Jan 17, 2013

Winning and Losing

Am I winning or am I losing right now?

Everyone wants to tell me I'm winning.  That's all I've been hearing since November.  That's what everyone is supposed to tell me.  That's what all the adages, the memorable quotes - what they all point to.  Be Strong.  Move Forward.  It's all in The Official Superstorm Survivor's Handbook, y'know.  Page 87.  Make Sure Everyone Reminds You That You're Winning.  To your face, at least.  Positive reinforcement, baby.

But do you really think I'm winning?  Think about it.  I have lost a lot.  A lot.  I didn't lose a limb or my sight or my hearing.  There are plenty of folks out there who have lost such things who are winners, who are ten times the winners you or I will ever be.

I lost my house and most everything in it.  But in some ways, that feels like being obese and losing two hundred pounds.  In some ways, it feels like a good loss.  Losing the house wasn't a choice.  Losing someone I cared deeply for wasn't a choice either.  Not mine, at least.  But losing those things changed everything for me, and in ways I have to believe will ultimately be for the better.  If life is a twelve-round heavyweight boxing match and this was my Round 6, well then I just got knocked down pretty hard a couple of times in a row.  But no one called the fight, no one threw in the towel.  I got up.  Two weeks ago, I put the mouthpiece back in, slapped the gloves together and came out for Round 7.

So am I winning or am I losing?

It's too soon to tell, Ron.

Some things are already telling, tho.  The house - economically speaking - is a loss.  It will always be that.  I'm not gonna rebuild my house and light fireworks and have a big cookout and pretend that being back where I was is some victory, some accomplishment.  I won't be victorious in that house, the best I can be is complacent.  And that's no longer good enough.  "I survived."  Fuck surviving.  I want to do better than that.  I want to grow.

I wanted out of the house before Sandy dropped by.  And in the wake of the storm, I still want out.  The insurance companies lived up to the stereotype and made my decision easier - they fucked me, just like they're fucking everyone else.  I pay nearly $3000 per year for two separate quarter-of-a-million dollar insurance policies.  My flood insurance policy paid out 75K.  My homeowner's insurance policy paid out zilch.  I'm insured for half a million dollars and I got $75,000.   

Do the math with me here. 

I'm covered for up to 500K worth of damage to my property.  So when a tropical storm shows up and destroys my home, upstairs and down - likely the most disastrous weather event we'll ever see in New York City (we hope) in this era - I'm eligible to receive up to 500K from insurance for the extensive damage resulting from this wreaked havoc.  And I'm getting 75K.  That's 15% of the possible funds I could possibly get from insurance companies that are built to protect and compensate me during tragedies exactly like these.


What sort of damage do you think would need to occur to get, say, 25%?  Asteroid?  Fire and brimstone?  Radioactive fallout?  Is there a Godzilla-related clause in either of these policies? 

What a fucking joke.

So with this 75K, I have to hire a contractor, and all the estimates I've received to rebuild are way above that figure.  FEMA is a non-factor here.  Why?  Because I have insurance.  Lucky me.

Other non-factors include Eddie Vedder, Superman and Barack Obama.  None of their efforts have helped my neighbors nor I.  This isn't a simple mop-up job.  And I didn't live in a bungalow or a shack.  I had twelve rooms.  The floors, the walls, the insulation, the electric, the central air, the pipes, the hot water heater, the tile, the appliances, the heating system, the fireplace.  A home recording studio.  A home office record label.  $55,000 worth of stuff, of "content" lost that's not even part of this sad mathemagical equation.

So am I winning or am I losing?

A widespread disaster like Sandy - like Katrina, like the earthquake in Northridge - doesn't happen and ends up with the victims having beers with the insurance adjuster, clappin' him on the back like good ol' boys and swapping photos of the wife and kids.  These fuckers are paid by the insurance companies to fuck us.  They're prostitutes with clipboards and baseball caps.  Believe everything terrible you hear about insurance, for it is true. 

....no you are not.

p.s. - none of this is covered

Life is a game, it's a ride - it's a choose-your-own-adventure journey.  And every game ends with you as fertilizer.  So it's how you play the game, how you enjoy the ride that means the difference between winning and losing.  Sometimes the circumstances dictate how you play.  That's how I view my Sandy experience - it's a circumstance, but I still get to choose the next adventure.  It altered a life that needed to be altered if it's to be a great life.  Just another romantic notion, I am aware.  I am, unfortunately, extremely self-aware when it comes to my romantic notions.  I've probably seen The Princess Bride a few too many times.

The insurance numbers, the extent of the damage to my house, my romantic life, my family life, the things that did survive - all circumstances dictating how I have to play.  And right now I'm committed to playing my best game.  I'm writing and running and getting my dog better.  I'm dating and making omelets and working out like an idiot.  There's money in the bank and bread on the table.  I'm not struggling at a time where I'm supposed to be doing just that.  I have a new baby to play with.  I'm playing the piano, I'm writing music again - the "Is it worth it?" attitude still looms large, but music hasn't been the only love in my life that has made me ask myself, "Is it worth it?"  You have to keep an open mind.

But you also have to be dedicated.  And I'm doing a lot of these things the right way for the first time, with a clean slate.  (I've still got some work to do on the omelet-making)  And that makes me feel like I'm winning, even though I haven't seen the results yet.  When it comes to results I have seen - my divorce and Sandy and losing money and losing the house, part of me can only think one thought.


I keep saying it to myself.  Good.   Maybe I needed a hard spanking, not just the gentle ass paddling of an uncontested divorce.  I got to see the good in people firsthand and I will tell you that it is a good feeling.  I won't say that my faith in humanity is completely restored, but I have been blessed by the support of my family and my employers, of charitable companies and of friends.  Of complete strangers.

Compared to what matters most to me in this short life, the consequences of this storm are all just a headache, albeit a really big one. It's water under the proverbial bridge.  The storm came and I'm dealing with it.  I'll fight for more money and I'll get it.  I'll fix the house and sell it - if not now, then later.  Like my neighbors and my fellow victims, I'm being patient.  I'm being forced to be patient, and for me, that's a good lesson to learn too.

Before my divorce and my superstorm, my life was not fulfilling.  I was in an unhappy marriage.  And I was unhappy with myself.  With my career trajectory, with the missed opportunities I'd had in my music career.  With the bad luck and the bad decisions.  Sometimes I carried a chip on my shoulder, but more often than not, I just carried it inside me and I let it burn there.  Acceptance.  Getting knocked down in the early rounds.   Sometimes you have to accept a good ass kicking before you can become victorious.

So am I winning or am I losing?

My body is sound, but my mind is not.  My soul remains lost, searching.  After my divorce, I put such a premium on love.  I was the one who chose to end my short marriage, so it was easier to make it about her, not about it - not about what it takes to be in a quality relationship, to truly honor all that 'in sickness and in health' business that I was committing to.  It doesn't just mean making your wife chicken soup when she has the flu.  Sickness comes in many forms - my ex-wife had hers.  I had mine.  Everybody's got somethin' and it will always do its damage if you let it.  It'll ruin the 'Til Death Do Us Part,' I can testify to that.

So I failed.  I didn't do my part even if she didn't do hers more.  When I saw my ex-wife after Sandy - for the first time in nearly two years - through all the good conversation and the underlying sadness of our short reunion, I sensed some recognition of that fact, some maturity on her part.  Asking my ex-wife to leave didn't make me feel like the winner.  I'm not sure if my ex reads what I've written here, but I realize I'm talking about her a lot in this space, and I hope she knows that she meant a lot to me even though we didn't work out.

I started blogging the night after Sandy.  But it was on the night that I asked for a divorce that I really started writing, even if I wasn't sharing those words with the world wide web.   It's those traumatic life-changing moments in life that always seem to bring the words.  It was the first night of three excruciating weeks living in the same house together on separate floors, the first night that my house felt like a prison cell rather than a safe haven.  I lived downstairs with my confused dog, in the basement that would soon be filled by Sandy's surge waters, while my soon-to-be ex-wife packed up her stuff a floor above me and prepared to leave forever.  It was real this time, and damn if those three weeks weren't harder than the four I spent on an air mattress after the storm.

On that first terrible night, I sat in my basement studio and wrote a long piece about my decision.  About why I was giving up.  On that night nearly two years ago, amongst a lot of other stuff, I wrote the following:

"The best gift I could ever give my wife is to tell the world that I think she's a very sweet beautiful woman and I know she will find someone that will bring her the joy she truly needs and deserves in this fucked up life she's had, a life she never asked for and never truly deserved.  I will always love her for the ways she enriched my life and for her passion, but the damage done has been too much for me to overcome.  Upon reading this, she'll probably think that all I needed to do was say or write those things while we were still together and that would have been all she needed, but she's wrong.  Some people always seem to need more.  Some people expect others to give them what they should be giving themselves.

I care deeply for this woman and I know what we had together was true when it wasn't marred by these 'irreconcilable differences'.  I'm sure there will be many lonely starry nights that I will think of her and long for her, and I already know there will be many words put to paper describing my times together with her.  I will do my best to look back at those times fondly."

There's a lot of truth to what I wrote, but one line in particular stares back at me:

Some people expect others to give them what they should be giving themselves.

I keep reading this line I wrote about my ex-wife two years ago and I realize now that I'm also writing about myself.  It's in a different context, but it's still truth.  Maybe I'm writing about you, too, or someone you know.  Someone you care about.  You can't be happy with someone else unless you're happy with yourself.  It's pretty simple.  And even after that, you won't necessarily be happy.  Because people let you down.  People like me.  People like my ex-wife.  People like the people in your own lives that start with an 'ex-'.  People like the insurance adjusters.

Letdowns happen all the time.  We're all guilty.  Your government lets you down, your kids, your co-workers, your favorite sports team.  Technology.  Humanity.  It's happening right now, a letdown somewhere.  Everywhere.  So the only way you can set forth towards victory is to make sure you don't let yourself down.  Be your best, but don't forget to be your best you, not the best whatever-someone-else-wants-you-to-be.  It's a delicate balance.  It is only until you find that balance that you can elevate the lives of the people around you.

So am I winning or am I losing?

It wasn't until I left that damaged relationship that I could start taking steps towards winning.  But I didn't do enough.  I was complacent.  I wasn't hungry for greatness.  I wasn't interested in thriving, only surviving.  There were fleeting moments, and for most of last year, there was the running.  It remains a yet-to-be-fulfilled destiny, crossing the finish line in Central Park - just another circumstance that allows me to play a stronger game.  I was taking care of my body thanks to all those miles on a Staten Island boardwalk that no longer exists.  But I was just getting started.  Now I'm raising my game.  I take my high to the pavement, I take my runner's high into the weight room, I rest and I repeat.

And then there is this.  The writing.  My Stupid Blog.  What is the point of all this?

My parents suggested I get a diary (hi Mom).  They read this, a lot of my co-workers do, too.  Strangers do.  People I love do.  I'm not gonna say I don't think about that, about what people must think of me after reading this stuff.  But I've been a musician for more than half my life, and this is no different.  It's just not as melodic.  I've been cheered and I've also been booed off stage.  Some of you reading are probably rooting for me - it's not impossible to think that a few of you might not be.  I've seen my share of indifference before, too.  That's the life of an aspiring artist.  And even now, I still have my aspirations.

I'm not trying to win a Pulitzer here.  I write to heal my heart, to cleanse my soul.  I write to learn more about myself.  You can listen to my songs or you can listen to Lady Gaga's.  Statistics show you've chosen the latter, and that's fine.  You can read my words or you can read the fucking Twilight saga.  I don't need validation but I appreciate the praise I've gotten, and from some unlikely sources.  It fuels me, to have fans, to have support, to know that I may have moved someone or made them think twice.  Even if my words aren't necessarily for everyone, just as my music isn't, I'm creating.  And it has never come from a more honest place than it is now.  Knowing you're good at something makes you feel like a winner.  Being honest with yourself makes you feel like a champion.

So no diaries.  I'm not some 16 year-old girl writing about my crush on the captain of the football team.  This blogging I just do, there's no strategy to it.  I share what I want to share, no more no less.  It's an exercise, it's therapy.  I read each piece over twice - once for grammar, once for content.  I add my pictures and my bold highlights and then I press 'Publish'.  I lament that it's too long and too self-effacing.  Then I try not to think too much about if after that.

Take my words for whatever they're worth to you.   You're reading this shit, and I'm grateful for your attention - a little surprised, in fact.  Twelve hundred of you dummies read my first post-Sandy blog, and while those numbers have tapered off, just as the storm's impact has, a lot of you are still paying attention.  I'm not sure why, but I hope you're enjoying it, I hope you're learning something.

I know I am.  I'm learning how to win.

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