Monday, February 4, 2013

Writing in the Vacuum, Part III

Listening to Advice and the Boy Scouts of America

Admittedly I was very excited on my first day of work at the Cascade Pacific Council office. I was 26 years old, a fairly recent college graduate and a new resident of Portland, Oregon. It was 1999, January, and I felt like there were good things coming for me. What's the back story? Well, I had been out of college for a year. In that year I lived in Denver, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Elbert County. I had an extended stay in Lisbon, Portugal and later one in Mexico City. In a year's time I had the whirlwind wayfaring experience that all college kids ought to have. And for the most part, I was having fun. Who wouldn't?

But I was plagued with something that I was unable to put words to. It was, in short, an existential conundrum that can only be stated simply as this: I knew where and who I wanted to be, but I could not see how to get there.

I landed in Mexico City sometime in November. I stayed in my familiar haunts around the Zocolo. I spent my days doing what I was going to do, which was nothing. All I wanted to be was a writer, I felt there was no other way for me to live my life. I had made the decision, or the decision was made for me years before that. Yet, I was not writing. I had nothing to motivate me to write. I was lonely, heartsick (another story for another time) and nearly broke. The being broke part was getting me down. When my family chose to spend their Christmas holiday in Puerto Vallarta, I was eager to join them. My parents paid for a return ticket from D.F. to Puerto Vallarta. If nothing more, two weeks with no bills and plenty of food to eat was a welcomed change.

On listening to advice.

If I have ever uttered anything that sounds remotely like advice, ever, please disregard anything I've said. Likewise, if anything I say sounds like advice, ignore that too.

The day before I left for the coast, I got a call from an old friend in Portland, Oregon. All he said was this: “Cut your hair and get a suit. Get up here, I got a job waiting for you.” I was both elated and terrified at the prospect. First, I was broke, so any money was a good thing. Second, I had been in the process of getting this position with the Boy Scouts of America for nearly 4 months. Third, what the hell was I really doing with my life? Does this sound familiar? There are so many others out there and at all ages who have been where I was. And there are plenty of writers who get this too.

In Puerto Vallarta, I tried to focus on my future. One night I asked my parents for their advice. If there is anything I have ever learn from doing this, it's never a good idea. On this night, my parents gave me practical advice. Take the job. Make money. You have a college degree. This is what people do. You can't have your Peter Pan lifestyle forever. My mother, who never liked my long hair was sure to tell me about that, again. And so, I decided to follow their advice. After all, my mother said that there was nothing to keep me from writing in my spare time.

So, I cut my hair. I bought a suit. I was brilliant at the interview. I got the job. I moved to Portland. It was 1999 and I thought good things were going to come to me.

No good ends.

So, I retract my statement. This is advice. Whether you listen to it or not, I don't care. If you are a writer, a wannabe writer or an aspiring writer, pay attention. If you are an artist, a musician, a maker of tinctures or suspect that you may become an artist, a musician, a maker of tinctures, I'm telling you this for your own good. Careers, titles, 401k plans and money lead you to a loss of time, loss of hair, loss of self and sickness of the mental, emotional and physical kind. If you have an artistic heart, why ruin it by making a living? There are plenty of stiffs out there who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good and buy the big fucking TVs, the big fucking SUVs and the big fucking waistlines. If you want to make art, your desires are pretty clear. Don't fog things up by selling out and joining a rat race. Write your manifesto, desire your life and live your art. If we've learned anything at all in recent years, it is this: your career will become redundant. Your retirement fund will tank. Your liabilities will consume your assets, your time, your future and your life. Make art. Write novels. Make tinctures. Find like minded people. Grow a circle of supportive friends. Just do what you were meant to do.

The wisdom of my experience?

Working for the Boy Scouts of America had many, many wonderful aspects. I got to work at summer camp. I got to meet some interesting people. I picked up a drinking habit that I'm nearly proud of in retrospect. But the professional job did this to me: it kept me from myself. It took way too much time and not just the seconds on the clock. Within a few weeks of my first day I was not writing at all. It kept me from what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. It was, in the end, an experience I needed to have.

Following the advice of others? It is not necessary. If you remain quiet for a little while and really listen to yourself, all the advice you need, you already have.  

1 comment:

  1. Love this. I'm no artist but I HAVE taken the job, the 401k, the house, and the debt. And I know exactly what you're saying. If only I knew myself well enough, trusted myself enough, perhaps lived in less fear of the unknown...I'd walk away and seek myself.