Publisher’s Letter: November 2021

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Dearest EXPLORE reader,

These long dark nights.

Oh, some of these nights feel endless with the darkness and the stillness and the hours that seem to crawl by magically slow.

I’m writing this at 2:34am on a Wednesday. Or I guess it’s Thursday morning. No matter. All I know is that it’s late and dark and still and quiet.

Like many of you, I suffer with bouts of insomnia at times. Those ridiculous nights where you awake at 2:34am, your eyes open and your brain instantly engages, and your restful sleep has concluded. I do not enjoy these nights.

So I thought I might talk to you, my fellow brethren of the night. The sleepless souls with large worries and tired bodies. Who pace your living room in the darkness pondering life’s problems to your own detriment because you will be less than perfect tomorrow. Or this morning I suppose. Whatever.

I’m not sure what has provoked me into being lucid at this ungodly hour, though I am sure that my struggles and worries are probably no different than the same ones that keep many of you awake. It’s all just LIFE, right? Bills and relationships and work and stress and stupid people around me and things that I have no control over…which equals zero sleep. It’s ALWAYS about things I have limited control, yet my mind pursues the control that it wants. Round and round I go.

Maybe tonight I’m just frustrated. That’s a good word for my lack of control. I’m frustrated. “Frustrated” equals long sighs as you consider things, running my hands through my hair with a grimace on my face, and just randomly slapping both my thighs and grunting “UGH!” I’m frustrated. I’m sure you can relate.

From where does my frustration emanate? I’m not sure – probably the same places that yours do. I’m mad at my job, first of all. I’m mad that I’m up at 2:34 am writing something for my “job”. How dare it invade these ungodly hours? How dare it stress me so much and scare me with its unpredictability and how dare clients ask so much of me sometimes that I just feel run over by a compactor.

I’m mad at my kids. I raised them the best I know how and sometimes they do stupid things and they hurt me. They do flat out stupid shit. Things that I just stare dumbfounded at them and mouth “Um, WHAT THE HELL?” at their behavior. And, being teens, they look at me like I have a 3rd eyeball and flip me the bird with their stupid eye rolls and reactions and I simultaneously want to wring their necks and hug them back into awareness. Grab them by the shoulders and somehow shout “Don’t you see that I love you and am trying to help you?!?!” and in some bizarro world, they actually listen to me. I’m mad at them. Then I’m mad at myself for giving them the power to even upset me as much as they do. Stupid teenagers. I love them so much it pains me, which makes it all the more aggravating.
I’m mad at my past. That which I cannot change. I’m angry at it, which means I’m mainly mad at myself for making stupid choices. For choosing stupid people. For making excuses for things. For not addressing things that I should have addressed decades ago. For rationalizing red flags. For just being an overall dumbass and then pouting about it years later knowing full well it’s my own damn fault. I want a time machine, but I don’t have one, so 2:34 am on a Wednesday (I mean Thursday) is the best I have to relive some of it and shake my fist at my own thick headedness. Decisions made that, unbeknownst to me, would alter the trajectory of my life…and I treated those decisions like “What kind of ice cream would you like?” and I want to kick myself. So I pace my living room instead.

I’m mad at my present situation. I feel old…or something. I’m 45 and some days I feel 105. I think I’ve depressed myself as I convince myself that life has all but passed me by and it’s too late for me now. Those of you 70+ years of age will scoff at me, but I’d say that my thoughts are pretty valid and some of you might have experienced as well. When the hell did I wake up…and find myself at 45? I was 25 like 10 minutes ago! All those dreams…all those goals…all those ideas that I had for how my life would unfold…they were not to be. I have achieved other things and have enjoyed times and experienced moments that I never would have expected (and they might have been wonderful), but where I sit tonight at 2:34 am is not what I had planned. And that’s not to say it’s “all bad” or disappointing…it just means that after considering my regrets of the past, the reality of my present situation can be both depressing and exhilarating. I suppose I’m alive, which I can’t say for my younger brother…so I can start my prayers of thanksgiving with the fact that I’m still upright and breathing, right? But dammit…I’m supposed to be living in my amazing Cordillera Ranch home with my wonderfully perfect family and my amazing job with a giant salary and I’m supposed to be a deacon at church and volunteering at the food bank. Right? RIGHT?

Sigh.

But I’m not doing any of those things and I’m not where I ever thought I’d be. And I chuckle and snort all the time to friends about the way that life unfolds for us all, but I’m not laughing at 2:34 am on a Wednesday (Thursday). I’m equal parts sad…and angry…and regretful…and anxious…and…………………LOST.

Why am I still single? This is bugging me, too. I mean, what the hell? I think I’m lonely. And that pisses me off, too. Because of all the things I should be feeling with my minor mid-life crisis at 2:34 am, “loneliness” I wouldn’t think would be an emotion that would be happening. Yet here I am. I’m one of those people that you all might know that walks into Salvador Dobbs and 17 different people walk by and say “Oh – HEY BEN!” and we shake hands and exchange stupid small talk and then when you leave I think “Man, what was that guy’s name?” I’ve lived here in town virtually my entire life so I know oodles of people in town, but I’m one of those people that “knows” a lot of people…but very few know ME. I could count on one hand how many people check in on me daily, and I love ‘em. But at 2:34 am I should be rolling over to hold my special person, and to just feel secure in feeling the love from another person, but I don’t have that. And haven’t had that in a good while. Instead, it’s an empty house, pacing feet in the living room at 2:34 am, and this big feeling of loneliness that is painful. I’m loved, and I love those people that love me, but I’m also “alone”…and it’s not pleasant. It’s harsh and bright and stark and it cuts to your most vulnerable parts…and you bleed. You bleed tears. And they sting. Because I can’t imagine many emotions more animal, more basic, more NECESSARY than not feeling lonely. May you never experience it. And if you confess that emotion to thousands of magazine readers, may they simply have empathy with your emotions and not belittle them. It’s a real emotion – even for those of you that don’t think they might experience it.

Friends, what the hell are we ALL doing in this life? I mean, do any of you have any freaking clue what you’re actually doing out there in your Range Rover sitting in traffic at Herff and River Road? I would hazard that, honestly, you’re just as lost as I am. You’re sitting there listening to mindless radio noise, staring out the window, questioning your past, frustrated with your kids, disappointed with your job, stressing about your circumstances, and wanting to slap your thighs at 2:34 am. I bet you just mentally nodded your head. I know I’m not the only one. I know enough to know that the human condition is universal and strong and dark and lonesome…and we all live it. Which means you understand every damn word I’m saying tonight. I mean, this morning.
Round and round my mind goes.

And where in the hell am I going with all this?

I have no idea.

For almost 15 years I have been bleeding out these Publisher’s Letters and they are my own form of therapy. I don’t do them for you, I assure you – they are for me. Somehow I have taken a love for writing and turned it into a 15 year career, and that career began with a particular knack to sit down and bleed out my confessions on paper, share them with others, and have them say “ME TOO!” That’s all anybody ever tells me about the things I write – “Holy shit Ben – I loved your recent article! I nodded my head the whole time and I totally understand how you feel!” I laugh, thank them, and forget their name after they’ve told me. But what I remember and thrive on is the reassurance that it’s NOT.

JUST. ME.

I’m not the only one that bleeds. Or hurts. Or worries. Or cries. Or is insecure. Or gets anxious as hell and has a complete freak out about life and makes a fool of themselves. Or yells at their kids when they are stressed about work and then prays for forgiveness. Or lies in an empty bed with nothing but loneliness as a companion. Or stares into the beer while watching a movie and ponders briefly whether they even matter or not. To anyone. All these big and deep journeys that I take with my mind and my emotions and I bleed them out in this small town magazine for anyone to read. Every once in a while someone tells me that they relate to my words, and friends, that’s really all I ever need to hear. “ME TOO, BEN” and the weight is lifted briefly. The weight of not knowing if there’s something wrong with me, or if others out there feel as messed up as I do sometimes.

Like right now. At 2:34 am on Wednesday (I mean Thursday).

Our modern world, with all of its amazing connectivity, has isolated each of us so cruelly. We follow one another on Facebook, but we don’t talk anymore. We don’t check in on each other. We don’t call. We just text. And text. And text some more. But we are still people, and we are all still looking for each other and are seeking connection and touch and a shared experience, but oftentimes, we’re afraid to admit it. And I think that’s depressing as hell. I quit going to formal church because I saw that sinners (ALL) seem to have stopped admitting that they were sinners and instead, I witnessed a show…a production of this celebration of “perfect” (NONE) people and it depressed me greatly. I hate so much that people act like they are OK when they’re not. It’s so selfish and prideful. And arrogant.

And a lie.

When I die, I hope one person, anybody, just one person says “He was honest about who he was.” That’s it. If somebody will say that, then my legacy will be secured. Because I’ll be the exception to the rule. I will have spent untold years telling anyone that will listen that “Hey, I’m having a hard time” and I won’t try to hide it. Because every time I’ve ever said that, somebody at the table shyly says “Man, me too”. And those are my people. My tribe.

I’ve gone on too long, and lo and behold, I’m feeling sleepy thank goodness.
What’s our lesson today? What’s the point, preacher? I guess that our lesson is that I’m pacing around my house at 2:34 am on a Wednesday night (ugh, Thursday morning) and my heart is hurting. I’m tired. I’m sad. Frustrated. Scared.
And lonely.

And one of you out there…one of you reading this on your phone in the bathroom or in a magazine on Main Street…you’re nodding your head right now. “I’ll be damned – I know JUST how this guy feels” is what you might be thinking, and I’m just sending a positive vibe your direction. But here’s the deal: don’t be afraid to share the fact that you feel these emotions also, ok?? That’s your deal with me. If I can bleed this stuff out and confess my sins, you have to do it too, ok?

Hang in there, friends and neighbors. Nobody is getting out of this life alive, and a shared struggle is far easier than one you try to hide. Trust me, I’ve tried unsuccessfully.
Just bleed.

I’m going to bed.

Welcome to November. May you roll over to your loving partner, may your home be filled with laughter, may you EXPLORE this life and enjoy it the best you can. And if you’re struggling, me too. I’ll bleed with you.

Smiling,

Ben Schooley