Friday, July 29, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

I’ve always written about personal things. I realize it’s not the smartest move, that opening the doors to the deepest, darkest corners of my world might convince some people that I’m a deranged lunatic who shouldn’t be walking among the general population. But it’s an outlet for me, a form of therapy without a per-hour price tag that allows me to ramble and vent and gain clarity on what I truly think and feel.

It’s also what I know. I’ve never understood how writers and commentators can sit from afar, critiquing and judging others, spewing their opinions as gospel when they have no idea what it’s like to be the person they’re attacking. That takes some kind of arrogance, and I’m thankful I don’t have it. My life is the only thing on which I’m the planet’s premier authority, so I typically try to just swing at pitches in that strike zone.

Of course, the downside is that interesting topics can be hard to come by. I keep a notepad with me should anything worthwhile flash through my mind, but oftentimes, the only “good” ideas I have are things like turning down the air conditioning when I leave the house or opting for Double Stuffed Oreos over the standard version.

Last week, though, I was sure I had something. I’d just found out that my dad was buying a new car, and that I was going to get his. Considering my Toyota had over 175,000 miles on it, and its “Check Engine” light had become the world’s most costly popup, this was a much-appreciated development.

(As a side note, auto companies should change this warning light to just read “$1,000”, because that was inevitably the cost for every Johnson Rod that broke.)

But as I was preparing for the vehicle’s arrival – calling the insurance company, researching the titling and registration process, scoring Valium for my looming trip to the DMV – I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed. I was ashamed that my father was giving me a car, that at 33, I was still getting some sort of allowance.

The whole fiasco reinforced this sense I’ve had lately that my life seems to be lagging behind, that my progress doesn’t match up with my age, and I figured it could be something worth writing about. So I spent some time with it, brainstorming and outlining, certain I could make it work.

But the deeper I got into it, the more I felt that something was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I kept pushing forward, hoping it was just the labor pains of the creative process. And then it hit me:

I’d already written this article.

On August 8, 2010, I posted Waiting for My Real Life to Begin. I’d been struggling with my writing at the time, and it had occurred to me that those difficulties were the perfect metaphor for my life in general. Things weren’t stacking up the way I had hoped, I wasn’t achieving what I wanted to achieve, and time was slipping away. As depressing as most of the article was, it did end on a positive note, leaving the reader – and me – to believe that I’d gotten a newfound perspective, and I was now ready to get out and get going.

Yet here I was, almost a year later, not having moved an inch.

The symmetry was sobering. What had I been doing for the last 12 months, running on a treadmill? How had I not made any progress? What was holding me back? And above all else, why was I continually struggling with the same issue?

And when I thought about it some more, I realized it wasn’t just this one issue that’s still giving me trouble. There are a lot of them, battles I’ve been fighting since I was little, since the age when it was fashionably acceptable to tuck my Underoos shirts into their matching grippers. Fears, anxieties, doubts…the list goes on and on. But for whatever reason, I haven’t been able to break free of them.

When I was in college, I was fortunate to be a part of a great group of friends, guys from all over the country who were smart enough to recognize that there was no better town in America in which to go to school than Austin, TX. And we took full advantage of it.

There were about a dozen of us, and we all lived within a five block radius of each other. When we weren’t in class (which was often), we’d pass the time watching TV or throwing the baseball around or discussing what disgusting lengths we’d go to for the chance to be with that month’s Playboy centerfold. Then we’d head downtown to 6th Street to whatever bar was serving $1 beers. The whole experience was surreal, and those four years were some of the best of my life.

But even through all of that, through all of the camaraderie and great times and drunken slices of pizza, I struggled with insecurity. I could never fully relax, always unsure if the real me would truly be accepted. Was I cool enough? Were my jokes funny enough? Did they even like me?

It was all absurd, and in the 11 years since, I’ve often kicked myself for feeling that way, for allowing that once-in-a-lifetime experience to have been jaded, even just a little. I think about all of the energy I wasted and the fun I missed out on, and I vowed that going forward, I would no longer give into that nonsense.

So a couple of months ago when one of our friends was getting married, I was ready for redemption, convinced that I’d shed the weight of my immature insecurities. The wedding weekend set up perfectly, with a great hotel on a beautiful beach overlooking the ocean, and my only responsibilities were to sit in the pool, drink frozen cocktails with umbrellas in them, and hang out with my best friends. I couldn’t wait to get there.

But the moment I walked off the plane, something shifted.

It was like I’d hit 88 MPH in Doc Brown’s Delorean, and I was suddenly back in the year 2000. Any self confidence I’d had was immediately overcome by a wave of doubt. It didn’t matter that I was now 33, or that there was over a decades’ worth of evidence proving that, yes, my friends did like me. I still felt like that 22-year-old, uncertain and unsure of himself, just hoping to fit in.

Now, I know it’s natural to revert back to an old version of yourself when you’re around particular people. The President of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world, but when he gets around his mother, there’s a chance he’ll feel like a little boy again. But I don’t know…for me, there’s something more there…a pattern. I go through an experience, I reflect on it and admit to my hang-ups, and I promise myself that, armed with some hard-earned wisdom and insight, I’ll jump right over those hurdles the next time.

But then the next time rolls around, and I end up facedown again, bruised and battered, picking asphalt out of my teeth.

I’ve been doing everything I can think of to try to snap this cycle, from weekly therapy sessions to self-growth seminars. I’ve dug deep into the past, down to the core, revisiting and reliving all of the defining moments in my life, the different occurrences and instances that had a lasting effect on me, to try to get a grasp on why I am the way I am.

And what I’ve found is that my problems weren’t caused by these defining moments themselves…they were actually born out of my interpretation of them. And from those interpretations, I drew conclusions – that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough or whatever – which became the foundation for how I interact with the world, and I have lived from those conclusions ever since. To me, they are the absolute truth, regardless of the fact that I can now see that they’re ridiculous, that they were derived out of the logic of a toddler or a teenager. So when I’m faced with a stressful situation, I’m processing it and reacting to it from that same point of view.

In other words, my life is still being controlled by the mind of a 3-year-old.

What’s frustrating is that, on paper, there’s absolutely no reason for me to be struggling. I was blessed with gifts that anybody would kill for, and I grew up in a loving home, with loving parents who showered me with nothing but praise and support. So the fact that I’m having these problems at all has been a double whammy – I struggle with my issues, and then I beat myself up even more for simply having the issues in the first place.

And thus, the pattern continues…

Outside of leaning on cheesy clichés to make a point, one of the main things I try to avoid in my writing is repetition – not just in the overarching subjects, but from paragraph to paragraph. I’d be completely lost without the “Synonym” function in Microsoft Word. In this article alone, I felt like I was using the word “car” too much, so I almost slipped in an “automotive transportation mechanism” to mix things up, but it just messed with the flow.

Yes, I know that I hit some of the same themes at times, and yes, I know I frequently reference particular events and periods of my life. But when I do, I always try to approach them from a new angle or use them to convey a new message. To steal a line from Will Hunting, what I don’t want to be is unoriginal.

(And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy of that last sentence.)

I guess I just have to figure out a way to translate that originality to the rest of my life, so that the same issues don’t keep showing up for me again and again. I’m not really sure how to do that, but as much as it pains me, the answer could probably be found in one of those cheesy clichés. After all, those sayings become clichés for a reason – there’s truth in their meaning. And now that I think about, there is one that fits this whole debacle perfectly:

Actions speak louder than words.

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About Me

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"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?