This morning, I sat on my couch and watched a record spin on a turntable across the room. A record. Like, an LP made of vinyl. On a turntable.
If you know me, that alone could probably sum up how different life, and my perspective on it, is these days.
Maybe you’re one of my friends who saw this link on my Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr. Or you’ve read my books and articles and everything I’ve ever written the past 14 years and you get the joke here.
Or maybe somewhere during my two year writing hiatus, you forgot I existed, and you have no idea what the hell is going on with me. Or, maybe you read a thing of mine during the early 2000s on Fark or Slashdot or Digg or whatever. Or you followed my columns at CNN or Huffington Post. Or you stumbled upon one of my books a bunch of years ago, and after I stopped writing about pranks on Wal-Mart and arson at Hooters and mishaps with PETA you gave up on me, only to find me again via Google.
Maybe you’ve never even heard of me. So maybe you don’t get why this would even be funny. Let me explain.
Just a few years ago, the very mention of a turntable would have had me snorting and laughing and throwing out the words “hipster” and “luddite” and “stupid snake oil audiophile” and… oh, who knows what else. Instant snark and bitterness… over what? A medium upon which sound is recorded and played? And because why, because a trend emerged where people began rediscovering the way vinyl sounds and it became popular?
The jokes; oh they would roll. Anything to poke or prod or get attention at the expense of the trendy. Because who else deserves to burn more than the holier-than-thou? And who better to burn them, than the holier-than-holier-than-thou?
And here I sat, this morning in a tattoo-and-artist-and-motorcycle populated section of East Atlanta, in a rental house that I share with my roommate, who is a professional comic book artist. We’ve known each other almost a year and she is one of my best friends in the world.
Rent. Roommate. East Atlanta. Record players. Two-years-ago-me is screaming somewhere deep inside me “Dude, what the FUCK is going on in this bizzaro future you’ve ended up in?”
There was a purring cat in my lap and a warm cup of coffee in my hand. The light notes of John Coltrane’s saxophone drifted through the room, filling the air with an ambiance of relaxing cool. Sunlight shone in bands on the freshly-installed hardwood floors that my roomie and I cried over when they were done, because… well, we were home. And we were making it our home.
A year ago, neither of us had homes.
I pet my cat and he nudged my hand with his nose, then his cheek, telling me where I should be scratching him. I took another sip of my coffee — lightly sweetened with honey with a rich velvety texture created by the coconut milk and butter. I let it sit on my tongue and wash across the back of my mouth before swallowing. I breathed deep — not a sigh, but a purposeful “taking in the moment” breath.
Fucking butter and coconut milk, you guys. I put that in my COFFEE. A quick Google search of Joe+Peacock+Coffee will net you no fewer than 10 rants about hispter coffee bullshit, all predating the whole “Bulletproof Coffee” butter and coconut milk craze. And rest assured, had it showed up a few years ago, I would have railed against it, too.
But now, I can’t be bothered. Because I love it. It tastes good. And the John Coltrane on the record player? It sounds good. And CrossFit? Arguably the most hipster of the jockular activities? It feels good. In fact, I did a competition yesterday. A Masters Competition, for 35+ year olds.
Old man competitions in hipster sports… shit I swore I’d never, ever do.
I can feel my body reacting to the competition yesterday. It appreciates sitting heavy on the couch. It loves the warmth of my cat. It creaks a little when I lift my coffee mug to my lips, but it isn’t complaining — it’s just acknowledging that yesterday took its toll on this 38-year-old frame. But it is happy. Whatever pains it feels are simply reminders that I am alive and awake and in this moment.
This moment… it’s mostly perfect. A relaxing moment of early morning with jazz and coffee and a happy cat and a belly full of delicious breakfast.
It’s been a great morning. Life is good.
• • •
This time two years ago, literally the morning of February 7, 2013, my ears couldn’t hear jazz. Or any music at all, really. They were filled with the pounding of my heartbeat. My brain was on fire. I awoke and laid on a bed that wasn’t mine, in an apartment that wasn’t mine, in a city I did not live in. It was probably the twentieth time I had woken up that morning… but at least that meant I was getting some sleep.
I was in New York in my friend’s apartment in Chelsea. I was “Getting The Fuck Out Of Dodge.” Hiding, honestly, from reality.
Two weeks previous, on my birthday January 24 2013, I was on a ski trip for my birthday with my then-wife of 10 and a half years, whom I’d been in love with for over 14 years. And we decided, after months of arguing and fighting and discovery after discovery of things I never in a million years could imagine would be true, to part ways.
The next day, we flew home. We walked into the house we owned, and she packed some things and left and went to her mother’s. Very shortly thereafter, I covered nearly every square inch of floor and furniture with tears and snot.
She took “her” animals. I kept the ones that were too old to handle change and my goofy orange cats. Some of the geriatric ones passed on, one after the other, in the course of two months. It was gut wrenching.
A few months later, I discovered that my company’s largest vendor was withdrawing. My business partner and I had to close the business — an animation and art studio we had worked years to build. I used all of the money I had to pay severance to our employees. I fell behind on my mortgage, power, and water bills. I had to sell my house.
I couldn’t sell it. Despite all the improvements, and despite being located literally over a river and through the woods, I’m told it will be impossible to sell my house given where it is and the market and yadda yadda. So the bank took it.
Somewhere during all that mess, I discovered my identity stolen and several of my bank and credit card accounts compromised. The damage done persists to this day.
I lost my wife, my company, my studio, my savings, my pets, my belongings, my identity and, depending on the day, my sanity. My life, for better or for worse, was over.
By the summer of 2013, I found myself living in the tiny front room of my generous friend Mike’s one bedroom apartment with my dog and two cats. It was an extremely tight squeeze, one I tried to make more bearable by being gone as much as I could.
A few months went by. I filled the time with writing and exercise. Day in and day out, I would wake up, workout, write, eat tuna, write, workout, eat tuna and sleep.
I don’t think mere words can express the monotony of that particular time in life. Strange; I can have all this inside me, and to you, it’s only words (thanks, David Foster Wallace).
Summer became Fall, which became Winter. In that time, my best friend Jeremy lost his mom to Cancer. He was facing his first holiday season without his mother, and I was facing my first without my… well, entire life as I knew it. Some friends in Boston suggested I stay with them for a while, ostensibly to start a new life with a job and a change of scenery.
It was a good idea. The time was coming where I couldn’t just lay about any longer. I needed a job. And I really needed to get the hell out of my friend Mike’s hair. Besides, it would bring me closer to Jeremy, who was going through his own hell. So I packed up my truck and my dog and drove North.
Boston. In Winter. For those who have never done that… don’t. My hands are STILL frozen, and I’m not kidding. I’d never had cold hands like that before in my life, and now when it gets even remotely chilly, they go numb. Maybe it’s nerve damage; maybe it’s psychosomatic. Who knows. What I do know is that I’m not over it and maybe never will be.
I looked, but didn’t find much in the way of companies wanting to hire a guy whose main skills — design and development — had a notable multi-year gap in his portfolio due to spending the recent past as a producer and studio owner. And production companies weren’t really hiring guys whose main skill in the last year was firing everyone who worked for him.
So, when you’re unemployed and homeless and in a new city trying to make a new start of it all, living primarily on the goodwill and kind heart of friends, that’s the PERFECT time to start dating.
I thought I was in love. But of course, anything feels like love when it’s warm and you’re cold. While I look back on it now and realize it was rushed and foolish and basically like shooting heroin, at the time, I thought it was love. And this feeling — love, lust, fascination, infatuation, whatever — it actually motivated me to begin looking at my life with an honest lens.
I needed a damn job. I needed to get my shit together. The romantic idea of “making it on my own” and “starting fresh” and all that great stuff… it melted away, and reality began to set in. It was time to pay my debts and get back on my feet.
So, a job in Atlanta called. A good one. Really good in fact, with a huge corporation that needed someone to help them grow a studio within the company — someone who had both the design and development know-how, and the studio experience.
The girl I was seeing was sweet. Outwardly encouraging and made promises I knew she couldn’t keep.
I knew taking this role would break the relationship. But I’d spent the better part of 14 years letting the concept of “love” govern what was best for me, which led me to a place where someone I trusted more than anyone on the planet thought it was okay not only to cheat, but to lie straight to my face about it. Because I’d put her on a pedestal.
When you put someone on a pedestal, you train them to look down on you.
(Also, Boston is fucking cold and miserable and the people, by and large, suck. I’ll probably sever and eat my own testicles before I ever live there again. But I will forever be appreciative and thankful of my friends who let me stay rent-free and helped me at least try to make it there.)
So, I chose to interview for the job. I chose myself.
The second I got back to Atlanta, I got stopped on a felony drug search because there had been an ice storm and that’s when traffickers are most active. I spent three hours on the side of the road in 27 degree weather, quoting Jay-Z and 311 lyrics while I refused to be searched, because while I wasn’t carrying anything illegal at all, fuck that.
While waiting for the cops to let me go, I got a call — my mom was in the emergency room. I needed to get there. So, the cops finally let me go, but not without telling me that my license was apparently suspended and they technically should impound the car and arrest me. They would only let me go if someone else would come get me and drive me at least out of their county.
It was actually a really, really cool thing those cops did. They were just doing their jobs, and I wasn’t angry at them. They showed their sympathy for my situation by going out of their way to let me go. Some great friends of mine hopped in the car and came and got me. One drove my truck and the other followed behind.
As soon as we got to my friends’ house, I (illegally) drove to the hospital. My mom was stable, but needed to be observed for a while due to an infection that had set in. I told my parents I love them and, after driving 18 hours, being handcuffed in the cold for two, and at the hospital for four, I finally got back to Mike’s place. I fell out on the floor, literally.
I was back in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment.
When I got up, I went to go see my mom again, then planned to meet a friend of mine. En route, I was hit by a drunk lady with no insurance. The cop arrested me for my suspended license. I spent the night in jail. The next morning, Mike came and got me. Some other friends helped me get my truck, which had a big dent in the side.
I let my girlfriend-at-the-time know what was going on. The only reply I got came two days later, in the form of a breakup email. She changed her mind, the distance was too big a factor. Three days is what it took for her to come to this conclusion; that distance was too big a factor. I admire her for struggling those three days. Brave, really.
But on the other hand, it appeared that I chose correctly.
That was one year and one week ago.
The next weekend, I interviewed and got the job at Deloitte. I started my first corporate job in nearly eight years. Thanks to the lady hitting me, my insurance company sent me a check for damages — and at that moment, I had twelve dollars in the bank. So thank God that happened.
My sister and I went to thrift stores and consignment shops in Atlanta and built a wardrobe for my first few weeks in the new job. It was, after all, one of the “Big Four” and I needed to look the part. At first I was embarrassed to shop secondhand. But now, that’s the only way I’ll shop for clothes. I have some of the best outfits I’ve ever worn, and people constantly compliment me on how cool a shirt or jacket or pants may be.
It has come to define my “new look” — some strange amalgam of 70s and 80s shirts and dark blue indigo jeans and boots and who knows what else. I just rock what feels right. And I have hair now. For the first time in 20 years, I stopped cutting my hair with a #1 guard and just let it fly. Sometimes, I brush it over and let my beard grow out.
I moved out of Mikes place into a house I share with one of the most talented artists and best friends I’ve ever met. We just finished resurfacing the floors of our rental, and the landlords are very happy. We have our dogs and our cats and video game nights and friends over for dinner. I have a grill again. And got a decent set of knives for Christmas. I’ve finally paid back the debts from loans my friends gave me to survive.
I rebuilt. I was blown apart by a bomb planted in my life, and breathed smoke and dust while I waited for it all to settle down. It took a year. Then, brick by brick, I built a new life… A new me. Whole. Much more tightly bound. It took another year.
It’s 2015. I keep my existence very lean. I only shop for clothes secondhand. I only buy things I need, and only when I need them. I literally own four pieces of furniture, and very few paper books. I’m single and for the first time in my life, 100% fine with that fact.
And as I sit here on a plane to Germany for my new job, thinking back over the past two years of my life — the pain, the suffering, the long days and nights of nothing and no hope and no prospect of hope, the moving and the couch-surfing and the travel, the rebuilding and the new job and moving out and paying debts back…
The thing that jumps out at me; the thing that causes me to smile most is this morning: Sitting on a comfortable couch, with warm bands of sunshine draping across my neck and my back and cascading onto the floors that we recently put down in this really cute house in a really cute neighborhood in my home city of Atlanta.
I don’t own it, but for now, it’s mine. And I like thinking about being in it. I like that my cat was able to warm himself in my lap while I warmed myself with a mug of coffee, and the room warmed itself with the mellow tones of Joh Coltrane’s saxophone playing from the turntable that my roommate got me for Christmas.
I like that I get to go to Germany today, and I like that my employer trusts me and believes in me to do this work. I like that the work is interesting. I like that when I left Deloitte for this new job, more people than anyone expected came to my going away party and we had to break into two groups at two different restaurants. I like that I was able to go back to what I started my career with — making cool internet stuff. And I like that they loved the record player I brought in and the Tea Nook I built out of old and remaindered office furniture that overlooks the city from windows no one ever bothered to open until I got there.
I like that I get to see my roommate make cool art every day. I like that she leaves little drawings for me from time to time of my favorite comic and anime characters. And I like that my dog and cats and her dogs and cats get along.
I like that I have a hot shower when I want it. I like that I don’t worry much at all about any of the things I had to sell to afford to eat, or my old studio and my old business, or the house I literally built for myself and my ex wife, or my ex wife. I like that I can say, with complete honesty, that I would not have life any other way right now.
I like my new life. And I share this with you because maybe you need to hear it. Maybe you have gone through your own hell, or are going through it. Maybe you wonder why it’s happening. Maybe you think it’s all a lost cause and that life is over.
Maybe it is. But it’s just THAT life that’s over.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t get nostalgic for some of my past. I miss sitting on the back porch at my old house and listening to my creek and watching the animals in the woods while I work. I miss Sunday football gatherings and my awesome kitchen and my cool office with all the books on the shelves and instant access to every hot video game worth playing on the nice TV.
I miss having the luxury of sitting in judgement of just about everything in the world I felt was trendy or hip or popular or stupid or otherwise not my kind of thing, because I had it all figured out and sewn up and put together just right.
But do I miss actually doing that? No. Not even barely. Because who I am now is a happy person. Genuinely. And that is something I fought through hell to be, and the very last thing I’m going to spend my precious energy on is stuff that isn’t for me.
So I like what I like. And I like that others like what they like. And I smile about it every morning. Life is hardly perfect by whatever measures one chooses to call “perfect” — except for one thing: it’s perfect for me, right now. It’s what I need.
Just like losing everything was what I needed to realize just how incomplete I really was. And the new job back in the corporate world was what I needed to rebuild myself. And the girlfriend in Boston was what I needed to expose just how dependent on external validation and love and warmth I was.
I love my life. And I hope that, if you’re going through your own hell right now, you read this and realize one thing: it gets better.
But you’ve got to make it better. And ultimately, you’re the only one who can. Trust me — this too shall pass. And when it does, you’re going to realize that everything you’ve ever cared about was a decision. And you’re going to be so much more picky about what you decide to give a shit about from this point forward.
It’s not going to define you. It’s going to allow you to define yourself.
Pour yourself some coffee (and put some butter and coconut milk in it… trust me, it’s GOOOOOOOD) and get ready. It’s gonna be a long road.
You’re going to LOVE it.
…And for the record, Coltrane actually does sound better on vinyl.