what took me 29 years to learn
There have been only a couple of times in my life when I was genuinely, whole-heartedly depressed. Plain unhappy. If you knew me during my high school years, you’re well aware of the of the misery I felt from about 16-18. I was just a kid and the circumstances were beyond my control. I won’t go into details, because it doesn’t serve the point of this particular post. I knew I couldn’t feel that way forever and I wouldn’t be in that place (literally and figuratively) forever. So I made a plan: Focus on school, find happiness in my friends and activities and figure out a way to get the hell out of Dodge. It may not have seemed to be a conscious decision to those around me, but it was. I made myself invisible at home, killed it in high school, got a full ride to ASU, figured out my financial situation and never once felt that helpless again. I had a lot of help along the way, but I felt like the decision to figure out my next steps (mostly) by myself was my first adult decision. And that decision was to be happy. If you could go back in time and ask the 17-year-old me if I was making a decision to be happy, I would have said, “No, I am making a decision to be alive.” At the end of the day, I think my happiness grew out of the decision not to give up at the ripe old age of 17.
So that’s what this whole pointless garbage is about – how to be happy. That pointless garbage is existence. Existence, to me, is random, beautiful, wonderful, tragic…but it’s cosmic garbage that will be sucked up in time and puffed out into the universe like a ball of dust from your Hoover. That might seem sad to some people – especially religious ones. I can understand that.
I am not religious, but I am spiritual, and I say we can be happy as pointless garbage and that’s OK!!
I’m not saying I have the answer; I certainly don’t. I have figured something out that might be obvious to everyone else on this forsaken ball of dirt and salt water, but it was certainly a revelation to me. But how that revelation came to be was a process that took about 2 and a half years of shadow boxing with my ego.
I tromped through my early twenties merrily, generally fine with my choices (poor or not) and my direction (or sometimes lack thereof). I went off to the Peace Corps like I had always planned – hardly aware that I was going to be systematically broken down and rebuilt cell by cell. People who work for a long time over seas or in conditions very different from what they are used to back home feel similarly when suddenly re-united with what were once formerly comfortable schemas. I came back and experienced a reverse culture shock that caused me to act like a bipolar 10-year-old for a good while.
I was excited about all the cheese at the grocery store, but I was scared of the twenty people blocking the MOTHER FUZZIN’ AISLE. And why are the cucumbers shrink wrapped!? WHY IS EVERYONE STARING AT THEIR PHONES?!?!?
I wasn’t happy. I thought I would be. I had romanticized home in a way that it could never live up to, not to mention I assumed the new me would be OK with all the crap that made the old me content. So when I was pissed off at Nicaragua, I thought America was the answer, and when I got to America I thought leaving again was the answer. Spoiler alert!! It’s not. Since then, I have lived in Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, California. What I assumed would be a logical and meaningful last step before I leapt gracefully into the doldrums of adulthood turned out to be a Lohan Level Disaster. I was forced to face some serious issues about what I thought I was put on earth to do. That was just one of many questions that dragged behind me like Marley’s chains for s i x l o n g m o n t h s . And for someone staring 30 in the eye, six months is nothing to be toyed with!
The weird thing was, most of the time I was oddly zen about the whole ordeal. Every once in a while a swell of rage would crash and drag me under for an hour…or a day…or a week. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t burning down buildings and slashing tires with the laser beams that were surely coming out of my eyes. Upon further inspection, there were no laser beams. Just bags from a less than healthy sleep schedule and the same steely determination I had at 17. And then, as if the veritable cheese aisle were magically clear of patrons, everything seemed easier, clearer. I figured it out. It doesn’t matter what I am doing. It doesn’t matter where I am. You choose happiness. It is a conscious, everyday decision. Sometimes a battle. You survey the damage, yes, but you also survey what’s left standing. In my case I had a family who I had managed to barely see for 3 years, a whole mess of amazing friends (whom I also missed dearly), and my passion for my community and the drive to work for positive change in any way I could. It sounds so cheesy and I firmly encourage all the eye-rolling you might have done during this post. But at the end of the day, it’s true. You choose happiness. It is not something you find outside of yourself. It is something that comes from within and stretches out, and hopefully gets to intertwine with the happiness of others – even the sadness of others.
I recently read The Dude and The Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. It was part of the universal energy that helped me to reach all of the fore mentioned conclusions. One of my favorite lines from the book is:
“Look at the ingredients you have, make the best meal possible, and offer it.”
29 years, man.
Sometimes the best meal you have is a combination of old green beans, popcorn and outdated turkey gravy powder*. Eat it and enjoy it because whenever you tell the story a year or two later about eating that shite meal, you will cry from laughter every single time.
*Actual meal I ate on the floor of a bat and mouse infested crap hole my friend John called a house.