Travels with Myself

The Occasional Blogs of Doug Jordan, Author

32. Hair on Fire

In ‘Lost’ I described my parallel life of living in my head yearning still, and living transactionally just to get through the day. But some of those transactions were nevertheless not typical of me: I was in transition, or in trouble. 

It may have looked like desperation to others, and maybe it was, but to me it was about regaining my life force, to live with eros, not in a rocking chair.

I vacillated between action and inertia, passion and pits. My time in the Abyss was not entirely dark. I may have been depressed, disoriented and lost but my brain was still very active, if random. 

Perhaps I live too much in my head, but when my brain is awake, it is working. It may not be productive work, but it is active. I envy those who can just stop thinking, who can ‘escape’ into other worlds through reading or movies, or mindless reality tv. I don’t get the point of ‘mindful meditation’ (I get mindful productive work, i.e., flow, but not UUMMM). I just can’t do it, I just can’t empty my head when I’m awake. I probably can’t empty my head while asleep either, judging from the many dreams I seem to have.

My meds may have flattened my mood but I was still trying to solve this problem of loss, and the problems of life. How many years of health-span did I have left? And would my money match my years? And how did I wish to spend them? But mostly I didn’t want to be alone. The loss of Emily was also the loss of eros, condemned instead to loneliness.

I wasn’t willing to go gentle into that good night. I wanted to rage. And rage I did. I wanted to relive my unspent youth, and do it differently. I wished I had actually had a misspent youth, and so, I wanted to live a little before it was too late. Even as a 17-year-old I was pretty conservative and conventional. I had dreams, and ambition, but not taste for wild adventure. (Some might say the decisions I made – marriage, and kids – were actually bigger life risks than the abandon of youth I thought I missed.) I confess I was reluctant to step out of some pre-ordained mold, and I suffered from a combination of introversion and lack of confidence. We rationalize this as realism. I always envied my two younger brothers for trekking around Europe in their University years, and then trekking around the world the rest of their years. I’m not saying these were misspent years for them, but on some level, maybe I resented the choices I had made; rather than be responsible, I should have let myself to just live a little. I think Marlene wanted to live a little too and wanted me to enable that for her. I must have been a big disappointment for her. But she also wanted babies. Life is about choices, mostly.

Now (in 2018) I was 71. I began to describe myself as a dyslexic 71-year-old. To many of my friends I was living as though my hair was on fire. It was a mixed compliment, I think. But I wanted to go full speed ahead while I could. I had a powerful while coupe and I drove fast and confidently. Or was that recklessly. Maybe I’d take that long-dreamed about trip on Route 66. I imagined that I’d start to settle down as a dyslexic 72-year-old, and just settle as a 73-year old.

It seemed every week, or even every other day, something unexpected was happening. I was saying yes now, not my usual considered ‘no’. And I wanted to travel, to see a bit more of this world before it was too late, to do something impetuously.

I decided to visit an old dear friend in California. Christine was the head of an international syndicate of executive coaches. The last time I had actually seen her was in 2008 in NYC for a conference of colleagues and spouses to celebrate Christmas. The US economy was imploding in ‘The Great Recession’, and the syndicate collapsed six months later. I am grateful to Christine for going ahead with that event even as she knew her business was in trouble. I spent an hour or so on the phone with her once or twice every year. But in this time of ‘living’, a phone call was not sufficient. I had to go. And she confirmed the invitation was always open, so I booked my ticket. Yet the trip was bittersweet. Marlene and I had visited Christine in 2006, a syndicate conference and a memorable trip in Northern California. I knew I was reliving my trip from 12 years previously, and I had hoped that Emily would go with me to California this time.

My trip to Mexico City was even more impetuous. My friend from the Sunday Night Supper Club had stepped into the breech when Emily had dumped me: She supported me through my own birthday, and then three days later, had dinner with me to cope with what would have been Marlene’s birthday. We negotiated our next encounter: No, not next week as she was going to be Europe at a conference, and not the following week as she was giving a paper at Oxford and spending a week at a Devonshire sheep farm. But I met her at the Ottawa airport on her return to Ottawa. And then No the following week as she was going to be in Vancouver; I proposed she stop by Toronto to visit me at WOTS, The Word on the Street gigantic book fair. No, that would be awkward, but perhaps later that week? No, I said, I was going to California but would be back on the weekend; No, she said, she was chairing a conference in Mexico City. She challenged me, Why don’t you come to Mexico City from California? Yes I said, not even surprising myself. We had separate rooms, three doors apart, but donning a bathrobe I quietly knocked on her door each night. I imagined it was a scene from an English Manor movie.

This was a relationship that was beginning to show a lot of promise. But it was doomed. She was from Saskatchewan, and her blood ran Rider Green.

Living with my hair on fire wasn’t likely to solve the problem of loneliness. For that I would have to start dating rather than waiting for Emily, or another Emily, to walk into my life. So I signed up to Match.com. Now that felt desperate.

4 thoughts on “32. Hair on Fire”

  1. Martin Seligman

    The pleasant life: a life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past, and future.

    The good life: using your signature strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life.

    The meaningful life: using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.

    The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power, or goodness.

    Just as the good life is something beyond the pleasant life, the meaningful life is beyond the good life.

    Pleasure is the least consequential… engagement and meaning are much more important.

    1. Well it’s unlikely this is the real Martin Seligman but the ideas are very familiar to me. I wrote about this in my book, The Dynamics of Management. In a nutshell, happiness depends on three/six conditions: deal constructively with the past, (in particular, don’t let the past hijack your present), plan for the morrow but live in the present; savour the moment and lever your talents to give yourself opportunity for ‘flow’. And if your talents serve others, so much the better. Carpe diem and altruism is a good formula.
      I write. I hope it helps others.

  2. I have a feeling that words will save you from further slippage. As I always said, it does not matter which passion you have but you need to have one or two. I remember a colleague in Nova Scotia who was playing with choo-choo trains in his basement. It was his passion. Keep on writing.

    1. As the comment below indicates, I have been stuck in the past the last few years, but I write, and I am almost back on track.

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