*And by pen, I mean laptop keyboard. But, whatever.
This is the year I’m going to sell some writing.
I already told you about my nascent book project (based on what I’ve been writing about in the memoir section of this blog), but that’s the marathon on the horizon.
Right now, I need to warm up and just crank out a series of short essays for the magazine market. It’s obviously a competitive freelance scene out there, but I think I have what it takes to get something published somewhere.
OK, obviously, I’ll have to pick some specific topics to pitch.
I’ll have to do all the research on whom exactly to submit to, and how.
I’ll have to actually sit down and write.
But I don’t really have a choice.
I’ve reached the point of no return in that cliché:
If you don’t have to do “X” (usually some creative thing with wildly improbable odds), then find something else. But if you can’t not do it, then you absolutely must go for it (or you’ll be miserable for the rest of your life).
So, I figure–
If I’m gonna go for it, I might as well do it right.
I’m gonna sit down with that phonebook-sized Writer’s Market (or the online equivalent thereof) and make a list of publications across my various fields of interest.
I’m gonna write as many inquiry letters and pitches as it takes–
For however long it takes–
Until someone trades me money for words.
And then I’m gonna do it all over again.
So, I’m having dinner with a friend in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and over a heaping pile of pad see ew and pumpkin curry she hits me up with what is definitely the most intriguing philosophical/lifestyle concept that I’ve encountered all year.
Basically– when confronted with the need to make a big/ important life decision– she asks herself:
“Do I REALLY want to ______?” (i.e. do whatever thing she’s thinking about doing)
If the answer is not a giant, resounding @!$& YES!, then the answer is NO.
And she acts accordingly.
This concept immediately and simultaneously blew my mind and quietly triggered intense metaphysical agita and internal grievances (unrelated to my meal).
Was this the secret to living a life of intense purpose and satisfaction, or an overly simplistic novelty that would likely land me in decision-making paralysis or trouble (or both)?
* * *
While I have been playing with the concept of saying “yes” to (almost) everything over the past seven weeks of quasi-freeform travel, I can’t say how many of those yeses were of the resolutely self-assured variety.
Usually the self-assured “yes” would be utterly predictable, as in: “Should we go out and get ice cream now?”
Um, how is that even a question? Of course we should go out and get ice cream now!
Sometimes, the “yes” would follow a moment of actual (but ultimately insignificant) deliberation, as in, “Should we go out and get ice cream now, even though we went out and got ice cream yesterday?”
Um… maybe, possibly we shouldn’t, but… YES! Again, how is this even a question?
And every now and then there’d be the “massive struggle to overcome introversion and/or inertia ‘yes,’” wherein I’d reluctantly agree to go out and be social, despite my inner Mr. Crankypants telling me I’d probably be happier reading a book all night.
Most of the time, I was glad that “I had to say yes.” Without that rule, I probably would have said no.
And that’s what intrigued me about this philosophy.
If I wasn’t totally feeling the “for-sure yes,” would having said “no” have been better than a “begrudging yes”? Somehow I don’t think so.
We’re basically talking about whether or not to go out for drinks on a Tuesday.
(Of course, because I don’t really drink, this is actually a question of whether or not to engage in social activity with friends.)
Not exactly a life-altering decision.
So… what about when the stakes are much higher?
Generally, we’re going to try to avoid investing our time in an obvious “no” situation, but can we afford to invest in something we find not-terrible, but less-than-enthralling (i.e., an ambivalent “yes”)?
Or should we hold out for that @!$& YES!?
Even if that means passing up on a “not my dream, but I guess it’ll do” situation?
* * *
I don’t know, my friends.
I do know that I can’t answer these questions for you.
We all have different life situations, dreams, expectations, comfort levels, etc.
All I can say is, I feel like it’s increasingly difficult to ignore/run from the undeniable YESes in my head, that– for whatever reason– I’m still not fully committed to.
I think that was the point of this latest round of travel– to gain some insight into (and commitment towards) what really, truly drives me. (And not just what I think should drive me.)
When I’m on the road, living out of a backpack, with virtually unlimited choices regarding how I spend my time and energy, it’s easier to see (and feel) what matters most to me.
Seven weeks after hitting the road, I think I can say that my adventure was both worthwhile and productive.
I’m still finding it difficult to transcend my ambivalence– to self-assuredly choose my YES! situations.
What will it take to break this old pattern?
I’m tired of making big announcements and abandoning projects.
I’d rather just choose my YES!(es) and relentlessly pursue it (them) without second-guessing myself.
* * *
I don’t know, my friends.
(But I really do.)
My friend is onto something.
What would it be like to live a passionate life on utter purpose, without all of that draining, obnoxious ambivalence?
There’s only one way to know.
Have you ever been in an airplane, circling around and around and around in a holding pattern, seemingly minutes from your destination airport, just waiting for the go-ahead to land?
That’s how I feel about the Memoir Series that I started writing last year around this time.
On the one hand, I had this incredibly productive burst of creative energy– writing some 80,000 words over the course of a few months– and this energy (in retrospect) served as a fantastic catalyst for everything that would follow in 2014.
On the other hand, after writing all of those words and reaching a certain point in my story, I suddenly abandoned the memoir project and moved on to other things (e.g. yoga trainings and traveling).
And now that I’ve accomplished quite a bit of yoga trainings and traveling this year, I can’t help but feel that time has come to finish what I started.
So, why did I stop in the first place?
Honestly, I wasn’t ready to face what I knew lay ahead.
Despite writing fairly candidly about a number of my life’s adventures (and misadventures) over the years, the astute reader (assuming that one actually made it all the way through those 80,000 words) may have noticed that I started the memoir with events taking place in late 2009 and beyond (beginning with the Squirrel Series), and then I jumped back to chronicle the first twenty-one years of my life (i.e. childhood through 1999).
Which means I still haven’t accounted for mid-1999 to mid-2009– i.e., my 23rd to 33rd years on Planet Earth– i.e., The Dark Years.
To clarify: I’m not saying everything was uniformly terrible during the Dark Years.
There were a reasonable amount of good moments– moments that I’m glad I had the good fortune to experience. A few summer camp adventures, a trip to Costa Rica, the expansion of my family by five standard poodles, my sister’s wedding, some awesome moments on stage with my band, etc.
But there were also many, MANY not-so-good moments during those years.
I’m not going to list them here.
I’m going to finish the memoir instead.
[By the way, I'd be misrepresenting myself if I somehow implied that the years following the Dark Years (i.e. 2009 - '13) didn't sometimes rival the Dark Years in their occasional periods of darkness. Still, I think of these as two distinct periods. Although I could theoretically divide the whole decade-and-a-half into the Early Dark Years and the Late Dark Years. Hmm... Let's see how the next ten years play out, first.]
Anyway, my point is:
The Dark Years seem much, much harder to write about than anything that I’ve tackled, thus far.
The situations that I’d have to write about seem way more complex and embarrassing, and an honest evaluation of my thoughts, behaviors, and decision-making processes over the course of the Dark Years is probably going to serve as a more severe indictment of my mental state during that time than maybe I’d want to actually admit.
Which probably contributes to the quasi-masochistic thrill I feel in turning to face the Dark Years head-on.
Anyway, I think the pain of ignoring/hiding from the past is probably worse than the pain of working through it, so… here we go.
* * *
OK, I’m not quite done with the disclaimers.
First, one brief nod towards keeping things in perspective:
Despite any challenges I may have faced over the years, I’m still far luckier than so many other people who have had it much worse— who have had far less opportunity and support during challenging times.
For better or for worse, I have the ability to write about this stuff without having to worry (too much) that it’s going to ruin my career, or whatever. (If I’m lucky, this stuff will make it.)
I’m already past the point of no return, as far as my internet presence is concerned. My résumé is such a convoluted puzzle by now that even the slickest LinkedIn presentation can’t make me pass for “a normal person.” So I’m just not gonna bother even pretending anymore.
At age 38, I think it’s possible to say that my comparative advantage might be my persistent deviation from the expected norm.
But it’s also safe to say that my deviation from the norm was wholly made possible by the fact that– thanks to my family, my education, my social network, and my relative privilege– I’ve never had to worry about starving in the streets.
In other words, my tale is not one of survival and hardship. It’s not “a struggle against the odds,” or an addiction and violence-fueled melodrama.
In fact, it might all come across as a little tame, after the build up.
Nevertheless, it’s my story.
And I have no interest in comparing myself to those who’ve had it worse (or better, for that matter).
So, why tell my story at all?
Because I want to.
Because I can.
If it resonates with you, great.
And if not, great.
The Dark Years…
Here we come.
Guess what? I didn’t make it to Ojai today. (And the world didn’t end.) Instead, I continued to busy myself with ghost-chasing and second-guessing and laughing-crying and consciously rewiring in the City of Angels. This is my true yoga, “off the mat.” Everything in this city is my “edge.” Every part of me is sore here. Every pose hurts. I still can’t seem to get over the life that I (willingly?) gave up here, so many years ago. And yet– it is what it is. Get over it.
* * *
The least productive game I’ve ever played is “What if…?”
So why do I keep playing?
Maybe because I’ve gotten so damn good at it.
Flash forward. Here’s the solution:
“Embrace the suck.”
Whatever your problem.
Yeah, you can try to dull the suck with any number of temporary measures– escapist entertainment, money, drugs, whatever– but the suck never really goes away, does it? I don’t care how rich or powerful you are– the suck always finds its way back, somehow.
Better to embrace the suck, I think.
To revel in the suckitude of whatever your bullshit situation.
To recognize that– Wow!– This totally sucks! And here my chance to turn this sinking ship around.
No one wants to hear your (my) sob story.
I mean, even if they do, that’s not what they only want to hear.
They want to hear what you’re doing about it.
Better yet, they want to see what you’re doing about it.
(You are doing something about it. Right?)
* * *
GOOD GOD! I am so sick and tired of being whatever the procrastinating/perfectionistic equivalent of being sick and tired is.
I am not sick and tired!
At age thirty-eight, I’m (finally) fairly rocking it re: my own “health and wellness.”
But at age less-than-twelve-years-to-fifty, I’m still just crushed by the needless drama (and ramifications thereof) in the annals of own personal narrative.
I look back in awe and horror at my eighteen-through-thirty-seven year old adult self.
You! What were you thinking!?
And then the old game is back on, with a vengeance.
And I realize how hard it is to move forward while playing that old game.
So, how to stop playing?
Practice “being present” one thought at a time.
Find the edge.
Feel the pain.
Embrace the suck.
Take a deep breath.
Do something (meaningful).
* * *
I don’t know… it seems like a reasonable approach.
There’s no magic.
There’s no shortcut.
There’s only practice.
And more practice.
(Sorry./ You’re welcome.)
Why am I writing this post again?
I’ve been writing this blog for one year and one month. (By far, a personal record.)
Looking back, I can see that what I’ve created here is not exactly what I set out to create, but it’s been a pretty good experience, nonetheless.
I was hoping to create something a little more interactive, a little less “personal journal-y.”
That hope did not come to pass.
On the other hand…
The act of writing this blog (and attempting to act on the things I write about) has undoubtedly propelled me out of the reclusive, “personal journal-centric” headspace I’d been (somewhat miserably) living in, into a far more engaging and interactive actual life.
And that’s been pretty good.
And also pretty weird.
And also pretty painful in ways I hadn’t expected.
Imagine waking up one day.
Imagine feeling pretty good that day.
Imagine not feeling the crushing anxiety and depression and frustration and sleep deprivation and anger and self-doubt and rage and dread and irrational fear and pain and so on that you’d normally wake up with over the past, say, fifteen or twenty years.
Imagine what it would feel like to have this immense weight lifted from your heart and your brain.
Imagine the freedom.
Now imagine the flash-flood rush of thoughts streaming in to fill the void.
What. Just. Happened?
Twenty years– down the drain.
How could I have let this happen?
The pain of loss.
The loss of days/weeks/months/years. Of time that you can never get back.
The loss of opportunities.The ones you had… the ones you could’ve had.
The loss of relationships… of friends… family… romances that were, or could have been (if maybe you hadn’t been so anxiousdepressedfrustratedangryfearfuletc…)
The loss of money.
Money you had and recklessly spent… money you didn’t have and recklessly spent.
Money you could have earned (if you could have held a job/ if you could have found meaningful work/ if you could have dealt with the cognitive dissonance of holding a job that wasn’t meaningful long enough to save at least something…)
The loss of youth.
Loss and loss and loss and more loss.
What have you gained?
Or– more precisely– the Now.
What’s done is done.
I’ll tell you “what now.”
(Because this isn’t at all what I was intending to write today. Nevertheless.)