Illegitimi non carborundum
“Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down.” (or ‘grind’ depending on your translation from the Latin)
My dad had this saying on a piece of paper pinned to the corkboard above his workbench when I was a kid. It was something he told me often, especially when it seemed like the world had gone totally off the rails and was like a constant never-ending shit-show. My crusty old bear-dad was right and lately I’ve been hearing his voice a lot inside my head. That old bear is trying to teach me something from beyond the grave so it’s time to listen up, everyone.
In the years after my mother died, my dad dealt with a lot of grief and pain. He used to say out loud, “Why am I still here?” It hurt like hell every time he said that because I wasn’t ready to lose him, too though I knew he was on borrowed time. One day I found my voice and told him: “Because you still have things to teach me. And I’m listening.” After that, he never said that shit to me again. Instead, he tried to teach me as much as he could and tell me his stories as many times as he could before he departed this Earth.
And in those years before he died, he would tell me don’t let the bastards get you down whenever I talked to him about some shit I was going through with whatever job I was working at or feeling like I couldn’t forge some kind of a life of my own. He would say that to me with emphasis whenever he thought I was backing away from my writing. He always used to tell me he wouldn’t have backed my writing if he didn’t think I had real talent and drive. He said if he thought I didn’t have what it would take to make it as a writer, he would have just patted me on the ass and said ‘that’s nice’ then sent me on my way. Because no matter how bad things got, he never wanted me to give on myself.
Nine years ago this month, I told myself I wasn’t doing so bad with my life. I told myself I was doing pretty well and if I just stayed in my little lane things would work out for me. This put my mind in a place of safety and contentment that in turn, unlocked another thought close to a year later: “Everyone else is just as full of shit as I am sometimes, but I’m not a bad person.” These two thoughts cracked the silence I had encased my thoughts and feelings in, cracks that eventually broke my silence altogether. It’s been hard as hell to deal with that, but I don’t regret it at all. Because another thing it’s made me was my crusty old bear-dad was right all along: don’t the bastards get you down.
One the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with is realizing I didn’t do so many things I wanted to simply because I was afraid of dealing with people giving me shit for that. My father knew I’d done that and that’s why he would tell me not to let the bastards in this world get me down any further than they already had. This is why I tell people, especially young people to live their lives to the fullest and to not give in to the assholes in this world who will them not to do things, or say things, or worst of all, that they don’t know how to live their lives. To the assholes of my past and those in the present who feel like they have the right to try and dictate to other people what to do and think, or who have taken their own shit and turned it inside out and mean as my late father would say: “Fuck off.” And if anyone gets butt-hurt about being told to ‘fuck off’, I’d tell them what my late father would say in reply to that butt-hurt bullshit: “What part of ‘fuck off’ don’t you understand?”
I think so many of us get ground down, worn down, or tired out from dealing with bullshit from assholes past and present, and with all the shit that sells in the media and such to where we think we have no purpose in our lives. Like my father lamented all those years ago, “Why am I still here?” And my answer to that question is the same now as it was back then: because we still need to learn from each other and be there for each other.
This past week when tried to write, I couldn’t. Yet another silent period of not writing as I’ve gone through so many times before. Yet again, I asked myself why that was and today I got an answer that makes a lot of sense: I’ve approached writing as if I’m walking through a minefield stepping on mines and just letting them blow up in my face. But I told myself today: I can see where the mines are, and I don’t have to step on them and let them blow up in my face. I can diffuse them then take them apart and put them back together in a way that doesn’t blow up in my face. Why this has been so hard to hear has been because of one thing: what ‘people’ aka ‘assholes’ might think about me working through my shit instead of just wallowing in it and letting it grind me down. Because as my late father tried to me years ago: when you work through your shit you’re going to change, and some people won’t like that. And he would also say life isn’t a popularity contest.
I think we all need to feel like our lives have some meaning or purpose in what we do and how we live. As I said to my father all those years ago, I needed him to teach me what he could before he died. Because he and I knew back then he didn’t have that many years left on Earth. And what he was trying to teach me back then was my purpose was to share my gift of writing.
Because in addition to the non-fiction triumvirate from Hell as I sometimes call it (Breaking Radio Silence, Stand or Fall, Behind the Story), and the lovely romantic fiction I love to write, there is a third area of writing I want to pursue: travel writing, writing about people and places in order to inspire people to get out of their walled compounds and out into the world. I want to show people the world isn’t such a fucked-up place, that there is a lot of good, a lot of beauty, and yes, places of pain and loss that we need to remember, too. This is why I feel the call of the road so much because people can go as far as they want to or stay close to home and find beauty and goodness.
Your purpose in life doesn’t have to be like the way I want to live as a vagabond storyteller. It can be as simple as being a good parent, spouse, teacher, or just doing good in this world by living with kindness and generosity towards others. It can be as simple as voting for people who care about this world and who haven’t sold out to special interests that are trying to kill us (yes, I’m talking about Republican Party elected officials who are in thrall to NRA blood money). Most of all, it’s just believing in yourself and if you’re not causing harm, you’re doing good. And yes, there will be assholes who will try to turn that against you because they’ve taken their own fears and shit inside themselves and turned it inside out mean as my daddy would say. And as my dear old crusty bear- dad would say in reply to that: don’t let the bastards get you down.