I’m In Love With a Ghost

5 Nov 2014

I saw your photograph today. You looked happy. I want to be happy for you, but I’m not. I want to understand why you torture me with your words. Confusion is a word I have used often since I last saw you. You looked in my eyes and said “I love you” and you meant it. You could have said “I always thought you were a coward,” and still your heart would have betrayed your lying mouth. It shines brighter than a thousand suns, so brightly that no shadow of doubt can remain. Yet shadows of your ghost haunt me every time I think of your face since that day. I wake up on chilly mornings, and my soul reaches out for a fleeting moment, hoping you slipped into my bed in the night, like so many times before. I want so much to be surprised by the feeling of your warm soft skin, pressing into me and shying away from the crisp morning air; to wrap you up in the cotton wool of my heart as we did on so many mornings, as we watch the sun rise over the bay.

I miss you like you died. I can’t touch you or smell your hair or feel the depth of your love radiating from your chest. All I have is images of your smiling face in my social media stream, reminding me that you’re not in jail or laying in a hospital bed. And still, I see in your actions no evidence of this love we share. One singular response, telling me it was fun but you’ve moved on. Two words, to let me live in peace: “fuck off,” but all I see is empty space. All I hear is the devastating ambiguity of silence, like an echo chamber for both hope and despair; a cruel joke, and no one’s laughing, not even you.

All those nights I sang you to sleep, all those nights I dragged my fingers gently along the contours of your body, all those times I satisfied your corporeal hunger or soothed the savagery of your menses with laughter, love, and lust; and in the end, you reciprocate with a big fat slice of nothing. In a few rare moments of clarity, you told me how much you appreciated all that I do for you, but there was always something missing. You have such a rich capacity for love and joy, and you share it with all who are worthy of your presence, yet you keep me at twice the distance of a random beggar on the street. What you give so easily to others, you make me earn every inch and then judge me for it.

So I live my life, resigned to know that one day I will wake up and not feel this distance I feel now. It won’t be because you’re in my arms. It will be because our love faded through apathy, a withered rose neglected by an absent gardener. For, even fertile soil and bountiful rivers can not overcome the stale tide of neglect, a monument to callous indifference.

22 Dec 2014

My heart nearly leapt from my chest when I saw your name on my phone. You were calling to wish me a happy birthday and to thank me for the flowers I sent you. We hadn’t spoken in months. I was shocked, as I expected never to hear from you again. The flowers were one last romantic gesture, hoping to remind you of the love we share and how important it is to show that love. You cried as we talked, told me stories of your sadness, how lonely you feel, how much you wish you had someone to hold you on those lonely nights. It hurts every time I hear you say that, as I want to be there with you every night. I know how hard it must have been for you when I moved away. We made plans to spend time together when in California.

Days passed. I reached out to you the day you were flying into town, invited you to an adorable tea shop near your hotel. As with so many text messages before, I received no reply. The next day, you invited me to an event related to your conference; an Ignite event, like those we have attended in the past, both as speakers and attendees. You were so excited to see me. We talked all night, caught up on some of the things we’re doing in our professional lives. We went to a speakeasy for a drink. On our way, we stopped for a smoke, huddled in a cubby hole in the wall on the street, trying to get away from the rain. As we walked back to your hotel, you felt distant, yet connected.

Just like all those times before, I rubbed your neck and back, as your stress melted away. You turned to face me, and I ran my fingers through your hair. You kissed me, and like so many times before, we made love for hours. You fell asleep in my arms and snored softly in my ear, something I cherish very much. We awoke to the foggy sunrise over the city, and made love again.

When it was time for me to go, you walked me to the elevator, held me close, in what I have come to understand as the “don’t ever leave me” hug. You thanked me for a wonderful night, kissed me, and said “now you know how to find me.” It was the happiest day of my life.

That day, I reached out to have dinner with you, but I received no reply. The next day, I invited you to a Cirque du Soleil show, but I received no reply, so I stopped by your hotel. I will never know why you felt threatened by my presence that night. I only sought to spend time with the woman I love, to take you out for a night on the town. I only ever want to treat you like the amazing woman you are, to surrender myself to you and bask in the glow of our collective hearts, beating in time with each other. I respected your space and went to spend time with a friend, knowing you would reach out if you wanted to get together. I thought you wanted to spend time with me, but now I’ll never see you again. You left the next day without saying goodbye.

I wanted so much to leave things on good terms, but you made that impossible. So, it’s over. I want you to be happy, and you seem so happy with me, but something is always missing. And that something is you. I don’t know exactly when I lost you, but you’re gone forever. I hope you find happiness. You’ll always be my number one bird. Fly and be free.

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Zen and the Art of Elevator Repair

It turns out earthquakes have a funny way of shaking things up. Puns aside, this is a far deeper and more spiritual sentence than you might think. Early this morning, I awoke to the gentle rocking motion of my second floor top bunk. I’m staying in a hostel for startup nerds in San Francisco, while I wait patiently for my first paycheck from a new job. Without said paycheck and its included signing bonus, I will not be able to afford a luxury refrigerator box (gently used) under the I-280 overpass, let alone a tiny studio apartment within walking distance of my new office.

This was my first earthquake experience, and I must say it was “A++++ would ride again!!!!11!one” After a few seconds of realizing I was not, in fact, dreaming the whole thing, I lay in my bunk evaluating my options. I could hear people in the common area considering running outside to avoid the imminent collapse of the building. As a diagnostician and engineer, I feel qualified to assess the imminence of said collapse, as well as the logistics of the ensuing chaos.

Sure, there would be trouble if the building came apart. That much is clear. It would certainly make my transition period more challenging; damned inconvenient, really, given the current state of my credit card and bank account balance. Still, I took solace in my assessment, surmising that there would be less building to fall on my head if I were to stay on the second floor than if I vaulted from my bunk and sprinted down the stairs, attempting to make it outside before the ceiling did. Then, there was the nagging little problem of my belongings.

Part of my assessment included the time it might take to gather my essentials. Laptop was first on my list. I can fish my clothes out of the rubble. The laptop seems unlikely to survive. Also, I can sell the laptop to buy more clothes, or at least trade it for an Uber ride to a friend’s house and/or an AirBnB for a few nights. The laptop is also fairly easy to carry, as it is already conveniently in a backpack, ready to go on a moment’s notice. After about twenty seconds of evaluation, including anecdotal reports from the other occupants, I concluded that my time was best spent tweeting about the experience.

I considered tagging USGS in the tweet, but immediately decided against that, presuming (incorrectly, as it turns out) that their Tweet Earthquake Detection (TED) system was already aggregating data from others in the area. Hours later, I would learn that the TED system was sadly offline at the time of the event. Instead, I chose one of my favorite half-snarky announcement styles, as follows:

“Achievement unlocked! Woken up by earthquake”

I briefly considered using the word “survived” in the tweet, but I thought better of that. What supreme irony to be accidentally overly optimistic in a tweet about my first earthquake… I feel good about this decision. By the time I had found my phone and brought up the twitter app, the earthquake was over. So I sent the tweet and went back to sleep. Later in the morning, after I awoke at my usual time of 7:29am, I began reviewing notification activity on my phone, as I do every morning. I had a few text messages and twitter alerts from concerned friends. I went on to review photos posted by others affected more severely by the earthquake. Let’s just say Napa Valley wines are going to be expensive this year. I especially loved the photo of a skateboarder catching some wicked air on a ramp formed by the recently reorganized road surface. How perfectly California!

Shortly after making sure my parents knew I was still alive, I went on with my day of email review and video gaming as an effective means of procrastination. In my email, I discovered a curious message from someone at the office. As a result of the earthquake, the elevators had sent themselves to the ground floor and locked out the controls. The express elevators to the upper floors (where our office is located) would not be operational until an elevator technician came to reset them. I imagined myself as an elevator technician for a moment, thinking how boring that job must be, except on days like today, when suddenly you’re the most important person in the lives of thousands of people, desperately hoping you won’t make it to their building, so they can take the day off tomorrow to get stoned in the park, like any self-respecting Californian.

Strength in Chaos

Have you ever been so close to the edge that you no longer know how to tell whether you’ve crossed it? It’s a hard thing to live this way, yet this is all I’ve known for years. When your credit cards are maxed out and the only thing you have is the cash in your wallet, it’s a paralyzing feeling just to pay a bar tab. There’s a certain panic in spending 60% of your available wealth on two beers and a stack of potato fries. Sure, you play off the declined credit card as an oversight, but deep down, you know just how close you are to oblivion.

It’s easy to see how such a situation might cripple anyone. Still, there’s a strength to be found in all that chaos and uncertainty. If you can look past the debilitating rejection of having tens of thousands of dollars of credit, all stretched to their full extent, you find yourself in a peace known to few. I imagine it feels something like drowning. Despite the sudden onset of declined credit transactions, there’s a looming catastrophic quality to the experience, like watching the boulder from afar as it tumbles down the hillside toward your imminent demise.

I envision it like kayaking over a waterfall. Sure, I could keep a constant pulse, checking in with the sherpa shouting from the shore, waving his arms madly in a futile attempt to inspire me to paddle toward the dock. Instead, I find solace in the knowledge that there is more to learn in the quick trip over the edge than I could ever hope to encounter in the safety of knowing that there is another force dragging my boat. Whether I measure it or not, I’m going past the event horizon. I can not know the terror that awaits me, nor could I ever embrace its totality. Still, I close my eyes and sing to myself sweet songs of my inevitable victory.

You may call it foolish or even insane, and you’d be right. In describing the audacity of hope, you will inevitably find yourself questioning the basic fundamentals of what it means to live. I promise I don’t have any answers you want to hear. Frankly, there have been as many times as not that I’ve wondered how much easier it would be to flip my boat and drift away in serene aquatic asphyxiation. But I’m not interested in that death. I have far too much to contribute to this world to seek that path.

I’m not done with this life after these 36yrs. I’m doubling down. I’m ready for another 72, and I’m willing to bet that at the end of all those years, I’ll do it again, if for no other reason than to dare the universe to give me a thousand times more hardship than I’ve faced in these 36yrs. If I can survive this chaos and use it as a source of continued strength, another hundred years will only serve to anneal my heart and soul that much more. I no longer believe there is anything the universe could throw at me that I could not use to grow stronger. And that is the most peaceful feeling I could ever hope for.

Who Would You Be In A Plane Crash?

Who would you be in a plane crash? I’m serious. If you were to find yourself on a plane that is experiencing catastrophic failure, how do you imagine you’d react? Would you be the panicky person who screams at the top of your lungs, or would you be the person who guides those people to safety? I ask this because we often think of these moments as terrifying, unexpected circumstances that thrust us into the abyss. It is a situation ripe with uncertainty. We are eminently unprepared for this inevitable reality. Still, we find ourselves paralysed by the tragedy of fact. Today, we mourn someone who has touched us all in heart, mind, and soul. Today, we embrace the inevitable, with strength and grace.

I’d like to talk about grace for a moment. Picture in your mind the idea of grace and elegance. Some of you are thinking of olympic athletes, captured in high speed photography, smoothly and expertly navigating the field of their sport. Some of you are thinking of animals, perhaps gazelles strutting about the Serengeti. Most of you are thinking of Gran, how she filled the room with her subtle and permeating presence. She had this magical ability to be known to all without advertising. It was immediately obvious to all who knew her that she was someone you wanted to know. She always had her finger on the pulse of the moment. Sometimes, that manifested as her often-short temper, with a biting comment about the community’s collective sanity and our individual contribution to our mutual perpetual peaceful coexistence. It was never a threat, but… almost. She had a way of keeping us all in line.

And what a monumental task that was. Five kids when they were still kids themselves, and five grandkids to boot, starting at 36. We were looking at photos last week. Gran was barely a woman when my mom was born, a regular Juliet to Grandpa’s Romeo. Fast-forward a few decades, and by the age of 60, she had a bustling family of primadonas, divas, and know-it-alls the world has never seen. We brought the pain, raised the roof, and reminded the world who we were, and *daily* at that. But she weathered the storm. Songs should be sung of the level of grace this woman demonstrated on a daily basis. It’s enough to be considered for the Nobel. And the drama didn’t stop there.

Through violence, death, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Gran took everything in stride. When there was heartache, she was there to lend a tissue and a hug. When there was loss, she was there with positivity and a healthy dose of reality and perspective. She would never let you hear the end of it when she was right and you didn’t listen, but she never once complained about the Herculean task we asked of her. She never showed weakness or doubt. She had the loudest heart in the room, and she taught us all to radiate that strength of self. She would shout it from the rooftops if it would make a difference. Still, she was quiet most of the time because she knew it wouldn’t matter either way. We are all like her, this Long family. We all have our own brilliance, and she had no interest in competing. Hers was a kind and gentle magic, the kind we barely ever have the good fortune to encounter. All of us here today share in that magic, and we hear its echoes. We bask in Gran’s memory, and we would be fools to ignore her strength. She was our lighthouse in troubled times. She guided us as we grew and never pushed too hard.

Sometimes, when things get bad, the one who you end up being on the plane is the martyr, the one who ushers the rest to safety at the expense of self. Gran was that savior for us all. We can never replace her, and we all suffer incredibly today in honoring her memory. Hers is a great loss to our world. Those who knew her recognized her glory, her strength, her compassion. Those who didn’t know her have the misfortune of not knowing such an incredible soul. So, I leave you with this last memory of Gran. I think it represents her spirit in a way I can’t explain otherwise. She used to tell me, “at least I woke up on the right side of the dirt today.” She’s right, and I cherish every day I have on this rock. But, today, I’m jealous of the dirt.