Episode 020 - We're All Real Nice, and We're All Assholes

A very Merry Christmas Eve to you all! Here is our last episode of the season, an interview with Curtis Myers, longtime Austin sound engineer and shredder. He’s the perfect person to represent goodwill toward men this holiday! I had a great time talking to him, and I’m grateful to get to work with him day in and day out. All of our best to you and to yours, from me, Flora, and all of ours. See you next year!

Our opening theme is “Start Again” by Monk Turner and Fascinoma. Except for “Pick Up On My Mojo” by Johnny Winter and “DOA” by Blood Rock, all music for this episode comes from 1 by Cave Pool, which you can find here:


Here’s the transcript:

Curtis: That’s when I started recording, when I was 10. And I just had like a two-track machine that I could do ping ponging. You record on one track, and then you take that track, and play along with it, and then record onto the other track. So now you have two things on the one track, and then you play that one back and record on it, while you’re erasing the… And you just keep… And then you have three things on that track. And then… And as you go, you sort of lose stuff in the quality.

That’s pretty much how I started in recording and figuring out how to lay down recordings and make sounds and stuff. The guitar just became natural to me. I just sort of understood it, you know. I could look at how other guys were playing, and I said, “Oh, I can do that.” And so I understood that, and then I just was into the guitar like crazy. Then I heard Johnny Winter. Then I heard Jimi Hendrix. The day I bought my first Jimi Hendrix album, the guy at the record store, he said, “Oh, that guy just died today.” And I was pissed at the guy for telling me that. I just was like, “What’d you tell me that for? You just ruined it. He’s my favorite guitar player.”

And then that was in the Philippines, so I bought it at the PX, on base. I was just a military brat. 14. 9th grade. And I was really into Hendrix, and Johnny Winter. I thought everybody else sucked. I kind of liked Clapton a little bit. Thought he was OK, but…I just was into the faster guitar players. Shredders. They didn’t call them shredders back then; they just, guitar players. I don’t know. But I liked Roy Clark, because he was fast. And I liked Glen Campbell, I thought he was pretty good, too. If they played fast, I liked them. I probably didn’t even know who Chet Atkins was at that point.

Rod: So how did you turn it into a professional gig?

Well, I first went to the Teen Club on base, and I played with my band. At first we were called the Thunderbirds, and then we found out there was another band called Thunderbirds. Of course, there’s been probably a lot of Thunderbirds. And then one guy said Blueberry Doorknobs. So that was our name for awhile.

Rod: Must’ve been the ‘60s.

Curtis: Yeah, well, that was about turning into the ‘70s, yeah, about that point. And all I had was, I had a some kind of weird turntable that I’d turned into an amplifier, and it had a 10” speaker that I would set out, and that was my amp. And we just played the shit out of it, you know. We only knew probably four or five songs, and none of us would sing because, you know. But I mean, we’d make a little bit of money. They’d give us french fries, and they’d give us Cokes for playing and stuff.

So then I moved back to the states, here to Austin, and the first band, I mean, within two months, I was playing in a band. I loved playing guitar. I just, I would skip school and go play guitar. And I went to this place, and I met this drummer, and I liked the drummer.  He was 14; I was 16. And he was huge. He was like 6’, and he swole up like, he just started, I don’t know if he was taking steroids or what, but he got real musclebound. And his brother was a guitar player, but I didn’t like him because he was shitty. I thought he was shitty. And then we found this bass player, and he was great, and he was like sasquatch. And I was just a little bitty guy.

And so I played with these guys. I didn’t like standing up when I played, and I didn’t like, and I was writing music, but I didn’t like vocals. I really didn’t like listening to vocals. I’d rather just hear the guitar. So all the music I wrote was all instrumental. And I found out that after I learned a song by Hendrix or Johnny Winter, I didn’t like it anymore when I’d listen to it. So I quit learning other people’s songs because I figured if I learned it, then I wouldn’t like listening to it anymore because it would just kind of, I don’t know. It just did something to me if I learned the song, then it wasn’t any fun playing it or listening to it anymore. It was kind of weird. Now it’s different. Now there’s certain things I like learning, as I’m older now. I’ve learned to appreciate learning other people’s songs, but back then, it was kind of like, “Eh.” It takes the, I don’t know, the fun out of it, once you learn it.

So I basically went playing and playing with these guys, and we got some gigs. We got a Battle of the Bands at the Sacred Heart Church over there on the northeast side of Austin. And we ended up winning it, and I didn’t, we just packed our shit up and left after we played. And then everybody came back to the drummer’s house and says, “You guys won! You guys won!” And said, “Won what?” We didn’t really think of it as… We were just wanting to play. Anywhere we could play, we’d play parties and stuff. And we just had a blast.

And by the time I think we were, the summer was over, the band sort of fell apart because the parents were getting tired of the, the bass player’s parents were telling him, “You’re going to college. You ain’t doing this shit.”  We were all dedicated musicians for about a whole summer. It was hard finding musicians that I was happy with. I had, ended up hanging out with this one bass player for the next two summers, and during school. And we formed a band. We found four guitar players. I was teaching them all the parts. So I was trying to do like orchestrations of my music, and the only thing we had to record was an 8-track. Not an 8-track like in a professional studio, an 8-track tape, you know, and I’d buy blank 8-tracks and record on that, and we had two microphones, we’d stick them in there. And it sounded like shit. It was god-awful. And I took that down to Armadillo World Headquarters, and a matter of fact, Carol was the lady that took my tape. And she listened to it, and she said, “Eh, you guys need a little work.” And so we never did get to play there, but I kept at it.

Then I got to work for, I was, Johnny Winter was coming to town. It was about ‘75, I think. And he was playing with Floyd Radford, another badass guitar player, and it was probably my favorite lineup with Johnny Winter, just because it was a really rockin’ outfit. And I got there at like 9 in the morning, and it was nobody there except the roadies. And I was there, and one of the roadies came up to me, and he goes, “What are you doing here?” I says, “I’m here to see Johnny Winter.” He said, “Well, you’re a little early, aren’t you?” And I said, “Well, I wanted to make sure I got good seats. I’m here to see him.” He says, “You want a job?” And I says, “Sure!” So he just put me to work. He said first thing, he says, “OK, see this thing? Write on this piece of paper ‘Winterbago.’ OK? Just make it big letters. ‘Winterbago.’ One piece of paper.” And so I just took that pen, and I wrote “Winterbago,” and then I says, I started writing all this other stuff on it. “Cool man! Far out!” You know, stuff like that. And the guy comes back, says, “What the hell is this? I said just write ‘Winterbago’ on it.” He flipped it over. “Write ‘Winterbago’ and that’s it.” So I did that, and I said, “OK, I’m sorry man. I’m just excited.” And he says, “OK, what else you want to do?” He says, “How many tickets you need?”

And so I got tickets for all my brother and everybody. I called them up. So we had four seats right there in the front, man. And Point Blank opened up for him, and they kicked ass, and then Johnny Winter came out and just tore it up. And just smokin’. And I was like, “This is the coolest.” We were right up front, had the best seats. And then at the end of the show, the roadie that was put me to work and everything, he says, “Come up here. Come on up.” My little brother came up with me, and we looked kind of alike. And Johnny Winter’s cross-eyed, right, so I had noticed it, because that was the first time I’d seen him up close like that, and so I stuck my hand out to get my hand shaken with Johnny Winter, and my little brother, and Johnny Winter reaches over to my little brother and shakes his hand, and then walks off. And I’m like, “What the fuck?” That’s just the way it was. But it was cool. I still, I’ll never forget that. It was just the greatest day of my life, I thought.

I got more involved into different things, and playing music wasn’t really my big thing anymore. I was trying to support myself, looking for jobs and stuff, and I found out it was hard to find bands that would stay together and really work hard, find dedicated musicians. And so, it was kind of tough, and I ended up doing odd jobs and stuff. But later on, about as I hit about 19, 20, I started really working harder on the music thing. And we went into this one band, and we were called Tough Luck, and we started getting gigs where we were opening up. We opened up for Bloodrock. I don’t know if you remember them. They had the one song, “D.O.A.” “I remember we were flying along and hit something in the air,” and then it would go, “Doo doo doo doo...” They had this big hit. But they were sort of regional. They had a regional hit, you know. And then we opened up for, let’s see, Bloodrock, Bubble Puppy, Leslie West of Mountain. We opened up for them. And we got to play the Armadillo World Headquarters, and so we actually did some stuff, played around, and then our bass player got shot in a drug deal, and then we got all our equipment stolen, and sort of things just went to crap at that point. And that’s why were called Tough Luck. No, that wasn’t why, but we thought Tough Luck was actually a cool name, you know, when… But it wasn’t.

And we sort of had a pretty good following for a local band and stuff. And we did as good as we could, went as far as we could, but they, the paper wrote an article on, the Austin American-Statesman wrote an article, and it was called “Glitter Punk” is what they called us. Our vocals were just really weird, because I had a real low voice, and then the other guitar player had a real high voice, I mean higher than Geddy Lee. So when we sang together, it was kind of neat, but it was just, we just weren’t that great of singers, I think.

But after that, I went to a recording studio. Back then, there was like maybe 4 or 5 studios in town. One of them was Earth and Sky, and it was ran by a guy named Kerry Crafton. And he took me under his wing, started showing me how to record, and how to use the mixing board and stuff. And he used my house for a pre-production studio. He’d come over there, and he’d do his bands. He’d say, “Rehearse over here, then we’ll go over to the studio and lay down some tracks.” And so he started teaching me that, and from there, I got into, I was going to electronics school at the time, and I said, “Oh, I really like electronics, and I might as well get into it,” because I was figuring computers were just about to happen. This was about 1983, ‘84, and all this stuff was happening.

And so I just got into that, and I learned all about electronics, and I learned to record. And then I got an offer with Radio Shack to work on their computers, Tandy Computers, after I finished school, and I moved to Houston. And there I met a guy who had just retired. I got a gig playing this one homeless shelter, and his wife’s sister liked me, so she told him about me. He came and saw me, and I was trying to run live sound and play guitar at the same time, and he says, “Do you mind if I help you out? I can adjust this for you.” And I said, “Sure, go ahead. If you know what you’re doing, that would be great, because I’m having a hell of enough time just playing the damn guitar.” So he started twisting my knobs, and we just started sounding great. And I was going, “Damn, this guy knows what he’s doing.” So I said, “Where’d you learn to do that?” and he goes, “Van Halen.” I’m going, “What?” He says, “Yeah, I used to work for him, but I don’t do that anymore. I got out of the business.” And he sort of showed me a few things, a few tricks here and there, and I learned from that.

Then, after, oh, I guess about three years in Houston, I had had enough of working on computers for all the prisons. There was one day that I walked in, and one of the prisons, I was on death row, and I’m working on the computer, and one of the guys, one of the prisoners walks in, and he goes, “I like computers.” Two guards rushed in and grabbed him, and they came in and said, “Oh, Mr. Myers, we’re sorry about that.” And I said, “OK. That’s all right.” But after that, it was just, I just said, “You know what? I think I’m going to go back to Austin and get out of this business.” And then I moved back to Austin, and I started a little, I built a little recording studio, and from there, it just, I started getting gigs there. And then one day, a friend of mine says, “Hey, Curtis, can you come to the Back Room? Their sound man left.” So that’s how I started getting into live sound. I started working at the Back Room. And that, and the studio, and then I started getting gigs with Johnny Hernández, that’s Little Joe Y La Familia’s brother, and I just started getting all kinds of gigs, and people started hiring me here and there, and I just went crazy after that. I just started doing sound. But I still liked to play guitar.

Curtis: Well, I got to work for Jimi Hendrix once. But he was dead.

Rod: He was already dead!

Curtis: But it was, you know, it’s a pretty cool story. I entered this contest. It was the Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition. You had to mail in a tape and everything, so I was like, “Cool.”

Rod: Did you mail in an 8-track?

Curtis: No, it was actually a cassette, and I thought it was a pretty good tape. And it said, just record a couple Hendrix songs and send it in, and I sent it in. And then, the sound company I was working for called me and says, “Hey, I got you a gig. You’re going to be doing sound for the Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition.” And I said, “Shit! That means I’m disqualified. I can’t work...” So, but I had, that’s how I made my money. I had to do it. But I got to work it, and I’m sitting there, I ran the sound for everybody in the whole competition, and I was like, “Oh, man. I’m better than all these fuckers.” You know how guitar players are. We can all do that better. So I walk in, after it’s all over, I walk in the green room, and I’d met Jimi Hendrix’s dad. That was cool. I got to meet his dad, talk to him for awhile, and I met his sister. So I got to know them, and that was great. And then, so I walk in the green room, and they’re, all the judges and everybody’s in there,  I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know y’all was in here,” and one of the guys, one of the main judges, I think he was from Fender, he goes, “Wait a minute. What did you… Who did you think was the best?” And I said, “Ah, it was that Italian guy.” And so I walk out, and thinking nothing of it, and then the Italian guy wins.

Two months later, I’m getting ready, I got a gig, and I got my bass player and drummer, I’m calling… I call up my bass player, and I says, “Hey, you ready for the gig? Are you going to come pick me up, or how are we going to do this thing?” or whatever. And he goes, “Oh man, I was going to call you, but I just got this gig. I’m going over to Italy. This guy that won this Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition just hired me to be a bass player.” And I said, “Son of a bitch!” And the guy that it was was the guy that I said, “It was the Italian guy.” So he ended up winning the whole thing worldwide.

Rod: Wow. All on your vote, huh?

Curtis: Yeah, and then, my bass player, I lost my bass player to that guy.

Rod: Casual word in the wrong ear, and all of a sudden you lost your bass player. You’re a dad, right?

Curtis: Yeah. Yeah, I have two wonderful kids. And I found out I have a third kid a couple years ago from when I was out on the road. And the lady finally got a hold of me and told me that we had a son together. He’s 38. He went to Rice University. He played football for Rice. He’s doing fine. He did fine without me, and she did probably a lot better without me than…

Rod: Did you get to meet him and everything?

Curtis: I haven’t met him yet. We… I’m waiting for the opportunity when it’s, when he wants to know about me and all that.

But yeah. And the best I think that I’ve learned as, because I set out to be a rock star, the best guitarist in the world, set all that in my head, but I feel like as I went, I think I learned that the best things in life are just the best things in life, just doing it. And there’s failures and there’s highs and lows, and I think I’ve had a good life at this point. I’m 62 now. I don’t regret a lot of it. There’s things I do regret, of course, but I don’t regret not being a rock star, because it probably would’ve killed me, and I don’t think I would’ve lived to be 62, because I was pretty wild. I had my wild streak. You know, I don’t want to use the names to protect the innocent. But I’m pretty mellow, I think, as far as it goes, and I think it kind of kept me on an even keel.

Rod: You got any other, any other stories? Ones where you don’t protect the innocent?

Curtis: I could say some things about, you know, but there would be times where I would meet musicians, and then they would be, just turn out to be complete assholes. But I think of it now, as I look back, and I think, “Well, they probably were having a bad day, and no telling what they were going through on the other side of it,” and what I could’ve done maybe to make them nicer. And I could mention names, but I don’t want to do that, because a lot of people will have, it could’ve been a bad day they had, and they’re probably really nice people, because we all are. We’re all real nice, and we’re all assholes at the same time, so I don’t want to say any of those bad stories. And I could say some good ones, too, but I think I’ll leave it with the Jimi Hendrix and the Johnny Winter, I think it’s better that way.

Episode 019 - Nothing Out Here Can Stop Me

Today we have a conversation with Brandon Foster, a coworker of mine. Brandon’s has a charisma and energy that I really like and admire. Despite everything he has been and continues to go through, he keeps a positive attitude and a focus on growth. As he says, he’s always grinding. Thanks for taking the time, Brandon.

As always, please rate and review us in iTunes, and if you have a story you’d like to share with us or you’d like to be interviewed about a transformative experience in you life, let us know! i’m at rod@rodhaden.com.

Our theme song is “Start Again” by Monk Turner + Fascinoma.

Other music used in this episode:

4:14: “Far From Home (and feeling bad)” by Squire Tuck

8:01: “Home at Last” by John Bartmann

17:47: “Get Out” by Jahzzar

24:55: “Get Out of Dodge” by Frenic

32:38: “Roaming the Streets at Night” by Daniel Birch

35:08: “Back Up The Truck Jam” by Podington Bear

39:45: “Homebound” by Audiobinger

Here’s the transcript:

Rod: So where did you come from? How did you get to Austin?

Brandon: I moved to Austin 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the police of Buffalo, New York killed my father, and my uncle came for the funeral of his brother’s death. We sat for the couple of days that he was there, and we vibed, and we had a chance to talk and everything, and he told me about opportunities out here. So, while I was back home in Buffalo, New York, surviving, I had a chance to get online and look for jobs out here. So the first job that offered me an opportunity to come out here, I explained to them that I had tattoos on my face; would that prevent me from getting a job? And they told me no, no problem, come on in. So I winded up calling my uncle, down, calling him, and let him know that I had got a job offer sooner than what we planned for. So he brought me down here. It was all because of my uncle. I stayed with my uncle for the first 6 months when I moved down here, and by me having the mentality that I have, I was already in the “grind and go get it” mode, be on my own, so within 6 months, I kind of was looking for a place, and he was helping me look for a place. So we found a place, and he helped me co-sign the first lease. He helped pay the rent for the first 2 months, so I was rent-free for the first 2 months. I had to get on my grind and do what I do to keep myself out here, unless I would’ve been back on a plane going home. So here I am. If it wasn’t for my father passing, would I be here? Would I not be here? You know, that’s the question I ask myself.

Rod: Do you want to talk about what happened to your dad?

Brandon: My father, the night before he was in jail, me and my father was together. And he wanted me to go out to the club with him and hang out. My dad was a bar owner. He owned a couple different bars, and that particular night, I didn’t want to hang out, so I winded up going back home. And the following morning, I get a phone call from my grandmother saying my father killed himself. My dad was tied up to a pole on his knees by his t-shirt. And Buffalo, New York, the Erie County facility, you have to do your rounds every 15 minutes to check on the inmates. And it took them 45 minutes to do CPR on my dad.

Rod: Were you living with him at the time?

Brandon: No, I wasn’t. I never lived with my dad. I was always with my mother. Him and my mother had always had their differences, so we’d always go to my dad’s house on the weekends.

Rod: How old were you?

Brandon: When he passed away? I was 23. So they did the 45 minutes CPR and brought him back to life, but he was basically like a vegetable. The hardest thing was sitting at the table with nothing but doctors, and my mother, and my uncle, and all eyes on me. They wanted… I’m the one that has to answer the question of pull the plug or not on my father. And it’s like, do I let him live? Look at him, like he is? Or just let him go? So at the age of 23, that was the most hardest thing for me.

Since I’ve been here, I lost my father. I lost my brother. I lost my sister. I lost my niece. My niece hung herself 2 years ago. She was found in the closet by her mother. When I got that phone call, it was very crazy, very crazy phone call.

After my niece, I buried my other brother. So I lost about 6 people since I’ve been here, in the past 6 years. It’s hard being away because it’s like when you get certain phone calls, and people need help, and you can’t do nothing because you’re so many miles away, and it’s like, what do you do? What do you do? And you try to make phone calls to other people to see if they can get to the situation and handle it for you. I just really hate getting phone calls and not knowing if it’s good or bad or not. In the past 6 years, no matter, I tell myself now, no matter what phone call I get, early morning, I’m always going to think bad, always going to think it’s something bad happening because it’s been going on for the past 6 years, and that’s what haunts me. No matter what, 2 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning, if my phone is ringing, I’m always jumping up thinking something bad is happening back home. It’s crazy that I feel like that, but I do. So I don’t necessarily miss home. There’s nothing there. I miss my family, that’s it. If I could bring them all down, then I feel like I did my job. They still surviving. I’m living.

Rod: Are you the baby?

Brandon: No, I’m the middle child, so I have my oldest brother. He was 32. He passed away, he just turned 33. So he was back home at a club, and a fight led from inside the club, and it led to outside the club. A couple guys left; they came back, and they shot the bar up, and my brother winded up getting hit by a stray bullet in his head, and one in his neck. That was hard as well, getting that phone call at 3 in the morning.

So my sister, I say it’s my sister because my brother’s wife, so my sister-in-law if you want to technically say it like that. So she passed away first, and a couple years, two years later, he passed away. She died at the age of 29. She was fighting cancer all her life. She had her foot amputated at a young age, so all her life, she was going back and forth to the hospital, just treatments and treatments. And it was falling to a point where she knew that she was going to be taking her last breath in a couple months. So we just basically prepared ourselves for it, because she knew that, we knew that she was in those stages. So, you know, you got to prepare. You’re just hoping for the best, but you’re prepared for the worst. It was sad, but I was prepared for it. That’s all I can do.

My second oldest brother was 31, or 30, when he passed away. He was in jail for 25 years to life, and he did 15 before the cancer got the best of him. He was facing cancer for eight years and never told nobody until he was on his deathbed. That was an unexpected death, so that kind of hit hard.

Rod: Do you think him seeing her go through it was why he didn’t tell anybody? Like he didn’t want to put people through what…?

Brandon: Probably, but my brother always been a quiet person. He never really was into the social media kind of things, or he was never into the limelight, but at the same time, my brother spent most of his life in jail, in and out of jail, so he didn’t really have a chance to be on the streets of Buffalo, New York. Probably a year or two, he had a chance to be out, but my brother was in and out of jail his whole life at a young age, I mean literally. When he went to, when he was facing 25 years to life, he was young. He was about, I want to say almost 18, 19 himself. He died in the hospital of cancer, stage 4 cancer, some kind of skin cancer. It was hard. It was hard.

And my little brother is 28. He’s been incarcerated for the past 6 ½ years due to a robbery. He came home for 10 months, and he violated parole, so he’s back in jail now. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to come home, try to do something with his life.

I don’t talk about my problems, or anything like that, so I may tend to shed a tear or what not, but I’m OK. I can talk about it. I just don’t know who, you know, how people are going to take it. And it’s like the things that we talk about, it may be some things that people may not want to hear, or people may be scared, but I don’t want you to take that and make your perspective on that. Just look at me now. The things I’ve been through is what’s making me the man I am today. Every day, I’m trying to change, some way, somehow, shape or form. If that’s helping somebody else, then so be it. So I’m really open to whatever, it’s just how open are you to hear the things that you want to hear?

Rod: Do you ever get down, like “Why me? Why all of this in my family?” Do you get like, “That’s not fair?”

Brandon: I ask that every day. I’m not one of them guys that go to church every Sunday. I didn’t grow up in church. I believe in God, but I don’t believe you have to go to church to be surrounded by colorful windows and hear praises and everything to believe in the Man. So we have our talk. God gives his worst battles to his strongest soldiers. I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still going to go through things in life that’s going to be bad, worse, so I feel like if I can get through the things I’ve been through back home on the streets of Buffalo, New York, then nothing out here can stop me.

Rod: Is it strange to you, like getting older? Getting, like thinking about someday being older than they were? Like you’re the oldest now?

Brandon: Yeah, I’m the oldest now, living. So it’s just me and my little brother left. That’s why I work hard every day and try to better myself, so that way, I could try to get him down here with me.

Rod: That gives you a sort of sense of responsibility being the oldest one now?

Brandon: Yeah, definitely a responsibility. I was always the… not say always, but I was more of always the caretaker, like taking care of everybody back home when I was home. So now it’s like even more hard trying to take care of everybody being so far away. I just try to take it one day at a time and stay focused. I just grind hard every day, trying to come up with a master plan to figure out how can I make more money a positive way.

So it’s just a blessing to be here, having opportunities to sit right here with you and have this conversation, and people get a chance to see a different side of Brandon, not knowing the B Boy. That’s my nickname, B Boy. But I kind of stopped calling myself that because I don’t consider myself B Boy no more. B Boy was somebody who was in the streets heavy, who did a lot of activity that wasn’t right. As I get older, I’m just realizing that that’s not my name, and I don’t want to carry that on no more, so when people would call me that, I’d tell them, “Don’t call me that, because that’s not me.”

Everything happens for a reason, but it’s all about timing. Anything lost can be found again except for time wasted. So I try not to waste time on things that don’t benefit me or what I’m trying to do.

Rod: That’s why you left?

Brandon: I left because I just had a, you know, I had the opportunity to get a better chance at life and to just stop doing the things I was doing and living the lifestyle I was living. I didn’t have a pretty good childhood growing up. My father was around, but he didn’t teach me how to ride a bike. I didn’t learn how to play basketball. I didn’t learn how to do fatherly things with their son. Like when I went to my dad’s house on the weekends, I learned about different kinds of drugs and things that kids shouldn’t learn at a young age.

Rod: When your uncle talked about you coming here, were you already looking to get out, or that hadn’t even occurred to you, or…?

Brandon: Before my uncle talking to me, no, I wasn’t looking to get out. I was, I had a job. I was working for a private security company, and we traveled throughout the United States, so the job can last for a day, it can last for six months, it can last for a year. And we did things such as fire disasters, rural response, strike work, you know, things like that. So I was doing that on and off for like a year or two before I had the opportunity to come out here.

Rod: Wow. My brother worked, when he was in his early 20s, he did clean up after fires and all that kind of stuff. He said that was a horrible job.

Brandon: It was, but you get paid good money, though. I was loving it. I was young. I don’t have no kids now, I didn’t have no kids then. So it was an opportunity to see other things, even though I was stuck in the streets of Buffalo, New York. I had an opportunity to get out and see different things. I wasn’t really fully developed as far as trying to get out what I was in, but it did give me a chance to open my eyes up a little bit more. But at that time, I still wasn’t fully ready to just switch my whole life around.

I mean, I always had goals. I always wanted to be my own contractor, but I never really took the steps in going to that direction. But I’d love to remodel houses and do construction and landscaping and things like that. That was always my goal was to be my own contractor. I’m different in ways of not doing the things I used to do. I don’t hang around the same crowd of friends that I used to have. The friends I have now are amazing. They’re all doing something positive in their life.

My job gave me an opportunity to go on a business trip, and on that business trip, there was over 65 people in that conference, and there was only two black people. And I was the youngest one. And when I went there, I went there with the perception of, how was I going to be able to uphold conversation with some of these big people in high positions? I didn’t really have the qualifications, or it felt like I didn’t meet the criteria to be at this conference. So for the week that I was preparing myself, I was really trying to figure out, was I going to be able to handle it? And when that time came, all I can do is just be myself. So that’s what I did, and within those 72 hours, I took notes. I asked questions. I was being proactive. And a couple of different big people in high positions pulled me to the side, and they didn’t have to do that. So when they pulled me to the side, they’re talking to me about different things in life, and goals, where I want to be, where do I see myself. And it really dawned on me when I got back to my bed, and I asked myself, “Well, Brandon, what do you really want in life? Where do you see yourself?” And the only thing that’s really holding me back is myself, because I’m a young black man with a tattoo on my face. I have no felonies, by the grace of God, or anything like that, so really, it’s really me that’s holding me back. So I said, “You know what, Brandon? You’ve been here for six years. You’ve been closing chapters of your life since you’ve been here. You need to take this step and close this one.” So I just got online one day and looked up Eraser Clinic, and I gave them a call. And I’m taking my steps on getting my tattoo laser removed from my face. So going to that conference really gave me a different perspective on life. So I have 12 treatments altogether. They do my treatments every 6 to 8 weeks to give it time to heal. But hopefully by the end of next year, March, it’ll be completely gone. So it’ll be a whole new Brandon.

Rod: Were you afraid at that conference that that tattoo was shaping how people saw you? Do you think it did?

Brandon: Honestly, yes. I was afraid that people was going to judge me. You know, they say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But there’s also a saying, “There’s no second chance at a first impression.” So I was going there being myself, but at the same time trying to be distanced because I didn’t want nobody to just stare and look and say, “What is that?” And you know, people asked me. They did. “What is that? What is that?” I tell them, “Everything is for a reason. Some things are just not meant to be talked about.” So I left it as that. And you know, people, at the end of the day, they loved me because I was being myself. I was being very talkative, and I was going around just being proactive and being in the mix of everybody and asking questions and talking and mingling and being very open with everyone. And so when I got back, and I called that tattoo laser removal, I just was ready. I was more eager then than I was last year or four months ago, prior to the conference. Before the conference, I wasn’t even ready to remove it. So within those three days of me being there, it just really gave me a whole outlook on life and said that there is more. You can do more. You can achieve more. The only thing holding you back is yourself, so I’m taking that next step, trying to close that chapter and elevate.

Rod: You having any feelings about it? Like you feel like you’re betraying who you used to be, or betraying people you used to know, or…?

Brandon: Not necessarily. Not at all. At the end of the day, it’s still with me. I know that. But I don’t have to show it, people don’t have to have a second judgement on me, or just figure out what does that mean? Because there’s been times I done walked into places and instead of getting a hello, I’m getting a what does that mean? What does that tattoo mean on your face? I mean literally, the first thing that’s coming out of people’s mouths, so I just don’t want that no more, for them or for myself. I was 17 when I got it. I wasn’t expecting to live, so I really didn’t care about it. I didn’t really care about the consequences. I didn’t care about what people say. I didn’t care about what people anything. I didn’t care about nothing. So now that I’ve had this opportunity to be out here, it’s all about growth. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Just grow day by day, some way, somehow, and I’m taking the steps with that.

Rod: What’s the chapter that you were closing? What does the tattoo represent to you? Like why did you get it?

Brandon: I was young when I got this tattoo. I was about 17. I wasn’t expecting to live past 21 the way I was going. I used to be in a gang. I used to sell drugs. I used to do the whole 9. That’s the way I was going, dead or in jail. I dropped out at 9th grade. I got my GED. And I wasn’t expecting to live past 21, so I didn’t care about nothing. I did some things in my life that I wasn’t, I’m not proud of, but when you come from where I come from, you have no choice but to do what you have to do to survive. So I managed to still get through it, and by the grace of God, I’m still here. Some people don’t get a chance to make it, to see 30. So I’ve done some things in my life that made me who I am now. I’m not the best, but I am a better man I am today than I was six years ago.

Rod: You talk about closing that chapter by having the tattoo removed. What are you taking with you from that chapter, from those days? What are the good things that came out of that that you still carry with you as part of yourself today?

Brandon: It just gives me a chance to look back and say, “Damn. If I can make it, and these young guys made it through the things that they’ve been through, then we all can make it. We all can make it. So just the fact that I can get on social media and look at some of the guys and see them doing positive things in the Air Force and meeting counselors and different lawyers and senates for the New York State, it just gave me a different outlook, like there’s more to it. So I say, “You know what, Brandon? You need to go ahead and close it.” I wasn’t ready then. I wasn’t ready.

Rod: What do you think are your strengths, like the characteristics that are part of who you are that are going to help carry you where you want to go in the world?

Brandon: I want to say everything I’ve been through is my strength. I still go through things to this day. For six years, I’ve been getting phone calls every morning, and it’s always been something bad. Someone has died. So I think that is what scars me, is going to scar me for the rest of my life, getting those early morning phone calls. But at the same time, it’s motivation, because it gets me up to knowing that I have to strive and grind every day to make it better for myself. Having my father in my ear and my brothers on my back. Knowing that I got nieces and nephews to take care of, and a mother to take care of. Knowing that I have a little brother that’s incarcerated that needs to come home one day. Hopefully I can get him a chance to come out here and make a better life for him as well.

I was always born to be a leader, so I kind of take that and try to mold it into my work ethic, and grind hard, and show them that just because I have this tattoo on my face, don’t judge me by that. Let my work ethic speak for itself. I love to work. I’ve always been a working man, no matter how much I was in the streets back home. I always kept a job for myself. It always just kept me going. I love to hustle. I love to work. I like to get my hands dirty. I don’t like just sitting around not doing nothing.

I’ve been through a lot. It makes me the man I am today. I come from a place where it’s a jealous city. It’s a bad place to grow up. There’s no good schooling for kids. There’s no opportunities for jobs out there. I mean, you can’t be doing good and let someone see you doing good, because instead of it being motivation for them, they want to go try to rob you, to take your stuff or what you have and what you’ve been working on. And it’s just sad. It really is sad.

Rod: You said you don’t have any kids, right?

Brandon: No, I just turned 30. No kids, no girlfriend, no wife. Nothing like that. I thought I would.

Rod: Is that important to you?

Brandon: It is important. I do want kids. I do want a wife. I want a family. I’ve been to more funerals than weddings. So I’m definitely not trying to go that route. I want to have kids. They can have different lives. They don’t have to go through the things I go through or deal with the things I deal with or seeing the things I’ve seen or anything like that. I want them to have normal lives, be a normal kid, do what kids do. Kid things. I want a son, so I can show him how to treat a lady by the way I treat his mother. I want a daughter, so I can know what she can look for in a man by the way I treat her mother. Until I have that, I’m just going to continue working and grinding hard and try to secure my bag, until that lady comes.

I don’t know. You know, when I was younger, I was always scared of rejection. I used to always thought I was the ugly fat kid, or being around my friends. So I would never talk to girls. I didn’t go to clubs when I was younger. I wasn’t doing the club scene. I wasn’t going to parties or different things like that, so I just really stayed to myself and my area.

Rod: You just talk to everybody. You’re not shy any more.

Brandon: Yeah, that’s why I am who I am now, because you just, you’re either going to get somewhere, or you’re not. You’re going to gain something, or you’re going to be back where you started. So that’s who I am now, very forward, just straight forward, just trying to get in and get somewhere. So I’m growing. That’s all I’m doing. Growing.

I like to get out and do different things, try different things. Being here in Austin, there’s all kind of things to do. You can do something every day. Where I come from, there was nothing to do. There’s nothing to think about but trying to live. But being out here, you can go… I go tubing. I go water rafting. I go jet skiing. I like to go to the mountains and go hiking. I want to go see the Inner Space caves out here, that they have out here. I like to do indoor skydiving. I’m down for adventures. I like being open to new things.

Rod: You seem like you’re good at making connections and making relationships. It’s always about who you know. It’s always about who you know, who you can help, who can help you, and I think you’ve got the skill.

Brandon: Yeah, you know, that’s crazy, because I was just telling somebody that last night. In this world nowadays, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As long you know the right man or woman in the position, you can get the things that you need to get done. I want to start getting more involved in it. I don’t have to just be secluded in my area. I want to be able to mingle and talk to different people. I used to work at nights when I first started there. I used to work night shift, 10pm to 6:30am, and being on nights, you don’t see nobody in the day, so nobody knows you. By working nights, when you have meetings in the daytime, and you got to go to these meetings, and everybody’s talking to everybody, but you’re stuck at a table with your group of night crew, and nobody’s not mingling to you. So when I had the opportunity to come on days, I made sure that I was going around to different departments, showing my face, talking to them and being open and just showing them I’m here. I made it. Don’t nobody know, didn’t know me or know my story or anything like that. I was just trying to get more open within the company myself, because by me being myself and going around and being proactive.

Just trying to stay positive with the things I’m doing, trying to stay with positive people in my life. So I’m just glad to be here, having an opportunity to come to Austin, Texas and open my doors to people if I can and show them that there is a better way. You know, my dad always told me, “If it’s going to make me mad, don’t do it.” So I still think about that. If it’s going to make him mad, I don’t do it, even though he’s deceased. So I carry that with me throughout my day to day basics or what I do and how I go about it. I’m just trying to better myself at every aspect that I can. Hopefully this will reach out to somebody young, old, who knows? Just get them a different perspective on life as well. There’s more to life than just doing the same thing that you’re used to doing.

Episode 017 - The Comeback

At the age of 27, Travis Mann got a crash course in Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a neurological disorder that started as what he thought was just a lingering respiratory infection. Suddenly, he found himself in a Critical Care Unit too weak to function. This is his story of facing his fears, the long, slow recovery, and the depression that followed.

Our theme music is "Start Again" by Monk Turner + Fascinoma. Other music in this episode is:

5:33    "Out of Paradise" by Lobo Loco

11:32    "Anxiety" by Kai Engel

15:29    "Peace Within" by Peter Rudenko

19:03    "Somber Heart" by Lee Rosevere

22:37    "Marathon Man" by Jason Shaw

26:33    "Peace Flower" by Ketsa

32:49    "Travel Light" by Jason Shaw


Travis: My name is Travis Mann, and I’m a teacher. I teach Business and Technical Writing, which sounds boring, but I make it fun. At least I think I do. There’s no wood around here to knock, but… I do that. I also do contracting a lot right now to train some medical assistants to become medical assistants, and I’ve got three kids, one beautiful wife, a dog, and my two chickens, and a cat that’s driving me crazy, so…

Flora: Chickens!

Travis: Yeah.

Flora: And you’ve always lived over here? Or in Texas?

Travis: Pretty much in Texas. I grew up in the military. My dad was in the Army, and we traveled all over, from California to Georgia to South Carolina. And my parents divorced when I was 12, and we moved back to Weatherford, which is a little town outside of Fort Worth, and then I came down here to Austin after I fell in love with my wife.

Flora: How did you get into teaching?

Travis: I got into teaching not on a whim but just on a… I was in higher education fundraising for the longest time, where I raised money for colleges, and I was working at a medical school, and I have always wanted to try my hand at teaching something. So I knew one of the presidents of one of the community colleges there, and she sent me down to the English Chair. And I went and met with her, and we talked for about 20, 30 minutes, and there was only one class I could teach, which was a developmental class, Developmental English. And after 30 minutes, she pushed the books across the way to me and said, “Go get ‘em, tiger.” That’s all the training I had to be a teacher. And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I got this,” and… The first day I woke up, and I thought, “What the heck am I doing? I have no idea how to teach.” And by the third day, I walked out, and I found myself saying aloud, “This is what I want to do. I can’t believe they’re going to pay me for this.”

Flora: Wow. That’s awesome, to discover something accidentally.

Travis: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially something I love to do. It’s not always perfect, but it’s so fascinating to me. So, and here I am.

Flora: And here you are. When I emailed you, and I asked you what transformation story would you like to tell, and you, I hope I’m going to pronounce this right. Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Travis: Exactly. Guillain-Barré is exactly what it was.

Flora: And you had that in your late 20s, and you said it was the worst thing and the best thing that ever happened to you, so please share.

Travis: Yeah. OK. So I was 27, and one Sunday I took a run, and I ran about six or eight miles, and had a fantastic run. Felt good, felt great, that kind of stuff. And within two weeks after that, I was in a cardiac care unit, a critical care unit, and I could barely move. And so, it was a weird juxtaposition in my head to see I was able to run here, and then all of a sudden, I’m in a critical care unit. After that Sunday run, a couple days later, I started feeling bad, got an upper respiratory infection, coughing, all that kind of stuff. But something was different about this, and I kept feeling weaker and weaker and weaker, and the doc just said, “We think you’re sick with a cold.” But then I got up one Friday morning, and you know, a gallon of milk, how you have to pop the top off? I couldn’t do it, and I thought to myself, “Something is really, really not right.” And so I called my best friend who was a doctor, he said, “Come to the hospital.” He was working in the E.R., so…

Flora: Were you living by yourself at that time?

Travis: No, I was married to my second wife, Malisa. And went down there, and they ran all these tests, and they brought in infectious disease people and all that kind of stuff. It was actually my best friend’s nurse who says, “I think you may have Guillain-Barré.” And then my friend the doctor said, “Wow, I never even considered that.” So what they do is they do a spinal tap, and they check out fluids in your spinal tap, and sure enough, that’s what it was.

Guillain-Barré’s a strange syndrome. It’s not something you can catch. It’s something where the body turns on itself, and the immune system starts attacking cells. And it’s the long nerves that run to your hands and fingers from your brain. They’re covered in a tissue that’s called myelin. And the, your white blood cells and all that kind of start eating away the myelin on the sheaths, and so you don’t conduct electricity down to your hands and your feet, and it goes from exterior extremity in.

Flora: At this point, did you know what that syndrome was?

Travis: I had heard of it, and we had looked it up online, but that’s about it.

Flora: How were you feeling at that time?

Travis: Scared. I was very afraid, mostly because out of ignorance. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what would happen, what could happen. Then of course, you know, when you hit that spot, you begin to look like at worst case scenarios. And worst case scenarios is in a wheelchair and all that stuff if you don’t recover well. I’m like, “Great!” Guillain-Barré made a big appearance in the United States. It’s typically, 90% of the time, it’s kicked off by an upper respiratory infection, but sometimes vaccines or shots can cause the body’s immune system to turn on itself.

Flora: What are some of the, I guess the first physical symptoms that you felt?

Travis: Weakness. You know, walking was difficult. Picking stuff up was difficult. As it progresses, you get weaker and weaker, and the one place you don’t want to go is when your diaphragm gets affected, and it becomes difficult to breathe. They put you on a ventilator. And if they put you on a ventilator, the outcomes are not as good as doing without a ventilator, and so I was just like determined not to go on a vent. I was in Critical Care Unit. I was there between, a little over, right under three weeks. What they do is, there’s two treatments for it. One is a steroid injection, series of steroids, or what they call plasmapheresis. Plasmapheresis, they use a dialysis machine. They pump your blood out, and they remove the plasma. And then they put all the cells with fresh plasma back in. Which sounds weird, but by the second time, I could tell it had arrested my fall, my slide down.

And nights in the Critical Care Unit were the hardest because I don’t sleep well. Never really have. But in a situation like that where they close your door a little bit, but they leave it open so they can check on you, and there’s always people moving and that kind of stuff. And it was middle of the night, so it’s like, “What happens if I don’t…” You know, it’s the what ifs that occur.

Flora: Like what if you stop breathing? Like that kind of fear?

Travis: No. What if I don’t recover? I wasn’t too concerned about myself in the moment, because I had read enough. By the first week, we had a really good idea what it was and had it arrested, and that kind of stuff. But some people don’t recover as well, and I was like, “What if I’m one of those people that doesn’t really recover from this?”

Flora: And who was your biggest support during that time?

Travis: It was my wife, Malisa. Very supportive. And the funny thing is, people would come in and see me, and because of how the disease process works, and it takes away the ability to conduct signals between your brain and parts of your body, my whole face was, I looked great, because there were no wrinkles, there were no nothing, because of the disease process. People would come in and go, “You look great!” And I’m like, “Ugh. Thank you. I appreciate you telling me I look great, but I don’t feel great.”

But it was about the second week in that I woke up from a dream, and I can’t remember the dream to this day. I just remember that it was something that was going to happen, and I really had this feeling of, I had a feeling of “It’s going to be OK. I don’t know why.” I’m not a religious guy. Fairly agnostic. But something beyond me let me know that it would be OK.

Flora: Oh, wow.

Travis: And in that moment, I thought, “Wow. This is absolutely horrible, and this is absolutely great.” Because it really taught me about myself, my world, and the world itself. Yeah, it was a transformative experience. It wasn’t all good, but life is never all good.

Flora: No, it isn’t.

Travis: You have to take the pieces as they come and decide how you’re going to look at yourself and look at these things that happened to you. So, yeah. And then they finally moved me out of Critical Care when I finished my plasmapheresis, there were five of them, and that was odd because it’s a strange feeling to watch your blood come out and circulate through here and then come back in through another tube, and it was kind of weird, and it was cold. Freezing cold. So after five treatments, they moved me out of Critical Care, and because I was an employee at the hospital, and fairly high up in the rankings, they gave me this big, beautiful room, right? The VIP room. And that was nice, but after a week, I’m like, “I gotta get out of here.” Because I just had to get home and get some sleep. You know, they come in at 2 in the morning and draw blood, all that kind of stuff, and you wake up, and just, I just wanted rest. So my wife picked me up. Everybody knew I was going home, so they were like, “All right, if something happens, you call us. We’ll come get you.” And I’m like, “Yep. That’s fine.”

So we went out to get Mexican food, because I had eaten hospital food for the longest time, and I could barely cut the stuff on my plate, but I was determined to eat. By the time I was done eating, I’d only been out of the hospital for 45 minutes, I was wiped out. Malisa had to help me up the stairs, we lived on the second floor in an apartment, and it was a realization that I’ve got a long way to go. I was so tired just from leaving the hospital, getting in the car, and walking in the restaurant. And that was a strange feeling. Again, I kept thinking, “Wow, six weeks ago, I was running six to eight miles and getting ready for a marathon. And now I can barely walk.”

We lived on the second floor, so I started taking the stairs down to the landing and going up. I’d have to go back to bed. It was, your muscles, it’s fascinating how much strength you lose by laying in bed doing nothing. I mean, it was just really hard, but Malisa would get up, and we’d walk down to the stop sign and then come back, and then walk down this road, and you know, I just kept doing it over and over and over.

And I wasn’t back at work yet. I guess it was about right at three months that I went back to work. And I didn’t want to go back. I just was like wanted to just hide. And little did I know, I was suffering from pretty severe depression at that point. Depression just because even though I knew, I felt myself getting better, it was a depression like, “Dang, why did this happen to me?” And even though I had that feeling that I’d be OK, it’s still a depression.

And there was one time that I realized I was, not contemplating suicide, but thinking about suicide, because there comes a point where sometimes you just want whatever you’re going through to end. And I was coming down a road, and I was coming over a hill, coming down the hill, and it was a four lane, and I was in the left lane, and this 18-wheeler was coming at me, and I thought, “Wow, it’d be so easy just to drift over in that lane.” And I had to pull over and say, “Wait a minute.” Because that was, that scared me. And so, got some help. Started taking medication. I’m a big one for therapy.

Flora: Oh yeah, me too.

Travis: Yeah, because it does wonders. They usually tell you what you already know, but you know how that works.

Flora: Yeah, so when you were in that moment, thinking about taking your life, what made you decide not to do that?

Travis: It scared me that that thought even came into my head. And it wasn’t a thought of, “I’m going to do it.” It was a what-if. “What if I did this?” And that frightened me just to be thinking that way. And I know throughout life, some of us do the same thing, you know, we think, “This is just not worth it.” That kind of stuff.

Flora: And this moment came after, how long has it been since you left the hospital and back at home?

Travis: I was about a month after I was back at work, I was still, I was trying to go to work full time, and I would make it until 11 or 12, and I just was wiped out. I had a boss who was, we got along pretty well, but every once in awhile, we’d tangle. And he kept telling me, “You just gotta come back to work. You just gotta come back to work.” And he wasn’t doing it for the job; he was doing it more from my perspective. And he was absolutely right. After awhile, I figured out, “Yeah, I gotta get back in this routine. I need to have that routine of coming to work.” And he was absolutely right.

Flora: Did you have physical therapy? What did you have to do?

Travis: Yeah, I had all kinds of physical therapy, and putting my fingers together, and that kind of stuff.

Flora: And then you also had therapy for your depression as well.

Travis: Yeah.

Flora: And did it help?

Travis: Yeah. It took about two years before I got off of meds, and that’s kind of classic for depression. But the nice thing that happened was almost a year from the day that I went in, I ran a marathon. And it wasn’t great time, but I completed the marathon. That’s what I’d wanted to do anyway. It was my first one. And it was a lot of fun. I felt closure at that point.

Flora: That’s awesome.

Travis: Still wasn’t back all the way. My feet still bother me, because the extremities, it’s neuropathy, there and in my hands sometimes too. So, but I’m, I would call myself completely healed.

Flora: Wow. And there is no cure for it, right?

Travis: No, there’s just treatment. And some people don’t do well, and for about seven years after that, every time somebody was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré of any form, there are different forms, I’d get the call. “Can you come down and talk to this person?” “Yep.” So…

Flora: And how long would you say it took you to fully recover?

Travis: Probably about three years. About three years from when it started.

Flora: And you ran the marathon how many years?

Travis: A year after.

Flora: Wow, you weren’t even fully healed, but you still did it. Wow.

Travis: I still did it. So I am happy, healthy. I feel great. It was a transformative experience. Sometimes I find myself forgetting about it, and that may be a weird way to say it, but I’ve been thinking about it since I knew I was coming to see you, and I look back and can’t remember the bad stuff as much as I can remember the good stuff. And that’s good for me, because I’m one of those, not really doom and gloom, but it’s like, “What if this goes bad, and this goes bad, and that goes…?” And I’m trying to teach myself not to think that way. I don’t think you can unthink something, but you can recognize when you’re doing something that’s detrimental to yourself.

Flora: Yes, for sure. Especially at our age.

Travis: Yeah, especially at our age.

Flora: Yes. So what are some of the good things that you thought of that came out of this?

Travis: My wife at the time was just fantastic. She was my best friend, and she was my wife, and she was really good to me. And I had so many people that came out of the woodwork to offer help. You know, everybody says, “Let me help. What can I do?” That kind of stuff. And nine times out of ten, there’s nothing anybody can do, but then there would be that one person that would come along, and they’d say that, and you’d say, “Yeah, this is what I need.” And man, they’d do it right then, which is cool. So, yeah.

Flora: Yeah. And what would you say is, obviously the worst part was thinking that you will, might not recover. But was there anything else?

Travis: I guess maybe most of it is mental at that point. That you’re thinking, you can “what if” yourself into a corner really quickly. And a couple of times in the middle of the night, I found myself painting myself in the corner, and I had to stop and visualize that this was going to be OK. And so, that taught me a little about myself in terms of recognizing to step back and look back at what I’m thinking, and why am I thinking that, and is it doing me any good. And if it’s not, I need to quit and do something different. Think something different.

I did tai chi after Guillain-Barré for about four years and loved it and would like to get back into it again, but it just takes a commitment. But there was one time that I was doing tai chi, and it’s just slow movements up and down and that kind of stuff, and I turned to do another movement, and inside my head, this big void opened up. And it was black and darkness and quiet, and not scary, but it was something that I still don’t understand. And it just stayed with me throughout the whole series of movement and then kind of receded. I still don’t know what it is. And I was asking the tai chi guy. I’m going, “Dude, this is what happened to me,” and this kind of stuff, and he goes, “Yep. Sounds like something happened.” And that’s all he said. So it was a strange, comforting, you know, it wasn’t scary. It was just there. A feeling of a void, of complete blackness, of emptiness. But again, not scary, and not a void that needed to be filled, just a presence of something.

Flora: What did you take away from that experience? I mean, what did you learn about yourself?

Travis: Probably the things I learned the most were that no matter what, it’s going to be OK. Had I ended up in a wheelchair, it would’ve been OK. That’s just the way life goes, and we’ve all been around the bend a couple times, and you learn to... Not giving up, but accepting how things are going and how things are. I also learned to depend on myself more, to trust myself. I trusted my reactions more. I also learned that people step out of regular life many times, meaning, you know, you go to work, you go to work, you have three weeks off a year, you go on vacation, whatever, and you come back and go to work. And here was a moment where I didn’t work. I didn’t work for almost three months, and it was a weird feeling. But it also was like, “What if I didn’t work? How would it be?” Well, wouldn’t have as much income, and that kind of stuff. But how… We get stuck on treadmills. So what would it be like not to have to work like that? And so I built that in, my wife and I have a plan for, we’re going to work for five more years, and then we’re going to look around and say, “What do we really want to do? Do we want to keep doing this for the sake of doing it, or do we want to do something different?” And so we’re both leaning toward doing something different, like moving to Mexico, buying a small place on a little island off of Cancun, staying there for six months and then going to Portugal for six months and living there. So I can still teach. I can teach online.

Flora: That’s true.

Travis: And if I taught two classes a semester, that’ll cover our living expenses. So I don’t know. We’re toying with these ideas and stuff.

Flora: And I love that, the way you can switch your perspective to something positive, or think that, like you said, acceptance, that “Yes, even if I am in a wheelchair, it’ll be OK.” Now, were you always like that, or is that from there on you became that way?

Travis: No. I think that was the turning point, when I was, this happened when I was 27. I look back, and 27 was one of my favorite ages. Everybody’s like, “Oh, I want to be ‘X’ again.” Never want to go back to high school; never want to go back to teenage stuff. But 27 was pretty cool, except for Guillain-Barré. But you know, it was pretty cool.

Flora: What advice do you have for the next generation about living their best life?

Travis: I’m a college professor, and what we are doing poorly as a society is, we’re demanding that 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds make a decision on what they want to do for the rest of their life. That is frickin’ wrong.

Flora: Yep. I agree.

Travis: That is just… Yeah, I mean, you see it. You know, we’re like, “OK, what are you going to do?” Like my oldest son, he graduates from UT next year with a Computer Science degree, and the first year he was at UT, he lived on campus. I’m the one that helped clean his dorm out, so it was just me and him, and we’re pretty close. And we were driving back home, and I said, “How was it?” And he goes, “It was OK.” And it was at that moment that I realized, he really, he can do this work, but it’s not going to really excite him. So I started asking him, I always ask people, if you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do? Anything in the world, what would you do? He goes, “I think I’d be a writer or a journalist.” And he’s a very good writer, and I teach writing, and you know, I always look through his papers, and his papers were well above what others were writing. And I said, “Well, do both. You can be a writer about or a journalist about technology and that kind of stuff.” So my advice is, if you want to do something, do it. I would also encourage everyone, especially young people, 16 to 25, whatever: travel. Go overseas, so how other people live. Come back, and you’ll appreciate things like our toilets, our dishwashers, that kind of stuff.

Flora: Central air.

Travis: Central air, yeah, no kidding. Oh my God. But I traveled when I was a teenager, because when my parents divorced, my dad moved overseas with the military, and so we’d go spend summers with him. So I went to Turkey and Germany and other places in Europe, and it was just eye-opening, even as a 14-year-old. The travel to learn different cultures and see different cultures and see how people live is imperative to our success as a nation at this point. I’m afraid, you know, this is not doom and gloom, this is real fear of our nation changing coming up. You know, I won’t get into political discussions, but it’s just frightening.

Flora: It is.

Travis: We’re an experiment. Democracy is an experiment, and in two years, we could be, it could be totally different.

Flora: I asked, this is something that I want to ask in all my interviews, my last question. What is your superpower?

Travis: I love that question. I use that same question in my class as well, too.

Flora: Oh, cool.

Travis: I think my superpower, and this is really weird. This is kind of the third time I’ve articulated it this way. I build doors and windows. When I teach, I build doors and windows. And my students, everybody’s like, “Wow, you’re a great teacher. You’ve taught me blah blah blah,” and I’m like, “You know, I didn’t do anything. I built some doors and windows, and you decided to look out, and you decided to go forward. And you…” I always say my students do it on their own, because they have to. I mean, we used to think of education as like empty brains, and you’re pouring something into the brains. That’s not how learning works, right? And so, I have come to the conclusion that that’s what I do. I’m a carpenter, and I build these things, and the students love to go through them sometimes. So my superpower is recognizing when students are ready for that light bulb to go off.

Flora: That’s great. That makes you a great teacher. I love that answer from a teacher. That’s great. Wow.

Travis: As I said, the third day I walked out of class, and I found myself saying aloud, “I can’t believe they’re going to pay me for this.” And I was like, right then I knew I’d become a teacher. And I did, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Episode 012 - The Pupating Is the Hardest Part

Rod Haden

Today we have an interview with Amy, talking about what she learned about herself, life, and love from marriage, divorce, and dating. She has style, charm, and humor, and it was a lot of fun hanging out and talking with her. Thanks, Amy!

This is probably the last interview for a little bit of awhile, until we can find more people willing to share their stories of transformation. If you're one of those people, drop me a line at rod@rodhaden.com. I'd love to hear from you!

Also, if you're willing, please send me a recording of yourself, your friends, family, and pets saying, "Caterpillar Goo!" I want to use them in intros and other fun with audio.

Thanks! Here's the transcript of Amy's story:

Got divorced in, that was the spring of, or summer actually, of 2003. It’s odd. It seems like a lifetime ago in a way. I was married for 4 years, and we were together/shacked up for 4 years before that. I was living in Houston, and he was living in Austin at the time, and one night I was headed out with my friend Jennifer, and of course what precipitated my meeting him was me and my friend saying things to each other like, “Ah, forget guys!” You know? “We’re just a couple of single gals!” The plan was just for us to go and play a game of pool together. Well, we go out to play pool, and who’s at the table next to us but 3 guys who we started talking to and then playing a pool game with.

I met Jeff that night, but he and I didn’t actually date until almost a year later because I started dating another guy in the group for about 9 or 10 months, and during that time, Jeff would come travel to Houston quite a bit, so I got to know Jeff a little bit. Kelly and I were, long story short, definitely not a good match, and not too long after he and I broke up, I had Jeff’s number, and I was like, “Ringy dingy! Hey, this is Amy! Kelly and I broke up. And how you doing? And did I mention I’m single?” And so, we went on a date, and that was that. And we had a long-distance relationship for about 9 or 10 months. And I had lived in Austin before and was just itching to move back, and this was, “Wow, what a great excuse to move back to Austin.” And so we, I moved back to Austin, and we moved in together. Mistake!

I had dated a little bit in college but didn’t really take a deep dive anywhere there. So I was quite inexperienced in dating even though at the time I thought that I had plenty under my belt. I thought that I was well-equipped to wisely select a compatible mate. So I would have been in my mid-20s at that point, and oh, I was so mistaken. 

My parents divorced when I was 11, and their divorce was pretty awful. The only way it could have been worse is if either one of them had had any money. And the fallout of it was just so huge and extreme for the family that through that experience alone, I thought that that alone was going to provide me good lessons in terms of what to do and what not to do. How to pick a mate. What to look for, what not to look for. And of course that’s not what happened.

There were a number of reasons why I selected Jeff as a mate, and I didn’t figure it out until afterward, but one of those reasons was envy. I was fairly isolated as a kid. I was a loner. In high school. I mean I had 1 or 2 friends but was very low-key. Jeff at the time, I idealized these characteristics that I felt like he had in terms of, he had been very happy throughout school and had a lot of friends and had maintained a lot of friendships, even from when he was a very small child. And then his family also, I met them, close to San Antonio where his parents lived in this lovely cabin, and they were just lovely people, and went there and had just this great time with his family that seemed at the time to me almost like a family that you might encounter, you might see in the movies. And I didn’t feel like the black sheep or the ugly duckling like I had even with my own family. With my immediate family, I definitely felt that way. And so in dating him, my world was opening up, and it was opening up to this entire area and this potential new family where I felt very welcomed and appreciated for who I was and what I brought to the table. I grew up in Louisiana, so I of course was a great cook, and his family really appreciated my cooking, and they loved to cook, and so that was something that we had a lot of fun kind of bonding over in their respective kitchens.

I think I had ideas about feeling like I was a likeable person, and almost felt like, Oh! I’m in this relationship with this guy who is very well-liked, well-loved, and if he loves me, and especially once he proposed, if he wants to marry me, then that must say something about me. I must’ve turned a corner, and I must be more likeable, and maybe I’m taking on some of these characteristics or traits. So, envy was a big old part of it, that I failed to see or acknowledge at the time.

He was raised Jewish. I hadn’t been raised Jewish, but I was born Jewish, and I found out when I was in high school and started to take an interest in that. And then when Jeff and I met, and, oh, you’re Jewish? Wait, I am too. That to me provided an additional opportunity to really become a part of something. And so that was definitely part of the appeal too. And Judaism, the more I learned about it, those were things that made sense to me. I had gotten kicked out of Sunday school in third grade because I asked a question that the teacher didn’t like, and I got kicked out. And so when I started to learn about Judaism later and how philosophically it embraces the idea of asking questions, that really appealed to me. And so I loved that we were both of the same religion, and it seemed to me that we appreciated the same things about the religion.

My vision was blurred by envy, idealism, and admiration of traits that I thought were there. Not to say that they weren’t, I mean, he was a funny guy, great sense of humor, and we could always find things to laugh about together. I overestimated humor’s role and its ability to carry a relationship. That only takes you so far. I would definitely advise anybody, don’t get married in your 20s. Don’t do it. My mom and dad, they got married when they were 19 and 20, so by the time I got married at 29, I thought oh yeah, I did such a great job in biding my time, and I thought that I was just all prepared for it.

And I mean, Caterpillar Goo. Talk about gooey, you know? I mean, come on, you know? You’re getting married, and you haven’t even pupated yet, you know? It’s just, how is this going to fly? I do remember the night before the wedding, having the cold feet and thinking, part of, like, feeling conflicted about it. Part of it was, oh, this is just cold feet, and everybody has that. But there really was another part of me that thought this, I don’t, you know, I haven’t been married before, but this does not feel, it doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t feel like something that is sustainable. I definitely played down the red flags, which I think is probably number one mistake, right?

It took a couple of years. It might have happened faster if not for events that cropped up that I think probably were distracting in a way. We had started work on building a house. And building a house is one of those things that unless you’ve talked to someone else, you’re really in no way prepared for what an involved and high maintenance process, and frustrating process, it truly can be. And our house was supposed to built in 6 months; it took 3 times that. Also, a month after we got married, I lost my job. And I got a new job quickly, but between that and the fear about losing a job again, that created a whole focus on my work and my career. It probably kind of distracted away from things that later on got more of my attention. We were living in this house, very close to the lake, and had made friends in the neighborhood, and were leading a lifestyle that was, you know, really happy and adventurous and comfortable at the same time. We didn’t have a boat, but we had friends who did. And so, it was really a comfortable and pleasant time despite little things in, what seemed like at that point, little things in our relationship that started to kind of creep up.

It was almost like if you imagine a pool of water, and you’ve put your hand in that little pool, and it’s just muddy. You don’t see through. But then, when you keep your hand still, eventually, the dust settles, and then you see clear through. Once we started to kind of get settled in as a couple, like ok, this is what our path actually looks like, that’s when things started to unravel. And I’ll bet you now, there were things that were going on that I wasn’t paying attention to. I was selling myself short by not acknowledging that and pulling some threads that needed to be pulled. I let it go. Of course communication issues come up for everybody, but I was not, I wasn’t doing the due diligence. I wasn’t being fair to myself. And the issue in the end wasn’t not trusting him. The issue was me not trusting myself.

I’m a lifelong student, and there are lots of things that I always wanted to learn, like while I was in college for example, that I never really had an opportunity to because I put myself through school, and I just reached a point where, yeah, I would love to do this forever, but I’m broke, and I gotta get a job and gotta do these other things called life. But wherever I could take like a drawing class, or a painting class, or a sculpture class. I got into gardening and set up a garden, and then before you know it, I was astonished to find that, would you believe it, deer were eating, and so figuring out, well how do we set this up so that we can actually have the vegetables that we’re trying to grow here? But we found little things here and there to jump in on together.

We had a lot of areas of agreement. We even agreed in areas where we were more vague or noncommittal, like with kids. We both felt like, well we don’t know. We don’t know if we’re going to have kids or not, but we both felt confident in our relationship that we would agree on if and when that would happen, but we felt like we would be on the same page about having kids. Physically, yeah. I mean, our, we always had had a good sex life, so that wasn’t an area of tension or issue. That only started to deteriorate after other areas started to.

He started to get interested in these TV shows that were on cable access in Austin. I don’t remember the names of them, but they were, the hosts were conspiracy theorists.So I remember he would watch them, and at first he would laugh about them, and I mean, there were some that were, there’s no other way to slice it. They were absurd. I mean there was one guy who wore a toilet lid around his neck when he was delivering his monologue. I don’t know what that was supposed to symbolize, but yeah, take him seriously. But at first, you know, he’d watch these like, “Oh, this is kind of a freak show. Check this out.” And then that changed. That changed to, “You know, I think this guy might have a point.” I mean, his interest in conspiracy theories built up quite a bit. His interest in that to the point where that became very much a second job. He made some friends who were producers with Austin Cable Access, and before you know it, he was producing his own show. And I wanted to be supportive of that because that was in many ways a creative effort, and it was interesting to him, and you always want to support, you know, your mate’s interests. The subject matter was really troubling to me.

About 2 ½ years in, that’s when things started to come apart, and it was a confluence or merger of several things at one time. The, his interest in conspiracy theories had, that had fully matured and developed. And I didn’t at all mind the amount of time that it took. Like have all the time that you want for the things that you want to pursue. It was that he was bringing those things home with him, those topics home with him. And so our interactions and what we really could talk about, that was narrowing in a way that was unfulfilling for me. And at the same time also, there are things that you must do as a married couple that aren’t necessarily demanded of you when you’re living together, when you’re dating, and so for example with the filing taxes, you know, filing taxes jointly, that kind of deal. And that called for a greater level of communication between us that we just clearly weren’t equipped for, and there were things, there were other areas where the trust was being eroded. I was keeping to myself a whole lot. I started to shut down. And I started to not be at home so much. Not going out and partying or anything like that, just kind of going to a neighbor’s or staying at work a little later.

And so, Jeff and I got to the point where our everyday interactions were very kind of vanilla and garden variety. Like he would call me at pretty much the same time every day to ask me what was for dinner. Yeah, things got boring for us just because we weren’t finding new things together to enrich and inform that relationship, and so our interactions with each other got pretty anemic. And I wasn’t sharing, and my feelings of trust, I was starting to tap into that as a need, that I need honesty.It’s not just that we love one another, but we are friends to each other, and we are supportive of each other, yes, but we are also protective of each other. And I was feeling more and more like my best interests were not being regarded or protected. And in my head what I saw, the analogy that I draw is almost like, you see footage of when a space shuttle goes into orbit, and it detaches, it just kind of unlocks from I guess it’s the booster, it just detaches, and the 2 units are never to be united again. They’re just off into their own spaces on their own paths. 

And we had gone to counseling once. We went to a counselor, and we talked about things, and then afterward, you know, we walked out, and Jeff was like, alright, well that was cool. Glad we got that taken care of, like it was something to mark off the checklist, and yeah. We talked about it a little bit more after that, but I don’t remember making like a big, concerted push for joint counseling after that. I went for my own, just for my own individual counseling after that point. I think probably just talking things out and processing things out loud rather than having them just hamster-wheeling, pent up in my own headspace, getting them out and really exchanging with someone probably helped me to process things a little bit more clearly.

So, things got a little bit more clear for me in working with a therapist, but I didn’t know when or how or if divorce was going to happen. I was afraid to pull the trigger, not really sure how to go about that, or what that would look like, and we had this whole life created and built and were set, you know, like we were just going to keep on as we had been and probably could have in some ways. And I knew that Jeff was unhappy, because I mean, sex is a part of how you communicate together as a couple, and we just weren’t communicating obviously through sex or through anything. I mean, we’d really and truly shut down in a lot of ways. And I had shut down. I wasn’t opening up about things that were frustrating me, and I was letting it build up and up and up and up and up. Just letting it build up, but not even perceiving it that way. And my uncertainty about the future and my feelings of investment into our life and our lifestyle just kind of kept me in a holding pattern for quite some time. It was just kind of this murky gray area where I felt like this doesn’t feel at all good, and I don’t see it improving in any way, because I don’t see a path toward things getting better. But I wasn’t ready to take action in any way. And then it just snapped.

The decision to divorce was another off-and-on switch that all of a sudden got activated. That day at work, I had gotten news that my job was more likely than not on the chopping block. So there were rumors about that going around, so it was like, oh, ok, so I’m on the precipice of needing to find another job again, and I don’t know what or how that’s going to look like or how long it’s going to take. So I had a whole lot going on in my head about that and was pretty troubled about it. And so he called me on his way to the studio to check in with me, and I said, I have a request, and it’s important. And I told him what had gone on that day, and I said, when you get home tonight, I just want a peaceful, tranquil night. Maybe we’ll watch a DVD or something, but I need you to not talk at all about this stuff, conspiracy theories, how the show went, anything like that. I don’t want to hear a thing about it. Please, no. I need recess from that tonight. He agreed.

He gets home, comes through the door, sits down on the couch. I’m sitting in the easy chair. He sits down and goes right into regaling me with all of the details about the show’s production that night, and the topic du jour, and I just sat there, and I looked at him. I just stared at him. And finally he sees the look on my face, or recognizes it, and says, what? And I said, I want a divorce. It just switched off. And it was like my mind and my body just went into autopilot at that point. I was no longer troubled about an uncertain future. I wasn’t troubled about anything at all. I just knew what I needed to do. You can’t unring a bell. You said it. Now you have to follow through. 

So Monday night we split up. Tuesday night I was in a hotel 2 nights, and then the night after that, I was in my new apartment. I had barely been able to pick up anything from the house, so I just had sheets, my pillow, just a couple of other things, and I slept on the floor of my new apartment and cried. I remember like bursting into tears at certain times where it was very unpredictable. It just came on all of a sudden, like when I was signing the lease papers of the apartment complex. I burst into tears, and I remember the apartment manager, of course I bet she’s seen many separated people in her time, and she was consoling me. And it felt very disorienting. Just all of a sudden, like what’s my path now? Everything was different. I mean, I got set up with my new apartment, in pretty short order, and on the outside things looked just fine, and they were shaping up. But on the inside, I felt very, that was a very gooey time.

The whole process of marriage and the dissolution of it, it took a long time, and even now, I still have revelations about it. I definitely question things a lot more. I question things about myself, but I also know to trust myself and to consider myself. Hopefully I understand a lot more about what the necessary ingredients are in order for a relationship to make the long haul. I don’t think longevity is, that in and of itself does not necessarily, it doesn’t reflect success. But the quality of the relationship, how are you with each other over time, how will your lives naturally and also through effort mesh well together? You know, what are the components of compatibility that really serve people the best? Humor is still definitely a part of it, a shared sense of humor, but shit, it’s certainly far from the only thing. You know, it’s a matter of figuring out like what areas, like, there should be compatibility, like in terms of things that you have in common and areas that you complement each other, but there can also be areas where you’re too much alike. It’s a matter of how do you identify and figure out that sense of balance where your differences and your similarities fit together well.

I see the early part of a relationship, all those feelings, like the butterflies in the stomach, kind of seeing like, oh, you’re feeling this way. Well, you know that your body is being bathed in all of these chemicals that are supposed to kind of goad you into or kind of lead you down this path. There’s the giddiness and all that that’s, you know, really fun and enjoyable. But I also know your vision gets blurry because of things like that.

So after I separated, I got into dating, and I felt like there’s still a lot I need to understand about who I am. But I jumped into it. God, online dating was really weird and still pretty new I guess at the time. So I got into online dating for a little bit and thought, oh, I’m backing out of this because I was getting into these very short-lived kind of things where I would meet someone and we’d feel this kind of giddiness, and then I would get ghosted before ghosting was even a thing, you know? Hey, I’m a trendsetter. Or, you know, things would just come an abrupt halt, or all of a sudden I’d realize, oh no. I took a big old break.

It was 6 years before I dated anyone. I was strictly on my own and just determined, you know what, I’m going to focus on living like the kind of person that I would want to date. And so I did acting classes and just anything that I got a lark for, that I wanted to learn about, I did. I took acting classes. I went to ACC and started on a second degree in graphic design because that’s, you know, I had things, things in that area that I’d always wanted to know how to do even if I didn’t make that into a career. I just went about fulfilling my intellectual curiosity as I went on the exercise of making friends.

There’s a part of me that would like a relationship. There’s part of me that would like a relationship right now. I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to have kids or not, but it wasn’t like I had any biological clock ticking or anything like that, but I didn’t want to put myself in the position of not dating at all until it was too late.  But I’m glad I allowed myself some time there just to be on my own in the world, and focus on making friends, making and sustaining friendships because I didn’t see that Jeff and I had done a good job of being friends to each other. And I really wanted to come at it from the standpoint of, if I date someone that’s wonderful, but I want to be sure that we are friends first.

I always had an independent streak, but I’m not sure that I ever gave myself a chance to really explore everything that truly being independent had to offer in terms of benefit, but also growth through challenge. I had lived by myself throughout college, but this was my chance as a fully-fledged adult, to work on something resembling a career, buying a house. I wanted to pursue goals, and this was an opportunity to do those things without needing to partner or compromise or negotiate with someone.

When I re-entered online dating years later, I tried out a couple of sites concurrently. But Jesus. Like I was on OKCupid for less than 5 minutes before I got propositioned by a couple. It was like, uh huh. Wow. Is this what this whole scene is like? And Match, it’s almost like for each of these sites, like each one seems to have its own brand or characteristic or group of people that it tends to attract. Match was like the playing ground for married men from Houston who wanted to make it seem as though they were single and just in Austin for the weekend. And yeah, there was a lot of that. There was, like on OKCupid, there were propositions from couples, or I remember getting a message from this one woman who posted pictures of herself in various states of dress. And I indicated that I was only interested in boys, so I’m not sure why she thought this would be something I’d go for, but she sent me pictures of her in various states of undress, down to lingerie, covering herself in chocolate syrup. And I was on eHarmony for 24 hours, and I was like, no no no no, I’m crawfish-tailing my way out of this one. That one was strange. It was like a whole lot of questions, and then it offered you up your matches, and I had no idea how my answers lead to the profiles that I got. And so I left that. But yeah, lots of nice people. A few jerks in the mix there. I remember a lot of just online chats, online conversations, and then just never getting to the point where I was meeting someone initially in real life, at least not at first. I tried a couple of dates, and it was like this initial giddiness and fun, and then crash. 

I tried PlentyOfFish also. PlentyOfFish was what I used that lead me to my next relationship, my next serious relationship after my marriage, and that lasted for a year and a half. What I learned from that one, though, was that I had intentionally chosen someone who I wouldn’t be able to have a long term relationship with. Sometimes the only way out of something is through it. But I recognized that about myself in that relationship, while I was in the relationship, and took some time off from that and then dove back in, and I think my approach at that point was improved. I took kind of a more playful stance about it. And I took the approach of, well, you know what? Either I’m going to have a great time, or at the very least I’m going to have an interesting story.

But I approached everything like, ok, it seems like we have a couple of things in common in this conversation, ok. Let’s meet up. Let’s have a cup of coffee, or let’s just see what happens. I knew that I would meet someone, and based on the little conversation we had, if we could find something in common, something that was interesting for both of us to talk about, it was usually like writing or art or something creative, I would learn something, or I’d have a good story about it. So I wasn’t necessarily going into it for like, is this the one? It was just a matter of, let’s just meet up in the light of day and see how it works out.

 And it worked out everywhere from I met up with a guy where about 15 minutes into the conversation, and he asked me to wax his mustache for him. Nah. To I met a guy who was operating his own, he called it a porn site, but it consisted entirely of only photos of women fully clothed smoking cigarettes. But it was just interesting, you know, like meeting different people from all walks of life. I just took it on as just a way to meet new and interesting people and just having a, just being exposed to different frames of mind.

And whenever I met someone who was creative, it was always fun to talk about and see what they were working on. I’d meet someone, I’d think oh, well this, we’re attracted to each other, and this has a real possibility, but we just ran into a failure to launch, like where things just got too accelerated too quickly. And then I hit the point where that was getting a little bit painful, I met one guy where I was really interested and really hoping that things would develop, and then he made it clear he wasn’t interested in really continuing to date or anything like that. And that was a painful experience for me, and after that I thought, you know what? I need to change.

And I felt like, ok, this is where I need to become more intentional. And if it’s a relationship that I want, if it’s a boyfriend that I want, if it’s something that really can have a chance of standing the test of time and being good for me and good for the other person, then I need to articulate exactly what that looks like. And I wrote down, these are the things that I’m looking for in a partner. This is what I would ideally like for a relationship to really look like, and these are the things that are important to me, like a shared sense of adventure and an emphasis on having that as a part of life. And even like describing like physical characteristics, not having the expectation that I was going to meet someone who would fill all those things to a T, but just as a way of kind of reflecting back to myself, well, these are the things that I have in mind. By virtue of putting those things down on paper, it helps to kind of start the path to creating it more real, like from wooden boy to Pinocchio. And I didn’t know if that would be effective in bringing it closer to me, but I thought well, what’s the harm? You know, at least I’ve got this more clarified to myself, but I mean, I wrote stuff down, and then I put it on top of my mantle, where I would see it. And just by having it in front of me where I’d see it in passing and review it and reflect on it, that helped. 

And so, I met Steven a couple of months after that, and the trajectory, the path of our early relationship I felt like there was a lot there that we got right. We were friends first and spent a lot of time talking and sharing and being, just truly being friends to each other before we were boyfriend and girlfriend. And that felt really good. We got engaged about a year and a half into the relationship, and that’s one of the ones, that was one where I really, like there wasn’t any kind of feeling of cold feet. Like when we got engaged, I thought, here we have all the ingredients that we need to last. I was wrong, but I feel like I got more right about that one. And that one, the dissolution of that relationship was emotionally a lot harder than my marriage.

The list that I put together continued to evolve, or really I would just make new lists, you know, like progressive elaboration. There were also things that I realized, like ok, so how do I feel about myself in this relationship? And so I would add things or I would write down a list of  you know, how do I want to feel? And more about what kind of adventures do I want to experience with someone?

But I’m engaged now, and it’s a leap of faith in a way, but that’s not, it’s not like a leap of blind faith. It’s figuring out the right questions to ask yourself and not taking things for granted. It’s important to have shared interests. Having shared projects that you talk about and want to work on together is great, and that’s something that Greg and I have. So he’s an entertainer and a mentalist, and I’m learning, I love, I just love being with someone that you learn from. He’s accomplished in but also, he has very much that attitude of, like learning as a lifelong experience. It’s just part of what’s exciting to be human. And we’re both big-time bookworms. And so he’s sharing a lot with me, and I’m learning a lot from him and taking advantage of all of the literature that he has around mentalism. So I’m getting into that and also doing things like card reading, and so I do readings using playing cards rather than tarot, so I’ve gotten the skills down now, and I do readings for people. In fact, if you want one, you’re, I’m happy to give you one. But I don’t have anything like marketing-wise set up yet, so I don’t have a website to plug or anything like that. I’m still coming up with my stage name, as it were. So, I identified a stage name, but then, wisely I Googled it, and it came up as the name of a popular porn star. And I was like, oh, uh, no to that. That could, yeah, confusion around that could be interesting, so I’m going to avoid that. So I’ve got to figure out another name.

I would love to get to the point where I feel very comfortable about being in the moment and extemporaneous. And like with my current job and with previous jobs, they have involved public speaking, and I’ve gotten better at it, and I’m not at the point where it leaves me feeling catatonic anymore, so that’s good, so that’s progress, but I sometimes, like I feel like I plan too much in advance or maybe lean onto that too much as a crutch, which then might result in it feeling a little bit more, seeming a little bit more stilted or scripted or something like that. And I would love for it to feel a lot more natural. Like Greg, I mean, he’s very comfortable with being on stage and in the moment. You know, he’s very well-practiced at it, and he’s great at it, and see, to me that is the healthy kind of envy, for lack of a better word. You know, like I admire this in this person, but it’s not like I’m idealizing that. The things that I admire about him are just one facet of the many reasons why I am with him.

It’s not like I could pass myself off as, you know, hey, I’ve got it all figured out. I mean, I have more figured out than what I did, and I imagine there are blind spots that I’ve got now that maybe, maybe not I’ll realize later. But I, it’s a practice, right? Relationship is a practice, and I feel like I’m getting better at that practice. I’ve had a hard time in the past with, like I’ll have an emotion, like I’ll feel frustration or I’ll feel anger, or I’ll feel just kind of a nagging feeling, but elucidating why I feel that way, feeling anger, without being able to explain why it was. Well then, my reaction would be delayed because I wouldn’t share that I was feeling an emotion much less why. And then it would take me some time to figure out the why. But by the time I figured that out, it was really too late to go back, in my mind I felt at the time it was really too late to go back and say, hey, you know, when I was seeming pissed off? Well, this is why it was, and let’s talk about. And again, that’s practice. I mean, I still have those moments when I feel upset about something, and I don’t know why, but I bring that up, even if it’s not something that I can explain, just to get it out there and even just talking through it. And being with someone who you can talk through those things with, you know. For me I think it’s just a matter of considering yourself. Be selfish in love. I don’t mean selfish as in being regardless of someone else’s needs or feelings, but I mean it’s, you gotta consider yourself as much as you’re considering the other person. Think about what you need.

I’m digging the 40s. I am totally digging them, because I feel more childlike and free than I ever did. And I feel like embracing kind of having the beginner’s mind. And I don’t know what I don’t know in some areas, and being ok with myself over that. Being among other adults, other divorced adults, talking with other adults who have been in, you know, marriages, divorces, significant relationships, and sharing all of those things, it’s like, yeah, nobody really has it figured out. And that is a tremendous relief. Tremendous relief. I don’t know what it is about being young that makes you so worried about what’s normal. Why does it feel important to feel normal? And what is that anyway? I don’t know what my hangup was about feeling normal or fitting in, or anything like that. But one of the wonderful things about getting older is that you find out nobody really fits in, but that said, we all kind of find our tribes in a way.

Episode 010 - Deep Thoughts: Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Rod Haden

I keep coming back in my mind to WNYC's On the Media and their interview with Mohamedou Ould Slahi. I haven't read his book yet, but I will. Maybe it will answer the question I have. I don't know what he went through, or how long and how much work it took for him to get to where he is now, but I wonder: how can he not blame? How can he not hate? What was done to him was unforgivable, yet he forgives.


Flora Folgar

I've been thinking about something universal to parenting in relative safety and comfort: that an easy life might not be the way that kids grow into strong, resilient, and creative people. And of course there's always the universal parenting fear that we're failing, even when we know we're not.