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Finding My Calling

Last Wednesday, I settled into my normal routine while waiting for my son to complete his weekly karate class. I started by reading a novel I was already working through and enjoying quite a bit, and after a couple chapters I put it down, pulled out my smartphone, and started checking email and catching up on Facebook; normal, routine behavior for me early on a Wednesday evening. Then I stumbled onto it: the day marked the twentieth anniversary of Bill Hicks’s death.

If you don’t know who he is, then do me a favor, stop reading this right now, and quickly go to Amazon Prime, your local library, Netflix, Barnes and Noble, or wherever it is you need to go in order to watch or listen to either one of his recorded standup routines or the documentary on his life, American: The Bills Hicks Story. If you absolutely need to know why I’m telling you to do this, then here it is: he is the most important American comedian of the past 30 years. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because of the way American culture works, celebrates, and rewards. His lack of notoriety does not negate his intelligence, wit, and observations upon the human condition and the way far too many Americans lead their lives. He was honest with his audience and, more importantly, with himself in a way that far too many of us aren’t. I include myself in the statement, and I like to believe that I bullshit myself far less than the average person. What he said demands our respect and attention. Sadly, he died way too young, from pancreatic cancer, at the age of 32.

So, reading that it had been 20 years since his passing stopped me cold, and I did one of the horribly clichéd things that so many people do when reflecting upon the passing of another: I started thinking about my own life and what I’ve done with it. I’m turning 42 in less than three weeks, and when I reach that mark, I’ll have experienced 10 more years on this planet than Hicks did. What have I done with it? Well, there’s quite a bit to be proud of. I’ve gotten a good education, been as kind as possible to those I love (though, to be sure, with many cringe-inducing events I wish I handled differently), am an incredible dad and good husband, and taken great pains to be aware of the world around me, in all its facets, and understand how it really works. From that understanding, I’ve tried in my own way to make the world a better place.

However, I possess a lazy streak that puts the lazy Mexican stereotype to shame. I’m smart – really fucking smart – and I know it. Rather than harness and refine my talents to the best of my ability, I skated by on my intelligence. Throughout school, including much of college, I relied heavily on my ability to passively absorb information and intuitively glean/disseminate the amount of effort necessary to reach the grade I thought I deserved. I never really pushed myself academically in a meaningful manner, and yet I still managed to graduate cum laude with a degree in English.

I continued with that behavior in my professional life. I never really applied myself in any meaningful manner to any sort of career. But, this was due to the fact that I never enjoyed any of my vocations and was an outgrowth of my inability to truly ascertain my ideal profession. Although I know very well my skills and strengths, I’ve never really found a way assemble them in a manner that gives me any sort of direction as to the ideal manner I should use them – a topic at that heart of another essay from a few years ago.  As a result, I’m an underachiever of a rather high magnitude, employed as a corporate drone for the last 18 years as either as an executive assistant or in the arena of IT asset management – two professions that make rather poor use of my skills and interests.

I tell myself, and generally believe, that I’m okay with this lack of professional fulfillment because it allows me to spend plenty of resources on the things that are most important to me and lead a lifestyle that I genuinely enjoy. I have a good, comfortable life, and I am thankful to have it. I possess plenty of free time to spend with the two most important people in my life, Tank and TeenLitGirl, with a sufficient time remaining to spray in a scattershot manner across a variety of interests: some meaningful and fulfilling, others utterly trivial and certainly pointless.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel a degree of discontent with my professional accomplishments. I’m decent at my job, but as I said before, I certainly don’t enjoy it. Furthermore, many of the skills I enjoy using most – those that lie in the creative realm – are more neglected than Bill Hicks by American audiences. In fact, it’s very true that the only thing holding me to this particular job is the fact that I feel an obligation to maintaining my current level of income, or something sufficiently close enough to it, so that I continue providing for my family at the level they currently enjoy. I’m fairly certain that attempting a career change at this time would jeopardize my ability to fulfill what I consider an essential responsibility at this time in my life.

So, what’s left for me to do?

Well, that very same previously-referenced LiveJournal post from nearly five years ago contains part of the answer: write. The one constant in my life over the last 25 years is that I enjoy writing. Whether it’s been for college newspapers, English courses, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Some Fantastic, 14,000 Phillies, or just my own edification, I have consistently allocated much of my spare time to writing, in one form or another. It is clearly the one activity involving work that I enjoy performing. Furthermore, there’s even a path available for me to make an attempt to make a career at it while still properly supporting my family, but it involves something I rarely do: applying myself.

Although I haven’t done it often, I know what I can accomplish when I do put my best effort into something. I proved that to myself most recently when I took off 60 pounds three years ago and by basically keeping it off. Yet, I never seriously considered attempting any kind of career as a writer because I know enough about my strengths and weaknesses to know that I lack the particular style of creativity necessary to write novels, short stories, or poetry. I’ve written (or attempted to write) enough of each to know that my output in those arenas will never amount to more than slush pile material. Additionally, the two other interests I’ve cultured and maintained throughout my life – baseball cards and science fiction literature – aren’t exactly topics I can make a career out of. Though, I certainly have spent lots of time writing about each of them.

That leaves one possible path of exploration: the personal essay.

It’s the one creative form of writing in which I feel I possess some natural talent. I’ve dabbled in it (see my edification remark above) and enjoyed it each time. However, when I wrote them it always just seemed like they were works I quickly composed without much effort or forethought – though certainly more than my typical short, pithy post that constitutes most of my writing on social media sites – and I never properly edited or reworked an essay after completing it. More often than not, I immediately posted what I felt was the final product to LiveJournal, where afterwards I might engage in a few cursory edits for typos, clarity, or grammatical errors, but never in any serious reworking to improve the piece itself. Nonetheless, when I take time to review the material I’ve written over the years, I inevitably find that those essays contain the writing I'm most proud of.

I stated previously that I possess plenty of spare time after tending to my job, my family and my share of the household chores. Strip away the utterly trivial and pointless activities, such as the hours of playing the turn-based strategy games that fulfill my inner megalomaniac, and suddenly I possess the ability to turn writing into a part-time job. It’s the same, well-worn path trodden upon by generations of other writers – including a few I am fortunate enough to call friends. Admittedly, I feel some trepidation in regards to my true level of talent and I have no idea what avenues I need to explore to try to get this type of writing published (other than on a personal blog). But those are the types of things that I’ll learn in the act of properly applying myself and cultivating my talents to the best of my ability.

I owe it to those I love, the Bill Hicks of the world, and myself to make the best use of the time I have left on this spheroid that’s whizzing through space at speeds most of us can’t wrap our heads around. Though none of us really know how much time we still possess, I do know that none of my male predecessors lived to the age of 70. Even if I exceed that mark, I’m still well beyond my halfway point. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the life I’ve lived so far, but I can’t help but feel that it’s way beyond time for me to truly start pushing myself and discovering my true potential.


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Mar. 5th, 2014 02:09 pm (UTC)
Love him! "If I thought the Jews killed God, I'd worship the Jews."
Mar. 5th, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
Along with the public story that I tell about how I got back into writing--Laurie essentially telling me "Start writing again or shut up about it"--there was a more private aspect to it as well.

Not long before said conversation, two friends of mine, both in their 30s, passed away from illnesses within a few weeks of each other. One was a comic book artist; the other well on her way to being an archaeologist after volunteering and interning at numerous digs. Both were cut short as their careers were starting to skyrocket.

And when both were gone I asked myself, "If I were to die now, how much of what I want to do with my life...especially with writing...would I have done?" The answer was not pleasing.
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