5 min read

Not Buying What He’s Selling

On my inner monologue and it’s power.

His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.” ~ TheReturn Of The King

My inner monologue is a blustering salesman who never leaves the neighborhood. Week in and week out, he hocks the same wares, always with a grin plastered to his face, a single bead of sweat breaking just below his hairline, talking a mile a minute.

He used to be more convincing. There’s always some truth in the feature and benefits shtick, but as he’s aged, the seams in his sales play have begun to tug apart, his naked ambition betraying the desperation that simmers below his confident countenance.

But even now, as I walk with my self-awareness openly strapped on my hip, he manages a sale once in a while.

I’ve bought it all: pure doubt that I deserve success and happiness, essential lack of confidence that I can achieve either, 100% gen-you-wine proof that everyone knows my grief and no one wants to hear it, sleek shame that large shirts fit me better than not mediums, authentic positivity that everyone has felt the feelings I feel—that nothing I have to say is new or inspired.

The dark magic of my inner monologue is that, if I never show anyone anything he’s sold me, it all works perfectly, just as he told me it would. But as soon I as I dust off my most recent purchases to show them to someone I love and trust, they fall apart in my hand, fake warranty and all.

I’ve spent much of the last year cleaning my cupboards bare of what I bought. Dad’s death left me with many lessons learned, but perhaps the most important was to entrust people with my truth and give them a chance to show up. And, even when what I have to say is hard to hear, or frustratingly brief, I can confidently say that people people show up. Because they want to.

The truths about Dad and me are relatively simple. My reverence of him was obvious. My fear of him, of both his silent frustrations and his intermittent blowups, was understandable. And the terms of our friendship, as he aged smoothly into retirement and became a confidante and partner in my growth, replacing the stern enforcer of rules and guidelines, were clear. He listened. He trusted me with difficult problems he was mulling over, listened to me excitedly chase job opportunities in Seattle, and we talked about sports and politics. As we both got older, we shared more and our visions of each other were clearer, our bonds stronger.

Once Hospice was in the picture—Dad went cleanly and without complication beyond his cancer. He said his thank yous and his good byes. And while they were painful, they were uncompromising in their honestly. We knew he meant it, and were were glad to hear it all.

Those last three months of Mom’s life were far from simple. For over a month, she refused to admit that much of anything was wrong. As we watched and guessed at her afflictions—grief, depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation—she stubbornly and courageously tried to keep it all inside and take care of herself. We forced her to treatment. By the time she was ready to allow that something was deeply wrong—that all of it was like nothing she’d ever felt before—she couldn’t finish a sentence to tell us much of anything.

I hope that she told more of her truths to her people. I can only assume she did, at least in bits and pieces. She was afraid to share many of them with me. And I can guess at why she felt that way, but I can’t know. At least not yet.

Sure, I know that she was proud of me, that she loved me, and that she loved Michelle. I’m lucky to have heard many times the things a child should hear from their parent. But as Dad and I grew closer, I often wonder if Mom and I grew further apart. The problem is: she never would’ve told me that was how she felt.

I  have a suspicion (chalk it up as inheritance) that Mom’s inner monologue had her pegged as a lifetime gold club member. I believe it sold her sparkling reasons to not trust me with her grief about losing Dad and her fear about managing life without him, or the industrial strength patriarchal injustices she suffered quietly at home, at work, and out in the world. I suspect she willingly purchased, over and over again, bulk concern that she’d make people angry if she didn’t actively make them happy.

Running wild, our inner monologues convince us of wild inaccuracies and complicated emotions. They sell us trinkets we don’t need, but are convinced we must have. And on the eve of the new year, I find myself wishing that I could’ve sat with Mom as she aired what she’d bought in the light of day, so that we could watch them dissolve and grow closer together.

The Last Month

A smattering of stuff I’ve really liked recently:

  • If you’re a podcast person, ESPN’s 30 for 30 production has two excellent seasons available, including the most recent five-part series on the fall of ex-Los Angeles Clippers franchisee, Donald Sterling. Hosted by one of my sportswriting heroes, Ramon Shelburne, check out The Sterling Affairs however you get podcasts. If you like this kind of deep reporting that explores the way sports and athletics hold a mirror up to the rest of our culture, I also recommend the previous season, Bikram.
  • It is endlessly fascinating to me to look back at Malcolm Gladwell’s body of work, and how he refused to reinvent his formula, even as he’s run out of ideas to pursue. After introducing readers all over the world to his gently-guide-you-through-complicated-science-with-these-familiar-cultural-tropes brand of pop psychology, the (somehow still) New Yorker staff writer has been embarrassing himself repeatedly ahead of and during the release of his new book. Read Andrew Ferguson’s masterful pan of Gladwell’s latest book, or check out the delightful-as-ever snark of Deadspin’s Tom Ley. (BONUS: Gladwell’s wrote Ley back and tried to convince him, AGAIN.)
  • Anne Helen Petersen continues to write about important topics in the heart of our culture. Also, she’s done the work of the divine in investigating whatever’s going on with Jeremy Renner.
  • Looking for a refreshing Movie Night at home on the couch? A lot of people seemed to have missed Long Shot (make sense; it was up against Avengers: Endgame). It’s a slightly-smarter-than-your-average romantic comedy, steeped in some rather topical political concerns. Maybe that’s why people skipped it.
  • What about a perplexing and visually stunning night at the theater? We saw Ad Astra in IMAX last week and I’m still puzzling over Brad Pitt’s performance—but I flat out loved the visuals and sound. My advice: if you’re at all curious, see it on the biggest screen with the best possible sound now. I don’t think this one will play well on planes.
  • Another credit to AHP: a few weeks ago she recommend this excellent essay in The Guardian. Read it if you like good writing.

That’s it for now. I expect the newsletter production schedule to pick up a bit as the weather gets cooler and rainier.

This newsletter is a creative space to keep in touch, to think out loud, and to heal. It takes some psychological safety to put these thoughts out in the world and the sentences won’t read perfect or be free of typos. I do revisit my issues and make corrections as I catch them.

If you know someone who’d like to see it every couple of weeks or so, feel free to forward it.