Sitting by my parents fire pit in their backyard is the place I go in my mind when I close my eyes and let time walk ahead of me for a bit. Gathering around a fire with people invites a connection larger than the moment you're in. Letting your eyes unfocus, getting lost in the flames seems strangely familiar and natural. There's an understanding that humans have done this since the first of us struck a spark. Surrounding a fire is like cornering something magical. Spending some time with something unbound by time. You can almost feel the past staring back at you through a living window. It's a sacred thing that penetrates the thickest shields of the hardest heart. I will never miss an opportunity to gather around a fire.
I’ve been going to a therapist for about a year. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but never I really thought I could afford, or I thought I wouldn’t “do it right” (whatever that means) or some other excuse. Nobody in my family or in my circle of friends growing up went to therapy, or maybe they just didn’t tell me. Who knows? I don’t get briefed on everything.
To me, therapy was (and is still) a foreign thing, but seemed interesting. I think my dad offhandedly said one time that therapy is bullshit and that just stuck. Not as though he sat me down in a chair, took the giant lollypop out of my hand and said, “Listen to me, this is important, my son. Therapists and therapy is all bullshit. Remember that. Now get back out there and kick the can.” Nothing like that. I think it was one of those times I was milling around while he was trying to build something or do some kind of yard work, cigarette dangling from his mouth. I said something about therapy and he said, “Oh, that’s bullshit” while he was trying to open a can of paint.
Happy to have an easy answer, I put that in the “bullshit” folder in my developing mind. That folder began to bulge over the years. A great many things went in there. I’m embarrassed as to how long I left that folder unexamined. I just confirmed things and filed them away.
“Therapy” -> “Bullshit”
“Summer Camp” -> “Bullshit”, also subcategorized into -> “Child Molesters”
“Religion/Priests and Preachers” -> “Bullshit”, also -> “Child Molesters”, “Cults” + “Liars/Thieves”
“Coaches and Sports” -> “Bullshit”, also -> “Child Molesters”, “Assholes/Bullies” + “Ways To Become Paralyzed”
Most of these big subjects I found some random confirmation elsewhere to solidify my inherited judgment, but in my early to mid 20’s I started seeing inconsistencies in the logic, probably because so many things were labeled “Bullshit”.
I had a clogged drain in an apartment and I couldn’t unclog it with a plunger or a shitty plastic snake from the hardware store. I was trying desperately to not seem like I was lost or helpless, but I was. Somebody recommended Drano or Liquid Plumr (correct spelling) and I went back in my files and saw the tabs attached to that were, “Poison” and “Bullshit”. So looking at filthy water circling a clogged drain, I just said, “That stuff is bullshit”. I took a few steps and thought, wait, that’s a well established, mass produced product. I looked into how long Drano had been around, turns out it had been around since 1923. Now, if this product didn’t do what it said it could then how had it made it this long? People just keep buying it and getting duped, angrily throwing away the bottle, then buying more? There are enough suckers out there to keep this business afloat for the better part of a century? So I pulled out the file in my mind and saw the notes: Drano is bullshit because you asked Dad if it would work on a clogged toilet when you were a kid. He was using a big metal coil to get way down into the pipes and he said it was “Drano is bullshit”. End.
I went and bought some Drano and it worked like a fucking charm.
What happened was, when I asked my dad about it years ago he was dealing with a sewer pipe which tree roots had grown into. Drano, in that circumstance would not do the trick but he was frustrated with that. He was also hating his job and struggling to support a family he never got to spend time with, dealing with his own fears, angers and inadequacies. I was afraid of him because I always felt like I was in the way or doing something wrong, or the cause of his anger. A lot of things were happening. They always are. I took what I did and moved on. I didn’t double check or follow up on it, which I’m finding is one of my major problems, and that got left in the “Bullshit” folder.
That situation started my reexamination of my filing system. If that wasn’t supposed to be labeled “Bullshit” then what else is mislabeled? How many innocent subjects are incarcerated in there?
I guess that’s a somewhat common realization though. Particularly to have happened at the time in my life that it did. Early to mid-twenties, when the arrogance of your teenage years starts to flake away, and the questioning of yourself and everything you believe fills in beneath it like new shell on a crab.
I paint myself into corners, mentally. The objective, I think, is to get something done by giving myself less ways to escape. Maybe we all do that, but I don’t have the problem solving skills that I would like to possess. My way of doing things leaves my mind full of mostly painted rooms with corners left blank and angry footsteps across the floor. A hole or two punched in the sheetrock, here and there. I put pressure on myself to accomplish things, but that pressure doesn’t get put to proper use because I don’t know the correct way to harness the energy.
To me my brain seems like an old house that was built by somebody who didn’t really know how to build a house, but did it anyway. Then over the years, repairs have been done and obvious mistakes have been fixed, but not really by professionals. Some things sorta make sense, but they’re all goofy and needlessly complicated. There’s no need to have a pneumatic tube system in here. It works and it’s kinda fun, but why? Industrial grade machinery beside stone tools? Weird wiring and mismatched structural designs.
In Barcelona there is a church called, Sagrada Família that will never be finished being built. They say it will, but I think they’re wrong. It was designed by an artist and architect named Antoni Gaudi. I went there and walked around in it. It’s beautiful, but it’s insane. The design is deliberately wild, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t totally buy that. When I was looking at the structure all I could think was, “Got in a little too deep there, didn’t you buddy?” I saw a kindred mind. I’m very much projecting here, but I saw a guy who did what I do. Energy with no clear direction or control over it. Just a flowing spring of creative nonsense that people pay money to look at and walk around in. People see that cathedral and see beauty and inspiration. It makes me feel uncomfortable, because on one level, yes it is an amazing thing. So complex and intricate. However, on another level that’s a wildfire of undisciplined and untamed talent that consumed not only one man, but spilled out onto a city and has continued on in it’s construction beyond his death. Again, I know nothing about this guy and I could easily do some research, but what I took from my experience has helped me, so I don’t want to second guess myself. Where’s the fun in that?
When you make a thing and it is finished it isn’t really yours anymore. While you’re working on it it’s yours, but when it’s done it’s just another thing in the world. You can put your name on it, but that’s the last thing people see. First they see the thing and then, if they feel like sticking around for the credits, they see the names of the people who made it. Some people really value that part, but most people don’t. There’s a confidence that you need to complete something, because when you write, “The End”, or sign your name, or put on the last coat of gloss and leave it to dry, when you walk away you lose control of that thing you made. You are a thing and so is that thing you made. To me, this is where being optimistic or pessimistic really matters. If you look at the glass as half full you see something that you gave to the world that can help you feel like you are contributing to life. If you see the negative then you just made a kind of tombstone. A reminder that you have no control over anything and letting go means you matter just a little less than you did before. You’re reminded that time passes like sand through your fingers. That pessimism, that fear, that sad perspective is what keeps us frozen. Keeps us, or, who am I kidding, me…It keeps me in a holding pattern, circling above a destination running out of fuel but still fooling myself into thinking I am in charge.
This is anxiety. It pulls us into the future or holds us in the past, but not really. It focuses our attention there and we miss the moment we are in. To beat anxiety you’ve got to acknowledge it. Name it. Remind yourself that you are here. You are awake right now. Nothing you were before needs to say who you are in this moment or 10 minutes from now.
At least that’s what I’m taking from my time in therapy.
Of course, that could all just be bullshit.