Happy New Year, fam! Do you like my theme for the year? It’s not as good as the original, “Cuttin’ a Bitch in 2006,” but it’ll do.
I had probably the quietest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had in my life. I drank exactly zero servings of alcohol, and I’m 100% good with that. I watched a movie with the kids, we ate a couple of cookies, and then replied to a letter from a friend.
I say letter. It was actually an email, but we call them letters. We do occasionally call each other, but we both love to write, and so we send each other letters, and we both enjoy reading and writing them. This particular letter that she sent me was quite moving. It was frustrated, angry, tired, depressed, and weary. Mostly it felt angry, but it was incredibly genuine.
She talked some about her past and her childhood, about bad things that had happened to her – things that she had never really told anyone about. She talked about that dark cave, that place we all have inside of us that most of us would rather forget is even there, let alone venture into.
I feared the deep down darkness for a long time, even though I knew it was there. I don’t claim to be 100% comfortable with it, but in general I am unafraid of it now. Jordan Peterson is right about defeating the dragons. It’s the only way you can move on to a better life and unfuck yourself. I have spent an inordinate amount of time dredging up the bad shit from years past and attempting to reckon with it. I have walked myself back through the events as I recall them, and I’ve been able to figure out exactly where the needle was skipping on the record.
One that I have come back to over and over again in my life is what may be my last memory of my mother. It wasn’t long before she died. She was in hospice at St. John’s North in Springfield. She called me to her bedside one afternoon, and she made everyone else leave and she shut the door.
She pulled me close to her, and she said, “Honey, Mommy is going to die.”
I was six years old, and I didn’t really understand death at that point, but I knew that she was telling me something that was terrible and scary. I just looked at her, and I said, “I know.”
Even at the under-ripe age, I knew that I had said the wrong thing, but I didn’t know what else to say. I had the sense that I was supposed to say something else. I was supposed to tell her that it was okay, or maybe I was supposed to cry and beg her to stay. But I did none of those things. I accepted the natural course of events as it was going to run. I wonder if she was hoping for some sort of catharsis from my response. If she did, I’m sure I failed to provide.
That memory hung around my neck for an awful long time, but as it turned out, it was not for the reason that I thought. I thought for a long time that it was just because my mother had died and I was sad about it. Of course, that’s part of it, for sure, but it’s only half of the answer.
The truth is that I felt guilty that I couldn’t save her. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything to change the tragedy of it all. Sometimes there is no happy ending. Sometimes there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and there is not a damned thing that you can do about it. Rationally I know that, but it took a long time to reckon with the guilt.
There is nothing I could have said to my mother to help her. Nothing I could have said would have been enough because she was a dying woman saying goodbye to her child. There is no right thing to say. And nothing I did or said could have saved her. It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t her fault, either. It was a terrible thing that happened, but it was nobody’s fault. It was time to move on and let her rest in peace.
Letting go of my grandparents has been just as difficult. It is fresher, and they were with me a lot longer. They wound up being my foundation. They are my heroes, and they deserve to be thought of us as such. I can’t think of any two people who were more generous, more self-sacrificing, or genuine than the two of them. I miss them every day, and I’m sure that I will miss them for the rest of my life.
I have struggled a lot to reconcile the embrace of Judaism with my upbringing, though. My grandfather was a great man. He was successful, he was smart, he took care of his family, and he loved me. It would be a lie to say that he was perfect, though. He had no love lost for Judaism. Or Catholicism. Or black people. In this respect, he was typical of his generation. In short, I was not raised to think that Judaism was good or desirable. I was raised to believe that Jews were to be distrusted, as a group, and that Israel was the boogeyman for every ill in the world.
I honestly didn’t realize how deep it went until I actually started dealing with it. One of the hardest things that we can do in our lives is deprogram ourselves from what others have told us to believe and think and come to our own conclusions. I have not put aside the entirety of my grandparents’ teaching. In fact, I have kept the majority of it because most of it was wise and good. I let go of the things that weren’t worthy of their better natures.
In fact, I view having to overcome those things as an essential part of my own journey. It was a lesson to learn. My grandfather was my hero, and I didn’t really “meet” him in a lot of respects until after he was gone. Viewing his own shortcomings as part of a bigger picture got me a lot further towards making sense of my own life, and perhaps more importantly, it allowed me to accept him exactly as he was and to embrace him totally, flaws and all. That is, I’m told, the essence of G-d.
What does all of the soul-searching and shit mean for 2019? Well, I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas. I enjoy goal-setting, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the right way to approach every aspect of life. I think it’s better to have a good system in place for achieving those goals. Once the system is in place and working well, you can think harder about the goals.
So what do I want to incorporate into the system?
Well, I want to be a lot more like my grandfather and give significantly fewer fucks. He understood that feelings don’t really matter, and he acted accordingly. Part of his ability to give no fucks was because he was just that way. Part of it was because of the war. Communicating things exactly as they were and doing that quickly and efficiently was what kept the soldiers alive. Feelings weren’t a question. The only question as whether or not you wanted to live to see another day.
It isn’t that feelings don’t matter. None of us should be setting out to hurt feelings. However, it pays to understand that when people react to something that you do, they are reacting to the feelings that your actions bring out in them. You can’t control anyone else’s feelings. In fact, their feelings and opinion of you are really none of your business. You can’t let their feelings interfere with you doing what needs to get done.
The next thing is kissing cousins with not giving a fuck, and that is radical honesty. This is not the same thing as brutal honesty, which delights in the brutality far more than the honesty. Radical honesty for me just means that you tell the fucking truth. If someone asks for your opinion, you give it to them. That doesn’t mean that you have to be rude or cruel or set out to change their entire line of thinking. That means you give a truthful account of things as you see it. Some people will strongly dislike this. Most will respect you, in the long run.
The third thing is embracing the suck. I have a lot to get done this year. A lot. I don’t feel like I accomplished much at all in 2018, or if I did, it was on the interior, or it was mostly for other people. All of the things that I want to work towards are fucking hard, and it’s not going to be a walk in the park. I have been reading Dave Goggins’ book, Can’t Hurt Me, which is fantastic and I highly recommend it, and the biggest thing that I have taken away so far is that you have to really get down with the suck. You have to smile through the pain and say, “Thank you, sir! May I have another?”
Dave Goggins is pretty extreme, but I think the bigger lesson there is that you have to enjoy the journey. Achieving the goal at the end is never as important as the journey to get there. It’s like going on vacation. The anticipation of it is almost better than the thing itself. So embrace the suck.
To this end, the first thing on the “Embrace the Suck” checklist is my 90-day “Fargo-Goggins Challenge.” I am going on a Very Low-Calorie Diet (VLCD) for 90 days with no interruptions for drinking with friends or holidays. I will run three miles every day with no regard for over-training. If I can’t get up in the morning and get it done because of the kids or whatever, I’ll be running at lunch. Rain, sleet, or snow. I kind of hope it fucking snows because I really want it to suck for at least a few days this winter.
I want to be in the mindset that this is for life. I was serious about wanting to run stupid-long distances. I like doing crazy shit that people will tell you that you shouldn’t. But doing crazy shit on that scale requires that you commit to the shimmy. That means that you turn into one of those crazy motherfuckers who runs in a T-shirt when it’s 30 degrees and snowing. That means that you run in a coat when it’s 90 degrees if you’re trying to get ready for a desert run or something like that.
We’re on day 1 of 90 today. I’m not that hungry. Yet. I can’t wait until I’m ready to gnaw my own fucking arm off. That’s when the magic happens.
I am happy to report that a good friend of mine is doing nearly the exact same thing. Like most of my friends, she’s annoyingly hot. She looks like Malibu Barbie. She restores old houses and runs a B&B, so it’s standard to see her walking around covered in plaster, wielding a giant drill or a crowbar. Anyway, she’s beginning work with a professional trainer to get back in shape post-twins. She’s entering a bikini competition in June, so we’re doing this together but separately and with completely different goals. We’re going to celebrate at the end of June with a couple of days at the B&B sitting poolside getting tan, swimming, grilling meat, and then going out for drinks one evening. We are both determined not to look and feel like shit this year. We want to be proud of the way we look. We’re vain like that.
Finally, I will be saying no a lot more. If I don’t want to go somewhere, I’m not going. If I don’t want to work on an extra project at work, I’m going to say no. If I feel like someone or something isn’t serving me well, I’m walking away. I am walking away from other people’s bullshit, and I am not entertaining people who are high-maintenance and little-to-no reward. Life is too short to fuck with shit that has no value.
So that is where I am at on January 1st, 2019.
I hope all of you have had time to sit down and contemplate, to figure out how to tweak your system or put it in place, to decide what your goals are, and to come up with a plan to get there. I hope you’re unfucking yourself, if that’s what needs to happen. And I hope you aren’t too hung over.
Happy New Year, all!