A 2am Conversation with Jim Morrison

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Me, at Jim Morrison’s grave, Pére-Lachaise Cemetery, 1997

I am awake. Suddenly, two hours into a night’s sleep. I was sleeping soundly, and then I am just awake. And can’t go back to sleep. Perhaps it’s that subtle yet persistent ache in my right shoulder that comes and goes at random – the mark of being 40. Maybe it’s too much coffee or too little dinner.

My brain starts its usual buzz. It used to frustrate me the way it would tune up with all manner of thoughts at inopportune times like this. Now, I just let it do its thing and find myself amused and occasionally enlightened by its antics.

My brain is full of movie quotes and song lyrics, prompted by remembered bits of conversation or thoughts of my own. One train of thought leads me to think, “people are so strange…” which, in turn, leads into the old Doors song, which will now pop up in my head at random for the next 48 hours, peppered in with thoughts of grocery lists and Donald Trump. “You know, Jim, people are strange even when you’re not a stranger.”

I start to make up stories in my head – one about two people stranded on a deserted island. I imagine the perilous relationship they’ll have, how they’ll survive, what will happen between them. They’ll have a child, maybe two, but they don’t really like each other. In fact, there is hate. He is cruel. In the end, she kills him, but I can’t figure out how. Then, I realize this is a cobbled together idea based on Swiss Family Robinson, Big Little Lies, and Dolores Claiborne – not at all original. I sigh and scrap it.

A thought comes through, unbidden (as if any of these musings are bidden.) What are you distracting yourself from? I attempt to clear my head. I breathe in and out slowly, feeling my chest and abdomen expand, counting the breaths. There is an anxiety I feel in my heart and when I notice it, my heartbeat begin to quicken and intensify. I am worried. Life is so complex. There is money that needs to be made, health to be attended to, passions to respect, other people to consider. How does this all work together?

People are strange. I am strange. (Funny, I just accidentally typed “strange” as “strong.”) Why is this all so complicated? Maybe you are missing the big picture. What do you mean? With all your frustrations with how media and choices and other people make your life complicated, have you ever stopped to consider how YOU make your life complicated? Oh.

I read articles, I listen to other people, I take everything so seriously. What if I just decided not to? What if I just spent all day on the internet if I felt like it and lost the guilt that I’m ruining my eyes and my attention span? What if I spent all day walking the dog and not working or spent all day working and ignoring my children? What if I spent all day playing with my children and ignoring work and my phone? If I REALLY tapped into my intuition, not what everything else is telling me, would I actually end up doing any of those things all day?

So, I am sitting on the couch at 2am on a Wednesday morning. I am not frustrated, because I am supposed to get eight hours of sleep to be my most productive. I am grateful for this quiet time, when everyone else is asleep, to write and think. I am happy that I have time to nap later. I am chucking my silly schedules out the window, at least for now, until I feel I need them again, and I am going with my gut. Even though it scares me, makes that anxiety start my heart fluttering again. Not everything that scares you is worth doing, but this feels right. I’m going to post this most random and intimate of posts from the randomness that is my brain and not worry (too much) if people will like it. Yes, my heart is hammering at the thought.

Thanks, Jim. You’ve been a big help.

Who’s Your Squad?

Your “squad,” according to Jason, is any person or thing with which you feel a particular kinship. You can always count on your squad to comfort and put a smile on your face. Jason refers to his favorite chair as “my squad,” but he also addresses me as such: “April, you’re my squad.”

When I was in high school, I had a squad — a close-knit set of friends we not-so-creatively referred to as “The Group.” We walked into each other’s houses without knocking. We hung out every day and called each other up to ask, not, “Do you want to do something?” but “What are we doing today?” Theirs were the phone numbers I had memorized, back when that was necessary. I once spent three days straight with one of my squad. Kelly and I went back and forth spending the nights at each others’ houses, and during the day, we mostly drove around. Because with your squad, you don’t have to be doing anything special to be having a blast.

Your squad is always there when you need them. When one of our squad broke up with another of our squad, Kelly and I felt badly for the breakup-ee. So, without a second thought, we whipped up a batch of Rice Krispy treats, and drove over to comfort him. We ate half of them on the way over in the car and were not at all abashed to admit it when we got there. It didn’t occur to him to be offended, and he was grateful for the company and sympathy. THAT is the level of comfort you have with your squad.

In college, I had another encounter with squad-dom. That’s when Trey, Javier and I hung out. All we needed was a handle of cheap whiskey and balcony on which to smoke, talk and argue about politics, philosophy and modern social constructs. The next morning, I’d roll off Trey’s couch, smelling of the patchouli incense he liked to burn, and stumble my way to class.

The three of us spent formative time together, back in our 20’s, when life was one, big drunken (let’s drive to Mardi Gras at 2am) adventure. There is a particular incident in Boquillas, Mexico, just across the border from Big Bend – the kind of situation that only occurs with a squad like Trey and Javier. I’ll spare you the whole story, but here are a few highlights: moonshine sotol, falling into a cactus, stealing a boat to get back across the border and cutting some mules loose. No, that’s not a euphemism; one of us actually cut ropes tethering mules to a post.

Last night, I binge watched old episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I’m also fond of watching Friends reruns and, late at night after a few glasses of wine, I’m apt to pull up Stand By Me. These are all shows about squads – young people that have the kinds of relationships in which they skip the small talk. That’s why they’re my go-to shows when I feel a little down or nostalgic; they conjure a little of that warm, relaxed feeling of having a cohesive group of close friends.

As I reminisced over my coffee in the wee, dark hours this morning, I missed having a squad. I feel comfortable around many of my individual friends, but there’s something about a group dynamic – ease on a slightly larger scale – that is unique. I was wondering if it’s even possible to have a squad when we’re in our 40’s, with family and career taking up most of our lives. Then, 9-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Gage wandered down the stairs, sleep still in their eyes, messy rat’s nest of hair on the backs of their heads. Without a word, they joined me on the couch and snuggled in. I may get annoyed with my kiddos sometimes, but, being completely honest, I got exasperated with my squad people of old, as well. That’s part of the comfort level — the freedom to be irritated and express it, knowing the squad will still be there for you. I smiled and thought to myself, “Stupid woman. THIS is your squad, right here in your lap.” That’s the other thing about a squad; they fit with you so well, sometimes you forget they’re there.

When They Were Young

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Baby Days, Crazy Days

When my children were babies and toddlers, people would often tell me, “Cherish these years. They go by too fast.” But, there were many times when I thought they couldn’t go by fast enough. From the day they were each born, I loved my kids unconditionally and with an intensity that overwhelmed me, as if my heart would explode with the hugeness of that love. But, I also struggled.

Not getting enough sleep was hard. Failing at breast feeding was devastating. Not having time to myself and being constantly “on” for my children, the first of whom never did nap regularly, was something I wrestled with constantly. I was, at times, bored with staring at an infant who’d yet to even make eye contact with me, bored with playing  trains for the eleventh hour, bored and defeated by the unimaginable loads of laundry small children produce. Ironically, in addition to needing more alone time, I also craved adult company, as evidenced by my constant chattering at Jason when he got home from work.

There were good times, though. There was the time I watched Jack run and laugh carefree through the wildflowers in the park and wished he’d stay that uninhibited forever. There was the first time he planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. There was toddler Gage, dressed in only a diaper, dancing to techno music in his bouncy way and the thrill of watching each of them take their first, unassisted steps. I’m smiling now, with the memory of these milestone events, but I am relieved children don’t stay toddlers forever.

Now Jack is nine and Gage is six. Time has started to speed up, as they both spend a good portion of their days away at school and then, afterwards, often at their friends’ houses. I promised myself when they were young, I would not tell people with babies to cherish the moment; enough people tell them that. My message to them is this: it is hard when they are little, but it gets easier.

As my kids have gotten more self-sufficient, and it’s no longer necessary for me to follow them around, making sure they don’t maim themselves on sharp corners or walk into traffic, it’s been easier to lose myself in my writing. They go off and play, and I have the time and energy to plot advances for my freelance business. This is good for me, but I have to be mindful not to swing too far the other way – get so caught up in work that I miss the kids’ ever-dwindling childhood. Jack only has two years left before we hit the dreaded middle school years, and I want to invest my time and energy into fostering a close relationship with both of them, so they’ll come to me when they need help. This is why, despite my overachieving, perfectionist brain, I have decided to be okay with taking freelance work as it comes, and not intentionally growing the business like I could. There will be time to grow business later, but I don’t get a second chance at being present for my kids in their formative years. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I regret not building a business? Maybe a little, but knowing the tradeoff was being there for Jack and Gage, my first, foremost and most important responsibility, I have no doubts my priorities are in the right place. And that makes every decision, business or otherwise, so much simpler.