Fourty-six years, 20 hours, 7 minutes, 39 seconds into my life, I sit hunched over my aging-but-elegant laptop to bang out a birthday column.
Who knows if that time is accurate?
I’ve never seen my birth certificate. I vaguely recall being told I was born around 3:30, but if that is a.m. or p.m., I don’t really know and I’m too lazy to go digging through antique paperwork to find out.
My personal new year begins at midnight like every other day.
In past years, I’ve written a list of lessons I learned through the years. Some were repeats. Some were quips. Some were quotes from favorite authors or good friends.
But the last year proved to be one of the most significant in my life. I don’t feel like pithy or cute. I feel like punching a heavy bag until I break my hands.
I choose to preview rather than review.
Don’t let the bastards get you down.
I lost my job as a newspaper reporter in 2020. I knew it was coming. It had happened before in 2004 and again in 2008.
The lesson I failed to learn in the previous two dismissals finally took hold this time: I am not my job. My job is what I do. I may love the work, but the work doesn’t love me back.
I spent most of my life believing that having a job in journalism, especially at a certain local newspaper, was what made me special. Once they took it away, I had a hard time believing I was worth a paper cup full of tobacco spit.
Yet, I’m still here. My friends love me. My family loves me. I still have readers, though on a smaller scale. There is purpose for my life, and it isn’t shackled to one career, one workplace or one anything.
If that sounds basic to you, I congratulate you. You’ve lived a life with an awareness I’m just now catching on to.
Failure won’t break you … if you learn from it.
I briefly worked at a local television station at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. I was an abject failure at the job from the first week.
The station manager hired me because he’d had a good experience with an old newspaper guy being an assignment editor. Despite the good faith effort, I would not repeat that success.
I failed in every way possible and within three months, I was finished. My guts felt like I’d subsided on a diet of broken glass and barbed wire.
But without that failure, I would never have fully committed to my new path: Becoming a teacher. I still had a pinky in journalism. I still had hope that I could resurrect that which was long dead.
After the TV station disaster, I knew this was not true. It was time to move on. The time was long past that I realized this.
I’ve faced many struggles since the TV job ended, but I’ve never looked back. My future lies elsewhere.
You can’t solve all the problems at once.
The last two years have been one hardship after another. Unemployment. Financial troubles of every stripe. Health woes. Anxiety. Depression. Rage, anguish, and bad craziness.
Here’s what I learned: Not every fire is going to burn your house down. I am impatient and my tendency is to want to fix everything at once.
This approach leads to a lot of crying and emergency calls to my therapist.
These days, I take advice I’d give for years on the topic of reporting. Break a big problem into little ones. Solve the little ones and eventually you’ll solve the big one.
Sometimes one bill goes unpaid so a more important bill can get covered. Sometimes I asked for help.
People may judge me for being broke and unemployed going to graduate school in my 40s. So what? People are always judging other people. It’s the American pastime.
Bottom line: I survive. One of these days, I’m going to thrive.
Keep moving forward.
I am morbidly obese. I gained more weight during the pandemic. My arthritic knees scream in pain with every step. I sometimes walk with a cane.
I hate the look of myself in the mirror.
So what? Americans have an impossible standard of beauty, for men and especially women.
I can cry naked in the shower about what a fat bastard I am, or I can get in the pool and do my exercises, which I do. I went to see my doctor for cortisone shots in my knees.
If I need to stop and take a few deep breaths cause I’m struggling to walk, I do it.
The cane is a tool, not a symbol of weakness.
And I preached this in skinnier days and need to live it now: The obese, especially the morbidly obese, are not victims of excellent hand-to-mouth coordination.
They are almost always trauma survivors.
Mockery is the cheap and easy way to dismiss the obese. I offer an alternative: Respect.
Respect, because they are fellow humans worthy of love, dignity and respect.
And respect because whatever they’ve been through, whatever hurts inside them: They’re still moving forward.
And so am I.
Be the tenacity of the cockroach.
For a few of us, life is a gilded path with few obstacles — or at least that’s what the fairy tales tell us.
For most of us, life involves some degree of strife. At times, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a rolling fistfight with myself for most of my days.
This year, I decided to stop punching.
Make no mistake, I am dealing with a lot of shit: school, financial instability, health and probably a few things I’m forgetting.
But I am the cockroach that makes a sidewinder path across your kitchen floor, avoiding your bootheel as I find a way to safety.
I am remaking my entire life — my outlook and my career — at 46 years old. I’ve put all my chips down on becoming a teacher by spring 2022.
I am man on a mission, barreling through graduate school with my eyes on the master’s degree prize and a gig trying to pass on the writing and communication skills I learned in a job that already feels a lifetime ago.
It is a big risk.
Maybe I won’t get a job.
Maybe employers will think I’m too fat.
Maybe districts will think I’m too old.
Maybe I’ll bomb as student teacher.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Maybes are just problems you might have. I’ve got enough real problems. I’m not putting maybes on my list.
What I’m saying is I’ve been through a lot of shit the last year. And in my life, I’ve been through even more, enough to break a man.
Make no mistake, friends, it’s brought me to my knees more than once, praying for God to release me from this mortal torment.
But I got back up again. I kept moving forward.
Because I am resilient. I refused to be bowed.
To borrow a line from Hunter S. Thompson: “… a man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.”