Last weekend, by the convergence of some very strange forces and circumstances, I ended up at a group reading with the Long Island Medium, Teresa Caputo, along with a co-worker, a roomful of strangers, and a camera crew. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday, and I’d barely had enough coffee to be able to stand, which added to the strangeness of it all. My co-worker Julie put together a brunch and the Long Island Medium was to show up as a surprise. I hadn’t seen the show before, so when Julie invited me, first I had to say yes (because I no longer turn down social plans that I find scary) and then I binge-watched the first season in a day.
Though I knew what the surprise was, when Teresa walked in, my gasp at seeing this bleach-blonde, larger-than-life TV personality with nails like porcelain claws and covered from head to toe in leather was genuine. After the screams subsided and TV crew set up, I sat in a semi-circle with these people I’d never met while this woman who claims to talk to the dead began to “read” us. With this kind of psychic stuff, I’m equal parts believer and skeptic—I constantly flip-flop between buying it and rolling my eyes, but how many times in life does someone get an opportunity like this, right? So I went into it with a somewhat open mind.
She dove in quickly with the opposite side of the room, and I learned about the pain of strangers that day. Everyone there had been touched by loss in very profound ways, and every story moved me. These people that I was terrified of when my introverted self first walked into the room, felt an enormous sense of closeness and compassion for each of them as she ticked down the line.
I prayed to God that time would run out and she wouldn’t get to me. My prayer, however, was not answered. This woman has one of those intense, uncomfortable gazes that make you feel ashamed because she’s seeing every secret buried in your dirty, dirty soul. That gaze looked my way, and I got nervous. My grandmother came up first. “Who’s the mother figure that passed on this side of the room? Could have been a grandmother.” This followed with some other details that made me speak up despite myself. “You feel some guilt about not spending more time with her before she passed. Your grandmother says to let that go.” Commence the first round of tears. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s before she died of pancreatic cancer. The Alzheimer’s scared me, and my weekly calls turned into bi sometimes tri weekly calls because I was scared of what I was going to hear on the other side of the line. I always felt like a coward because of that, and given the chance to do it over, would have called every day, if not two or three times.
But here comes the kicker. She’s talking to someone else and pauses. “Who’s the father that passed? Name of Frank? Or Philip?” Before I could stop myself, I spoke up again, “That’s my dad.” That laser focus, like Sauron’s Eye in a studded leather dress, rolled back toward me. “He apologizes for not being there,” she said. “He’s learned an important lesson on the other side, and he takes ownership for the mistake he made by not being there for you.” My skeptic vanished in that moment. I rarely ever talk about my dad; I hardly ever think about him. But this was touching something deep, and as this roomful of strangers watched, with a camera firmly planted on my face, and a very large microphone at my feet, I lost the fight to hold back sobs. She told me that he’s also sorry for the residue that this left behind; “does that make sense to you?” she asked. I said it did, I felt it did, but in the days after, I understood it much better. It’s this orphan feeling I carry around with me—no mom, no dad, no one to rely on if things go wrong, it’s profound loneliness. It’s always been there, and it’s forced me to make decisions based on safety rather than happiness; it’s put me in relationships I didn’t want because I just needed to be liked. That’s the residue. “He’s sorry for it; he takes responsibility for it. He says you can let it go, and he’s proud of the man you’ve become.”
OK, so it’s going to take more than an apology from a brassy medium to forgive a man who truly defined the term “dead beat dad,” (sorry for the pun), but it helped in some way. I’m still not entirely sure if I believe she talks to the dead. To be honest, I don’t really care. I do know that she’s enormously intuitive and perceptive, and that I got something valuable from it—permission to let that crap go. Something was quietly profound about it, and I think I’m still digesting it all. But I realized that the intention of this happiness work that I’ve been doing has all been about cleaning up this residue. And with her laser-like intuition, a TV medium opened up another layer to this work.
Julie, if you’re reading this, I am grateful to you and for letting me take part in the most surreal brunch I’ve ever attended. It was a random act of kindness on your part, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to gain a little more insight. My 4th decade is starting off with quite a bang — it’s a strange bang, but a bang nonetheless. Now back on that bike!
21 weeks until the ride, but it’s only 1 week until a much more terrible and daunting event. Exactly one week from today, I turn 40. I know, I know. When I hear people complaining about turning 30, I think, “Poor you, asshole. Quit your crying!” But these changes in decades feel big, and despite meditation and acts of kindness, my brain keeps taking it to a dark place. In fact, the darkest of places—an incredibly harsh evaluation of all life decisions to date. Yes, my internal voice (which incidentally speaks like Julia Child now because I binge-watched the first season of her show) keeps running on a recorded tape loop about how little I’ve done in my 40 years, how much I’ve failed, how stuck I am, and that pretty much (no, every) life decision has been the wrong one. The 5 tasks take me out of it momentarily, but Julia’s voice steps right back in, whisking new terrible ingredients into this soufflé of regret.
But in the spirit of this blog and in this work that I more and more realize requires constant vigilance, you are going to witness the transformation. Right now, as I type this, I am vowing to throw the regret soufflé on top of the compost heap piled high with all the other items of self-hatred that I’ve worked so hard to throw out these past few months. Instead, Julia’s going to talk me through something less delicate than a soufflé—something more sturdy, like one of those weird, hard loafs of German bread that are shaped like bricks and just as hard. And instead of honing in on 40 years of mistakes, I’m going to focus on this last year—the year when I clawed myself out of a self-imposed grave to finally get to some sunshine, when I got some articles published, when I made some new friends, when I made some changes to better myself. And I’m going to focus on the year coming up—the year I dedicate myself to a crazy fitness goal, the year when I have the chance to make new decisions, do new things. Damn it, 40 is going to be the year of hope! 40 is going to be the year where I look forward instead of constantly back. No, scratch that, it’s going to be the year when I am grateful for every present moment and realize the hope in every second!
OK, that last part is just crazy. That’s too lofty a goal. Sorry, the Julia Child in my head got really carried away—you know how she gets (have you ever seen someone get so worked up about omelets? Jeez!) But there’s some truth there. I can be grateful for what I have, I can choose to think differently, see differently. And now we have our hopeful German bread. Thanks for bearing with me as I work through that.
I went for a bike ride this Saturday that was a little longer than the ones I’ve done in the past, and for some reason it was a particularly hard one for me. At one point, while climbing an especially long and seemingly never-ending hill, I really wanted to give up, but I was many miles away from home so there was no other option but to keep going. And as much as I didn’t want to, as much as it hurt, I had to keep pedaling. And it wasn’t so bad. No, I’m lying. It hurt like hell. But I got to the top of the hill and had the amazing pleasure of coasting down the other side. I don’t mean to get all cliché with the life is like hills and valleys thing, but this fear of 40 brings that moment to mind. I think that’s a better way of looking at my 40s, at any decade that I might have the privilege of entering—just keep pedaling and you’ll get there. And with that, I’ll see you when I’m 40.
If you know me well, I think you should sit down for this. I had to sit down for this once I realized what I’d done. I’m about to tell you something so remarkably true and surprising that you should probably get the dust pan to clean up your mind that is about to be blown against the ceiling. Ready? For the past two weeks, without a gun to my head, without a madman wielding a hatchet and chasing me through the city, I have ridden my new bike every day but two. Yes, Randy Scott Hyde, whose butt is permanently imprinted on more than one sofa, has pedaled up hills, across bridges, to other towns on a bicycle. For hours and for many miles. On a holiday no less! When I’d normally be in bed until 2 p.m. and either drunk or full on nachos by 3 p.m. On a bike. Riding around.
But the strangest part of all of this was that I enjoyed it. I met some new people, got quality time with friends, got to experience some amazing California scenery, and on more than one occasion found my way to some delicious food. Yes, my thighs burn with the hell fire reserved for the worst of humanity, but each day gets a little easier (except for the days when it’s harder). Who knew that there could be something more fun than wine and bad TV? Why has this been a secret?! I always thought exercisey people, the ones who talked about liking it, had some sort of disease, some personality quirk that made them love pain and torture—they go for runs and then hit the whipping post before the showers. But no. It’s fun.
What’s not fun? Hills. Hills on a bike have to be on the scale of childbirth. It’s like babies being born from your quads—babies with claws trying desperately to get out of your muscles so they can ravage land and sea and cover the earth’s many, many hills with your blood. So in other words, they really suck. But I found myself naturally talking myself through it. Without any suggestion from anyone, I just starting repeating to myself, “Do what you can do, Randy. Do what you can do.” This tiny, little mantra took out any feelings of shame for being out of shape or needing to give up or needing to go faster so I look like I’m not suffering. It also gave me something to focus on, a good voice in my head (for once) that was encouraging and forgiving at the same time. Had no idea that voice was in there.
And coupled with the other happiness tasks, my mood has been remarkably level through a period on the calendar that is usually characterized by a deceptive smile of holiday cheer that is masking some pretty hardcore misery. This year, though, there was no mask. The smile was authentic. And as the New Year approaches, instead of looking back on 2013 with shame, I look back with pride as I rub tiger balm on my sore but grateful legs.
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to the AIDS Lifecycle before the end of the year, you can do so here. Thanks for considering and have a wonderful and happy New Year! See you next year!
It finally occurred to me that instead of counting weeks past, I should have a bigger eye on the final challenge—that fateful week that will either see me easily coasting down the California coast like a pro or huffing and cramping my way through hell like a Last Minute Larry who didn’t train enough. So I’m changing the titles of these posts to reflect the big countdown. 24 weeks seems like remarkably little time. Um, especially since I finally got my bike, and I’m too scared to ride it. Thank all that is good for willing, patient, and tenacious friends who are making me get on the saddle this coming weekend. Another quick admin note: Sunday posts are near impossible, and doing them on Monday evenings seems like a great start to the week, so I’m shifting my due dates. Now on to the good stuff.
Somehow throughout the entire month of September, the whole gratitude part of this work didn’t really make any profound presence. I mean it helped, definitely, but it never walked up to me and slapped me in the face with a new kind of clarity like the others did at various points. Instead it just kind of sat in the background nodding its head and smiling, content to be a little gentle, grateful lamb of sweetness. But this week, gratitude was a lion—and not the sleepy, PBS sitting in the grass kind of lion. No, this cat roared and clawed something fierce.
I’ve changed the way I do this one. Instead of sitting down to quickly write down three things to be grateful for, only spending the 3 or 4 minutes it takes to think something up, I’ve been spreading them out throughout the day, finding something in the present to be grateful for when I notice it, and then noting it in my mind, collecting them until I get home. Much like the random act of kindness transitioned into a state of perceiving the world, this new way has done something similar so that now I’m always thinking about something I’m grateful for. I fear it’s making me painfully Polyanna-ish and really hope to maintain some wry skepticism of the world that I’m famous for in my own mind. I’ve always liked my angels rounded out with a little bit of monster.
Meditation was the only one of the five that really affected my dreams—very uncomfortable lucidity and never knowing if I was dreaming or waking. This weekend the gratitude lion used my dreams to roar some clarity into my soul hole, and it’s still echoing. I won’t go into the dream since dreams are usually only interesting to the dreamer, but it clearly pointed out to me that I should be, that I am, grateful for what I have. I’m always thinking about the next thing, the worrisome thing, or the thing I don’t have—this city is too expensive so I’m going to have to move soon; I’m almost 40 and still renting and have a roommate which means I haven’t grown up or dealt with issues that I don’t even know I have; I have a job that isn’t a writing career which means I’m a total failure at life. This dream showed me how grateful I am for all those things by taking them away from me, and the entire dream was spent desperately trying to get them all back – the city, the rented home, the roommate, the job. I woke up so happy and grateful, thanking everyone and everything that I found myself exactly where I’ve been all along. Sure there are things I don’t have, and that’s the stuff that ensures that I’m still reaching for things, still trying, still working, but I saw that what I do have has been getting the shaft, and I’m lucky to have it. My city, my home, my roommate, my job—they all provide me with a damn good life and the opportunity to keep making it better. So today I’m grateful for it all.
Yowza, that was one mammoth flu. Thank you for your patience as my body collapsed into a sad heap of phlegm and bursts of violent coughing. This thing ended up taking about ten days out of my life—just enough time for all the depression and anxiety to return. Now that it’s done with, I’m back on the tasks and the bike training and already feeling better (soulfully and physically).
As the holidays approach (as well as the upcoming 40th birthday, but we’ll save that one for later), I feel the need to cling even harder to this work as I notice the self pity knocking on the door. Hearing people talk about going “home,” imaging these wonderful family reunions full of cheer and warmth as the undeserving orphans shiver outside in the lonely cold. I know that’s not the truth of it, but it’s hard not to fixate on that idealized version of “home.” But with this happiness work, I’m hoping to take it head on this time, and I’m instead trying to focus on all the people I have, the family I’ve made. So my gratitudes for the month of December are dedicated to the people I’ve been lucky enough to find and be loved by. It’s too easy to focus on the things you don’t have, so I’m going to work to focus on things I do. And by golly, it’s a lot, so knock it off depression!
As an example, I’ve started fundraising for the AIDS ride, a necessary component to participate. Not a huge, aggressive pitch, but just mentioning that my fundraising page was up. And in just a few weeks, the love and the donations started pouring in and I’m already up to $1,500. I have a lot to go still, but it reminded me that I have people. I have cheerleaders and supporters at my disposal anytime I need them, and all I have to do is ask. So why can’t I always remember that? My brain needs some major schoolin’.
Speaking of people I love, a friend of mine the other day was telling me about a random act of kindness that she felt she failed at. We talked it through and come to find out she actually did a pretty remarkable job. But I find it curious how much we can beat ourselves up about anything. I mean how can someone trying to be kind suck at it? You’re pretty much succeeding just by attempting it, right? But our types really love hating ourselves, and we’re incredible good at it. Did I do it right, should I have done more, was it bad because it was easy, why am I so stupid and evil? And in talking with my friend, I realized that there are three easy ways to evaluate a successful random act of kindness: 1) did I put someone else’s needs in front of mine; 2) did I engage with someone in order to pull it off; and, 3) did it in some way ease their pain or make them happy. I’ve been using those three questions now that I’m back on the happiness tasks this week, and it’s completely revolutionized my approach to these. When looking through this lens, these are way easier to do and don’t have as much anxiety wrapped around them. They can be simple gestures instead of lavish displays, and I can relieve myself of the self-induced punches to the soul that I’m so fond of doing.
So I’m glad to be back on this happiness horse, and I’m doubly glad to have a holiday plan so Santa Claws and his band of evil elves don’t come in to turn all this merriment and cheer into sinister laughs of doom and decay. I’m going to love the hell out of this holiday whether it likes it or not!
So sorry I’ve been absent the past two weeks, and thank you to those who checked in on me. Week 3 was packed with back-to-back 15 hour days and Week 4 I’ve been down with the flu. Needless to say, it’s been a bit of a rough patch on all fronts, not to mention the 5 tasks. I think I’m nearing the end of this flu, but I have more sleeping to do and barely enough energy for this post. I feel like I’m failing and only a month in. I’ve got a mug of theraflu with my name on it, so I hope you’ll forgive the lack of a drawing on this one. Fingers crossed this next week is better.
Yikes, I am late! I somehow got myself into a calendaring pickle and haven’t had a moment to write until this evening. But I got all the tasks done last week. I got myself to spin class three days, got in other forms of exercise on alternate days. The journal is filling up with good things and gratitudes. Me and meditation are getting reacquainted. But my random acts of kindness have been small. Random, but small.
But other people are knocking that one of the park. Like this woman behind me in line at the coffee shop Sunday morning. I was 15 cents short and half asleep, and the barista was staring at me as I tried to figure out what I should do. “Um, could I get a medium instead? Should I go get cash and come back?” She stared as I stumbled, and she refused to make it easy for me. And then this angelic creature, this Mother Teresa of All Things Caffeinated, slid two one-dollar bills across the counter and said, “Will this help?” And I loved her more in that moment than anything I’ve loved all week. All I needed was 15 cents and she easily and generously more than covered it, releasing me from the discomfort, humiliation, confusion, and awkwardness, and I was reminded how much this one counts. Since then, my acts of kindness have been more direct.
I also officially signed up for the AIDS ride in June and set up my fundraising page. I’ve got a few donors, and there’s no going back now. My legs are still angry at me, but they’re slowly coming around, along with my relationship to mornings–though I suspect that one will take a lifetime.
Apologies for the short and scattered nature of this post, but I only had a few minutes and wanted to make sure I was keeping up my end of the bargain. Next week will be more substantive – promise! Thanks for sticking with me!
There are 30 weeks between the time I committed to this new project and the AIDS Lifecycle ride in June. I just completed week 1. I like counting from the beginning like this because if week 1 is any indication, it’s exactly like starting over. Week 1 blew. It blew with the force of a thousand winds. It felt a whole lot like starting from scratch. I had to get comfortable with doing all 5 tasks every day, and it took me a while to ramp up.
Here was my brainversation on Monday and Tuesday:
“You have a lot of work today. You should start tomorrow.”
“Yeah, you should totally start tomorrow.”
“No, you said you’d do this. Remember when you were doing it every day? You felt so much better.”
“OK, I’ll do 2 of the 5.”
“Randy Scott Hyde? You better do every one.”
“Oh, look at the clock. It’s bedtime already. Guess you’ll have to start tomorrow. So sad for you, loser.”
And then Wednesday came. Wednesday brought with it a little magical reminder by the name of Katie Chase Martin, a girl in her early 20’s living in New York and starting her own soul-hole blog. I found it purely by accident, but someone had sent her my blog, and she was inspired to start a journey of her own. I read through each entry of her first few days and remembered how hard this stuff was—is. And I remembered experiencing some of the frustrations that Katie was experiencing, and how important this work is. I gave her the same advice so many others gave me—keep going. (If you’d like to give her some encouragement, too, you can find her blog here.)
So with Katie’s help, Wednesday found me back on the horse. I found a journal to keep track of my daily progress, got myself up and into my exercise shoes, and just generally got it together again. And now I’m back on the happiness horse. Every day has been up and down, much like where I was in the first week of the 30 day experiment.
And today, a Sunday no less, when I would usually be in bed until my legs cramped or lunchtime rolled around (whichever came first), I was well-awake and coffee’d by 9 am for my first ever spin class at a gym down the street. I’m hoping some spin classes will get me prepared for a real bike ride when my bike arrives at the end of the month. Um, let me just take a moment to describe spin classes for those who have never done one. Here’s a mathematical equation that represents them well:
hard + as fu#k + make it even harder with lots of ups and downs + increased resistance so it feels like you’re going up a mountain + more hard stuff = 1 spin class
My legs were in such serious shock when it was over that I seriously considered taking a cab the four blocks home. Not doing so was its own accomplishment. Let’s hope my legs don’t revolt tomorrow so they can carry me through week 2.
So here’s the thing: 30 days can definitely get you happier. Turns out, though, that 30 days does not make a habit. Though I was feeling great going into October, without the accountability and the goal that this blog provided, each task slowly drifted out to sea. I’d see shimmers of it occasionally—a gratitude here and there, a random run around the park—but I lost the consistency of every day for every one, and ultimately lost the happiness and hopefulness I’d worked so hard to achieve in September. I’m not exactly back to where I started, but it’s getting dangerously close, and I learned something important about myself – I need goals, and I need accountability. Without them, I become whale food again.
So what do we do when we take a giant tumble down an epic flight of stairs that it took us a month to climb? First we look around, hoping no one noticed. Then we throw a tantrum, kick the walls a little, realize it’s not getting us anywhere and now our toes hurt, and then start the climb again because we know what’s at the bottom ain’t so great. So I’m back. And I’m recommitting to the work with a similar set of rules but a new vigor and commitment.
I’ve decided to train for the AIDS Life Cycle in June, riding a bicycle 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I haven’t been on a bicycle since I started growing body hair and I’m terrified, but it’s a good cause, a well-supported ride, and it gives me a new clear and solid goal to work towards. Though it’s exercise specific, I’m using it as a target, a vehicle for the other 4 tasks to ride on—all five of them sweatin’ it out on the happiness bike together. So for the next 7 months, I’ll do a blog post every Sunday to report on the week (stick figures included), and hopefully I can take these from tasks to habits, escaping the desert of sweat and toil to find some freedom in the land of milk and happy. Glad to be back and I’ll see you next Sunday.