Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two Heads and a Bad Case of the Hives

One of the greatest gifts my mother gave to me was enrolling me in swimming lessons. Since I lived by water, the line of reasoning went, it was important to know how to swim - not just for survival purposes, but also so I could have fun with all the other kids who would be playing around in the water too.

I'm fuzzy on the specific time period, but let's say roughly kindergarten through maybe second grade was when I took lessons at an indoor pool one town over, starting at a very basic "beginner" level, advancing on to intermediate, and so on. Starting at that beginner level, I would look fearfully at the deep end of the pool - ten feet! It was still a mystery to me at that point how I would ever be able to keep myself from sinking down to the bottom. If my feet couldn't feel the bottom of the pool without my head being above water, the feeling of "danger" took over.

Of course, in time, some of that fear began to erode as I slowly learned to dog paddle, tread water and so on. Still, advancing in my swim lessons was not coming to me quite as easily as my school studies. I still remember the swim instructor at one particular level I was at telling me that I wasn't ready for the next level, and yet, he decided he would advance me anyway. I wasn't sure how to take it - was this instructor being irresponsible by pushing me forward when I wasn't ready because he didn't want to deal with the embarrassment of having one kid who didn't quite pass? Was he trying to build me up by showing confidence that I'd be able to figure out what to do in the next level? Was he afraid of incurring my mother's wrath if he held me back?

Whatever the case, I was advancing. And before that moment came, the kids in my group got to do something we had all been working towards - to swim for just a little bit in the deep end. This mystery was beginning to unravel, and being able to conquer it would be a great source of pride for me if I could do it.

I started off dog paddling, doing the safe thing. Lo and behold, I was making it! I wasn't sinking! But then, I did start sinking. I panicked. Treading water simply did not cross my mind, and I began flailing. My heart was beating fast, my breaths were increasing, and then, my head submerged. I was so close to the edge of the pool, I thought I could grab it. But I wasn't close enough. I sank further. I thought, this is it. I'm drowning.

Just at that moment, a strong hand reached down and grabbed my arm. I was quickly raised out of the water. Saved. It was over.

And I was terrified.

So terrified, in fact, that I never did find out who it was that saved me. I'm not even sure if my mother knew, and I doubt she'd remember now since it was so long ago. But when the dust settled, I was grateful to be breathing air instead of water, and to be walking on the ground instead of sleeping beneath it.

Maybe it was courage, maybe it was stupidity. Whatever it was, I kept going. In time, I became so comfortable with deep water that I routinely sought it out so I could swim down to the bottom of the pool, look around and hang out for a little while, and then come back up when I was running out of air. I loved being able to do that. I still do.

- - -

Last year was, in some ways, like that moment when my swim instructor advanced me before I was ready. Only now, as an adult, I am my own instructor, my own parent, my own coach, and my own savior - I outsource consultation when I feel I need it, but in the end, all the decisions are mine. And in 2009, I dove head first into video blogging with Parlour to Parlour. While holding down a full time job. While freelance writing for another web site too. And testing the limits of my capacity for developing and maintaining new interpersonal relationships of varying degrees of intensity.

I set a bunch of goals, and many of them were met. But the ones I did not achieve - namely, finishing a financial accounting of my video activities and compiling a report of the traffic the series generated for Popdose - are still hanging over my head.

Essentially, this time I *did* drown. I could feel it when I began juggling the filming of new episodes while still editing old ones that I had bitten off more than I could chew. But at that point, it was too late. I had already committed - in a public forum, no less - to complete 26 episodes before the end of 2009. To complete less than that would be the equivalent of telling the world that I was a liar and that I couldn't be trusted to keep my word.

To my credit, I did complete all 26 episodes, and the personal connections I made during that process are still felt now. I've even helped connect others as a result, and hopefully those new connections will be helpful and successful for those who made them. That's really what I wanted to do, in the end - bring people together so they could help each other achieve their goals and realize their dreams. It's a lifelong process, and if I can do anything to help it along, I will.

Unfortunately, my energy got sapped by the end of 2009. The loose plans I had in mind for putting together a scaled back, higher quality second season for 2010 are temporarily on hold as I tackle a whole new challenge.

My father told me recently, as I recounted the year's events to him and how I was feeling about it all, something that was hard for me to accept. "You're not Superman," he said. Not that I ever had delusions of being an all-powerful super human who could fly and save the world, but still, the point was that I took on quite a lot, and I couldn't expect myself to move on to the next phase right away without a rest. And I really do need a rest.

What suffered the most during my intensely paced year was my ability to connect with people on a level deeper than the pleasant, functional, politically correct level that has become my mode of auto pilot, the one where everyone understands we're working towards a goal, and that personal feelings are put aside in favor of the goal. It's the world I've lived in for far too long, to the detriment of all of my personal relationships, from family members, to old friends, and especially women. Occasionally the version of me with all the empathy and understanding and deep personal insight came out, the version of me that has nurtured and maintained my longest-lasting friendships. But it didn't come out nearly enough. And the biggest problem was that I was blind to this most of the time, and with a few exceptions, I'd be in denial when it was pointed out to me.

When all of this finally hit me, that's when the drowning feeling took over. I'm out of the water now, but I'm still pumping liquid out of my lungs, so to speak. And as they free up, new friends are providing me with new insights they probably aren't even aware of, and in turn I'm trying a little harder to reassure them that, yes, I am listening, and no, you are not boring me to tears. Yes, I am enjoying your company. No, you're not making a complete ass of yourself, but maybe just enough so that I might feel comfortable making an ass of *myself* for our entertainment.

Things like that. You know, not allowing the focus on a goal to take away from the joy of the *process*. Simple basic stuff that most people get so well that if you ask them to explain it, they'll look at you like you have two heads and a bad case of the hives.

- - -

In this pursuit, I'm currently reading "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say" by Warren Farrell, PhD. Next on the list is Farrell's "Why Men Are the Way They Are."

- - -

And currently soundtracking this moment:

Keith Richards singing "Slipping Away" with the Rolling Stones. This is easily my favorite song off Steel Wheels, and one of Keef's most affecting performances ever. "First the sun and then the moon, one of them will be 'round soon." That line always makes me smile.

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood performing "Had to Cry Today" at the Crossroads Festival in 2007. I finally picked up their Live from Madison Square Garden live album, and was inspired to learn the riff to this tune immediately after. I almost put the Blind Faith performance from Hyde Park in '69 here, but as it turned out, Clapton and Winwood just sounded so much better 38 years later. Search it out for yourself and hear the difference, but this here is the real deal (thanks to Matt Wardlaw for the tip).

The Smashing Pumpkins' "Thirty Three" just might be one of Billy Corgan's best songs. I haven't listened to the Pumpkins much over the past couple of years, but for some reason, I've found myself drawn back to Adore and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "Thirty Three" resonates much more now than it did in '95. When Corgan sings "in the same old haunts I still find my friends," I recognize it as a source of comfort in the present. Because, indeed, I know exactly where I can find my friends, and though those "haunts" may be old, they are comfortable and inviting.