When I was younger, I used to spend this time of the year making all sorts of commitments and promises to myself about what my life would be like a year later. Every year I’d promise myself that I wouldn’t spend another whole year of my life without love and that I’d finally find a way to support myself with truly meaningful work. I dutifully identified goals and objectives, and wrote them all down. I prayed and visualized. I applied myself in every way I knew how. But the things that mattered most to me, love and work, have never changed.
My last relationship ended over sixteen years ago, and it wasn’t even all that good. The one before it was even worse. Sometimes I feel incredibly sad, irritable, angry, and dissatisfied and I’m not sure why. Then I remind myself that I’ve been without love for nearly two decades. What was for many years an open, gaping wound in me that was always at the forefront of my consciousness is now so buried under years of coping, pattern, habit, and routine that I’m barely aware it’s still with me, but it’s there. It doesn’t howl as loudly and as often as it used to, but it makes itself known to me in other ways if I pay attention.
The holidays have been difficult for me this year in ways they hadn’t been in several years. I’ve felt that familiar wolf bite of loneliness, that old cold emptiness in my chest, more acutely in the last couple of weeks than I have in some time, and familiar questions about how I could ever possibly do anything about it have been trying to seep into my thoughts. I learned a long time ago how to push them away, to keep myself pointed forward and living with what I’ve got, but like that gaping wound of lovelessness, they slip into the background of my psyche, but never really go away.
As for work … work never really changes. The work that matters to me is what I share here, on my website, and in my books. The work I do for money matters only for money. I do it because I have to. Up until recently, I still had illusions of somehow translating what I do because I love it into what I do for money. That seems increasingly unlikely to me now. I’ve been working non-stop for the last 5+ years to make that change and I’m no closer to it today than I was when I started.
My first book, Iron Man Family Outing, will be going out of print soon, probably within the year, and without some help from who knows where, there’s no reprint coming. It’s also looking less and less likely to me that my second book, Scapegoat’s Cross, will ever see the light of day. I completed the manuscript in September 2009 (right before I broke my right wrist and shoulder in a fall) and I’ve made absolutely zero progress since then in developing either the art needed to finish the book or any sort of satisfactory scenario with regard to publication.
Sometime within the next few months, I’ll undoubtedly (and hopefully, if I want to keep eating) return to my standard anonymous schmuck in a cubicle routine, and the luxury of autonomy and devoting my days to what truly moves me will once again be a memory, maybe for several years. Maybe for good, given my age and finances.
I used to feel like I could change anything in my life if I really wanted to do it and really applied myself. That used to work, too. It’s a good thing it did because that’s how I survived a pretty bad childhood and made a life for myself as an adult without the kind of help a lot of kids receive when starting out. The conviction that “I deserve better and I can get it” has been the fuel that’s kept me going time after time when I’ve found myself abandoned, betrayed, disappointed, and pressed to the edge of oblivion by people and circumstances.
That conviction is still there in me, but it’s been muted by years of learning, very reluctantly, that commitment, desire, will power, and the willingness to go all in don’t necessarily get me what I want and deserve. Maybe this is yet another unwanted lesson that comes with being an involuntary passenger on that sinking ship known as aging. It would probably be a good topic of conversation with a trusted older mentor who’s some years down the road from me in time, but I’ve never had anyone like that in my life either.
So here I am at the beginning of another new year, wanting to make the same old promises to myself: “I won’t spend another year alone. I won’t spend another year wasting my life doing meaningless work.” It all has the vague feel of some fairy tale I can’t quite recall, something about someone who’s been entranced and is doomed to repeat the same promises and patterns year after year after year. Every year he returns to the mirror, sees himself another year older, and repeats the same promises. Promises he once meant and believed with all his being that are now nothing but dim remnants of fading hope. Promises, once held high like torches on a dark path, that now slip through graying heart and hands like the last fraying strands of a life, however deeply felt, that never was.
I wish I could remember how that fairy tale ends, if it even exists at all. I don’t want another year of empty promises. They may be all I have, but promises I can’t keep are promises not worth making to anyone, least of all to myself.