It’s a beautiful day in suburban Atlanta. The wind is gentle, the temperature is in the mid-70’s. I look out the window at my back yard and marvel that this place really is mine, my family’s own little piece of heaven on earth.
But it isn’t enough. I have been on and off at least five different medications for anxiety in the past three years. Three others for depression. I used to chalk these problems up to my frustration with my stagnating writing career but it’s more than that, I’m beginning to realize. I am starting to have the sneaking suspicion that I’d have these same issues even if it were I and not that asshole Dan Brown who’d written the DaVinci Code. Of course, it is much easier to avoid such realizations if one can jet off to a Caribbean island at a moment’s notice and then buy said Caribbean island at one’s pleasure. But we can’t escape what’s inside. That stuff in there like one of those chest-bursting aliens from that one Sigourney Weaver movie I can’t remember the name of right this minute. Eventually it’s going to come out, despite how nice a time it seems you’re having at your all-white post-trauma dinner engagement.
Yesterday I realized I had to make a choice about the direction in which I need to steer my life. For years now—ever since I got myself clean and started giving a shit about the impact I was having on those around me—I have operated on the assumption that I have very little time, and have gone around slamming my head against a wall like the clichéd chicken sans head, trying to make something BIG happen that would justify the small amount of time I have.
I know everybody feels the press of time at one time or another, and not just when you’re late for work or a job interview or whatever. I’m talking about when you really feel your mortality. Pardon the gloomy goth-rock outlook, but I think I feel this perhaps more than most. My grandfather died when he was in his late 30’s, my father when he was in his mid-40’s. Even if this upward trend continued and I had another decade or so than my father, I’m still only looking at, what, twenty more years? My fucking mortgage won’t even be paid off by then. You have to keep going despite these dark possibilities, yes, but when you look at the long-view and really contemplate just how fast the last twenty years went by, it’s hard to seriously consider doing the 9-5 routine when you have so much more to offer the world. I’m being facetious (sort of) of course, but really, it’s like that scene in Heathers, when the girl is walking around taking the poll in the high school cafeteria. The question:
What would you do if you inherited $5,000,000 and the same day aliens landed and said they were going to destroy the earth in two days?
—I’d slide that wad over to my father. He is, like, one of the top brokers in the state.
—I’d give every cent to the homeless
—I’d go to Egypt. With a girl.
—I’d throw a giant party for the entire planet.
—I’d pay a girl a million dollars to sit on my face and ride like the Kentucky Derby…she should pay me though.
—I’d go to the zoo, put a bomb up a lion’s butt, and then me and the lion would die as one.
And of course, the anti-hero of the film, played by my teenage hero Christian Slater, has the best answer. He says, “I’d row out to the middle a lake somewhere, maybe bring a bottle of Tequila, my sax and some Bach.” Then he pulls out a gun and shoots some jocks. The movie would never see the light of day in 2007.
Now, haven’t we all been brought up to adhere to the righteous words some really witty people once said? You know the ones: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you will die.” No, not MAY die. WILL die. And then there’s Carpe diem. Seize the day. Make your life extraordinary. Live every day like it’s your last. That kinda thing. We weren’t told to balance checkbooks and straighten the house if it was our last day. We weren’t told to trudge off to the office for one more day of collating. We were told to make our lives extraordinary. I don’t know of many extraordinary lives that are lived for 40+ hours a week in cubicles. There’s a brilliant piece of comic strip art by comic-strip artist extraordinaire Chris Ware that brilliantly sums up our boxed-in existences. I’ve copies it here for your perusal:
So there’s the conundrum. The dilemma. Do we obediently live in our boxes? Do we really have any choice? I’m starting to believe that the only way to truly live “free” is to live on the street with no possessions save those we can fit in a shopping cart. And when you have kids there’s really no option along those lines, no matter how easily you can subject yourself to church handouts and newspaper blankets. So I’m probably going to do what I should have done along time ago. I’m going to go back to school and get my teaching certificate and learn how to teach a bunch of kids that couldn’t give a shit about being taught anything other than how to get more bling in the easiest possible manner. I’ve put it off as long as I possibly could, just a couple of days ago sending an SOS to the one wealthy person I know to see if he would bankroll me a few grand so that I could have one more shot at really living the artists’ life. Still haven’t heard back from him and in all likelihood won’t ever hear back from him on the matter. What could he possibly gain from helping some guy with marginal skills stay out of “real” work for another year? So I’ve been checking out universities that offer the teaching degree that I need, looking at the Georgia Professional Standards Commission website to see what criteria I need to fulfill in order to actually become an upstanding teacher. But this is what I’m facing:
And for those of you who have forgotten, this is what I look like:
Not very good odds going in. It seems like it’s fucked from the get-go. But I can’t let my kids down, no matter how badly I want to “follow my bliss.”
No matter how much my brain hurts every time I look at 20+ years of working for those people in the boxes. But I just keep reminding myself that I’m not working for them.
I’m working for them.