Jesse and I spent three days cleaning out the basement so Jesse could use it with his high school friends. It was a huge project, clearing out the cast-offs of two whole childhoods. Pirate hats, one cowboy boot, a space helmet, the game we played with Kathe every day when she was three, trying to get mice safely to a tree before they were eaten by a cat. That doesn’t begin to describe the size of the job: baskets filled with broken balsa wood, collapsed balls, marbles, game chips, tablespoons of dust, hairballs, an old sock, broken calculator. I hadn’t counted on so many souvenirs, from days spent bouncing on the open futon, scarves wrapped around Jesse’s shoulders like a cape, wielding a wooden sword, feathered top hat balancing precariously, feet bare, hair gelled into tiny spikes. I grabbed all of it with ruthless intensity and pushed it into the driveway. Jesse was floppy, hard to engage. I was cranky. You do realize I’m not doing this for myself, right? In the end, we had it broom clean. Jesse and I sat in the big soft chairs we bought at a yard sale. I pictured boys with hands as large as my head, feet bigger than mine, shoulders still slim, voices deepening and cracking,

Later I saw two kids, about five and seven, pawing through the boxes we had left on the sidewalk. They took Indiana Jones’s whip but left the wooden sword and the space helmet; they took the GameBoy and half the dvd’s, including Sinbad and Brother Bear. They took an old ripped duffel bag. As I watched the boy grab the bag, fierce with plans (forts? adventures? running away from home?) I wanted to snatch it back. No, sorry, that one’s not for taking. I let him go, my heart squeezed and sorrowful, sad the way Jesse was sad, draped over the porch, watching his childhood scatter down the sidewalk and disappear.

I get sidetracked. I build a webpage. The font isn’t exactly the right color. I buy software that I can’t use, and the vendor won’t refund it. I download photos in the wrong format, and can’t convert them. There is always the promise, with electronics, of improving something — don’t like the font? Use a different one. Don’t want to open your own emails? Set a rule. Every optimization introduces a proliferation of possibilities– fonts with shadows, integrating the shadowy fonts with your notification system, integrating the whole notification system with your printed calendar, printing the calendar on t-shirts, sending the printed t-shirts to various groups of friends, that you can tag, according to how well you know them and how many t-shirts you want them to have.

I watched a movie about drummers last night. All these gifted, amazing drummers. Some of them looked like trolls from a Tolkien novel. One was strikingly handsome, with polished white teeth and a long ponytail, a single frown line between his eyebrows, which made him look serious, even though his eyes were kind. One was tiny, with a short neck, short arms and a barrel chest. They sat together, like messengers from a world of crystals and magic, telling the interviewer why they drum– to find joy, to go back to the arms of their mother, because drumming is the beating heart, the core of life. The only difference between them and anybody else is that they drum. They drum so hard blood comes from their hands. They drum four hours, take a short break and drum some more. The message came through loud and clear: we are what we repeatedly do. Stay away from the internet. Try not to waste this precious time.

Blog posts. A churning stream of bright shiny advice, culminating in little pop up windows in which the writer invites you to join their email list, so you can get new advice every Monday, at the end of which, eventually, will be a whole series of attempts to monetize this project: an ebook, a podcast, a “click through to Amazon” link in which you can buy related products. Write more, better, faster. Stop procrastinating. Give up your day job. Improve your running speed. Meditate. These were the cheesy ads that used to appear on the back of comic books when I was a child. Jack LaLane, first skinny and stooped, ballooning into the strong man at the circus– never get sand kicked in your face again. Now they are everywhere– beautiful internet temptations, written by hipsters, lined up like craft beers. We need to be careful. We might be smart enough to avoid a cheesy ad at the back of a comic book, but who can resist the tasteful, touch-screen responsive invitation to finally, once and for all, get this mess under control?

I like to read the back page essays in the Boston Globe Magazine. I read for the stories: the man who thought he loved his wife until he cheated on her; the child who thought they loved their parent, until the parent developed dementia and starting hurling the plate of scrambled eggs every morning; the woman who thought it wasn’t possible to fall in love, until she met the hulking, shy man who helped move boxes into her small studio apartment; the kid who couldn’t succeed until they wrote a poem that got published in a national magazine. I read those stories because they help me accept the messy process by which I live– trying, failing, sometimes succeeding, trying again. The back page stories always get knotted into a tidy bow of insight or advice. Most of the time the bow is unsatisfying. Some version of, “life is complicated.” But I don’t mind, because I have the story. The painful, lovely struggle to be human. A reminder: I’m not the only person who has no idea what they’re doing, who has hopes, and disappointments, and keeps going. The story is the message: don’t worry, dear. Nobody really understands. The trying is all that matters. Keep trying.