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Once upon a time, a boy met a girl. She was perfect. She was more than perfect. She was everything he had dreamed he could ever want, but never dreamed could be real. But despite her “perfection” the situation was not perfect. In fact, it was nothing but uncertain. The uncertainty frightened him – paralyzed him. So, he did the only thing he was capable of doing, and the worst thing he could possibly do: He walked out on her.

Dear Meegan,

I know it has been a long time… over ten years in fact. We did not know each other long, so I would imagine that by now you may have forgotten me. But, I know what I did to you was so wrong and so hurtful that you can’t possibly have forgotten. I can only hope that you have forgotten the harm I caused you. And for that, I am deeply sorry.

I remember when I first met you – you checked my coat at the counter of… that fancy bar downtown, I forget the name. I was immediately enamored by your charm. My friends could tell I was smitten and they prodded me to do something I had never done before – and have never done since. So, I approached you, a complete stranger, and asked you for your number. And you gave it to me.

Over the weeks that followed every moment we spent together, every conversation we had, everything about you kept swimming in my head telling me you were “perfect.” It was probably very fanciful thinking on my part. After all, what is “perfect” really? Right from the start that was a sign things were not off to the right start.

I wanted us to be more than friends. I may have expressed this to you – you may have politely declined me. I probably don’t remember everything clearly, but I know I wasn’t thinking clearly. I knew you were busy finishing your degree and had so much on your plate that we couldn’t date. But I was convinced that once you finished school and were not as busy that you would have the time, the energy, and the interest to pursue something with me. It was what I dreamed for, and it was what I told myself was going to happen.

Of course, I could have simply been delusional. It all seemed like a perfect dream. But perfect dreams tend to be more in one’s head, right? Perfect dreams don’t happen in reality.

You asked me to act in a role for your final directing project. I knew how important it was to you and I wanted more than anything to do it for you, so I agreed. You were depending on me. But I was not mature enough to handle the pressure I had built up on myself… much less to handle the pressure of being there for you when you needed me.

As the day for our dress rehearsal began to approach, so did your graduation day. And so my “dream” of us having a chance to become more than friends. I was scheduled to enlist in the Air Force in just a few months after that and I began to question whether or not I would follow through on that commitment if my “perfect dream” came true and our relationship grew.

As the day for our dress rehearsal began to approach, I began to plan my big romantic gesture. I remembered a conversation we had about your name – your given name and your family name.  I designed a poster and had it printed and framed. It had your family crest on it and I wrote a few short paragraphs that explored the roots and meaning of your name. Meegan: Little pearl. Strong. Capable.

I had the poster printed and framed. I ordered flowers. I made a dinner reservation. I was going to take you out and give you this gift to celebrate your graduation, and hopefully win your heart – show you how much I cared.

As the day for our dress rehearsal began to approach, I began to question. I questioned whether or not you would reject me. I questioned whether or not things would work out if you didn’t. I questioned whether or not I would leave for the Air Force. I questioned how I could build a future for myself if I didn’t leave and how I could deserve you if I continued on my current path that seemed to be leading nowhere. My mind became plagued with doubts. I was afraid of being rejected. I was afraid of letting you down. I was afraid of my “perfect dream” turning out to not be so perfect after all. I was afraid I was going to throw everything away and for nothing.

My mind was weak. I was weak.

On the day of our dress rehearsal I sat in my room and stared at the door. “Time to go,” I thought to myself. But I couldn’t  move. I couldn’t get out of my chair. I couldn’t stop staring at your poster. I couldn’t stop turning all these doubts and questions over and over and over and over in my mind. I was paralyzed.

I was already late when you called me. I looked at my phone but couldn’t reach out and answer it. “Answer it!” I told myself. But I didn’t. I was ashamed for being late. I didn’t know what to say to you. I knew what I needed to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. You left a message – you were confused and concerned. I listened to it. I was already letting you down, and I didn’t know how to admit that I had screwed up.

You called again. Then, you called again. I listened to your messages: Concern melted into annoyance. Annoyance morphed into anger. Each message, worse than the last. Each message was like a nail pinning me down, making it harder and harder for me to suck it up, be a man, call you back, and show up for you. I was not a man that day. I was not a human that day. I was a lump of worthlessness. And I was letting you down.

What started out as a paralysis of indecisiveness laced with fear soon turned into a paralysis of guilt sharply punctuated by fear. I argued with myself in my mind over and over again. I knew the right thing to do. But something was stopping me. I was arguing with myself. And I was losing. In your last message, you said, “Don’t bother contacting me ever again.” It was all the excuse I needed. That is what weak people do: they look for excuses to do what they want – or not do what they feel they are incapable of doing.

I sat in my room for two days. I didn’t leave. I didn’t eat. I slept in fits. I listened to your messages over and over. I stared at the poster I made for you. I couldn’t even cry. I could barely feel anything. Just hurt and emptiness. But I knew that no matter how awful I felt, you had to feel worse.

After that I wanted to call you. So many times I tried to call you. But what could I say? How could I explain what I had been thinking? How could I explain why I did what I did? There was no excuse that came close to being good enough. Nothing I could say could undo what I did. And nothing I could tell you would make any sense to you anyway (it might not even make any sense now). So, I didn’t call you. I didn’t do the right thing. I let time pass and I let that awful day slip away. I was wrong.

Meegan, I am so sorry for letting you down. From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry.

I know that you are strong. I know that you are a pearl. I know that you didn’t let my indiscretion drag you down. You overcame that harm I caused you, and you have certainly gone on to achieve great things. Because that is the kind of person you are. Way too good of a person for me to have ever imagined – to have ever dreamed – that I could ever deserve you or win you over with romantic gestures.

I wrote a poem that expressed what happened – how I was feeling, and what I did. At the time, it was the only way I knew how to express myself. The poem is called Cold Feet. You can read it by clicking here.

After several years, I finally began to grow up a little. My problems with fear, with paralysis, and with being a disappointment to those I care most about continued to plague me though. One can only hope that as time passes they learn from their mistakes and get better. But, like so many fools before me, I have found myself making the same mistakes over and over, caught in a cycle of weakness. Imprisoned in a cell of my own design. But over time, things got better. One can do more than hope. One can take action. One can make changes. And that is what I have done. That is what I am doing. And that is what I will continue to do.

By the time I had the courage to reach out to you and apologize like you so deserved, it was already too late. I tried calling, but there was no answer. I tried emailing, but the message was returned. If I had another way of contacting you I had long forgotten. I searched for you in all the ways I knew how – for an address, number, an email… but I could never find you. So the guilt of what I did to you haunted me. Every time I found myself making another mistake in life that guilt came back upon me. It washed over me and it smothered me. It held me down and it tore me apart. It ate at me from the inside out.

But this isn’t about me. This isn’t about my guilt. This isn’t about the “suffering” I caused myself by being so foolish. No amount of guilt or suffering can ever make up for what I did to you. No amount of apology can make up for what I did. But it is the best I can give you. It is the most that I know how to offer: I’m sorry, Meegan. I wronged you. I put you in a terrible situation and I betrayed you as a friend. I hurt you. It was completely undeserved. You were nothing but perfect to me. And I was nothing but awful to you.

I’m sorry.

I truly am.

~Z

Cold Feet

Written by Zachariah Wiedeman on December 15, 2002

I encountered perfection once
I did
I could almost swear it
At least,
My idea of perfection
I’m not really sure
That perfection can actually exist
I thought my standards to be impossible
But somehow
She met them
Perhaps I set the bar too high
Or just expect too much
I’m sure I’m not making the mistake
Of comparing the past
At any rate,
There she came
Much to my delight…
…or was it fear?
The feeling that I felt
Was joy mixed with dread
What a strong combination
Don’t you agree?
It was winter
It was freezing
Maybe that had something to do with it
My heart was literally reeling
With happiness and…
…was it contempt?
The strangest thing of all
Was when the evil took hold
Demanding me to punish this heavenly creature
Punishing myself
That’s what I was doing
I struck out
But not actively
Passively
By not showing up
Perhaps worse than anything else
I struck out with my own disappearance
Soon the angry calls went away
But the nagging in my brain never subsided
There was no pleasure in my punishment
Just bewilderment and disbelief
When the dust finally settled
I could hardly figure it out
Was that me who suicided my chances?
Or just someone on my behalf
While my soul took a vacation…
“Never let anyone get too close,”
The voice inside my brain keeps repeating
“Never let anyone get too close.
“Sacrifice all for the pleasure of being lonely,”
And this is where the real war is waged
Sadly the wrong side has almost won
Because the more I separate myself
The more numb I become
A hollow shell
Echoing a life that once was there
But buried beneath my defenses
Is a frightened and woeful heart
No one will guess it!
My secret is safe with me!

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In honor of the late great Harvey Pekar, I have decided to (on occasion) do my own little stick figure comic strips about some of my outlook on life.

…HOWEVER, for those who know me, you know I already talk way too much… so I decided to try my hand at story telling using just simple images in the style of the old stick figure sketches I used to do when I was a weeeee kid.

The title of the strip is “My Life… Simplified.” and that also happens to be the title of the first story. To download the full strip in one piece, click here.

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Not that anyone would notice (who notices when someone they aren’t listening to goes silent?), but I have been absent from the world of publicly recording my thoughts for a while now. I will give credit though: I have so many wonderful and caring friends around the country who have been there for me, rooted for me, supported me, and inspired me. Thank you all! In case you were wondering, here is a little update of what I’m up to…

Problems in the Land of Dreams

Dreams seem to have taken front and center in my life over this past year. Not just the kind you have when you are sleeping, but the aspiration sort as well. Actually, both, to be quite honest…

For years of my life – pretty much after my second year in the Air Force – I could not recall a single night’s dreams. This past year has pretty much made up for that. Every night I have intense, action-packed movie dreams. I wake up exhausted, physically and emotionally. Sometimes my dreams are so vivid and real and I feel trapped inside them – as if I can’t wake up. It is… well, like I said before: exhausting.

I can’t really say what it all means. Obviously I have a lot on my mind – in my subconscious – that I probably need to get off my shoulders. I just wish I knew what it all was so I could cast the burdens aside and rest.

As for the other kind of dreams, what is the problem with them you might ask? I suppose the problem is that I don’t know how to not dream too big. My head is filled with big ideas and big aspirations. I’m really not good for much else besides just coming up with ideas if I think about it… I wish there was a job where I could get paid to do that!

At any rate, my dreams are always too grand, too big, and too far out of my reach. That wouldn’t be a problem except it is because it couples with my other problem and that is a general listless lack of motivation…

Look, I know I’m depressed. There’s another thing I haven’t really dealt with in years: Deep and gut-wrenching depression. It isn’t the slash-your-wrists, oh I wanna die kind of dramatic depression. Its more of a voice in my head that won’t shut up – a voice that keeps telling me I’m worthless, I can’t do anything right, I shouldn’t even be trying. Anything seemingly good I accomplish is accompanied by that voice telling me I’m a fraud. Its like getting punched in the face during every waking hour of the day. And the trouble is that most of the time I find myself believing it.

Trapped in bed. With my dreams. The good ones and the bad ones. It generally takes every ounce of my being to pull myself out of bed in the morning… or afternoon depending on the day… Whenever I think I am going to get up a hand comes and presses me down. Sometimes I do get up, but I can’t seem to focus or concentrate on anything long enough to accomplish anything. By the time I get going at all, it is night time and time to go back to bed again. But I fight it. Not wanting to face the emotionally draining dreamworld and wanting to feel some sense of accomplishment, I fight to stay awake and doing something – anything that feels like an accomplishment – before I finally surrender to the Sandman.

But I think I was saying something before about dreaming too big and a general lack of motivation, right? You see, part of this depression – shoot, I can’t really even call it that anymore, its just normal life to me… Part of life for me is that I cannot seem to muster even an ounce of motivation for anything beyond basic survival… and even that is a feeling that registers when it wants to, which isn’t always.

However, what little capability for motivation I do have tends to find itself nestled in that part of my brain that thinks up outlandish ideas that seem to be beyond my capabilities – whether it be my monetary capabilities (basically nonexistent at this point), my talents, or just what is possible given where I am, who I know, and what I have time for. Someday, perhaps, I am going to dream of accomplishing something that I am actually physically capable of doing. Until then I only wonder what that might feel like.

This, of course, works wonders on the motivation engine of my brain. I generally find myself gazing off at vistas that are across unfordable rivers only to notice the nonexistence of a path to those plateaus and then come crashing down either with the mere realization of the impossibility of my dreams or the confrontation with the reality of being unable to move forward when I attempt to embark.

So what are a few of those dreams that have the rare ability to get me excited about living?

And big ideas, I’ve had a few…

Here are a few of the “too big dreams” that have been plaguing me of late…

KnowBeforeYouVote.com – For years now I have envisioned starting a not-for-profit online tool that provides simple, straightforward information about political candidates, their positions, their record, and their record on the positions. The “brilliant” idea of KBYV presents information in a way that satisfies the level of depth that any person wants to get into. On the surface, candidates and positions are put into a cross-reference chart – like the features list on products – that has simple quantifiable answers to questions and positions. This chart can be expanded by the user to look at issues more in depth and deal with more complicated and nuanced questions and any single issue can be expanded upon to get detailed quotes, and references about that particular candidate’s position on those issues.

Meanwhile, the site also has a series of short videos and articles that provide simple explanations on hot political issues – the facts, the history, and the various arguments. This, of course can all be cross-referenced and accessed through the candidate positions section of the website. Finally, the site provides simple, easy to understand information about how to register to vote, where to go to vote, and all of this will be customized by geographic region.

And everything is designed with a user interface that works like an app on a smartphone so you can, theoretically, pull up the site and get information from it while in a voting booth. Contributions for much of the information would come in through a form of crowdsourcing – with an editorial board and layers of vetted fact-checkers to provide quality control. And the the entire tool could be scaled to work in national elections in every country in the world, a mayoral election in a small town, or even a local student government election at a small high school or college.

What would be interesting is if this idea could work in conjunction with my next idea below.

The Argus 2.0 – Learning from the struggles and mistakes of the original Argus newspaper that we started at UIC, this idea provides a content management and publishing platform that also works as an RSS feed reader (like Feedly.com) professional, open-source journalism and media studies curriculum (like Treehouse does for IT), a topic based wiki platform (like Wikia) and hyper-local news outlet (like Patch.com).

The basic idea is to launch Argus websites at colleges across the country (although this could be available for high schools as well) that start out as empty shells with a just few features. The site aggregates customized content feeds from web and news sources relevant to that institution (such as current newspapers, athletics websites, etc.), includes a customized local wiki and offers students and teachers an opportunity to publish their own blog on the site.

Rather than take a top down approach of traditional news media outlets in which you have an Editor in Chief, an Editorial board, department heads, etc. this idea organically grows its staff and fills positions on demand from the bottom up and uses gamification as a means of motivation. Users start out as simple bloggers who can write about anything they want. However, they can earn badges and feature space on the site by completing specific micro-tasks and completing professionally developed education modules broken down into small pieces that unlock new opportunities (and new education modules) upon completion. As a blogger progresses through their career, they eventually are faced with collaborative tasks, mentoring tasks, and other activities that, before they realize it, has them functioning as part of the well-oiled machine that is a professional news outlet with assignments, fact checking, and editorial review.

This deals with many of the problems that the original Argus faced relating to our staff’s sense of autonomy, self-motivation, and lack of a piecemeal reward system. The training aspect not only educates in the broader sense, but deals directly with the problems many blogs and media organizations face regarding professional standards of journalism, integrity, and accuracy.

The platform is designed to open up avenues of collaboration for individuals in various roles: From people who simply want to submit ideas for things to be reported on – or written about – to people who are good at copy editing, fact checking, photojournalism, video journalism, and writing. As the number of users – and ambitions of those users – grow, so does the capabilities of the platform for providing collaborative tools and the necessary training along the way to complete the desired task.

The wiki portion of the site would function in a similar way, although it would be slightly more open-sourced. This is designed to deal with the problems of finding information about a college department, program, professor, class, etc. that is faced by many universities around the country. Schools are using hundreds of fragmented, outdated, poorly designed websites that are built on multiple platforms, managed by dozens of different departments, and are bursting at the seams with information, but they almost require a PhD in data mining to find the information you want. The Argus 2.0 would provide a unified platform with a simple user interface, information taxonomy, and cross-referencing system, that makes finding the information you want as easy as looking up an article on Wikipedia or any other modern information website.

Each individual school’s site would be part of a larger family of sites that also provides opportunities for information sharing and collaboration between individuals at various schools around the country. Revenue would be largely based on advertising, and individual school sites could be “owned” like franchises by individuals (via a licensing and ad-revenue sharing agreement) who want to oversee and manage that particular school’s website – although many of the sites would be centrally owned by the parent company (much like McDonald’s and its 20/80 franchise model). This site would provide a robust advertising network for large national advertisers as well as tools for each individual site to set up simple and scalable advertising contracts with small local advertisers.

The other major source of revenue would come in the form of a physically published anthology that is comprised of the best work from a school’s site and in a way functions as a new kind of year book that is actually interesting to read and has collectible value. Think of it as an giant-sized special-edition annual magazine with a nice sturdy cover.

Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it, this idea would also be a not-for-profit. As the news should be! Although this idea would hopefully not rely on donations, all revenues would be put back into building the platform and increasing the educational opportunities for the users and participants. Its ultimately about slowly but surely replacing the current army of untrained bloggers that is beginning to replace traditional media with an army of “well educated and professionally trained bloggers who maintain high standards of integrity, ethics, and quality journalism.”

Your Music Your Life – This idea is based on a business plan project I did back in college for a finance class and could really be a subset of The Argus 2.0. This idea is designed to provide actors and AV students the opportunity to participate in a contest in which they produce custom made music videos. Although big-name, nationally recognized bands would be idea for collaborating with on this, it could just as easily be done with smaller, independent and local artists. Ultimately, the exposure and promotion from the contest would be enough to motivate just about any artists or forward-thinking record label to want to participate.

In a nutshell, students would be assigned a song and asked to film their own custom music video for it. Hey, kids are already doing this on YouTube without the artists’ blessing anyway, why not turn it into a regularly sanctioned contest? We would provide guidance with forming teams and designating roles – an education aspect, if you will – as well as special opportunities to access equipment and tools that students otherwise wouldn’t have access to or know they need in the first place, depending on their knowledge level.

Submissions could win in a variety of categories as well by popular vote, judges’ selection, and selection by the featured band. There would be various types of relevant prizes as well as a few big cash prizes and even an opportunity to compete nationally to bring one of the featured bands to their school for an exclusive end-of-year concert/party that honors the school, the contestants, and winners.

Crowd-source-it – This is just a sort of silly idea that I have that could be a huge flop or the next Instigram. The idea is a phone app that has two functions: You can either ask it a question or you can answer a question. Think of the “phone a friend” option on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” combined with the “poll the audience” option.

It is basically a way to poll all the other users on a decision you are making – ranging from the mundane, “Should I order a Carmel or Mocha latté at Starbucks?” to the serious, “Should I ask her on a second date?” Questions and responses would be generally anonymous and would come in almost immediately with the ability to break them down by categories such as overall, by demographics, people you know, and a list of “people who generally agree with you” that is created based on the similarity of your responses to other people’s questions.

To keep the questions and responses flowing, the app would work very much like a game and have limits on how many questions you can ask without providing your own responses to other people’s questions. It would have badges and rewards for levels of participation as well as other fun things like correctly predicting the answers that “the crowd” will give.

So what isn’t too big to fail?

Currently, I have a few “dreams” and ideas that I think (perhaps delusionaly) are achievable that I am working on or planning for. Here is what I am doing…

Writing a musical – A few years ago I was inspired to develop a story that is loosely based on a conversation that occurs between Ethan Hawke‘s and Julie Delpy‘s characters, Jesse & Celine, in Before Sunset. Originally this was supposed to be a 30 minute short in the format of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but once I started outlining the script I quickly realized that it was a full 90+ minute feature with a dozen or so songs in it.

The idea has been incubating for a couple of years now, but I decided to get serious about it over this past summer. Unfortunately, I became side-tracked and took an unplanned break from my writing process, so I am already behind the schedule I set for myself. However, I am happy to report that I am back at it and have made progress on a number of the songs for the musical and have also started to revisit my original script outline and begun writing it out as a full script.

Ideally, I would like to film this as a musical movie – but the budget for that would be huge – especially since I want to film in a few locations in California and Chicago – plus I might need a few other locations to film in to simulate the passing of seasons without stretching the shoot out over a full year… So, yeah the budget would be huge – at least to my impoverished self – so I am going to try and raise funds via Kickstarter. Before I can even do that, however, I would like to at least record the soundtrack and shoot a teaser reel – which is going to cost a lot of money again… Maybe I should do a Kickstarter or apply for a grant just for that!

I already have several roles tentatively cast – which makes even recording the soundtrack somewhat complicated since one of the main actors lives in Dallas and another lives in Washington, D.C. One of the main roles will be (hopefully) played by my little sister, Sabriah, and I would like my brother-in-law, Brantley, to be involved in the cinematography/directing/producing as well – if his schedule permits. Who knows, though? Almost everything really depends on when I complete my writing…

…which I forgot to mention involves me “hiring” a musician to help me arrange and score the songs I am writing. The one person I have received a tentative yes from (but again… schedules…) lives all the way out in Hawaii, and if he does fully sign on with the project, I would want him to be the musical director and to actually come out and be very heavily involved with the recording of the soundtrack.

So, its a complicated beast. But the first part is quite simple: Get the thing written. And I’m working on that right now. I’ll worry about the rest after I get through that.

Merry Christmas, George Bailey – Another project I would like to do is to produce and direct a staging of the live radio play of It’s A Wonderful Life. I have a somewhat unique method in mind for this, however…

Because the performance does not require extensive sets or costumes, I would like to book several performance locations throughout the Chicago and north-shore area – preferably in churches – for shows that run the three weekends leading up to Christmas. The performances would be on Friday nights, two on Saturday, and two on Sunday. I would like to partner with a not-for-profit, such as Solid Rock Carpenters, to donate ticket proceeds towards (although it would be nice to split proceeds between a partner organization and one of my incubating nonprofits listed above).

I really should be getting locations nailed down for this within the next month or two and by the summer have a budget and pre-funding goal set. I would cast the show in October and hold rehearsals in November. This show wouldn’t require a ton of rehearsals since it is essentially a staged reading. Then, it would just be a matter of marketing the show – which I would really be doing from the beginning before it is even cast (pre-marketing will hopefully help build interest and get more people to audition).

So that is another idea that I am trying to figure out how to bring to light. More than anything, though, I need a co-producer with experience who can collaborate with me on this to really get things moving. If you happen to know anyone who might be interested, send them my way.

B to Z Creative – This fall I decided to form my own “creative consulting” company and offer freelance design services to small businesses and individuals. I call it “B to Z” because the idea is “You provide the A. We provide the rest.” Right now, my work focuses mainly on doing small website design, print media design (such as posters, business cards, ads, etc.) and my brother-in-law has even come on board to do some video production for a client.

Things have been a mixture of good and bad – all of the bad, of course, coming from my side of things. While I do have a certain creative skill, I feel like my skills are very unpolished – I have received no formal training in graphic design, programming, anything really – and I would be much better at just going over the big picture on projects and developing creative/operations/business/marketing strategy and then outsourcing work to other individuals who can produce better work than I am able to produce. Part of the problem without having formal training is that I am able to produce a certain high caliber work but it takes me two, three, four, and five times longer to produce than someone who has training on the tools I am working with. Again, I would be a better creative director than designer/coder…

This puts me in a difficult place – I find myself taking on what at first are small, simple projects, but they quickly grow in scope and scale to a place I am not really able to efficiently produce at. Which has been extremely discouraging. I have found myself putting way too much time into tiny projects only to becoming overwhelmed and completely freaking out and become incapable of dealing with anything anymore.

All this, mixed with my lack of confidence, perfectionism, depression, and cronic health problems that I have had this year (along with everything else I mentioned earlier) have lead to me nearly running my my business off the road several times before it can even get anywhere. Even now, as I write this, things seems precariously balanced on the edge and I may soon find myself without any clients and insolvent.

Which is a real bummer, because not only is this pretty much the only thing I am capable of doing at all right now that could possibly earn me any income, it is something that I actually have somewhat of a predisposition for – if I could just figure out exactly how I myself fit into the business overall and how to get the right kind of clients/projects to work with. One thing for sure is that if this is going to be successful, I am going to have to bring in additional collaborators and position myself in more of a sales or creative direction role and less in a hands-on design role.

That’s the rub, though: I have to do a significant amount of work on my own where I wear all the hats first so that I can even be in a position to bring in others to outsource work to or hire on as part-time collaborators. So, its tricky. And frustrating. And considering my track-record over the past six months, probably not going to ever go anywhere substantial or at least grow into something I can provide for myself with.

Ultimately, coming full circle here, and pardon the expression, but my head has been way up my ass for the past six months and I sure as heck don’t have any idea how to dislodge it yet. Considering everything I have been going through – with both my mental and physical health – this is probably the worst time I could be starting my own one-man business. It is a wonder I have had what little success I have had with the business thus far. We’ll see how things continue to go. I sure as heck would kill to have a business partner on this though. I don’t do very well by myself…

Other than that, what have I been up to?

Moving Words – This fall, I taught in an enrichment program for K-2nd grade at an elementary school on the south side of Chicago. The program, called Moving Words, was a literacy program designed to assist kids with basic reading skills and enrich their interest in books and the arts. I got to play theater games with the kids, read books to them, and work with them on their reading.

It was one of the most rewarding and wonderful experiences of my life. I don’t know why, for the life of me, I didn’t go to school to become a teacher. Well, its too late for me to back to school now – or at least at this point in my life – so unfortunately that is something I will probably never have the chance to turn into a career. The most satisfying times in my life ever were when I was teaching: When I taught English in China, when I directed and taught in the Drug Education for Youth program in the Air Force, when I taught Sunday school at Lakeside and worked with the kids at the summer camp, when I taught journalism classes to  the staff of the Argus, and this fall when I taught in this enrichment program.

One thing about the teaching is that it was a regularly scheduled Monday-Friday morning program that gave me a purpose to get out of bed every day and commute to the city and be excited. The bad thing is that it wasn’t a lot of hours and so it didn’t pay very much which meant I had a hard time doing other income earning things and really just barely got by paying my bills and certainly didn’t have any money left over to do much of anything else.

In fact, it was about the time after the teaching stopped, and my schedule started to free up more that my depression and lack of motivation really started to kick in. Perhaps it was also partly due to the “winter blues” that starts to set in around November, but there certainly was a noticeable change in my motivation, productivity, and overall mood once this program ended. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe not.

Democracy Burlesque – Another project I became involved with this fall was a political sketch-comedy group called Democracy Burlesque. I originally volunteered to help MC one of their shows and before I knew it I was doing a few bit parts in some sketches here and there and even co-hosting their musical review show as a radio DJ character that did bits with my co-host between numbers.

DB was very fun – and it was a nice opportunity for me to get out and meet other interesting people. However, the amount of time necessary to do the shows and really be involved was very high and considering that my only source of income has been my business – and that isn’t a very reliable or efficient source of income – it turned out to be more time than I was able to commit in the long run to participating in as a regular cast member. I did have a minor interest in being involved in the writing, but I very quickly realized that the kind of sketches I wanted to write were not very well suited for this company’s particular sense of humor and format.

One thing I did do was work up a marketing plan for their 2013 season and I was even going to execute the marketing plan through my company, B to Z. However, things did not turn out very well with that at all. Part of the plan required redoing their website and adding some online ticketing capabilities which turned out to be much more difficult than it should have been. It turned into a nightmare where every time I fixed one problem with the programming three more would pop up and that goes back to the whole formal training issue and how I would have been much better off if I had just developed the plan and outsourced much of the work to others to do.

Then, there was a scheduling issue with getting their poster and flyer designs in time from their designer to order on time to distribute before their first show. Rather than come in that Friday as was planned, everything came in the following Tuesday – the day the show was supposed to open. At this time I was already neck-deep in working on another show, Really Rosie, which I’ll discuss below and the weather was horrendous out making the other part of my marketing plan very difficult to execute as a one-man-team, and that was the poster and flyer distribution.

Over the fall, I scouted out over two hundred locations in various neighborhoods and college campuses near where Democracy Burlesque puts on their shows and my original plan was to hire a couple of assistants to distribute the posters and flyers at those locations. However, the entire project came upon me faster than I was ready for – and I was already spending an ungodly amount of time working on Really Rosie which I hadn’t at all planned for, and the website modifications which were problem after problem that was gobbling up all my time – so I never was able to hire anyone.

In the end, I went into full panic-shutdown mode and didn’t do anything. I know, its terrible, and I’m am embarrassed to admit it, but that’s what happened. This was a great opportunity to really accomplish something meaningful – for my business, for myself – and I completely screwed it up, got in way over my head and wasn’t able to figure out how to dig out or even reach out to anyone for help. The worst part is that I am completely confident that had I been able to execute this marketing plan that I spent so much time developing it would have had a tremendously positive impact on Democracy Burlesque’s attendance and ticket sales and really turned things around for them. They were certainly struggling with audience attendance during the fall when I was acting with them. Unfortunately, this one gets to go down as a giant red mark in my epic failure column rather than the epic win column.

The worst part is, this isn’t an entirely unique picture of how things are going for me and for my business. I honestly feel like I am at a point where no one is ever going to want to hire me to do anything… ANYthing… ever. It is a very crushing feeling that doesn’t really help with the motivation and depression problems…

Really Rosie – Another “doesn’t pay enough for the time spent” project I have become involved with is stage managing a children’s musical that is actually closing this weekend after a six-week run. I originally was asked to design the posters and flyers for the show and before I knew it I had volunteered to stage manage and even oversaw the design and building of the sets and managed lighting and sound for the show.

I must say that looking back I am extremely proud and happy to have worked on this show and wouldn’t undo the experience. But on a practical note it did take way too much of my time and distracted me from other things I should have been focused on. One week I did nothing but work on the set from morning to night, breaking only for rehearsals which ran five nights a week four weeks prior to opening. I also noticed that the marketing for the show wasn’t very well planned out or organized so I ended up getting involved in that pretty heavily and spend numerous days just traveling around distributing posters and flyers to libraries, schools, after-school programs.

What’s worse is that because I wasn’t involved in the marketing from the beginning, much of my efforts ended up being “too little too late” and as far as I can tell didn’t do a whole lot towards bringing in the kind of audience we needed for the show. I felt an obligation though – for one thing, I had designed their marketing materials and wanted to see them go to productive use – for another, I was stage managing the show and had a bit more of a vested interest in is succeeding. Eventually I hit a wall with that effort and had to forcable pull back from it – which felt like a defeat, but in all honestly I had stretched myself to the limits with the amount of time I was putting into this show.

Still, all that being said, despite my over commitment of time, it has been a wonderful experience and something I would like to do more in the future… provided that I am able to keep my time investment at an appropriate level and hopefully earn compensation that matches the time I am spending. Which, is probably too much to ask because unless you’re a professional, it is unlikely you can find much work on the amateur theater circuit that isn’t on a mostly volunteer basis. And I don’t have the background or resumé to work in theater professionally I suppose, so that’s just a dream. Here’s to dreaming anyway…

And that, my friends, is what’s up.

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Some friends turn out to be ''empty suits''
Some friends turn out to be ”empty suits”

Once again, I set out with the best of intentions. Once again, I fell flat on my face. Allow me to explain…

I am currently in a process of re-organizing and de-cluttering my life. For starters, I’m trying to sell everything I own, piece-by-piece. I am also reassessing my friendships, most of which exist via long-distance, and figuring out how to re-invest in the people who care about me. My only real links to friends these days are through my Gmail address book and Facebook. However, due in part to a technical error a few years ago and in part to the overly ambitious “friending” of everyone I came into contact over the past few years my Facebook friend list was cluttered with about 1700 so-called “Friends” – many of whom I didn’t even know, and many of whom probably don’t give a shit about me.

Let me back track a bit and explain something…

Part 1: My Unbalanced Relationships

You know how some people describe dysfunctional relationships as one person being “more in love” with the other than is returned? Well, I have a real problem with that happening in my friendships. I foolishly think that I am friends with someone, or that we at least care about each other more than we actually do – and they don’t really even care one bit.

I had a rude awakening to this problem back in the Christmas of 2007. It was my first year out of the Air Force and my first year back in school at UIC. During the first fall semester I became very involved in a Christian fellowship called Asian American InterVarsity (AAIV).

AAIV circa 2001
AAIV circa 2001

Now, my history with AAIV stretched all the way back to 2000 when I first enrolled at UIC. A (Caucasian) girl I met over the summer invited me to her Christian fellowship called AAIV. Because my father was a pastor of a predominantly Asian American church, almost everyone I knew in Chicago at the time was Asian, and I was feeling a bit over-saturated by the Asian American subculture. So, because this girl was white and because I didn’t know what the AA stood for, I decided to attend the fellowship partially just to try break out of that subculture. When I showed up and realized that her and I were the only Caucasians there, I realized I had miserably failed.

The next week, I visited a Christian fellowship called Servants. There was no AA in the fellowship name, so I thought I was safe. The ethnic makeup of students in Servants turned out to be almost entirely Filipino and Korean. So, I had a good laugh at myself and decided to accept my fate and stick with AAIV. After all, everyone there was very warm and welcoming to me, how could I say no?

Grace & Susie - My small group leaders
Grace & Susie – My small group leaders

Over the next two years, when I was actually attending UIC, I attended AAIV meetings and became involved with a small group as well. I ended up joining a church upon one friend’s invitation (Bethel Presbyterian). Sure, it was a Korean church, but I was okay with that. Eventually, however, I dropped out of school and then I stopped attending church. Life was becoming increasingly disappointing and I made things harder on myself by losing touch with all the good friends I had made in AAIV.

That was a common unbalance in my relationships. I let other people invest in me and then I would disappear and not keep up my end of the relationship. Over the next several years, I was devastated that I had let so many of these positive relationships and good people out of my life. It was something I struggled to come to terms with while I was in the Air Force – a struggle that was made even more difficult by the fact that military life has a way of moving people around so much that you have very little time to make meaningful friendships, and it was even more difficult to keep in touch the people you did become close to.

So, back to 2007. I was out of the Air Force and I was determined to make a fresh start with making friends. At first, I thought things were going pretty well. I was super involved in AAIV and socializing almost exclusively with other students in the fellowship. At the end of the semester, I decided to thow a small private end-of-semester dinner and invite about twenty or so people whom I thought were good friends.

I planned this dinner in detail which was no small task considering I was hosting it at my parents house and accommodating the amount of people I was inviting was going to be difficult. But, I figured out how to arrange the house to set up two large tables and made plans to borrow an extra table from my father’s church.

Then, I designed custom invitation cards and taught myself calligraphy so I could hand-write personal invitations to everyone I wanted to come. I distributed the invitations to my “friends” about three weeks before the semester ended – personally inviting them of course, and telling them how much it would mean to me if they could come. And, I followed up with a private Facebook event and asked people to RSVP via Facebook. Only about six people RSVP’d.

So, I made a point of reminding my “friends” about the dinner party and making sure they could come. Everyone gave me the same basic answer, “I probably can make it, but I’m not 100% sure what my schedule is that week, so I can’t say for sure.”

Since I planned for almost 24 people to attend and started to suspect that I was going to be slightly shy of that number, I decided to invite some more people at the last minuted whom I barely knew and considered only acquaintances.

Then, came the day of the dinner party. I called everyone who gave me a “yes” RSVP verbally or on Facebook to make sure they knew how to get to my parent’s house. Not one single person I called was planning on coming. Excuses ranged from “I have a last minute family dinner that came up” to “I live 45 minutes away and don’t feel like making the drive” to “I’m going to the mall with a friend.” Funny thing: that friend the person was going to the mall with was also someone I had invited to my dinner party.

Thanks for being my friend, Josh
Thanks for being my friend, Josh

In the end, only five people showed up to my dinner party and only one person was from AAIV and on the original guest list (Thanks, Josh! I love you, man!). The others were two guys I had recently met at a secular (somewhat atheist) campus club called RAFT (Rationalists And Free Thinkers), one of their girlfriends, and my friend Cori.

I learned a very important lesson that day. All those people from AAIV whom I thought were my friends weren’t really my friends. Just to be sure, when the Spring semester started up again I decided to stop attending AAIV meetings and see if anyone would notice. Only two people noticed: Josh, who was in my small group and Grace whom I knew from the larger fellowship. No one else from my small group bothered to contact me or even ask about me. I asked Josh if any other people had stopped attending our small group and he reported that it was the same people from the previous semester plus a few others.

Thanks for being my friend, Grace
Thanks for being my friend, Grace

It might seem silly to you if you are reading this, but that really destroyed me. I reflected on the friendships that I thought I had with these people and I recalled all of these people being super outgoing with me, inviting me to functions all the time, and acting interested in my life. However I quickly realized that the only functions I was ever invited to were AAIV functions. It would seem that I wasn’t a “friend” to any of these people: I was a duty: Someone to remind of fellowship functions and to pretend to care about in a pseudo-Christian empathy-hype after a prayer meeting or Bible study.

Ultimately, I learned a very important thing about myself and that is that I do not judge other people’s intentions very well at all and I all too often assume that there are something there that isn’t. I still am not very good at this and I still suffer frequent disappointments when friendships don’t pan out the way I expected them to.

The other lessons I learned is the importance of me keeping up my end of things when I do encounter people who truly care and are willing to embark upon a meaningful friendship. Looking back over my life I am painfully aware of friendships I let get away because I didn’t put in the effort or because I was, believe it or not, too timid to to pursue spending more time with people I recognized as kind, interesting, and potentially loyal friends.

Part 2: Re-Discovering Missed Connections

CHCS - 8th Grade
How many good friendships did I miss out on when I was younger?

A few years after I graduated from high school I made a very interesting discovery: Some people I never dreamed of being friends with or having anything in common with actually would have made excellent friends if we had only run in the same circles or I had tried to get to know them better.

This discovery came by way of a girl named Nicole. When I attended College Heights Christian School I bounced around a few social circles, but I never really landed in any particular group long enough to make any lasting friendships or even network to other groups.

Nicole was the kind of girl that guys like me didn’t even bother talking to. For one thing, she was gorgeous. She hung out with other “beautiful people.” I didn’t see myself fitting into that group. For another thing, when you are a teenager and fancy yourself a nerdy intellectual, you tend to lump all the “beautiful people” into a stereotype of probably being shallow and uninteresting. The stereotype couldn’t have been more wrong, but what did I know?

I don’t mention this stereotype because it is a particular reason why I never spoke to Nicole. I never would have spoken to her anyway because we couldn’t have run in more distant circles. I mention the stereotype simply because I know there are people in the past whom I have neglected trying to become friends with because of poorly preconceived notions.

A few years after high school, I discovered the lovely website Classmates.com. Only a few people from my school had registered at the time, so I decided to just email all the ones whose names I recognized and ask them what they were up to in life. Nicole was one of those people, and to my surprise she no only responded to my email, she responded at length. Even more to my surprise, I discovered that Nicole was a very intelligent, interesting, and artistic person whom I had many things in common with.

Nicole and I exchanged a few more emails over the next few months, but she lived in Dallas and I lived in Chicago, so starting a long-distance friendship was pretty challenging considering there was never any history or context between us to be friends in the first place. Eventually, we stopped writing each other and lost touch again.

But, through that experience I learned another very important lesson: I have taken for granted many acquaintances from my past who actually would have made excellent friends and are, to this day, worth going out of my way to reconnect with and try to rekindle a friendship with.

Part 3: The Facebook Friendship Challenge

This Could Be You
Want to be friends with a dweeb like me?

Putting these three lessons together and gazing over my Facebook friend list – sadly, my only point of contact to most of the people I know, I decided to experiment with something.

First, I went through my friend list and removed people whose names I didn’t recognize or didn’t particularly care for. This eliminated about 1,000 people. Most of those people were “accidental friends” whom I added when I gave Facebook access to my Gmail account, not realizing that my Gmail address book contained nearly two thousand email addresses of UIC students whom I had personally emailed and thanked for signing a petition I had circulated one semester.

Next, I eliminated people whom I just plain didn’t know well enough to have any justification to contact for any reason. Eventually, I winnowed the list down to people whom I either considered friends, or whom I felt like I knew well enough that it would be possible to and worth putting the effort to become friends with in the future.

However, I didn’t want to fall into the old trap of foolishly assuming that I was friends with anyone more than I really was. Some people mentally move on if you haven’t been in touch with them after a long while, and I have discovered react with great annoyance to you if you try to get in touch with them and rekindle a friendship after not having reached out to them for a few years. One thing I planned on doing was keeping track of all my friends birthdays and sending them a personal birthday card in the mail over the coming year. It can be pretty awkward asking someone for their address to send them a card when that person considers you barely an acquaintance or, worse yet, actually resents you for some unspoken reason.

So, I started a Facebook event called “stay friends with Zachariah on Facebook” and invited everyone I was still friends with to the event. My thinking was that all the people who would see my name and say, “Zachariah who?” or those who would think, “You had your chance years ago man, but it has just been too long,” would see this event and decline or ignore it.

''buried''
”buried”

I have discovered an interesting thing about people on Facebook. Few people really care much about who is on their friend list. Plenty of people have strangers and even people they dislike on their friend list for one reason or another. Usually it is either because they are too lazy to remove them, or because they find that person mildly interesting to keep tabs on but don’t really want to have any kind of real friendship with.

Well, Facebook recently introduced a very handy feature called “Follow” just for people who want to simply keep tabs on someone but not have an actual relationship with. I made my Facebook profile “Followable” and I figured that there were probably some people out there who didn’t want to invest in a friendship with me, but still would want to “keep tabs” on me and just follow me.

I quickly realized that one error in judgement I had made was that people weren’t actually reading the description on the event invite I sent out. Many people were declining the event off-hand because they decline all event invites, or they saw the time and date and thought, “Nope – I won’t be in Chicago during that time,” and didn’t look further.

Another problem was that some people just never pay close attention to Facebook. They don’t really investigate their news feed or invitations and were likely to wind up completely oblivious to my invitation.

I decided to mitigate this by sending out individual messages to the hundreds of people who did not respond to my invitation or had declined it just to make sure they knew about the event, and what I was doing. In general, this was somewhat of a success, but even those messages seem to have gone unnoticed or ignored by many people.

This created another problem for me: I stated that if someone didn’t want to keep up a friendship with me but were too polite to decline my invitation, say “no” or proactively unfriend me, then I would just unfriend those people myself after one month of no response. Believe me, those people DO exist: People who are too passive or polite to “unfriend” someone but are put out every time they hear from you directly or by seeing something from you pop up in their news feed. Sure, these people might be a little behind the curve on all the features that Facebook has to offer to help you politely ignore someone, but that’s just how they are I wanted to do my best to be sensitive to them and proactively help them ignore me.

In short, I was over thinking this entire thing way too much and trying way too hard.

What I failed to think of was how to tell the difference between passive/polite people who wanted me to unfriend them and disengaged people who just didn’t pay close attention to Facebook.

I think I accidentally offended a few people along the way as well. One person responded to my message with a very angry email and accused me of asking people to inflate my ego by reaffirming friendships. While this wasn’t the case, I completely see this person’s point.

Part 4: Picking Up The Pieces of Failure

The entire exercise turned out to be a bust. I probably offended more people in the long run. And the entire purpose of the exercise was to avoid offending people. I really am an idiot, sometimes, aren’t I?

To the hundreds of people who decided to actually “inflate my ego” and reaffirmed me as a friend on Facebook, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It doesn’t really make my ego any bigger than it already is, but just like it is nice to hear “I love you” from time to time from family and loved ones, it is very comforting to hear, “We’re still friends,” from friends both close and distant.

To the people who unfriended me or declined my invitation, I am deeply sorry if I somehow offended you by this invite. I know many people who unfriended/declined legitimately didn’t want to keep in touch and weren’t offended at all – but I also suspect that many more people misunderstood my intentions for inviting you to the event I did.

And to everyone out there: Not everyone uses Facebook the same way you do. You may use it as a simple time-wasting fad, but other people use it as an important Rollodex and essential communication tool. You may use friending as a way of keeping tabs on people you are mildly interested in, but other people use friending as a way of declaring who is really important in their life and who they want to keep in touch with. With that in mind, please be patient with those who take Facebook “too seriously” for your tastes. We all have our reasons.

And please, out of kindness for idiots like me who have trouble distinguishing who their real friends are and use Facebook as a way to keep track of and communicate with people, please, learn to use the Follow button instead of the Friend button.

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I have been in hibernation for the past two weeks. It started when I nearly lost my eye to a bacterial ulcer which I was about 24 hours away from being beyond help and getting fitted for a glass eye. So that was a great way to start my “new page” in life.

Here’s the funny part. My doctor told me the bacteria was probably incubating for a week or two and didn’t flare up or start to cause pain (excruciating pain) until the Saturday I made an emergency appointment. Which means I very possibly became infected during the few days in the last week of April that I was living on the streets.

Why is that funny? Well, on Wednesday, April 25th, I had a dream that eyeballs were growing out of my face like spokes. One even grew out of the top of my head on a stalk – it was very bizarre. In my dream, I was desperately trying to dig them out with my bare hands in a mirror. And at one point I realized that I had accidentally taken out my own right eye, but I kept going on in this nightmarish scenario thinking, “Better to be blind in one eye than to be covered with these things!” That was the same eye that got infected, and it is possible it became infected that day. Strange coincidence, right?

Falling off track

Crying Girl by chozoWarrior
Crying Girl by chozoWarrior

The other reason I was in hibernation was the pending event that occurred on May 15th. I can’t really talk about it much here, but lets just put it this way: It was the most devastating day of my life. As of May 15th, all I feel, all I see is darkness. I’m dead inside. This poem was a response to that day…

Like Father, Like Daughter

 

Taking flack

There are basically two things I can’t stand on this blog: Anonymous commenting/posting, and ignorant smack talk. Well, last week, I received two anonymous comments to my Let The Journey Begin blog post. One was an actual good suggestion – kind of.

“V” wrote:

You should take MB’s name from these blog posts, unless she gave you permission.

Fair enough. I took her last name down. However, I responded with a somewhat lengthy explanation of Adam Smith’s concept of the Teatre of Approval which is worth reading.

Another commented under the anonymous name “p9244” wrote:

I feel sorry for you. In addition, I hope your friend Brianna is out there with her head held high without you. This was a disappointingly sad blog to come across. Especially in this day & age with internet bullying as bad as it is.

This was quite obviously written by someone who didn’t just “come across” this blog – their IP address traced to Des Plaines. This person also obviously didn’t read the blog, because the only mention I made of Brianna was that I asked people to pray for her to heal from the hurt I have unfairly caused her.

I wrote a lovely little response to this individual’s post which I recommend you checking out.

And finally, I received another response to a different blog post, but this one was not anonymously. Melyssa Donaghy identified herself as the “Melanie” referred to in my previous post Surviving the ravings of a mad woman in an attempt to defend her not-at-risk honor it would seem. Rather, all she was really doing was coming here to further abuse me because she recently found out I quit working at Angie’s List and she wouldn’t be receiving a bonus check for recruiting me.

I highly recommend that you check out her comments. In the context of everything I disclose about her in the blog, her comments are very true to nature and only further reinforce her character. Except, the particular timing of this comment takes things to a new level entirely seeing as I had just gone through one of the darkest and hardest times of my life, having attempted twice to kill myself, and was still recovering mentally and emotionally.

It takes a certain kind of cruelty to go out of your way to try and kick someone when they’re down. You can check out her comment and my response here.

What’s next?

Well, after Tuesday’s punch in the gut I haven’t been much use to anyone or anything. I can’t eat. I can’t really stay awake or go to sleep – I’m in a half daze all the time.  I’m pretty much good for nothing, and there seems to be no end in sight. I am experiencing the strangest cocktail of conflicting and painful emotions and I am so overwhelmed and confused that I think my body has just completely short circuited and shut down.

In an attempt to try and jump start my system and move on with my life, I have decided to rent a car and drive to Joplin for the weekend to see my friend Erica Tremblay’s documentary Heartland – The Joplin Tornado Documentary. If I can survive the drive down and back, maybe I’ll be able to see a few old friends and that will lift my spirits.

Maybe.

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When I last wrote, I noted that I was very confused and had a lot to think about. Now, several days, prayers, and calories burned exercising my noodle, I would like to write about what I have processed. I will attempt to be more brief than before, but I am not making any promises!

For those of you offering to help and saying to me, “Is there anything I can do?” then this blog post is your answer. If you meant what you said, then please read what I have to say and respond as you feel led.

A quick recap

If you are reading this for the first time, it is important to know that on Sunday, at midnight on April 22nd, 2012, I made a very weak attempt to end my life. This was followed, twenty-four hours later, by a more carefully planned out attempt that would have easily succeeded had I not been, at the last second, confronted with something very thought provoking and compelling that persuaded me to delay the deed another twenty-four hours. And at that point, I backed down and changed my mind altogether. This entire process was bookended by two blog posts, one in which I announced my intent to kill myself, and the other in which I explained my reasons for not doing it.

April 22, 2012: The Cask of Zachariah

April 24, 2012: Hints, Allegations, and Things That Need to be Said

During this time, I spent about 60 hours wandering the streets of Chicago and sleeping where I could find a safe place to sleep, and eating… well, nothing. Now that I have come back from the edge, had a few good nights sleep, and put some food back in me, I have processed what I have gone through and received a calling, or an action plan, of what to do next.

Please allow me to share with you some of my thoughts.

Why did I want to do it?

Just to be clear, my motivations to kill myself were not what I could consider typical “depression” symptoms or a “lost the girl, life can’t go on” moment. I understand how it could appear that way. Rather, I very calmly and rationally came to the (mis)realization that although I had managed to keep my head above water in the past, despite my very best efforts to do the right thing, I had fallen into an inescapable pattern of hurting people around me.

I had hurt the person whom I loved most in this world while very intentionally trying to do the exact opposite and I didn’t understand why, how to undo it, or how to make it better. I was convinced that my continued “existence” was nothing but torture for this person, a torture that I carried the pain of as well, and that if I was unable to figure out how to unwind that situation, then I was forever doomed to continue in that pattern towards everyone else I came into contact with for the rest of my life.

What changed my mind?

As I explained in my second blog post, I came to a realization that my self awareness of my brokenness as a human being was something that all humans are destined to face. We are all broken. But we are intentionally put on this earth broken to be used as vessels of God’s love, not to be discarded once we outlive our usefulness.

In fact, it is when we reach our most broken state that we are most “useful” as an instrument of God, thus serving as a true testament to God’s ability to heal and a transparent conduit of God’s ability to do good in this world. I say transparent, because when something truly “worthless” and “broken” manages to bring something good into the life of someone else, it is crystal clear that the source of that goodness is not the vessel, but rather God miraculously intervening in this world.

The power of prayer

As best as I can understand, hundreds of people across the country and around the world have been praying for me: For my survival, for a peace of mind, and for God to reveal a path and direction to me. To me, payer is less of a supplication for God to accomplish something and more of a conversation with God that benefits the one praying more than anything. I am certain that at a minimum, all of you praying for me have had a chance to commune with God and hopefully catch a glimpse of the universe through his eyes. And that is good.

I cannot say with certitude whether these supplications on my behalf had a direct influence over my change of heart, my peace of mind, and the quickness with which I have been able to develop a plan (a crazy plan, but a plan nonetheless) to move forward. However, I am willing to accept on faith that this also has played a role, and if it has, then it has played a major role, because the transformation I have experienced in the last few days from “walking dead zombie about to end it all” to where I am now is nothing short of a miracle.

My first request from you

That is why I would like to make one very important request to all of you out there who have felt lead to pray for me. Please pray for Brianna. My life and my happiness is no more or less valuable in God’s eyes than hers. Don’t for a second think of praying for me without also praying for her. For one, I have caused her a tremendous amount of pain if for no other reason than the fact that I announced on Facebook that I was going to kill myself if I did not have a chance to speak with her.

Bri has suffered tremendously in her own life and is very much in her own process of healing. She also needs to reach a place of peace and reconciliation with her pain and the sources of that pain. She is a beautiful child of God and is in as bad of or worse of a place than I am right now thanks in no part to my own actions. Pray for Bri. She deserves no less prayer than I do, and if your prayers for me exacted such a transformation on my heart which was hardened and nearly dead, then I have no doubt that the same can happen for Bri.

My crazy plan: The Journey

On The RoadI have taken stock of where I am and where God is calling me to go. I have realized that I should not be living in Indianapolis, and I am currently incapable of performing satisfactorily at my job at Angie’s List. Therefore, I have resigned my position at Angie’s List, and this weekend I am packing up all my things in Indianapolis and moving back to Chicago. I am leaving for Indy to fetch my things as soon as I post this blog.

I have realized that I am not in a place where I can even commit to a permanent job at all right now. But this leaves me having to figure out how to “earn my keep” so to speak. Furthermore, I am sensing an overwhelming urge to not even sit still, but to travel across the country with a very intentional purpose in mind.

I would like to journey across the country and visit each and every one of you. I want to reconnect in person with all of the wonderful people who have been pouring out love for me. I want to, no matter how briefly, share in your lives and hopefully bring a little of the light God has shined into mine back into yours. I want to see what is happening in various parts of the country where you all reside, and do everything in my power to volunteer to help.

And along the way, I want to document my journey and share your stories as part of the fabric of the large narrative that God is trying to tell by this journey. I want to post videos, pictures, and write first hand accounts of what God is doing in your lives and how God is working in my own.

Making The Journey possible

I usually don’t have confidence about plans that seem to be so based in a fantasy as this one, but there are many very real barriers to my embarking on, much less getting very far on this journey. For one thing, I don’t own the necessary minivan which I would need to take this trip (I’ll explain why a van or minivan later). I don’t have a video camera or even a still camera. I also don’t have a job. I am about $20,000 in debt. I don’t even know how I’m going to pay my cell phone bill next month. I certainly can’t imagine how I’m going to acquire all these things in my current state, much less be able to afford gas and food along the way!

However, I am in possession of a few things. I have many worldly possessions which I no longer want or need which I am attempting to sell (any buyers out there for a 3,500 book comic book collection?). I also have the excellent work ethic my Grandpa Bob instilled in me, and the character my father has helped me develop. I have experience and know-how to design websites, design print/marketing materials, solve small business problems, and perform a variety of short-term business/marketing/operations consulting functions. I have experience as a nanny, doing hard physical labor and even a bit of carpentry.

Here is how you can help

1. First and foremost, keep praying for me.

2. Reach out to me and let me know if I am welcome to visit you so that I can factor your location into my ever evolving map of stops across the country.

3. Subscribe to my newsletter for updates. Feel free to follow my other social media links (in the sidebar) well, but the email newsletters will be the best way to get updates that you can easily ignore when you’re not in the mood.

4. Buy my stuff! I’m putting up a Buy My Stuff page on this blog soon (as soon as I get my stuff organized) that will link to all the things I’m selling.

5. Hire me! I’m primarily focused on making websites, but as you saw in the last big paragraph above, I can do just about anything.

6. Refer me to someone to hire me. Or just share this blog with people you think might be interested.

7. Donate some funds. Any donations received in excess of necessary equipment (I’m trying to buy a van) and basic necessities (food, gas, etc.) will be re-donated to others in need whom I encounter along the way. If I use any donations early on, but find myself earning excess income later, I will still pay all donations forward out of excess income. And of course, this will all be documented and posted on my blog.

There are plenty of other people out there who need financial help more than I do. I am just stuck right now and figuring out how to get started. My entire purpose of this journey is to pay-it-forward and to be a conduit of God’s love and support for others, so please don’t think for one second I am expecting to be subsidized. I’m just in a hole right now and need help crawling out so I can continue to walk on my own.

To donate, go here: http://www.gofundme.com/the-journey – active now

Thank you for the love

Again, I cannot say enough how grateful I am to the outpouring of love and support and prayers from the hundreds of people who have already made the effort to reach me. I am still in the process of digesting everything and returning correspondence. It is quite overwhelming, and it is quite humbling.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes: Be intentional and proactive with your relationships and don’t let the important people in your life drift into the past without a fight. And remember, someone else is still hurting. People matter more than any idea more than any dream and more than any personal sorrow.

Should I thirst for knowledge
Can I beg you for some water
Should I fight your battles
Can I rest upon your shoulders
I hope I’m able to ride out this storm
So come on Gabriel and blow your horn
Reach, reach out to me
Can’t you see I need you to save me
Yeah, reach, reach out to me
Can’t you see I need you to hold me

– Collective Soul, “Reach”

Most people are used to me being long-winded, but for those of you who are not, I am going to warn you: This is going to be long. Please, though, for those who have reached out to me, silently worried about me, prayed for me, this is necessary for you to read.

This is the “payoff” for all your worry and prayers, otherwise, it wasn’t worthwhile. And if you have been asking people to pray for me who do not know me, please share this with them so that they can share in the “payoff.”

Until last night, the closest I had ever come to killing myself was in 1997 when I found out I was kicked out of my Christian rock band, Crosseyed. Upon hearing the news during lunch, I went into a trance, walked out of school, “stole” my dad’s minivan, got on a back highway, and drove with the intention of jumping off the nearest bridge when the car ran out of gas.

Just being kicked out of the band wasn’t why I wanted to end it all. It was because I had been experiencing tremendous guilt and pain for having very foolishly walked into a dangerous situation two years prior that lead to me being raped. Singing “God music” was my penance for my guilt. However, kids being what they are, and Joplin being what it was, I was constantly teased about being gay – which is, for the average insecure heterosexual male, difficult enough, but, for a guy whose first sexual experience was being forcibly violated by another man and believed it was his own fault, it was quite another matter.

So, the real kicker to the story was that I was told that the reason I was being kicked out of the band was to spare the band’s reputation of having a rumored faggot as their front man. It was an irony that my young mind was unable to interpret this as “hilarious irony” but rather interpreted the situation as being so far “gone” that I could not even earn my dignity (and God’s forgiveness) back, as this one lost opportunity was supposed to accomplish.

Down by the sea
I think I saw our love dissolve

So plant a little seed
Soon it starts growing
Shed a little light
Soon we’ll be glowing
Hear a little tune
Soon we’ll start singing
Give a little love
Then love will start breathing

– Collective Soul, “Breathe”

There was about an hour’s worth of gas in the car, and there was a tape in the tape deck, so I had just enough time to listen to Collective Soul’s first album, “Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid” before I did the deed. It was the first time I ever heard God speak directly to me, and it came through the voice of an unlikely alternative rock band with a picture of Sweeney Todd on their album cover.

The album started somewhere in the middle, which ironically made the songs play in an order that made even more sense to me than if they had started with the first track and play to the last. As is obvious, I did not kill myself that afternoon, and for the first time in my life, I learned, through Collective Soul lyrics, that God felt my pain and wanted me to let him in so that he could shoulder my burdens.

Last night, I came so much closer to finishing what I started almost exactly fourteen years ago. But this time, I didn’t have a one-hour drive and a rock album. I had 24-hours of excruciatingly painful, yet carefully planned time to literally feel completely dead mentally. I have never felt so numb nor desired to be so cut-off from everyone in all my life. I literally felt like the walking dead ever since the clock struck midnight and I had “missed” my deadline to finish the job.

This time, however, my reasons were quite different. As I said before, I have not been suffering from depression, I simply had woken up and saw all these signs pointing to the same conclusion: It was my time to exit stage left, and God wanted me to carry out the stage directions myself. If there was no God, then it made even more sense: It was a process of natural selection and nature was simply taking its course to self-eliminate inadequate and inefficient creatures from its ever improving universe.

Push me to the left, hold me to the right
I never know where to go
Burning that trail to the promised land
You’re moving on out of control
Well I don’t want to be some puppet on a string
And I don’t want to learn of things you can’t explain
And I don’t want to have your views on everything
I just want to scream

Scream about hurting
Scream about mercy
Scream about something
Scream about nothing

There you go with all your might
Giving promises by decree
Well God is great and God is good
But God you’ll never be
Well I don’t want to be in your hospitality
And I don’t want to live in false reality
See I’m the one obsessed with truth and honesty
I just want to scream

– Collective Soul, “Scream”

I find it disheartening to know that so many people thought I was joking about killing myself. I have a dark humor, but goodness… not that dark! I also find it disheartening that some people didn’t take me seriously and thought I was putting on a show. I guess no one wants to not be taken seriously. Maybe those people have threatened suicide for a manipulative reason themselves and they just thought this was the same thing. It certainly was easy to interpret that way.

I’m not going to try to change anyone’s mind: If I really wanted to change people’s minds, I would just go through with it. That would show them! I’m also not going to go into too many details of how close I came. I certainly didn’t have a “come to Jesus moment” at the last second, but I also spent a good 24 hours plotting and planning and practicing being “numb” so that when the time came it would be harder to have last second thoughts or chicken out. But, I’ll get to why I didn’t go through with it in a moment.

What I do need to do right now is better explain why I wanted to go through with it which my Edgar Allen Poe references and Facebook posts didn’t do very well. Cue eye rolls and “here we go again” sighs.

You see, I’ve gone through the “lost the girl of my dreams” once before and managed to survive. Twice in fact. And each time, “suicidal threats” were involved but not at all serious. The first time, I was very poorly advised to check myself into a hospital and “fake” wanting to commit suicide because it was an excusable escape – a vacation – from the pressures at the time that were preventing me from grieving and healing. And, after all, my insurance would pay for it! What a great scam, right? Except, as it turned out I wasn’t insured, and after about two days of “vacation” I was ready to go back out and face my problems, but the hospital had a seven day minimum holding period and so it actually became the opposite of a vacation, and my problems were much worse that time.

The second time, I’m ashamed to admit, while I did feel down, and I did feel depressed, I manipulated those feelings and myself into creating a false suicide plea to get some attention. At this point in my life, I have learned to be quite content with being single, and no amount of “lost love” would ever push me over the edge.

Been thinking a lot about my ways
Guess I’m sorry baby
Been searching
Out a way to say
Guess I’m sorry baby
This time I gave all to you
It’s time I prove something to you

So I’ll lift you up and hold you near
Warm your heart and calm your fears
See I don’t want to lose this love I found
So I’ll burn my bridges, burn them down

Been hurting a lot without  you here
Guess I need you baby
Been sleeping upon a bed of tears
Guess I miss you baby
This time I give all to you
It’s time I prove something to you

Take all my world and shake it
Take my dear heart and embrace it
Take what I say and listen
My world’s changing, changing for you

– Collective Soul, “Burning Bridges”

This time was very different. You know how they say that every time God closes a door, he opens a window? Well, in my life – maybe because I’m such an optimist – I’ve noticed that every time God closes a door, he opens a giant gate for me.

When I lost my Air Force career, I could have dwelt on the shock and the sting of it all and let that turn into seething bitterness over the injustice and unfairness of my four-year roller-coaster ride that ended in a cliff drop. But, I was too distracted with the “vision” I had of my bright future.

You see, I was going to go back to UIC, make straight A’s, participate in all the “right” extra curricular, and earn my way into being competitive enough for a top rated Masters of Public Administration program. During the summer off, I was going to take a bike ride across the U.S. (see my first Aspirations post on this blog) and pay for it with a video blog gimmick and corporate sponsorship (an idea that was slightly ahead of its time then, but seems pretty normal now I guess).

After I earned my MPA, I planned on joining Teach for America, then going BACK to school with a TFA fellowship at the Kennedy School for Government to get a joint PhD in Public Administration and JD at one of eight participating Universities (such as University of Chicago). Then, with all this knowledge and experience, I was going to launch my “revolutionary” and completely unheard of private school system which was designed to actually make private school as affordable as public school, thus slowly eroding the need for “public” education altogether and becoming a model for other social entrepreneurs to follow.

Okay, so delusions of grandeur are not anything I was suffering a shortage of. But, on paper, everything except the last part of the plan was completely achievable… IF I was able to follow my plan perfectly and not make one misstep. On paper, I had everything else I needed up to that point to achieve those goals, and I was very confident in my ability to follow through.

Then I had a few missteps. The first was my attempts to transform UIC’s Undergraduate Student Government: Which I initially approached as a resume building hobby (like all the normal college students who were participating in it) but quickly felt honor-bound to throw my entire soul into “fixing” to the point that it appeared to be nothing more than an sick obsession to those who didn’t know me very well. And I lost sight of my goal and suffered my first major blow to my plan when I bombed my GPA.

This was something I could recover from, however. I just had to be academically perfect with a capital P from that point on. Then came my next distraction: the Argus. Again, motivated by a sense of honor and justice, I threw myself full force into launching this newspaper and providing what I thought was a good and necessary service to the school I loved so much.

In the process, I discovered something in my business partner, Brianna: I was a half, and she completed me. Now, before you start rolling your eyes again, I’m not referring to the romantic, soul-mate, Aristophanes sense of being a half. I don’t believe in that stuff. I believe the opposite: You can only truly love someone when you are a whole first.

I’m talking about a common situation that arrises among entrepreneurs. Every Jobs needs their Woz. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs achieved success because they found the perfect “business balance” partner to temper each other’s strengths and weaknesses against. Many times, these partners work together on project after project because they realize that the perfect business partner is a once-in-a-lifetime find and some people can’t even find theirs in their own lifetime.

Girls come and go, and love is always waiting around the corner. But, “Briannas” are my Unobtanium, and once you find one you never give them up. Bri expressed a similar feeling about me, and when we started dating, we vowed to never let a possible break-up destroy our partnership because we both recognized how well we complimented each other and how rare that would be to find in others. It also helped that we loved each other. At least, I know I love Bri, I shouldn’t really presume to speak for her just because I wanted to believe that was true.

Watch my world spin round
It stops for you
I’ll give you heaven for a view
I set my sights on high my aim is true
I’d walk on water just for you

All is all I can give you
All is all I can do
All is all I wish for when I’m with you

Come lay your troubles down
Rest here with me
My kingdom is all yours to receive

Well, I’ll push the clouds away
So you can have sunshine
I’ll give you anything that your heart desires

– Collective Soul, “All”

This assurance of Bri’s rarity, and of our mutual devotion to our friendship and partnership lead me to make some very dangerous decisions. I allowed our first venture, the Argus, to take priority over school: After all, an MPA, PhD, and JD can be obtained anytime and anywhere, but a Bri: That is something worth fighting for (again, feelings of love may have also been playing tricks on my logic here).

I think Bri and I both pushed ourselves to limits neither of us knew we could sustain trying to make the Argus succeed. But, the cards were stacked against us. I would like to say it was a miracle we made it as far as we did, but it was really a combination of our insane and tireless efforts and the contributions of some crazy helpful, valuable, and oh-so-destined to be successful college students who joined our staff. So, maybe it was a miracle. I recognize now that without each other, both of us would have given up sooner: We pushed those limits more for the other person for ourselves at times. And it took its toll.

So, I torpedoed my “perfect plan” for the Argus, although I think it was really more for Bri. I had found something more valuable to me than a “perfect plan.” I saw less risk in this new path I was taking. In fact, when all was said and done, I was quite apt to regret having gone to college altogether: I realized in hindsight that I could have pushed myself further towards my newly discovered career path as an entrepreneur without college and even learned a lot more in four years than I did at UIC.

But, I didn’t regret it, because one extremely good thing came out what I otherwise would have considered a giant waste of time: Bri.

Somebody told me about a worn out distraction
That I had let slip away
Then it comes back and rides my shoulders
And burdens me every new day
Well I’ll just sit here like a slow burn out
And try to figure out how to do without you

Who’s going to straighten me up when I’m leaning
Who’s going to soothe my heart when it’s burning
Who’s going to be the one to tell me everything’s
All right well, goodnight, good guy

– Collective Soul, “Goodnight Good Guy”

This is all a very round-about way to bring it to answering the question, “Why did you seriously contemplate suicide!?” I’m almost there…

The strange thing is, for the past month I have had an itch in the back of my head that everything was leading up to my inevitable demise. I pretended that the feeling wasn’t there, but in retrospect, it explains a lot of my behavior. For example, about a week ago, I felt the need to write some old friends with whom I had lost contact and felt I never told them how much they meant to me. It seemed out of the blue at the time, but now I know that I suspected my own death was eminent.

As the day of reckoning drew closer, I went to even greater lengths to mask the feeling of my inevitable demise from myself and those around me. Yet the suspicion was still there. And just like when I was kicked out of “Crosseyed” the reasoning was two-fold and intertwined.

First, as I said before in my Facebook post, I was becoming confident and painfully aware of a persistent fact about my life: I hurt people. Even when I have the best of intentions, even when I believe I am acting out of love, I still somehow manage to hurt people! I even was beginning to believe that I actually CHANGE people and leave them worse off than when I found them. You can try to debate me on this all you want, but you’re not going to convince me otherwise. I just knew one thing: Surely something was wrong with me. Surely my time of productive contribution to society had jumped the shark at an earlier point in my life.

And my love for Bri, not just as a girlfriend or a partner, but as a beautiful human being whom I respected and admired, ran very deep. If it was true that I had somehow contributed to the pain of her life and somehow held her back for three years as she seemed to communicate to me, I felt that I had committed a crime which was unforgivable, and worse yet, I didn’t know how to avoid committing it in the future! The only logical solution was capital punishment.

Second, what I didn’t mention before, was my selfish and insecure reason which I am still somewhat coming to grips with: For the first time in my life since I lost my position of lead singer in a rock band, I didn’t see a gate, much less a window, looming around the corner of this closed door in my life. Really though, I admired Bri so much, and she was so “larger than life” to me, that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her as a friend or partner.

And I placed a great deal of trust on Bri’s honor to keep her word to me that we would never let a broken relationship destroy our friendship and partnership. If she was willing to forsake that, then to me that was an obvious sign that I really must have done something tremendously damaging and unforgivable.

Give me a word
Give me a sign
Show me where to look
Tell me what will I find (will I find)
Lay me on the ground
Fly me in the sky
Show me where to look
Tell me what will I find (will I find)

Oh, heaven let your light shine down
Oh, heaven let your light shine down
Oh, heaven let your light shine down
Oh, heaven let your light shine down

Love is in the water
Love is in the air
Show me where to go
Tell me will love be there (love be there)
Teach me how to speak
Teach me how to share
Teach me where to go
Tell me will love be there (love be there)

– Collective Soul, “Shine”

And thus my conundrum: Even if I did win Bri back as a friend or girlfriend, I was already convinced of my “cancerous nature” to those around me and I figured that it was inevitable that I would only cause more pain down the line. And if I didn’t, it would just be someone else. Either way, I realized that I had sacrificed my “perfect plan” for naught and that the one redeeming value of the past four years was now gone.

What was worse, the place I found myself currently in was all just a tremendous sacrifice for the hope of a future with Bri and I didn’t find any value outside of that hope to be there nor did I conceive of any way to progress to a better place where I would be happy. What was the point of living friendless in a city I didn’t enjoy much, struggling at a job that only a fraction of me was really suited to perform, over the course of three to five years raising venture capital if I couldn’t be an entrepreneur with “the most perfect partner in the world?”

The real kicker was simply that I concluded that I was now caught in what would be a never-ending cycle that would never get me anywhere worthwhile, would repeatedly hurt those closest to me, and found its origins in the fact that whatever good I was meant to do on this earth had run its course.

That is why when people would say to me, “You meant so much to me! You positively impacted me!” I couldn’t help but think, sure, the first season of Heroes was groundbreaking and amazing, but after a few more seasons the show got so bad that it just had to be canceled. In other words, sure I did “good” things to people in the past, but that was just my first few seasons. Those people didn’t know who I was now or comprehend where my life was going, so they couldn’t truly estimate the necessity of cancelation.

Something’s going wrong inside of you
Burdens bearing down and seeping through
Well, I don’t want to bleed anymore for you
And I don’t want to breathe any hatred too

Sitting while your world just floats around
Now you want to move ’cause it’s crashing down
Well, I don’t want to sing you guarantees
And I don’t want to cling to our used to be’s
So take your heart, take your soul
Just get yourself on out of here
Yeah, just take your hurt, take your pain
Just get yourself on out of here

Wasting time
That’s all you’ll do if you’re waiting for me
Wasting time
I don’t see what you think I see
Wasting time
That’s all you’ll do if you’re waiting for me
Wasting time
I don’t want what you think I need

– Collective Soul, “Wasting Time”

So, thus began my twenty-four hour journey towards (and wrapped in) death. I pridefully made a bargain with God. I knew that no one was going to convince me not to kill myself: I’d heard it all before, and I wasn’t of a mind to give anyone a chance to get through to me now and try to talk me down. So, I told God that if I could successfully avoid discovery over the next twenty-four hours then that was a sign that God wanted me to go through with it.

To be fair, I didn’t go hide in one of the million cozy hiding places in Chicago I could have gone (although these places did make some nice sleeping spots two nights in a row – being homeless in Chicago isn’t as hard as it looks!) I actually made it pretty easy to find me. I went to many public places where I was likely to run into someone I knew. I went to places where, if the police were looking very hard, they would have been looking for me there. I even got pretty brave and hung around outside a police station for four hours!

Funny side note: I went to the Student Center East at UIC, but I was convinced it was a pretty safe place to not be noticed by anyone I knew. Almost everyone I knew had graduated. It wasn’t until later that I found out that, due to social networking, my story had been passed around among many current students in Asian American InterVarsity and I had probably made it very likely that I would be “spotted” there. Maybe not as likely as I think – I was probably more of a name than a face to most people – but certainly more likely than being “spotted” in the laundry mat in Pilsen where I charged my phone.

Needless to say, I wasn’t discovered or “spotted” by anyone even though I was making it easy. This was a good enough sign to me. By the time I posted my second Facebook post and updated a few spelling errors in my blog (who wants to be remembered as having poor spelling?) I had arrived at the place I wanted to finish the job and I was ready to make the final preparations.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I opted on the hanging method. Not a rope hanging (ropes are so unreliable) but a nice modern-day reinforced coaxial cable hanging. Hanging carries many negative risks if you don’t do it right, but if you are meticulous, scientific, and work in a few redundant backups it can be extremely effective and not very messy – IF you do it exactly right. There is a pain risk that can be reduced by careful planning, but I wasn’t really afraid of pain. Why waste your last moments alive by NOT experiencing a sensory blast that most living people never get to experience?

Plus, if you’re feeling extra confident and creative, you can get extremely poetic with a hanging and – well, I have never been accused of not being confident or not being creative. In fact, I was feeling so creative that as a courtesy, I planned out a pretty good method of informing the appropriate authorities of where my body would be found so that some “innocent” wouldn’t stumble upon it. I was going to complete the task in the early morning hours which only gave me a few hours to be found by someone I told.

If I was too direct, I risked being found within 10-15 minutes, and in a worst case scenario, if the hanging didn’t go as planned, I needed about 20 minutes for the “backup” to finish the job. In a botched hanging, those 20 minutes can be crucial. If you are rescued before you are finished, you are probably going to spend the rest of your life as a quadriplegic and possibly brain damaged. Now, this thought didn’t really scare me that much, but if you’re offing yourself as a means of removing a “burden from society” then transforming yourself into a quadriplegic invalid is not moving in the appropriate direction.

Overseas through the air
Touched your heart down with care
All the thoughts left behind
Soon will catch you in time
Well, if I could, you know I would
Let salvation reign on you
So, won’t you push away
All this pain that you’ve been through

While the scenes shuffle ’round
Let your wold anchor down
Pull your heart from your sleeve
First react then believe
You won’t always get thunder
To warn you of storms ahead
So bury all this pain
And get on with your life again

Conquer some serenity
Lay yourself in fields of poetry
Close your eyes to all you see
Lay your weary head here with me

– Collective Soul, “Sister Don’t Cry”

All this time it took to pay attention to detail and to properly tie a coaxial cable into a perfect noose (there’s a trick to it, and most people mess this part up, TRUST me) started to take even longer than I had thought. I actually became bored and decided to pass the time reading all the comments on my blog that I had been stubbornly ignoring. I figured, what is the risk? I’m so desensitized and numb now, nothing I read is going to give me pause at this point.

And, I hate to say it, but for the most part nothing did. It was what I expected and I had done a pretty good job of meditating myself into a very numb trance as I prepped to avoid the likely “last minute struggle for survival.”

Then I read something I didn’t expect. And it came from the last place I expected to read it which was even more impacting. Oops.

Has anyone here ever read “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” per chance?

Well, that has nothing to do with what I’m about to say, but I figured this story was getting way too serious and heavy for anyone to believe it was actually from me if I didn’t throw in a completely random inside joke. Have some humor folks.

Now, please take what I am about to say with a big grain of salt: I despise my brother, Daka. No, I don’t sit around thinking about how much I don’t like him. I do the opposite! I sit around thinking about how much I love him. I try so hard to love him. But for some unexplained reason, no matter how much I really do love him (I do love you, Daka), I can’t help but have a complete and in-extractable lack of respect for him. I’ve tried. I’ve prayed. I’ve rationalized. I’ve looked for plenty of good things to change my seemingly irrational, unchangeable gut feeling. But, I have struggled with this for years and never could shake it. This morning, I think I discovered why.

Wait just a second now
Love’s easier lost than found
So learn baby learn
It’s time to up and turn the other way
Yeah peace baby peace
It’s past time to release and fly away

Once I was down and couldn’t see
Then love lifted me
Yeah love; it was love
I believe that love lifted me

– Collective Soul, “Love Lifted Me”

So, Daka wrote a very interesting response on my blog post that I actually stumbled across while on a break from knot tying and cleaning out my email inbox. That’s when you know someone has OCD, by the way: They are hours away from killing themselves and they can’t resist the urge to make sure they don’t have any spam sitting in their inbox.

I’m not going to try to repeat or paraphrase what Daka wrote to me. You can check out the previous blog post and find his comments below it. It is better to read his own words. But, out of everything I had read, even in my numb state, this managed to pierce through and surprise me. And considering the source, THAT surprised me even more!

Okay, I won’t make you work too hard – here’s what I basically read (or at least the impression I got) from the comment Daka wrote to me:

All my feelings about being a cancer in the world and not deserving to live were dead on. I don’t deserve to live. But, then again, neither do those guys who raped me. Neither does the Sergeant who bragged about abusing prisoners at Gitmo and then worked to kick me out of Chinese school when I confronted him about it. If I’m feeling extremely mean, neither does the kind of girl who would date other men while we were in a serious relationship, lie about our relationship to string men along, and then stay with me just long enough to get what she needed before casting me aside.

Wait a second. I have my faults, but I’m not as cold and premeditated in my sins as those people! My sins tend to be more mistakes or crimes of passion. Plus, even ignoring all those, I still felt like when I tried to do good things, even THOSE turned out bad! So, I really shouldn’t compare myself to all the scumbags in my life whom I felt had done me injustice. They were cold hard criminals who knew what they were doing. I was worse! Even my attempts to be good hurt people, and if I turned into a cold hard criminal, well, just imagine the damage I could do.

This made me think of a verse in the Bible that illustrates this point:

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” ~ Isaiah 64:6

No one ever thought about sharing that Bible verse to someone contemplating suicide, did they? Well, neither did my brother, but that was basically what he was saying.

My brother went on to state, as the verse does, that we are all pretty worthless. Even the best and most righteous among us still deserve to die – not eventually, but right now! The only reason we are kept alive is because God wants to demonstrate grace and, get this, work THROUGH us.

And why would God want to work through such imperfect and filthy vessels you might ask? Well, it would seem to me, that if someone as evil and worthless as me – someone who causes others pain when he tries to do right by them – can somehow do something good, then that is a pretty powerful indication that God is at work and he is working a miracle and people better pay attention.

Okay, that gave me something to think about. Maybe God created me as a cancer (sorry guys who kept telling me it was impossible for God to create a cancer) because he wanted to show the world how miraculously he could HEAL me rather than what I originally assumed which was that I started out somewhat okay, but had turned into a cancer later in life and now God was trusting me to self-eliminate. Yeah guys, I didn’t even think that God had actually created me as a cancer, I just figured I eventually ended up that way: But, now I am pretty convinced that he did!

I decided to take some more time and think about this. It didn’t take me very long to figure out something else. The message itself which I was pondering wasn’t the most important thing for me to think about: It was the syntax. How on earth could my little brother, the guy whom I had almost no respect for – especially where spiritual maturity was concerned – have managed to write something so wise and gifted that it would give me pause?

Clearly, this wasn’t my brother speaking. This was God speaking directly to me through my brother. And just like the message was already trying to say: “God wants to work a miracle by revealing himself to the world through you, you despicable and worthless vessel,” God was reinforcing that message through my (no offense Daka) despicable and worthless little brother.

And all of the sudden, it made perfect sense why I could never get over my seemingly unfounded and irrational feelings of disrespect for my little brother. God has been planning, all these years, to someday use him as a way to get through to me in a very complicated and yet completely poetic way.

The walls came up as the thoughts went down
To the hush of disparity
Sure we know the problem lies
With some insecurities
But we’ll never see eye to eye
As long as our tongues are tied
And we’ll never be seen as one
Until we find love

In a moment it could happen
We could wake up and be laughing
In a moment it could happen
We could forgive and be happy

It’s a shame our world responds to life
As a puzzle in disguise
I wish our course would lead us towards
The peace and loving kind
But we’ll never walk hand in hand
Until we let old wounds mend
And we’ll never sing songs as one
Until we find love

In a moment some wisdom could be learned
In a moment new voices could be heard
In a moment we could make heads turn
In a moment we could change

– Collective Soul, “In a Moment”

So where do I go from here, you might be wondering. Well, I really don’t know. I know that because of my actions, my options have become much more limited than they were 48 hours ago. Which is bad, considering that my options felt so limited that I wanted to kill myself 48 hours ago. So, now that I am coming out of the valley, I can’t really see any light at the end of the tunnel, but I have the faith that there is a slight chance that it might be there.

And considering the mental game I have been playing with myself in order to assure “suicidal success” I am going to need a little more time to unwind, clear my head, and figure out the next step.

Am I in a mental state that is going to lead me to relapse? No. But, am I in a mental state to move back to Indianapolis (where I am isolated and cut off from my support network) and fulfill my duties in my job there as I was hired to do? Maybe not. It is embarrassing and hurts my pride, but I don’t want to walk out of the frying pan into a fire right now.

As completely irrational and foolish as this might sound – and as selfish as it might sound (something my pride also doesn’t want anyone to think of me), I might just need a few weeks or a month to go on a journey – or continue the journey I started a few days ago – to discover exactly what I can do next.

Then again, maybe what God wants me to do next is to suck it up and go right back into the belly of the beast so he can very quickly and immediately prove his ability to work miracles through me and somehow I’m going to transform into an incredible salesman overnight DESPITE the fact that by all measurable accounts, I am not in a mental state to pull that off.

Then again, maybe that would make TOO much sense and be TOO easy and I am getting ahead of myself for the purpose of appearing “strong and put together” to everyone else.

As you can see, I’m very confused (and mentally drained right now) and probably am not going to have any clear ideas of what to do next tonight. So, I am going to try to find a place to rest my head and get some sleep and then spend the better part of tomorrow in solitude sorting through my thoughts. If you’ve been dying to hear me reassure you in person that I am okay, I’m sorry, but I’m still not ready for that yet. I have too much on my mind right now to be able to keep it together and offer a sincere conversation – or even just a vocal hello – to anyone right now. I’m sorry.

And to my family members, please don’t take offense that I still haven’t reached out to contact you and tell you in person that I am okay but am opting to do it through this impersonal blog. I’m not quite ready. By tomorrow evening, I suspect I will be. It will be hard, and will require me to swallow a lot of pride, but I might as well peel that bandaid off. Sometimes, a drastic shock to the system in a good and necessary thing. Just maybe not a “final solution” drastic shock.

Who’s gonna bring me to heaven
When heaven’s already here

No more living in darkness
Now that love lights my way
I don’t need any new change
To make me love today

– Collective Soul, “Heaven’s Already Here”

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Or, how a girl named Brianna became the final brick in the wall.

BRICK #1 – 1995: I was raped by two men while waiting for my older sister to get off work.

BRICK #2 – 1996: I suffered humiliation and ostracism and was called a fag and rejected by Joplin. I gave up my virginity to a random skanky girl just to prove they were wrong to myself.

BRICK #3 – 1997: I was kicked out of my Christian contemporary music band because “everyone thought I was gay.”

BRICK #4 – 1998: I transferred to Seneca High School and lost all hope and motivation of getting a good education or into a good college. So I completely gave up even though I had scored a 31 on the ACT in 8th grade.

BRICK #5 – 1999: I did not make it into acting school. Instead, I went to Greenville College and began to take on mountains of debt for one of the most worthless and miserable years of my life.

BRICK #6 – 2000: I transferred to UIC and promptly dropped out at the promptings of my girlfriend, Nicky. She also encouraged me to build up my credit card debt. When she was done with me I was over $30,000 in the hole on just plastic alone. I have still never paid it off.

BRICK #7 – 2001: Nicky dumped me and I checked into a hospital without insurance. I walked out a week later over $70,000 in total debt.

BRICK #8 – 2002: I dropped out of college again because I couldn’t keep up with credit card payments and classes. Then I lost both my jobs. At one point, I found myself going through trash for food. I lost all my dignity.

BRICK #9 – 2003: I joined the Air Force and was tricked into switching from EOD to linguist under the pretence that I would be a Chinese linguist. I got assigned to Arabic. I fought for six months to switch to Chinese pr back to EOD. Unable to handle it, I got black out drunk twice and found myself in a hospital once and at a stranger’s house another time, losing what little dignity as a human being I might have had left.

BRICK #10 – 2004: My hero, Grandpa Bob Wiedeman, died a couple months after my Grandma Rosie (his wife). I was devistated they never lived to see me make anything of myself and I am devistated to this day. On the bright side I was switched into Chinese school… but…

BRICK #11 – 2005: In my quest to reinvent myself as the most honorable and best Airman I could be, I made enemies with other unscrupulous Airmen who stopped at nothing to bring me down until I was stripped of my honor as Flight Chief – something I worked 8 months to attain – on completely made up (yet corroborated by two individuals) accusations of making racist remarks. I also privately confronted an Army Sergeant (Brooks) who bragged to my classmates about abusing prisoners when he was an interrogator at Gitmo. In order to silence and get rid of me, he and an Army Master Sergeant and Army Captain conspired together and had me kicked out of Chinese language school three months before graduating. I was reassigned to computer network maintenance. At my next tech school, I met and fell in love with the most amazing girl in the world, but…

BRICK #12 – 2006: After financially and emotionally supporting her when she lost her job and house in Katrina, she moved to California with me and once she got back on her feet, she dumped me and complained to my First Sergeant to kick me out of our house with only 2 weeks notice. Then, I found that not only she been telling other people that she was single the entire 18 months we were dating (and living together), that among the many excuses she made to guys who “found out” about me was that I was “just some creepy stalker guy who was obsessed with her and thought we were dating because I didn’t have a grip on reality.” That excuse happened 6 months into our relationship when we were discussing how she could move to California with me and whether or not we should elope.

BRICK #13 – 2007: My next roommate kicked me out with of her apartment with 4 hours notice because she thought my dog stayed at the apartment one night. My dog stayed in my car that night because my ex threatened to take her to the pound if I didn’t come get her that same day. Cracking under the stress of my failed relationship and continually taking heat from my Commander due to the fact that my ex was still was calling my unit to “complain” about me (despite the fact that I had not seen or spoken to her in months and about opposite things: “The utilities are all still in his name!” Then next week: “He canceled all the utilities!”). Eventually I found out that she was threatening to falsely accuse me of a crime, so I begged my commander for a way to get out of California and away from her . He helped me get a fake diagnosis to get out for “mental health” reasons. Thus, despite making Staff Sergeant in under 4 years and having one of the most promising Air Force careers in decades, my “career” came to an abrupt halt. I vowed to “give her her space” harboring the secret hope that she would feel bad for what she did and someday come back to me. I never heard from her again.

BRICK #14 – 2008: I was fired from being a Kaplan tutor because of a misunderstanding in the first week of training about our teaching assignments, thus crushing a dream and derailing something I had worked so hard to achieve… Then I started my job as an RA which marked the beginning of the end of my straight-A college career that I miraculiously was allowed to restart at UIC.

BRICK #15 – 2009: I became involved in Undergraduate Student Government and fought to make positive changes only to have my efforts overwhelmed by slimy “politician” wannabes Joel Ebert & Chris Olsen who almost stole an entire election but failed – due to my tireless efforts to expose their fraud. I nearly failed out of school and my efforts were rewarded by… nothing. I became the victim or a negative PR campaign and lost my reputation, my credibility, and some of my closest friends.

BRICK #16 – 2010: The greatest love of my life, Brianna, and I started a newspaper only to falter due to two of our partners and coworkers being incompetent, lying, substance abusers. We lost sleep, lost GPA standings, and lost many friends in the process…

BRICK #17 – 2010: Due to excessive turnover and a small core of vital team members continually failing to follow through with their commitments and duties, Bri and I gave up on our newspaper, the Argus, but not after first working 80 hour weeks, losing numerous friends and almost losing each other. It burned us both out to the core. I dropped out of school (again) to try to keep it going. This caused my GI Bill to go “retroactive” simultanioisly indebting me to the government for several grand and causing me to go into collections on all my credit cards. Bri and I swore we would reinvent the Argus again someday and that would be the first of many business ventures we were planning together. I came to value Bri as the yin to my yang and couldn’t image launching a business venture without her.

BRICK #18 – 2011: After a rough year, Bri and I broke up/took a break. My roommate and former Argus Editor (and one of Bri’s and my best friends), Tommy Barnett, screwed me out of over $1000 in rent and attacked me with a knife when I threatened to sue him. Bri was horrified. It nearly destroyed what little relationship we had left.

THE FINAL BRICK – NOW: After my relationship with Bri began to show signs of mending, I turned down a job offer in Chicago and took a promising ($$) job in Indianapolis to help Bri get out of Chicago ASAP (she told me she HAD to get out of Chicago) and help us become financially independent enough to go anywhere and start our own business together somewhere. I moved to a stange city where I knew no one, left all my furniture with Bri, slept on a foam mat and bunched up blankets, ate PB & honey sandwiches and cereal every day (sometimes I would have a lunch meat sandwich as a bonus to myself) to save money, tripled my rent and living expenses, and took what was supposed to be a temporary salary cut (while I built up my “pipeline” in this 100% commission job). All while paying Bri back $$ she had loaned me the year before when the business was failing and I had lost all my money in it. I paid her full rent every month since I left.

If curiosity can kill a cat, can false hopes kill a Zach?After being gone two weeks, Bri started to have a breakdown and supposedly missed me so much it was driving her crazy and making her feel so much pain… After a crazy “argument” one night which basically revolved around nothing I did being good enough for her, Bri and I decided that she had codependency issues with me and that it was unhealthy for both of us to talk on the phone every day while adjusting to the seperation. We (I thought) agreed to take a “technology break” and only write letters. This “seperation” killed me and caused me to feel even more lonely and stressed in my new unfamiliar environment, but I vowed to keep it up “for Bri” and I wrote her letters weekly.

After a month of this, I visited Chicago and saw Bri and learned that she at first had misunderstood our “mutual” agreement and thought I had “commanded” her to not contact me (which didn’t actually fit with the text messages she sent me after our last conversation thanking me for our conversation or the fact that she went from 3-4 phone calls per day to zero after that night). Even though she was “slightly angry” with me for this but “getting over it” she was grateful because the separation was actually helping her realize some of the “best and most positive changes in her life” that she had ever experienced. We left on good terms and she told me the only thing really preventing her from writing me back was that she didn’t have stamps.

I sent her a book of stamps in next letter to her. The next week, I received a very positive letter that said she had never felt so happy in all her life and “thank you for the stamps.” I wrote her again offering to visit her on her Birthday (April 11), but never heard back.

Meanwhile, my discomfort with being “stranded” in Indianapolis without a car, striking out week after week at making friends, my low income, my dog, Starbuck, not living with me, and the stress of discovering myself “failing” in my new job all started to weigh me down. The only thing keeping me going was a going away gift Bri gave me (a handmade framed art piece of all the things that Bri and I shared) on which she wrote on the back that she missed me, she was proud of me, and she would be joining me in Indianapolis soon. I might have been miserable, but the one thing that kept me going was the hope of soon being reunited with Bri.

I returned to Chicago this weekend, slightly puzzled that I had only received just the one letter from Bri that month despite sending her four letters myself, but cluelessly optimistic about seeing her and catching up and receiving that breath of fresh air to return to Indianapolis and be miserable and lonely for another month.

Instead, Bri “greeted” my return (via text) with coldness and anger and a refusal to see or speaking with me. Completely confused and getting no explanation of the seemingly sudden change of heart from Bri over texts, I finally got her on the phone.

And that is when she blasted me with so much hate and bitterness and anger for…

(a) the fact that she only just now realized that she was never happy, but was always miserable in our three year relationship (all because of me),

(b) the fact that I had “forgotten” her Birthday (somehow she never received the Birthday letter I sent her two weeks prior nor had she received the Birthday gift I bought and mailed to her),

(c) the fact that I had “abandonded” her when she “needed me the most” (for switching to the letters only communication attempt),

(d) all the drama I forced her to suffer through including the collapse of our business and the drama of Tommy Barnett,

(e) and every other transgression I had ever committed against her or someone she cared about throughout the past few years. She told me she was never really over anything or had forgiven me and had “suppressed her true feelings” about things because I “never allowed her to express her feelings to me” and I “always twisted everything into being her fault anyway.” Something I also have been woefully unaware of. For example…

Nearly 9 months ago, I disrespected and insulted her step-sister online during a heated political discussion. For this offense, I confessed my guilt and shame to Bri, begged her forgiveness, and wrote her sister an apology letter after struggling for a week just to word it right to convey my sincere guilt and sorrow over my misdeeds.  I even ran the letter by Bri for her stamp of approval to make sure it came across as humble and appropriately apologetic  Bri had told me she had forgiven me for this, and up until this weekend I thought it was all water under the bridge. But now, apparently, Bri says she has been harboring bitterness and resentment against me this whole time and that my doing that was, “an offense so great there is no recovering our relationship from it.”

At first, I reacted by apologizing for any misunderstandings and tried to explain to Bri where I thought she was assuming I felt or did things to hurt her which were either just misunderstood or completely “missed” all together (like her birthday mail that she says never arrived).

This only made her more furious and she kept coming back to the fact that despite the fact that our technology break had forced her to go through one of the most rewarding, self-discovery processes of her life and as a result she had never been happier, she was incurably angry with me for “abandoning” her. I finally cracked and went off on her for rewriting history in numerous places and discounting all the sacrifices I had been making for her and the suffering I had gone through for her sake (including the very technology break she all of the sudden wasn’t in favor of anymore and apparently never was all along despite what she told me and despite the fact she had never once reached out to me to tell me otherwise). Thus ended our phone call.

The next day, alone for several hours with my thoughts and a computer, I waded through all our old phone correspondences and texts. I sent her text after text after text detailing what had “really happened” regarding the technology break (pointing out conflicting accounts of what she said and now claims to have been thinking at the time) and complaining about her ingratitude. It was overly excessive and repetitive  I ended with a demand that she either have the decency to confront me and continue this argument with me until we worked out our differences or she had to immediately return all my furniture. I tried to get an answer out of her all day but received nothing.

Finally, after my anger and hurt subsided, at the suggestion of a friend, I decided to take the opposite approach and bought her two bouquets of flowers (18 red roses and 12 pink tulips) and a happy belated birthday card, a card with a “you changed my life” love poem in it, and blank card in which I wrote an apology for having let her down and having made her feel that she couldn’t express herself to me. I left them for her on her doorstep.

Today, having still not heard from her, I began to despair. I missed my bus back to Indianapolis having become petrified to go back feeling the way I did. I couldn’t face my prison city now that my only hope and my whole purpose for being there in the first place was gone… I tried numerous times to reach out to Bri, but she never responded. Finally, I tried stopping by her apartment, but her roommate informed me I had just missed her by 15 minutes. Then, I saw the flowers, thoughtlessly tossed on the couch and the three cards in which I had poured my heart out to her in there with them, not even opened, and still wrapped in the protective plastic around the flowers. They were already dying. Like me…

Bri’s roommate informed me then that Bri had been complaining of feeling “physically ill” do to all the stress I had caused her and that she in no uncertain terms ever wanted to talk to me again – partly on the advice of “everyone she knew” assessing the situation for her.

The worst part is, although Bri says she is getting “better” and is happier, she is doing it all predicated on a false version of reality and a gross, almost purposefully misunderstanding of my actions and intentions that have all lead her to conclude that I am the sole source of all her problems an misery whether I am in her life or I am not.

And I guess she is right. When I first met Bri she was this charming, optimistic, joyful, and hopeful girl. And being with me – from everything to the Argus to our relationship drama, from my personal weaknesses to “the Tommy episode” – put her through hell. She helped me survive some of the hardest times in my life… and I have somehow repaid her with pain and misery. Whether it is justified or is based on misunderstandings or not… I have caused her all this pain. My very existence in or not in her life causes her this pain. And I don’t deserve to live. Whether I wanted to or not, I have murdered beauty.

And I physically carry the pain of it all with me in my heart and my heart cannot take it anymore. It is signaling me that the only way to fix this – for Bri and for me – is to permanently wipe myself out of existence all together.

Then, Bri won’t have to deal with the pain of me “ignoring her and forgetting her” or the opposite of “pestering her and overwhelming her.” I will just be gone. And she will be free. And I will be free of the pain I carry, her pain and mine. I’m useless anyway. And it will be the last worthwhile thing I ever do.

And here I am. Dying. Being buried alive. Under the weight of a useless and fruitless life of squandered potential and persistent pain. Here I am watching that last brick slide into place, Brianna, making me realize: I’ve been dead these last 18 years all along. I just didn’t know it. People say “it gets better” but experience has taught me that I just keep making things worse.

And now the nightmare – for everyone around me and for myself – finally comes to an end.

UPDATE: If you are reading this (which, lets not forget the name of this blog), please be aware of the fourth-dimension and that this is but one of an infinite number of slices into that loaf. I have written an update to this (Hints, Allegations, and Things That Need to be Said), and I am on a journey now that began with a drive through this dark valley.

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“Happiness is a verb, not a noun. It is an action, not a feeling. Don’t waste your life waiting to feel happy so that you can start being happy. The being is an action, and the feeling is a result. Action before feeling; And happiness won’t ‘find’ you – it will become you.” ~Zachariah