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Shake me up

3 min read

A couple of weeks ago I had oral surgery. I was pretty concerned about this event; there was some risk my sinus might explode during the surgery. It didn't! But there was a bone graft involved, and some mention of the boundary between my mouth and sinus being paper-thin, so I was warned: Under no circumstances was I permitted to blow my nose or sneeze for, at minimum, two weeks. Doing either could explode my skull. The first few days of recovery were pretty low-key (with the exception of an unplanned return visit to the surgeon); by Sunday, five days later, I was feeling pretty good.

So we went to the beach.

I can't tell you the last time I was at the beach with my family. Well, maybe I can. It might have been nearly ten years. That's almost as old as my daughter is. My family's been to the beach a few times without me; they would sometimes go to gather clams, or stroll through the souvenir shops, while I was at work.

Earlier this year I felt a sort of jolt, like I was waking up from a decade-long anesthesia state. I suddenly wasn't terribly pleased with the experience of being me. I saw...complacency. Boredom. Ossification. I started testing all of the things I thought I knew to be true, and found that not so many of them were. I discovered how much I love food. I found a love for different music. I took care of my body as though it meant something to me, and it returned the favor.

I thought I had a life before. I'm not sure it was much of one. I'm participating in every aspect of my life now. Making up for lost time, for disappointments or hurts I've felt or delivered.

After a nice breakfast at a favorite cafe on Sunday morning, my family and I walked onto the shore. We inspected the tide pools for treasures. Felicia found an intact sand dollar; Squish found a tiny hermit crab. Felicia took my hand and pulled me close and said something I very much needed to hear; I was a little overcome—I'm a big softie, remember—and after a moment I walked to the water's edge, just feeling happy with my place in the world. Squish came to where I stood and took my hand, and together we just felt the breeze, watched the gulls whirling about, felt the water sweep over our legs and the sand suck at our toes.

As we walked, Felicia took this photo.

Later in the day, she unearthed a photo that might be the last time I was at the beach with my family, from nearly ten years earlier.

The most apparent difference in the two photos, of course, is Squish, who rocketed from tiny toddler to confident pre-teen in a blink. But I look at these photos, and I see two very different mes. In the recent one I see a me who feels safe and happy in his own skin, who is comfortable being his fullest self, who is accepted and loved by the family around him. In the earlier one, I see a prematurely tired old man.

"Don't take this the wrong way," Felicia said after, "but you look younger and happier in the newer photo than you did ten years ago."

I took it exactly the way she meant it: An expression of happiness that her partner is fully present, committed to himself and to his family. And I think she's right. Happy looks pretty good on me. Who knew?

The last week or two I've been working on some illustration projects. They're big pieces, pen and marker drawings on 18"x22" Bristol board. They're not perfect, because I'm no pro, but they've been really satisfying to work on. The final step on each of them has been to apply a layer of thick white paint, via a paint marker, to create some outlines around key parts of the drawing.

When I reached that stage of the second piece, the paint marker wasn't working. I shook it, as advised by the instructions. Then I depressed the tip on a piece of scratch paper to prime it, also per the instructions. When I did, a thick shell of dried paint crumbled away from the tip, revealing a fully-functioning marker tip just beneath. The marker worked beautifully after that. I hadn't even been able to tell it was crusted-over.

Who knew a paint marker would deliver the perfect metaphor for this moment in my life? Shake me up, prime me, watch all the tired old beliefs and habits collapse. Underneath, as it turns out, I'm still vital, vibrant, expressive.




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