Ramblings on Living Life

I have this theory about life. It isn’t terribly original, nor is it groundbreaking or revolutionary. It is, however, something I think about whenever I’m worried or afraid to do something I think will benefit me.

The things you fear are probably the things you should be doing.

Now, this isn’t fear like “if I do that, I’m going to die.” Although, some of those fears should also be faced. No, this is the fear that comes from without. The fear that someone else will see you doing a thing and judge it a waste of time. The fear that someone will take in the product of what you have done and deem it somehow unworthy. The fear that you will look silly.

The fear that you will fail.

That last one– that’s the reason most people don’t do things. That’s the reason why dreams lay by the side of the road, rotting in the ditch, as people drive past in their fuel-efficient vehicles and act like they don’t see them. That’s why people die with regrets.

I don’t want that. I have no idea how long I’m going to be here. I can’t tell you whether I will die next week from some rare blood disease or hyper-aggressive cancer or stray bullet. I’m 31 years old and people younger than me die every single day. What makes me special enough to be exempt from that?

Nothing.

Not one single, minuscule, fucking thing.

So I decided, a few years back, that I wasn’t going to let any of that petty “what if” bullshit hold me back. I was going to do the things that made me happy, and made the people I care about happy. I decided I would keep working my normal job, because it pays the bills and doesn’t stress me out too much, but in my spare time, I was going to write a book, or two, or three.

In the process of all of this writing, I’ve discovered a lot about myself. For three years, I worked on writing this story. I wrote 300,000 words without a single thought to how good or bad it was. I just puked words out onto a page. It was glorious. Then I joined up with the community and started showing other writers my work.

Judgment came down from on high.

For the most part, people were positive, which was awesome. Some people were negative, which was less than awesome, but it helped to make the work better. Then this strange thing happened: I started having difficulty writing.

I would sit down at my keyboard and stare at it. My mind would go totally blank. I knew what I needed to write, but it wouldn’t come out. I would start typing, because that’s what you do when you get blocked, you just write. Write anything, it doesn’t matter. Just get the words flowing again.

Still, it was all crap. I would write and write and write and end up deleting it all the next day because it just sucked. Eventually, I would break through the barrier and something worth a damn would spew giddily from my story hole and my fingertips would hesitantly cram it onto a computer screen. Then a few weeks later, the cycle would repeat.

I noticed something after a while: Rarely did the block come on its own. There was something that incited it. Something that made my mind say “You’re not a writer today. Today you’re a failure.” And somewhere in the corner there was this weak little nerdy kid with his hair parted on the side wearing a bolo tie sitting at his desk who just couldn’t tell that voice he was wrong (I have a picture of me looking exactly like that from like 4th grade, by the way. If you don’t believe me, ask my mother, I’m sure she’d happily show it to you and gush about how adorable I was). That kid would just agree and curl up in a ball and decide it wasn’t worth the effort if he was just going to fail anyway.

Here’s my thoughts on the matter: the kid’s wrong. Even if the voice is totally right and I’m a complete failure and not one single person ever enjoys the words I write down, the kid is still wrong. The value and beauty in life is in the living.

The measure of how well you’ve lived your life is how satisfied you are with it.

I’ll end this whole little rant with an exercise I do from time to time. I do this to make sure I’m living this life the way I want to, not the way someone else thinks I should. I do it when I feel like I’ve lost perspective and I need to remember the shit that matters.

Okay, relax. Here it is:

Contemplate for a moment the idea that one day you will die. Don’t think of it as an abstract idea. Really consider what those last moments will be like. Maybe you will die in your sleep, after a long struggle with an illness. You’ll lie in bed and you chest will feel so heavy. Breathing is a chore and when you do manage a few gasping wheezes, they aren’t enough to satisfy your need for oxygen. You close your eyes, and listen as the world hurdles through space. You can feel that the end is near and your essence will return to be among the forces of the universe. What will you think in those last few breaths before you close your eyes and the darkness takes you? How satisfied will you be with the decisions you’ve made and the way you’ve spent the all-too-few and precious minutes you were given? Did you look at the things that were just too scary, the things that, while in the moment, seemed too big and daunting to reach for and turned away from them? Or did you, instead, listen to your heart– to your soul– and grab life by the balls and take the things you wanted as it screamed and fell to its knees begging for mercy? What things will you wish you had the chance to go back and do? What things will you regret as you lay there, contemplating the end?

Go do those fucking things.

Live your life as though you’re watching it from your deathbed. Because one day you will be.

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In Memoriam

I’ve debated with myself for the last 12 hours about whether or not I should post anything about this. Part of me feels it isn’t my place. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t put it out to the world. Part of me feels like people don’t want to see it. But, if I gave much of a damn about what other people thought, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m gonna ramble some, I’m gonna be melodramatic, I’m gonna be hokey, I’m gonna say a bunch of shit that may or may not even be intelligible. So, here it goes.

As a writer, I always want to find the perfect words to convey something. After this last weekend, I’m at a complete loss. First came the loss of my high school theater director, whose impact in my life almost can’t be measured.

J. Gary Wyatt was a storm of a man, a force to be reckoned with, even if his hands shook and threatened to spill the Diet Coke he always carried. With memorable phrases like “Don’t let stupid out of the box!”, “Don’t expect it to work, inspect it, so you know it will work! Just because it worked yesterday does not mean it will work today.”, and “You are auditioning all the time!” he instilled a sense of self-sufficiency, responsibility, and self-worth into every one of his actors, techies, and crew. It didn’t take long to realize that J Gary yelled because he cared. If he was yelling at you, it meant you were worth him spending time to get you on the right track. If he wasn’t yelling, you weren’t one of his kids.

Every night before a show, we would all gather in a circle around the stage, behind the curtain and clasp hands. Mr. Wyatt would bow his head and give a little pep talk. It always ended the same way. “Your talents are a gift from God. What you do with those talents is, in turn, your gift to God. The power of the circle is the strongest power of all. You take strength from one another and give strength to each other. Take the power and pass it on.” Then he would squeeze the hand of the person to his right. The power would traverse the circle and end back at him.

“Whatever you do, wherever you do it, always do it with Class and Style.”

Then on Sunday, we learned of my father-in-law’s passing. Not everyone thinks of their in-laws as real family, heck, not everyone think of their in-laws as real people, but since the first time I met Tom and Sally, I’ve felt like I belonged among them. I have been so lucky to have a mother- and father-in-law that love and accept me in the way they have. It’s like getting an extra set of parents, even when the first set is pretty damn amazing.

I first met Tom one week after I met his daughter. He and Sally and Amanda and I sat in lawn chairs in the river, drank beers from a floating styrofoam cooler, and talked about all the things you’re not supposed to discuss with people you just met: religion, politics, sex, the meaning of life… oh yeah, and the fact that I was still married, working on getting a divorce, and fighting desperately for custody of my son. In honesty, it could have been pretty bad, but they were very accepting of me and I was grateful for that. Probably more than they will ever really understand.

Ever since that day in the Blanco river, for as long as I have known him, no matter what else he was doing, Tom always had extra hands for two things: a baby and a beer–often at the same time. I’ve never seen him happier than sitting on the porch with a baby on one arm and a beer in his other hand while watching the grandkids ride bikes and play in the yard. No matter what cancer did to him, what toll it took on his body, when my wife walked into his room with grandbabies, Tom would light up like everything in the world was right. And I like to think that, if even for a brief moment, my children helped him forget the pain and hardship of leaving this world. It makes me feel like I’ve helped pay him back a little.

When we would go visit them, right as we were leaving, Tom would stand up, shake my hand and say “Glad you got to see me,” and now, all I can think is “Me too, Tom. Glad I got to see you.” Glad I was lucky enough to get to know you.

People in your life are like stars. They send forth their light for all to see, even if some aren’t observant enough to look for it. Every once in a while there’s a star so intense, so undeniable, that all who see it are changed. Long after the star burns out, as all stars must eventually do, its light carries on, bounding endlessly through time and space, leaving everything it touches a little brighter than it was before. I have seen more such stars than any one person has the right to keep to himself. It is my duty to these people, these beautiful people whose very nature shaped me as a man, to carry on their legacies. I have been made brighter by their light, and I only hope that the meager glow I send forth is enough to make them proud.

It Takes a Village

Writing is a lonely art form. Everything about it is so internal and solitary. It takes you away from everything and demands you give it your whole attention, sucking every bit of creative ichor your mind can possibly spare.

Then, of course, when the story has finally drawn forth the last of your vital juices and declared itself complete, you present it humbly to the public.

Who, not knowing how much of your soul is left open and bleeding on the page, spit on it. Not because it’s bad, well maybe it is, I don’t know how pleasant your soul and ichor are, but because it’s not what it could be, what it should be.

You see, because this wonderful beautiful thing you’ve created has only been inside your mind, it’s a bit stunted. It’s like whiskey aged in a glass jar. It’s not been allowed to breathe.

This is where community in writing becomes so damn important. You cannot, I repeat, cannot hope to bring out the best in your story without showing it to others. You cannot hope to make your story full, deep, and real unless you get outside of your own head and let others take a peek.

Join a writing group and let them see your precious little babies. Let them tell you every wrinkle and line on them that shouldn’t be where it is. Let them tell you how adorable and precious each one is as they, in the same breath, tell you that it will never grow up to be president, but it’s got a good shot at city council. Let them tell you all the bad things, but also let them show you the good. Revel in the feeling that these people are taking a thing you’ve created and are making it a part of themselves. Something you did caused all those synapses to fire that conjured that emotion, or that image, or those hopes. Your little keyboard babies are spreading a small amount of joy, and by allowing someone else to babysit them for a moment, you are enriching both their lives. These are the things you need to see; they are the things that keep you grounded. But they are also the things that force you to see your writing for what it is: something to be shared.

It takes a village to raise a story.