Ten and Eight

Today is 18 years in Austin. Long, hard road; long strange trip; yadda-yadda-yadda.

I guess it’s pivotal that I closed a dark chapter in my life a few days before the anniversary. The new job is demanding, but I’m not feeling despondent yet, so I guess that’s something.

Personally, it’s time to turn some things around, y’know? Here’s to another year at least. [crosses fingers]

Year and a Day

Personally, I subscribe to the “one year and one day” concept in matters of learning a vocation, skill, belief, or hobby. During that period, a person is considered an initiate, a neophyte, a newbie. They may know a few things, but they’re only learning. They can’t be promoted to higher levels of trust during this lockout period; they have to pay with time and dedication. By no means are they to be considered a journeyman or a master of their class.

So January 20 came and went, and I forgot to write up a thing. January 20 is the one year anniversary of my first amateur radio grant, a Technician Class license (General Class upgrade came in April). I’ve been a ham for over a year and a day. I’ve gone through a heavy bit of learning by the books to shore up my knowledge and comprehension of radio communications, but the true learning comes by experience. I have to actually do the thing to know the thing, and this past year has been a lot of that.

I wish I knew more, did more, understood more, talked more, made more contacts. Even at my age, I feel like I still need to earn my stripes to gain some levels of respect in myself and from others. If I’m going to be talking the talk, I better be walking the walk. People ask me for advice, but more than half of it isn’t backed by any personal experience. Without experience, I’m just a blustery blunderbuss spouting off what I believe to be true. In the back of my mind, I can feel the real pros rolling their eyes when they listen in.

On my anniversary evening, I was asked to host the AARC ElmerNet because the usual host, Jeff N5MNW, was down with illness. I was glad for the privilege to do so, and thankful that he thought well enough of me to ask for a fill-in. I think it’s apropos that this happened on my year-and-a-day.

I’m no longer an initiate. I’m set loose from the nest to fly on my own. Learning is life-long.

So, from my QTH, to the F2 layer, and down to you all. 73.

Decade of Breath

Cold Turkey: When Moderation Fails

I am ten years old.

A decade ago this month, I set out to quit smoking for the second and final time. My first attempt in October of 2003 failed miserably when I tried to go cold turkey. To soften the blow of being completely off of nicotine during that attempt, I gave myself congratulatory cigarettes. That, as you can expect, was a dumb move. After two weeks, I gave in and started smoking again.

Finally, in February 2004, after another case of chronic bronchitis that became part and parcel of my life here in Austin with all the mold and pollen, I decided that I really, really needed to quit smoking again. So I went on the patch. Since the drugstore didn’t have the high-dose patches in stock, I used the mid-dose patches and continued smoking for the first week, but with light puffs and low intake — down from 25 smokes a day to about 3 or 4 with plenty of guilt. By the time a week or so had passed, I continued the mid-dose patches without smoking, stepping down to the low-dose patches later. By the end of March, after six weeks, I removed my final patch and adapted to my new lifestyle.

I look back on parts of the habit fondly, but overall I regret ever starting. It was a self-destructive act that I began in ’95; when I was 23, I was obviously immortal and didn’t care. By 33, I started caring greatly. By and large, the only way I’ve stayed quit for 10 years is by following this dictum: I can’t start smoking again if I don’t put another cigarette in my mouth. This teetotaler attitude has served me well.

Destruction, Anniversary.

Three days ago, I had a dream where I was hanging out, drinking or whatever. Surrounded by friends. And I managed to smoke up an entire pack of cigarettes. With much aplomb. I felt guilt, regret. Then I woke up, took a breath. Realized that it was only a dream.

After all of this time, the craving is still there; the hunger for the smell; the feel of breathing through a column of burning tobacco; the clench of the lungs; the rush. The addiction. It wanes, it gets forgotten, but every so often it rears its head and smiles. This carries a special poignancy with me today because, offically, this is my second anniversary as a non-smoker. February 18th, 2004 is when I quit for good. Borrowing a turn of phrase from reformed alcoholics, I am two years old. I could say it’s my second life, but this life is exactly the same as the life I had before I started smoking at age 23.

Do I regret quitting? Yes, of course. It was my crutch, my fixation. The heady buzz smoothed away my anxiety. But I’m damned happy that I quit. I can breathe now. I can dream now. I’m able to see and feel the benefits of quitting. It’s the final end to one of my most despicable acts of self-destruction. May that part of me be forever destroyed.

Rest In Peace, Shawn the Smoker. October 1995 – February 2004

Things Get Stale

Well, an ol’ friend of mine, Colin, has moved off to North Carolina. He’s excited about the prospects of starting fresh in a new town with a house of his own after living here for 19 years. I’ll miss him, and I wish him the best in his new life in beautiful Asheville.

I’ve been thinking of my life, of the way it was when I lived in North Carolina. My talks with Colin, sharing my experiences, memories, joys, and caveats about that state have brought a lot of my life there back to me, and I feel so weird about it. Times there were tough; I make no bones about it, they were tough. Hard scrabble. But every place I went was still fresh. Not much in that mid-20’s time in my life had a chance to go boring.

Well, to think of it, that’s a lie; there were excruciatingly boring times; stale. Very stale. As stale as the air in my closed bedroom; the smell of cigarette residue, dust, chemicals from my work clothes, and sleep. For the eleven months that I worked my night shift job at PBM Graphics, I was nocturnal. I tried what I could to make something of my daylight hours. Gave it the old college try. I would catch the bus and hang out on a city lawn somewhere or do some shopping or just go walking around. But until I was fired from that job, I spent my days and my off nights mostly alone. Wrote a lot of poetry and journal entries. Got emo before “emo” was a word. Worked on my website. Life was dull, and I tried everything I could to make it exciting.

And then, as I mentioned, I got fired. That’s when my whole world changed. I was a daywalker again. But with no income it was a hard life. Paul and I were no longer roomates; he found an apartment in a triplex house north of the UNCG campus, I lived in a locking bedroom in a boarding house just south of campus. Rentwise I was on my own and I did what I could to make rent. Even went so far as to rake the thick blanket of leaves from the boarding house property in a deal to work off my rent.

Outside of looking for work and doing odd jobs here and there, I supported myself by “telemarketing”, meaning I would call my mother and ask her to bank transfer some money, which she did because, for once, she could. And I lived that way for over two months until I wrecked my car in the first snow of the winter and made the decision to move back home.

Well, it was during those hard times that I met the greatest people who ended up being the greatest friends someone could have. Kind people. Smart people. Not your typical coffee shop people. People who would listen to your problems and offer useful advice. People who would have you over for dinner and drinks, no charge. People who would drive you around when your car is stranded and in need of parts from the auto store. I don’t know if Greensboro is just loaded with people like that, or if it was all happenstance that I crossed paths with them and their charity, or if it was just the state my life was in that demanded my reaching out to others to survive, but those were good people. They made my life rich. Their general lack of negative comments and attitudes helped me stay upbeat, kept things fresh. Gave me good perspective.

So, I’m here in Austin, on the eve of my 5-year anniversary as a resident of this good city. Colin has gone away, and I know of others who are making the same moves to other places, and sometimes I have to stop and wonder what it is that’s urging me to keep my life in Austin. I get shaken about it sometimes, because right now my life is really, really stale. It feels that way more often than not. It’s good to be established, I guess. It’s good to have longevity when it comes to jobs, residences, habits, friendships, being a regular patron somewhere, yeah…but it’s stale. It’s boring.

I’m not considering moving back to North Carolina. At least not seriously. I know in my heart and mind that if I did it would not be the world I knew. Those 15 months there were unique and cannot be duplicated. They were at a time in my own lifespan where the neurology of feeling “fresh” about life was more prevalent, where feeling haggard and tired didn’t happen. I’ve aged, and these eyes of mine have seen a lot since then, so the innocence, newness, virginity of living there won’t exist, at least not to the same scale. Just as anywhere else. I’m sure if I would’ve lived in Greensboro for five years I’d most likely be feeling some semblance of what I’m feeling now.

I feel like I need a change. A different view on life. A different set of motivations. I’m not asking for sudden termination at my job. I’m not asking for eviction from my apartment. I’m not even asking for a different roomate. What I’m asking for is a sea change in my mindset; the ability to see things with new eyes, to find things that are still fresh, that are allowed to be fresh in the eyes of my friends. I don’t want the pass-or-fail edge that my final 2 months in Greensboro had, but I want the attention it inspired in me, the connections it inspired me to make. The last time I felt that was almost 5 years ago, and it’s time for an end to the stale.