Forging

I’ve always had this base fascination with the concept of a blacksmith.

I guess some of that comes with my lifelong interest in swords and medieval culture, as well as the process of turning an unattractive, rudimentary chunk of metal into something artistically, aesthetically and functionally beautiful.

Leaving work last night, I was struggling to get out of a rather dark headspace that’s become a bit too familiar as of late.

When I came up with this insane decision to uproot from the relative comfort and ease of where I was in the Pacific Northwest and come back home, I admit that part of it was the self-created illusion that the transition would be easy.

I’d get back here, camp out with family for the short-term, lock in a job, get a place of my own and then carry on with my life in the directions I hoped to take it. Five months later, I’m in a place I never thought I’d be. A place I never even conceived of for myself because it’s not in our nature to consider failure as the likely destination you’ll arrive at once the journey has started.

It took far longer to get a job than I’d wanted, and even though I have a good salary, what I don’t have is any sense of security or commitment that I will be able to keep it long-term. Along the way, my attempts to reconnect with both family and friends have devolved into situations that I didn’t foresee happening either and it’s been a hard thing to take.

As someone who once had strong connections to family and a small but rather tight circle of friends, finding myself on the outside looking in at these relationships that matter to me, but for all my trying, I can’t seem to maintain, only increases the degree of isolation and self-doubt that I already possess.

I’m a few weeks away from turning 40 and I’m at a place I’d never want anyone else to find themselves at – I feel old, tired, angry, afraid, unwanted and incredibly alone.

And yet, all I could think about this morning was the art of a blacksmith.

In order to create something out of metal, the blacksmith first gets it as hot as possible and then proceeds to hammer out every ounce of impurities they can. It takes an extreme amount of pressure to do it, banging that ingot over and over again over an unrelenting and unforgiving anvil, bending it, stretching it, taking it as far as it can go without breaking it.

If my life has been nothing else, it’s been a seemingly endless question of how much I can take before I finally break. I’m not proud to say there’s been times where I did. As much as I think I can take it, I get those reminders where I’m not Superman. I have limits. I have doubts. I have times where I lie awake at night scared out of my mind that things are not going to get better or I will keep getting every arbitrary, narrow-minded and malicious excuse for why I can’t have the sort of life I want.

The question I have to answer for myself is whether or not I can continue going through the process? Can I keep taking the pounding, and if so…what sort of person will I be when it’s all over?

I’d like to think I could become something beautiful. Someone worth something to the people who matter to me.

What do you think?

Nomadic Thoughts

I woke up on Saturday morning full of feelings that have become all too familiar to me over the past few years. A combination of anger, hurt, vexation and anxiety which all coalesce in an insatiable need to find a road and drive until I either reach the end of it or find something along the way which gets my mind off the turmoil churning away under my skin.

So I took Boomer on the first long road trip we’ve been on since I bought him, up the turnpike through New Hampshire and on into Maine, stopping in the midcoast town of Freeport for a few nights.

The motel itself was nothing special, despite the incredibly comfortable king-sized bed I was all too happy to fall asleep on. Freeport itself is one of those kitschy tourist traps where the downtown is nothing but strip malls full of shops that sell stuff people don’t really need at prices people really can’t afford, but if you come back with something that says L.L. Bean on it, I guess that counts as some form of moral victory over the rest of the Joneses.

Fortunately, I don’t have the need for such things, so I was content to just get back on the road in the morning and explore the area, even though there were times when I found myself checking my watch like I had some pressing appointment to keep. I guess it’s one of those things you have to adjust to when you’re so used to having an existence based entirely around the concept of work and not much else.

When I was younger, I always liked the idea of taking road trips with friends and heading off into parts unknown. Now that I’m older and don’t have many friends anymore, my mindset is more one of just taking off for as long as I need to, figuring I can do a lot less damage if I’m flying under the radar.

I got out to Boothbay Harbor and finally pulled over in the tiny hamlet of Ocean Point, which looked like something you’d see in every tourism or real estate magazine that wants to convince you of what the real New England looks like.

In all honesty, the scenery was incredible as the late winter cold had backed off enough to provide some glorious sunshine and warmth, even with the tide starting to roll in. It’s one of the many things I love about being near the ocean, along with the cleansing, calming white noise it generates which has always managed to have a positive effect on me, no matter my state of mind.

And after the past few weeks, I know I needed it.

It’s been a rough go, as of late. In spite of working again and getting the most financially lucrative paychecks of my life, I’m still in a state of limbo and uncertainty about the long-term steadiness of my job that I can’t commit to finding an apartment yet. So I’ve been getting by through sleeping in the back of Boomer under a mountain of blankets and a sleeping bag.

Is it the most comfortable accommodations? Hardly, but compared to other alternatives and situations I’ve found myself in over the course of my life, it beats the alternative of having no protection at all from the last serious cold that’s still hanging around over the area.

The other issue I’ve been trying to figure out is what I’m going to do about some of the people in my life, whom I care a great deal about, but seem utterly disinterested in maintaining healthy relationships with me.

One of the primary reasons why I have a tendency to go off on my own to remote places like this is that it provides me time and space to think, which is a trick I picked up back when I was a younger man trapped in an 8×8 box with nothing but time to think about anything and everything. Admittedly, being able to do it under an open sky which flows all the way to the horizon is much more emotionally and psychologically pleasant, and it affords me a chance to sit and process things from as many angles as I want or need to.

The situation I have before me is this: Whether or not I keep trying to salvage relationships with these two people, or do I let the bridges burn down and just walk away?

The conflict which puts these relationships in jeopardy is the reality that I possess feelings, emotions, thoughts and opinions which run contrary to theirs and I’m not always willing to compromise them for the sake of ego or a sense of entitlement. Some of that is down to my innate stubbornness and some is also due to being a person who will say what I think and mean what I say, because I long ago had to adopt the position of what you see from me is what you get.

I get that not everyone likes that. I get that such an attitude is inevitably going to cause friction, disagreements or some issue which casts me as the villain. it would be incorrect to assume that I’m proud of it or that I mark it as some form of moral or ethical superiority. It’s simply the end result of my experiences with people, which at times makes me more open and sociable or very distant and misanthropic.

The question I have, though, is why is it these same people who become offended by my choice to speak my mind are allowed to do the same thing to either me or other people in return and not realize that they are being equally, if not more, destructive?

That’s the general sense I have of these two relationships now. It doesn’t matter what I say or do, what concessions I make or how I try to assert myself as a person who is worthy of the same level of respect and acceptance which they demand of me, such things only seem to place me more in the wrong because doing so opens me up to presumptions and assumptions based on what they think I am, as opposed to what I actually am.

It’s not a fun position to be in, I have to say, because something I’ve intensely conditioned myself to over the years is the theory that any relationship can be saved so long as two people are willing to meet in the middle and have an adult conversation.

Except the conversations aren’t happening because the avenues of communication have been cut off. Based on the evidence presented to me, they are no longer interested in what I have to say or why I feel the need to say them. They are not interested in resolving whatever conflicts which have presented themselves through a dialog.

The bridges have been set alight, and they are standing on the other side of the divide, seemingly content to watch them burn for reasons I truly don’t understand.

And I guess that’s what bothers me so much, because after spending so much of my life dominated by all these destructive emotions and experiences that have molded me into the person sitting at this laptop writing this, I genuinely have no interest in creating more conflicts or destroying more relationships which I hold as valuable.

Only I can’t rebuild these bridges alone. I know because I’ve tried and the idea that I may have to move on knowing I’m leaving a smoldering wreck behind me hurts like hell.

I hate giving up on people and I hate walking away. It’s not in my DNA to do so and every time I’m forced to, it’s always with the endless debating with myself about how it wasn’t entirely my fault (even when it wasn’t) and trying to figure out what I could’ve done or avoided to prevent it from being the only available option I have.

And as I sit here at the edge of the world, watching the ocean trying to pound the breakwater into submission, part of me would love nothing more than to let these waves envelope me so I don’t have to feel the pain that is going to inevitably come with the reality that I might not be able to repair the rift separating me from two people whom I love very much.

 

 

Real Friends

After getting a fitful night’s sleep in what was an otherwise luxurious hotel bed, I’ve been walking around the city for most of the day trying to better understand my own perceptions and understanding of the concept of what constitutes a real friend as opposed to a fake friend.

It’s been on my mind because I got quite an earful already this week about not being a real friend and I guess it’s as much an attempt to make sure I have the right definition in my head as it is a chance to see how subjective it can be.

Editorial Note: For the record, this is how I see this concept from as objective a viewpoint as I can surmise. Your results may vary and if you feel inclined to join in the chorus of those who will feel fit to lecture me on how off I am, line forms to the right.

In our current climate of hypercriticism, hypersensitivity and hyper-emotionalism about just about everything, as best I can tell, the modern definition of the word friend is something akin to this:

“A person who provides mutual affection, unwavering loyalty, and never, ever says or does anything to threaten the existing echo chamber, safe space or state of being, no matter how destructive or negative it may be to the individual or those constituting their sphere of community.”

Considering how the avenues of access to such people have evolved at lightning speed over the past decade thanks to social media and the insular bubble it can help develop in giving someone their sense of self-identity, I can see how easy it would be to want to surround ourselves with other like-minded people who never question our motives or behaviors for any reason, even if those behaviors are destructive or toxic to even the most casual observer.

Like it or not, this is also complete bullshit.

Maybe it’s because I’m older, or as my mother likes to remind me, I am a descendant of people who possess Yankee Blood, which somehow justifies being as empathetic as a cold piece of concrete when the occasion dictates, but any person who want to be surrounded by only those who will cater to their every demand, no matter how impractical, illogical or downright harmful is not looking for friends.

They are looking for acolytes – people who will follow blindly without questioning anything or disrupting the narrative which exists in their leader’s mind.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the world is too cruel and rancorous a place for life to work that way, which is why understanding what a real friend is becomes all the more important.

real friend is someone who does not follow blindly.

They do not attach themselves to a person out of necessity, but rather because they see something in another person which they may not always see themselves. They see the latent potential and through affection, trust, belief, empathy and hope, seek to cultivate it into something greater.

real friend is someone who does not exist to be the perpetual kiss-ass or to constantly declare that you’re always right and the rest of the world and all the people in it are always wrong.

They will be the ones to step back, assess a situation and call you out on it when they feel that you are either in the wrong or are proceeding down the wrong path, even if it means drawing anger, spite or even hatred in their own direction for doing so. Sometimes, the best thing a real friend can contribute to resolving a conflict is to ask the simple question, “What the hell are you doing?”

real friend understands that people are different and as such, they strive to be as open and accommodating as possible.

They also understand that openness and accommodations are a two-way dynamic that must be mutually maintained in order for the relationship to not devolve into toxicity.

real friend is someone who sees you are going through Hell and will stand by you, regardless of the risk to their own well-being, so you do not have to bear the full weight of going through that Hell alone.

They do so because they care and want to see you come out of it better, while also understanding that they cannot carry the weight for you entirely, but they will at least help shoulder the load for as long as they can, long after the acolytes can’t be bothered to show up.

And like it or not, but a real friend can be the one to recognize when a friendship has devolved from healthy to toxic and as much as they’d rather not, they understand there comes a point where the only option which is in the best interest of both sides is to walk away, not because they want to…but because the dynamic of the friendship has changed to the point where it is necessary.

I know I don’t have many friends in this world anymore. To be honest, I never had that many to begin with. But I value the ones I have now beyond measure because I believe with every fiber of my being that they are real.

If I need a shoulder to lean on, they are there, and if I need someone to slap me upside the head and tell me when I’m being an idiot, they’re there too.

I may not like it when they do that. Some days, it straight pisses me off to no end. But as I said, the world is a cruel and rancorous place and no amount of yelling and screaming to try and force it to become an easier place to exist in is going to change that.

In such an unforgiving landscape, it is never a bad thing to know who your real friends are.

Disconnection

I woke up this morning feeling a combination of extreme anxiety and anger, which I suppose could be rationalized and justified depending on your point of view.

I’ve spent the past hour or so sitting at the desk of the hotel room my work put me up in as the most ferocious blizzard I’ve ever seen is wailing away on the city just outside my window, trying to get a grip on just what it is I’m feeling and why.

Over the course of my life I’ve been told that I’m both a good man and a terrible man, I’ve been told that the things I do, both positive and negative is because I’m a fallible human being or that they are because I am anything but human. That I’m a monster. A freak. Something evil and wicked that has no interests other than causing the most amount of damage that I can.

My actions, no matter what how well-mannered my intentions were at the time I made them, have been dissected, analyzed and scrutinized by people who think they know me. Who think they have the arbitrary right to make flash judgments, presumptions, assumptions and conclusions based on their biased perceptions of who they think I am.

I’ve been branded everything from a sociopath to a psychopath and even worse things that I don’t have the heart to put into words by those who either cannot or will not look outside their own selfish malice and need to project their own pain and self-loathing onto others.

Am I perfect? Not even close. Am I flawed? In more ways than I ever like to admit. Do I make mistakes and say things which could lead to someone being offended, no matter what how well-mannered my intentions? Yes I do. Do I take any measure of happiness or joy or positive reinforcement out of it? Never.

Does that make me a terrible person? I guess you’ll have to be the judge of that.

But when I find myself in this sort of emotional headspace, like I have over the past few days, it often leads me back to the only conclusion that I can accept based on the evidence that I’ve been given.

People suck and I’ve had enough of people for one lifetime

I am tired of trying to hold onto connections to people I care about, even though they don’t feel remotely the same way.

I am tired of being accused of things which never even crossed my mind by those who are looking for someone to blame for their own inadequacies and short-comings.

I am tired of doing what I can to better myself, to actually put in the time and effort to evolve into the kind of person I wish to be, only to looked at as someone who will never change through the eyes of those who lack both the courage and motivation to truly change themselves.

I am tired of being hurt by those who presume to lecture me on the damage that my words and feelings can have on someone, and yet they are free to rip my heart out with their own because it’s somehow acceptable in their own warped belief systems.

I’m tired of being told that I am not allowed to process the pain which comes from going through that process, or that I’m not allowed to respond in kind with my own anger or even in defense of myself because doing so would bring in the reality of unpleasant facts that will make the other person feel uncomfortable or maybe realize that they’re actually wrong.

I’m tired of being afraid to honestly express myself because the current emotional climate has become so hyper-critical and so hyper-reactive that unless we spend all day, every day, walking on eggshells and reinforcing each others echo chambers, then those who don’t are immediately considered to be the enemy.

Mainly, I’m just tired of people because of what they are. Mean, spiteful, narrow-minded creatures who are interested in nothing else but tearing each other down after propping one another up with false platitudes and sycophantic delusions of affection and acceptance.

So I’m done. Count me out. I am officially no longer interested in being part of the human race anymore.

I beg your pardon…but for right now, you can all go to hell. And if you really want to understand why I’m feeling this way, I strongly suggest you take a long, hard look in a mirror and don’t stop until the answers finally come to you.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Harmful Empathy

I may have lost a friend last night and I guess I have only myself to blame for that.

Given the way my life has gone, it’s in my nature to want to reach out to people during moments of crisis, even going back to when I was in kindergarten. Having an empathetic mind is something I’ve been both blessed and cursed with, depending on the situation.

I got another example of how it’s a curse last night.

The short version is my friend was in a position of deep emotional crisis, which compelled me to engage in the hope of bringing some level of comfort and stability back into the equation. What resulted was the exact opposite of what I’d hoped for in not only did my intervention not resolve the problem. It made it exponentially worse, which was the absolute last thing I wanted.

Which leads to the question of how? How did I allow things to deteriorate even further than they already were?

I guess that’s why I’m writing this, to try and figure it out.

When I’m presented with a situation where I have someone I care about in a bad state, either physically or emotionally, there are two options I can consider:

1.) Do nothing.

2.) Do something.

99.9% of the time, doing nothing doesn’t work for me because my conscience won’t allow me to sit back and do nothing. If I see someone who is having trouble, I am compelled to do something about it and damn the consequences.

So because I chose to do something and engage, that presents me with two more options:

1.) Listen and say nothing.

2.) Listen and try offering support.

In this situation, I chose option #2, in part because I needed to understand better what the nature of the conflict was and what can be done to resolve it. Upon reflection, I should’ve gone with option #1 and not said a damn thing.

Now the question becomes, “Okay, Dev, why did you feel the need to interject your own insight into the matter?” To which, the answer is because I’m 3,000 miles away from my friend and we were conversing through the vastly impersonal and emotionless medium of text messages, where words can often get misinterpreted and misconstrued, regardless of how succinctly they are put.

It’s also because given the nature of what was generating my friend’s state of mind, I saw so many parallels to my own experiences that it was easy to identify them.

The danger in that, however, is failing to understand that just because I had been through the same situations, doesn’t mean that my friend is able to respond in the same way. We are two different people, after all. What works for me is in no way guaranteed to work for someone else and it’s very easy to lose sight of that in the heat of the moment.

Had I been closer and in proximity where I could’ve engaged in person, then I know I would’ve been able to just sit there and say nothing. Being on the other side of the continent and unable to have a spoken conversation raises the degree of difficulty considerably, though.

But my attempts to better understand only generated more hostility and my words, no matter how well-intentioned they were, were met only with the presumption that I didn’t care and was paying attention at all to what my friend was feeling, or more importantly, why they were feeling that way.

By the time the conversation was over, it had been made abundantly clear that my wanting to help had resulted in doing a great deal more harm than good, which both angers and hurts me a lot.

I don’t like seeing people I care about in a state of emotional or physical pain. As an empathetic person, it’s hard to see these situations and not reflexively put myself in the same position out of a desire to take some of it away or reach a level of understanding where the other person doesn’t feel so isolated and alone.

Sometimes, letting myself go there brings with it the right words or actions that can help me throw a lifeline which can bring them out of it and back to a level of stability and calm.

Other times, like last night, my actions take what’s already a volatile situation and make it all the more volatile, simply because I believe I’m doing the right thing.

I woke up this morning angry with myself that I had done the wrong thing which may result in the end of a friendship which I value. I find myself going back over our conversation to see what I wasn’t paying attention to, what I ignored, and what I should’ve said or not said, what questions should I not have asked, and why I thought I was helping when all I ended up doing was exacerbating the degree of pain my friend was already in.

I find myself asking why I feel like I should’ve done anything at all and why I refused to do the smarter thing in doing nothing at all.

It’s a question I’m going to be asking going forward, should I ever get into a position like this again and that bothers me, because we live in a world where too many people think it’s better to do nothing to help someone who’s in a form of physical or emotional trauma than even trying to do something.

We tell ourselves, “it’s not my problem,” and that they just need to, “suck it up and deal.”

The risk you run by doing something, however, is for all your good intentions, it only ends up making an already bad situation worse. When that happens, it causes me to question both my instincts, which is unsettling and disheartening.

I’ve never approached someone in turmoil thinking that I’m going to do more damage by doing so. I’d like to think no one ever does, but that is the other side of the fine line that we walk when it comes to empathy. Sometimes it’s the fuel that makes an already dangerous fire worse.

I wish I could back time up about twelve hours so I had a chance to go back and do it right. My friend deserved better than what I gave them.

Lamenting Loss

When I was at NerdCon a few weekends back, one of the few panel forums which I attended was one which dealt with the concepts of grief and loss. Specifically, how the emotional process of grieving loss, be it due to death or life, is not something to be shunned, but rather it is to be both recognized as an essential part of the human condition and those who are going through it should not be looked down upon for doing so.

I guess that’s as good a place as any to start, all things considered.

It’s 22 years now that my friend, Erik Weswig has been gone. Were he alive today (and I dearly wish he was) he and the other two friends who made up our quartet would just be on one side or the other of forty and likely both celebrating and lamenting the fact that we have, to one extent or another and despite the adamant resistance we clung to in our youth, rapidly turning into our parents.

Twenty-two years is more than half my lifetime ago. I crossed that threshold a few years back and conventional American wisdom dictates that I should’ve both gotten over it and moved on from his passing before I hit the age of 18.

During the NerdCon panel, the pair of women who hosted it, one an elementary school theater teacher, the other a seminary student and hospital chaplain, talked about how we as a culture and society truly sucks at allowing ourselves to process the emotions of grief and loss.

And we do. They are absolutely right in their assessment because we don’t want to acknowledge the reality that losing someone we love to death or even the reality that a relationship or friendship becomes untenable to the point of no longer being sustainable is one of the most excruciatingly painful things we will experience in this life.

When I woke up this morning and realized the date, my mind reflexively spat out the memory of where I was on March 6, 1995, standing in the hall in front of the theater at Sunset High School in Portland as I always did, waiting for my friends to arrive so we can do our daily dose of socialization before trodding off to the last place in the world we wanted to go – class.

Only my friends didn’t show up.

I was one of the last people to have seen Erik alive only two days prior. We had gone to the monthly meeting of the animation club we both belonged to that Saturday and as he dropped me off at my apartment, I said, as I always did, “I’ll see you Monday.” And as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed home, I had every reason to assume I would indeed see him on Monday.

I never saw him again. He died the following night.

I knew something was really wrong when his girlfriend came into the school and was visibly upset, and she was looking for me. In the five or ten seconds it took for her to get from the door to me, I expected to be told a lot of things.

Getting the news that one of my best friends, someone I hold in the regard of being a brother to me was dead…that wasn’t one of them.

As much as I wish I didn’t, I remember everything else that I went through that day, and the next, and the next. I also remember the both the sympathy by those who acknowledged I and the rest of his friends and family had suffered a deeply profound and life-changing loss, and the blatant disregard of others who put me on some sort of virtual clock that was ticking away to the point where once the bell went off, I was to have picked myself back up, stopped my crying and officially gotten over it.

Well, I got news for you.

I never have, nor will I ever, get over it.

Why?

Because I loved Erik. He was my friend. His existence mattered as much to me then as it does to me now and you do not EVER get over when someone you hold in that regard is suddenly gone.

His passing is one of many things I have not gotten over, in fact.

I haven’t gotten over parts of my childhood, my divorce, getting my heart broken, losing meaningful relationships with friends and those I care about, and a laundry list of other things which either bring me to the point of rage or tears whenever those memories manage to flow from my brain to my heart.

Why? Because they constitute an inescapable part of my existence and as such, they hurt.

It’s not like I wake up every day wanting to feel them either. For most of each 365-day cycle, I can compartmentalize them well enough that I know where they are, but I just stamp a mental hazmat symbol on the top of the box and leave them well enough alone.

Then there are the days like today where I have to deal with them, whether I like it or not, because they require my attention and because pain demands to be felt.

I miss Erik. I miss him every day. I wonder a lot about just how different my life would be if he was still here, which I suppose is a selfish thing to ponder, but I make no apologies for it either.

The reason why we don’t like dealing with grief and loss is that it makes those on the outside who have to watch you go through it uncomfortable, and you see that in every pretentious platitude and cliched saying we tell each other in our limp-wristed attempts to empathize on a level that so few of us are ever willing to go to due to our own insecurities with the grieving process.

And it is a gross disservice to those who are going through, those people whose worlds have been torn asunder and they have to patch it back together knowing full well that there is a hole which will always be there, whether the person who once occupied that space on their respective tapestries are still part of this world or not.

I have to deal with that reality too and it’s never easy. Erik is gone. I know I will never see him again in this life and that is a tragedy. There are others who are very much alive and I will probably never see again for far different reasons. I grieve their absence from my life too.

Why? Because I love them too. Their existence matters to me and I do not have the capacity of erasing them from either my conscious or subconscious mind. Not without a heavy dose of anesthetics, a cranial saw and a grapefruit spoon.

You may not like the fact that I carry my grief with me or that I occasionally let it out to have its fun at my expense every so often. The unpleasant reality, though, is I do it because it is both necessary and because I am a human being who allows myself to feel those things which we love to bury with either pills, alcohol, syringes, sex or flat-out denial.

My grief is my coping mechanism for the inescapable fact that my friend has been gone for 22 years. It’s how I cope with the other people I’ve managed to lose due the mistakes which I have to own up to as well.

If my choices are accepting and embracing the pain of that grieving process for however long I need to or putting my head in the sand and trying to convince myself it’s not there…?

I’ll gladly choose the latter over the former any day.

Trying To Find A Tribe

At the end of 2014, having relocated from Portland to the middle of nowhere in the Washington high desert, I made the decision that if I was ever going to do something considered taboo or against the grain of what the general perception of me is, I might as well do it then before I start self-rationalizing why I can’t or shouldn’t.

So I did. I got a tattoo. Specifically, this one.

The appeal I had in this image to justify it being permanently attached to the skin of my shoulder was two-fold.

1.) I have always had an active fascination with both Japanese history and the Bushido culture of Samurai.

2.) The definition of the term ronin, according to Webster’s states, “a vagrant samurai without a master or clan.”

Now, to be utterly transparent, the concept of the samurai is something which the tiny romantic part of my being which still exists could snack on for the rest of time. To me, how could a person not be enthralled with the idea of having an existence which is centered around the three pillars of self-discipline, serving others honorably and spending every day actively working to become the best version of you that you can be?

Once it clicked in my brain as a very angry and emotionally fractured middle-schooler that this is how an entire subculture of an entire nation which I’ve never seen or experienced firsthand managed to exist for the better part of 1200 years, I gladly let its influence sink its teeth into me like a Great White Shark going after a helpless, wandering seal.

The flipside of it has been the long-standing feeling I’ve had through most of my adult life that even though I have friends and people whom I care about deeply, I’ve long felt like a man without a tribe.

When I was a kid, I found myself trying every day to track down what I thought would be my tribe, which was difficult being a scrawny, intelligent nerd who had more trivial knowledge in my head than your average quiz show and passions which ranged from the far-flung majestic reaches of the astronomical universe to the slapstick cartoon chaos of watching Bugs Bunny out-duel Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd.

I am, beyond a doubt, the very model of the modern, major dork, geek, nerd…whatever label you want to slap on my forehead.

Back then, such terms were used entirely as a pejorative by the judgmental cabal of pretentious, elitist egotists who made up the greater student body of the school I was forced by federal law to attend and I hated them with the hatred that germinates entirely from the bipolar tree of aspiring to be accepted by those people and showing them that their insistence on defining me as something beneath them wasn’t going to get through my emotional armor.

In lieu of that, I managed to find a tribe that worked for me at the time. We were the rejects, the outcasts, the socially-awkward, never-gonna-be-popular-unless-we-manage-do-something-either-extremely-improbable-or-nefarious. We were also the smart, the passionate, the empathic, the creative and those of us who had so much to offer, if only we weren’t forced into the box of trivialization, marginalization and ostracization because we didn’t wear the right clothes, drove the right car (or any car for that matter) or lived in the right part of town surrounded by McMansions and manicured lawns.

Like most people, I guess I figured once I reached adulthood, having undergone the typical college experience, I’d have transitioned from that tribe to a new one that was more suitable for the person I’d hoped to evolve into. Instead, I married into a relationship which required me to not have any real connection to anything close to a tribe, due to the insecurity and fear of my partner who believed, regardless of whatever I did to reassure them that I wasn’t going anywhere, being around other people even in the most platonic airspace meant I was looking for the first way out I could find.

In spite of this, I managed to hang onto the tiny tribe of friends and loved ones who I wasn’t going to disconnect from, no matter what machinations were considered by my continued association with them. But once the relationship ended six years ago, I woke up and realized that with those friends and loved ones moving onto the stage of their lives where they have kids and mortgages and far different priorities that I had as a single divorced parent with a career and general existence which got nowhere near where I’d envisioned it to be by the time I reached this age, I found myself again feeling very much like a man without a tribe.

Editorial Note: I want to be clear on this that I am not speaking of my friends and loved ones who’ve managed to get to that checkpoint in any sort of negative manner. To the contrary, I couldn’t be legitimately happier that they’ve attained said level because A.) I love them very much and their continued happiness is important to me and B.) I wouldn’t wish the struggles and hurdles I’ve had to overcome to get within anything close to where they’re at on them or anyone else, even on my worst day.

If there was a perk to suddenly being detached from the life you had was the thing I’d tell myself as a coping mechanism for having gone through the tremendously unpleasant and soul-crushing experience of finding yourself without a family and the essential relationships that provided the core of your self-identity, You don’t belong to anyone anymore. No one owns you anymore. You answer only to yourself and you have a finite amount of time to rebuild your life into something which is as close to happiness as a person like you is ever going to attain. Now go find it.

Part of why I packed up whatever earthly belongings I chose to hang onto into a rickety trailer and drove 3,006 miles back to my home in New England was because I am still looking to expand my tribe because being a ronin is not as romantic a lifestyle as we like to think it is because human beings are social creatures. We gravitate to others for both psychological and physiological reasons.

About two weeks ago, I had a chance to go to a gathering of of people who have gone from being the bottom of the social ladder in the 20th century to close to the top of it in the early 21st at NerdCon:Nerdfighteria, which held its inaugural event just down the street from where I’ve been staying here in Boston.

I didn’t have much of a plan for what I was going to do when I got there. I wasn’t going to really meet people or be all that social. For the days leading up to it, I was actually trying to convince myself that I could unlock the achievement of going to my first-ever con as a civilian, as opposed to a working journalist, and speak to no one. Not a single person. I would spend $60 to be a perpetual wallflower and just see if this community, which touts itself as being open and accepting of everyone regardless of background, gender, race, creed, color, sexual preference, political stance or particular fandom.

For the first day, I didn’t speak to anyone and I didn’t stick around for any of the late-night social gatherings because I had the luxury of escaping to the oasis of work. The rest of the night was spent arguing with myself about whether or not I’d go back for Day Two or not, because even though I’d observed these people for hours, I was giving myself every logical reason for why I don’t belong to this tribe.

I’m too old, too messed up, too passe in my passions, too out of touch with what a ‘nerd’ is in the new modern context where we’re the pinnacle of the social and intellectual food chain, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

Around noon, I was sitting in the auditorium surrounded by thousands of people who’d come from all over the world (I shit thee not) to affirm their part in this particular tribe, listening to one of the two men who formed it, John Green, and a handful of other internet idols speak about the struggles they’ve had with mental illness, social awkwardness and other issues which are not exclusive to self-identified rejects like me, when John dropped this emotional hydrogen bomb on his audience.

“It’s true and it’s really important to internalize that. I know most of us can’t do it most of the time, but it’s actually and deeply true that you are worthy of being loved and you are worthy of love.”

No sooner did he punctuate that sentence with the period, the atmosphere around me was filled with the collective choking up of all of us who had spent most of their lives having to reject that concept because it had been reinforced in us by so many people, parents, classmates, teachers, bosses, neighbors, lovers and those whom we wanted to bestow our affections upon that we absolutely are not worthy of anything, including love.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told over and over and over again that I qualify as one of those people or how many times I’ve had people try to convince me that I actually am worthy of it, with me having to rely solely on my fractured psyche and biased instincts to decide who is right and who’s wrong.

I guess the point of rambling about this over the past 1500+ words is me processing this in the hope of figuring out whether or not I can actually accept the possibility of transitioning from the ronin-life I’ve been accustomed to for most of the past decade into one where I have a sense of belonging to an actual tribe again.

The elephant in the room which I have to deal with along with it is the active resistance which my depression-addicted brain is going to put up to defend its position that I will never be worthy of anything in the same galaxy as being loved or the rare and beautiful privilege of loving someone else.

I know it’s there. It’s always going to be there because that’s what you have to accept when you recognize there’s a pervasive part of your personality which is never going to accept you as anything other than what you believe you aren’t.

In that regard, I’d like to think I’m still as much a part of this tribe as I was as a hyperactive and emotionally-starved adolescent. Suppose I should find my particular patch of earth and set up a tent.