Friday, August 12, 2016

The bitter drug of regret

The bitter drug of regret

Through my life, I have been a slave to regrets.  The shadows of might-have-beens have stretched over my life, etched into my soul.  Many pivotal points have been revisited in my mind so often that the memories have become as polished as ocean-tossed pebbles.

I do not remember when I began this self-destructive path.  I remember one instance when I was in eighth grade.  I was attending CCD class, a religious instruction my parents felt honor-bound to send me to.  A nice guy in my class approached me and told me I should try out for the football team.  I thanked him for the advice and immediately dismissed it as too hard and scary.  For years after I would revisit that moment and wonder how my high school experience would have been different if I had heeded his advice and tried out.  I was very large for my age, and although I doubt I would have gotten any further than a high-school level, I would have most likely been a decent player on the varsity squad eventually.

There were moments missed, women not approached, and events unattended.  At every turn I balked, taking the safer, less risky route.  After the fact, I would relive the moment, imagining what it would have been like if I had had the gumption to actually do whatever it was I regretted not doing.  “If only” became my mantra.  I wished fervently for a time machine so that I could revisit these moments and do them over.

Suddenly, I was looking back over almost a half century of regrets.  I had taken the safe route, the easy path.  It had led me to a dead end.  I had never taken risks, never asserted myself, never reached for more than the bare minimum.  I suddenly found myself twice divorced, trapped in a job I despised, and facing imminent homelessness.

Sometimes, coming to the bottom is the only way to start over.  I began to take a more objective view of my life.  Instead of wishing I could change the past, I started planning for the future.  Even at my nadir I had many good things.  I had my brain, my stubbornness, my health.  I have never been afraid of hard work, just of taking chances.  I began to face my fears and to travel outside my comfort zone.  Suddenly, something magical began to happen.  I began to achieve life-long goals. 

One problem with my mind is the rutted track it had followed for decades.  I was used to not taking chances, then spending useless time bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t taken those chances.  I soon saw that I would have to perform some major brain hacking to rectify this situation.  I was an addict who jonesed for failure and regret.  I was determined to go cold turkey.

The first tool I utilized was mindfulness.  One of the most valuable things in my journey has been developing the ability to warn myself when I began to slip into the well-worn habits of regret and fear.  Instead of telling myself I wasn’t good enough, I began to try, letting my actions determine whether I was good enough or not. I soon discovered that there were many things I WAS good at, even great at.  It might have taken me the better part of my lifetime to discover, but I was finally doing things, rather than avoiding them and regretting them.

So, I still travel down my path of self-discovery.  Am I cured of my addiction?  No.  I doubt I will be within my lifetime.  But, I am trying daily not to indulge.  Like any addiction, it is a day-by-day process.  Some days are better than others, but my life is brighter for not shadowing the present with the ghosts of regrets past.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Zen and the power of mindfilness:

Part of my journey this past year has been to explore philosophies that help improve your happiiness.  Due to several things in my life that had occured, I realized I was unhappy.  Furthermore, it seems despite feeling unhappy for a while, I had convinced myself that it was normal to feel that way.  The good times always lay in the future.  Somehow, I was going to get there eventually.

I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh, a very wise Zen Buddhist monk, and I found a lot of excellent life advice in his pages.  I had never given Zen Buddhism a lot of thought, dismissing it without ever really understanding what it was.

 I have always been wedded to physical objects.  I am a collector.  Sometimes I border on hoarding.  When I lost my house in 2015,  I had a library of 2,000+ books that I had collected over the course of my life.  I loved my collection.  I had lugged those books from college to the Army, stashing them in people's cellars and waiting until the day when I was able to put up my book shelves and take them out to display.



When it became clear I had to get rid of 90% of them, it was devastating.  But, I realize now that they are just things.  My attachment to them led to suffering, which helped no one, especially me.  I had read the books.  Their stories and knowledge was preserved in my brain.  I didn't need to own them, display them, or brag about them.  By letting them go, I freed myself.

Am I a perfect ascetic now?  Of course not.  I still buy books to read, and I still have many books on shelves.  But, I can say I no longer covet them, or refuse to part with them.  I give them away to those who could use them, or I donate them.  Thus they continue to do good by enlightening others.

Improving your mindfulness and happiness is a journey, much like anything else.  But you have to take the first steps to begin.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Teefer's Reef

OK.  First thing I wrote for Day 1. It's an idea I have been kicking around for a bit involving a secret island, a witch's curse, and an ancient race. Here's the first two pages.

Teefer's Reef

It all started with the stupid puff piece.

Steve Benoit had been tasked with it by his editor when he rolled into the generic-looking offices of the Cape Cod TribuneMonday morning.  Working for the Trib wasn’t exactly the journalism career Steve had dreamed of while going to the University of Massachusetts, but he was happy enough not to be grinding out computer user manuals like some of his peers were.  The stories might be man bites dog level, but at least they were stories.

The industrial green walls of the office wrapped Steve in their insipid embrace as he entered the foyer, sipping his Dunks in an attempt to jump start his brain.  As he headed to his cubicle his editor whistled and gave him the come on sign from over his own cubicle wall.  The Trib was not a rich paper.  Josh Crocker did not rate a separate office, but he did get a slightly larger cubicle than his underlings.

Josh was one of those old Yankee types:  Tall, thin, pallid skin with a smattering of freckles.  Straw-colored hair ran away from his forehead and collected in a limp ponytail that hearkened back to his heydays in the Seventies. As the years collected on his weedy frame his skin had loosened, giving him a soft doughy look despite his thinness.

“What’s up Josh?” Steve inquired, sipping his coffee.

Norham has its 375th Anniversary celebrations coming up soon, and I want you to do a piece on early settlers.” Josh replied, sipping his own Dunks noisily.

Steve groaned inwardly, his post-weekend inertia combining with the last shreds of his Sunday football-watching hangover to make the thought of researching the local Pilgrims seem like the labors of Hercules.

“Haven’t we covered them pretty thoroughly?” Steve countered.  “I could always pull up one of our pieces from a few years back and rework it.”

Josh frowned, the wrinkles of his face bunching and sagging in interesting ways.

“I was hoping perhaps you could head down to the BodfishLibrary and look through some of the original town records,” Josh said.  “There’s several interesting families that settled along the shore of Teefer’s Bay. “

Steve winced.  “Yeah, the Norham Sea Witch and Black Jack Bradford.  Hasn’t that been done to death?”
Unlike other sections of Colonial New England, Cape Cod did not boast a lot of interesting characters.  The Norham Sea Witch and her lover Black Jack Bradford were two of the more notorious.

Black Jack Bradford was a pirate, one of the few local Yankee captains that took up the trade.  He had preyed on the Spanish in the Caribbean, The French off their holdings in what is now Nova Scotia, and even the Portuguese off the eastern coast of Africa. 

The Norham Sea Witch was a woman, Anna Gallwick, who had supposedly ensnared Bradford with her sorcery.  Legends differed about her.  Some said she was born and raised on the Cape, others said that Bradford had installed her as his mistress at his house on Teefer’s Bay after meeting here somewhere during his travels.  Stories were still told about her mastery of spells and potions, and of her great beauty.  Darker stories were told about her midnight revels with the Devil, and her use of children in her magical workings. 

Their unique love story had come to an end when local farmers had banded together to storm Bradford’s house and carryGallwick off to the gallows.  Bradford supposedly had been summoned by her wizardry to rescue her, but a storm off the coast sunk his vessel, The Revenant.  Gallwick had watched her lover’s ship founder in Teefer’s Bay as the hangman slipped a noose over her head.

Steve groaned inwardly a second time, busying himself with gulps of scalding coffee to hide his dismay from Josh.  Although the Norham Sea Witch and Black Jack Bradford made for a good story, it was a story that had been told and told again over the years.  The last things that Steve wanted to do on a Monday was head down to Norham’s venerable library and peruse their stacks of ancient moldering books for a fresh angle on the story.  He was pretty sure no such angle existed.

“Don’t worry,” Josh said soothingly.  “I’m not going to make you rehash that old chestnut.  I was thinking about you maybe looking up the other families that lived along Teefer’s Bay.  The Bodfishes, the Scalissonsthe Phinners.  Some of their descendants still live in the area.  Maybe grab a camera and take a few shots of the bay and the houses around there.  They still manage to keep a few of the really old houses up out there.

Steve perked up a bit with this.  Between a few hours at the library and a leisurely drive to the isolated bay his day was pretty much booked.  He decided to milk it a bit.
“I could get everything together by Thursday, maybe 750 words?”  He said, an innocent look on his face.

“Wednesday”, Josh countered. And I want 1,000 words and some good shots.  It might get a center spread if it’s good enough.”

“I’ll do my best,” Steve hedged, heading to his desk to wrap up a few items before setting out.


Monday, August 8, 2016

HAPPY MONDAY!



Welcome.  My name is Patrick Curtin, and this is my new blog.  I have never blogged before,  not really.  I have spent some time writing things, and posting on various forums, and being an online hangabouter.  A little about me:

I have always loved the written word.  Sometimes, too much.  At one point I had a library of about 2,000 books.  I was very happy reading, but I always wished I could also write.  The problem was, I never had the self confidence to actually follow through.  I had convinced myself that I was no good.  I knew I was a passable writer.  I worked as a journalist and the editor of a largish weekly tabloid for years while in the military.  I used to get 2-4 stories a week in the can.  But, when it came to a personal story, I never seemed to make it work.

Thus things went on as I became a civilian and entered a very strange phase of my life I call the Noughts.  For reasons I will remain quiet on for the moment, a lot of things acted on me to keep me unproductive from 2000-2010.  At that point I began my journey of self improvement, but there are a lot of miles to go.  It is 2016, and one of my main goals is to hone my writing craft.  Ergo, blog.

So, what can you, casual scanner or obligated acquaintance, expect to see here?  Well, I have many interests.  I might write some fiction.  I might do a little game design.  I already have some interesting stuff on my own fantasy homebrew campaign I might dust off.  Maybe I'll cross pollinate with other folks I know who are involved in these things.  The main thing is to get in the habit of putting words to (virtual) paper.  Writing is a skill like anything else:  You must practice it.  This is my new dojo.

So, if you are interested, I will be attempting to post things here on a daily basis.  We shall see how things evolve.  I'd enjoy any feedback, constructive criticism, shoutouts, bribes, or anything else you'd like to contribute.  Thank you for giving me a read!