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It's not the walls but the space inside that makes us who we are
A year ago, in therapy, I told Bree that I didn’t think we talked about my childhood enough.
“Let’s do the inner child work,” I said. “Isn’t that where the real paydirt is, therapy-wise? That’s what they make it seem like in the movies.”
For years at that point, I had been regaling Bree with regrets from my marriage, tales of my dating life, recreational drug use, professional ambitions, and the vicissitudes of my weirdly codependent quasi-romantic friendships. But I happened to be, at the time, in San Francisco, my hometown, therapizing via zoom after having spent the prior afternoon with my brother reminiscing on the aftermaths of Halloweens, November days spent scouring the house for candy that our parents had hidden from us so that we wouldn’t eat it all at once. The conversation with my brother reminded me that I had, at one point, been a child. Something I had forgotten. And while I was intellectually aware of the importance of childhood development to the full-fledged adult, I really had little-to-no understanding of how *my* childhood in particular had contributed to the peculiar adult personality I now found myself in possession of.
I spent my first year in therapy convinced that Bree hated me. She seemed, at first glance, sympathetic to the woke viewpoint and I was worried that my horny cisgendered straight white (passing) guy problems would be written off as a deranged abundance of privilege. I worried that I didn’t engage her savior complex and wasn’t her ideal client. In my mind, she wanted to spend her time helping polyamorous trans BIPOC sex workers be more self-accepting, which was sort of how she positioned herself from a marketing perspective. And yet, she had bills to pay and I was willing to pay in full, in cash, for her to solve my problems.
So, despite the fact that I felt dubious about my ability to convince her that I too, in fact, had a complex inner life worthy of untangling the knots of, I committed to the bit, and showed up dutifully in person or on zoom every week from wherever I was working or partying to unravel myself to this licensed stranger. (I was very much in need of untangling following the aforementioned collapse of my marriage, various low-key addictions to drugs and sex and sugar babies, and a confusing portfolio of weirdly codependent quasi-romantic relationships, not to mention my generalized out of control anxiety and numbness to daily life).
Explicably or inexplicably, after a few years had gone by, underneath both of our feet, the plates shifted, and the stories about drugs and sugar babies turned into stories about spirituality and ethics, into stories about yoga and prayer and meditation and body awareness. More than anything, they turned into stories about emotions and the strategies to identify which ones I might be feeling and which ones I might be suppressing, and how doing so might be affecting my life. At least on a good day.
Therapizing via zoom in San Francisco, I spent the rest of the session talking about what it was like for me to be 7 years old and then never brought it up again.
“You’re a gray area boundaries person,” my matchmaker, Amy, who occasionally moonlights as my life coach, said to me, sometime near the end of our first meeting.
When she said it to me, it wasn’t a value judgment or invitation to act differently, simply an observation about a quality I had that would be important for her in finding me a match. Gray area boundaries people weren’t necessarily good or bad, they were simply a type of person and they tended to match mostly with each other and she was glad I was working the boundaries angle in therapy because if you’re going to play the edges in your relationships, you need to be an expert on following the rules before trying to bend them. But there is fun, of course, in bending them, in that we get a bigger glimpse of the people in our lives, and that allows us to love them more. But we also expose more of ourselves which allows us to hurt more.
I had gotten a matchmaker because I wanted to outsource the love problem. My dating life was fine but I wanted another bite at the marriage apple. I felt, after several years of therapy and meditation and yoga and successfully climbing the career ladder and generating a small pile of cash that the only real missing puzzle piece in my life was a rock solid stable partner. I wanted someone extraordinary, because I felt, at the time, that I might be extraordinary.
And so I gave Amy an enormous pile of money and said, “Go find me a hot purple-haired goth burner chick who wants kids and is willing to accept the social stigma of dating a finance bro (albeit sensitive finance bro) in exchange for an unlimited supply of ketamine and psychedelics and also I’ll fund her burning man camp and ferry her around the world to have wild-ass experiences, provided I’m not busy working on bunch of boring and necessary shit to keep the gravy train running.”
And she said, “It’s not that hard of a sell in the modern love markets. Of course, it would be 10x easier if you were taller and maybe you wouldn’t even be here but I still think we can get it done. We’ll play down the finance thing and play up the yoga teacher and meditation practice and psychedelics, and anyways no one really *wants* to know where the money is coming from most of the time.”
And I said, “You might be the only person in the world uniquely qualified to get this done for me. And you are the only person I trust.”
A few months ago I woke up and found myself in a peculiar situation. Much to my gentle surprise, I had intentionally or inadvertently gotten everything I initially thought that wanted out of life.
I was through the first 10-year gauntlet of my career, had kissed goodbye to 90-hour work weeks and transitioned to managing ambitious juniors, freeing up the occasional evening or weekend and leaving some space around the edges for my life to take shapes, with enough money for those shapes to be interesting. I was head over heels in love with the most brilliant, charismatic, considerate, emotionally mature person I had ever met. And maybe most importantly, I was in touch with my body and emotions, the result of a rigorous, consistent yoga and pilates and therapy and art practice that I dutifully attended to rain or shine.
Week after week, I did warrior poses and planks and bicycle crunches and wrote essays and recorded songs and then told Bree at the end of the week how I felt about all of it and let her reflect back at me what these things said about me and kicked around ideas with her about how to process it and what it all might mean in the end, when the dust is settled on life and we are returned to God in our final form.
The first time I really heard Bright Eyes I was in high school, in my girlfriend’s Suzuki, driving the boulevard in Castro Valley listening to a mixtape her friend in the city had made her.
“This song’s really good,” she said. And we drove for another minute and listened and then parked outside the local Indian restaurant and let Conor Oberst finish his live rendition of Land Locked Blues:
I keep drinking the ink from my pen / And I'm balancing history books up on my head / But it all boils down to one quotable phrase / If you love something give it away
I listened to that song, and to Bright Eyes, for the rest of my life. Rode that wave all the way to Cassadega with one of my dearest friends, Tiffany. (Impromptu road trip to Cassadega, Florida is a highly recommended life adventure for all you Conor Oberst fans, fwiw, iykyk).
One new year’s day a decade and change later, I made a resolution to look as fantastic as practicable all the time. In keeping with that resolution, I went out shortly thereafter and bought a beautiful red coat. It was fabulous, but though it kept me warm through many blizzards, wearing it never felt quite right to me. It wasn’t really me, it was more Drake vibes, but I loved it nonetheless. Another night, more recently, fireworks blazing above a Brooklyn rooftop, I saw someone else capturing its essence. It dawned on me in that moment that though I loved it, perhaps God would be better served if I was no longer its custodian.
We have to let go of the things we love in order to serve God, even when we love those things very much. The real treasure in life lies not in what we collect, but in the person into whom we might transform.
Our entire life: the friends, the lovers, the titles, the objects, and the origin stories, belongs to us only in passing. All of these will be washed away by the sands of time. For now, we hold our lives in custody while the magic unfolds.
But it is ultimately the magic and the magic only that belongs to us forever. The same magic we experience as children when we stand in awe and wonder towards the world around us. The first lil baby steps of putting some structure around the miraculous consciousness with which we each find ourselves gifted. Naming the nameless.
Archaeology is painstaking. With chisels and soft brushes we chip at rock and brush away the sand to find the ancient treasures buried within the earth. But through that process the object is revealed. Preserved, as it were, in time and rock. Some of the oldest archaeological objects evidencing human life are clay pots. Perhaps, occasionally, the same clay pots that Lao Tzu had in mind when he wrote in one of the earliest recorded human texts: We fashion clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that makes the vessel useful.
Of course, on any archaeological dig, we never really know what we are looking for until we find it, but it is the finding, not the treasure that brings us joy.
I am walking away from a lot in my life right now. By doing so, I hope to create space. To empty the vessel so that God may fill it.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that it will be co-created with God and the people I love.
Once upon a time, in one of my first yoga classes, a teacher guided us into child’s pose. “Knees under hips, toes untucked, arms outstretched in front of you, forehead on the ground. Breathing in and out quietly through the nose.”
“There is a saying,” he said, “among the ancient yoga masters, that it is from this pose and this pose only that one can see the entire universe.”
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