A season of reflection is underway. After languishing for several years in a lonely place of decay, little bits of wisdom concerning aspects of myself and my life have been cropping up. After slinging around at the bottom in the mud and muck of the tiny little problems that keep me bogged down, I’ve decided it’s time to pull myself up, take a macroscopic look at things. Instead of trying to deal with the small things, instead of wasting my time and energy on trying to explain every internal struggle and find an answer for that one struggle before grasping at the next, I’m seeing now that it might be a better tack to take a systemic approach to my problems. To pull back and look at the grand scheme.
This is the corollary to trying to help a yuppie play the blues; you can give him a guitar, teach him technique, critique his methods, tell him how to dress, give him a list of topics to sing about, maybe teach him some of the blues canon — or you can fire him from his job, introduce him to women who will break his heart, shove him into the blues club, and tell him that’s how it’s done. It is at that point, hopefully, that he will get it.
I am one man examining his life as objectively as subjectivity will allow. I’m trying to get it. This so far has led me to a set of understandings:
I Stay Away:
My life is too short to harbor a grudge. Historically, my weapon of choice against those who shame me, slight me, rob me in some way, is that of walking away, of withholding from them my presence, respect, and trust. Yeah, I do that, believe it or not. But this weapon is a weak weapon; its hilt is actually the blade, and the only one who gets injured is me. By walking away, I stand no ground, I make no compromises, I work out no solutions, and I lose friend after friend after friend. What is left is a growing list of people and places to avoid until all I have left is my own dark apartment.
It is deleterious to continue to ignore, and see as The Others, those strangers who I see all the time, and have seen for years, yet fail to greet as potential new friends. This includes people at the coffeeshop, at work, at my apartment complex. Instead of being friendly (like most people, I’d assume), I’ll typically avert my eyes or act as if they’re not there just to avoid the discomfort of opening up to yet another person. This should not be My Way. This is not The Way…this is unfriendliness.
I wasn’t always like this. When I was in my last months in Greensboro, and when I first moved here ten years ago, my modus operandi was to introduce myself to and talk with as many people as possible, even if it meant I gathered nothing but disposable friends. What I found during those periods was that even if most of the openings closed, some attempts still stuck. To this day, I can point out a handful of people who I met within my first three months in Austin who I still communicate with on a semiregular basis and still hold in mutual regard. This is because I bothered to interject into overheard conversations (where it seems fit, of course), because I bothered offer a greeting. A friendship of a thousand months starts with “Hello”.
To withhold myself from at least saying “Hi” leaves me sitting by myself as a stranger; when I am done for the night, I fold up my things and head home alone and unnoticed. By avoiding those Others, I chill the warmth of my soul and shrink into a bad shape where I calcify and take on the appearance of creepiness. Would you want to be friends with the guy who always sits alone and looks at everybody else without saying anything? If I don’t start saying something, I’ll be That Creepy Guy, and as much as I joke about it, I seriously don’t want that. By being friendly, even to those I don’t want to befriend, I stand a better chance of making friends. Simple solution, really.
For years, I have been carrying the weight of my past. I come from a history of poverty and pride; not the good kind of pride earned by hard work and playing it smart, but the pride that claims poverty and disadvantage as a crown, the pride that says “we make do” yet accepts handouts. The kind of upbringing that says if we just hold out hope and rely on the plans of others, things will somehow work out. Coming from this past shapes who I am now, describes for me what my position is in the world, and colors how I see the world around me. But it does not have to be that way.
I can look back and see every time I was at the bottom end of the pecking order, and use that as the chain that keeps me at the bottom today, or I can choose to recognize that I am a grown man and my world is mine to peck and shape. I am no longer the subject of someone else’s whims; I no longer need to suffer from someone else’s folly. Once I left my hometown and went out on my own, my poverty was my own to remedy, my position was my own to define, and lately I’ve been coming to grips with the idea that this is a reality, that I can do this.
The existentialists say that we are a product of our histories, but that we can choose daily to drop the baggage and redefine ourselves by transcending history. Realistically, there is little in this world that would actually proscribe for us an existence we cannot stand. We don’t take on the trade of our fathers because that’s what we’re supposed to do. The biggest obstacle to our fulfillment in life is the chain we place on ourselves. If I fail, it’s my own damn fault, and no social status, godhead, or other displacement of responsibility is going to change that.
There are quirks about my personality that seem to prevent me from excelling, and relying on these quirks as an excuse for not excelling is the weakling’s way out. Life has no doctor’s note; life has no hall pass. I can’t keep excusing my shortcomings because of the thought (the hope, really) that there’s something wrong with me. Make sense? I have a laundry list of psychological and physical problems — everybody does. But if I were to keep using those problems as an excuse for my behavior, what use am I to the world?
Do I suffer from social anxiety? Does it matter? By naming it, do I suddenly have an excuse? And should I pin it to myself and actually use it to excuse myself from enjoying the company of others? No! You get out there, you fumble through it, and you work through the pain until you get comfortable with screwing up; then you’re as normal as everybody else.
That I am shy is no excuse for sitting in my apartment and playing mahjongg for hours instead of going out to try something new. This is a big town, much bigger than where I come from; novelty, fascination, and wonder is there for the bold to witness. If I’m bored from nothing new in my life, who’s fault is that?
That I am forgetful and have a bad memory is no excuse; I am finding more concrete evidence that I remember best what I experience firsthand. If I attempt to remember a fact, my mind fixates on the idea that I’m trying to remember something, and the thing I’m trying to remember slips out of my mental hands. But if I am elbows-deep into the thick of it, by damn I’ll remember! Instead of trying to treat the symptom by saying “ok, remember this, remember this”, I cure the disease by jumping into the situation without thought of trying to remember. See?
The take-away from this is that if I have internal problems and if I keep holding those up as a parent’s note to excuse me from my shortfalls, then the world will turn to someone else who can exceed their shortcomings and actually do the job. And I’d be left alone holding a note.
This dry season must come to an end. I look at my forgotten projects and yearn for a golden time in the past when I had the creative drive, the attention, and the time to burn in taking my projects to completion. Nowadays, my music equipment sits dark and silent. My programming projects flounder in clumps of unfinished files. My poems sit unpolished in folders and notebooks, pages turning yellow with age. And it hurts me that I’ve dropped so many swords.
The soggy suggestion that I just don’t have any time or energy left after a long day of work is a lie; it is the biggest lie I’ve told myself in my entire life. The people who are driven, who burn with their passions, who create, mold, make, build, write, craft their world, somehow they find plenty of time to do their thing. If you want it, you will make time for it. It’s as easy as that.
Remember all the hours I lose by playing stupid games and hitting “refresh” on Facebook? Yeah, all that time could’ve been spent following my passions. I could’ve been burning the midnight oil weaving music and mixing websites. I could’ve been pushing myself to make something that will outlast me. I could be building the kind of things that make other people stop and shout “that is the coolest fucking thing I’ve seen all year!” If I repurpose myself, if I reallocate my time, if I stop sitting inert in my chair and start moving, maybe, just maybe, I can find my passion again.
So there it is; some of the wisdom I’ve been compiling. It feels like it should be as obvious as it is, but we choose to not see it. I’ve ignored these truths for so long. By publishing them here, I hope to make them real to me, to give them weight. I want to internalize them into a change in behavior, because something’s got to give. This is no kind of life I’m leading.
A life not lived is a lie. It is a damnable lie. I want to tell the truth.