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My Year in Exile

Less than a week into 2011, I was over it. I wanted out. I wanted 2012.

Well, here we are.

January was rocky, at best. I found myself constantly dwelling on abandonment issues I didn’t even know I had. My best friend/roommate had moved up north and my girlfriend had been off on her own circling the globe since October. I was half a world away from the person I cared about most; when she returned, that distance remained. From across a dinner table, a bed, a car’s center console, we were suddenly miles apart. What followed was three months of playing chicken to see who’d draw first blood. I stood my ground, refused her an easy way out, and when the inevitable happened, I bit my lip, took up smoking again, and did my best to move on. After all, by April, I had six months of preemptive mourning under my belt; as much as it hurt to process at the time, at least I was prepared.

As is often the case, a two-year relationship had given me ample material from which to learn: I was fully aware I’d become complacent and that I’d been an exemplary boyfriend and partner, but also that our split wasn’t my own doing. It took me a while to grasp, but when the ashes settled, it struck me: I’d cared about her more than myself. Yes, there was work to done- but it was on me.

After being expelled from my own comfort zone, that’s where I spent the following eight months: on the outside, struggling to find my way back in. (This is exceedingly difficult when one doesn’t exactly know what his comfort zone consists of any more.) I started by saying “Yes” a whole lot more, and I haven’t looked back.

Immediately, I found comfort in the love of a new friend. A week before the breakup, I’d started fostering a 75-pound pit bull “puppy” named Jack; he was both the symbolic and literal beginning of my “recovery.” Although I’d only have him for six weeks due to the small quarters of my Brentwood apartment and even smaller quarters provided by my work schedule, he deserves substantial credit for helping me get back up on my feet, for showing me I could still care. Coming home from work to a wagging tail and that watermelon of a head on my lap was a joy I could hardly comprehend.

Memorial Day in Laughlin was somewhat of a turning point. I dropped acid for the first time. An hour later, mushrooms, also for the first time. (Here’s where “Yes” starts factoring in.) I collapsed as a crucifix in the Colorado River and stared at clouds, kissed my friend in a sandstorm (complete with fireworks, I shit you not), collapsed upon a table of dining tourists while “speaking tongues” (allegedly), and came to on a casino floor with a flashlight in my eye and an oxygen mask over my mouth. “The Summer of Mike” had begun; it’d last well through November.

As July drew to a close, I drove across the country with my little brother. There were breakfast burritos at sunrise at my alma mater in Arizona, abandoned hotels and a speeding ticket in New Mexico, and 900 miles of barren Texas highway. I found love chasing music and hickory coffee in New Orleans, waded in the warm, oily Gulf waters off Mississippi, and smoked pot in pitch black Alabama backwoods. Seven years later, I finally made it back to Steak ‘n Shake in Georgia. We stopped for gas in South Carolina, and wound our way through a several hundred miles of North Carolinan Appalachia. In Virginia, I bought a NASCAR lighter and Andrew finally tried Waffle House. We stayed with one of my best friends from college, Katie in Maryland; I hadn’t seen her since I kissed her goodbye at the Tucson airport after her graduation in 2007. I finally met her girlfriend. We grabbed a beer in a Delaware bar and acknowledged we’d now been to Delaware. After fifteen minutes in Pennsylvania, we made it to the Jersey shore in a full-blown thunderstorm. We drank and smoked our way around Brooklyn, sat in traffic through Connecticut, and arrived just in time to see the Decemberists at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. It took me two days to fly home. My car was waiting at my mom’s house with a flat tire.

Creatively, I didn’t grow as much as I would’ve liked in 2011, but at least there was movement. I wrote on two comedy pilots. I blogged for WELOVENICE and joined the OT family. I increased my audience. While I talked to myself more than ever, I managed to process a decent chunk of it into legible words. I got over my irrational fear of being on camera at work and I’m on TV now. Every weeknight. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that’s something to be (gasp) proud of.

For the first time as a Los Angeles resident, I moved east of the 405, into a Culver City apartment with an overwhelmingly positive influence in September. I celebrated as friends got married, commiserated with friends as they broke up, and learned to talk to women again (an ongoing process). I got a tattoo. I was fortunate enough to find myself involved in new social circles. I continued to make bad decisions, but I like to think I’ve learned from some of them. (I love my tattoo unconditionally.)

Despite old habits like apathy, marijuana, and procrastination, I’ve positioned myself to accomplish any number of personal goals in the coming year. I’ll spend more time with my family. Show more patience, more tact. Talk less, do more. Make new friends, but not cast aside the old ones. Write more (and read more). Quit smoking. (Again.) Take an improv class. Finally watch all five seasons of The Wire. Get a pug. Run like the wind. Return to selflessness. Continue saying “Yes.”

All in all, my year was defined by a series of ecstatic highs and soul-crushing lows. I don’t give a flying fuck if people think the world’s ending this year– I’m welcoming it with open arms. Bring it.

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