We Did the Thing: BOOK PUBLISHED! SHOTS FIRED!

So, okay, you know I’ve been writing Extremely Bad Advice articles for over a year now, right?

And that I’ve been threatening to publish a book?

Well, now it’s official – I’m approved!

Everything Is Your Fault! The best Extremely Bad Advice, volume 1

Now available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats!

There’s great advice about life, love, relationships, career, how to live a good life, finances, career decisions, even spiritual dilemmas.

Frankly, I think this should be within reach of every single porcelain throne, nightstand, and above the Gideon Bible in every North American hotel room. But since I don’t quite have the capital to make that happen, I’ll just go with this instead.

I would LOVE for you all to head over, pick up a copy, and leave a review.

And, comment here about what you think!

Story published! The Wish Artist in The Arcanist

Really proud of this one! I wrote this during Weekend Warrior contest this year, where we were supposed to come up with a <750-word story in a weekend. This one came out from a prompt about alternate ways to grant wishes, and in revision it only needed a slight expansion of about 100 words. Here’s the teaser:

The Wish Artist

Stephan James

The little bell above the doorway tinkles as she enters my parlor. Immediately I recognize the signs: clothes rumpled, eyes sunken and dark, fingernails picked to the quick. She’s desperate.

“Help you?” I ask.

“I need one,” she says, and I don’t even bother with the charade of asking one of what. Those in her situation only ever want one thing — to survive — and so they’ve followed the rumors of the magic that might live here.

Photo by Adrian Boustead on Pexels.com

Want to read the rest? Find it at The Arcanist.

Extremely Bad Advice – Fired Fred

Dear SJ:

Is it appropriate to express condolences to a co-worker who was terminated, if you feel that termination was well-justified?

The co-worker is surely stressed at having lost his job, but he didn’t deliver what was asked of him. I was often slowed down or frustrated by his professional actions. Still, I didn’t personally dislike him. I feel like I should say something nice to him, to ease his emotional distress. What do you think?

— Conscientious Co-worker

Dear Conceited:

I think you should shut your manatee-sized yap and go back to putting your head down and shoveling shit into it. 

Why the fuck would you have this inclination to say something to Fired Fred? Oh, right, it’s because it’s not about him at all, is it? It’s about you and getting more attention on you for being some kind of two-faced, self-righteous pariah.

On the one face, he’s been actively (or unintentionally) making your job, and your life, harder by either his willful unprofessionalism or his ignorance of the proper ways to do things. I’m not sure which is worse, frankly. But the point is, he wasn’t getting done what needed to be done, what he had agreed to do, and which others, at several different levels, were counting on him to do, so you’ve been picking up his slack. As a result, you would be fully justified in being happy that he’s now gone and management can hire someone with a greater-than-79 IQ for once and you can go back to fulfilling your appropriate role without burning out over his incompetence.

For the other face…

read the rest on Patreon

I’m a Believer

What do you believe? About yourself? About your work?

I had a story accepted this month (October). This makes three in the past four months. Death at the Door was accepted into an anthology that I didn’t even submit for! Consider the Possibilities was accepted into a stand-alone digital short series that should be published in 2023. The Wish Artist was selected for an online magazine with a professional-level rate ($0.10 / word), my first ever fiction publication of such status. (I have had other writing pay me more, but that’s a different category altogether, so I’m not including it in the mental gymnastics involved here.)

And yet, even with that relatively successful few months (versus the past five years), I still find it hard to get excited about these acceptances.

One of my fellow writers asks me, whenever I’ve got something like this to announce, “And how are you going to celebrate?”

I struggle with celebration. I struggle to accept that my story has been selected, published, that I got paid for doing it. I mean, intellectually I know that that’s exactly why I’m submitting, rather than just writing and either keeping it to myself or publishing it on my own site, but, still, I don’t exactly feel like it’s real.

The spiral of negative, self-sabotaging thoughts goes something like this:

How are you going to celebrate?

Well, see, I can’t exactly celebrate yet, because though they accepted my story and I’ve signed the agreement, they haven’t given a publication date and haven’t paid me and haven’t offered any suggested edits or anything, so I’m still quite skeptical that it’s going to actually go through.

How are you going to celebrate?

Well, see, I don’t really know if I should, because it was in an anthology that like nobody is going to read, and it was such a token payment anyway that it doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s kind of hard to find anybody who’s going to care, so, it’s not really something to brag about.

How are you going to celebrate?

Uh, for this one, mostly by disbelieving that it’s real until it’s actually out on the interwebz, despite the fact that I’ve gotten a contract and had correspondence with the editor and been paid, and yeah, this one is a “professional” level rate so it’s harder to ignore, but still, I’m going to keep thinking less of myself until it’s really out there, and, even then, I know that celebration is going to be hard to come by, because celebration and self-promotion and “Hey, look what I did!” isn’t really my thing.

God, typing it all out is rather disheartening. It’s sad to see that I think so little of my achievements.

But it’s typical of my whole personality, not just in writing. I disbelieve my work in virtually any area where I pursue. For example: I recently ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles, took me over 2 and a half hours, and when I finished I was hella proud of myself for going farther than I have in nearly a decade. But you know what one of my very quick follow-on thoughts was? “Oh, sure, but there were people who ran marathons that day, too! Your half isn’t really that special.”

It’s like there’s this part of my psyche that just doesn’t accept that I can have good things too.

Like, it’s all well and good for other people to be happy about new stories coming out or sold, but, for me, it’s really hard to do. [Yes, I’ve forced myself to do it some, but it’s just not a natural feeling like I somehow think it should be.]

So why don’t I believe it? Why do I still feel like I’ve not “arrived” or I’m not “worthy” or I’m actually just sort of “pretending” to be writing these things? (Or running, or getting a certain professional qualification, or whatever…)

Is it the fact that it’s been such a long road for me to get here, something like 38 years between my first story in 3rd grade and now? When other writers I’ve admired have had stories, poems, even whole books published at 17, 23, 30? Am I just jealous or petty? Maybe.

Is it the rather harsh rebuke I received from another well-established writer when I pitched him a collaboration and he basically told me to Fuck off, if that’s the way you think about writing, you’ll never be a writer? I admit, I did let that bother me for the first couple of months, but it was years ago now and the idea only pops up in my head like once a year, so that’s probably not it.

Is it the fact that I’ve spent my last two decades treating writing as a thing for me only, a hobby, a pastime, rather than a craft to be honed with feedback, as everyone says it must be, because everyone says it’s really hard to write a story and make it the best it can be, and I don’t like that editing process, I really just want to write a first draft, maybe tune up a few paragraphs in the second draft and get it out into the world, and because I am ignoring the rules of developing writing skill and just sort of hoping to luckbox into publication I’m kidding myself that my stuff is any good, and so when things like acceptances come along I feel like I’ve somehow tricked the editors into accepting my story?

Or is it possible that I’ve been so spurned by the historical pattern of rejections, so burned and so jaded and so expectant that it will simply be more of the same, that I don’t actually believe the acceptance? That I distrust that it’s real? That in my subconscious, I’m self-preservationally holding back my excitement at this positive development, so that when things return to “normal” I’m not so scarred by that future state of everyone hates everything all the time, why bother? Maybe. Hell, that’s probably the surface of a really deep insight my therapist ought to help me unpack.

Point is, I don’t know why I don’t believe it. But I do know that it’s a consistent tendency within myself to discount my accomplishments, because they’re somehow never enough. I probably have some kind of “achievement complex”. I once complained that I was going through my mid-life crisis pretty early, like before 40, and my mother commented, “Well, you’ve always been an over-achiever.” Like I couldn’t even wait until a normal time to disintegrate my life, I had to make it happen extra-soon. Ugh.

There’s no way I’m going to figure it out right now. Maybe not even in the next year, or five, or ten. By the time I’m dead? Probably. Fat lot of good a new mindset will do me then, eh?

So I guess the only thing left to do is, just keep doing it. Faking it. “Fake it till you make it,” right? Because in faking it, you trick your body and mind into understanding what it means to “make it”. And then, when you actually do it, you won’t be faking any longer. And your subconscious won’t have to be so damn skeptical all the time.

Right?


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Coming Soon: The Best Damn Book I’ve Published Yet!

So, you know how I’ve been writing extremely bad advice over on my Patreon page? Well, what better way to celebrate over 100 nuggets of pure wisdom inflicted on this modern world than to give back by making them even more accessible?

Targeting November 25 (Black Friday) for release, as this is, in my mind, the ultimate gag gift. Don’t believe me? Here’s the pitch:

In Everything Is Your Fault SJ answers public advice questions with straightforward, no-nonsense common-sense answers that everyone absolutely should follow. But, since basically everybody except him is a raging dimwit, he also stoops to that level and panders to those who just want their preconceived ideas validated.

Great for gag gifts, Yankee Swap, or just to get back at that self-righteous sister who always thinks she’s better than you, Everything Is Your Fault will be a staple in your trash pile faster than you can say “adoofussayswhat”.

Find it on Amazon soon!

Writing practice 10/23/2022 – “Do it again…”

Do it again because you did it wrong the first time. Correct the mistake, as much as you can, and attempt to avoid making that same mistake again.

Do it again because you did it right the first time, and yet despite your efforts, the results were not as you wished. Perhaps there were external forces. Perhaps there was a chaotic winds inpired by a toucan flapping its wings inopportunately in the Amazon basin. Perhaps an unforseen tragic cosmic event happened just at the critical moment, a sunspot or a radiation burst from a far galaxy finally reaching us, and the neutrons and photons and neutrinos reacted in the one in ten trillion ways they needed to in order to somehow subvert your efforts, and as a result, reduced your outcome to something unanticipated, undesired, unacceptable.

Do it again because you did everything right and got the results you wanted. It worked, didn’t it? You got what you wanted – the date, the publication, the promotion – and so why should you stop there? Do you have a vision for the next avenue of approach? Pursue then. Are you interested in seeking out alternatives, [illegible], accelerations of what you just achieved? Do those too, building on your success as what you have to make it more special.

But don’t forget, in the real thing in the first time, to celebrate what you have achieved. Do not assume that it is what is not; you wanted that – Do not dismiss it so cavalierly as unacceptable or unfortunate. There is no way to arrange your world in which you are both always leveling up and ever satisfied with your achievements. So take the time, now to celebrate, to bask in the glory of what you have done, to see yourself as an accomplisher of things, of good things, of the ways you attempt and compete for being something valuable in your life. There is more to be done, yes. There is an infinite amount. And thus it is worthwhile to stop and accept your accomplishments as a validation, a positive, a good thing that you have completed.

And then, when you have satisfied that itch for confirmation and endearment…

Do it again.

The Problem With Readers

The problem with readers is that they are not you. They have different backgrounds, different experiences, different ways they see the world now, different hopes for what the future could, should, or will bring.

All of this means that, generally, they won’t see your story in the same way that you will when you wrote it, or edited it, or published it.

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

What I’m saying is that I know there’s a story that the writer is trying to tell, and that it is very likely that what I read is not that story.

And that’s the problem that we have. We have several translation issues, where we play fiction telephone, in that we have a story in our heads. (For nonfiction, we have a message we wish to convey.) It’s up there. We, as authors, and that story, are the most intimate of partners. It literally lives inside our brain. Almost like we are symbiotic. It’s fully coalesced, fully baked. We know every nook and cranny, every nuance, every little corner behind the elbow that if our partner kisses it just right we fucking crumble.

And, just like the AI from the movie Her, we can have several of these relationships at once, with our several works that we have once created, are currently creating, or are just gestating, awaiting their own future moments of birth and emergence and maturity within our mind, to join the created and creative community­­­­. It’s not required to be monogamous for us.

Anyway – we have all these stories in our head, and then we must force them to go through the first adaptation: from our brain, to the words on the page. Here, we are so clouded by our own experience, which is obviously unique from every other person in the world, and so influenced by our own perspective and desires and fears, that it becomes virtually impossible that the magnificent, fantastic, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, award-worthy, inevitably-bestselling story survive that adaptation intact.

It can’t. There’s too much. From the limits of our vocabulary to the inability of language in general to express the nuances of emotion, something, many things, several elements of the story, will get lost or modified or perturbed in the first offload from our brain to the text. We may hope that it remains intact, whole, surviving, but invariably there is a loss of fidelity, sometimes slight, sometimes great, and this is just the first step.

Next, we have the medium. There certainly are differences between how users take in an experience when it’s delivered via hardcover, paperback, e-reader, serial email, audiobook, podcast, or web browser. The differences in these formats are vast, and bring with them several connotations about the work itself, which can vary reader to reader, culture to culture, and even when consumed at various times of day. All of which means that your readers who take in the first adapted story in the morning, on their tiny phone screen, as they’re jostled along by the mass transit commute, may have a wildly different experience from those who listen to it in their headphones while they work in the garden in the heat of the afternoon.

Finally, there is the translation from the medium back to the reader. She doesn’t have the same background as the writer, or the publisher, so what makes its way through her experience filters certainly impacts how she perceives the story. She may have good memories of owning a pet as a child, so my story of pet ownership evokes warm fuzzies. Whereas I was trying to express my disgust at the many ways that humans subjugate those pets to seek resolution of their own emotional insufficiencies.

Basically, the long and short of it is, you and I don’t see the same story. Whether it’s one that I write and you read, or one that you write and I read, it’s never the same. Sometimes it’s better on the reader’s end. Usually not. The process has morphed it, transformed it, sculpted it slightly or majorly from how it began. And that’s okay.

We shouldn’t be trying to be all things to all readers. We shouldn’t have this idea that we have to satisfy all sensibilities, all experiences, all backgrounds. And we shouldn’t expect that just because we wrote something poetic, or upbeat, or subversive, that our audience is destined to have the same feeling about it after finishing as we do. The only thing we can do is to craft the best story in our head. And then do what we can to minimize the translation errors in the first step. It is our authorial responsibility to make sure what’s on the page is as close as possible to the masterpiece inside our brain.

Because that’s storytelling. It’s part of the process. I think we in the audience have a subconscious understanding of this corruptive process. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Which is why I usually end my critiques to other writers like this:

“May the story in your reader’s mind be as wonderful as it is in yours.”


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Story published!

Hey! So my story “Death at the Door” is now available in this anthology from Cloaked Press:

Here’s just a preview of the story:

There was someone at his door.

No, something.

Some thing.

It looked to be at least a foot taller than him, wearing a hooded dark brown robe. And was that one of those farm tools with the ridiculously long handle and curved blade slung over its shoulder?

Was that Death at the door to his apartment?

Waiting?

Waiting for him?

It stood, staring at the number 17 bolted to the frame. It raised an arm. A hand, with skin on the fingers and actual flesh at the wrist, knocked. It stepped forward and grasped the handle of the – what – sickle? No. Scythe? Yeah, that was it.

It put two hands on the scythe and waited. Nothing happened. Why would it? Marcus wasn’t in his apartment, though he should have been for at least the last hour. Normally he would be sitting on his couch in his underwear, second drink in hand, mourning all that had been taken from him, television droning on unattended.

Death in a black hoodie and with a scythe in the dark misty forest. Horror style, fear, spooky demon

Want to read the rest? Of course you do! Head over to Amazon and pick up a copy. Hell, I don’t care whether it’s the Kindle or paperback version, just toss a few bucks towards the good folks at Cloaked Press and they’ll continue to do good work, and you’ll get to enjoy great writing.

Cheers!

Extremely Bad Advice: Booger Bandit

Dear SJ:

My partner has recently developed a disgusting habit, what do I do?

My partner lately has been picking his nose and eating his boogers and whenever I see him do it out of the corner of my eye I want to throw up. We’ve been together over 5 years and it’s something he’s only started doing recently. I’ve been too grossed out and honestly kind of shocked to say anything about it, what should I do/how should I talk to him about it?

— Can’t Remove the Mental Image

Portrait of a boy picking his nose

Dear Mental,

Is this really a problem? How infantile has our society gotten where adults don’t even have the wherewithal to engage in a reasonable conversation with someone they’re apparently sharing your life with?

How hard is this? “Hey, Jack, I saw you pick your nose and eat it the other day. Are you eight? Knock that shit off! At least, when I’m around. And if you do it before you get near me, please have the decency to give the ol’ Listerine bottle a once-over before you toss my salad.”

Good lord. It’s like we’ve created a whole community of seven-year-olds in thirty-year-old bodies with jobs and responsibilities and shit. If I were in charge, first thing I’d do is institute a “Breeding License” test. We start with a simple operation on every boy and girl beginning at about age seven. Then, in order to get your license, you must first demonstrate that you can perform such simple societally-beneficial functions like self-management and having a reasonable conversation with another human being before you could get your tubes un-tied.

Maybe that way we’d give ourselves a bit of time to grow the fuck up and realize that conflict, especially emotional confrontation, is not a catastrophe to be avoided at all costs. In fact, those smaller, seemingly unimportant conversations are actually like an emotional vaccine, strengthening our systems for the harder work that we’ll have to do in the future.

read the rest on Patreon

These Five Little Words Launched Me Into My Mid-Life Crisis

note – this was originally published on the Trailhead Conference blog, which has since gone bye-bye. I subsequently published it on an also-bye-bye Medium.com page (link for teh googlez).

May, 2014. Interior, downtown Indianapolis branch of a large national bank. One personal banker seated across from me in a standard bank chair. One person, me, seated in my standard bank chair, listening to her speak.

The personal banker was, at best 26 years old. She had no clue what was happening in my life. She had no idea what had been transpiring the last six months, or the last six years. And because of that ignorance, what she said next devastated me.

She put her hands together, index fingers and thumbs touching, as if she were about to play a quick rhythm on a small drum. “So,” she said, and as she started to separate her hands (like Moses parting a bowl of soup), the next five words destroyed my life as I knew it and launched me full-blown into my “mid-life crisis”.

I have stated for the record my opinion that the term mid-life crisis is inappropriate, but since it’s still a fairly common term I’m going to continue to use it here. Plus we have the pejorative expectation that if you’re going through your mid-life crisis, that this is some kind of failure of your character. That you are somehow weak because you can’t stand up to the demands of life, and you’re seeking an easy way out.

Well, let me tell you, my mid-life crisis was certainly not a failure of my character. I don’t think anyone who saw me go through that would have said I was weak. That I had failed. That I had given up and was looking for a shortcut or a way out.

No, what happened to me was, essentially, a combination of multiple storms all hitting within a six-month period. And, to be honest, only one of those could be considered my fault.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Your mid-life crisis happens to you, it does not happen because of you. Most often this is a period of searching, of introspection, of exploration, and usually they’re set off by some inciting incident. Mine lasted about two years, kicked off by four different major events all coming together in a pretty short time frame.

Within six months: my car died on the highway; my faith died in the pew; my career died in the cubicle; and my marriage died in a nursing home. I only noticed this was happening, though, when that personal banker spoke five short, simple words.

But…

Before I tell you what those words were…

Allow me to back up a little. I think it’s important you know some of what was going on at the time.

In the fall of 2013 I was 36 years old.

I’d been married for 14 years, and my wife and I had four children. I had a stable job at an insurance company, a reasonable group of friends at church, and some neighbors who knew a bit of what we were going through.

One cold Thursday evening in November, on the way home from work, I was driving down I-70 out of Indianapolis. My 1999 Toyota Corolla was flowing along like normal when, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. I managed to avoid getting squished by the passing 18-wheelers and get it off to the side of the road, and then to a gas station, through a clever system of keeping my foot on the accelerator just enough to keep the engine on, but not so much that I sped up and needed to hit the brakes, because every time I did that it stalled out again.

Five hours later, after a tow truck wait and a phone call to my mother-in-law to ask for an emergency run to take care of my kids, I got home with my never-to-run-again vehicle. For some guys, this could be the thing that starts them questioning, “Hey, what’s going on here?”

One of them might take a few days, decide that the repair would be worth more than the car, and just junk it. When he comes back from the dealership with an impractical new sports car, all the neighbors look at him funny. Classic symptom of the mid-life crisis, and the associated judgment, because all they see is indulgence.

What he was thinking, though, could have been just about anything. From “I’ve never had something that’s just for me” to “It’s my last chance before I have to get another minivan,” his thoughts could have been anywhere. Too bad we often judge those who are in the middle of this so quickly.

For me, it wasn’t that momentous on its own. But a flood was building, a silent accumulation of nature’s power that soon I would be unable to ignore. The car, though, was just the start. Strike one.

A couple of months later, around February of 2014,

I realized I wasn’t enjoying my work any longer. Sure, I was productive, as I needed to be. But I was also spending excessive amounts of time browsing the internet at work, doing side projects that made it “look” like I was working, and just getting the minimum done. I guess, since everyone essentially knew my home situation, they gave me some slack.

Yet as I looked to the future, I could see that my heart just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t imagine pushing spreadsheets and databases for the next 30 years. It wasn’t in me to just keep doing a job for that long, and then retire to say, “Now what?”

It would be another year before I actually quit, but that intervening time I was actually dead in the office, just walking around and doing enough to not get fired. Strike two.

A few weeks after that, all of my spiritual questions began to come to a head. I’d been dealing with these issues for nearly a year, ever since God made a promise that did not come true, and I finally could not accept the absolutism, the short-sightedness, the irrationality, and the hypocrisy of my church any longer.

It’s not like there were any big scandals. (Those are often inciting incidents in and of themselves.) It was just that I started to see that for many of the congregants, their professed faith and their actions did not jive.

I saw countless instances of prayer for “a miracle” healing for someone who, frankly, would have been better off dead. And if, as they said they believed, that the home of the soul was in Heaven, why in Hell would they be striving so hard to keep such a soul imprisoned in this sinful, cursed, pained body? It didn’t make sense. That, and dozens of other questions and concerns came together to make me finally say, “You know, I don’t know whether there really is a God or not.”

When I could finally call myself an agnostic, that signified the death of my faith.

Strike three.

Unfortunately, I was so oblivious to it all that I didn’t yet see the writing on the wall. I ignored the incredible tidal wave of change looming, and I continued to push on harder and harder in the things I was doing, to make it seem like I was “okay”.

Finally, in May of 2014, the dam burst.

That young, naïve personal banker put her hands together and spread them apart. “So,” she said, and that was all right. Nothing wrong with that. “If you’re separating your finances…”

And the bell tolled for my marriage.

One more flashback may be in order.

In March of 2013, my wife was admitted to a rehabilitation facility, in order to supplement the stem cell treatment she’d recently received in India. She was having neurological degeneration, causing balance problems, emotional problems, and keeping her from caring for herself. We had spent two months in India for the treatment, and had been home for a month with little progress. The thought was, go live in the rehab facility and get help daily, to get back on track.

Eight months later, without any progress to show for the time, it was necessary to have her admitted to Medicaid, so we didn’t have to exhaust my financial resources to pay for her care.

After admission, the State of Indiana gives you 6 months to get the Medicaid recipient’s name off of all the accounts. Which I did, leading to me in a Bank of America office downtown Indianapolis. I explained the situation, and what I was doing, and how I needed new accounts that were just me and not joint accounts any longer. She said, “So, if you’re separating your finances-” and I didn’t hear a word after that.

I didn’t cry, then, but that was the moment that I lost my marriage. It was at that point that I realized we were separated. As much as I’d tried to fight it, as much as I’d denied the fact that we hadn’t had any kind of relationship for over a year, my marriage was done. We were separated, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and, now, financially. My marriage had died in that nursing home, and I had only just realized it while sitting in a bank.

Strike four.

Four momentous, life-changing, potentially tragic events 

that, yeah, reasonably would make one stand up and ask, “What in the world am I doing here? What does this mean for me? Where do I go? How do I move forward, when everything that I used to know just keeps changing on me?”

With all of those things coming at me, who’s to say that I was weak? That I was a poor judge of character? That I was at fault for any of that? Perhaps you can perhaps blame the religion thing on me. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith. But isn’t that just a demonstration of actual faith, that it’s not something imparted upon a soul, but it is an actual article of belief, that you choose to believe or not? And if I was finding more information that contradicted my original belief, do I not owe it to myself to at least consider that maybe my beliefs are wrong, and that I would do well to reconsider?

So… that’s how I came to my mid-life crisis. My journey out from that bottom took about two years. Lots of introspection. Lots of crying in the car, questioning and yelling and singing silly songs because I just didn’t know what else to do. Lots of long walks by myself, talking to myself, talking to the voices in my head, talking to the geese on the side of the path. Did those things make me weak? Did those things make me a bad person?

No.

And they are not for any other person who’s going through similar, or even very different, circumstances. There’s a real good reason why, even without major inciting incidents, that a mid-life crisis happens to good people, even if your car is still running and your faith is still flowing and your job is still reasonable and your marriage is still intact.

For the rest of us? Those who had some big “F you” from the universe that kicked us out of our comfort zones? We know better. We know we were actually doing a lot. We know we were sometimes doing much, much more than those who looked down their noses at us for being weak or self-indulgent. We know that we knew better than they did just what, exactly, was going on inside our own heads. And our results afterwards showed.

Experience. Transformation. Growth. We did these things and we came out of our mid-life crises set up for great things in the future.

It turns out this post was not about my mid-life crisis at all.

I’ve said that mine was all four of those things falling apart all at once, but, really, it’s probably more the two years that came after that were the crisis itself. Those events were just instigators.

And the straw that broke the camel’s back was, after all, really simple. Just 5 little words: “If you’re separating your finances.”

Be careful with your words, friends. You never know when they’ll have the power to change lives.

I don’t have space here for a full discussion of all that went on in my head (and in my house) over those subsequent months, but I probably will write about that in the future. For now, though, I just have a couple of take-aways.

For someone going through it right now: Keep going. You are the only one who knows everything that’s going on. And, yeah, it probably feels like you’re inadequate to the task, and that you are an impostor, and that you really just wish everyone else would shut up about it and let you get on with your life. You’re right. They should. But they’re probably not going to, so you’ll just continue on faking it, hoping to outlast the crisis as it blows itself out. You can do it.

And for those who are watching someone go through it, whether that be a family member, friend, or co-worker: Cut them a little slack, please. Let’s not pretend like you have any clue what’s going on inside that head, or inside their house, or inside their church, or inside their body. Let’s also stop with the hollow attempts at encouragements like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through! You must be so strong!” You’re right, you can’t imagine it. And I, while I’m in it, don’t feel that strong. I mostly feel like a fake, and if I really let down my guard and showed you the terrible thoughts inside my head, I imagine you’d run away screaming.

So let’s stop with the empty gestures, huh? Just be real, and give people some space and time to explore. You might not like where they’re going, but, hey, you don’t have to live their lives.