In the recorded flailing of my first thirty years—overly-sensitive kid that predicted two loved ones’ deaths, the gelatinous teen years, the “oh-shit-I-got-married-too-young” phase, the peak of the anger days, the acceptance of what happened in that parking garage, my flip-flop towards diagnosis—I latched onto silly things like Myspace surveys & the fucking internet to showcase “the real me,” some grasping at an(y) identity. As I’ve talked about a little bit & plan to write more about in the future, I have always lived in extremes for much of my life; my therapist described it simply as always being either a 1 (severely depressed, furious, manic, obsessive) or 5 (stoked, head-over-heels, blindingly blissful). It is both a symptom of my fragmentation & the literal cause of the exhaustion entangling all of this.
Truth is, I didn’t really have hobbies until I was in college; instead I had obsessions. As opposed to providing as a space for contemplation & a mechanism for self-improvement, I spent my time doing things that nurtured my paranoia, mania, & general inability to look closely at myself & my impulses—from porn to video games, from my decade of being straight edge to my rushed first marriage. For good or for evil, I was balled up in distractions & excuses, rushing towards those 1s & 5s than confronting the issues of my childhood, building a firm sense of self, & providing myself any sort of relief.
I think this is the best example of that: in middle school, we had to build first aid kits for a particular purpose, but I fell into obsession & created one for every function I could think of—each parent’s car, each sport I played, each activity we did as a family, several strung throughout the house; I always viewed that story as funny & mildly pathetic, but a thoughtful person recently pointed to the tragedy & sadness in the fear & paranoia in that obsession.
In high school, I quit sports because of fear of effort—to work hard in a team, to confront the issues of masculinity & white supremacy hardening around me, to manage my time. Even my social life up till recently has often pushed towards being about a fear of being alone or disliked & less about building meaningful, sustainable, multi-faceted relationships. I realize now this preference of surface-level knowing & wild focus came from the abandonment I felt (the two deaths I predicted & the separation from my brother) & the fear & anger coming out of that.
My psychological life also took towards obsession as I got older. In my early twenties, just after the divorce, I had recurring night terrors that I was dying on my thirtieth birthday (note: I turned thirty a couple weeks ago & I ain’t dead yet). Skydiving for the first time & my parachute is full of t-shirts of bands I don’t listen to anymore. Friends bring out a cake with the big wax 3-0 & when I blow it out, it explodes. Jumping in the ocean in a party hat & I get gobbled up by a shark. The trick I’ve been learning, my whole life I now realize, is how to shape those obsessive tendencies, those fears & paranoias, & those energies into something productive; that’s where hobbies came in.
The other day I was bragging on my wife, about how good she is at choosing presents for me, & then a friend said, “Sure, but you’re like the easiest person to shop for.” So, yes, I’ve always been obsessive—basketball, Jesus, first aid kits, disc golf, poetry—the length of my life seeing myself painted in interests & likes/dislikes, & in newer days, I’ve learned to be more vocal about that stokedness as a way to piece together the self, relate to others, & position my selves in the world, rather than a long ball heave towards being noticed. It’s like when a friend asked me about why I sign emails “stay stoked,” & I replied with how it’s a reminder for both of us.
That reframing—hobby not as time-filler or obsession, but as meaningful self-building time—has operated so well in recent months. I’ve never been much interested in (& my disorder has kept me from) career-thinking, family-planning, asset-gaining. I prefer to think of it all through the lenses of creation, living in the melding. I’ve also begun holding my hobbies as treatment for my disorder, thinking back to the benefits ATW stresses. It allows me to flex the repressed, fragmented sides of myself without having to necessarily fully switch, although, of course, sometimes I do, & in that, I’ve found myself more & more capable of practicing co-consciousness, the ability for my main personality to be present while another side takes a turn. Ultimately, my focus on purposeful hobby engagement has made me less tired, more in touch with my alters, & capable of less spells.
When new folks find out I’m a poet, I usually get some perplexed eyebrow combo plus the question, “How did you become a poet?” Emphasis theirs. My earliest memory of poetry was a high school English teacher assigning us Dover Beach & some printed out Bob Dylan lyrics. Other than that, no poetry much stuck to my skin or my skull till I followed two kind older students at Ball State University to a Writers Community meeting, a group of students who got together weekly to share stuff they loved & get feedback on what they were working on. At some point, the faculty advisor shared a new Dean Young poem from an issue of Forklift Ohio & I was gone, lost to a fresh wild corner of poetry.
What is poetry? I always toss out this basic question for an opening discussion in poetry classes I teach, no matter the age group, as a way to bring each student’s personal perspective to the forefront as we dive into this wacky world of poetry. For me, I realize, for reasons that have stayed the same the face of many shifts & growths in my aesthetic, knowledge, & relationship with the art form, poetry has always been the best place for the pieces of me to co-exist, collaborate, & shine, a fact that drew me to that Dean Young poem in the first place.
I have learned to love so many aesthetical variations & particular schools of poetry, but the gut of me is lined with poetry that is polyvocal, collage-like, & disjunctive, what some might call dissociative, a connection I didn’t make till nearly a decade into poetry life. As someone dealing with personal fragmentation & a dissociative disorder, I find strange comfort & surprising clarity in work by poets like Dean Young, Will Alexander, Mary Ruefle, & more, as well as their predecessors such as Aimé Césaire, the French Surrealists, Marianne Moore, the New York School, & more.
Before I scooted off to college, I finally started a relationship with my physical adult body through working out & playing sports again. In college, I found an odd peace in the gym at the university rec center, even on the most crowded of days. It was a culture I had avoided in high school, one that I knew could push my buttons (particularly my frustration with embarrassment & my lack of patience with disrespect), possibly revealing my anger issues. But with my headphones in, I could disappear, a feeling I chased three or four times a week for five years.
Earlier this year, my wife asked me to teach her to lift weights, a nudge to get back into shape after five years out of gym life following a series of shoulder dislocations (another post for another day perhaps). It wasn’t the same, as much as I loved spending that positive time with her. After her schedule forced us to quit our couple’s workout sessions & I began lifting alone again, I noticed a change that really connected the dots on all those “forgotten” days in the gym.
My alter Vinny, the testosterone-fueled, very intense control freak that developed from years of shame hiding my anger, my competitive edge, & my fear of embarrassment, was stepping in to do the lifting. Encouraged by a therapist who told me to “lean into the alters” & other literature that supported that advice, I’ve been seeing some amazing results with that alter in the last month of lifting alone, allowing him to be present or even in charge when I lift.
With a playlist of heavy songs from my college years & the often-empty gym in our community, Vinny is able to do what he most enjoys—take care of our body, follow the structure of the workout plans, & release some serious energy. It’s also a great place for Vinny & I to work on co-consciousness, a feat that’s happening at least every other time now & only once have I had amnesia about a full workout; co-consciousness with this alter, as my therapist has explained, is a major key to my integration as he holds the most dangerous & societally-taboo sides of me. So far, so good, as Vinny has come out, as far as we know, only a couple times this month, outside of the gym, & the physical feelings that often allow space for him have majorly reduced.
I’ve never really been one of those writers to call myself “an artist,” the idea of artist always reserved for the visual makers & as my art teachers made very clear in every grade growing up, I just didn’t have the gift. My motor skills sucked. My vision, literally & figuratively, was bad. I just couldn’t represent the world in that way. My brain was much more inclined to babble.
However, as we learned more about the various ways I’m fragmented, the desire to create objects & images has never been resolved inside of me. After a spell a couple years ago, my wife found three very precious Playdough figurines upstairs—a dinosaur, a basketball, & an airplane. She had not made them, & even when I tried, I couldn’t reproduce them. This was our first realization of The Child’s interest in making visual art.
As part of my self-work, I’m committing to do visual art two times a week, as much as I don’t often enjoy it & as much as it brings up embarrassment from my childhood. But I do believe it’s something The Child wants to explore, just as he enjoys being silly with my wife or walking the dog (again, leaning in). The Child seems to be one side that’s easily put at ease through my own delving into the “childish things” he likes, such as drawing, watching cartoons, & playing games, a concession that isn’t productive or fair for me to hold back.
I was raised an only child, so spending time with my older relatives & my parents’ friends meant playing games. These memories are embedded in my psyche & the comfort & joy of reliving those moments have been an amazing experience as my wife & I organize a couple game nights a month. Just as a good stress reliever for adults is doing activities that make one feel like a kid again, playing games has that effect on me.
While I don’t dissociate during the playing of games, like with the visual art, feeding those needs of my alters by surrounding myself with safe competition, child-like energy, & total joy has done wonders for both of my main alters. It sounds so odd to talk this way, but I can feel The Kid & sometimes Vinny enter into co-consciousness, though I stay in charge, during competitive games with friends. I never played poker till recently, but it has a redemptive quality that lifting also has for Vinny, a place to be sly & competitive. I’ve also been enjoying revisiting the games of my childhood, particularly euchre.
A decade ago, I was freshly out of my teen years, had finally found something (poetry) to obsess over that didn’t cause me complete grief, & stumbled into my first ever Creative Writing class, an intro course with a wild man named Sean. He was one of the first male adults I ever met who was upfront & sort of unwieldy about his interests—writing, running, nachos, & disc golf, most notably. When he cancelled class one Friday because he was going to be out of town for a disc golf tournament, I figured what better time to learn about a new thing; a friend took me to the Muncie course & I was hooked.
Last week, I was in Portland for my birthday, visiting my wife’s family, among other things. We took her younger brother, his wife, & their two young children out for a round. It proved that old saying I always blabber, that disc golf is “for everyone,” which is of course not true unfortunately, but what I am beginning to realize more is that I mean that disc golf is “for all my sides & maybe yours, too.” My two main alters & the fragmented parts of myself they carry—Vinny’s controlling, aggressive, & competitive side & The Kid’s tender, comfort-oriented needs—are satisfied in part, both inside & sometimes outwardly by disc golf.
Also, what makes disc golf such an important ritual for me is how completely adjustable & controllable a space it is. With the variety of courses, the ability to play alone or with any number of people, the company of my support animal, & the pace, I am able to craft each individual round to fit my unpredictable mental health needs. If you or someone you know is looking for a fun, relaxing, & inclusive sport to play, I suggest giving disc golf a hurl.
Here are some suggestions for reading / watching to get you familiar:
How to play
Where to find discs
Where to find courses
I know I’m privileged & lucky to have a lifestyle so conducive to hobby exploration, seeing my parents & other role models get stoked on activities, & to live in a city that provides such space & access to great disc golf courses, fantastic arts scenes, & stellarly stoked folks to know. Like I said, a couple weeks ago, I visited Portland, OR for the first time. I got to show several of my in-laws & a dear friend the joy of disc golf, as well as play a world-class course at Pier Park. I got to dig deep into the poetry collection & other stacks at Powell’s Books, buying new books by old favorites (Terrance Hayes), out-of-print books by new favorites (Stan Rice), & a new book about my hometown hero Wendell Willkie, among many others. We watched a roller derby match. We drank local beer. We sang karaoke as a family.
I’m realizing more than ever how my definition of success—because of this disorder, because of my anger issues, because of the harm I’ve caused—has a lowered bar than it did a decade ago. Everyone always talks about living their “best life,” which often boils down to the same old traditional buckets I, too, once threw my washers in—money, career, recognition, etc. But now I’m just happy to be here, focused on creating rituals & routines, relationships & reviews that recognize my condition, set myself up to be my best self, & communicate with the world this big joy that is a signal flare fired from within me.