Sunday, August 8, 2010

Waiting for My Real Life to Begin

There’s an age-old belief that the truth shall set you free.

Well, I have been sitting here for over an hour, trying to figure out how to start this article, and I am failing miserably.

If this were the pre-word processor days, there would be a sea of crumpled paper all over my floor. I can’t put together a coherent thought, I’m getting taunted by the cursor and its “Any time now…” blinking, and if I engage in this staring contest with my blank screen for much longer, I might go Daniel Tosh on my monitor.

So what choice do I have but to be brutally honest, admit my struggles and pray that it gets me paroled off of Writer’s Block Row?

Needless to say, the creative process has been pretty tough on me lately. I don’t know exactly when it started, but it’s like I’m on a nauseating merry-go-round ride that won’t stop.

I’ll come up with an idea, I’ll do my brainstorming and I’ll begin to write it. Things will be going okay, and I’ll feel like I’m making some progress, but then…I hit a wall. Everything stops flowing, and the harder I try to fight through it, the faster I spin my wheels. When I step back and look at what I have done – hoping there’s something there to convince me that I’m not a completely gift-less loser – I see nothing but a rambling, disjointed mess. For sanity purposes, I put the perfectly good topic aside and start over with something else.

I understand that these uninspired spells aren’t uncommon, that everyone goes through them at one point or another. Sometimes the right side of the brain needs a vacation, and all it wants to do is sit around, eat Oreos and watch “Breakfast in Bed” on SOAPnet, and the only thing you can do is wait patiently until that last episode of Beverly Hills 90210 is over. I accept that.

What I can’t accept, though, is that this maddening, start-and-stop, getting-nowhere cycle has also become the perfect metaphor for my life in general.

It’s been 10 years since I graduated from the University of Texas, and in that time, I have lived in six different cities, held 11 different jobs, paid rent to eight different landlords, set foot in 34 states and celebrated one Longhorn football National Championship, all in hopes of making my own little place in this world. But outside of a horizontal career path and a dresser I assembled from IKEA, I’ve got little to show for my efforts.

To echo the sentiments of Elaine Benes, I never wanted to grow up to be this.

As a kid, I was always a dreamer. My parents taught my brother and me to follow our hearts, and that’s exactly what I was determined to do. I spent every waking moment thinking about and imagining and planning for all of the great adventures I wanted to experience.

Unfortunately, those fantasies had to be frozen and saved for later – not unlike Ted Williams’ head – because there were other responsibilities I was required to tend to. I had to do chores. I had to go to school. I had to do homework. I had to study for tests.

None of this stuff was fun, and at the time, I didn’t see the point of any of it. I didn’t like being told that I had to do something, and I resented being forced to dedicate so much energy to tasks for which I had no interest.

If the saying, “Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten” were true, then why did I need to take Pre-Calculus?

Honestly, I didn’t even really care about going to college. Sure, I figured it’d be smart to get a degree, but I didn’t have this insatiable thirst for education that could only be quenched at an institution of higher learning. I wasn’t looking to immerse myself in academia or broaden my intellectual horizons.

I went because it’s what I was expected to do.

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to realize the greatness that is the college lifestyle. I lived in a beautiful city stocked full of beautiful girls, my entire group of friends was within a five block radius of me, my Saturday three-step was noon wakeup-football game-party, and a “busy” day meant that I was in class from 11am – 3:30pm.

Still, I never fully stopped feeling stuck and restrained, like I was just mindlessly following the crowd, carrying out someone else’s wishes. The lectures were boring, the assignments were tedious, and besides learning that Acapulco was a more desirable spring break destination than Cancun – through field research, of course – I wasn’t really expanding my knowledge base.

So as great as my setup was, and as much as I enjoyed the Austin way of life, there was a part of me that longed for the day when I would get to devote my time to things that I wanted to do, to things that were important to me.

But as the second semester of my senior year was winding down, and I began to look towards the next step in my life, it suddenly hit me: for the first time in my 22 years, my path was not predetermined.

This was frightening new territory. Outside of which girl to ask out or which beer to drink, I hadn’t ever made a big decision…everything had always been decided for me. I never had to think about anything. I never had to worry about anything. I just had to do what I was told, and if things didn’t work out, I could deflect the blame towards anybody but me.

Now, that wasn't going to be the case anymore. While I had always dreamed of this autonomy, the reality of it was terrifying, and trying to convince myself otherwise was futile. The panic came at me in waves.

Did I take the right job? Was it truly what I wanted to do? Was I going to be happy? What if I screw up? Will I like living in that part of the country? Why was I dumb enough to graduate in four years?

Not surprisingly, the moment that tassel switched from the right side of my graduation cap to the left, my struggles began, and I haven’t gotten untangled yet. Walking the wire without a net, I have been a basket case of nerves, hesitation and self-doubt, and the state of my union unfortunately reflects that. I’ve tried everything and achieved nothing.

It’s easy to play the comparison game, and I indulge as much as anyone. I see my friends who have found success. I see those who are on the right path and climbing towards their goals. I see people my age on TV who are living out their dreams.

And I see that I don’t measure up.

But more importantly, independent of what anyone else is doing, I see myself going nowhere quickly. I’m past the point of daydreaming, of waiting for “someday”…this is the time when I’m supposed to be writing my story, when I’m supposed to be making everything happen.

What do I want to be when I grow up? Well, I am grown up. My life is right now, and I am tired of it looking like this.

Whenever I sit down to write, and the ideas are incoherently swirling through my head, I am inevitably overwhelmed by the fact that there are a million different ways to say what I want to say. How to frame it, how to word it, how to make it all flow together…the possibilities are endless, and I’m constantly fearful of not picking the “best” option. For me, it is the scariest thing about writing.

But it’s also the greatest.

Because as intimidating as that blank page can be, it is also full of hope. It’s the canvas for you to create whatever you choose. Like a little boy’s imagination, there are no limits, and there are no restrictions, and the path you take is solely up to you.

Life works in the same manner. Each day is a clean slate, with no memory of what’s happened in the past. No matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, and no matter how many times you’ve gone around in circles, it’s never too late to turn it all around.

And luckily, for a lost soul like me, recognizing that simple truth could be all it takes to finally set me free.

About Me

My photo
"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?