I need to work harder at connecting

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Average Joe

This was written during the autumn of 1988.

At times over the past several years, I’ve attempted to square up the rounded corners of my life, to clean up the accumulation of broken, dead limbs in the yard, the coating of dust on the top of the door that never gets wiped off.

I naively expect that it is possible for the stuff of life and living to come to absolute zero, square one, all in one box and neatly tied, thank you.  Every now and then I want to begin the next phase of life sitting behind the straight, tidy desk I’ve seen only in pictures.

The theory is, I need a new coat of paint, but the old paint needs to be scraped off first.

To do this, I need to disconnect…and I try to disappear.  I leave home for a few days and travel to a nearby city that is just far enough away to be away.

But scraping paint is a tough job.

I tell myself that for the time being, I am not to be husband, father, son, friend or lawyer.  I aim to become “me” again, even though I’m not sure exactly what that means.  I suppose that what I am trying to do is to disappear—that’s the name I’ve given to this therapy—and at the end of it, I will “appear” as the new “me,” fresh and squeaky clean.  So, the first step is to disconnect from my family, from friends and from work.

My plan, if it can be called that, is to browse, write, think, and observe.

I browse.  I am in a gallery and see a work of art that I wish desperately some of my friends could see.

I write.  It makes me think—about all the other people in my life.

I think.  My son was about 10 years old when he said, for the first time, “Daddy, sometimes you just think too much.”

I see a man with the tiny hand of a young girl—about the age of my daughter—wrapped around his index finger as they walk down the sidewalk and my heart jumps.

I sleep and I dream of my home and my children.

In a fit of panicked objectivity, I tell myself that three or four days is not a long enough time to allow me to disconnect.  But I just don’t think that’s true.  Suppose, time and finances permitting, I disappear for three or four weeks, or months or longer.  I could no more sever links between all that I am and those things that make me want to disconnect than I could fly.

The process is intended to be like a kind of a do-it-yourself rehabilitation—and I realize I’m not very good at it.  It’s probably a good thing that no one else probably is either.  I think no one should be able to get good at it.

And the irony is that in trying to divorce all of these things, to disconnect, is to recognize that I treat every role in my life as just that, a role—like a “do-list” of functions and relationships.  It’s all well and good to step back and take a deep breath every now and then—and even to actually hold your breath sometimes—but no one should risk turning blue.  I’ve created an illusion that the clutter of life is an affront to me, this idea of me; that this clutter, this dust, is somehow distinct and can be separated, washed and ironed.  I should not get lost in the clutter, it should get lost in me.  With apologies to Walt Kelley, “I have seen the enemy and he is me.”

The things that make me want to disconnect, to disappear, are the very things that make “me.” I don’t need to disconnect, I need to work harder at connecting—every day.