Space Dust

What do I have if nothing but radiating love and affection for my family? And they for me.

The waves are reciprocal. Emanating from each individual, forming one, glowing, impenetrable system of solar dust.

We share more than a name, more than memories.

Or is it less?

Maybe not less, just more simple. A common yearning to share space and time, to laugh and to cry. Together. Our arms reach out into the abyss, grasping; like the rings of Saturn.

That is what we share. That is all we have.

My chest fills with this thought. My breath is devotion to them, above all else.

 

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2019: The Year of the Buzz

I wrote a blog post about New Year’s resolutions in 2015.

I blasted people for setting unrealistic goals and hammered on about consistency and loving the process and hard work. Blah blah blah.

It was a typical piece from mid-twenties Aaron, obnoxiously self-assured, critical, yet simultaneously optimistic and positive in tone. The things a man can do with a full head of hair.

At the end of my rant, like a true smart-ass, I made a resolution for 2015 anyway, proclaiming, “this year I am going to travel.”

Well shit… that changed my life.

2019 Aaron has nothing bad to say about New Year’s resolutions. How could he?

Just do me a favor and pause before you commit to the 200 dollar monthly membership fee at your local Equinox. We don’t have warmed eucalyptus towels, but Fitness 19 is happy to have you for… you guessed it…19 bucks a month. You won’t feel so bad when you stop coming by February.

epic-gym-fail-treadmill

The smashing success of yesteryear’s facetious resolution in mind, I set aside time for reflection and personal inventory during the holidays. Where can I improve? What can I change this year? How can I be better? You know, those super unique questions that no one else is asking themselves at the end of December.

After answering all of the ubiquitous questions I came to a realization, a personal truth of sorts: I sucked at being ME in 2018. Now I’m not saying I’m the bee’s knees or anything, but I have some redeeming qualities, one or two at least. And one of the qualities that defines me most is my persistent pestering. Seriously. I am a professional nuisance. The prince of pests.

I BUG.

And not always in a bad way. Let me explain…

I love people. And if I care about you, you will hear it. If I am thinking about you, I will fire off a quick text and let you know.

If we ditched work when were were 19 and drove to Rosarito listening to the T.I. vs T.I.P. album all the way to Mexico, I will text you EVERY time I hear Big Shit Poppin’ (what’s up Cory? Miss you bro). If I walk past you in the mall and we make eye contact and you’re with your side-chick and really don’t want to stop for a chat, I WILL come over and say hello. If you call me, I will answer. Text me and your boy will text right back. If I drive by your house, chances are I’ll pop in for a quick hello around dinner time. I keep in close contact with my family and my friends and just about anyone with a pulse.

My craving for layered and genuine human connection can also have residual effects. I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but I LOVE cooking for the people in my life. And nothing makes me happier than sitting back and observing two groups of friends meeting for the first time and hitting it off.

Softball friends, meet my surfing buddies.

or

Falicia, we suck together romantically but I think you should meet my brother’s girlfriend, Lacey, she needs friends. I bet you’ll become besties and she’ll ask you to be her bridesmaid one day.” Boom. True story.

That’s me, and I learned from the best.

My Momma.

Even though she passed nearly seven years ago, our family is still finding unopened letters and handwritten notes letting the recipient know that she was simply “thinking of them.” I still have the voicemails, “Hey mijo! I was thinking of you and missed your voice. You’re probably surfing, let’s Skype when you’re done!” Her love was not passive, it was work.

Every time I told my mother I loved her the response was the same. Three words. “Love you more.”  She didn’t, but she sure as hell was better at showing it. She spread it too. Ana always had an extra place (or three) at her table. Family gatherings were familial only in name. My mother built a community of friends that otherwise would have never mixed. A home built on inclusion, never exclusion. A home with doors wide open, laid on a foundation of active love. That is her legacy, a legacy I was pretty damned good at perpetuating.

But I lost something when I came back from Spain.

Friends.

No seriously, my phone was on Do Not Disturb most of the year and people really seemed to hate that.

Jokes aside, my mother’s legacy is a taxing one. A vast amount of emotional capital is invested when you’re constantly the person reaching out, bridging gaps that space and time can bring. When the love isn’t reciprocated, it stings. A few unanswered texts and calls can make the life of a recluse seem alluring. Perhaps the move back to the States had me feeling lost, and when you’re lost and lonely a cocoon looks pretty damn comfortable. I know I said I bug, but I ain’t no caterpillar.

Damn it. No more bug jokes.

And no more Do Not Disturb. My phone is now set on vibrate. 2019 is the year of the buzz (NOT a bug joke).

Sometimes, without noticing, and for no apparent reason, we deviate from prior successes. We tend to get swept up by the shimmer of new and forget that we were already pretty damned good at a few things. The self-help/change your mind, change your life industry is just that, an industry. An 11 billion dollar industry! Let me save you some change friends… do you. Do more of what you’re good at. Maximize the gifts that you have been blessed with and spread them ’round. Answer your phone. Write a love note. Call your grandma! I’m off to call mine.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

My hairline is dropping back.

Like, way back.

Everyday I take a shower and rub in some expensive conditioner that’s supposed to thicken my ever-thinning man mane.

After applying the fraudulent product I always pull my hands down and assess the damage.

On a good day, there are only two or three black strands lying limp between my fingers.

I praise the brittle, dead hairs for fighting valiantly and them let slide away, down the drain, to Valhalla.

A Viking burial.

Luckily, my head isn’t shaped too oddly, so once I give up the good fight and shave I think I’ll be able to pull the look off. My younger brother Daniel, who looks just like me with bigger ears and more body hair, has been pioneering the Lex Luthor with moderate success for about two years now.

My brown, furry, Brooks Brothers-wearing guinea pig.

Not all heroes wear capes.

 

Cure-For-Baldness

 

As I processed and eventually accepted the inevitable arrival of shiny-headed Aaron, I began to take a look at my life on a grander scale. Okay, to be honest, that’s bullshit. I’m always analyzing. Over the last six or seven years I have pounded introspective processes and mindfulness into my routines. Plato said, “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and I examine the shit out of mine, probably to a fault. I’m working on it. Writing helps.

That’s actually one of my favorite things about writing. Sure I love to motivate and make you guys laugh, but if nothing else, my blog posts and short stories serve as my own digital roadmap. With one click of the mouse I can revisit my old pieces and analyze past perspectives. I can see exactly how I felt about my career path or my personal relationships or my abuelito thinking I’m gay.

So, no. I didn’t need a case of male pattern baldness to catalyze self-examination, but the gradual and consistent reminder of my ‘maturation’ served as a reference point. And it reminded me of an article published by my life guru Mark Manson called, “The Four Stages of Life.”

In his article Mark lays out his simple theory about, you guessed it, the four stages of life. Let me give you the Readers Digest version:

Stage One: Mimicry

Mark calls his first stage of life ‘Mimicry.’ In the first stage of life humans learn to navigate the world, both physically and socially, by mimicking those around them. Young humans are like little sponges, observing and imitating the behaviors of parents and siblings and the snotty-nosed punks they go to kindergarten with as they learn to navigate the world. Once an individual develops the capacity to make rational decisions and act independently, they move on to Stage Two, ‘Self-Discovery.’

Stage Two: Self-Discovery

Stage Two usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and lasts until a person reaches their mid-twenties or mid-thirties. As the name suggests, these newly autonomous individuals set out on a journey of self-exploration.

Manson says it best,

In Stage One, we learn to fit in with the people and culture around us. Stage Two is about learning what makes us different from the people and culture around us. Stage Two requires us to begin making decisions for ourselves, to test ourselves, and to understand ourselves and what makes us unique.

This stage of experimentation can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Some go to college. Some try various jobs and career paths, others experiment sexually. Whoa, that sentence escalated quickly. But it’s true.

Some people prefer to try drugs, lots of drugs. Still others yearn to explore in a more physical and temporal manner, setting off to travel for extended periods of time (cough, cough). After some time running through the gauntlet of experimentation, most people begin to reach their limitations.

In short, we figure out where we excel and where we, well, suck. We discover the things we like and the things that move us. We also begin to realize that some of the things we experimented with don’t serve us in the marathon of life. Our strengths and weaknesses become apparent and we begin to envision a general course for our lives.

Stage Three: Commitment

Stage Three is the commitment stage, the time to start setting some roots.

Manson writes,

Stage Three is the great consolidation of one’s life. Out go the friends who are draining you and holding you back. Out go the activities and hobbies that are a mindless waste of time. Out go the old dreams that are clearly not coming true anytime soon.

The very genesis of this blog was sparked by a personal quest to finalize my transition from step two to three. I stood at a turning point. I jumped and brought ya’ll along for the ride. I had vision and a sense of purpose and damn, it felt good.

One more ride on the experimentation express and I’m done, I swear. I can remember the sense of assuredness that coursed through my veins as I typed the question (and subsequently answered myself )”… do you want to quit your day job and travel the world before you start teaching again? Fuck yes. ” 2015 Aaron was a smug little bastard.

But the bridge between self-exploration and commitment has been everything but easy.

As I travelled my sense of purpose surged. I found great joy in meeting fresh faces and exploring new cities. I was invigorated by exposure to foreign ways of thinking and the customs that accompanied those mindsets. I thought my passion rested in exploration, so coming back home hurt. I mourned my time abroad instead of celebrating it. I took a good paying job in an industry I knew nothing about and frankly, didn’t ‘love.’ After years of writing and telling you guys to break the chains of complacency and go for broke, I felt like a sell out. I had an ocean view, a shiny new car, and a shitty attitude.

After months of wallowing I realized something that seems obvious in hindsight… traveling is not my passion, I was just blessed with an opportunity to do some really cool stuff during my stage of self-discovery. Mr. Manson says screw finding your passion, I say amen brother. But we all get caught up trying to find that “p-word” these days. It’s all around us. Every time we open our smart phones it slaps us in the face. We are constantly drowning in an endless array of options, doggy paddling through pictures and inspirational captions of our smiling friends ‘never conforming,’ ‘chasing their passion,’ and ‘catching flights not feelings.’ This never-ending barrage of imagery leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the levels of cognitive dissonance that come with commitment.

For right-swiping, Instagram obsessed Millennials, stage three is scary.

You mean to tell me that I have to pick one career? One vacation destination? One lover? Billy is in Bali swimming with sea turtles and homie hasn’t had a job in like five years. Ooh, Brett and Bonnie just bought a house. How the hell do I buy a house? I don’t have a cool million lying around. Fuck Brett. Damn, I need a wife. What should I eat for lunch? A burrito. It’s always a burrito.  (All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Fuck you Brett.)

I may have gotten carried away with the alliterations in my “scrolling through Instagram inner monologue” but you can see how this over exposure to a false reality made up entirely of success and accomplishments can lead to low self efficacy, envy, and hell… even depression. These modern day highlight reels also cultivate indecisiveness and wire our brains to crave constant distraction. At the very least, high levels of social media usage can alter our daily moods, effecting our overall sense of happiness, productivity and personal relationships.

It’s no wonder older generations have taken to calling Millennials the Slash Generation, referencing their inability to commit to one specific career path. The fact that a high number of Millennials feel that they have no influence in the workforce doesn’t help. How are we supposed to be passionate if we don’t think we can make a difference?

Maybe we’re just asking ourselves the wrong questions.

Instead of seeking to align our careers with our passions or looking for our life’s purpose, perhaps we should simply ask ourselves “what can we do with our time that is important?” And for me, that subtle shift in questioning has made all difference. The need to constantly over-analyze my path and purpose has been lifted ever so slightly. The pressure has been lessened. I’ll take it. It’s all about progress, not perfection. Thanks Mark.

The question has also helped eliminate negative thinking patterns and unproductive habits that snuck their way into my daily routines. The shift is gradual and requires constant tending, but I can feel the difference. No, managing a small business who’s signature service is killing German cockroaches is not my passion, but learning how to be an effective manager and leader is definitely important. The volunteer work I do through my church with the immigrant community is important. Being in close proximity to my family and spending quality time with them is important. Building capital to provide stability and security for my future family is very important.

I feel better about it.

Perhaps you do too. If not, try getting off your phone ya dummy.

Now quick, let me tell you about Stage Four so you can take your dog for a walk or something and get some fresh air.

Stage Four: Legacy

The last stage of life is all about cementing one’s legacy. After decades of dedication to whatever it is an individual deemed worthy of their commitment, a person enters into the last phase of their life, working to ensure that their hard work survives, even if they do not.

Stage Four is important psychologically because it makes the ever-growing reality of one’s own mortality more bearable. As humans, we have a deep need to feel as though our lives mean something. This meaning we constantly search for is literally our only psychological defense against the incomprehensibility of this life and the inevitability of our own death. To lose that meaning, or to watch it slip away, or to slowly feel as though the world has left you behind, is to stare oblivion in the face and let it consume you willingly.

At a young age, after enduring some difficult seasons, I gained the understanding that Stage Four is a luxury. Many of us never get a Legacy Stage. Others are forced to scramble in haste, scratching and clawing to ensure their legacies will be protected.

I suppose I’ll worry about Stage Four when I get there, but I have a feeling I’m on the right track.

A little less scrolling and a little more gratitude goes a long way.

It feels good to be back.

 

 

 

 

Hiraeth

Drowning in the shallows…

I can still taste the remnants of my past life. They pierce my skin like fine splinters. They stick to me like tiny pieces of meat between my teeth.

I savor the bits. A beautiful aftertaste.

The American Dental Association recommends flossing a minimum of once per day.

I never floss.

 

Today I learned a new word.

Hiraeth.

A Welsh word that describes an intense feeling of homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, or for a home which may have never been.

I like the ambiguity.

Hearing the rolling syllables as they’re pronounced induces a feeling the word is meant to describe. A visceral yearning that can never be scrubbed clean. Spoken in the tongue of an ancient people who no longer exist.

Except that Wales still exists.

And so does Barcelona, asshole.

Flights are like three hundred bucks.

 

 

Aaron Ragnarson

January 15, 2018

San Clemente, California

9:00 pm

Aaron goes to the local grocery store and sees a beautiful woman in the produce aisle.

There is always a beautiful woman in produce aisle.

Before he can strike up a conversation about avocados, boyfriend rushes in from left field to mark his territory (an annoyingly frequent occurrence at Aaron’s local Ralph’s).

Aaron has moved to a Couple’s Only town.

Aaron walks away vexed, feeling sorry for himself, dreaming of Spain in the frozen food section.

Fifteen minutes later, as Aaron checks out, previously mentioned boyfriend walks to the counter, visibly frustrated. Asks clerk, “Dude, do you know where the damn vegan butter is?” looking sideways as his girlfriend nips at his heels, barking about ‘non-dairy almond cheese.’

Aaron pays for his steak at the counter.

Aaron goes home.

Aaron eats his steak and watches Vikings.

Aaron smiles.

 

 

 

Win it for Carlos

I believe in God.

Yes, I believe in destiny.

I am a growing anomaly in a secular society with an answer for everything that fits in our back pocket.

But I am also a romantic; a man who lives for the underlying story. Tales of synchronicity that cannot be explained.
Improbable and impossible ironies.
Magical moments that raise the hair on your arm.

We live in a world void of magic.
Void of faith.
An age of facts and happenstance.
Chance.
At best, we get serendipity.
Divine intervention? Providence? Don’t even think about it.
Nietzsche was wrong, God isn’t dead.
But we like to pretend He is.

When I was abroad studying in a graduate program, a professor openly mocked the concept of angels and people who believe in them. All of my classmates laughed.

I didn’t.

I believe in angels.
I am from the city of angels.

I once read that “it is right to chide a man for being blind to divine coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.”
The passage struck a chord, so I took it with me.

Thankfully, there is a sport for people like me. A game where rituals and pre-game ceremonies thrive in abundance. A sport where grown men wear dirty socks and grow hideous beards for good luck. Bats are licked, bubbles are blown and coaches are kissed all in the name of superstition.

Baseball.

The game’s best, Clayton Kershaw, is a man of superstition and faith.
Every fifth day Kershaw eats the same meal (cereal, fruit, and a sandwich), warms up with the same amount of pitches (34), walks to the dugout at the same time (8 minutes before first pitch) and uses the same tattered glove he’s owned since he became a Dodger.

He also cites his faith as the most important thing in his life. Kershaw is not alone in his religious convictions. Next time you watch a game, pay close attention. Watch as the hitter steps into the batter’s box and blesses himself with the sign of the cross.
Nothing makes me happier.

The era of advanced statistics and saber metrics in baseball has arrived, but the element of the non-quantifiable will always survive.

 

My family bleeds Dodger Blue.

Anyone who knows a Polanco knows where his loyalty lies when it comes to the diamond. But our allegiance transcends the sport. It is our passion, our identity. We have a dog named Koufax and worship Vin Scully. When my mother passed away, Steve Garvey called to extend his condolences.

We.

Bleed.

Blue.

The Dodgers’ magical 2017 season continued on Tuesday night with our first berth to the World Series in 29 years. The first since Gibson limped to the box and fist pumped his way around the bases of Blue Heaven on Earth. Our family was elated, exchanging text messages throughout the week to keep in contact with a group spread across the country.

In the midst of the excitement, heartache hovered as our minds turned to beloved family members who were no longer with us. Uncles, brothers, sons and mothers who had cheered with us for years. We finally made it, we thought, if only they were here to see. For me, and for most of my family, one name rose above the rest… Carlos.

My Uncle Carlos was different.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia midway through high school, my uncle was frozen in time. He forever lived in the era of Garvey and Lopes, a time when he excelled in sports and got all the girls. The age of Aqua Net, Stacy Q and cruising Whittier Boulevard. A day didn’t pass without him mentioning his Volkswagen bug and the “pretty girl with big boobs” he kissed driving through the hills of Elysian Park. I forgot her name.

He loved Art Laboe, hamburgers, and adored his family. But above all, he worshipped the Dodgers.

For most of my life my uncle’s condition was stable. Often, the only manifestations of his illness were visible through small quirks and hilarious commentaries. A poke to the shoulder here, a strange question there. His memory was surprisingly sharp, but he always mixed up details in the best of ways. In college, I had a girlfriend named Autumn. He would remember small particulars about our relationship, but could never get her name right.

“So, how’s Odom, bro? Does she still work at that pizza place?”

Lamar Odom was the power forward for the Lakers at the time. I would laugh and respond, “She’s great Tio, thanks for asking.”

To me, there was no better company. I loved driving to my grandmother’s house and watching games with my uncle. Out of selfishness, I never called before coming. The best moment was always ringing the bell and watching him run to the door with excitement through the fogged window.

“Aaron! I knew you would come!” he exclaimed as he hugged me, smelling of musky aftershave.

My abuelita would smile as I entered the living room, happy that I came over to spend time with her son. “Tienes hambre mijo?” She would ask in Spanish.
Siempre Abuela.
My grandmother would serve us mounds of hot, delicious food as we cheered for Matt Kemp and laughed at my uncle’s crazy stories.

The last time I saw my uncle was after an evening together at Dodger Stadium. The crowd was unusually large for a midweek game. As the fans roared with each hit, my uncle would stand, cup his hands around his mouth, and yell.

He laughed as he returned to his seat, “Bro,” he said, “you can yell anything you want, no one can hear you!” The next hit he stood up and yelled, “I’m Tony Montana, say hello to my little friend!”

He was a big Pacino fan.

I laughed and joined him, imploring the crowd to “say goodnight to the bad guy,” at the top of my lungs. That was my uncle Carlos. His quirkiness and child-like innocence had a way of injecting you with happiness.

We drove from the stadium to the sounds of eighties disco pop, dancing and happy after a Dodger victory. As my uncle opened the door to leave, he hugged me and said, “you’re a good nephew bro.” Two weeks later I got the worst call of my life and learned of his passing. Our family has never been the same.

We lost our levity.

We lost our lightness.

As the playoffs progressed, mentions of Carlos increased in my family’s group thread.
This one’s for Carlos!
Thinking of Charlie tonight!
We shared photos of my uncle, forever in his Dodger hat.
My aunt found an old picture of him in his little league jersey. I don’t need to tell you what team he was on.

Once the Dodgers clenched the pennant and ticket prices soared, the realization that most of us would be watching from home sunk in.
Fortunately, one member of the Polanco clan, my younger brother Daniel, secured a seat. He would serve as our family representative during the first World Series game played in Chavez Ravine for nearly three decades.

An hour before first pitch, Daniel messaged the group with a selfie from the stadium, wishing we were all there with him. Responses from aunts and uncles poured in.
How many Polanco’s can we fit in one seat!?
Let’s go Blue!
I sent a selfie from Minute Maid Park in Houston. I was in Texas for work and figured the Astros’ home turf would be the second best place to take in the game.
True fan right there!
Be careful Aaron!

My brother followed up by sending three words to the thread…

Oh my God.

What? I thought. Houston fans were mellow in comparison to the more deplorable sections of the Dodger fanbase. As I typed a response, another message from Daniel came through…

Guys! A representative of the Boys and Girls Club just threw out the first pitch. His name is…

CARLOS POLANCO!

Tears immediately filled my eyes as my phone began to vibrate uncontrollably. Streams of messages came in as my family members expressed their dismay.

I let it buzz.

As I sat in Minute Maid Park, surrounded by orange, my mind drifted to memories of my favorite Dodger fan. I heard his laugh and smelled his cheap aftershave. I was in disbelief. What are the odds? I thought. Perhaps my brother was mistaken. Midway through the second inning broadcaster Joe Buck confirmed my brother’s report.

‘Throwing out the first pitch tonight was the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year,

Carlos Polanco.’

My uncle was watching the World Series after all. I cried like a baby. Right there in Minute Maid Park. Tears came and I let them flow.

We can’t lose tonight. I thought. And sure enough, we didn’t. Fueled by an angel’s namesake and a magical red beard, the Dodgers marched to victory in their first World Series game in twenty nine years.

Talk about cosmic poetry.

Now, if Carlos can come back and throw out the first pitch for the rest of the Series, that would be great.

Go Blue!

Win it for Carlos.

 

 

Destino Conocido

 

I have returned home a stranger,

Forever changed by distant lands and smiling faces.

Yet, as I approach familiar harbors, I sense that my voyage has just begun.

What a sight it was to watch the wind come and catch the breadth of my sails.

How I yearn for those glorious gusts to howl once again and carry me off.

I am restless and uncertain, tempted to turn the ship ’round and sail out to the uncharted vastness of the blue.