Okay. A couple of things. First, Kate says the diary looks better when I follow the rules of capitalization. She said this last night in the car ride home from my dad’s to her mom’s house. I said ah really I’m going for stream of consciousness. She said that’s fine but you disregard capitalization in writing that’s not stream of consciousness. On top of yesterday's (and the day before, and day before) conversation about how I don’t listen, I’m going to heed her grammatical advice and properly capitalize.
Second, on my phone’s Notes app, I keep poems, rants, lists of observations. Ready to publish. This morning I’m tempted to fire off a rant about smiling Instagram selfies. But I feel hypocritical because that’d be ignoring all the juicy inner mess that’s happened since being back in Minnesota two and half days ago. I'm tempted to avoid because the knotted ball of yarn is just overwhelming. Like how do I make sense of all this? I bet this is what a lot of folks feel looking at the blank pages of their journal. And then I bet they figure it’ll take too damn long to write about it, so they just bail. But check it out, once you get going, you get to the bottom pretty quickly. Here we go.
(Now I’m like “shit where do I start?” But the important part is starting….)
From Friday AM-Sunday PM, total tour de family. October 21 was the last time we were here. Approximately two months. So the tour makes some sense. People want to see the baby. But even without the baby, Kate is DNA’ed with deep family genetics. Actually, it’s nurture/upbringing that’s conditioned the love of family, I think. At least that’s what conditioned the opposite for me. My parents moved to the midwest when I was very young, leaving extended family on both sides behind. We were like some NASA Mars expedition that makes phone calls back to Houston every Sunday, on holidays, and birthdays.
This what it means when people say you don’t just marry your spouse, you also marry their family. Or more specifically, you marry your spouse’s relationship to their family…and their friends, and their preferences for living near family, near friends, etc. Having lived in Georgia for the last two and a half years on my account (creative writing MFA grad school), in May we’re moving back to MN on Kate's account. I think this can be fairly conceptualized as a trade-off. Meaning: if, three years ago, you put a drill to Kate's head and said do you really want to move to Georgia she would have said NO. But she moved and she only really brought up the fact that it wasn’t really what she wanted during fights when I would insinuate or flat-out say that she’s not supporting my writing. (She might do something egregious like correct my grammar, say). Then in her defense, she would (correctly) cite her moving to GA. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t want to move back to MN if I was flying solo. Well yes it is. I think the world is wide and travel begets more desire to travel. So we’re going back, but more as a tit-for-tat trade-off. This may sound shitty to current family in MN. They might think wtf you don’t love us, don’t want to see us regularly? But those questions oversimplify the situation. I think this is perhaps the single most threatening problem in politics today, how people seem so resistant to considering nuance in their worldviews. It’s not that I dislike family, I very much love them. Instead it’s that I have competing values like the desire to travel, or try living in a new place (like Northern California), etc.
But, we’re moving back to MN. And it’s a fairly diverse, fairly outdoorsy, fairly hip place to live. And we’ll live in the land of 10,000 lakes for a spell and then we’ll see.
Shifting gears just slightly, back to the last two days, people often equate holiday family time with stress and anxiety and claustrophobia. From Friday to Sunday we toured the baby around, and each new place we stopped, people’s faces lit up and they wanted to hold and oh my and ha haha at the baby. Like a touring Santa-mobile, except the old people are enchanted by the young, instead of vice versa. I’m still trying to figure out what about this situation can slip into problematic for me. Is it the intensity of the 3 day tour? What I can say is that it’s not any dislike to Kate’s family, because the resistance to babybabybaby attention applies to my family equally. (In fact this is why it was sooooo nice when Kate’s friend Courtney visited with her two kids: there was no hyper-Ellie OMG attention. This is a huge thing, any maybe a separate post. Its about how people like to be shown love. More later).
Last night in bed, when my mind was so tired it was spinning cubist visions akin to what I imagine LSD to concoct, I thought about psychedelic therapy. You know, people having these break-through epiphanies where they get PERSPECTIVE and see the little nagging stressful shit in life as fucking dust and they gulp down this worldview that is so chill and all-encompassing and compassionate…and I was like god damn that’d be nice. The worldview shift, I mean. And I was like, well I could get out of bed and do some deep breathing, but I was exhausted, so instead I went to bed and slept well but had fucked-up dreams which I don’t remember but I do remember waking up being like Jesus I gotta get out of bed.
What’s the cause of my anxiety? Who fucking knows. I could write a treatise on my story and my preferences for alone vs together time, and my tolerance for change, and the amount of time it takes me to adjust, and first-time father protectiveness, and dead mom numbness and yada yada.
But I’d get distracted and forget to write about the effect all this has on a marriage. I wanted to be sure to write that the line between divorce and a thriving marriage is razor thin. I really think so. I thought this yesterday afternoon after Kate and I had egg-bake for lunch and we were chilling and then the baby started crying and Kate was on the phone and I was like wtf are you doing on the phone when the baby is crying, and then a two hour snowball fight followed where the untilled dirt from the last two months got churned up, tossed, strewn, heaved like a tornado. I think I’m the fucking messiah of chill communication but I neglect careful listening or a fully actualized sense of empathy. Instead I focus on the first thing Kate does to annoy me and then the anger that develops when the initial let’s-resolve-this conversation doesn’t go my way and I follow her around the house asking her why she doesn’t want to talk and how talking is essential and walking away is awful and how this isn’t fun and when I say this it’s not clear whether I mean this as the conflict or this as Sunday or this as the relationship.
That’s when you don’t need LSD or drugs to see with perfect clarity that the ice between beautiful blossoming marriage and dead divorce is egg-shell thin.
Because in those arguments, the Red Sea of Unified Marriage parts, and all we see is the widening gulf between us. Like she existentially fundamentally doesn’t give a fuck about me, and we’ve grown inexorably apart, and we literally can’t have a goddamn conversation anymore.
One danger in this situation is thinking that this is abnormal. I think lots of people get this way. And then they either stay married and hate each other, try some temporary fix where things will get better and then fail again, or they hack their elbow through the ice and get divorced.
The thing I told Kate last night when we were having a good conversation about dieting and Weight-Watchers was that I can’t understand how year after year people commit to a goal and then a year later have made no progress toward their goal. I mean some people say overeating is a disease, like that’s an excuse. Which is fair, but then alcoholism is a disease in the same way. And if year after year, my former daily drinker self kept saying oh I’m gonna not drink every day this year, and never made any progress, I’d get thrown under the bus. Rightfully so. Why is dieting any different? People are like THIS is the year. And they’ve said that for twenty years. What the hell? If I made it my goal to do 50 pull ups this year, I’d have 50 pull ups achieved by June.
The same is true with marriage communication. Like, it appears as if I have a problem listening closely and carefully to Kate and with the same enthusiasm I share for my own passions, aka The Alt Dad Diary. And so now my goal is to cultivate genuine interest in her stuff and demonstrate that interest in conversation so the relationship can be mutually satisfying. I intend to achieve that goal ASAP. Not check-in in 2019 or 2020 and still find myself four sizes up from where I want to be.
So sorry for the rant. To conclude: (if you’re journaling publicly, this is the hard part. How do you back out of this hole you’ve just spent the last hour drilling?) marriage is hard, family is hard, fucking holidays are hard. I follow this guy on Instagram who says that people want the fame and the success but they don’t want the work. They want the result and they love the result, but the don’t love the PROCESS. My mother-in-law said they same thing a few months ago in a text message. I apologized for being an ass and said I have a dead mom and so grandmas are hard for me to see without cringing and she said it's okay we're all still learning about one another and I think she's the kind of person who says what she means and therefore meant what she said that it's okay. I think that means love is a PROCESS. But people don't talk about that. That it's work. Like winning a boxing title. They don’t want to wake up at 4am and drink eggs like Rocky Balboa. They don’t like the feeling of their face in the dirt. I fucking love the faceinthedirt feeling. Because in the dirt, I feel, without drugs, that I’m alive. That I’m doing something. Sorting cosmic energy. That’s godlike in a way. To be able to see your shit, and fix it. That’s what my dad said years ago. He was referring to his alcoholism, but really he was trying to teach me why apologizing to my mom for whatever I did wrong was noble. He said that’s the mark of a man: when a man makes a mistake, he apologizes. And I think that kind of honest learning is the space of living. In real-time, it’s super hard to do. So journal first and then implement. That’s my strategy at least.
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