There are no "could've beens." There were choices we could have made differently, but nothing could've been that didn't happen.
I get caught-up in could've beens quite often. In high school, I wanted to go into photography. I took business and entrepreneurship classes hoping some of it would rub off on me. I imagined I could go to BCIT or some technical school and learn the ropes. I thought similar things about working in radio and broadcasting. But when I graduated, the prospect of working for myself genuinely scared me out of it. I felt incompetent and unwanted and just wanted a job that someone would pay me at. So I defaulted to teaching. I'm ok with teaching, but it's hard not to fall into could've beens about photography and whatnot.
On a similar note, I entered into marriage when I wasn't ready. I felt nervous about it, but I also felt nervous about not doing it. I made the choice to get married since I knew I'd have reservations and regrets either way. I trusted the wrong intuitions. And as much as I imagine what could've been with that relationship and the thousands of choices I could've made differently within and without it, it doesn't matter. That alternate timeline is just one of thousands of possible fictions, mere fantasies in my imagination. Sure, I could've made different choices, but who knows what those choices would've led to.
Could've beens exist in a false narrative, in the stories we tell about our own lives, in the myths that help us make sense of our decisions. We make a choice and imagine, or project our hopes onto that decision. When we think in could've beens, we project our current mindset to a person in the past and create a myth that the person we are today matches with the people we were in the past.
I only have one true narrative, the one that contains the choices I made. And I am the result of those choices. I might imagine that I could have become the person I am now without those experiences, but that's not true.
There is no 20/20 hindsight for an alternate story, because that story doesn't exist. I can lament the choices I made in regards to my career or relationships, but only so far as the choice itself. After that choice, the timeline never started. Only one timeline started, and that's the only timeline worthy of my reflection.
There's a funny thing about some of the sadder portions of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four. While O'Brien tortures Winston, he says,
Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes:
In this context, O'Brien gaslights Smith into believing something he does not perceive. But the gaslighting hangs on a truth: that our heads' perception is the only perspective thhat constructs our reality.
I would like to break out of the "could've been" thinking cycle. I've tried counselling and therapy, religion and art, learning and activity, but I still seem to sink into the pattern. I imagine the pattern's preponderance in my thinking stems from a deep dissatisfaction with my current way of life, despite my numerous blessings and good things.
As I write this, I get the feeling that it comes down to gratitude. I need to practice gratitude for my good life, for the things I have, for the things I've learned, and even the obtuse way I've learned those things.
Although I'm not out there playing the dating game at all, I keep Tinder on my phone largely just to maintain my URL and swipe right or left now and then. Lately I've been a little stunned at just how many people simply love camping. I mean, I like camping, but I don't love it. I'm not likely to do it without good company. I will choose music and culture over camping pretty-much every time. If I could live the "aspirational lifestyle," it's unlikely that I'd spend too much of it camping.
After getting kinda' disillusioned by all these supercamper profiles, this article in McSweeney's made me laugh out loud numerous times.
The satire is dead-on.
My intricately braided hair looks perfect even though I haven’t washed it in three days, and although I’ll tell you I love getting dirty, you will never actually see dirt on my person, unless it is artfully and strategically placed in a cute spot like highlighting my perfect cheekbones. I live in yoga pants and my activewear fits as though it’s been tailored because I did, in fact, get it tailored. I don’t dress like this because it attracts every amateur rock climber, mountain biking van lifer, kayak-wielding weekend warrior, and sentient pair of Chacos in a 15-mile radius. That’s just an unintended side effect that I happen to enjoy. I also love wolf dogs and being in the woods because no one can hear you scream.
I understand that people love the outdoors and some people really, really live for it. But the sheer prevalence of outdoorsy profiles makes me feel like getting to spend time outdoors is a matter of status, much like the ability to travel is, or perhaps one's gorgeously sculpted body, or perhaps their app-driven meditation routine, or perhaps their tanned skin, or the way their children are in clubs or on teams for every moment of the waking day.
There's something that discomforts me about filling so much time with deliberate activity. It's as if we've taken the way we've lost our ability to be bored and replaced that boredom with the image of personal completeness. As long as I can fill my time with being outside, I will be happy. And I can post this to my Instagram feed or to my dating profile and I will be happy. I can't quite put it into words, but it's a tone that feels... just a little dishonest.
Or I'm just a dick because I don't live that lifestyle. I mean, I guess I kinda' could: I could find venues where I could play music every night, for example, and finally get my songs recorded and presentable. That would likely be what my own aspirations would look like.
And perhaps then... I would pummel my own feeds and dating profiles with my life goals.
Susanna Emerson, in her article about the Aspirational Lifestyle, which may have been the first place where I jived with the term, writes,
Political implications aside, featuring “the aspirational lifestyle” on an Instagram feed isn’t about sharing joy. Authenticity is missing. It’s not a case of, “I’m having so much fun, and want you to be able to join me in my glee” or even “I just got a Vespa and it’s the best thing to happen to me!” It’s more like: “Admire me for the things I have.” Or better yet, “jealous, aren’t you?” There’s a sinister undertone to the story the aspirational character is telling, and it’s is the same one underneath most advertising campaigns: “Just in case you hadn’t realized, you’re not good enough.” In ad campaigns, a product swoops in to solve your problems and make you good enough. On Instagram, there’s usually not always option for immediate relief, but aspirational posts sure do beget copycats (hence the ubiquity of yacht shots and acai bowls).
When I see all these dating profiles that just say "camping, camping, camping," I can't help but feel a little bit of that jealousy—for a lifestyle wherein one has enough time to go camping regularly—and I long, just a little bit, for that sort of freedom with my time.
And that time may come. I recently finally invested in a tent and sleeping bag for myself, so I'm on my way there. I'm on my way to being able to say "yes" to camping.
As for choosing to go out on my own... I'll still choose a good gig.
Lately I've been looking a little at furnishings. I've found myself at home and felt decidedly uncomfortable. I've tried to do a couple things to improve this over the last few months—most notably, I picked up two CD towers so I can start to listen to CDs again—but my apartment still feels rather unhomelike: my computer desk doesn't seem to fit the work I need to do; my chairs aren't really comfortable to sit in; there's no place to invite a guest to sit and be comfortable. It's a place where I live, but not much of a home, even for someone who's moved around as much as I have.
Last week, the School of Life uploaded this video:
In the written summary of the video, they say,
Creating a home is frequently such a demanding process because it requires us to find our way to objects that can correctly convey our identities. We may have to go to enormous efforts to track down what we deem to be the ‘right’ objects for particular functions, rejecting hundreds of alternatives that would – in a material sense – have been perfectly serviceable, in the name of those we believe can faithfully communicate the right message about who we are.
But right now, what does my home say about me?
My one-bedroom apartment
When we lived in Hope, I liked the hand-me-down aesthetic we had as a family. We had grandma's couches, a different gandma's table, and the rest of the furnishings were typical young-family Ikea fare. I felt pretty comfortable with that aesthetic. We didn't own much furniture, but that was more than OK with me.
However, when it came time to replace the sofa, I discovered that I'm a far more picky person than I ever expected. No matter what sofa I looked at with my wife, I didn't like it. I saw problems with all of them. This was extremely discouraging for both of us. And although we replaced that couch eventually, we never really had one I was happy with.
I still haven't bought a couch. Last summer, I bought a cheap leather loveseat off of Craigslist and put it beneath one of my kids' loft beds, but I don't really have a living area that's couch-worthy, that has room for anything. See the photo I posted a couple weeks ago below: my bed's in the living room; there's an enormous plastic folding table, and quite simply not the room for a couch.
So what does my home say about me? Here are my suggestions:
So I'll keep an eye out for a good couch. And I'll have to get a smaller table one of these days.
Until then, I'll keep the place clean enough for... me.
In October of 2016, I voluntarily took a psychological exam. I wanted to see if my perception was all wrong, if I was looking at the world through a decidedly selfish, narcissistic lens. After bouts of therapy and counselling, the dissolution of my marriage, and loads of reading, I felt confused and frustrated. I wanted to see if I was as horrible as I sort-of felt I was. Maybe I just wanted to talk. For whatever reason, I took this exam-thing,
I can't find the online reference I made to it; I wrote a summary post on Tumblr, but perhaps I deleted it. The main thing I remember the psychologist saying, though, was "You seem to be of sound mind, but your values are all over the map." Essentially, I let myself be pulled around and don't really run with anything. Which is likely true.
I still find myself being pulled around this way. I still battle with trusting my gut enough to stand up for anything. When I do stand up for my values and what I believe is a good thing to do, I'm usually wracked with self-doubt. I'd say I'm doing better than I did a year ago, but I still find it hard to really stand up for anything. If someone suggests they have a better way of doing something, I tend to just go along with it. It takes deliberate, mind-wrenching effort to say, "I'd like to do this... this way... and I will follow that through."
I'm sure there's plenty of nature-nurture stuff to attribute this mindset to. Growing up in Baptist churches, I was frequently told told that I was a sinful wretch who didn't deserve anything without God's help, that Christianity was the only lens through which to see the world. My parents wanted me to follow the faith, but I don't think they intended for me to internalize as much of that type of negative teaching. When you have one authority figure after another telling you that you're horrible and incapable of navigating the world, and you really identify with that thinking, it's easy to let others abscond with your sense of perception; when shame and guilt are virtuous feelings to have to back up your wretchedness, and you're prone to shame and guilt, it ices the don't-trust-yourself cake. In my case, I believe it primed me for doubting my perception.
My counsellor suggested that I listen to Brené Brown's "Men, Women, and Worthiness," so I need to order that. I've read one of Brown's books before, but maybe it's time for me to return to her work again. Perhaps I'm a little more in touch with my shame than I used to be, and I might be able to take it on from a new angle.
I'd like to think I'm learning a little more about how it's OK to have values, boundaries, and needs, and that I'm allowed to try to be happy in my goals to be a good dad and good person. But I have a long way to go before I can feel confident in my own perception, confident that I won't hide behind tinted shame-glasses.
One step at a time.
Last Friday, I visited the open mic night at the Tractorgrease Cafe down on the Chilliwack River Road. It was a good night. I played my first two songs from my New Year's resolution to write a song a week. They seemed to go over well; I got some good feedback.
I happened to sit down next to a party of three who had shown up to Tractorgrease for the first time. We got to talking pretty easily. The most outgoing of the bunch had the gift of the gab and told stories about his past, his good business dealings, his satisfied life, and his aspirations for the future. It was nice to hear a bunch of stories from someone who seemed so confident about their values and place in the world.
He talked about money. He described various accomplishments and said, "Most people don't know what serenity you can find when you stop worrying about money. I hope you find that sort of serenity yourself." And I agreed that I'd like to have that sort of serenity.
I totally get it. I worry about money. I think about money a lot. Too much.
To me, there's a money spectrum of sorts. On the one end, there's the reality that money is just a human construct that has no real bearing on our inner lives; if a meteor hit the earth and vaporized everything, the next society wouldn't naturally evolve a money-based system. There are almost always ways to gather enough money to get by, no matter what challenges there might be in the world.
On the other end, money is a reality that has real consequences in our society. Although it's not worth worrying about, it's also such an integral aspect of our lives that we need to take it into consideration. And sometimes, oftentimes, we have to do things we don't really want to do in order to get some of the money necessary to do the things we actually want to do.
Back to the cafe last Friday: this is all Captain Obvious stuff, but it seemed like this guy next to me was advocating for the one side of the spectrum: don't worry about money; breaking free from the shackles of money brings "solace" (his words). Simultaneously, he described a lifestyle well beyond my ability in any way: lavishing loved ones with gifts, owning a boat, and various hedonistic pleasures.
So it seems like, at least in this case, if you have enough money... you don't have to worry so much about money.
I'd like to think I don't worry as much about money as I used to, and that might be the case. I've kinda' settled for my lot in life these days, considering that I've topped-out on my pay scale for this position. Apart from incremental salary increases over the next few years, the only ways I can make a few extra bucks here and there are through side hustles of sorts. I can handle that. And I'll be OK as long as I can generally hold myself together and keep my job. And perhaps a good, consistent job would be the best way to be kind to future-self anyhow.
But I'm going to keep my eye out for those ways that I can build a better income for myself. I'm admittedly jealous/envious of people who can be a little more free with the stuff. Not envious enough to take a big risk at the moment, but enough to keep an eye on the horizon.
ON ANOTHER NOTE: A couple days ago, Facebook brought it to my attention that it was my 3rd anniversary of playing at the Tractorgrease Cafe. Here's a clip from that little set:
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