Shades of Gray


I recently changed jobs. I now work at a library—the finance manager: budgeting, analysis, accounting. My office, with it’s dark-stained wooden doors and frosted transom windows, is massive: 14’ x 14’ x 14’. It’s true, my office ceiling is fourteen feet high. Susan says I suffer from TMF—that’s too much furniture: three desks, five filing cabinets, a couple of bookshelves, boxes and boxes of historical data stacked any place they will fit. It will take a while to get things settled, but despite the clutter, I find my job relaxing.

My prior job was never relaxing. More financial management, this time for a domestic violence shelter. I tried my hand at fundraising too. Limited success, we never had any money. One of our fundraising tactics was to invite potential donors to a “Vision Encounter.” It’s hard to say Vision Encounter without thinking about the 1985 movie Vision Quest—the coming of age drama of a high school wrestler who falls in love with an adult. This is something we now call child molestation, but in the eighties, it was simply romantic. A Vision Encounter is nothing like that.

The Vision Encounter is a series of stories read by staff members recounting domestic violence victims’ experiences with abuse. The part I read was a first-person account written by the woman who organizes the sexual assault support group. Once my portion was done, we always ended with a harrowing story of a woman who endured physical and sexual assault at the hands of her husband for more than a decade. At the end of her story, she–along with her kids–are living in a small apartment, scraping to get by, but finally free from abuse. I listened to this story a dozen times, and each time I heard it, the same feeling washed over me. Jealousy.

~ ~ ~

Do you have a clear understanding of why you blog? I’ve been at this for five years, I’ve had time to figure it out. Yes, there’s a longing for attention and a craving for applause, but I view these as unfortunate byproducts of being a blogger. The reason that I write, and then blog, is because it helps me work out my problems.

Long ago, I found that exploring my most private thoughts and then sharing them with the world reduced the power and the impact of those thoughts. In the movie Crocodile Dundee, the lead character, Mick, a small-town backwoodsman from the Australian Outback asks big-city Sue why someone would want to see a therapist. Sue says “sometimes people need to talk out their intimate problems.” Mick thinks about this and replies “Where I come from, if you have a problem, you just tell Wally, and Wally tells everyone else. Once everyone knows, it isn’t a problem anymore.”

This is exactly what I get from blogging.

Is it distasteful that I’m envious of a domestic violence survivor who’s lost everything? I’ve written about worse subjects, I’m sure of that. Plus, I’m not envious of the violence. I’m envious of the raw simplicity of having one goal: climbing out of the bottom of a deep, deep, hole.

Like many alcoholics, I never had a rock-bottom event. Or at least I didn’t have any that caused me to quit drinking, I supposed I had several rock-bottoms a couple of decades ago that I simply ignored. But three years ago, when I gave up alcohol, it wasn’t because I crashed my car or lost my job or received an ultimatum from my family, I quit drinking because I didn’t like the hold alcohol had over me. I thought about alcohol, literally, all the time.

I thought about how my drinking would be disrupted if my family went to a restaurant without a liquor license. Or if someone suggested we have pancakes for dinner (can’t drink Merlot with pancakes, you just can’t do it). I worried about drinking too much even though I didn’t. I worried about having to wait until after five o’clock to drink. I lamented finishing up my second glass of wine each night and needing to wait twenty-two hours for my next one. You get the idea.

So I quit. But the truth is, alcohol still has a hold on me because I often wonder if quitting was the right thing to do. Is my life better or worse without alcohol? Because life without alcohol definitely isn’t easy.

And now alcohol is just one more item on my endless list of concerns. Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety, social anxiety, depression, retirement, parenting, home repair, friendships, career, hearing impairment, dental repair, blah, blah, blah. This is a complex list of problems, and all need to be managed simultaneously.

I’ve just discovered a new blogger. She’s a good writer and a good storyteller. And the story she’s telling, parenting a teenager with OCD, is compelling to me. I jumped into her story in a post where she was picking up her son at the end of his first college semester. She wasn’t just collecting her kid, she was moving him out. He was dropping out of school. Depression and OCD were too much to overcome.

In her most recent post she describes a kid who is unreasonably thin because he skipped so many meals due to mental illness. This post chronicles his rebirth as an engaged eater. It’s a small step, and undoubtedly an important step, but what I read into the story is that he’s well into his recovery from this rock-bottom experience.

It’s ridiculous for me to think these two examples of hitting the bottom represent something for me to emulate. I spend my life in binary thinking. In my mind, things are good or they are bad. I look at my long list of areas to work on, and I think BAD. I believe I can’t be happy until my list is fully resolved. So when I see a person who has bottomed out in the bad and has started their route to good, my visceral reaction is envy.

Yesterday I blogged a post where I said I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life. This was BS. I was trying to be upbeat, trying to get into the spirit of New Year’s Eve. There are plenty of areas I want to make improvements, and possibly the first one should be to stop seeing those around me as two-dimensional beings. People who have only one problem to solve to achieve happiness. Like me, everyone has a list of areas they hope to improve. By writing this post, I’m hoping to remind myself that things aren’t only good or bad. There is no black and white, there are only shades of gray.

More on binary thinking in Fragments – a memoir.

26 thoughts on “Shades of Gray

  1. This is flipping beautiful man. Thank you for this, I haven’t been on here in awhile and this popped up in my email. You are right about having to work things out in writing …I need to blog more in 2019!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I actually said it out loud I was so confused – “Jealousy?” But I see your point now. I don’t use my blog in that way – well, not in its entirety. I would need to create a separate space for that story. And when you point it out, I agree – I do the same black and white thinking about myself and others. Good reminder that it is more shades of gray.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope my jealousy made sense by the end of the post or I failed. I personally would like it if you blogged on more general topics. The ones I’ve read on your site and your running site have opened up so much more information about you. Your writing style is well suited to self analysis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It did make sense at the end – it was just odd, at first, to read that you were jealous of an abuse victim. Once you clarified you weren’t jealous of any part of the abuse, just to rise from such depths – it made sense.
        When I was in middle school, I started journaling. I have always liked to write and liked writing about my day. I journaled all through high school and college – even through the first years of my marriage. Then my mom told me one day that she read my journal in high school and I was mortified. I realized that if I passed away someone else may read them. So I threw them all out. I don’t think I could write about me again. I liked writing about running though – that was fun.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post, Jeff! Your explanation for the core reason of why you blog really hit home for me. I am not familiar with Crocodile Dundee, but that scene you quoted felt spot on with one of my big reasons for blogging. I have social anxiety that, at times, can be truly crippling. In my mind, I build up all these massive fears of “what if people find out who I really am and how I really feel,” and you’re right: putting it out there shines a light on the monster in the closet and reveals it to be nothing more than a pile of winter coats. At least, that’s the level of relief I feel when I write publicly.


    • I realize that I’ve been an adult for a VERY long time so I’m sure I’ve got skewed perception, but I thought Crocodile Dundee was universal. I blogged anonymously for a couple of years and that got me used to sharing personal stuff. Coming out of the closet as a mental illness sufferer was hard, but now it’s a relief that I did. I’m astonished how many people have written and said me too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Crocodile Dundee probably is universal – I am just abnormally out of touch with movies and TV shows. I was raised extremely sheltered and not allowed to watch much, then throughout college and grad school I didn’t have a TV for most of the time, plus I couldn’t afford to go to the movies. That was pre-Netflix (2003-2010), so I still face a huge backlog of films and shows that I’ve never heard of, let alone seen. It’s actually pretty interesting to be so out of the loop on pop culture.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, I’m not 100% sure I’d recommend C.D. It’s a feel good movie and I remember some pretty funny line, but it’s also from the eighties and those movies tend to have some pretty horrendous portrayals of women, minorities, gays, etc. Watch at your own risk.

          Liked by 1 person

    • So after our exchange, I asked my kids if they’d seen Crocodile Dundee. They thought they had but couldn’t remember it. We watched it tonight as a family and I found it to be very warm, very funny and actually pretty open minded. I think it’s worth a viewing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Jeff. When I read the word “jealousy”, I couldn’t imagine why. After reading the end of the article, I can identify with your reasoning. I have thought about why I blog, and I think it is something like your reason. I spend so much time in my own head when I am running that I needed an outlet for all those thoughts. I like the creative aspect of blogging – I missed that after retiring from education (that and the kids). I am glad you are learning to appreciate gray, because that’s where we all live.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve battled this binary thinking before.It’s exactly the sort of thought process that causes so many of our fights in politics and social media. I have to keep on reminding myself…


  6. *round of applause* what a great post Jeff. You had me laughing thinking of 80s movies and how they would never get the approval today and then shocked at your remark of feeling jealous. I read on and you did not disappoint with your answer. You had me thinking about other people and how I view what they have, what they don’t have, their achievements etc. from a different perspective. So I thank you for that. The reason why I blog is very similar. I once read that some times the most introverted people are the ones that will share their most intimate and vulnerable feelings online as it’s easier than speaking to someone in person. This resonated with me and now I don’t feel so alone.


    • thank you for the applause. The fact that people read should be enough, I’m not sure why it isn’t. When I first started sharing my vulnerabilities on the internet, I was terrified that someone would find out it was me. But as I continued getting used to talking about the problem areas. Now I can just walk right into a room and start talking to people about tourettes or anxiety, etc. I think blogging has given me the vocabulary to discuss this and that helps a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

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