Main Note to Self

Note to Self

In his New York Times bestselling memoir, A Work in Progress, Connor Franta shared his journey from small-town Midwestern boy to full-fledged Internet sensation. Exploring his past with humor and astounding insight, Connor reminded his fans of why they first fell in love with him on YouTube—and revealed to newcomers how he relates to his millions of dedicated followers.

Now, two years later, Connor is ready to bring to light a side of himself he’s rarely shown on or off camera. In this diary-like look at his life since A Work in Progress, Connor talks about his battles with clinical depression, social anxiety, self-love, and acceptance; his desire to maintain an authentic self in a world that values shares and likes over true connections; his struggles with love and loss; and his renewed efforts to be in the moment—with others and himself.

Told through short essays, letters to his past and future selves, poetry, and original photography, Note to Self is a raw, in-the-moment look at the fascinating interior life of a young creator turning inward in order to move forward.
Year:
2017
Publisher:
Atria / Keywords Press
Language:
english
Pages:
320
ISBN 10:
1501158015
ISBN 13:
9781501158018
File:
EPUB, 10.29 MB
Download (epub, 10.29 MB)

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also by connor franta

A Work in Progress


[image: Image]

about the author

Connor Franta is an award-winning internet personality, New York Times bestselling author, dedicated LGBTQ+ philanthropist, and entrepreneur with millions of followers across his social media platforms. His first work of nonfiction, A Work in Progress, was a New York Times bestseller and the Goodreads Choice Award Winner for Best Memoir & Autobiography (2015). He is the founder of the lifestyle brand, Common Culture, which offers superior clothing, premium coffee, and a variety of undiscovered musical talent under Heard Well, the first label powered by social tastemakers. To learn more, visit ConnorFrantaBooks.com and @ConnorFranta on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.


notes to them

Ah, yes, this is the time when I get to thank all the wonderful people who helped make this book possible, in some way. Here’s a list filled to the brim with love and adoration:

To my editors, Steve and Jhanteigh: Thank you for sticking with me all the long way from book one through book two. From the stressful midnight texts to the encouraging midday calls, you two make my author life an honest pleasure. You’ve become the greatest of friends along the way and I’m grateful to have found you.

To Judith, Ariele, Jackie, Albert, Dana, and everyone else at Keywords: This project only saw the light of day because of each and every one of you. Your hard work, care, and stunning ambition means the world to me, and I am beyond appreciative to have worked with this team, not once, but twice.

To Sam and Cory: Thank you both for your work on the visuals, inside and out of this book. They, specifically, were held near and dear to my heart and wouldn’t look half as pretty without your touch and input.

To my agent/friend/part-time therapist, Andrew: We’ve been friends and working together for nearly four years now and, although very close at times, have somehow managed not to strangle each other. I attribute so much of my success to the endless hours you p; ut into me and my career and am oh-so-grateful to have you in my life. You’re a total boss and I love you.

To my attorney, Ryan; my book agent, Cait; and my publicists, Chelsea and Doni: From the contracts to the projects to the interviews that follow, you are all simply wonderful at what you do and I couldn’t be happier to have you on my team.

To my family, Mom, Dad, Dustin, Nicola, and Brandon: Thank you for being, for the most part, the only consistent aspects of my life. I can count on all of you for absolutely anything at any time, and that is beyond comforting. You keep me centered, remind me to be good, cheer me up, and make me laugh. Not a day goes by that I do not appreciate all of you for that. I’m a lucky one. Love you with all my heart.

And finally, to you, the readers: You are as deeply important as all the others. You make what I do possible and give a seasoning of meaning to all the work I put out in this world. Thank you for not only reading the book but taking in its words and searching for your own meaning amongst these pages. That brings indescribable happiness to me—along with the lengthy list of other things you do to support me on a daily basis. I am beyond grateful to have been gifted with that support. I appreciate all that you do for me and would not be where I am without you. So, thank you.


            
            Check out Connor Franta's New York Times bestselling memoir A Work in Progress!

            


                    In this intimate memoir of life beyond the camera, YouTube star Connor Franta shares the lessons he has learned on his journey from small-town boy to Internet sensation—so far.

                    [image: cover image]

                    A Work in Progress

                    

                    


ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!

            [image: cover image]

            
introduction

I’m a private person, ironically. “Ironic” because I’m in the business of public disclosure, and I’m part of a generation that shares everything. Aside from my daily social posts that allow glimpses into my life, I tend to keep my thoughts, opinions, and words to myself—relatively speaking. Now, if you get me around the few people I trust, I’ll say just about anything that comes to mind. Anything. So don’t try me. I’ll let my mind spill its contents like a cup with no lid, whether those contents are applicable to the moment or not. I’ll dish it all.

    On the flip side, where the general public is concerned, I often remain silent. I like to think of myself as a listener—an observer. I enjoy absorbing information and analyzing my surroundings, even down to the color of the shoes the girl across the room is wearing (mustard). It’s more by choice than habit. I derive a strange thrill from noticing the details of my surroundings, and I always have.

But there’s also a dark underpinning to my silence. Sometimes, I can’t decide if what I’m thinking is what others want to know. Do people really care that some strange girl across the room is wearing mustard-colored shoes? I’m putting my money on the answer being no. If I voice my thoughts, will it disturb the atmosphere? Upset the dynamics of the present moment? Is my input even worth sharing?

I think I think too much (as will become clear in the pages ahead), but that’s who I am, and that’s what I’m here to share: my perspective, intimate musings, odd observations, intense moments, and the interior dialogue I reserve for only myself and a select few. This book is filled with short essays. Observations. Poems. Thoughts. Feelings. Ups. Downs. And the in-betweens. I’d like to think of this book as a scrapbook of my mind. A collection of small vulnerabilities. A harmony of notes to self.

Growing up and discovering independence brings with it the realization that this world is not all cotton candy and giggles. When we let go of our security blankets—parents, siblings, childhood home, and familiar surroundings—and stand on our own two feet—being accountable, minimizing negative consequences, and navigating life’s everyday challenges on our own—the more we see society’s true colors, and the more we become aware of what really goes on behind seemingly perfect but staged scenes: the social masks we all wear, the brave fronts we put up, and the curated personas that don’t align with who we truly are.

I’m saying this from a place of dramatic privilege, and I don’t mean to come across like I have it hard, or have all the answers. But I’m speaking from a plethora of experiences that, while particular to me, might be relevant to you as well. I’ve managed to fake it this far and, somehow, I’ve been able to make it work.

I’m a twenty-four-year-old man, and in my six years of adulthood, I’ve experienced some of the highest highs this world has to offer. I’ve traveled to more than a dozen countries in the past two years, become the CEO of three individual companies, made an incredible living, met some of the most amazing people I believe this world has to offer, and accidentally fallen head over heels in love along the way. Each experience, and accompanying learning curve, has shaped me into the person I am today, opening my eyes and altering my point of view in ways I never thought possible. But not every day is a good day.

During my journey as a young gay man who deals with mild depression, anxiety, and frequent self-inflicted mental abuse—worries, insecurities, defeatist thinking—I’ve been in the dirt and trudged through the lowest of low periods. I’ve been depressed to the point of entertaining irrational thoughts to end it all. I’ve been used and mistreated for personal gain. I’ve been broken up with, and left broken. I’ve gone through what I know to be my darkest moments. But I’m not here to throw a pity party or complain; I’m only here to share. Because it’s through the universal experiences of life that we can all connect and relate to each other. For me, the only way to climb out of the pits I sometimes find myself in is through the guidance and assistance of others. Our words, our firsthand experiences, our shared truths can form ladders. And bring hope to others.

Yes, on the surface, I’ve had an exceptional life so far, and I couldn’t be more grateful for every second. But if you allow me to dive deeper, you’ll see that I, like everyone else, struggle. I’m imperfect. Flawed. Damaged and broken at times. But human. And I try to embrace this existence for what it is: a beautiful mess.

Without the “worst,” the “best” wouldn’t taste as sweet. No sailor, no fisherman, no captain of a ship has ever earned his stripes on calm waters. Storms, internal and external, enable me to develop my character and become stronger. Of course, it’s easy to assume that money, fame, and luxury can win over sadness, but that’s far from the truth. I really wish it were true. I do. I wish those benefits took away the stress of others constantly watching, talking, assuming, examining, judging, scrutinizing, bashing, and shaming—which is something that everyone deals with, whether they’re in the public eye or not. I wish I didn’t let the words of others stick with me for so long. I wish my thoughts weren’t self-defeating at times. But when I leap into wormholes of utter negativity, it’s difficult to find my way back out . . . and status, success, and good fortune don’t provide a ladder out of the pit.

If my first book, A Work in Progress, was a reflection of my external life so far, then this follow-up is a reflection of my interior life right now, and all the things that concern me—not so much a continuation of my story but more of a deepening. I’m here to spew my madness on the page and, perhaps, make a little sense of it along the way. Writing is my therapy. Sorting it out has, in the end, proven cathartic.

Much of what you’re about to read was written in the heat of the moment. The darkest passages came to me with tears in my eyes and darkness clouding my mind. The happiest of times were recorded moments after they happened, if only to preserve them in text. My words were placed on paper—or tapped into my phone—when certain thoughts, emotions, and inspirations hit home. I’ve tried to maintain that rawness and sense of authenticity throughout. If you read a piece on its own, you might say it doesn’t make sense or seems random, but when taken all together, these pieces form my grasp on reality.

I’m just trying to be honest and shed light on what’s real to me. This is life: confusing, difficult, stressful, filled with heightened emotions and irrational actions and decisions. We don’t always mean what we say, and we don’t always say what we believe, but I wanted to capture these moments nevertheless, without the polish of hindsight.

What you’re about to read is the closest thing to my heart and soul that I have ever produced for anyone else to read. I’m cracking the door open a little wider. It’s not as self-edited as A Work in Progress was; after all, that was my first memoir—the way I wanted to be seen. No. This is an open diary. This gives my insides a voice through visuals and poetry; this is me spilled out on paper.

Each and every one of us experiences the human condition. That is our great equalizer, our common ground, our reason for empathy. We live in a curative space of perfection, especially in today’s world. I’m not happy a lot of the time, and I feel shame about that. It’s been hard for me to find another open soul to confide in and relate my story to. Until now, perhaps. This one is for you. But, more importantly, this one is for me.

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Spring 2016


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welcome to my happy place

It’s 7:43 p.m. A brisk breeze sweeps over one of the highest peaks in view, into the valley below, and back to where it originated in the clouded sky. I’m nothing but calm right now. The cool air smells and feels so pure. It’s that nice kind of cold that isn’t too cold, creating a post-sunset chill that feels just right. Goose bumps cover my arms and legs, but I don’t care that my shorts and T-shirt now seem ill-considered. I don’t care because, honestly, how could I? How could I think of anything else beyond the beauty that lies in front of me?

    This is one of those places I’ve longed to visit but, for some reason, have never made the extra effort to see, even though it’s just a fifteen-minute drive outside of San Francisco. But today, today I made the trip. I promised myself when I woke up this morning that I’d be here when the sun went down, and I’m holding myself accountable to that intention, to park my butt on this grassy hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the famous bay it spans.

The moment I stepped out of the car after being dropped off, I smiled more than I have in months, and I’m not exaggerating. Finally, after all these years, I was seeing this amazing landmark paired with a setting sun so vibrant—almost loud, in a way—that it would put all others to shame. I couldn’t help but giggle, like a giddy kid on Christmas morning, filled from my feet to my ears with utter joy. This might sound super-silly and slightly overstated to the average person, but not to me. No, no. Because for the longest time, I had imagined what it would be like for me to be here, in this very spot, in this happy place—a hunch that turns out to be right.

I’m unplugged. Disconnected from everything but this moment. Not a single distraction. Not a single care. It’s just me and this view. There’s nowhere else in the entire world I want to be as I, along with groups of tourists, climb the hill to see the bridge in its full, golden glory.

I gasp, genuinely overcome with awe at the magnificent sight. The bridge is MASSIVE. I can’t believe humans made this. The light from the setting sun drenches the sky in color, forming a warm backdrop for the bridge. Streaks of red, orange, pink, and blue. I remind myself that this beautiful scene is changing every minute, and I need to take in every stage—be present for every single moment. I become consumed with capturing nature’s work of art in different ways. I’m talking DSLR, iPhone, Boomerangs, time-lapse videos, panoramas, THE WORKS. Nothing will compare to the reality I’m experiencing, but that’s all right—I want to really live in, and relive, this moment over and over.

I’m trying my best not to succumb to my tech impulses, but I can’t help myself. My passions come alive when I see something this beautiful, and I’m weirdly driven to try to translate what I see to the screen. This scene will never be seen again as my eyes see it now, but I can do my best. So that’s what I do. I’m running all over this hill, standing on poles, peeking through fences, lying on the ground among flowers; you name it, I’m trying all angles. Even though I might look like an idiot, I honestly don’t care. I don’t know the people around me. Nothing matters in this moment other than the moment itself. I’m happy to enjoy its company.

Before I know it, I come back to reality. When I look down at my phone, an hour has somehow flown by. Eight forty-five p.m.? Whoa. I totally zoned out. That’s never really happened to me before, at least to this extent. But I guess when I lost myself in the moment, time lost itself to my joy. And, to me, these moments are what life is all about.

The light is fading fast; it’s gotten significantly colder, and the people who were around me have drifted away, disappearing quicker than the sun that now hides behind the hilltops. In front of me, the city of San Francisco is still alive with light—a glittering landscape, with cars zooming around, buildings illuminated, and the largest, clearest moon I’ve ever laid eyes on rising like a balloon. As soon as I think this night can’t get any better, it does. No exaggeration, it’s hypnotic.

My body begins to quiver. Not from excitement (I’m not that much of a nerd! . . . Well, I am, but whatever) but because it’s now freezing. I throw on the sweater I was given earlier in the day by Twitter (<3 u), and continue my mad attempt to capture the scene; to honor it; to frame the memory; to remember how it feels to be in this spot. I feel almost spiritual just by being here, which, from someone who’s not too spiritual, is saying something.


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[image: Images]


This will emerge as one of the more memorable moments of my life so far, and I’m really not sure why. Maybe it’s because I had eagerly anticipated what my happy place would feel like, and it exceeded all expectations. Maybe it was a simple, soulful moment that required no internal editing or filtering, no explanation. Or maybe it was a moment of pure joy that, deep down, I needed to feel alive again after going through some of the hardest months of my adult life. I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the time I spent on that hilltop—roughly two hours—flew by and left me wanting more. More time alone. More of these magical moments. More time to reflect. More time to appreciate the natural good in the world.

I went up there alone, empty-handed. I left alone, but walked away with a unique memory no one else will have; it was mine and mine alone to treasure. That’s so special to me. As I grow older, I wish for more of these snapshots of joy, to be able to string them together into a long line of happiness. To remember how life should feel. To remember to take time out by myself and appreciate both my own company and the world around me. The world is filled with happy places, but sometimes I forget to look for them or fail to see that I’m already in a happy place.

It’s impossible to recreate an experience exactly, especially one of such significance. No single experience can ever be the same or bring out the same emotional response. I could return to that same spot at sunset a month, a year, or a decade from now, and it would be different. But after that night, I’ll be looking a bit harder to stay present, paying better attention to individual moments of fleeting magic. It’s about making more of these memories, not about trying to remake them. That’s what this night was all about: it left me craving that feeling again—to be in my happy place and watch the world slow down to a near-stop while I sit, watch, wait, and listen.

I had dreamt about this solo mission for years, as cheesy as that sounds. Yet I never imagined it would leave such a lasting impression. I went there to live out a dream, and I left enriched with a memory. That’s something I couldn’t have planned or predicted. Ultimately, the value of an experience is largely left to chance, and I was lucky that this particular one wasn’t a letdown. At all.

In a way, I’m leaving a lot of my life up to chance these days. I’m leading a march of self-discovery into a thick forest, with no compass to guide me. Moments of glory, such as the one just described, let me know that I’m heading in the right direction. What direction that is, I don’t precisely know. I still feel so fucking lost, but that’s all right. That’s just how it is now. I’ll keep moving forward because standing still is not an option. You don’t find your happy places in life without putting one foot in front of the other.


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[image: Images]


unspoken bonds

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has convinced himself that no one else has ever gone through, or is going through, the same angst/turmoil/upsetting experience. No one understands my sadness. Not one person gets how it feels to be this jealous. Who has ever been as confused as I am right now? How could anyone ever understand me?!

    These are the kinds of thoughts that come into play every time I experience an intense feeling. I immediately isolate myself, thinking no one will understand, so why bother trying to explain? But you know what’s crazy? Emotions are the single most relatable thing out there. They represent a kind of unspoken bond that we share but, for some reason, are often reluctant to acknowledge. And yet when I’m going through a tough time, I feel so alone, led by the mistaken belief that my sweltering feelings are somehow unique to me.

Everyone knows what it’s like to be happy, sad, angry, or frustrated, and most of us can probably pinpoint a time when we felt those emotions the strongest. Sure, we experience them at different levels of intensity; my worst day will be completely different from yours. But we can identify with what someone is going through. And we can empathize with one another—that’s how we relate to each other. That’s our point of connection. That’s how a sixteen-year-old can talk to a sixty-five-year-old and find common ground. Because life is a feeling experience. All of us, no matter who we are or where we come from, feel something on some level. Acknowledge and accept that fact, and it becomes comforting. It means none of us is alone.

My struggle, my pain, my grief, my despair, my tears—they’re not uncommon. They’re shared. And once something is shared, it loses its isolating potential. That’s something I’ve come to realize—once I understood that I’m experiencing something that millions of others have endured before, and are enduring at the same time, it somehow makes it feel less frightening, less heavy, less individual.

Nowadays, when life starts to feel like a little too much, and when a certain emotion overwhelms me, I remind myself that I’m not the only person to ever feel this way. That makes it less daunting to speak up and reach out to a close friend or family member who can be by my side. No one is alone, however scary a feeling might be. And good people will be there for one another. The only difference behind one feeling or the next is the story behind it, but explaining that story lightens the load and, I guarantee you, does wonders in helping to ease the pain.


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[image: Images]


to my dearest past

    Picture this: young Connor at the awkward age of twelve, on the verge of receiving his first spark of real-world awareness in the form of insecurity, ambition, and independence, all mixed together in a prepubescent stew of hormones and budding sexuality. Gross. Mother Nature has a twisted sense of humor, but twelve was also the age when everything began to change for me (literally). A year later, I would realize I was gay and begin to transform into a young man (further discovering that puberty is one bitch of a process), and then, during my later teen years, my eyes would finally open up to the colorful and deeply complex world around me. At that point, I stopped merely existing and began considering who I was and what I wanted to be as a person. Once the innocence was wiped clean from my eyes, I saw life for what it is: complicated.

    What follows is an open letter to all of those versions of my past self, from the age of twelve and onward. If I’d actually received this note in real life, maybe it would’ve made things a whole lot easier . . .

Hi Connor. Sorry if this is all over the place but, as you know, my mind is pure chaos, always going off in a million directions at once. You understand.

It’s nice to be in a position where I can look back and reassure you that things are good for you now. I generally radiate a certain glow of happiness. I know you understand that this wasn’t always the case. In fact, I hesitate to even invoke your understanding because we both know how consistently fragile we are. But when I step outside of myself, I see so much growth. I see years of change leading up to this current version of me. I can connect the dots and see where they’ve led me. But please take note, Past Me: this transformation took YEARS. And often times, it went completely unnoticed, even by me; it’s only in hindsight that I see that long path I’ve walked to reach this leg of the race. I now see and understand you, Past Me, more clearly than you see yourself. In fact, I understand young Connor better than I understand current Connor. Your life has been a silent struggle; a roller coaster in the dark, sending you in directions that you least expect, and jerking you from side to side. And then, just as you see light at the end of the tunnel, you spiral back down into the abyss and keep on twirling and twisting in endless circles.

You won’t immediately realize it, but this tumultuous decade of growth that lies ahead of you—from twelve to twenty-two—is something you’ll be grateful for one day. Crazy, I know. But you will cherish the torture you put yourself through. You’ll live the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You’ll know a level of fame and fortune that you only understand from the movies you see on Friday nights with your friends and family in your tiny, rural oasis. Along with that, you’ll experience intense self-loathing behind closed doors, bringing you within inches of doing something you know you’d regret. But these struggles don’t need to be validated in text. You know how far south things have gone, and only you can feel the feelings you feel. Only you can fully understand what those experiences did to you. No one else.

But you know what, buddy? I have a surprise for you: through it all, you’ll resurface stronger and wiser than ever before. I’m happy to say you’re still here, still kicking, still soaring into the year 2017. You’re thriving! Look at you! I’m writing to you from a point in time when you’ll be able to take a breath, look out over the horizon, and be thankful. You’ll get here, but it won’t be without a lot of effort, I might add.

Here’s the deal: the train tracks are taking you places that you didn’t think you’d go, so try to sit back and let the ride commence. Don’t fight it; enjoy it. On the way, you’ll entertain doubts and wonder what the hell you’re doing. Rest assured, these years—this inexplicable journey—will shape your future and, more importantly, your character, for the better and the best. Trust in yourself because, more often than not, you’ll be the only one who believes in your vision. Others will see what you do, but they might not see it so readily. They just need time. Don’t let them slow you down. Don’t let ANYONE slow you down. Stay on track. Stay true to your vision.

Because you were emotionally at war with yourself from a young age, you’ll have to learn how to see the world, not just look at it. This will be your greatest tool, and the only way you’ll be able to find your place in the world. You’re a soulful guy, and you have to trust your instinct to lead you forward the same way Waze navigates drivers around Los Angeles. Resist the urge to take a more traditional route; your path to happiness is a far different one that sometimes seems like it’ll be quicker but ends up just being an anxiety-ridden pain in the ass. But it’ll be worth it.

I see you now, in high school: a chameleon, molding yourself to fit whatever social circle you’re with at the moment: male, female, athletic, intellectual, political; heck, even religious. People say our teenage years are the most difficult years, and that’s most definitely true. For a lot of kids, that has to do with feeling like an outsider. Your problem is a little different. You’re so wonderfully naive, like a human version of Bambi (if you add green eyes and a mop of sandy blond hair), and people embrace you for your innocence and good nature. When you get to high school, you’ll have great friends, take AP classes, and help lead your cross-country team to state championships. But, to a certain extent, your trail was blazed for you by your sister and your brother. You’re being grandfathered into a nice life—at least on paper. None of this privilege will diminish your internal struggles. Beneath the surface, you’re a bomb ready to explode. And what’s sad is that you want to explode. You almost wish for it to just . . . happen already.

Insecurity infests your mind like a swarm of bees, buzzing too loudly for you to think straight (literally). From your small size, to your struggle with weight, to your constantly cracking voice, to your secrets about your sexuality . . . the sadness is heavy. I get it. And you’ve learned to hide it so damn well that no one has a fucking clue. You’re a good secret keeper—so good that Mom and Dad don’t have a single clue that you hate yourself, that you resent everything about who you are, and that a river of anger runs deep in your veins. Please. Please just listen and understand that they don’t check in with you and ask if you’re all right because, to them, you appear to be a near-perfect angel. They don’t know any better. They can’t hear what you scream in your mind 24/7. They can’t hear you yell “I HATE MYSELF” every night when the bedroom door closes and you remove that mask you wear, day in and day out.

And here’s the thing: they won’t hear any of it for a good ten years. Which is why I’m here to remind you that I hear you, and that you will deal with it. I know how the self-hate reverberates off the walls of your cranium so frequently that it feels almost normalized within your already-cluttered head. You’ve accepted that “This is just how it is for you.” You’ve convinced yourself that “different” equals “broken;” that you are broken. Unfixable. A misfit toy that must be repaired or, better yet, trashed. To the naked eye you look fine, but under the microscope you are flawed. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: no one else is looking through that microscope but you. Not a single other person is fixating on the things you magnify in your own mind. It’s all in your head, so ease up on yourself and slow down with all the worrying.

You silently scream “WHY CAN’T I JUST BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE?” without realizing that you already are; everyone else is doing what you’re doing but in different ways, with different hang-ups, and with a different microscope. Everyone thinks their monsters are visible to the world, but they’re not—they’re figments of our overblown imaginations, warped projections of our own self-image. Once you stop seeing them, they’ll fully disappear. Yes, it’s that easy. I know where you are. I also know how to stop being where you are. I wish I could reach out and tell someone to hear you sooner, just to relieve some of the pain. I wish you could know that everything is going to turn out just fine; not perfect, but okay. All these worries and anxieties are merely growing pains. You’ll carry the scars for a long time, unable to forget what it felt like to be you, at the age you are now. It hurts to think so poorly of yourself, doesn’t it? You start to believe yourself, allowing the sadness to eat away at you from the inside until you’re a hollowed-out shell. I wish I could take those thoughts away from you, but I think the mind needs to know its weaknesses before it can appreciate its strengths.

Please know that being “different” is okay. Your unique qualities—which you don’t appreciate yet—will be your source of greatness in the future. They make you who you are for the better, not the worst. Please trust me when I say that you’re built in a special way, but that doesn’t make you broken, worthless, or expendable. It makes you, you. And that’s wonderful. Believe in yourself. What a cliché, but it’s a phrase that packs a sucker punch of sincerity. There will always be someone better, but that’s not for you to focus on. You’re not the smartest—that’s for her. You’re not that fastest—that’s for him. You’re not the most successful—that’s for them. But you know what? You’re the greatest that you can be—and that’s for you. Everyone possesses a unique set of skills and contributes different kinds of qualities to this planet, including you. No one is your particular blend of smart, kind, thoughtful, expressive, creative, empathetic, and driven. You’ll see that one day. You’re a bud covered in snow in the garden of your mind. Just wait for spring.

In the meantime, don’t take it out on others. Your internal battles generate so much self-hatred that it occasionally leaks into the lives of loved ones. They don’t deserve that. They’re not doing anything wrong (most of the time). So perk up your ears when I say this: try your best to keep your anger to yourself, or at least let it out in a constructive way. You’ve got so much pride that when you hurt a loved one with your words and empty anger, you can’t muster up a meaningful apology. Work on that. Work HARD on that. The you of the future is kind, compassionate, and level-headed; don’t leave a trail of fallen trees in your wake. Relationships are hard to come by, so maintain the ones you have with care and consideration. Love your loved ones. They’re easily the best part of living.

Finally, consider this wild idea: do what you want to do. Insane concept, I know. You’ll waste so many years wishing and wanting to act in a play, or to take a painting class, or to sing at the top of your lungs in front of strangers, or to go to a school dance and actually dance like no one’s watching. My best advice? Just fucking do it. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone will laugh? At WHAT? You enjoying yourself? That’s messed up on THEIR part. Not yours. Don’t hold back on what makes you happy just because you fear it will make someone else uncomfortable. The more you tell yourself “no,” the more normalized it becomes and the more you become separated from the real you. You lost yourself for so many years by trying to become a person you never wanted to be: the jock, the college student, the stereotypical masculine male. None of those were you, so quit playing a fool. Leave the scene for another. Trust me, you won’t miss your old role for even a second. Literally.

Okay, Past Me, I’m going to leave you with one more thing before we dig deeper into this book (and it’s book number two! Yes, you have that unexpected joy to look forward to): You’ll be happy one day. You’ll be the you that your instincts always knew you could be. Take comfort in knowing that it will happen and better yet, you will make it happen. Take the pressure off yourself a little. Relax and just . . . be.

Slowly, you’ll make your way to me and you’ll feel great. It’s so amazing that you won’t even believe it if I tried to describe it. But this is your destination. Try your best to get here in one piece. You’re going to love it.


[image: Images]


sometimes the quiet ones are yelling on the inside


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


the thin line between fearlessness and fear

Here’s something strange about me: Roller coasters, heights, bungee jumping, skydiving, flying, and rock climbing don’t scare me. I don’t fear planes crashing, car wrecks, or any “daredevil pursuit,” really. I’m barely even fazed by things that most people seem to fear—and it kind of freaks me out that these things don’t freak me out.

    My friends continue to be surprised that I’m the type of guy who wants to sit in the front car of a roller coaster, or be the first to leap off a bridge with nothing tethering me but a bungee cord around my twenty-eight-inch waist. In those moments, my heart races to new levels of fast. I feel alive, awakened by the thrill. I must have a disconnected wire in my central nervous system—one tha would transmit ordinary fear or panic to the brain. It’s there, I’m sure, but maybe it got severed after the third bungee jump?

“Fearless Connor” seems to contradict my otherwise reserved and poised manner, and this side of me doesn’t quite match my other interests or general character. But there’s something about danger that excites me. I’m thrilled by doing thrilling things, by throwing myself into unusual situations that elicit a set of emotions I’m otherwise unable to experience. Now, I’m not trying to say I’m some kind of “thrill-seeker” or adrenaline junkie with a death wish; it’s more that I’m unfazed whenever life takes me to the edge. I seem to have this innate trust that everything will turn out all right. Every time I find myself returning to the ledge once again, jumping becomes a little easier. I fall, leaving it to fate. That feeling—the feeling of utter trust—is what keeps me coming back for more. That process—that trust—has influenced how I view the world: with almost a blind faith.

When I went skydiving for the first time, I never once thought, Turn this plane around and take me back to Mother Earth, GODDAMMIT!! It was more like, Okay . . . OKAY. Are we ready? Can I go yet? There’s food down there and I’m starving. When I’m on a plane going through heavy turbulence, I don’t really bat an eye. Well, there’s nothing I can do now if this thing decides to go down, so why freak out? *continues listening to music as the Boeing 737 hits “Ladies and gentlemen, please return to your seats and buckle the fuck up!” mode*

When I first realized this about myself, it got me thinking, What really DOES scare me? What actually sends a shiver down my spine and keeps me up at night?

Well, I’m downright terrified of receiving a call that something bad has happened to a close friend or family member, or discovering that one of them is suffering in some way, shape, or form that renders me helpless. I’m also rattled by the prospect of being alone for too long (not for hours, like a dog, but days or weeks, like a shut-in); not doing everything in my immediate power to achieve my goals; the idea that I’m not the person I think I am; spiders of any size (typical but worth including); and the thought of being stranded alone in the middle of the ocean with nothing and no one in sight, very much like in that movie Cast Away, with Tom Hanks and his BFF volleyball.

You see the pattern emerging here? I’m not terrified by reality/going to the edge/taking risks/doing things that might involve an insurance policy. But I am terrified by far-fetched outcomes that my mind invents: the non-reality/imagined outcomes/things that are highly unlikely to happen. Jump out of a plane? No problem. But when I merely contemplate the irrational thought of something horrible happening to a loved one? It’s enough to turn me into a wreck.

A few years ago, I was driving to work at a neighboring city pool—a solid fifteen-minute trip that I had done many times. I knew the route so well that I could have driven there with my eyes shut. (Now, before you jump to any conclusions and make any stinging judgments, NO, I did not fall asleep at the wheel. It was 11 a.m. Who in their right mind would ever do that?) But, I sort of, um, daydreamed myself into a stupor and drifted into oncoming traffic, nearly causing a head-on collision. I was an idiot. A total daydreaming moron. What a reckless state of mind to be in while operating a motor vehicle!

But what makes this admission worse is that I derived a strange, positive feeling from this near-miss. It’s hard to describe, but within seconds, and after realizing everything was fine, I felt ALIVE. Like Fate had flicked me on the earlobe and said, “Hey, you’re still alive. Do what you will with that information. You’re welcome, honey!” I felt good after doing something reckless. Pretty twisted, right?

I’ve molded this type of “fear” into a constructive emotion that, in my opinion, assists my character development, as if I need these scrapes and adrenaline rushes to remind me that I’m living, breathing, and have a pulse. WOW, what a life—and I need to appreciate that. Anything can happen at any moment, in an instant, for better or worse, and I can choose to either consciously live in fear of the unknown or melt into life’s warm embrace. Me, I’m a puddle for Fate’s spontaneous kiss.

Now, let’s take it on the flip side.

While venturing into the industry of words (honestly, why my publisher let me become an author is BEYOND me), I’ve met a lot of amazing new people along the way that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the pleasure of knowing. Among those people are my editors on my two books, Jhanteigh and Steve. I’ve come to love these two. It’s gone above and beyond working together. Despite the three of us being scattered along the age spectrum, I’ve managed to form really strong friendships with them both. They’re intelligent, kind, and thoughtful, and their editorial advice helps me sound like less of a buffoon on the page than I might have sounded had I attempted to self-publish my work. So, honestly, kudos to them. Not only I, but the world, thanks you.

But while writing this second book, I’ve had my heart sink twice by personal phone calls from these two. In the space of three months, they both called to share some personal news that rocked my world when I heard it. I wanted to grab hold of reality, but all I could do was fall. And that fucking sucks. Because all I felt was helplessness. There was nothing I could do or say. All I could do was be there and offer support . . . and I hated that. That’s what scares me. That’s why it scares me—I feel a sense of powerlessness when faced with bad news from people I care about. These are the types of calls that keep me up at night and make the clocks tick a little bit slower.

When it boils down to it, fear is about perspective. Fear is in the eye of the beholder, and not everyone sees it the same way. You can either live life curled up in a ball, fearful of what’s around the corner, or you can turn that corner with your head held high. There are things that I’ll always be afraid of, and that’s how life works. But I can always overcome them. I know that I am able to conquer most of my fears along the way. So much of our story as human beings is up for interpretation. So much of what goes on can be looked at from multiple perspectives. And so I’m determined to live by one motto: don’t fear being afraid.


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


a mindful mind

I’m sitting in the corner of a café on Melrose Avenue, nursing my overpriced almond milk latte (and yes, I posted a picture of it, don’t you know who I am?!). All around me, people are hurrying in and out, a passing blur of rush-rush-rush. Many of them dash inside, grab their usual, and run right out, down the block and out of view. In the street, ten Prius cars (question: Is the plural form of Prius Prii?) go zooming by. A dazed and confused woman nearly bikes into oncoming traffic because she’s not paying attention. Another man sprints down the street during a green light, dodging between cars before his parking meter expires.

    I lose count of the people scurrying along, heads down, engrossed in their smartphones, typing out messages, doubtlessly answering an email that “can’t wait” (though it most likely can), or posting something on social media with equally unnecessary urgency.

And all of this is unfolding before my very eyes on an average day, begging the question: WHY. IS. EVERYONE. IN. SUCH. A. DAMN. HURRY? Why the constant rush? Why are people always running late? Who will die if that email isn’t answered in moving traffic? Can’t we sit down, breathe, and enjoy a minor pause for, like, two minutes? I just don’t get it. I, someone whose entire world revolves around all the things that are grinding my gears, just can’t understand when we all became so . . . so . . . this!

I feel as though time has increasingly become like currency in today’s world, and everyone around me seems to be going broke, spending it at warp speed. A mass poverty of patience is leading to everyone giving less attention to the things that really matter: being present in the moment, actively participating in social interactions without distractions from our devices, and actually listening to one another. Really listening. Our busyness—or rather, our perception of busyness—is a form of self-robbery that drives me crazy.

“I’ve been trying to schedule dinner with my friend for weeks,” a friend said to me one afternoon. “My BEST friend, and she keeps saying that she’s too busy with work. She can’t give up one evening, and it sucks.”

“I don’t know this girl personally,” I responded, shaking my head and pursing my lips. “But ‘too busy’ is a damn lie. Everyone is busy. Everyone has work to do. But there are twenty-four hours in a day. Yes, work is important, and yes, it’s inevitable that a large chunk of our time gets chewed up by our professional obligations, but I’ll guarantee this: the 168 hours everyone is given every week are not being fully utilized. She needs to work out her priorities.”

Granted, I was probably being a little judgmental/semi-cynical, but I find modern schedules to be exhausting. And how ironic is that? I’m the most millennial person I know. *chuckles to self*

In being so connected these days—morning, noon, and night—I think we’ve all adopted a sense of urgency around everything we do. Answer that email now! Share that post now! Jump on the call now! Do it now. Now. Now. Now. Now! Otherwise, we fear we’ll miss out or get left behind.

The world seems to move at an alarming rate nowadays. There I go saying “nowadays” again. (Ugh, I swear I’m not a grandpa wearing a mask, pretending to be a twenty-four-year-old. I SWEAR. *edit and save*) Meals can be delivered to us in seconds, everything is now payable via the swipe of a plastic card or the tap of a smartphone, work hours seem to bleed into free time, and we all can be reached at any hour of the day because we can’t seem to put down our technology for more than a second. Ugh. That list alone stresses me out. But it’s reality. We now live in a world of “GO, GO, GO” instead of “Let’s cook a nice family meal, sit down, talk about our feelings, and communicate as a family/friends.” You know, like we did twenty years ago. (Oh gosh, I’m old enough to remember what life was like twenty years ago! Someone call my therapist—I feel a quarter-life crisis coming on . . . again.)

To validate this, I asked my friends what life was like when they were growing up, compared to what it’s like now. “Did you eat family meals together?” or “Do you ever turn your phone off and just not look at it for the night?” Most said that over the years, they’ve noticed a gradual decline in personal time spent with their loved ones. They accept that they’ve fallen to their knees at the behest of technology, choosing to watch television or swipe through their devices during meals instead of engaging with the people around them. Most people I know appear to find it genuinely hard to unplug, due to the fear of missing something important. It’s sad because I feel the same way. As much as I can point this out, I’m as guilty of it as the next person. It’s a difficult habit to break.

Our devices are walls we carry around with us. We erect them inside the home, around restaurant tables, in the car, and even at concerts! These devices are meant to connect us, but in some ways they’re barriers to communication and connection, especially with the people we spend our real lives with. That’s why I’m making more of a concerted effort to carve out space for myself . . . and my friends. In that space, in unplugging from my technology dependency and refusing to cite the “too busy” excuse, I have discovered more light-bulb moments, realizations, and helpful insights about myself and the world around me. It’s almost like I’m dating myself and, in order to get to know me better, I need to spend more unplugged time with me. I like to think that this is how I’ll grow: by stepping out of the blur and into more clarity.

It’s crazy what you’ll see, hear, and feel if you stop and let the world continue to move around you for even just a minute. Right now, as I sit here writing in this café, a song is playing that I’ve never heard before. Through the window, I notice the sun has begun to set, turning the clouds that orangey-pink color I really like. The girl sitting next to me is also writing in what seems to be a journal. Another girl to my right is sitting there, looking out the window with a completely blank stare, as though contemplating something deep and personal. She looks reflective, in a sad way. I hope she’s okay! Speaking of okay, I wonder if my friends back home are? I haven’t talked to them in a couple weeks. I’d better give them a call to check in. Yup, I need to do more of that, too.

Basically, I’m trying to pay attention. I mean, I have to force myself to do it through fits of angst, but the fire has been lit and here I am: trying to be mindful of my surroundings and the people around me. Noting the detail. Ignoring my phone. Thinking beyond my next appointment. I invite you to give it a try right now. This is the only time I’m going to tell you to put down my book (no matter how incredible you’re finding this piece of literature) and be in the moment with yourself for a few minutes. Try it. I hope you’ll feel calmer and more observant. The world will keep going. The planet will keep revolving. Life will go on. But along the way, even when feeling harried or overwhelmed, try to remember to take a little time out . . . for others, and for you. No one’s going to force you; only you can. But who am I to tell you what to do? I don’t know. All I know is I’m going to stop writing now and call my friends.


[image: Images]


you can’t lose what you never had to begin with

My bedroom used to be lined with windows, which was lovely during the daytime but was very much the opposite in the early hours of the morning when the rising sun tried to break through. (Conveniently, all the windows were covered with white wooden shutters.)

On March 17, 2014, around 9 a.m., I was in bed, sleeping away. I’m not sure what I was dreaming about; all I remember is that my dream began to get fuzzy, almost shaky. No, wait, I was literally shaking. Before even opening my eyes, I heard the clanking of the wooden shutters as my entire room moved up and down. I was jolted forward, and I opened my eyes in total confusion, drenched in sweat. “What’s happening? Am I dreaming, or is this real life?”

After what seemed like a few minutes but was probably only seconds, the shaking ended. It just stopped. I soon discovered I had experienced an earthquake—my first earthquake, in fact. And in that moment, when my bedroom rocked like a boat, shaking back and forth with no warning, I realized something: I have no control. None. Nada. Nothing. The world was shaking and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. With that realization, it was as if a lightbulb magically lit up above my sweaty forehead. I can’t control anything. Things like this will happen regardless of whether I want them to or not. No notes of consideration will be sent to my door.

I probably should have had a mental breakdown at that point, but I lay back in bed and quickly live-tweeted my first earthquake experience. (Some things never change . . .)

One thing I’ve always struggled with in my life is dealing with the uncontrollable. If you know me, then this is pretty obvious (*chuckles under his breath*). Whether it’s an unexpectedly long line, being picked fifth when I feel like I should’ve been first, rain on a day I want to spend outside, or a friend canceling plans at the last minute—it’s all beyond me. Life is an infinite loop of uncontrollable events. We wake up to them, we fall asleep to them, we’re powerless to stop them, and we fall to our knees at their whim. It’s just how it is. But you know what? That’s okay.

Before your mind goes to, Well someone has control issues, I’ll stop you right there. (Also, how dare you??)

Ever since I was a kid, one of my favorite things has been to have a schedule. (I’m actually laughing out loud as I type this.) It’s not that I love to be in control; it’s more that it freaks me out how much control we DON’T have. When you think about it, we can’t regulate anything outside ourselves, and, to be honest, we can’t even regulate ourselves. We live in that infinite loop, and there is no other choice but to find peace with it.

Like I said, I’ve never been good with the unknown, but the older I get, the more I realize that this is how it’s always going to be. If I truly want to fret less and live freely, I need to stop being such a worrywart! (That. Phrase. Is. Disgusting.)

With age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes an acceptance of uncertainty, especially as each of us moves blindly through the darkness of adulthood. (It’s not that dark, but again, I love being dramatic!)

One thing I’m continually reminded of is the truth that I don’t know, um, shit. Listen, I like to think I’m a pretty intelligent, switched-on human being, but there are a thousand more things I don’t know anything about than things I do. But the beauty of existence is the journey from beginning to end. Along the way, I might learn about those one thousand things. I hope I do! I can only endeavor to move forward and learn and grow in my knowledge of the world. Beyond that intention, there’s not much more I can do. It’s the same for all of us. We need to trust the greater unknown, throw our cards in the air, and deal with wherever they fall.

Today, I was in line at the airport, waiting to go through security. It was a typical Sunday morning in sunny Los Angeles, without a cloud in the sky, and my Uber driver played the right music all the way there. In real life, the people in this city are relatively laid-back and keep to themselves. Welllll, not at the airport.

Airports are a real-life peek into what (I’m assuming) hell looks like. They’re gross, loud, and if I’m being honest, horribly run and downright uncomfortable (much like hell). Airports suck, and that day, I was stuck in one.

After being dropped off, I rounded the corner of the terminal to approach the security area and was immediately confronted with the sickening sight of a massive line. Gross. No. Anything but WAITING!

Admittedly, I have come to expect such things. I never go anywhere and think the journey will be smooth. (I’ll leave such expectations for the happily naive.) There will forever be unexpected complications along every pathway.

As I joined the slithering monstrosity that was the security line, the voices around me grew sharp and dissonant.

“Can this line move any SLOWER?” said a man with a briefcase.

“This is ridiculous. I’ll be reporting this!” said a child in a suit with a rewards card.

“I can’t believe they’re making us STAND this long!” said a lady in (stunning) six-inch heels.

I’m hungry. Will there be donuts on the other side? said my inner voice.

I began to giggle to myself. Who are these people? What throne do they sit on? IT’S A FREAKIN’ LINE, NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. No one can do anything about this, so why are they complaining as if they can? It’s totally and completely out of our control. Why waste the energy? We’re all going to get through when we get through, and that’s how it is. Relax. There’s no way to avoid this. Maybe write a passive-aggressive tweet about it if you have to.

It’s in moments like this that I feel proud of myself. Like, so damn proud. Because I’m learning. I’m practicing what I preach. I’m not losing my mind over lost time, and I feel good about it. It’s in situations like this that I almost freeze-frame the world, step out of my body, look around, acknowledge that there’s nothing I can do to affect the outcome, shrug, jump back into my body, breathe, and wait patiently. And that pause works for me. After a few minutes, the line moved painfully slowly, but I made it to my gate with more than enough time to spare. And nobody died from waiting in an unexpectedly long line! WOW. Who knew!

All right, I make this mental feat of acceptance sound easy, and it’s also a horrible, first-world problem to overcome, but I think you get the point. It only just happened to me, so yay for immediate inspiration! TAKE THAT, PROCRASTINATION! I’M WRITING IT DOWN. Ha!

For me, the key to this acceptance is all about taking a pause and assessing your situation from a clear mental space. I can only recommend that you try it. Instead of becoming flustered or stressed about a delay or a time-sensitive situation, ask yourself this: “Can I do anything to fix this?” No? Okay then. Wait, breathe, and, nine times out of ten, it will fix itself. Note to self: it pays to be patient. Your mom was right!

Now, here’s some real talk: Most of us will never fully be able to accept that we have no control. Most of us like to labor under the idea that we are in control of our environments, and maybe we are, to a certain extent. But when events outside of our control start to unfold, we can always remind ourselves of the true situation. Trust me, it works: Close your eyes and whisper to yourself, “This is out of my control, and it will be okay.” Tell yourself that until you believe every word. You can’t fix what has already been messed up. Sometimes—well, most times—you need to roll with life’s punches and let go. Just let it go.


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


misplaced organs

Your brain might frequently speak with uncertainty, but your heart will lead you to your truth. It’s so true. Which is why I’m increasingly starting to think with my heart more than my head. Wait, you say. How do you think with the heart? Especially in a world where we are told, usually by parents or teachers, to “use that thing on your shoulders!” or “You were born with a brain for a reason!”

    While I don’t dispute that, I also maintain that we were given a heart for a reason (aside from the whole “It keeps us alive” thing): to feel our way through life. I’m not even sure we’re meant to think our way through our days, ongoing problems, and big-picture issues. The mind is there to weigh options, to process the pros and cons, and to filter thoughts in the moment. But real decision-making, for me, is best conducted through the heart. Before I make a big decision, I ask myself: is my heart into the idea? I let my heart “think” it through . . . and feel what’s right.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I use my brain a lot. *gasp* I consider it one of the most important tools any human can wield. But I consider my heart’s opinion first. My mind is full of uncertainty—always has been, always will be. It questions everything and turns situations inside out, based on my preexisting knowledge and past experiences. But the mind can be so busy, buzzing with information, and it can easily get lost. Clouds can roll through my own mind at the drop of a hat, and those accumulations can fog my judgment and potential decision-making. I’m not here for that ambiguity. I’m not here for that one bit. But the heart speaks truth with crystal clarity. It somehow knows the answers to life’s most difficult obstacles. I don’t know how; it just does. And most importantly, I trust it. Trust is what determines my preference for the heart over the mind. I don’t trust my mind because it has so many filters (and contains way too many rabbit holes and avenues that lead to me chasing, or fretting over, false thoughts). It has an erratic tendency to play games with me and invent worries and fears and illusions that don’t turn out to be true or have any basis in fact. The heart is different. It’s pure. Unfiltered. Unbiased. It knows nothing but fact. There is only one reality for it to face and only one light in the path of darkness. The heart is naturally wise.

Admittedly, it’s scary to trust an organ that modern culture sometimes paints as less reliable than the brain, but that organ literally keeps us breathing, existing. I don’t know about you, but I follow it like my North Star. I willingly fall at the mercy of my emotions that shift the needle of this compass within me. I listen to what it says. Really listen. I hear its whisper and its roar. What is it telling me?


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


i was in love

Today, my heart got stepped on. “Stepped on.” Ha. Scratch that. Who am I kidding? On this very day, my heart was ripped out, thrown on the ground, jumped on, smooshed, trampled, and smudged into the earth. Ground into the dirt. At least, that’s how it feels. I feel weird writing about this, but I need to work myself through it a little. I’m going to open up for a bit with little to no filter, so please be kind . . .

My two-year relationship ended right before my eyes, and there was nothing, I repeat, NOTHING I could do about it; it was a bit like being a witness to a car crash played out in slow motion. You know it’s happening, you brace for the impact, then pray the damage will be minimal, even though you know otherwise. You know.

Yes, that’s what it feels like. But before I go any deeper, let me backtrack to shed light on how I got here in the first place.

Being a closeted gay individual for most of my teenage years and early adulthood has drastically shaped my outlook on love, sex, and relationships. Growing up, I watched everyone around me feel this “love” thing on a daily basis. Young love, as it’s referred to. I never got to experience that. I never developed crushes like my friends did. Well, I did, but these “crushes” were forced. I remember being very aware of how boys and girls were supposed to like each other, so, up until I was twenty, and on a yearly basis, I persuaded myself to feel just an ounce of an emotional connection to girls. And I was consistently successful! Well, it depends on how you define success, but I was able to develop some level of feeling for a few girls over the years, even managing to convince everyone around me. Score. Crushed it. But I was lying to myself and the poor girls I was dating, causing them unexpected heartbreak for no real reason. I just “wasn’t feeling it” because, well, I wasn’t.

On each occasion, I remember feeling so bad about how quickly I would get over them. I feel nothing, I constantly thought. Obviously, my feelings were fake, completely fabricated so I could be “normal,” even if for only a brief moment in time. As a result, my ideas about love were messed up and became warped over the years. Frankly, I slowly began to believe that love wasn’t a real thing. If I didn’t feel it, could it really exist? I wasn’t sure. I felt only emptiness, a black hole inside my heart, a wormhole into nothingness. Maybe everyone else is faking it? I thought. Maybe I’m programmed wrong Maybe I’m not meant to feel such things. In fact, I had pretty much resigned myself to this outcome, telling myself that I’d better get used to it. I must be broken. I keep trying and the result is always the same. I MUST be broken . . . I’d think as I lay in bed in my blankets and tears. That was a cycle I found myself in for years.

Until 2014. That’s when I began the process of accepting my sexuality and stayed on the path to becoming open about it (in my own circles and in my own time). I started to slowly comprehend what it could be like to love someone. I could love another guy! I started to think. Hell, I can see myself marrying a guy. It might not sound like it, but that was a breakthrough—a quantum leap in my mind, especially after having thought that love and marriage could only be between a man and a woman. And yet, I still struggled to see how I could be with another guy permanently, how I could love him, truly. Because, again, for all intents and purposes, I still didn’t know what love even felt like. There’s a huge difference between wanting to be with another person and wanting to spend your life with that person—the difference between a crush and love. “Forever” gradually becomes a possibility in your mind that you are more than okay with. BUT. How. Could. I. Do. That? My brain just didn’t get it . . . until it did.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time when I realized I was falling in love, but my move to California had a lot to do with it. Once immersed in an openly gay environment, I quickly understood that men loving men (and women loving women) was normal. It was BEAUTIFUL, in fact. The spectrum of love made my eyes widen with adoration and appreciation. I’m a very visual person, you see. And let’s just say in West Hollywood, you see a lot of gay people. They’re everywhere, unashamedly being true to who they are, and who they love. It was the single most refreshing thing to witness. To this very day, when I see an openly gay couple in public, it makes my heart flutter and warms every inch of my being, brightening my soul in ways I can’t begin to describe. Those couples became a symbol of hope to me, and to see them firsthand made me think it was possible for me to be like them. To love. To be happy. It was actually possible to dream of the future. The future I wanted to have.

Now, I know you want me to get back to how this justifiably dramatic passage began, but hang in there, sweet human. You see, before you can know heartbreak, you must have someone break your heart. And in late 2014, I set myself up for that. I fell in love hard. I fell as fast as the sun seems to set: slowly, then quickly, then all at once.

The spark was there, the colors burst as bright as can be, and my head was over my heels before I knew it. That’s when I got it. I suddenly understood what love is. What it COULD be. It was actually a real thing, and it blew my mind. Turns out, the overused cliché is true: When you know, you know. The feeling is undeniable. The butterflies come by the thousands. The excitement feels like electricity. I couldn’t stop smiling, hard as I tried. Something inside of me ignited. When together with your loved one, you’re flying. When apart, all you wish is to be together. It’s the only thing you can think about. Honestly, I could go on and on about this feeling of elation, but I think you get it. Some force that I didn’t think existed now had me in its very real grip. I was in love. Now, I share a lot of aspects of my life with the world, from what I had for breakfast (eggs over easy) to the ridiculous text my dad just sent (“I think I butt-dialed you twice HA”). I’m very open. But one of the main things I rarely talk about is relationships in any form, whether it’s with friends, family, or a boy. That’s the boundary I’ve drawn for myself. Some things deserve to be kept private, personal, and wholeheartedly to myself. I reserve that right and am thankful that people, for the most part, respect it. In keeping with that philosophy, I’ll withhold specific details here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share what I’m feeling right this very second. I’m experiencing a feeling that I’ve never felt before; it’s the feeling—the risk—that comes with love, and it’s the worst: heartbreak. Unfortunately, heartbreak isn’t unique—it’s universal. It’s a vulnerability that we all experience and understand, or will one day come to understand.

My heart is broken. After two years, countless shared experiences, endless secrets, and giving all of myself . . . I am crushed. And it feels like the closest thing to being destroyed that I’ve ever known, and I feel as if I’m beyond repair. I feel alone. I am alone. I haven’t been alone in two fucking years, and I don’t even know how to be this anymore. It’s like I’ve forgotten what it was like before, and now I’m being forced to remember when I don’t want to remember. Ugh, that sucks. Even as I type these words in the corner of a local coffee shop, I’m shaking, choking back the tears, resisting the urge to have a complete emotional breakdown. My hands are tense. I kind of want to vomit. Fuck, this is the worst.

The hardest part is that I knew this was coming. I’m young; he’s young. So I guess it was inevitable, right? According to all the stories, “young love doesn’t last.” They say there’s so much love out there in the world that we should experience a little of it before settling down. I don’t know about that. Just because that’s how it is for a lot of people doesn’t mean that’s how it must be for everyone, right? Apparently not. As hard as I tried, and as much as I gave of myself, it wasn’t enough to make this relationship last. I can’t point fingers or make excuses, and I can’t go any further because I don’t want to make anyone out to be a villain, but these emotions—these new and powerful emotions—are messing with my mind. I don’t know what to think or believe. As I sit here right now, I don’t know. I just don’t know . . . anything.

I never knew a person could feel this way. Just like the once foreign feeling of love, I didn’t know pain like this existed. This. Fucking. Sucks. I’ll repeat that until you believe it: This. Fucking. SUCKS. But this, too, is love. As much as people talk about love, you also hear about heartbreak constantly; to be honest, you probably hear about it more. Pain is the other side of the same coin. It is both the presence and the absence of love; the residual feeling when the physical relationship is over, lingering like a stinging wound that won’t close up. Not that any of this makes me feel better. My world is flipped upside down, and I don’t know where to run, even though every fiber of my being is telling me RUN. GET OUT OF HERE. RUN AWAY.

I imagine that this is what it feels like to unknowingly be in a life-threatening situation. You don’t understand why, but your mind is screaming at you to stop doing what you’re doing. Something isn’t right and you need to stop it, now, before something bad happens. Love must trigger a similar fight-or-flight burst of adrenaline. All I want to do is flee back to the past, to stop what is happening now and figure out a way to go back to yesterday. How can I stop this? What can I do to fix it? There must be something. Anything. This is a dream. This isn’t real. This can’t be happening. Everything was fine two hours ago. How could this happen? How could I let this happen? How did YOU let this happen?

You did this. You did this. Come back and fix it.

Please.

I know I’m talking irrationally, but I can’t seem to be any other way. This must be what it’s like to feel crazy. It’s so strange. I feel incapable of doing what I need to do to pull myself together in this moment. I haven’t told anyone this has happened yet. Once I talk about it, then it becomes true. Maybe if I ignore my sadness, it’ll go away? Maybe if I pretend for long enough that this isn’t happening, I’ll wake up next to him and it will have been only a nightmare . . .

Okay, I thought it would be therapeutic to write down my feelings in this hyperemotional state, but explaining it only seems to be making things worse. It’s not helping in the way I had hoped. I wonder if anything will help. Is that possible? I’ve . . . I’ve never been here before. And I never want to be here again.

I can’t stop thinking that he and I will never do anything together again. “We” doesn’t exist anymore. “We” are now separate people. And it’s that separation that feels unbearable.

I’m sorry, I can’t write about this anymore. I need to be alone for a while and just . . . cry. Maybe that will help until I fall asleep. The pain subsides when I sleep.

Fuck. I’m sad. Sorry for the downer.

I’ll be fine.

Eventually.


[image: Images]

[image: Images]

[image: Images]


it will always be okay

I’ve never been a big fan of attending awards shows. Most are pretentious, and few are truly entertaining. In theory, it sounds fun to witness the glamour and chaos of the red carpet firsthand. But the truth is that once you’re done up, looking fine, and immersed in such superficial gatherings . . . it’s not all that. The novelty soon wears thin.

    I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me.

    Regardless, here I am, sitting in the Staples Center (capacity: roughly 20,000) as a guest at the fifty-eighth annual Grammy Awards—THE night in the music world. And yet I’m not excited to be here. In fact, I’m pretty uncomfortable. After several hours—yes, this show goes on for HOURS—I just can’t take it anymore. In fairness to the Grammys, it’s not their fault. I can’t blame this on Kanye, either. No, I’m struggling for personal reasons, as explained in the previous chapter, and I have to leave in the least dramatic way possible before I have an emotional meltdown. So, I get up, say my good-byes, and make a silent exit (because let’s be real, no one cared that I was there anyway).

The fresh air helps a bit, but I still want to go home so I can have a good cry and let it all out. I order a car, and a short while later, a middle-aged man swoops curbside and picks me up.

Sure enough, only a few minutes into the journey, I totally lose it.

Tears begin falling from my face and my nose stuffs up; if I could look in a mirror, I’m sure I would resemble a person suffering a horrendous allergic reaction. Before I know it, my quiet weeping transitions into loud sobbing . . . and I can’t stop. My sadness doesn’t seem to care that I’m dissolving in the back of some stranger’s car.

And that’s when he, the driver, begins to hand tissues to me over his shoulder. He doesn’t break his concentration on the road. Not once. He simply continues to pass me fresh tissues with his right hand, keeping his left on the steering wheel without even glancing at me in the rearview mirror, as deftly and nonchalantly as a magician pulling out a never-ending handkerchief from his sleeve.

As he does, my mind plays games with me, repeatedly whispering insecure, heartbreak-induced words in my ear, like worthless, pathetic, and pointless. In the midst of my sadness, I believe everything I’m saying to myself, and it makes me feel even more horrible. I try my hardest to focus on the music playing in the car, hoping it drowns out the words in my head.

After a solid forty-five minutes of driving (fuck this Los Angeles traffic!) and another half dozen tissues later, we pull up outside of my house. I’m a total wreck at this point, and there’s no trying to hide it. “Thanks . . . so much . . . for . . . the ride,” I say, in between sobs and sniffles, trying not to sound like a total mess.

The driver hands me another tissue and finally looks at me, totally composed. And he says, “Sir, whatever is upsetting you, just know that it will be okay. It will always be okay.” He says it so gently, so sincerely. His kindness in that moment—his understanding and empathy—makes me want to bawl even more. I can barely utter “thank you,” to the extent that my gratitude comes out as a whisper.

I step out of the car and he drives away, turning the corner at the end of my street and vanishing into the night. I sit on my steps and continue my pity party for one. But the truth is that I don’t stop thinking about what the driver said to me. His words didn’t cure me then and there, but I would remember them in the days ahead. Because it will be okay. It will always be okay.

I just needed the kindness of a stranger to remind me of that.


sometimes even the worst dreams are better than this reality


[image: Images]

[image: Images]

[image: Images]

[image: Images]


her peach sunglasses

People don’t realize the daily power they have to make others happy. All it takes is a few kind words, delivered without expectation. It’s not much, honestly. Giving someone a compliment or slight encouragement is the one thing any of us can do, at any time. It’s free, it’s easy, and, boy, can it do the world wonders.

For some reason, I’ve always felt uncomfortable talking to strangers in any capacity. I’m the type of guy who will mentally rehearse his dinner order at a restaurant until I have to say it out loud to the server. Don’t fuck this up, Connor! You. Have. One. Shot. DON’T FUCK THIS UP!! Nine times out of ten, I stutter or stumble over my words and everything goes to shit, but who’s counting? (Me.)

I’m getting better at it now because, frankly, it’s my job. I’ve been honing my social skills and public-speaking abilities over the past three years due to the industry I find myself in. It has thrust me into situations that have ripped me out of my comfort zone and taught me confidence. I meet countless people who do every job imaginable, so in a way, my life is like one giant speed-dating session and, whether I like it or not, I’m deathly single. I have to meet them all because who knows if I’ll find a match made in work heaven! (I don’t think I’m making sense or am even close to a metaphor at this point, so . . . LET’S MOVE ON.)

The other day I was out and about with a few friends, walking down Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, browsing shops and store windows, as we do. A group of girls was walking toward us in the opposite direction, and I quickly noticed how cool one of them looked. She had this cute, short haircut that still maintained some waves, and she wore baggy jeans with a tucked-in, white graphic tee, complete with a pair of round, peach-colored sunglasses. My description doesn’t do her outfit justice, but she was cute as hell and everyone could tell.

Now, I could do one of two things here: 1) not say a thing, or 2) say a thing. It’s simple. Those were my options. I’m willing to bet most people would go with option one and move along, perhaps feeling a slight twinge of regret for not having the guts to say something. I used to be that way, but with practice, I now adopt the “why not?” attitude. What’s so hard about telling people they look great? (In the least “I’m hitting on you” way possible, of course.) If done correctly, with sincerity and no weirdness intended, nothing can go wrong.

As this girl approached us, I made eye contact, smiled, and spoke up. “Hey, you’re killing it. You look great!”

She looked surprised. “Oh, thank you?!” she said, as if no one had ever paid her a compliment before (which I highly doubt because style like that could NOT be an accident). I continued smiling, nodded in acknowledgment of her response, and kept walking on with my friends.

I thought something, and wasn’t going to hold back from sharing that honest thought. In doing so, it actually left me feeling like a million bucks, and, judging by the look on her face, she felt a similar sensation of giddiness. It felt good to make someone else feel good about herself. Apparently, the giving and receiving of a compliment has mutual benefits. Who knew?

In a world that appears to indulge in negativity, I find we need to do our best to share the good. Too many shows, blogs, and newspapers spew pessimism, seemingly dedicated to tearing people down and picking them apart, piece by piece, until there’s nothing left. This horribly judgmental trend has no point, save for spite and harm. You merely have to flick through magazines or scroll through the online entertainment sites to observe how people’s fashion, hair, bodies, and even personalities are being dissected for commentary. Spend five minutes on Twitter and you’ll see a constant stream of pointless, vitriolic trolling every time you refresh your feed. It’s sad. It’s sad to me when it’s not even about me. Rarely does anyone have anything nice to say anymore. It’s a playground of sore shut-ins bitching and gossiping, where people drag others down for their own twisted entertainment. And the danger of this online activity is that it spills over into real life. You can’t fake hatred like that. Thankfully, kind Uber drivers who pass me tissues are my reassuring reminder that goodness and kindness remain in abundance out there. Good people do exist, even if most of them are not known to the wider public and live their lives under the radar.

We have enough badness in the real world without adding to it in the virtual one, and we need to remember that we’re capable of projecting goodness. We need to spread love, kindness, and empathy to the masses. At the end of the day, we’re all humans, with hang-ups and unknown struggles and insecurities we face daily, silently. Think about that, and be aware that we are all this way. It’s not just you and not just me. Everyone has baggage. Pause for a second and think of something nice to say instead of indulging in pointless negativity.

So, next time you see someone who’s wearing something cool or dope or unique, or maybe got a new haircut or hair color, acknowledge it. Show that you noticed it in the way the person wanted to be noticed, be it a friend, relative, or total stranger. I’m not sure there’s anything better than being noticed. And you watch: the more you do it, the more the kindness will spread out like a ripple. Trust me on this: you’ll walk a little taller for simply speaking up, no strings attached, no ifs, ands, or buts.


an unmemorable day made memorable

It’s crazy how I can remember a specific day from the now-distant past so vividly. A day in which nothing super-significant happened, except for the fact that it was just, well, a really good day. My recall of a day shared with you—a special someone—is almost cinematic. Take this snapshot as an example:

    I woke up at the right time, feeling refreshed, not at all groggy after a damn near stirless sleep, with only your smile to greet mine in the morning as we stretched and rolled around in the messy covers. The sheets were warm; the air remained a little cold. A happy dream lingered in my mind, my face reflecting its quickly fading memory, making me smile. I rolled out of bed and headed to the kitchen to brew up a couple of coffees before snuggling on the couch with mug in hand and you by my side. My calendar was clear; all usual commitments were nonexistent. The day was ours, for you and me alone to fill with whatever our hearts desired.

Outside, the weather was cool enough to wear a jacket, so I grabbed a favorite from the closet and we held hands as we walked to the bookstore. There, we enjoyed another coffee before sharing literary finds with each other, comparing choices that were so fitting and inappropriately appropriate. We observed the passing pedestrians and kissed behind bookcases. We grabbed a light lunch of avo’ on toast with another coffee—because that’s about as crazy as we got. We swung on the swings in a nearby park like the kids we were. The clouds were sprinkled lightly across the sky in a way that added to the sense of peace. You talked. I listened. Nothing important was said, but all the words were open and spoken with ease, bringing questions and giggles in between.

And there was that smile. That goddamn smile that made my knees weak. When I was able to make it appear, I couldn’t help but feel excited. I couldn’t help but feel closer than the eye can see. The hours ticked by, to the extent that we lost the sense of time that we never truly had on this good day. And then we made our way home, not because we had to but because we wanted to.

Joined by friends and family, the warmth of togetherness slowly grew, continuing into the night; we were a little community watching TV shows, perfectly imperfect in all the right ways. The conversation was alive, and the contagious happiness was like ecstasy in the air that made everyone glow. Then, just like that, it was time for this day to end where it began: with our heads on the pillow, cuddling and sleeping with the smallest, most content of smiles. We had no fears that day. No worries. We were carefree. It was nice to merely exist—to be—and existing had never felt so light.

That one ordinary, unremarkable day became memorable purely for being good.

Let’s never forget our good days; we should string them together like pearls on a necklace, to be treasured and remembered whenever days don’t make us feel as good. I think that sometimes it’s the memory of simple, ordinary, happy days that sustains us. The ones without expectation, that come with no strings attached. The ones that stand out for blending in, and can be appreciated for that reason alone.

What a good day that was.


[image: Images]


morning silence

Do you know what I appreciate? Morning silence. When I’m up and awake before anyone else. When the sun has just risen and sends shimmering beams of gold through the window, drenching my home in light. When I’m walking around, trying to be as weightless as a feather but the floorboards still manage to emit a slight creak or two.

    From outside, the sound of an occasional passing car momentarily interrupts the quiet of daybreak, but I hear it almost as a greeting. “Hello, fellow early riser. How do you do? Where are you off to?” And then, another window of silence is broken by a bird chirping ever so softly amongst the palms outside—nature’s alarm clock, I guess. A distant voice is heard from across the street—doubtless a duo of walkers getting some exercise before rushing off to work. The street is beginning to stir and this moment is coming to an end.

As the rest of the city slowly wakes, the air is cooler than usual, so I wrap myself up in a blanket, cocooned in comfort and immediate warmth. In the kitchen, the coffee begins to drip, and each drip invites me to get up and get going. Everything is perfectly in its place from the previous day. All things lie in their natural state, as if frozen overnight.

The sun gleams through, seemingly brighter than before. It’s going to be a good one, I think as I pour the first of many cups of coffee. I have no reason to know that, but I sense the goodness in the air.

I take my first sip, and my mind hums. Yes. Welcome to your new day, a day that started in sublime stillness.


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


up at 5 a.m.

i can feel every eyelash, every itch, every breath that i take

i’m wide awake

thinking about you

and i don’t know how to stop


[image: Images]


runaway

It’s late May, the seasons are changing, and I’m off again, headed as far away as I can stand to go on my own. Honestly, the destination couldn’t matter less at this point. All that matters is that I get away.

I figure that if I flee as soon as things aren’t working, then maybe I’ll be all right. Maybe everything will become good again if I run away to somewhere better. By going to a new location on a new day in a new time zone filled with new people and new experiences, maybe, just maybe, everything will turn out better. Maybe.

    This isn’t my first dramatic escape. If it were, I would be much more frightened and damn near crippled with anxiety. This is, however, my first time leaving the country to do it. I’ve never fled so far. Typically, I’ll go somewhere like the Northwest to visit my brother (did that twice) or home to Minnesota to be in the comfort of my parents’ home (did that twice as well) or to New York to get caught up in the busy city life surrounded by strangers, but hey, at least I’m not alone (did that once). But never before have I gone as far as London. That’s quite excessive, especially from Los Angeles: eleven hours by plane, five thousand miles away, eight hours “into the future.” That’s, um, a lot. Even for me.

As per usual, I’ve convinced myself that I’m leaving for a good reason: to be with friends, or to take some time off, or simply because I want to. Sadly, those are lies—deep-rooted lies told to myself and everyone close to me. They’re all bullshit excuses that further distance myself from the truth. Deep down, only I know I’m running away. Nothing feels right, or the same, or good at “home” in Los Angeles anymore. It’s shit, continues to be shit, and I need to get away from this shit. I need to leave behind the constant reminders of what was and what will never be. I have to escape the pain that bombards me from every direction and haunts my mind with lingering questions. I’m sore from thinking, and my senses are numb to reality. It’s not even about a broken heart anymore. I’m back to where I was in college, reverting to the depression that cripples my everyday existence. Everything is shit or, at least, that’s what the depression convinces me is true. It’s like looking into a foggy mirror that won’t clear up. No matter how many times I try to wipe it away, the haze returns.

In a way, this is my version of fight versus flight. I’m not a fighter, as you might very well know. I hate confrontation in any form and avoid it like the plague. But I do fly when the going gets tough. Literally. I jump on a plane and it seems to work . . . for a while. It makes things better . . . for a few days. But I soon learn that none of these trips really help. I quickly become engulfed in the fog once again. These trips don’t fix me; they don’t stop my hive of a mind from buzzing day in and day out. But, alas, I’m an optimist at heart, and I’m hoping that this trip to London will be the one that defies the rest. And so here I sit in Delta economy at Los Angeles International Airport, running away, hoping the fourth time’s a charm.

The first time I ran, I genuinely believed it would help in a significant way. After booking my ticket, I began fantasizing that I had successfully scheduled a cure-all, as though it were a surgery to remove a cancer from my body and, thus, free me of this disease. I felt excited to leave, and it had nothing to do with where I was going. Only the departure mattered.

Sadly, and not surprisingly, within forty-eight hours of arriving at my brother’s house in Portland, Oregon, I realized the solution wasn’t geographical. In fact, I almost felt worse (if that was even possible). It was as if my body knew the futility of trying to outrun my feelings, yelling at me, “No, no, no, you tricky little weasel. I know what you’re up to and that’s not how this works. You can’t hide from the truth. No, no, no.” And then BOOM, the tears came. Stupid self.

Upon experiencing this rather quick epiphany, I felt like I had to flee . . . again. That was the only choice, right? I wasn’t recovering in Portland, so I had to go somewhere else. I felt as though I couldn’t be at ease existing within myself, and I was desperate to seek out an antidote to my sadness and resurfacing depression.

My next move was to head home to Minnesota, where my other brother and his then-fiancée (now wife) were nothing but helpful and comforting, trying their absolute best to console me when I needed consoling, and to distract me at all other times. “We’ll keep you busy!” they said. Which made me feel worse, because how could this not make me feel better? How could I still feel this way when I was surrounded by love, support, and endless breweries? HOW?!


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


Now, many months and a few runaways later, cut to London, where I’ve fled for no particular reason. The hardest part about coming here is trying to explain to friends and family why I felt the urge to pick up and leave. “Oh, a couple of friends have been begging me to visit! I’ve gotta go. It’s for them!” Lies. Such lies. It’s true that I know people in London (how oddly pretentious does that phrase sound?), but by no means were they begging me to make an appearance. They weren’t even asking. I invited myself. It’s kind of sad when you think about it—choosing to be that distant from my entire life, and not owning up to it.

Again, I wish to reiterate that running away, for me, had absolutely nothing to do with the destination. It was all a journey of hope that would be deemed successful only if I left but wanted to stay; if I boarded the plane back to the States, sat down in my seat, looked through my camera roll filled with photos, and those memories brought a smile to my face and peace to my brain. Memories that made me miss that place and want to return again one day. If that happened, I told myself, then this runaway would run back to where he belonged with a new glow about him. Rejuvenated. Repaired. Happy to go; happy to return.

London was the first trip that did that for me. There was something about the days that seemed so long that made me giddy to exist in every minute of every hour. I booked a tiny, and let’s be honest, shitty hotel room, which had a bed and a shower right next to each other in the same closet-sized space. There was a desk in the corner, with a kettle and all the fixings to make English breakfast tea (which I embraced fully and made on the daily), plus a single sash window that looked out onto the busy streets below. That was all I needed, all I wanted. Every day I would sleep in because, for the first time in a while, I had nothing to wake up for. No reason to get out of bed early. No emails to be answered. It felt like I had not one single responsibility. For the first time in forever, I enjoyed the mundane doings of an average day. That week, my job was to solely exist . . . and I found it liberating.

It fostered an even stronger sense of independence within me, and I felt more detached from our ever-connected world. I was forced to make plans. I was left to my own devices. And I had to sit with my own thoughts and decisions because of the massive amounts of alone time I had accumulated. I’m not saying that running away always works, nor should it be viewed as the solution to our problems when life feels like too much—because it isn’t—but on this occasion, for me, London worked wonders.

Here’s what I also know: matters of geography don’t erase matters of the heart, soul, and mind. No matter your mental state, and no matter the amount of distance you put between you and your problems, leaving rarely solves anything. Problems follow us to locations; they travel with us to all corners of the earth like a permanently attached carry-on. No one can outrun a difficult time or emotion. Not even Usain Bolt.

For a while, I think I labored under the false impression that running away meant I could leave a problem behind and almost forget about its significance. Wrong. That’s so wrong. The only way to crack a real problem is to face it. Look your issues dead in the eye and sort out the beef between you.

For the first time in so long, I realized I was okay with just me. I didn’t need someone else to be constantly around to make me happy. That was something I had always known deep down but never been forced to understand. In leaving, in putting so much distance between myself and “home,” I discovered that I was ready to face my reality and look into the whites of its eyes. Things weren’t going to get better magically; they were going to take time and effort. And I had to do this for me. My heart can’t mend until I apply the Band-Aids. My mind won’t clear until I get rid of the baggage. My self-love and appreciation won’t return unless I work toward remembering why I’m great as an individual. My worth is not defined by others; it can only be defined by me.

By no means did I conquer everything on that one London trip. I refuse to sit here and pretend this was a revolutionary moment that brought puppies and rainbows. I’m not going to paint a fantasy just to sound inspirational. But it did lead to an important breakthrough. I still don’t know where the ultimate destination is, but for me, life is about finding new paths and connections, and figuring out the twists and turns and ups and downs as you go, encountering all the roadblocks along the way. I’m curious to see where I go with this new mind-set. Only time will tell if I feel the need to run away again. I’m guessing that I will at some point. But who knows? Maybe I’ll choose to sit with that urge, keep my feet grounded, look my discomfort dead in the eye, and work it out. Maybe staying put is what the courageous do. Yeah.

I’d like to be brave next time.


[image: Images]

[image: Images]


daytime

You know those times when you’re so utterly relaxed that you genuinely can’t think of a single problem in your life? Well, I find myself experiencing that feeling right now, and I want to attempt to capture this rare moment, this best of feelings, in writing. So, here goes:

I’m lying supine on my couch. My feet are up on the armrest and my head is resting on a cushion as the sun streams in, filtering through the leaves of the palm tree silhouetted against my open window. I feel warm but cool at the same time, as if I’m the same temperature as the air in the room, as if we’ve somehow achieved equilibrium, existing peacefully together, inside of each other, in sync. I watch the swish-swashing palm fronds, softly tickled by the breeze.


[image: Images]


When I close my eyes, I see a pale orange form and feel as though I’m protected from reality, excluded from all expectation, utterly safe in this spot. My eyelids part for a second—the living room appears to be the brightest shade of baby blue. When I close them again, the orange has shifted to the softest shade of lilac. I become aware of my breathing, my quiet exhalations. In my mind, I’m wandering through a field of tall grass, feeling nothing but peace. The day and time escape me. My schedule and plans are nonexistent. I shift my body and curl up, fetal-like. Why can’t I feel this worry-free joy all the time? This sense of peace. Such inner calm.

I wish I knew how to induce this state. Instead, it seems to find me from time to time, when it’s ready. I’m happily greeted by its warm presence, as if it has shown up to help me through the day. I welcome its soothing effects but also know that it won’t stay long; this feeling is fleeting, which is what makes its random appearance so magical.

After enjoying the slow minutes, which feel like long hours, I stretch, open my eyes with the most subtle smile, and return to my day. Thank you, strange state. It’s nice to be greeted by your goodness, and I look forward to seeing you again. Until next time . . .


[image: Images]


all of me

Ever since I was a young boy—and I place the blame squarely on my midwestern upbringing for this one—I’ve been guided toward modesty. Being humble, and thinking of others before myself, was not the right way but the only way. Now, that sounds like it would be a good thing, right? WRONG. (Well, maybe not an all-caps wrong, but definitely not fully correct.)

You see, the older I get, the more I understand what it means to walk that fine line between “selfish” and “selfless.” In many situations, and contrary to what we’ve all been taught, it often benefits us to think of ourselves before anyone else.

    It’s strange to think we’re brought up in a world that judges us for putting ourselves first. Somehow, to think of ourselves first and others second has come to sound so incredibly selfish—and that just makes my stomach churn and my teeth grind. How unfair! How misguided! Because here’s what I’ve learned (and what no one seems to teach us in life): you have to make YOU a priority and think in terms of what’s good for yourself and your higher interests.

The older you get, the less other people are going to make you a priority. You must speak up for yourself, because everyone else is doing the same. Being selfless shouldn’t mean self-sacrificing, in the same way that being selfish shouldn’t mean being self-absorbed. There is a middle ground to be explored here.

The people I spend the most time with regularly hear me say things like, “Yeah, whatever you want!” or “No, no, really! I’m okay with anything! YOU choose!” (My friends reading this right now are rolling their eyes because they know it’s true and find this trait to be constantly annoying.) But these phrases spill from my lips unconsciously. I can’t help it. I don’t even think about the options. I simply allow others to make the decision for me—or for them. It’s for them, not me, you see. (Look at me thinking they’re deciding for me. HA!)

I have forever put the needs and wishes of other people ahead of my own. It’s how I’m programmed, and I fear it’s how I’ll always be. (Okay, how did I manage to make this sound so damn dark so quickly? This is fixable. I. Am. Dramatic.)

And yet, 2016 has been the year of discovering me. The other day, after a therapy session, I had a subtle epiphany while sitting in my car, staring out over the steering wheel, gazing into the cloudless, light blue sky. Me . . . Meeeee. ME. Think about me for a change, I thought. Why am I always thinking of him/her/them? This habit needs to stop. This is MY life—precious and unique and worthy of being treated as such.

I might’ve started speaking aloud—I tend to do that when I’m having an epiphany. It’s actually empowering to verbalize the thought (even though I must have looked like a crazy person yelling to myself from within a locked car, sweating profusely somewhere deep within the Valley. Ick.).

During my aforementioned therapy session, I had experienced a powerful realization about how much I relegate my own needs to appease or please others. That’s the thing about “Minnesota Nice”—everyone is sooo accommodating!

My therapist continually asks, “But Connor, what do YOU think about that?” or, “Connor, how do YOU feel about this?” And somewhere around the fifteenth session and the fifteen hundredth, I started to wonder why I constantly assume how other people are feeling, doing, thinking, or caring. I don’t know about their life. I have no control over other people. I have only myself. ME. That’s all I know for sure . . . and I barely know that “me” because I’ve thought about everyone else for so long. *stares up from the large pile of tissues on his lap, looks at therapy lady with jaw to the ground*

Now, back to the scene of me sitting in the hot car.

By the time I had turned the key in the ignition and started to drive home, I had resolved to put me first, in thoughts, words, and actions.

With this goal in mind, I had a plan: whenever I dwelled on thoughts of someone else’s interests, especially when they were antithetical to my own, I would visualize the word ME in its all-caps glory. My mind’s eye would focus on the physical form of the word and trace its lines several times over. It’s amazing what started to happen once I did this. Eventually, with practice, my mind flipped a switch, and I began to think differently. Granted, lifelong habits can’t be undone overnight, which is why I still find myself doing this mental exercise today; I did it in my spin class this morning, in fact. (A friend told me to go, and goddammit, I was going to do it for ME!)

Luckily, this exercise (not the spinning) has proven effective and really helps! Call it a retraining of the mind, undoing old habits and pressing reset. It has also proven to be a healthy reminder that we all have to take care of ourselves first and foremost before helping others. Instead of thinking of an action as selfish, with all the negative connotations that this word carries, I view it more positively as “looking after myself.” More observant readers will have noticed the dedication at the front of this book: for me. It’s there for a reason: I need to start living for myself, being