“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Tag Archives: life
“If you don’t make time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don’t want.”
“One might compare the journey of the soul to mystical union, by way of pure faith, to the journey of a car on a dark highway. The only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights. So in the mystical life, reason has its function. The way of faith is necessarily obscure. We drive by night. Nevertheless our reason penetrates the darkness enough to show us a little of the road ahead. It is by the light of reason that we interpret the signposts and make out the landmarks along our way.”
Image: “Hummingbird”, Chris Maynard
Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me. It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas. I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001. But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day! Wow! The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life. A lifetime ago.
And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then. Both society and me. I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990. I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since. I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore. I’m just reflecting. I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often. I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.
It makes me recall how my parents often did the same. ‘It’s been how long?!’ I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016. Now, I find myself doing the same.
I’m certainly not upset about it. I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors. That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone. The alternative is not as attractive.
After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years. Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago. My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters. After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”
Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”
Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled. Even the priest laughed, she told us.
My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”
For me, those “little things” have added up.
A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work. They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution. I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues. One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time. Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic. I laughed. It didn’t make me feel old. I realized immediately it was just progress. But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner. I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE. I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room. Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder. I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.” And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.
In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.
“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me. “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.
Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them. Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her. Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing. Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family). My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten. He grew to like them, especially my father. I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company. On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.
I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.
“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.
“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.
While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other. Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not. I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did. Within no more than a moment, the two were playing. Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates! They got along very well.
At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard. He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018. I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.
“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised. As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer. I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something. “Work hard and play hard, yes. You’re young. There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women. Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking. You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”
Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing. But I feel Andy understood how serious I was. I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog. He had to think for a moment, before he finally did. “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”
He asked me what had become of him. I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening. I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.
Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry. His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man. Sorry to hear that. I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”
“No,” I answered. “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.” No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected. When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise. It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it. I could understand. We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.
Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education. I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return. I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.
About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time. She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor. I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble. “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said. “It just does. You realize you want to do more things.” I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.
Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.
“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.” But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it. As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20. Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way. I let life keep getting in the way.
It’s a curious sensation, though. Life is now coming full circle. And it actually feels pretty good.
From illness and tragedy, art always seems to bloom to place ourselves and our world into a grand perspective. After the “Black Death” rampaged through Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, the “danse macabre”, or dance of death, became an artistic representation of how death is the ultimate equalizer. Beginning in Western Europe and gaining popularity in the Middle Ages, it was a literary or pictorial representation of both living and dead figures – from pope to hermit – leading their lives as normal, before entering a grave.
Recently some pallbearers in Ghana envisioned the dance for contemporary deaths and the ensuing funerals. As many Africans tend to do, they celebrate death as the next stage of life – mournful and often tragic, for certain. Singing and dancing, they honor the deceased for the life they led on Earth and the glorious new life they should have in the next realm.
It’s how I view death. My paternal grandfather said he respected death more than any other aspect of the world because it’s not prejudiced or bigoted. It simply spares no one. I felt some measure of glee when I watch the ending of the 1997 movie “Titanic”, as the ship sank and the plethora of furnishings and luxurious items shattered. Not because I love seeing things destroyed! But because all of the vainglorious possessions of the vessel’s wealthiest patrons could not save them. They may have been rescued because of their wealth, as many of them entered the smattering of lifeboats first. But, whether dead at that moment or dead later, they would never be able to take those items with them.
We all come into this world naked and screaming, clutching nothing but our souls in our hands. We leave with the same.
“The little things I can obey. But the big things – how we think what we value – those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone – or any society – determine those for you.”
Over the past couple of years male friends of mine have openly and shamelessly lamented the various travails suddenly burdening their aging lives. Some have actually announced they’re experiencing hot flashes! Seriously?! Hot flashes?! In the olden days (c. 1970s and 80s) I often heard my mother and other women bemoaning the onset of this dreaded mid-life scourge. Since I only heard women complaining, I thought we men were safe and had to deal with other traumas; such as our eyebrows growing together and more spontaneous urination incidents instead of spontaneous erections.
Alas, it seems the much-loathed hot flash has zoonotically migrated into the Y-chromosome crowd. I knew women shouldn’t have been allowed to vote and wear slacks!
While I’ve attributed recent cranial temperature spikes to allergies and Texas’ perennial schizophrenic weather (which might explain some Texans to the rest of the civilized world), I don’t feel I’m experiencing hot flashes. I prefer to call them “hormonal readjustments”. They’re similar to gray hairs; they’re not gray hairs, people! They’re stress highlights!
Shortly after I turned 40 in 2003 – in the days more commonly known as BH (Before HDTV) or BF (Before Facebook) – I came down with the flu for the first time in my entire life to date.
“What’s this shit about life beginning at 40?” I joked with my then-supervisor at work.
A round of Tamiflu, coupled with orange juice, rum and refraining from frequent masturbation helped over that uncomfortable, microbial slump. But I still had the gnawing sensation my body had finally decided to divorce itself from my soul and try to lead a life of its own. I think a number of people experience that same feeling as their odometer reaches the number 40. We never ask for that kind of life change; the shit just slaps us upside the head!
Now, however, at age 56, I’m starting to experience more unexpected physiological changes in my body, as well as cerebral alterations that occur upon realizing life moves more easily when sound and sober. Unexpected, yes, but even more pleasurable. It’s not the same kind of pleasure one might have seeing their best friend and one-time spouse or life partner drive off the cliff in their new vehicle. I mean, what a way to get a new car! Full-coverage insurance be damned!
For me, it’s my body finally getting adjusted to NOT holding in all the rage and angst I have when people piss me off – the madness otherwise known as “Life”.
Remember, we don’t develop gray hairs! Now, my own indigo locks haven’t sported many – yet! But metaphorically, I’m covered! Still – no gray hairs, dear readers! They’re stress highlights! Thus, it’s good to let out as much stress as you can. Just watch out for flu varmints and two-timing best friends!
“My life is based on pain, passion, and purpose.”
– Elijah E.Cummings, U.S. Congressman from Maryland who died unexpectedly on October 17
Among my father’s favorite memories were the times he played baseball as a kid in his East Dallas neighborhood. Growing up in those environs more than six decades, with scores of other Hispanic families, ago gave him a sense of community and freedom. He had plenty of others, he once told me: holding me for the first time; buying this suburban Dallas home; working in the yard; and playing with our dogs.
“I keep reliving those moments over and over,” he said, following another late night talk. “If I could go through them again, I would.”
Most of my own best memories occurred in the 1990s – the best decade of my life so far. And one of the greatest was my 1991 trip to Ixtapa, México – a small hamlet on the nation’s Pacific Coast, northwest of Acapulco and far from the touristy ruckus of Cancun and Cozumel. That was the furthest away I’d ever been from home at the time and only the third time I’d been outside of the U.S. My first two international trips also were to México; college spring break jaunts that were hazy and less relaxing.
Ixtapa was incredibly soothing and quiet. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter. The closest I’d come to an ocean was the Gulf of México. On my first night, the pounding of the waves along the shoreline echoed deep into my mind and lulled me to sleep. While I savored the beach and the warm weather, my parents feared for my life; that I’d be kidnapped by local hoodlums. That had crossed my mind, too, but I was enjoying the simple sights too much to worry.
The Ixtapa excursion allowed me to live out a few of my dreams: lounging along the waterline for hours; roaming through a quiet Mexican town, wallowing in the community without boisterous intruders or Americanized visages; stuffing myself with as much food in the all-you-can-eat buffets; and, of course, consuming plenty of alcohol.
Sitting in the sand, wearing a skimpy Speedo, and letting sea water roll around me remains one of the best therapies I’ve ever had. I thought, if some giant tsunami accosted the beach and sucked me into the Pacific depths, I probably wouldn’t mind. Another fantasy didn’t develop until the moment I stepped onto the beach, beneath a cloudy sky. I didn’t get to experience it, which is probably a good thing. It might have killed me.
A tall islet laden with tropical vegetation languished innocuously offshore – perhaps a mile at the most. I thought it beckoned me, and after a couple of days, I dared to attempt a brief excursion to its narrow shores. I tried swimming out to it, but quickly realized the allure was strictly my own cogitation. And I wisely returned to shore.
I returned home looking like I’d been attacked by some animal rights activists, which startled family, friends and coworkers. I couldn’t praise Ixtapa highly enough. I loved it then and I love it now. I hope I can visit again. If not now, then maybe in another life – if there is such a thing.
I’m not thinking of reincarnation, but rather, a life beyond this one. The post-Earth kind of life. Out there. Wherever it is.
I’ve never been so arrogant as to say I know exactly what will happen to me after I die. I’m certainly not a self-righteous evangelical Christian or “72 virgins at the end of the hallway” maniac. But, for the bulk of my life, I’ve wondered what happens to us when we cross over to that “Other Side.” What do people do? How do they navigate time and space? Why do they not visit us back here more often, especially when we call out their names in prayer?
I don’t know. But I’ve begun to ponder a simple possibility – why would they come back here? For any reason. As much as they love us. Why return to Earth? They’ve served their time in this life. So, what awaits them – all of us – on that “Other Side”?
All of those happy moments they experienced. The people who have gone before us are, perhaps, reliving the best times of their lives. They’re once again experiencing those events that gave them the most pleasure and made them feel the happiest. I don’t suppose this would include the times they might have hurt other people for pleasure – whether it was accidental or deliberate. Certainly not deliberate! I imagine others who shared those grand moments slide in and out of the reoccurrences. A sort of crossing time and space.
Therefore, my father is reliving the days he played baseball in his youth; when he first met my mother; holding me shortly after I’d been born; caressing my dog, Wolfgang, just a few years ago. He absolutely loved that little four-legged monster! Petting him was one of the simplest – yet best – pleasures my father had.
All of those things made him feel good. Why in the hell would he come back here to help me with Earthly troubles? Why would anyone want to give up reliving those special times to deal with plumbing problems and credit card debt? They’ve already dealt with that shit!
I can’t imagine my father trading in the joy of having his own lawn for a day of listening to me moan about lower back pain! Who in their right mind would want to make that kind of trade off?!
That’s why we don’t see our dearly departed that much. And it’s why tampering with séances and Ouija boards is dangerous. Disturbing the dead may be the subject of many bad jokes. But I think it’s wrong. It’s also kind of pointless. Imagine you’re undergoing a full body massage and a relative interrupts to tell you they got into a road rage incident. Wouldn’t you be pissed and want to startle the crap out of them, as they got ready for bed?
What’s it really like on that “Other Side”? How is it living out there? Again, I don’t know. And I’m really not eager to find out anytime soon! I have more stories I want to publish. I want to adopt another dog. So, I’ll continue paying my Earth-bound dues. And one day I hope to lounge in that Ixtapa surf for hours – not concerned with anything.
On December 31, 1985, I gathered with one of my best friends, his then-girlfriend and her older sister at the girls’ house to ring in the New Year. In my 22 years of life at the time, I had never been so glad to see a single year fade away as 1985. Just about everything had gone wrong for me. I was placed on academic probation in college because of my dismal grades for the fall 1984 semester; then got suspended for the fall 1985 term because I still couldn’t get it right. That prevented me from becoming a full member of a fraternity I so desperately wanted to join. In April my parents and I had to put our German shepherd, Joshua, to sleep. That fall I had my first sexual experience, which proved embarrassing and depressing. In October I fell into a police trap and was arrested for drunk driving. (My blood alcohol level ultimately proved I wasn’t legally intoxicated.) By Christmas, I was an emotional and psychological wreck. I’d come as close to committing suicide as I ever had that year. But, as New Year’s rolled around, I’d settled down my troubled mind and realized my life could continue.
I realized 1985 was the worst single year of my brief existence and hoped I’d never see another one like it. For more than three decades that pretty much held true. For the longest time almost anything related to 1985 made me tremble with anxiety. Nineteen ninety-five turned out to be almost as bad; instilling a phobia in me about years ending in the number 5. Ironically, though, 2005 was a pretty good one for me, and last year was okay.
Then came 2016.
People all around me are waiting for this year to die, like a pack of hyenas loitering near a dying zebra. Aside from a raucous political campaign – with a finale that seems to have set back more than two centuries worth of progress – we’re wondering why this year has taken so many great public figures and left us with clowns like the Kardashians. I could care less. This year has also taken my father and my dog and is slowly taking my mother.
Over these last six months, I’ve experienced emotional pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I’ve never endured this kind of agony. It’s dropped me into an endless abyss of despair. Early in November, strange red spots began appearing all over my body. It brought with it chronic itching sensations. I wondered if small pox had been reintroduced into society and I was one of its unwitting earliest victims. The rashes and the itching would come and go, like million-dollar windfalls to an oil company executive.
It all shoved me back to the spring of 1985 and the odd little sores that sprung up on either side of my midsection. They were painful pustules of fluid that I tried to eliminate with calamine lotion, ice cubes and prayer. They finally vanished, and only afterwards did someone tell me what they were: shingles. I had to look up that one in a medical reference. For us cretins aged 40 and over, WebMD was a fool’s dream. But I knew that’s what I had, and its cause was just as apparent – personal stress. My poor academic performance, Joshua’s death, thinking my failure to join that stupid fraternity was a reflection of my failure as a human being – all of it had piled onto me.
In November of 1995 – about a week after my birthday – I woke up early one Saturday morning, stepped into the front room of my apartment and repeatedly banged my fists against the sliding glass door. I was aware of it, but I felt I was compelled to do it. As I lay back onto my bed, my hands already aching from pounding on the glass, I asked why I had done something so bizarre at that hour of the morning. Then, almost as quickly, I answered myself. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was experiencing serious financial problems at the time and I was having even more problems at work. My father had just experienced a major health scare. One of my best friends was sick with HIV and had been hospitalize with a severe case of bronchitis, and I’d just had a heated telephonic argument with another guy I thought was a close friend over…some stupid shit I can’t recall after all these years. So, after weeks of dealing with that soap-opera-esque drama, my mind cracked. Stress of any kind wreaks havoc on one’s mind and body. It’s several steps up from a bad day at the office. This is why U.S. presidents always look light-years older when they leave office.
So, as I smothered my body with cocoa butter lotion and anti-itch cream, I harkened back to 1985 and thought, ‘Goddamn! History repeats itself too conveniently.’ The death of another dog and more subconscious trauma. This time, though, events have been more critical than not being able to join a fucking fraternity or falling into a drunk driving trap.
But something else has changed. While my body reacted in such a volatile manner, my soul has been able to handle it better. I’m older and wiser now, and with that, comes the understanding that life is filled with such awful and unpredictable events. Yes, I’ve fallen into fits of depression. But I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to harm myself in any way. In fact, I want to heal and keep going. I didn’t kill myself in 1985 or in 1995 or in any other stressful period since then. I really just want to keep going.
I keep a list of story ideas; a Word document amidst my electronic collection of cerebral curiosities. When I peruse that list, I realize I may not be able to bring all of those ideas to life. But, if I didn’t try, why should I even bother with it? Why bother even with getting up every morning?
Something has kept me alive all these years. Something has kept me going. Earlier this month I noticed a cluster of irises had bloomed unexpectedly in the back yard. My father had planted them a while back. With Texas weather being so schizophrenic, warmer-than-usual temperatures must have confused the flowers, and they jutted their blossoms upward into the swirling air. I had to gather a few before temperatures cooled, which they did. They languished on the kitchen counter for the next couple of weeks, longer than usual. And I realized their presence is coyly symbolic. My father was telling me that, despite the heartache of this past year, life continues, and things will get better.
I still miss my father and my dog, but I care for my mother as best I can, even as her memory keeps her thoughts muddled from one day to the next. And I continue writing because that’s who I am and what I love to do. I can’t change what happened years ago, but it brought me to where I am now. I couldn’t alter the events of this past year. But it’ll all carry me into the following years.
Happy New Year’s 2017 to all of you, my followers, and to all of my fellow bloggers!