That's me right now, that's me tonight. Not surprisingly, I want to feel the burn.
I'm a romantic. If you look that word up in the dictionary (remember dictionaries?), you'll see words beside it like Imaginary. Visionary. Idealist. All fair companions. Because to be romantic, you have to have imagination. You have to have a clear vision of the future. You have to have ideals.
You have to have Big Ideas.
It has always been this way for me, and the objects of my romantic affections have always been girls. I had a different secret crush every year from fifth grade through high school. I was writing love letters, leaving mystery notes. I was fantasizing, idealizing these lovely little lasses that I knew very little about. But in reality, I never wound up with any of those girls. I never kissed them or bedded them or took them to the prom. Up until I was 20, being a romantic meant being a failure. It was a source of pain and the occasional awkward moment - it perpetuated my shyness, it stunted my growth.
Things changed once I found a girl that was right for me, that I was connected to. The love letters were given and received in equal share, the admiration and the feelings were finally mutual. Romance became a rewarding sport. It was eye-opening magic that made all that rejection seem like another guy's life. When it all went to shit nearly 7 years later, I couldn't understand why. How could this have happened?
The answers are always easy once you stop denying the truth and you start understanding it instead. Romance can't blossom when it's drowned in lies. If you're not true to your feelings, if you're deceptive to others, your relationships will never be full of romance, they'll be hard to maintain even if they seem manageable. Instead, they'll be full of shit. And yet it happens all the time. It happened to me, it has probably happened to you. For some of us, it happens over and over again.
We think we can live in denial, we can rationalize until we find a way to accept this fatal flaw as a little boo-boo instead of the massive head wound that it really is. Most people live with it silently, they take stuff to the grave. Others may take it to a friend or a therapist or to the nearest bar.
We all have secrets.
I'm done with all that. I've been done with it. It's an anchor, it's a curse. I was doomed from the moment I stopped being a romantic. I became a "guy." A wolf. I started working in two industries - music and radio - that bred wolves. I grew up in the age of hair metal, where the prevalent themes were spandex, teased hair, and Getting Pussy. Radio was less complicated, but no more noble. Radio was the equivalent of Nerds Can Get Pussy Too.
So here I was on the assembly line at The Wolf Factory - girls were starting to notice me, they were starting to pay attention. And instead of taking that at face value, I ate up the attention like a good little wolf. I stopped putting the thing that was most important - the thing that made me feel whole - first. I am not proud of that time in my life, a time where I should have been growing up instead of growing warts (writer's note: this is a metaphor. i do not, nor have i ever had actual warts).
I lost that passion. I got too comfortable to realize that I was no longer doing my part to earn someone's passion in return. And so it all went to shit. Sometimes when it all goes to shit, you wake up. Or you stay in that coma and you make more mistakes, worse mistakes. With every misstep, a little more of The Romantic You flakes away. The scars of acceptance start to form. Your heart hardens. You're still in denial about what needs to change. Your self-doubt and secret shames compound and you start settling. You start lowering your expectations - for a partner, or even worse, for yourself. It's not just you, it happens to everyone. It's a human epidemic, so it's okay. It's the norm.
We are all weak.
And then the meteor appears. Maybe the first meteor you ever really saw, maybe the last one you will ever see. The meteor is this ball of fire, it's science fiction, a fantasy, an anomaly. It has disrupted your complacent existence and you have no choice but to deal with it. You can't run far enough away from something that generates that much heat.
More often than not, we don't ask for the momentous things that happen in our lives, whether good or bad. They just happen. It's how we choose to deal with them that defines who we are. I have already dealt with a hurricane. I have been asking myself over these past few post-hurricane months: How do I handle a meteor? And the answer I keep getting is: Bring It On.
Because I feel strong. Because I need this change in my life, in my attitude, in my destiny. Just like the hurricane changed things, just like Sandy did. Sandy could have broken me, an already cynical down-on-his-luck dude looking for answers. But Cynical Ronnie drowned in the flood, I let him die there. He was no good to anyone. Cynical Ronnie would have gained twenty pounds and grown a thick beard and ate ice cream for dinner. He would have been a real dick.
I'm still dealing with Sandy. In spite of all the headaches and setbacks, I have accepted it as a blessing of sorts. My house will be rebuilt. My life is far from ruined. I feel lighter. Things are happening that would never have happened if that dirty ocean water didn't come over for dinner and stay for dessert.
But Ron, how can you idealize something that destroyed your home, your possessions, that set you back financially? Insurance is fucking you. Your government is ignoring you. Your Beatles albums are gone forever!
You can mourn that copy of Abbey Road that you still have on iTunes, or you can believe that something good will come of all this, maybe even something amazing, life changing. You pledge patience and you shed yourself of all but the truth. You get your shit together. You feed your soul through a filter and you leave the dirt and silt behind. Another romantic notion from a romantic idiot.
You take your drugs. Running and writing. That's what gets me through the days and nights, this winter of my discontent. Running, like romance, takes effort. It's catharsis. It's good pain, it's stamina, it's a test. I have plenty of motivation to pound the pavement and I'm getting fit in the process.
It's also about commitment. A year ago, I got on That Treadmill I Got To Keep In The Divorce and pledged to make proper use of it. I signed up for the NYC Marathon to test my mettle - it was time to see what I was made of, to see if I could start something and finish it. Because up til then, I couldn't finish anything - I kept failing. And the only way not to fail is to keep trying, to keep going, to keep running forward til you reverse your fortune. That's what running is to me - a romance. I'm Rocky Balboa in my sweats and Adrian just came out of the coma and said "Win" and Bill Conti struck up the jazz band and I'm running up the steps with all those little kids in tow and I'm already feeling the champion.
But sometimes romances last longer than you anticipate. And so instead, there is unfinished business. Would I still be banging out 12-15 miles a week in the cold and the snow if Sandy had never shown up and taken away my Marathon along with all my possessions? Most likely not. But that's what happened, and I'm riding the silver lining all the way to the finish line. It has become just another blessing. My body isn't screaming at me to stop. Rather, it's inviting me to go faster. And I'm obliging. When you have as much on your mind as I do these days, running around in a circle for an hour can seem a real treat.
Shit is gonna happen to you - your whole life, shit is gonna happen. You're gonna literally step in shit, you might even step in shit figuratively. You're gonna pile up a lot of shit in your life, too. But how you deal with it, what you learn from it - It's Up To You. If you get all your shit together - if you start believing that it's possible - your past mistakes won't matter anymore. The future will appear less daunting. Your history can't be rewritten, but that doesn't mean the later chapters can't be different, can't be better. You might even find a little peace. Your dreams might even come true. More shit will happen, puzzle pieces will move, stars will align, a meteor may appear in the distance. But at the end of the day, it's really all up to you.
I have learned some hard lessons these past few years. I have lost some people I really cared about, that I felt connected to. I have failed at a marriage, I have lost money, a house and a business. But sometimes it's these little things - like this card I was handed on my 38th birthday, ten days after Sandy took everything - that really open your eyes to what you have gained, no less what you still stand to gain.
It's what lies within me - the romantic idiot - that sent this meteor hurtling towards me. It's my music, my passion, my imagination, my ideology that has kept the fire burning. It's me. And that fuels me - knowing I can still be a bohemian dummy - that I can be who I am - and still attract something so bright.
And according to the card, it's What Lies Within Me that matters most. It trumps both the imperfect past and the mysterious future. It's The Biggest Deal. And being passionate - about love, about music, about romance, about this meteor and all it represents - that's who I am. There is no cure for it, there are only patchwork solutions.
Being passionate hurts. Jusk ask Reznor, Yorke, Lennon. Ask Beck and Prince and Marvin Gaye and Martin Gore. Ask Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner. No matter what great music or art or writing comes of it, it hurts. The less you care, the less you pay attention to what your heart is trying to tell you, the easier it is. But can you care less? Is it within you? Can you just shut it off? Can you redirect the meteor or is it destined to crash land into your world, light you on fire, and change everything?
It's Up To You.