Don’t Have To

This past week I was chatting with a friend of mine who lives far out of province, and we were talking about the challenges of maturing and changing. That might seem pretentious; we certainly didn’t start there in the conversation, but this friend is one in particular that I’ve often talked on this level with. I really value the friendship! He’s done a remarkable amount of personal growth in the past bunch of years, and when I pointed that out, he fired it back at me.

As I often do, I deflected and self-deprecated, claiming that most of the learning I’ve done, especially in my 30s, has been “against my will”. I also made a sort of half-joke I’ve made pretty often, which is that personal growth is exhausting (this is sometimes true) and every so often I’d like to just announce that I’m stagnating for the next few months, and hide under a pile of coats from any and all ‘learning’ and ‘growth’.

(The “pile of coats” is key for some reason. It’s an image I borrowed from The Simpsons and I use it every time. I even searched this blog for “coats” to make sure I hadn’t already done this bit here)

Reading my words back after I’d sent them to my friend, I remembered a bit I’d heard recently in the audiobook of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall P. Rosenberg. In it, he talks about the things we tell ourselves we “have” to do; dishes, pay bills, go to work, or in my case, mature as a human being. He goes through an exercise where you write out the thing you have to do–

I have to keep growing as a person

Then, change the “have to” to “choose to”

I choose to keep growing as a person

And finally, add “because” at the end, then fill in your reason.

I choose to keep growing as a person because I really do think it’s better than the alternative.

Rosenberg encourages this exercise for all areas of our lives, and it clicked with me that I really don’t have to be making any progress in terms or growth or maturity at all. I could absolutely ‘check out’ every day. Probably untold numbers of dudes in my position have, throughout history. Disconnected from things that fill them up, never trying to understand another’s point of view, never bothering to do the work of improving themselves, even for the sake of a partner or family.

But I don’t, and I don’t want to, and I really don’t give myself enough credit for trying. I know growth isn’t linear, and I won’t do it perfectly every day, but I am trying, and I do myself a disservice by pretending that I’m just some dullard who’s somehow forced to accept new ways of thinking about himself and the world.

So I’m gonna try to stop! Time to put the metaphorical pile of coats in a closet, or better yet, give them to metaphorical goodwill. I don’t know what the goodwill represents in this scenario. This metaphor got away on me extremely quickly.

Thing I Saw: A creepy YouTube short called Backrooms, which apparently has a few related videos by the creator and has spawned a cottage industry of fan creators AND of course those annoying “SLIGHTLY MYSTERIOUS THING FINALLY EXPLAINED!” videos. Gosh, I dislike those. Let something weird just…be weird. Anyway, this short reintroduced me to the concept of “liminal spaces” which is a great search on Tumblr, and the whole thing was apparently created by a 16-year-old using free tools! Amazing!

Thing I Learned: If you’re watering an African Violet, water the dirt, not the leaves. I know this because Cassidy gave me one for Father’s Day (she is 5 and we are still working on “picking a gift based on what the other person likes, not what you personally like and think they should”. It is in my office, in indirect sunlight, recently transplanted into a proper little clay pot and everything. I hope it lives. It sounds like a challenging flower to keep alive, and I’ve killed two cacti so far lol

I’m Grateful For: Kids that react positively to my presence.

I’m Dreaming Of: Continuing to play/record the game INSIDE which I will probably do after I finish this post. Future Nathan Plays?? We’ll seeeee

Bonus Thing I Learned: This artist is the bandleader for Stephen Colbert’s show? huh

NaShoStoWriYe (National Short Story Writing Year)

I was just sitting in bed, on my laptop, sort of itching to write something but not having any idea what. Then I remembered: I have a blog! Just prior to that thought, I was reading what I’d written during a “100 Days Writing Challenge” I’d done a while ago. My Google doc shows I made it to Day 16, back in September of 2020. I was just starting to write story snippets. And reading them back now…I actually kinda liked them!

This feels novel (ha) because for most of my life I’ve come to despise the art I’ve made when enough time has passed from the making. My major exception to the rule is my old comics, which can still be quite funny to me. Or, if not funny, at least something that I don’t hate and want to destroy on sight.

I may just pick up where I left off with that 100 Days thing, and ride it for a while longer. Of course, like with unfinished video games, my impulse is to start over from scratch (because “what if I don’t remember some crucial bit”) but there’s a good chance that if I did I’d get back to where I was, on Day 16, and then drift off again, getting no further in the challenge.

It’s funny; I tried the National Novel Writing Month thing some years back and got halfway through before giving up, realizing that no, I actually did not enjoy the process of trying to write a whole long story. (My wife got a little miffed — she’d been following along with my updates and actually wanted to know where it was all going, so I had to give her the sketched out version of the 2nd half of the story).

Ever since then I’ve still been tempted, hit by the urge every few months when I feel creatively dissatisfied (or just existentially bored) and I think “I should write a novel! Surely I have a story in me” but I reflect on the NaNoWriMo experience and remind myself of the wasted effort it will bring. But maybe I should just go for it anyway. Who cares about not finishing? Maybe it would be good to try and scratch the itch anyway, rather than forcing it down until it passes. Maybe the next time I get the writing itch, I might learn to pick up where I left off, against my nature of “got to start over from scratch”. Let the end product feel disjointed! It might not! Who knows?

Thing I Saw: The rock band Big Wreck is coming to do a free show at a local summer festival. Discovering this aged me terribly; it means that bands from the 70s and 80s have probably run their course, and the bands of my formative musical years (the 90s) are now the washed-up old fellas doing the summer festival circuits. Aw.

Thing I Learned: “Bonsai” isn’t a species of tree. Bonsai is the art of maintaining and shaping the tree, but the trees themselves can be common varieties like junipers, pines, and so on.

I’m Grateful For: Moments of quiet reflection, few and far between though they may be. Not to imply that my life is too crazy to have them; I’m sure I’ve passed on opportunities to sit and think for my own reasons. Anyway I’m glad for this one!

I’m Dreaming Of: Writing stories, I guess??

This is actually a cover of a Japanese band, and the original didn’t have lyrics so Greg’s good friend Michael Jackson helped him write some