I have been comfortable with being “that guy” my whole life. I like to think that I serve as an end point to a spectrum, whatever spectrum that may be. My father in-law frequently says, in exasperated response to me making a crass comment, “you went there”. My reply, always my reply, is, “I live there.” I don’t beat jokes to death, I carry them as far as I can take them wherever the stream leads. For example, two days ago I was IM’ing with a friend. All she said was, “I am like a wall”. Here is my reply:
An evil wall.
Made of cruel brick.
Held together by sadist mortar.
Laid by angry masons.
Using hate trowels.
With no breaks.
And unpaid overtime.
Whipped by management.
Of a terrible corporation.
That develops other structures of misery.
Your evil wall is cousin to a skyscraper of hostility.
And a shopping mall of doom.
A small park of suffering.
A freeway offramp of spite.
A six-plex apartment building of fury.
Where there is an upper unit with no view, bad heat, a leaky faucet, and a roach problem.
At my core I am searching for the terminus of the thought, the logical end point of a stream of consciousness. I am willing to go mentally and bodily wherever that stream takes me. I would not say that I am fearless, because that is the antipode of my true motivation. I am curious. I want to know what else is out there.
This is why I went to college early. I could see the end point of high school all too easily; the road map was not hard to follow. Ejecting from that moving car was the unexplored territory.
Moving to Los Angeles to pursue a screenwriting career was the same choice, if there even was one. I couldn’t see the end of that line and so I had to find it myself. Fifteen years later and I finally feel like I know what at least one path looks like – that of a competent writer who cannot sell his merchandise. Not because of lack of talent, but lack of interest by the market.
I don’t know what it means for me to do an Ironman. I know abstractly that it takes a lot of work. I know many people who have done one, or several, and it is different for each of them (though they all get the same tattoo). I do not know what my Ironman looks like yet (though I have chosen the tattoo, one I have not seen anywhere, on anyone yet), and so I train, I think about my race, and I discover things along the way.
From the outside this looks like iconoclasm. From the inside, it feels like curiosity and a rejection of the standard model.
In the past I’ve had a hard time turning off movies or putting down a book I’m not enjoying. I hold out hope that there is a surprise inside, something I had not expected from this new material. More and more I am better at recognizing that sometimes things are just recycled ideas because that’s what most people want. They like the predictability of familiar narratives. They like knowing the guy is going to get the girl. They like knowing if they follow step A and step B that at the end they will have a Billy bookcase, or a 3 bedroom house with a mortgage, or a retirement package after working a job for 40 years. There is comfort in knowing. Being able to recognize that something is paying diminishing returns is a necessary skill. Integrating that with the hope that there is something interesting to be found everywhere if you stick with it long enough is quite a challenge. Whether or not there will be a retirement package at the end of it is debatable.
For example, I have stuck with running even though I have not enjoyed it for a long time. But something changed, finally, after the OC half marathon. I would not say that I love running yet, but I do love running faster. Finishing in 1:41 was exhilarating, painful, and educational. Coach Brian took that time and then slapped me with a 1:35 goal finish for August. That means a 7:15 mile per minute average – 30 seconds per mile faster. Sub-8’s was a tipping point, running outside my comfort zone the entire time, pushing hard while maintaining good form, focused breathing, and quick foot turnover. It has taken years of running to even begin to find that place, but I’m excavating it and now the curiosity has returned. The dogged pursuit of the end point is stubbornness masquerading as curiosity.
This is where the dissatisfaction in my IT life comes from. For a decade it has been the same – lather, rinse, repeat. The money is good and keeps us afloat, and I am not complaining about my clients at all. But this “magic” that I perform is simply because I have done it hundreds of times already. I feel like James Gandolfini’s assassin in True Romance – now I just do it to see their expression change. Believe it or not, the IT work is at its most satisfying when the client has an issue I can’t figure out. Sadly, Google often provides the answer in about ten seconds. For that brief moment between examining the log file, copying and pasting the line into the search bar, my heart rate rises for just a moment.
Marry this to the envy I feel on my nightly dog walks looking into people’s windows, coveting their houses, wondering what kind of lives they lead that brought them to that perceived stability. I tell myself that if we both laid our cards out on the table we would have a grass is greener conversation. They would tell me about getting up every day to clock into a job that promises no secure future, to collect a paycheck that goes into a mortgage, property tax, private schools or tutors for their 2.5 kids (their poor, bisected child), and watching their 401K and years of equity shrink away as the economy crumbles. Sure, it’s a nice house. But what they really want is to ride their bike that’s collecting dust in the garage. I chase down work one hour at a time, but I get to train for an Ironman. I can carve out 18 hours a week just for training towards what is, let’s face it, a selfish, narcissistic pursuit of personal glory. My wife doesn’t resent me, quite the opposite – she supports me wholeheartedly and frequently reminds me that I’m unhappy if I’m not exploring those unknowns. My family and friends support me, have no judgments that I’ve somehow failed as an adult because I don’t have a home and kids, and that eventually someone, somewhere will pay me to write. It would be quite a conversation.
Fuck comparison, though. The whole point of the unexplored path is that there is no road map. The only progress markers are the ones I create for myself, or collectively with my partner. But I cannot turn off the desire to know where I am in the tunnel. As a narrator I look for the connective thread, for the path behind me even if I don’t know what lies ahead.
Living life is like breaking a story one day at a time. It only makes sense after you do the damn thing.