I’ve never been comfortable with silence, plagued by some deep-seeded notion that sonic emptiness meant something negative, broken, a great burden would soon befall me. As a child, I’d ask my parents obsessively if everything was alright, accompanied by a barrage of “I love yous” thrown in for good solidifying measure; it got so bad that I’m pretty sure my parents had to have a talk with me about it, sitting pre-teen Tyler down to try to instill the value of silence, of space, of trusting the moments between. Even as an adult, I struggle to appreciate the meditative hum of nothingness, opting often to have a podcast going or album playing to avoid the gap in interaction.
It has never been a secret that my two triggers for my disorder, the things that incite the visceral fearful reaction that are the hallmark of my struggle, are abandonment & embarrassment. The ultimate form of the silent treatment--the ghost--thus has been a major fear of mine for my entire adult life, a single swoop that checks off both triggers. The ghost is a move of complete silence by the other party, seemingly without stated warning or clear impetus, complete with lack of explanation, closure, or mutual understanding. The ghost is a method I refuse to use on others, a tactic I consider very cruel & unusual in the punishment department without much constructive helpfulness. Me? I’ve been ghosted probably close to two dozen times in my life by people significantly important--close friends, colleagues, even my wife most recently.
I had this friend, KC, since middle school, a fellow book nerd & heart-on-sleeve rambler. Throughout our life, we’ve faded in & out of an active friendship, one or the other getting pulled away by a move or a relationship, but never failing to fall back into it when the chance arose. A few years ago, after a quiet period, she reached out about visiting me in Austin, a trip that repeated itself the next couple years & had our friendship tight as ever. Last year after I moved back to Indiana, she came & camped out for my birthday along with some other classic buds. Since then, nothing--no response to my calls or texts, no response to my questions of “did I do something” & “are you alive”--nothing. After a few months, I counted my befuddled losses & moved on.
With the anniversary of that last chat passing by, it does have me wondering: why am I so ghost-able? What about me makes people want to choose the silent treatment over the cordial conversation of “yeah, I’m good, I’ve had enough?” I’ve tried to make it clear that it impacts me extra, being so oddly & silently cast off like that, especially in light of my disorder. But it keeps happening, again & again. I think often of my good buddy in Austin, MT; we had a good four year run, seeing each other multiple times a week for disc golf & band practice, then one day, he just quit returning my calls.
There were many people who ghosted me after LR published her essay in 2016. A few random acquaintances in the poetry scene made large social media posts about it directed towards me or emailed me privately, but no one ever truly confronted me in person or through phone call. For the most part, my closest friends & colleagues in the poetry scene chose silence. Several of my Austin writing-scene friends & MFA classmates took a similar route, choosing not to discuss it when they heard about it, putting on a friendly face when they saw me around, & otherwise letting me slip right out of their life. The most surprising were the folks who I had told about my mental illness struggles & the situation with LR, the ones who were sympathetic & non-judgemental until it became public knowledge; with few exceptions, they played ignorant & took the silent-goodbye route.
I guess, in all these cases, my major disappointment was their lack of conviction & the missing-out on an important opportunity to have a large, necessary conversation around mental illness, domestic violence, & cancel culture. Beyond the fear & the heartache, the core of what bothers me most about ghosting is the disregard for the importance of conversation, the miracle of language. I truly believe that our language capabilities are what makes us all special as human beings, & the greatest gift of language is conversation--debating, learning, arguing, reconciling, contextualizing, etc. It seems a shame to avoid crucial opportunities to utilize such gifts. I totally understand when people cannot handle me, when my illness causes incurable rifts, when life takes humans in opposite directions. What truly causes me insurmountable grief is when there is no conversation around such dissolutions.
This has been the hardest part about my wife leaving. I understand why she would need to leave--not able to live with someone who could possibly hurt her; that’s always been a concern of mine. I am just thoroughly disappointed in how she left. Before I entered a week-long treatment program, DS told me she was going to take the week to consult her therapist & consider our options, & ultimately, she promised we would talk after I got out of the hospital to find a way--reconciliation, conscious uncoupling, long distance relationship--to collaboratively figure out this dark patch. Halfway through the week, she had emailed me, saying there would be no conversation; she was gone & that was that, refusing to return a phone call, email, or text since, even in the wake of important logistical steps, such as filing for divorce & separating our stuff.
What changed her mind? Or more importantly, what is it about me that makes it necessary to ghost me (or at least seemingly so)? I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the volatile nature of my episodes; I make no moves to hide the fact that my spells are intense, terrifying, & sometimes violent. Fearing escalation, people instead go the other way, choosing to cut me out of the conversation altogether. That is the most logical conclusion I can discover. Otherwise, I am left with resentment & confusion at why folks would cast away my side of things & ignore the chance for conversation so abruptly & wildly.
Last year when I first moved back, I had an old college buddy, RR, who I had seen off & on over the years, tell me, via text, that he didn’t wanna talk or hang out anymore. He cited the LR situation & one of my early spells, directed at him, from nearly a decade ago as reasons. Again, I might disagree with the logic or the timing, but I respect his decision to explain himself & at least give me some closure. He even said he was going to ghost me, but then thought better of it. Here’s to hoping folks start thinking better of it, as hopefully my efforts on this blog & my management of my disorder prove that I am capable & open to admitting to my failures, facing their consequences, & most importantly, conversing about the perils & particulars of human relationships in an attempt for better living for us all.
For the last five years, I have been pecking away on a long poem called "Future Barn." This was before the podcast, before the blog, before the move back home. It is an interwoven tapestry, spanning a decade of love & loss, continually confusing itself for various genres (at times, it thinks it is an essay, other times it feels like stand-up or a lecture, etc.), juggling the facts & fictions of this hick living. I hesitate to say much because I hope I've said enough in the poem itself, spanning forty-five pages. It is my birthday this week (the 25th), & as I live my thirty-third year, I think this is a good front piece. Hope you'll read it. Hope you'll listen to it.
FUTURE BARN, THE POEM (free PDF)
FUTURE BARN, THE POEM (audio on the podcast)
People often ask me this, somewhere between “how are you” & “why did your wife leave you,” usually perplexed that I left a bustling, hip city like Austin to return to my struggling little hometown. My friends here seem a little disappointed in me, seeming to think I gave up & didn’t respect my opportunity to “get out.” People elsewhere get tipsy on being judgemental. My grandfather, before he passed, said I didn’t belong here, that I was “too good” for this town, whatever the hell that means. My therapist in Austin before the move wondered about the psychological effects of the transition & the isolation.
After she kept us in Austin for a couple extra years, doing the seminary route, D said it was my choice where to move next, both of us tired of the hustle of Austin, not wanting to be neck-deep in high rent, big expectations, & overly-committed schedules. After much consideration, we agreed that my hometown of Elwood, Indiana would be the best environment for us. Check off the affordable & sustainable cost of living. Check off the support & proximity to family. Check off the spaciousness for our mental health & art making processes.
It might seem rosy-tinted knowing what we now know of how it’d turn out, but I must say that first year was going as planned, minus the increasingly psychotic / chaotic episodes--later learned to be caused by the Fluoxetine I was misprescribed. D was paying off her debts & we were settling into our roles--she as breadwinner, me as homemaker. We were reconnecting with my family, finding our game night buds & exercise circles, creating space for porch talks & date night. Both together & on our own, we were making art--D writing an animated feature film & developing a new play for towns like Elwood, me transitioning from therapeutic collage maker to actual collagist & tapping away on a consuming long poem, & us writing songs & learning covers for the short-lived Leon Tyner’s Antique Horse Blanket band.
But we do know what we now know--my total breakdown, D’s leaving in its midst, the transition & isolation worries of that therapist popping up a year later than expected, wearing a different hue. The problem I am struggling with now is if this is the best place for single ol’ me. Thanks to my grandpa’s leaving of this house to me, my disabled self has the affordability to make it work, but I wonder if alone, as I plan to be, is sustainable, caring for this family-sized house & property. I am already finding it isolating, lost out here in the country for days at a time in my funks. I feel role-less in the domestic space & uninspired in my artistic life, instead concerned more with documenting my experience & managing my disorder.
That brings me back to the Texas question. I don’t miss Texas, Austin, big city life, the culture, whatever. I can find most of those things in pockets around here or on the internet, honestly; it was a great place to grow, to close out my 20’s. More than anything, I miss the life I had there, a life I could never recreate. We were so blessed to have a tight-knit group of friends in several circles (theatre, rock n’ roll, poetry, the hang-around crowd), affordable housing at the seminary, & purpose in our passions. Those elements are irreplicable these days for various, obvious reasons. I grieve the loss of those days, the closing of those circles, & the ending of that moment.
Just as I am still moving beyond my years in Austin, I’m grieving the loss of the possibilities of the life we had planned here. I am sad certain people will never get to visit this home we made. I am sad D & I no longer collaborate on this home, our band, or ways to bring fresh art to this community. I am sad this community will not know D & her necessary work. I am sad we do not get to explore inventive ways to be a couple & to have a family in the midst of my psychological struggles. There is a void. There is a ghost. It is not D. It is the life I had built with D, the life we were building here. That’s what I am struggling with, the cracks where the depression seeps in.
In the past six years, so much of my esteem & worth were tied to my position next to D--supportive theater husband, percussion backdrop to her angelic voice, chef of the food she brought home. For the years to come, so much of my hope & plans were in conjunction to D--the runs of House Play, the artist residency we wanted to start, the shows we were about to play. Even as I do my projects & make new connections & collaborations, it feels hollow. I never knew a void could make such a pang.
I say this not as a pity-party, but as an inventory for moving forward among the rest: like many of us, I’ve been through a hell of a rough patch these past six months. Like you, I’ve been a bean in the wicked river of the COVID epidemic, dealing with a backed-up septic tank & an inability to work among financial insecurity, my grandfather’s funeral among the restrictions, & battling a deep depression & a major psychological disorder within the isolation of the moment. My wife left me, lighting a devastating despair that saw me hospitalized five times, attempt suicide twice, & become so debilitated that I lost weeks at a time to delusion, dissociation, & fatigue.
Still here, just happy to be here honestly, I’m also on the precipice of the next six months & hopefully a string of months that leads to years & decades of wellness, both personally & globally. I am regulated with a cocktail of antipsychotics & mood stabilizers. I am empowered by the knowledge of my new diagnosis, bipolar disorder with psychosis. I have halted my pot habit, free of its daily haze & unnecessary crutch. I have dedicated myself to a mindfulness routine, thanks to Sam Harris’ Waking Up course. I have been using this blog as a check-in on my weekly positioning within this in-&-out hellscape & flow, & I am proud of the work I’ve been doing on the FUTURE BARN podcast, exploring what it means to be a good person in a small town like Elwood, Indiana.
I know what a privilege it is to be able to dedicate myself to the journey of being a good person, both from a time / energy / financial perspective & with having the mental capability & new clarity to make my amends, regulate my disorder, & find a future worth living. I was trapped under the weight of a misdiagnosis (dissociative identity disorder) & thus misprescibed (Fluoxetine, which actually causes psychotic episodes in bipolar patients), thanks in large part to a support team I now realize was incapable of listening to my true experience & advocating for me properly. I was trapped under the pressure of being a good husband, of trying to be a normal adult with a steady job, & of others’ perception of me as a functional guy. In short, my own & others’ fear kept me inside such a blur that I couldn’t see myself or others clearly.
Before, I carried around this sense that I was 1% evil because of episodes where I had physically & emotionally abused folks, because of the tormented thoughts that haunted me, & because of the loss of control I sometimes felt my body undergo. Thus, I often overcompensated with my other 99% to be good in intention & intensity, often losing sight of my true values & needs that I can in fact control. Lately I have been free of those constraints, thanks to Sam Harris’s insistence that there are very few evil people, but actually good people doing evil things in large part because of failures of consciousness, be it mental illness, misguided thinking, or other brain-centered misfirings.
No longer afraid of my 1%, I now feel like Jerry Seinfeld’s perception of himself in his grocery store joke, watching what others are buying in the grocery store & being like, “You look healthy, I’ll try that.” Doing the Waking Up app, reading Rob Bell’s moving (even for a secular humanist) What We Talk About When We Talk About God, & doing the FUTURE BARN podcast are just three of the many inspiring acts that have made me lose my default setting, to borrow from another good thinker, David Foster Wallace, of myself as the center of the universe, as a dangerous, evil cog, but rather, revisioning myself as one among the rest. I am taking a non-dualist approach to everyday situations, using breathing techniques & thought redirection to keep my once volatile edges rounded off. I am completely out in the open.
It is important for me here to note, too, that I am not putting my life back together as it was—finding a new wife, trudging through a job, putting a self in opposition to the hurdles of life. I am not interested in building another puzzle with a blurry final image. I am slowly, deliberately, & mindfully allowing an organic being (I have a lot of questions to answer still about a “self”) to form, adjust, & change throughout time. I was driving my mother down to her new trailer in North Carolina, navigating the sharp curves & steep hills (often both) of West Virginia, listening to Rob Bell talk to Pete Holmes about the perils of a Christianity founded on cant’s & don'ts. We stopped for the night in Beckley, both unwinding with our spiritual time—her doing a Bible Study, reading a Mary Oliver Devotion, & journaling, me doing my mindfulness routine, working on this blog post, & reading some Baudelaire.
It was there that I realized how to apply this personal attempt to be one among the rest, that I must look to others—other people, other creatures, other motions in the universe—to step forward in this journey of being a better person. Stepping through the hotel lobby, I was asking myself: how are those two folks on opposite sides of the counter collaborating peacefully; how does the hawk on the highway’s edge survive; how can time be my friend? I am taking each moment, among the rest, as a learning opportunity.
I also realized that we have a problem in poetry with how we talk about pronouns—who is represented by the limited he/she, how a person feels confronted / called out with the usage of you, how a classmate once said she couldn’t clearly see the I in my poem. Neither can I, I tell her now from this great distance. I think that is the point—her illusory self, my multiple personality states, your gelatinous you. As I’ve said before, echoing Dean Young, a poem isn’t a form of communication. Instead, I am convinced it is a transcript of elsewhere given to a reader: to enact, to embody, & to embolden.
Maybe, the self is the same. Walking along in this meat suit bursting at the seams with emotions, reactions, & choices, I must remain in the moment to each moment take on the proper & peaceful situated self. I must ask myself which cloak to put on. I cannot worry about the cloaks that do not fit anymore, the cloaks that sequin the storyline I am attempting to tell myself but not the pattern I’m within, the cloaks that are much too heavy. In this attempt to be my best self, the self cannot be a single, finished construct, but rather a poet, reader, & performer hollering in the creation of a moment all at once.
I am the grandson that lives in Fred’s house, who rehung the seashell decoration in the dining room corner, just as it is in family photos, who collaged over paintings & other found objects around the property, who let the corner of the yard grow wild, just like Grandpa Fred did, a place for the rabbits & the birds to nestle & rest.
I am the one who was with him during his last night. In accordance to the Covid rules, we, as a family, had to decide on one representative to be his hospital visitor & it was I. So I was there with him in the Elwood hospital, as he dozed in & out of sleep, watching together President Obama’s eulogy for Congressman John Lewis. I was there with him at the Anderson Hospital as he slept, draping a fourth & fifth blanket across his cold shoulders, holding his hands so he wouldn’t remove the by-pap machine helping him breathe into the night. I see clearly the privilege I was granted by my family, chosen to be the one there with him that fateful night, so I wanted to speak of that honor--of being there with him, of being his grandson, of carrying on his legacy.
I am also the wild card of the family--the youngest, the mentally disordered, the hick, the weirdo artist. I know my family, & probably many of you, are worried about me, waiting for me to go off the rails. To be honest, I probably will lose it at some point soon, but I promise you it won’t be because of the passing of Frederick Lewis Tyner. He lived a long good life, y’all--farming hard, raising my momma & the late great Uncle Ted, loving Grandma JoAnn, inviting foreign exchange students by the dozens into our community, helping out at the elementary school, slinging insurance, & building up this good plot of property I’m lucky enough to continue on.
Here’s something many of you might not know: the first poem I ever wrote was about Grandpa Fred. The poem, unlike his life, was terrible. It compared him to a turtle, the whole slow & steady wins the race cliche, though apt for Grandpa’s tempered, practical way of easing through life. I will save you the pain & not read it to you now, thank goodness. Instead I want to talk to you about the only known piece of artwork by Frederick Lewis Tyner.
Decades ago, he visited his cousin in North Carolina, a visual artist. She invited Grandpa to paint with her & this is what he created. I found it in a closet in the house, draped casually with a sheet. It’s been hanging in the opening to my hallway ever since, a necessarily relic in my grandfather’s path through life.
The first thing I notice is the color choice, three shades of the one color, blue, as if he didn’t want to waste water & time washing multiple brushes, didn’t want to risk colors mixing inadvertently, as if he didn’t care to make things too flashy. I notice how it starts with the swath of sky, the Bob Ross-esque birds, the mountain in the distance, but as we move lower in the painting, we can see grandpa, engaged here for the first time in the exhilaration of art, allow himself to become more impulsive. Notice the bunny that seems to high-tail it across the still canvas. Notice this thing that is either a minimalist shack or an unfinished horse. As we move down the painting we see how this whole time, this whole world has been floating, a hovering existence.
The last thing I notice is his signature, his initials--F.L.T in a neat thin red script. Which has me thinking about how we define ourselves & in-turn are defined by other people. In my final memory of him, laid in the hospital bed all frail, I remember thinking to myself--”Grandpa Fred is really old.” He would’ve been 90 at the end of this November & being old, at one point, became his defining characteristic as it does for all of us, if we’re so lucky to live long enough.
But of course, that’s just recency talking. At certain points, he was defined as a farmer, an insurance salesman, a member of the Army; as a son, father, uncle, cousin, grandpa; defined as a widower grieving the loss of his wife, a father grieving the death of his son, as Fabulous Fred. When I think back on Grandpa’s nine decades, he checks all the boxes you would want for a loved one’s life--full & comfortable, adventurous & challenging, loving & joyous.
If you’re like Grandpa, you believe that Eve’s fateful choice with that apple made our lives perilous, in need of redemption. If you’re like me, you believe the materials of the universe have collided & coalesced for millenia to create these vast & wild creatures we find ourselves inside. If you’re somewhere in between, regardless, I know you can agree with me that, as the musician David Bazan so frankly said, often, “It’s hard to be a decent human being.”
My Grandpa Fred undoubtedly was a decent human being--through his keeping busy & by helping others grow & prosper, even at times to his own detriment. My most vivid & cherished memories of him revolve around this, doing these sort of activities with him. Helping him sell suckers & popsicles at the elementary school. Making rounds with him to collect prizes & treasures for the school carnival & secret santa shop. Going with him to Indianapolis to pick up exchange students at the airport.
Right before this Covid mess ramped up, a group of my friends came to town to work on a play, developing it right in Fred Tyner’s dining room. In the middle of their week here, we all went to see Grandpa at the assisted living facility, his home for his final years. Gathered around a table in the lobby, we all smiled for hours as he shared stories of the farm, demonstrated how to do a Sudoku puzzle, & hugged each & everyone of them hello & goodbye, inviting them to make themselves at home out in his old house.
Since my return home a little over a year ago, I’ve been wondering what it means to be a good person living in a small town like Elwood. That’s the next stroke in this ongoing painting of Fred Tyner’s life; what do we want from his legacy? I’ll tell you a secret: in the last year, barely a day has gone by where I don’t wear an article of his clothing--a hat, his boots, this shirt right now. It is a reminder that his legacy is one of doing, moving a body around in space & time, using it to help others. If you take one thing away from this memorial, this chance to reflect on the life & death of Fred Tyner, please remember that we are each a part of his legacy.
Maybe I was wrong earlier when I said this painting is the only known piece of artwork of Fred Tyner’s. There was much beauty in his generosity to this community. There was much passion in the love for his family. There was great consideration, energy, & nerve in how he handled his business. As creators & makers, movers & shakers, may we all be so kind.