The Long View, or How I Try to Live Happy (a Tigger Talk update because sometimes life just sucks)

I am broken and heartbroken today. This is sometimes my answer when people ask me how I am, which as you can imagine gives them pause. I find myself explaining what I mean quite often.
 
And so I thought I’d do it here as well.
 
I’m sitting on my couch, sore and beaten up from my Olympic lifting training at Broad Ripple Fit Club. This week has been a great + mighty struggle physically. It’s also been tough emotionally. I’ve reached the age when phone calls bring terribly sad news as often as they bring good.
 
This would have been a week to shut down, to crawl back into the whole, and cuddle up with the dark places where I lived for a very long time. When your body and your brain just. don’t. work., getting up is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is just hard. (You’ll see what I mean, younglings.)
 
But I’m lucky enough that I lived through enough shit to have some perspective. 
 
So I don’t think about what my body can’t do anymore, or the aches that follow me around on a daily basis. I don’t dwell on coming in last at everything I do in my gym. I don’t obsess what I can no longer do. Instead, I choose to think back to 7 1/2 years ago when my body couldn’t do anything. Alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes (in that order) wrecked me. Walking briskly was hard.
 
Then I remember: Today I’m training for a national (MASTERS) weightlifting competition because I have great coaches + a community of people that come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. We laugh in the face of failure. We support in the face of obstacles. I’m not going to win. But I don’t actually give a shit about that. The pain and the aches and soreness I have today is from a life well lived, and not from giving up and destroying myself.
 
And so I am broken.
 
And when the phone rang, bringing me news about someone very important in a life I once lived, I was devastated and heartbroken.
 
But I couldn’t muster tears, or sadness. I couldn’t dwell on the pain that grew in my heart as I listened to the inevitable news that it brings to and for everyone. I can’t do that. I don’t see life — and its ending — as sad. The limitation brings with it a reminder that everything matters.
 
Instead, I told inappropriate stories about times gone by. I reveled in the trouble we stirred up, and the trouble I caused. I cursed, I laughed, and I tried to pass along the essence of what mattered without care of social graces. The stories, the life, the people are what matters. The end makes everything else meaningless in all of its flavors.
 
Certainly life is melancholy. But it’s the sadness that makes the colors so much brighter, the sun so much warmer, and the happiness so much happier. So I think back to the ways my life is better, and changed, and different because of the time I had with this person. The end is sad, but it is also the time we curse the loudest, drink the most, and celebrate the stupid shit that never mattered and always mattered the most. I think about the lessons I have taken and passed along the students I now I teach, and I think about the jokes I played just to annoy. I don’t dwell on the regrets, or the missed chances. I am thankful just for the things I had in the time that I had them.
 
And so I am heartbroken. (And maybe have mustered a few tears.)
 
And these are the good things in life.
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If you’ve made it this far, you might be interested in my other #tigger blog posts, or the post that began this, The Tigger Talk. If you’ve made it this far and you’re not interested in either of those, you should avoid clicking on those links at all cost. Trust me.

 

This…This is Water

Those who have spent any time with me know know that I draw a great deal from the life and the writing of David Foster Wallace. Without him ever knowing me, our lives became intertwined the day he committed suicide. The particulars of those events are relevant for this little story.

What is important is that I have found great comfort in his words in times when there was not a great comfort anywhere else.

My students have likely heard me reference “This is Water,” the title of DFW’s famous commencement speech at Kenyon College, at least once during their time in my class.This speech is, in just a few minutes, the best description I’ve ever heard of the meaning of life. (This piece meant so much to me that my wife and I made it our theme at our wedding in January.)

In the last few days, somebody released a fictionalized film version of DFW’s talk. I have watched it repeatedly, oftentimes with tears streaming down my face for reasons that, like the particulars from before, aren’t particularly relevant to you.

But I suspect if you watch it, you will draw your own meaning from it.

“The capital T truth is about life before death.”

The People We Wanted to Be

A decade has passed since that awful day on September 11, 2001. In terms of your memory, that’s a long time. The major moments tend to stick, but the bits and pieces of it all flitter away into the mind, gone from most purposeful thought.

What it leaves, though, is a filtered version of the things that mattered that day — and the days after. Those moments and emotions that have stuck have become my defining view of that day’s events.

I am prone to disappearing. I find ways to sequester myself from the world, whether driving alone when I could take the train or locking my doors on the weekend and emerging again only when it’s time for work. I am, and have always been, a solitary creature. That’s not to suggest to don’t love people. In fact (and surprisingly), I have a great passion of them.

Many times, I just find all of the emotion to much to handle. I get overloaded with expectations, with disappointments, with joys. To survive, I need solitude to recharge and reboot.

In those terrible hours and days and weeks after 9/11, I remember not wanting that solitude. I remember looking around at the faces in the offices of Wired.com, professionals who were trying to find a way to make our stories make a difference from 3,000 miles away, and wanting to stay with everyone. On that awful day, people lingered about, not wanting to go home. I ended up sitting in a bar with my editor, one with whom I had a terrible relationship, and just processing through what we had seen. There were few words. Just silent drinking.

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And So Another Ends To Begin Again

brad_andyI met this dude in 1996, the year I rolled into Austin. We worked together at Trudy’s. We also became best friends over a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey while discussing how we’d ended up in Austin.

The short story: the women we’d been with decided to not be with us. Good enough: we bonded as men.

Much has happened since then, but one of the constants in my life has been our friendship.

We lived together for two years then, when I moved away in 1998 to go to graduate school I’d stay with him  when I’d return for SXSW Interactive, and when I moved back to Austin in 2002 I bought a house where he’s lived since. (I lived here for two years until the job pulled me away.)

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The Tigger Talk: On Life, the Process, and Everything

Grades don’t matter.

This is what I tell my students ever week throughout the school year. Education is about the process, I tell them as they roll their eyes, not the product. I implore them to focus on squeezing out every bit of knowledge from their assignments. I want them to attack uncertainty without fear of failure. I encourage them to fail.

Because in failure we learn.

But the truth is that even those students who try – try – to focus on learning and not grades still fall victim to that red letter penned upon their assignments. I can see it in their eyes, the smiles that beam across their face when they earn As and the sunken, silent despair when they earn Fs.

I want to grab each of them, look them in the eyes, and remind them that grades don’t matter. In class or in life. What matters is the process. What matters is the way you approach your education, your relationships, and your life.

Of course I can’t convince my students to think this way. Too much of our educational system is built around grades. So I do the only thing that I can: I tell them my story.

This is The Tigger Talk.

***

Part 1: On Life

Grades don’t matter. I’ve told you that throughout the semester. Before every assignment. After every assignment. Grades are simply irrelevant to what you have learned and what you know.

I’ve told you this but I haven’t told you why I know this. Today I am going to do that.

 

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