I’m currently writing the section of my memoir about my trip to Vietnam back in the summer of 2005. It’s a strange experience looking at the old pictures that I have locked away. I want to share some of them with you.
Check out this view!
Wait guys, I come in peace!
Why am I looking satisfied like, “Hmm, this is a nice rock.”
That money exchange rate though…
Check them Jesus sandals! Also, our dumb prison poses
Had to take a picture with these two. No clue what’s the deal with that unfinished wooden structure behind us though.
Ok, so this was actually in the Hong Kong airport on our way TO Vietnam, but I just thought it would be a good one to share because it is important to laugh at yourself!
Overall, I had the best time ever, I can’t even describe what it did for my perspective in life. I only knew my small chunk of the world in Massachusetts and our way of life there. It is amazing how different life is on the other side of the world, and also how similar we all are in other ways. If you ever get the chance to travel, do it. Those memories and lessons are irreplaceable. I recommend Vietnam to everyone because I had an absolute blast! Thanks for reading
One of my oldest bucket list items is to take an extended vow of silence. Ideally, I’d like to do it for a month at first, but maybe even work my way up to a year. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but I strongly believe that there is something unbelievably valuable to be learned by not speaking.
I tried it once. For a day. I only made it a few hours. The problem arose when I was faced with an instance that talking was required of me. I hadn’t thought of how to actually get a message across without speaking, I was too focused on the not speaking part. In order to take a vow of silence, you have to give up more than just your voice. You must give up using the phone, teaching a class, ordering food, telling your dog to sit or stay (or you’d have to retrain him/her to learn hand commands before taking the vow). I had no idea how much bigger of a task it was to actually stop speaking.
Then there is the question of, “Is communicating through other means cheating?” What about writing? Can I use sign language? Do these defeat the purpose of a vow of silence? I haven’t sanded out the edges on this yet, hence why it is still on my bucket list, but I will take a vow of silence in my lifetime, then report back what I learned.
As a lover of words, a writer, a poet, a conversational wizard =] It might be hard to believe that I find language a hindrance. Communication is limited by the limitation of words. Could you describe, in words, the feeling you get when you’re in love? We’ve tried for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years to do that, but some would argue that words just can’t describe such a powerful emotion. We do our best to compare it to other things. What about a crazy dream? How many times have you tried to explain the emotional content of a dream, only to reiterate that your explanation isn’t doing it justice? Or an event that you end up saying, “You just had to be there.” Because sometimes time and space play a role in the feeling.
If you’re still not convinced, what about a psychedelic trip? Anyone who has ever tripped on a heavy does of mushrooms or LSD will tell you that words can’t describe that. Or what about the concept of ‘nothingness.’ If there was nothing, no space, no stars, no us, just nothing, what would that look like? You can’t say clear, because that’s something, you can’t say black, that’s something. The moment you try to describe it, you’re using a “something” to describe a “nothing,” which is something! Confused? Me too.
If language wasn’t limited than text messages would never be misinterpreted. There would be a clear way to right something that get’s a message across with a specific emotion. Emojis do their best to fill the gaps between language and feelings, but it isn’t perfect. What does this have to do with a vow of silence? Oh yeah, that’s what we were talking about.
Before language, people still communicated. Their ideas were probably more simplistic, or maybe not, I wouldn’t know, but we got our message across some how. I don’t think that it was just a system of grunts that we imagine the stereotypical caveman to use. I think that we had more intuition, like animals, and could pick up vibes better. There’s a reason we say things like “trust your gut,” or “go with your instincts.” It’s a real sense that we have. Have you ever walked into a room and just thought, “Nope.” and left, only to find out later that something bad happened there? What about meeting people. Sometimes you get a bad vibe from a stranger and can’t really pin point why. Has it ever happened to you that people like that person but you don’t, and eventually they turn out to be bad and others are like “Wow, I don’t believe it, I always thought they were so nice.” And you’re just sitting there like, “Nah, I never liked them, always got a bad vibe.”
Stuff like that, I feel, can be strengthened by not speaking. Just looking at someone, in the eyes, and trying to communicate through intentions, rather than words. I’m sure it will be confusing and fun all at the same time, but If there is just one moment that someone completely gets me, without me saying a word, then it would be a successful experiment. If nothing else, I just wonder what I’ll learn by observing others more since I wouldn’t be participating in the dialogue.
“Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.” – No idea who originally wrote it, but I saw this quote way back in high school on my English teacher’s chalk board.
Let me begin by saying that it was stupid of me to attempt a new diet two days before Thanksgiving. Especially a Keto diet considering Thanksgiving is the carbiest holiday of the year! I’m not giving up, but I definitely chose to enjoy myself on Thursday.
With that being said, I want to remind those who are struggling with bringing new, good habits into their life that there will be days that are set backs. Don’t let that turn into giving up! I had two successful days of Keto, then I carbed up. Does that mean those two days are worthless? No. Even though I have to start over, I learned alot from those days. First, I learned that I can do go a whole day with minimal carbs. Second, I learned what meals to eat. So now, it will be much easier to attempt it again! Don’t let a set back ruin your motivation. You still learn with every attempt. I know people that attempted to quit smoking, 5-6 times before they actually succeeded! The goal was still reached, and they are living a much healthier life now. You just have to keep at it. What is the old saying? “If at first you don’t succeed. Destroy all evidence that you tried.” Just kidding. “Get your ass back in gear and try again!”
I think it is important to admit your failures. Especially when you’re like me and bragging all over the internet that you’re accomplishing your goals. You never now who is reading, or listening, and taking your words to heart. The problem begins when someone is influenced by you, but they reach a set back, and when they compare themselves to you, Mr. “Never fails” then they think they just aren’t capable of being better. I’m here to say, I’ve failed my way to success, every time. There are always set backs. I don’t feel bad about them anymore. I used to, but now I know that they are part of the process. Water beats stone every time in the long game.
After indulging in some delicious food, my wife and I decided to go to bed early to wake up and go out shopping. We didn’t have anything in mind that warranted being out at midnight, so we got up at 6 and headed to the stores after the mobs have left. It was slow at first, not really finding anything great, but after 8 hours of shopping, we made out pretty good. We got our daughter some stuff that she wanted for Christmas, and we got our puppy some bones and a few hoodies. He’s a little guy and it gets mighty cold in Massachusetts.
I took the day off from posting, but I’m back at it again today. Perhaps the break was necessary because this very morning, I finally figured out the plot of my book! I’ve been writing a fiction story for a few months now. I have written 50-60 pages, most of which is being thrown out, but it led me to where I am now. I have far fewer pages, but they’re good pages and I’ve got the plot now so it is going to zoom from here! I’m so excited. I used to write all the time in the past but when I reached a road block that would demand me starting over, or throwing out most of my work, I’d give up on the story entirely and start a new one. I thought that If I didn’t write it perfectly on the first go, then it wasn’t a good story. How dumb was I right? Now I know, writing is rewriting. A college professor changed my world when she said, “Nothing is ever done, only due.”
I just wanted to share what is going on with me, with you. I’m just so excited to announce that my book finally has direction and I can’t wait to get back to writing it! Have a wonderful day!
I have been trying new diets for the better part of a decade now and I’ve been toying with the idea of going keto. It seems to be all the rage right now.
When I first started paying attention to my food, it was a mess. I wanted to gain weight, being a life long skinny man
Yes, that’s a baby swan.
So, I only focused on the calories. I didn’t care how I got them, just as long as I kept shoveling food into my face. At one point, I was eating 4000 calories a day.
These became my portion sizes, every day. I was eating full meals, every 2 hours.
But I grew into a 205 lb beast!
I got big, and strong, but also slow, tired, and not as little around the middle. I could bench 315, squat 320, and dead lift 405! Not record breaking numbers, but for the kid who could barely bench the bar when he started, it was like climbing Everest!
However, I couldn’t maintain the caloric intake after the military, because food wasn’t free anymore. Because of my metabolism, I quickly lost size. I shredded up, which was nice, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I lost all of mys strength.
Back down at 170
I started paying more attention to my diet. I cut out sugar, almost entirely. No more soda. I tried to eat vegan, vegetarian, and even a very short attempt at carnivore. I just didn’t feel great on those diets. I’ve lost even more weight, now back to my original 165 lbs, but with a much more solid frame. Recently, I’ve got the kick to try Keto. I’ve been hearing so much about it and decided that I’d give it a shot. I like trying new diets, and if worse comes to worst, I’ll just shovel pasta in my gullet and balloon back up!
That night I slept a dreamless sleep. I woke up feeling refreshed. Carla and I ate breakfast and neither one of us even mentioned my nightmares. Today was going to be a good day.
“I feel like getting out today. Would you like to take a walk with me love?”
“Yeah, a walk sounds nice.” Carla replied. She got up from the table and put her dishes in the sink. “I think I might need one more cup of coffee before we go. Would you like another?”
“No, thank you though, I’m going to drink some water. You should definitely do the same.”
“I drink coffee and only coffee. The coffee bean is my spirit animal.”
I broke out laughing. “Well dehydration is going to be your spirit animal if you don’t drink some water while we walk. It’s like 100 degrees out today.”
“They make iced coffee.”
“You’re killing me Smalls.”
She smiled and gave me a wink. That was a line from one of our favorite movies, “The Sandlot.” We had watched it together the first time she had spent the night at my old apartment. We had been dating for a few months when she suggested,
“Why don’t we just get some take-out and cuddle up under a blanket while we watch a movie tonight?”
“Yeah, that sounds great. What kind of movie do you want to watch.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. How about a classic?”
“Do you have a genre preference?”
“I trust you.” She said, looking directly into my eyes, letting me know she meant it, and for more than just my taste in movies.
When she arrived that evening, I had my place prepared for a perfect night in. I ordered Pizza from Regina’s; I laid out a medley of snacks, from chips to chocolates; I had beer, wine, and champagne on ice. I wanted it to go perfect. She walked into the candle lit room.
“Wow. It looks like the best sleep over ever in here! The only thing missing is the feetie pajamas.”
“I think I have a pair somewhere. I can put them on if you’d like.”
Carla giggled. “Do you really have a pair, or were you just being funny?”
“I was just being funny. Please, come in, make yourself comfortable.” I walked her over to my display. “I have pizza, booze, and snacks for every mood.”
“Are you rapping right now?”
“Word.” I said, squinting my eyes, slightly pouting my lips, and nodding, trying to make my best ‘cool guy’ face.
Carla sat down. “What movie are we watching.”
“The Sandlot.” I said, waiting for her to be excited.
“The Sandlot? What’s that?”
“You’ve never heard of the Sandlot?”
“No, is it good?”
“Umm, it is a classic!”
“Well, if I never heard of it, how can it be a classic?”
“You’re killing me Smalls.”
“Shut up, I’m not small, I’m vertically challenged.”I bursted out laughing. “It’s a line from the movie, you’ll see. I’ll be right back.”
I walked into the other room. I had lied before about not having feetie pajamas. I wanted to surprise her. Justin had given me a pair as a gag gift once after talking about how much we loved them as kids, and how it was too bad that adults can’t wear them.
When I came back into the living room, Carla was opening two beers for us.
“Beer over champagne? Is that because we’re eating pizza?”
She turned to see me standing there, hands on my hips, posing in my Batman pajamas. She started laughing while saying, “That’s a great observation Batman.”
“Well I am the world’s greatest detective.”
We watched the movie and laughed all night, and ever since, the quote, “You’re killing me Smalls” has become one of our many tag lines.
I don’t know how it is for everyone else, but my 20’s were a shit show. Well the first half of my 20’s. I was homeless from my late teens until I was 21. I spent my 21st birthday as a guinea pig for a group of friends who wanted to see if I could stay drunk for 21 days straight (which I succeeded at, then surpassed into a habit). Life was terrible because I didn’t care about myself.
Then, I decided to live. I joined the military (GO NAVY!) and got my life on track. Not overnight, because while in the Navy, I still drank like a sailor and didn’t do much looking inward at first. When I turned 24/25-ish is when I began to rebuild myself, from the inside-out. If there is just one lesson that needs to be learned in your 20’s, though it may sound cliché, but it is simply to learn to Love Yourself.
People like me seek the approval of others in order to define themselves. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember. I had an easy time making acquaintances, but my problem was that I would latch on to people. If I made a friend, I would say it is my best friend, and then I’d go out of my way to make that person happy. They would usually reciprocate when it would be just us, but when there was someone they thought was “cooler” than me available to hang out with, guess who’d be alone? Yup, little ole me. It took me over 20 years to realize that this was a problem with me, and not them. I thought that these people were fake and not a true friend, like me. Don’t be so full of yourself. They had lives outside of our friendship and that’s okay. I blamed my lack of a life beyond them, on them. Not cool old me, not cool.
The real issue was that these people didn’t depend on me for happiness as I did to them. I wasn’t happy with myself and I was using them like a drug to numb my emptiness. I couldn’t be alone without crying my eyes out for no reason. Maybe you’re not as messed up as I was, but the advice still applies. Love yourself. Spend some time thinking about your own insecurities and then figure out WHY you are insecure about them.
For me, I found that my older brother and my mother played a big role in mine. My mom was a single mother, living in poverty, who worked constantly for little money. She worked all day, and when she was home, she would be too tired to spend much time with us. My brother bullied me verbally and physically, so I went out and found comfort in friends. It was in my 20’s that I was able to figure this out and forgive them for their faults. I’ve learned that they have their own insecurities and that they never maliciously contributed to mine. I’ve learned that my brother’s anger was a problem with HIM and not with ME. I have learned to love me for me and you know what? I can be alone now, in fact, I prefer it most of the time.
One good decision led to another and before long, I ended the bad relationships that I held on to for no good reason other than my fear of being alone. Good bye to the drug users and dealers, Good bye to the unmotivated and negative thinkers, and Good bye to the old me! I now keep a small circle and if I see them, I enjoy what I can, and if I don’t, I enjoy my own company.
Love yourself! Nobody has a clue what this is…Life. Some people are convincing and pretend that they know, but I promise you, not a single person has a clue. We are all just trying to do the best we can with what we have. Unfortunately some people have less to work with than others, but we all can find happiness within. And if you ever feel like nobody cares, just know, you still have you!
On my way to work, I sat in Boston’s notorious line of traffic. I usually listened to the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast to pass the time, but the newest episode wasn’t out yet since Joe was on a hunting trip. I was going to put on some music but the license plate in front of my caught my attention.
I see the number 819 everywhere. Some people believe that it is a sign when you see the same number, others believe it is a self-fulfilling prophecy because you think you see a number everywhere, so you are more likely to notice it. I don’t know which is true, but instead of putting music on, I sat with my thoughts, recalling the many other times that I’ve seen that number.
When I arrived at the University of Massachusetts, or Umass as we call it, I parked in the Bay Side lot and took the shuttle to the University Hall stop. My first class of the day was at 8:00 and I always tried to get to campus early enough to enjoy a second cup of coffee while staring at the ocean. Umass Boston is located on Columbia Point, an old landfill, that sits on a peninsula in Dorchester Bay.
After my coffee, I casually strolled over to my classroom, located in the McCormack building, and arrived with fifteen minutes to spare. As I was settling in, I heard a knock on the open door.
“Good morning Justin, how goes it?”
“It goes. Do you want to eat lunch on campus or go somewhere else today?”
I tilted my head slightly upward, squinting as I stared into my thoughts.
“Hmm…that’s a good question. I have office hours this afternoon, so eating on campus would be smarter, but it is Friday and my students definitely aren’t going to stop by so…let’s push lunch a little later and take off a little early and we can grab a few drinks too. How’s that sound?”
Justin smiled and slapped his hand against the door.
“I like the way you think my man! I’ll swing by around 3?”
“Yeah, that sounds great.”
Justin was my best friend since middle school. He was half white and half Asian and we used to practice martial arts in his yard. By martial arts I mean the moves we’d learn from watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. His was a kind man with a big heart. His mother had passed away while we were in high school and his father wasn’t around so it was a miracle that he turned out so great. We both still lived in Woburn and got jobs teaching at Umass Boston. He taught history and I taught English composition.
Shortly after Justin left, Stephanie arrived. She was always the first student in the classroom. We made small chit chat until the other students began to trickle in.
“Alright class, let’s begin. Today we’re going to have an in-class writing day since your papers are due on Monday. The more you get done in class, the more you get to enjoy your weekend, how’s that sound?”
“Thanks Professor!” Aamir said, “Can I wear my headphones while I work?”
“Sure, just make sure that you can hear me if I need to get your attention.”
As they wrote, I thought about my dream. Why was I having a reoccurring nightmare about being shot in the back of my head? The strange thing was, I kept getting shot in the same spot, where my birthmark is, which some called a “stork bite” because it was located on the back of the head, where the neck met the skull.
I realized that I had been day dreaming and wondered how long so I checked the clock. 8:19. I pretended like that didn’t bother me.
The rest of the day went by normally. When quitting time came, I went to see Justin in his office.
“You ready to break out of here?” I asked.
“Does the pope shit in the woods?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s an expression bro.”
“I know, but I don’t get why. I’m almost certain the pope would just shit in a toilet like the rest of us.”
“Yes. The answer is yes, I am ready to break out of here. Jesus.”
We met at The Brickyard, our usual spot. The downstairs was a bar with cool wall panels that change color. We ordered a few drinks and talked about work, our most difficult students, and our gripes with the education system. We had tons of ideas of how to make it better but never a single one about how to implement anything. It was nice just to vent sometimes. Eventually, the conversation led to my dreams. I told him about the gun shot, waking up in a panic, and how Carla was concerned. I mentioned the number that I kept seeing everywhere and how I thought I was going crazy.
“Have you tried looking it up in the bible?”
“The bible. You know, that book your mother could recite verbatim.”
“Duh. I know what the bible is, but why look up a number in it?”
“When I was a kid, before my mother had passed, she used to tell me to look up numbers in the bible. She said that God communicated in all sorts of ways.”
“Did it ever work? Did you look up something and think that God was communicating with you?”
“When I was young, I thought that it worked, but as I got older, my faith faded and I realized that bible verses can be like fortune cookies. They all sort of apply to your life in a general manner, but it still feels good.”
“Hmm. Perhaps I’ll try that.”
I noticed that there was a man at the other side of the bar looking over at us from time to time. I assumed it was because he overheard our conversation and thought we were loons. After an hour or so, he got up and walked toward the stairs. He paused before leaving and looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with me. A nervous chill rushed down my spine. I felt his malicious intentions with just a look, and then he went upstairs.
“Michael, you okay?”
“The guy over there?” Justin looked but the man was gone. “Oh, he must of left. What about him?”
“He just gave me the coldest look.”
“Are you sure he wasn’t just flirting?”
“No dude, he looked at me like he wanted to kill me.”
“What? Why would he want to kill you? Are you sure you’re not misreading this situation? Maybe he overheard us bad mouthing religion. You know how die hard Christians can get.”
If you’re like me, you might feel like you lack imagination. Which is strange because as a child, I had the wildest imagination. Somehow, over the years, it began to fade. I became more literal and logical. These are great qualities to have, especially in this world that we live in, but let’s be honest, the outside-the-box thinkers are just as necessary. It takes imagination to dream and wonder “what if?” Then it takes the logical mind to bring dreams into reality. I used to think that I had to choose between the two ways of thinking, but I now believe it is possible to be both.
Just a little over a month ago, I began to read books again. Like page turning, hold in my hand, use a book mark, type of books. I have grown to dislike reading, mostly because I have a huge love for movies. However, it is the media that I consume that I believe killed my own imagination. Movies and games are amazing, but they do the creativity part for you. You don’t have to picture anything. However, those mediums do still keep your logical brain challenged. In movies, you might be trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, or analyzing the message of the movie, or something. In video games, especially in the ones that I enjoy, there is a strategic element that challenges me to figure out how to best my opponent. Thus, the logical brain has been strengthening over the years.
Reading books was a challenge for myself, mostly because I enjoy writing and all writers that I know or follow say, “Reading and writing go hand in hand. To be a better writer, one must read.” Honestly, I didn’t want to believe it, but I have decided that I would give it a shot. I didn’t realize the impact that reading would have on my imagination. At first, it was so difficult to even picture what was happening on the page that I was reading. Words were just words to me. I read them, but I wasn’t being whisked away by them, and I stayed in the reality of the situation. That is, sitting there, staring at a page, reading words. However, after a few days, maybe a week of continuous reading (just 25 pages a day), I began imagining small details. Not entire scenes, or the the whole story, but little things, like the description of a characters neck tie, or, while reading a detailed description of a room, I could imagine just the chair. It was small, but it was a start, like I was flicking the imagination switch back on and impulses were starting to connect.
After a month of reading daily, I can now imagine whole scenes. I still have work to do to keep me in the story, but I can see steady growth in my imagination. It has given me more motivation to read because I am seeing tangible results, which pleases my logical brain =] I have been writing daily too, and I am starting to add more details to it as I go and revise.
So there you have it. Just read books. Something that many still do, but also something that is increasingly becoming a digital task. Spend some time, everyday, just 25 pages, and read a real, page turning, physical book, and I guarantee that your imagination will improve.
We all have things that we wish to improve in our lives. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. However, what’s the old saying? “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” To think about the amount of work required to build a while city is daunting, but to think about laying one brick? That’s a task anyone can do. So that bring us to the first step.
1: Don’t overthink it.
Life is long. Unless you get hit by a bus something, expect to be here for 80-100 years! There is plenty of time to change, so just relax a little. Do the best you can, and don’t stress.
2: Start small.
Pick a task. Just one thing that you would like to change about your life. For me, it was making my bed, everyday. I heard it from Jordan Peterson, but other people have claimed to have said it as well, but making your bed everyday will make a positive difference in your life. What it does, besides make your room look much cleaner, is reinforce your ability to make change. It might be small, and seem silly, but I’ve become proud that I make my bed every day. I never did growing up. I always thought, “What’s the point? I’m just going to lay in it again tonight and mess it up.” So I didn’t care. Now, I don’t feel right until it is made. It has become habit. But most importantly, It has strengthened my belief in myself that I can make a change in my own life and follow through. It’s a great baby step to self improvement.
3: Don’t overload.
Once you make that first change, you might find yourself, as I did, wanting to make 100 more. The most important thing is to be consistent with your new changes. If you take on a new task, but you slack on the old one, then you weren’t ready to add more to your plate. After I began making my bed everyday for the first week, I decided that I was going to go for a run every morning. After a few days, I was so focused on the run and making it routine that I began leaving the house without making my bed, saying, “I’ll do it when I get home.” Well, after a few days, I would get home, too tired and wanted to just relax for a few minutes first. You can guess where this leads. I stopped making my bed in the morning. So, I scaled back, and focused on the bed making again, and less on the run. It took about a month of making my bed, every single day, before I was able to do it without thinking, and then I could use my conscious mind to focus on a new task. The key is, don’t start something new until what you are focused on becomes habit, second nature. When your unconscious mind is making the bed, then your conscious mind can go for a run, or whatever else you are planning.
4: Don’t worry about “One-Upping” yourself.
Your next task doesn’t have to be “bigger” than the last. I made my bed. Then I ran. Then I focused on not biting my nails, which in comparison to exercising, seems minute. However, biting my nails had been a lifelong struggle, and now, I can’t picture myself even doing it! After the nail biting was resolved, I implemented writing into my morning routing, then reading. That’s where I’m at now, making sure I read every morning. I’m about to finish my 2nd book, and it has been about 3 weeks since I’ve been reading every day. It will soon be a habit (it takes about a month to form a new habit) and then I’ll figure out the next thing.
5: Don’t give up!
You only fail if you give up entirely. If you have a set back, don’t get discouraged. Take it as a sign that you either overloaded, or perhaps it was just a really busy day. That’s ok, just pick it up again tomorrow. This same advice is given to smokers, alcoholics, and addicts. If you relapse, don’t just throw caution to the wind and say, “well I already failed, so I might as well just keep doing it.” No. You had a step back, now keep moving forward! Since the weather has got considerably colder here in Massachusetts, I’ve missed out on some runs. I didn’t want to stop exercising, but I know myself and the cold weather is not my friend. I hate it. So, I just swapped out the running with other forms of exercise. I use the same time block, but now I’ve been working on doing as many push ups as I can in a row without rest. That way, I still get some cardio, and it is fun to see how far I can go. I started by doing 40, which I found pretty good considering how long it has been since I’ve done push ups, and by the time I hit 35, those last 5 were a struggle. Now, I’m up to 75 in a row!
6: Have fun!
Don’t let the changes become work. Find a way to make it fun. For example, when I quit biting my nails, I went out and bought a manicure set for myself. Giving myself a manicure isn’t exactly a trip to 6 flags, but I did find enjoyment out of watching some YouTube videos and trying to learn something new. It was also something to do with my hands while I watched TV. Overall, it was better than biting my nails and then feeling bad about it once I realized that I had chewed half of my fingers to the bone, and then continue to do the rest, consciously aware that I am doing it and hating that I can’t stop. Just try to find a way to make the changes a little more enjoyable than not doing them.
Anyone can make a difference in their own lives, and the fact is that it will carry over into the lives of those around you. Once I began this journey of self improvement, other people have noticed that my mood is better, and my confidence is too. It has a way of brightening the day of those around you and even making some of them want to make improvements to their own lives. Just follow these steps, and remember, start small! The formula is:
It was a night to remember. I had spent New Years Even with my new wife and beautiful daughter. We drank champagne, sparkling cider for the little one, and ate junk food, while we watched the ball drop on TV to count down the new year.
3…2….1.. Happy New Year!
We cheered and raised our glasses, smiling, laughing, and sharing our resolutions. I had just been promoted recently to an E3 in the Navy, which I couldn’t believe seeing as though I had just been promoted to E2 two months prior, after graduating from boot camp. My Navy career was off to a great start, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Let me go back a little bit. I never planned on joining the military, in fact, I was dead set against it. I was going to be a big rap star. That was plan A. I always joked and said, “Joining the military would be my plan Z.”
After a failed attempt at a rap career. After the 3 years of being homeless. After the drug overdose, I decided that maybe plan Z was looking like a good idea. I was living in California, if you could call it living, and I called my dad up and told him that I wanted to join the Navy, and asked if I could stay with him until I left for boot camp. He agreed so long as I was serious.
It took a year to get in. The military was flooded with people, and were actually looking to downsize. During that year, I was spending all of my time working at Walgreens, and seeing my girlfriend and her daughter. The day finally came that I left for boot camp, in July of 2010. I came home in October and proposed to my lady.
We went out to a fancy engagement dinner
We got married in December. I was a whole new man. I gained some weight and muscle back. The Navy dentists fixed my teeth. I got a hair cut and clean shave. I got my confidence back, and I was dead set on being a squared away sailor, possibly for life.
My phone vibrated, I never had the sound on, and it was Mark. He called to say that he was outside. I checked the time. 3:00 AM. I had dozed off for a few hours while waiting to be picked up. I kissed my wife goodbye and left.
Mark and I were in the same duty section. Our base in Connecticut was on whats called “Christmas stand down,” and we were allowed to take 1 week of leave, either the week before Christmas, where we’d have to return to base on Christmas day, or the week after Christmas, having to return by New Years day. Mark and I both got the second week off, and he had a car on base, and happened to be from Massachusetts as well, so was kind enough to give me a ride to see my family and bring me back to base.
When I got in the car, he had the windows open, and was pounding back an energy drink. I told him that I was exhausted and going to sleep, but to wake me up if he needed me to take over. We pulled away from the house, and once we hit the main street, he turned the music back on and blared some high energy, rock n roll. I have no idea how I managed to fall asleep.
I woke when the windshield shattered, and the second I opened my eyes, I felt a quick sting in my right eye, and then blackness. A piece of the glass cut my cornea. I had no time to think about that. My immediate instincts said to get out of the car. I heard Mark grunting in agony, trying hard not to scream. I tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge. The windows were still open, so I jumped out of my window and ran over to Mark’s side and helped him get out of his. We moved quickly through the snow towards the road. It was pitch black, not a street light in sight.
Once we were far enough away from the car, Mark collapsed. He had shattered both of his feet. I’m amazed that he was able to walk on them at all before that. Adrenaline is one helluva drug. He realized the pain suddenly and the screams began getting louder. I had my cellphone in the pocket of my pea coat, Navy issued, and called 911.
“911 what’s your emergency?”
“We need an ambulance, we were just in a car accident.”
“How many people are with you?”
“Just me and my friend. Just two.”
“Was there any other cars involved in the accident?”
“No, we hit a tree.”
“Where is your location?”
“I…I don’t know.” I began to look around for any indication of where we were. “I can’t see any signs. It’s pitch black. We were coming from Massachusetts towards Connecticut. I… Mark.. Do you know where we are?” He was screaming and couldn’t hear me. “Mark!”
“Sir… Sir” The woman on the phone tried to get my attention.
“I don’t know where we are.”
“Sir, we have you on GPS, an ambulance is on the way.”
After we hung up, I ran over to Mark, and I crouched near him. I didn’t know what his injuries were so I just kept telling him to stay awake and keep his eyes closed. He apologized over and over. I kept telling him it was okay, and I repeatedly said that I can’t see out of my right eye. We spoke in circles between repeating our injuries and apologizing until the ambulance arrived. The moment I saw the flashing lights, I collapsed in the snow and just laid there. They took us on two stretchers. I can’t remember if we were in the same ambulance or if there were two. I just remember flashes from that point. They spoke some medical jargon, while asking me questions. They took out scissors and began to cut my pea coat.
“No, I can take it off.”
“Sir, we need you to sit still.”
“No, this is part of my uniform, it’s expensive.”
“Sir, they’ll give you another one.”
“No they won’t. It’s expensive.”
They cut it off anyway. They also cut off my clothes.
I saw Mark only for a brief second when we arrived at the hospital in Rhode Island. They carted him off in one direction and me in another. I was in some sort of lobby area, when a nurse approached me and asked if there was anyone they should call. I, for the first time, got to say,
“Call my wife.”
I quickly realized how panicked she would be if the nurse called her and left a message saying that I was in an accident and in the hospital so I asked if I could be the one to speak with her. I left a message, saying I didn’t make it back to base, and that I’m in the hospital in Rhode Island but that I’m alright.
I remember waking up in the hospital bed, in a room, feeling exhausted but the drugs kept the pain at bay. My wife showed up, it was an hour drive, and she looked shocked to see me in such a vulnerable state. My dad showed up shortly after too.
The doctors said that I had a concussion, a fractured sternum, and a corneal abrasion. A few months of medicated drops in my eye and my vision returned. Mark wasn’t as lucky. He spent several days in the hospital getting his feet operated on. It took months to recover enough to return to duty. He eventually got back on track, and as far as I know he’d still in the Navy.
I appeared alright sooner, but as I went back to work, I had pains in my back. I couldn’t stand or sit for too long without being in unbearable back pain. I couldn’t pass my fitness tests. I looked fine on the surface, but my lower back was definitely not. It took many tests and attempts, but due to my injury and the fact that the Navy was looking to downsize, they decided that I was no longer worth the investment, and they let me go. I received an honorable discharge, and my GI bill. They thanked me for my service and that was it. Plan Z failed.
I didn’t know what to do. I decided to roll into college, not for the education, but because the GI bill would pay my rent so long as I was a full time student. So, two weeks a civilian, and I was taking a full course load while reexamining my life and direction. It took a long time to figure out what I would do next. Years of classes and degrees and I finally decided that I would take the firefighters exam.
I know what you’re thinking. “How could you be a firefighter but not a sailor? What about your back?”
You are correct for thinking that. My back is still in pain, though over the years I’ve managed to find ways to bring it down. So long as I stay light weight (I was power lifting in the military and got myself up to 205 lbs. I’m 160 now) and stay flexible. I stretch daily, and I keep my core strong. So long as I eat good and avoid foods that cause inflammation. My back pain is manageable. I’ve completely changed my life, mostly for the better, although when I slack and eat too much junk or miss too much exercise, my back reminds me that I’m not as healthy as I think sometimes. The doctors said that I will probably have worse pain in my 50’s and 60’s so I’m trying to get in the fire department. Kick ass for as long as I can, and get a decent pension.
I took the test this past March, the physical exam in the summer, and I am currently in the waiting part of the process for a job opening. Wish me luck!
You never know where life will take you and how your whole future can change in the matter of seconds. How one car ride can decide your fate.