44 Things I Have Learned at 44, by Scott Daris

Scott Daris

Scott Daris wrote his "Things I Have Learned" list chronologically, with one lesson for each year of his life.

Scott Daris took a completely different approach to “Things I Have Learned” than the other contributors — rather than sharing an overall perspective on what he knows today at 44, he wrote a chronological list of life experiences in each year of his life and what he learned from them.

A chronological list never occurred to me but it’s perfect for Scott because he’s faced some tremendous life challenges, and seeing how each flowed into the next gives each subsequent year and lesson perspective. It’s a powerful, moving list and I’m honored he’s willing to share it here.

Scott is a freelance graphic designer/ art director and marketing consultant who gave up Manhattan for rural Massachusetts.

1.  I discovered Air. The hydrogen and oxygen mix I was used to was liquid. Now this Air thing is magically keeping me alive even though it’s invisible. Interesting.

2.  The patterns and rhythms of sounds started making more sense. These things, when not music, were words, and they could be both comforting and scary.

3.  The men landed on the Moon on my third birthday. I had rockets and spacemen on my cake and I learned to love cake and space. And spacemen.

4.  Movement and speed. When all the other kids were in nappytime at Tic Tac Toe Preschool, I was fidgeting and making shapes with my hands and mumbling to myself. I needed to run and play. This was the root of my insomnia.

5.  Sense of accomplishment. When I tied my shoes correctly for the first time in kindergarten, I ran through the room whooping and hollering. Woot!

6.  Peaceful ecstasy. The gentle sounds of springtime birds while having our special Friday lunch on the beautiful green grass of Green Meadows Elementary put me in a state of blissful peace. I go back to that place in my soul often.

7.  Respect. I adored Mrs. Collins, whom my mother also had as a teacher when she was a little one. Small-town country life was nice. Banjos and butterflies…

8.  Abandonment. When my mother suffered a nervous breakdown and left our family, it destroyed me. It was the basis for throwing me off and making me a damaged person the rest of my life. Not a bad person, just fundamentally damaged.

9.  Change and newness. I left the rest of my family – all my siblings and father – to live with my mother when she got out of the psychiatric hospital. I went to a city school and experienced kids of all races. Black girls were cool and Latino boys were badass.

10.  The shock of not being liked by everyone. I loved the other kids and just wanted to engage and have fun, but when I tried to be friends with some of the kids in my class, one of them said “Get away from me” and slapped me in the face. Wha?

11.  Love of nature. I was part of a ’70s experimental group that taught kids about the woods, nature and survival, and I fell in love with the Earth. I learned how to build survival structures, tie special knots, and know which plants and barks to eat. Teaberry anyone?

12.  Love of science. My seventh grade science teacher had a black and white science lab with shiny blood-red desks in our new junior high in town. How modern and cool. We each got our own frog to dissect.

13.  Music. I loved every single thing about music – the expression, the visceral feeling in the core of my being, and the group love from all the kids singing with me. My amazing teacher, Mr. Todd, changed my life.

14.  Embarrassment. We had to take nude showers before and after swimming class and I couldn’t believe I had to see all my friends naked. Was this school policy or the choice of a pervy gym teacher?

15.  Out-of-it while being in it. I fit in with everybody and nobody. I had friends from every clique and as many enemies, too. I was so multi-dimensional that I could relate to everyone and at the same time no one.

16.  Existential dread. WTF is the point of all this? Suffering, then random moments of happiness, then lather, rinse and repeat.

17.  Drinking and smoking pot. I was a happy teenage alcoholic, full of punch and poetry and puking, followed by pot to settle down. Then I needed to dance and scream so I drank more.

18.  Sense of failure. I was so musically inclined that I became the guest conductor of our a cappella singing group. I was terrible – so socially awkward and not a good fit – but my friends joked about it and forgave me. I was the tortured, oversensitive music whiz that needed to stay in the performance and be the music itself.

19.  Coming out without even trying. After being quite the ladies man throughout junior and high school, I had my first boyfriend in freshman year at state college. I was the art punk alternadude on campus and life was never more awesome. A big F U to the establishment!

20.  Rage. When I pointed out the bloated, Neanderthal guy at my state college who stole my roommate’s hidden savings (he overheard where it was hidden in our dorm room) he lifted me up by my throat and jammed me into the wall at a party. Perfect moment to be Carrie, motherf–ker, but instead, just drunken laughs.

21.  Freedom. I moved to Boston and became an artsy, new wave guy on the scene. City life was amazing, always filled with music, parties and new friends.

22.  Art. I became a painter at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and I immersed myself in unbridled creativity. I was pathologically visual and visionary but also a firm believer in hard empirical fact. Mystical without a God. Still am.

23.  Death. My older brother died of drug and alcohol abuse. He tried committing suicide earlier this same year and I saved him by breaking down our bathroom door and holding his bloodied body while I called 911. He died on the streets a few days before Christmas. I love you, Steve.

24.  True friendship. I loved my amazing creative friends so much, and they loved me. We were hippie punk freaks in love with life and each other. We baked bread and skinny dipped and slept on big beds all cuddled up with each other.

25.  Closure. School was over. My friends from the past four years either had babies, drifted way or tended to life’s other obligations.

26.  Radicalism. Maybe the wrong word. Without trying and without hatred, I questioned everything and focused on trying to free myself from the shackles of societal bullshit and the megastructures we’ve set up to enslave ourselves. Rockiness ahead.

27.  Service. I became a print shop rep and absolutely loved making things happen for people. I was rewarded with abundant thank yous, guest passes, special event tickets, and even money. Boston’s heyday was the late ’80s and early ’90s and I dove into the scene with lots of perks and fun people. I was drunk four days a week.

28.  Awareness of bad habits and repeating problems. I got so out of touch with my own needs and sense of purpose because of low self–esteem that I sabotaged jobs, relationships, everything. Good things fell apart and I often left a trail of tears. Twelve more years of this to come in different forms.

29.  Being used by people. I was such a caretaker that people milked me for all I was worth. I validated my sense of purpose by giving freely of my resources, my time, my money and taking care of people. People could be selfish, uncaring, brutal assholes. And they were.

30.  Putting my foot down. I kicked out my roommate/best friend and all our common friends took his side even though he used and abused me. Nice.

31. New York City. OK, I’m here in ugly 1996 Williamsburg with a BFA – now what? Time to learn about this wonderful town.

32.  Unbelievable hardship and struggle. I was sick of service and retail jobs so I made a point of learning new skills and getting entry-level desktop publishing jobs to pay my high New York City rent. This was the first year I went consciously forward in my career as a graphic designer.

33.  Respect for sentient life. My sister became a Tao Buddhist and I became a vegetarian when I had a dream of skinned humans in supermarket shrink-wrapped packaging. Life is tender, raw, vulnerable. I still save spiders and watch in wonder as a mosquito sucks my blood.

34. Office life. I became a graphic designer on Wall Street and melted into the social structure of office life. Something felt both right and very wrong. Was I an artist selling out? But at 34 I was officially getting old, so I had to – right?

35. Ostracization. I had such a long stint of bad choices, bad credit and bad habits that I had to settle on getting an apartment way out in the “ghetto” of Brooklyn in the Bed–Stuy neighborhood. Friends and family thought I would get killed. I could write a book just on living in Bed–Stuy for 5 years!

36. African-American culture. I had a motto in Bed-Stuy: “The Only Cracker in the Box.” I became friends with my neighbors and started to get involved with the dance and music culture of African-Americans. Amazing, supportive, connected people with huge extended families and networks of support – something I never had. I became an honorary brotha. And sista!

37. Late-30s alcoholism. I could not sleep without drugs and alcohol – a total insomniac. I was slipping into darkness. Nights were filled with nightmares. Days were unbearable. I may have even died quickly one night and came back to life, my health was so bad. Who knows.

38. Things falling apart. How long could a person not love himself, not know himself, not face the core reasons of why a life wasn’t working? When things fall apart, all the core truths are revealed. I started facing them one by one. I nursed my body and soul back to health with the loving guidance of a few close friends.

39. Pulling it together. I focused solely on becoming an art director by building a portfolio, even though I was stuck in production-level jobs while not having a dime to my name at any point in time. Focusing was about to pay off big time.

40. Reaping the fruits of my hard labor. Being a late bloomer and working myself to the bone, I finally became an art director. Sure, it was in pharmaceutical, but I learned everything about ad agencies from here on. Freelance life to come in many industries. Learning while getting paid – it was all good.

41. Losing everything. I lost my ad agency job, I lost my Manhattan apartment, I had to sell everything I owned, I couldn’t work because of panic attacks and I was near homelessness, so I made a last-ditch effort to stay in New York City by moving back to yet another bad Brooklyn neighborhood for the cheap rent. Epic fail. If it weren’t for Melody Beattie’s “Finding Your Way Home” and Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” I wouldn’t be typing right now. I left NYC and moved into my mother’s home in rural western Massachusetts.

42. Facing the core reasons and truths. So why would a life not work? I know now after many grueling seasons of deep reflection. I’m what is known as an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. There’s an acronym for everything! I internalized all the negative energy and dysfunction of the world and let it break me apart, then lashed out at people, leaving charred aftermath. I was often right in my observations and interactions, but I used the fire of intensity against myself and others instead of using it constructively to build and strengthen. Fire can be either terrifying and destructive or warm and life-sustaining.

43. Connecting with family. I’m now back in my hometown near mom, dad, sister and her kids. One brother is dead and the other is in the Navy but I’m very connected to both. I love my family and we’re making up for lost time. I’m barefoot most of the time, even in winter. I love feeling myself on the Earth – finally.

44. Healing. The deepest healing on all levels that only the courageous or nuts could do. People hide in marriages, jobs, drugs, delusions, commonly accepted non-sanity, and many other things. I see right through it all and cannot use any delusion or crutch to keep going. Someone once told me my soul was 6,000 years old. Ha! I’m not that young.

Scott Daris was the fourth installment in the “Things I Have Learned” series, running each Thursday on Newvine Growing. Previous lists have come from:

Each person’s list is their own. Life teaches us all different lessons, even when we face the same experiences. I’m honored to share this series of life lessons in each contributor’s voice.


Categories: career, creativity, food and drink, health and well being, home and family, lifestyle

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13 replies

  1. Thanks for your comments, everybody. Taking the time to read such a long post amidst your busy day is very cool of you. Looking forward to reading more in this series (good idea, Colleen) 😀

  2. Scott, that was so open of you, not to mention an incredibly original format…like Lara said, thanks for sharing it. I’m up to #34 on my list, and you have set the bar high.

  3. This was so true and real and powerful. Thanks for sharing it with us, Scott.


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