away at those loans.

Ah, chips.

No, no, wait. Focus.

It’s really a win/win. I’m saving money and calories. And I’m pretty proud of myself because I haven’t spent any more money than I’ve absolutely needed to this year. Sure, we’re only 18 days into the new year but I’ve really concentrated on doing better. It’s one step at a time, one day at a time. And I feel good about it so far. I hope I can keep it up!

one-step program

I always feel I do better when I’m making goals and working toward them. When I wake up with no direction, I usually get nothing accomplished and feel terrible at the end of the day. It’s difficult to make goals sometimes because I am an all-or-nothing type of person. Moderation is a hard concept for me to grasp because if I’m going to do something, especially something I don’t want to do, I want to see fast results. Otherwise, it’s easy to give up.

There are some days when I feel I have to starve myself, work out until I’m dizzy, write ten chapters and read an entire book in a day for me to feel like I actually did something productive. And that’s not healthy because trying to meet such high standards on a daily basis only sets myself up to crash and burn. And I always do. And that makes it harder to get back on track.

But there are other days when it’s like a switch has been flipped and I can understand and utilize the idea of doing and eating and experiencing things in small portions. I can have a slice of cake and not feel guilty. I can do moderate exercise for half an hour and feel like I burned some fat. I can write a chapter in the book I’m writing or read a chapter in a book I’m reading and I feel like I accomplished something. It’s during those times that I do my best and feel my best.

For a time last year, I woke up and made daily goals, usually involving exercising, reading and writing. I’d write during my lunch break at work, exercise when I got off work, then read before bed. Sometimes I wrote a lot and read a little or exercised a little and read a whole lot and didn’t write very much and there were days when I didn’t get around to doing one thing on my list because I got too busy or felt lethargic. That was okay because the majority of the time I accomplished most, if not all, the things I planned to do. When I had a goal to strive for, I had direction. When I had direction, I actually got stuff done. And that felt good.

This is the time to get back into that mode, to make goals and strive toward completing them, to get stuff done. If I fall short on a few things, that’s okay because I can always make it up the next day. It’s a tired expression but every day really is an opportunity to do better. I just have to remember that and not beat myself up if I can’t get it all done in one day.

It’s a one-step program, taking things one day at a time, one goal at a time, one accomplishment at a time. It’s all about patience and persistence. It’s about always reminding yourself of the good your doing, how the small things add up to big changes. And that takes a lot of energy and when you don’t have much to begin with, it can feel overwhelming. But it’s worth it. I just have to keep that in mind.

I’ve done all this before. Not once but twice. And I can do it again.

navy blue bird shirt

I was around 19 when I lost 40lbs for the first time. All my old shirts swallowed me up and I needed to get something that would fit my smaller frame.

Even though I looked better than I had in over 5 years, I still felt the pangs of insecurity tap at my spine when I saw all the pretty tanned people walking by with their paper shopping bags in one hand and their partner’s hand in the other. I was still big. And it was at that moment I realized the weight had gone away but the worry hadn’t. I still felt gross, ugly, fat.

And now, nearly 10 years later, having lost and gained those same 40lbs, I know the worry is still there and will never go away. Even at my thinnest, thinner than I was at 19, I hated the way I looked.

It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror and know between the ages of 11-13, you ruined your body for good. To be so young and so damaging and so unaware is absolutely frightening. From the first stretch mark, you have damaged yourself beyond repair. When the skin doesn’t bounce back the way it used to, when you do hundreds of crunches and the back fat just won’t go away, you know you are ruined.

But at the time I just needed to dress myself.

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art

“‘Cause we all know art is hard
young artists have gotta starve
Try, and fail, and try again
…”
Cursive, Art is Hard

“Art is not the world, art is in our hearts…”
-Showbread, Stabbing Art to Death

“Let me ask you something, what is not art?”
-Unknown

I used to draw.  A lot.  My childhood was spent with a Slim-Fast in one hand and a pencil in the other.  I often sneaked into my sister’s room and pulled out her charcoal sketches of dragons and Axl Rose she kept underneath her bed.  And I copied them.  I learned about lines and shading sitting on the floor of her room, surrounded by the waxy smell of drugstore makeup and wall-to-wall posters of hair metal bands.

An artist was born.

I devoured sketch pads and ground colored pencils into stumps.  As much as I loved toys, I loved drawing utensils equally.  I couldn’t wait to try a new type of marker or a new color of crayon.  I drew my favorite superheroes and created my own action figures out of paper.  But I was never incredibly creative.  My artistic endeavors were derivative of the enormous amount of Saturday morning cartoon I consumed and my eventual discovery of anime, which I was into way before it became so huge here in America.  I was ahead of the game back then.

I learned to shade and highlight.  I learned about depth and perspective.  All from doing it on my own, from observing, from drawing, from constantly creating.

I was good at copying.  Any attempts to be original were mediocre at best.  But when I was younger, I wasn’t preoccupied with being original or unique.  I just genuinely enjoyed drawing and having fun with it.  I was good.  It gave me pleasure.

But sadness and insecurity crept in and my mind became poisoned and I became a perfectionist.  People noticed my talent and were impressed.  And somehow, people began to inflate my abilities.

“Brannon drew a picture of my daughter and it looks just like her!”

“Brannon doesn’t even use an eraser!”

“I heard Brannon doesn’t need to draw from pictures, or from life.  He can draw from memory!”

“One time, I saw Brannon sneeze on a piece of paper and then when I looked over his shoulder, his snot was in the shape of Mona Lisa!”

None of this is true, of course.  But for some reason, in some people’s minds, I’m better than I actually am.  And that was a part of the insecurity.  I felt I could never measure up to people’s outlandish expectations.  I was my biggest critic.  Eventually, nothing I drew matched the image I had in my head and it frustrated me.  I knew I was better, more capable, but for some reason, I couldn’t translate the image from head to paper.

There were times when I got away with reaching people’s expectations, or at least that’s what they told me.  I did a few commissioned drawings.  But eventually the stress became too much and I stopped charging because my art was not worth anyone’s money.  And eventually I stopped doing drawings for people all together because I couldn’t afford to jeopardize the reputation bestowed upon me by others.  I never lived up to the hype, never went along with the adulation and as much as I tried to downplay what I could do, no one believed me and I suddenly I was a small town art prodigy.  And wanting to please everyone, I didn’t want to produce low-quality work and prove everyone wrong.

I had been painted into a corner, so to speak. Continue reading

i am not my beard

I buzzed my beard off the other night because I was tired of the rough texture.  I went to work the next day and was met with audible gasps.  Not good audible gasps, either.  More like shock and terror.

“What did you do to your face?”

“Where’s the beard?”

“You…you shaved it?”

“Grow it back!”

People acted like I was missing an eye or a nose instead of facial hair.  I know they didn’t mean to make me feel bad but they did.  I didn’t realize I was some gargoyle and the only thing that kept people from bursting into tears at the site of me was my beard.  It was a mask, a filter, a softening lens that cranked down my deformed face.

Or maybe it was just the shock of seeing my face look so different so fast.  As I grew the beard, everyone was slowly introduced to bearded Bran, including myself.  And taking it all off with a few strokes of the clippers was a bit jarring.  I had the beard for nearly three months and it just became a part of me as if it were always there and suddenly it wasn’t.  I didn’t recognize the smooth stranger in the bathroom mirror.

I didn’t like everyone’s reaction.  I didn’t even like my own.  I didn’t regret buzzing it off but I do like the way I look better with a beard.  But my face feels so much better without one.  When I had the beard, I combed and clipped and conditioned and even through in some argon oil to soften the facial hair but it still felt too rough for my liking.  And sometimes when I slept on my side or stomach, the facial hair against the pillow really irritated my cheeks.

I also realized maintaining facial hair was actually more intensive than just shaving it clean off.  There’s a lot of maintenance involved.  Clipping.  Washing.  Conditioning.  Keeping the neckline even and clean.  Trying not to get food or bugs or girls’ fingers caught in it.  Serious upkeep.

Yes, the beard will come back but I won’t do it for anyone else but myself.  This is kind of a big deal because I’ve always been so used to doing things the way others wanted, living and looking the way others have dictated.  But I’m not doing that anymore.  In fact, I am thinking about holding off on growing the beard back even longer than I normally would just out of spite!  Take that, jerks.

It’s gonna be my choice, no one else’s.  And I’m going to rock it either way. 

I think just about every guy has done this at least one time when debearding.