Friday, September 6, 2013

Am I Losing It? Does It Matter?

I was in prison camp for a grand total of 56 weeks -- just shy of 13 months. I saw my kids every few weeks, and a steady flow of family and friends made the trip for visiting days. I have had jobs that I hated more than my routine at FPC Duluth.  It was the not going home at night that was the problem.  I would rather do my 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. routine at federal prison camp than be stuck in cube with a 3-foot tether attached to my head, helping whiny lawyers who don't want to do their own work, as long as I could leave at the end of the day.

I was lucky -- I knew it then, and I know it now. But I worry.

As much as I missed my kids, and in spite of getting divorced from my wife of 16 years, my time in prison camp was enlightening and a game changer. I got in shape, I achieved a lot of clarity about what my life is and what I want it to look like, and the stuff that is actually the most important -- my kids, experiences, making uncomfortable decisions -- all crystallized for me in a way that I believe some people never get to see.  I honestly think that I may live longer, getting that year -- and then some -- back because of the experience.

But now, almost a year later, I find myself in traffic, stressed, sweating the small stuff, worrying about bills and jobs and time... things that a year ago I knew were inconsequential to the actual quality of real life. I still know it and am able to talk myself down. But I worry.

What if I get caught up in the everyday stress, all over again, blink, and then I'm 60. I will have wasted 15 years after spending a whole year realizing that life is precious. Too precious to waste being angry because the douchebag in front of me is driving too slow (doesn't change the fact that he's a DB; I just don't have to be worked up about it).

That kind of answers the questions I get asked about this blog. Why embrace the experience? Why keep picking the scab? I especially get these questions from my friends -- and I made some real, true friends (another of life's surprises!) -- who were in Duluth with me. Practically everybody I met was there longer than I was. I was a part-timer, white-on-white tourist at the camp. My right to complain about much of anything was pretty inhibited. So they wonder why I won't let go when I was barely there.

But I think it's because I realized early on in my sentence that I was still alive. That each day I woke up in the morning was a day in my life... and I was not going to get it back if I didn't spend it in a way that contributed to the quality of my life. No matter where I was. So, I kept busy. I walked, wrote, drew; I took classes, I thought. Near the end of my time at FPC Duluth, as anxious as I was to leave, I experienced pangs of panic... I was worried that I didn't have enough time to finish a number of projects that I undertaken. I literally thought, on occasion, "I need more time..."

Thoughts such as those occurred to me because I had come to realize that a year off with little worry -- my children have a great mother, and I knew that they were well cared for -- is a gift. I flippantly began referring to my post-prison camp life as Trent 2.0. In time, I began to take the moniker seriously, as I believed that a permanent change was necessary and a new version imminent. And upon my release into the halfway house, it was true.

But real life began to set in.

Working jobs on someone else's schedule, carving my entire schedule around my children's, jumping through hoops thrown at me by various institutions from U.S. Probation to Normandale Community College has weighed on me. It has threatened to return my life to its former state: a routine.

Fortunately, I am still self-aware enough and took good enough notes to remember the experience. A year away from my kids is too much. Living as a slave to the modern American economy of consumption is not necessary. It's a trap... one that squeezes tighter the harder you resist. Rather, you have to be willing to relax and simply let go. Unhinge yourself from the societal constraints that make you feel stressed and find what makes you happy and do it. Because you and I are going to die. Soon. Too soon. And I want to spend as little of my time left on this earth in a cubicle as possible. I choose instead to roll on the ground with Sam and Sarah, walk in the water and find a palm tree with a sunset.

So, when I find myself not driving with Aloha, and becoming increasingly angry at the slow-moving douchebag off my bow, I think of Walt Whitman. Old WW has so much to say on the way to live our lives. I find some of his transcendentalist messages so powerful that I felt compelled to read the following to a theater of 150 semi-befuddled, fellow federal prisoners:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. 

To their credit, I think they got it -- although I was called into an office by BoP staff and told that I would need to "dumb it down" in the future -- most men I met saw their sentence as a life-changing experience.

So, I may be losing it a little bit. And it does matter. Because I know that I have to contribute a verse. It may be imperfect, poorly executed and sloppy. But it will be my verse, and I will die better knowing that I tried a little harder to write it due to the experiences I've encountered.

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