Monthly Archives: March 2013

My Eskimo.

 

I feel like my whole life, there’s always been an Eskimo standing in my way.

Thinking about my last blog, We All Have Our Eskimos , and the longer portion of the journey I’m about to take, it’s made me gratefully reflect on how much of the road I’ve already traveled.

When you are discouraged, weary, or looking for the last bit of strength to keep going forward, take a moment to look back at how far you’ve come.

 

Why, David?

Why do I “have” to do this? Am I unstable? Am I “throwing it all away”?

Honestly I try not to laugh out loud when you ask those questions. I can hear the fear in your voice. You have so much, it seeps out and bleeds onto everyone else you “worry for”. In fact, you have so much fear in your life, that you have cast it on to me, expecting “the more the merrier” in your desperate club, seeking to convert more members.

No, this was a very deliberate and necessary decision.

Let me say this instead: it really isn’t anything new for me.  (hence the Boy Meets World article & quote)

I barely made it through high school without getting kicked out on the street, 2 or 3 times.

I decided to stick it out, bite my tongue, and try to stay –because even at 16, I knew there was nothing more to that kind of freedom than a decade of uneducated minimum wage labor, living in a crappy apartment, with no true way out. A high school dropout, fighting to just survive.I’d essentially be stuck there too. And I didn’t want to just survive. I wanted to thrive. I wanted to live. So, I truly do understand how people get to that kind of hopeless place in life, where people look down on them and see them as lazy or not contributing to society. I was almost that story.

I have compassion for those people we think of as the bottom of the drip pan, holding out their tongue for the good graces of “trickle down theory” because of the unique perspective my I’ve been so graciously  “given” through my life’s challenges. I am always reminded of
the introduction of a book I first read around the same time: The Great Gatsby

“In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Now this isn’t a plea for you to pity the downtrodden. I don’t know what your worldview is. And I get that most people don’t agree with me. In America, we believe that most anybody (clear of a life threatening debilitation) should be able to “make it” on their own, without help from anybody. It’s the Rockefeller story that we repeat over and over, saying “anybody could do that!”.

But, I ‘m not going to argue that point right now. I just want to make the distinction that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, boy!” mentality is a larger pill to swallow for some, because other people have it easy and this sounds like a simple solution. They never had to fight for anything. Everything was given to them.

That said, here’s the real simple distinction, a precursor to that statement: It’s just plain harder for some than others. Obviously, I believe in taking control of your life. That’s always been my view, which dictates most of history.

I was talking to my friend DJ the other day, who is trying out for the NFL, and he said, “You know man, it’s like this: most of these kids had it easy. They went to Ivy League or huge state schools with a paid tuition from their daddy or a scholarship. I went to a small town Oklahoma school and paid for it without getting any scholarships. They played on prime-time TV and didn’t have to worry about getting signed after college. I’m 25 and just now gettin my shot. So I feel you. Ya, it’s taken me longer, but you know what, I wouldn’t trade it for anything; it makes me try that much harder. It gives me my edge. It will be my story to tell. It’s made me fight for what I want. Someday, you’ll tell that story too, David. ”

But let me put it this way: How big are the boots? And how heavy are they? Are the straps frayed and prone to breaking, every damn time you think you’ve got a good grip?

 

storyline

My Story

I was told I would never “make it,” living on my own. That I would never amount to anything.

I had worked a formal job since the day I turned 15, paying for my own stuff. So, after high school, with my earnings, I moved to Oklahoma, not knowing a single soul. I started over. I created a whole new life, building from nothing. I faced my fears head on, determined to prove everyone wrong.

I was determined to prove this impossible wrong. Failure was not an option on the table.

Looking back at all the friends and connections I have in that small Okie town, it’s hard to believe I had the stones to suddenly pack up and move there at 18, with no guarantees. But I did. And not only that, I thrived.

People told me I would never go to college or become anything in life. Well, as I prepare to graduate, I can hardly believe it myself.

My dad told me I wasn’t smart enough to go to school. So I tried that much harder. At first, to prove him wrong….but then because I really started to enjoy it. I found out……I wasn’t dumb. I actually loved learning…..and was a really good student. In addition to school work, I took flying classes through the school’s aviation department and soloed, gaining many hours afterwards– a very literal feeling of independence I still do not take for granted, though I haven’t flown a plane in 3 years. It taught me so many things about myself and what I was truly capable of. The sky is the limit.

I taught myself poetry. I taught myself writing. I taught myself photography.

I had to pay my way through college, with no idea how the hell this would happen. Well, I not only held down work and school, but started doing photography, in addition.

I bought my own equipment and my Sophomore year I quit a really good job I had in radio to open up my business, David Reagan Photography, officially. Full time.

Yeah, I was scared to death. Just when I was startin to build up all my “safety nets,” I began to tear them down again. In my head, I thought, “What are you doing??!!” But I knew it had to be done. You have no idea how scary it is to open a business and have only yourself to blame. If you fail and bills don’t get paid. There is no hourly wage guarantee to calculate your budget, whether you’ll make rent. This made me self-reliant and matured me in ways I can’t even tell you. Last year, I photographed Miss Teen Texas, a model, and was hired to go on a photo assignment to South Africa.

I not only overcame my vast distrust of people, but I learned to open up and let people love me– and love them back. I found communities that accepted me and told me I was vital to them. This was huge for me. I came from a place where I didn’t feel wanted, where I closed myself off and looked out for only myself, because I had quickly learned that was the only way to survive in the “real world”.

Facing Fears

Though I still have many fears to conquer (re-conquer).

Okay, honesty time. Here’s a few:

Fear of hardship.  I crave my bed after little sleep, a long, stressful 9 hour day of work and physical exhaustion at the gym. And I absolutely love hot showers. But I’ll have neither of those luxuries on my trip.

Fear of vulnerability.  I have a fear of women, putting myself out there to love and be loved again. (This is one I need to re-learn) But it’s hard to be vulnerable when you’ve been cheated on. I feel as if, in some ways, I’m back where I was graduating high school. BUT this time, I’m facing it with an awareness it’s there.

Fear of logistics.  unknown places if you will. Mostly because I’m horrible at navigation and reading maps. This kind of will have to change. haha

Fear of dying.  My friend asked me this weekend if I was prepared to die . Gotta face that. Damn.

Fear of hunger. I keep having nightmares (thanks to all of you constantly telling me!) I might find myself stranded in between cities without food. (also water)

Fear of nature’s ugly sister. Snakes and all the things that go bump in the night….when you’re camping by yourself!

Fear of public image.  People will think I’m crazy. Like literally insane. I worry about what people think wayy too much, even to this day.

Fear of loneliness. Undoubtedly this one will be faced, with so much time on my hands. It’s unique because most of society keeps themselves so busybusybusy they never have to listen to their own thoughts. Often, we’re scared of that part raw, smothered part of ourselves and attempt to fill all our free time and head space with white noise.

Fear of failure?

 

Why It’s not “easy,” even for me

For clarification,

I’m not writing this from the position of “having nothing to lose” and just want to take a fun little trip. No. That’s all wrong. It scares the hell out of me. I had the most to lose. I still do. I was the least likely person to ever embrace this. I had the ideal set up, with a town, friends, a self-employed job, connections, and money. But giving it all up….is what drove me– facing every fear and “impossibility”.

In fact, just a couple weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about the different “safety nets” we create and tell ourselves we need. I told him about the trip. He responded, “Ya, that’s easy for you, but you have nothing to lose. I could never do that.”

I stopped. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“Well….don’t take this the wrong way David, but I think you’re at a great point in your life where you have no obligations. It’s prime- You’re staying at your grandparent’s, about to graduate, working at a crappy grocery store, and see yourself as having nothing to lose, as you leave for this adventure. Am I right?”

I looked him square in the eye.  “No. Ben, you’ve got it all wrong. You really don’t know why I’m here, do you? Understand, I’m here, talking to you right now…because I’ve already lost everything. Actually, everything is at stake. The journey began months ago when I moved away from everything I’ve ever known. This is simply the first stop. That’s why I’m in South Texas. “

I’m at a crossroads in my life. And standing still, not choosing any path, will get me run over. It’s not the trip I fear, but the idea of never chancing to take it. That’s what kills me.

 

Summary of the past 2 month’s blogs

I relate to you. The aimless, the apathetic, the burnt out, the poor, the smart and the uneducated,  the proud, the distinguished, the lost, the weary-eyed tech gazers, the displaced 21st gen. who do not resemble the hobos after the 20’s depression any longer.

They look more like the post-graduates of the show “workaholics,” toiling under a job they hate, under massive loans, under a boss they hate, doing meaningless entry-level work….because they see no other way out. [This is the aimless generation of America. But in the disguise of prosperous times and modern safety-net systems. No child left behind, right? Eh?]

I see our generation wandering in a different way than the Jack Kerouac’s of the 30’s, who literally struck out on the road, searching for purpose. I see our generation as those who treat career jobs like shitty minimum wage jobs, because we have only been taught to show up and log in the hours. We have been taught that was admirable, expected, and the only choice. We were not told, however, to put forth meaningful work, to chase after our passions and enjoy what we do.

Where do you picture yourself 10 years from now? What do you want to be able to tell your friends (or kids) you’ve done? Yes, these are allowed to be intangible achievements too. All the better. Write a bucket list. I promise you won’t regret it. Hell, there might even be an app for that these days. I don’t know. At your 50th year reunion, what do you want to tell those bald, wrinkly, beer-bellied jocks you did? (Pssst. I’m going to venture out and take a guess that your priorities will be completely different from high school. Just sayin. Make it good, not cop-out stuff like “shag Mary-jo”)

The point is, if you’re putting off your dreams right now, because something is in the way, “for the moment,” you’ll still be waiting when you’re 70. Because something will always be standing in your way. There will always be an Eskimo, resting atop the billboard scrawled with your passions, taunting your dreams which seem oh-so-close, blocking your way. There will always be an excuse. There will always be “something to finish up,” or a job, or a friend, or a critic, or a place….which you can’t seem to leave yet, due to “responsibilities” or what you “should” do.

 

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We All Have Our Eskimos

Ladies, you’re welcome for this picture of Rider Strong, the feature of this post. Eat your hearts out.

“We All Have Our Eskimos”   3-19-13

Interestingly enough, this episode is centers around Shawn. And while that is unusual for this show, I found myself in his story like you wouldn’t believe. When I first watched it, my mouth dropped open–I know there are a couple serious episodes in every season, but I was surprised at how “real” they kept the storyline.

 

[Boy Meets World: Season 5 episode 13]

Opening scene: “That’s impossible.”

Mr Feeny, returning graded essays to the class, says, “An interesting thing happened when I was grading this assignment Mr. Hunter. Yours wasn’t there.” {insert Feeny-ish dry sarcasm}

Before Shawn or anyone can even breathe, Cory sticks up for him, “Oh, oh- I can explain that!…” and makes some excuse about how they think so much alike they turned in one paper. Mhmm.

So Mr. Feeny gives them a “B”.

Then divides it by 2. Which is a “D” each for them.

Cory: HEY!

Shawn:  Still fair, still fair.  {laughter}

Cory:  C’mon! It’s senior year! Why are you being so tough with your assignments?

Mr. Feeny, getting frustrated, responds, “Fine! Make it two “F”s!”

Of course you know Topanga has to butt in: “No don’t fail them!….’F’s will haunt you for the rest of your career”

Cory says it doesn’t matter because they’ve all turned in their college applications……right? Wrong. Shawn speaks up. He hasn’t. Cory, quickly whipping around in his chair say, “What?! I filled them out for you!”

Shawn sullenly says, “What’s the point? People like me don’t go to college. Even if I get in, how am I going to afford it? There are so many things standing in the way…. (pause)

……Why are we doing all these assignments anyways? What else is there to learn?”

-SILENCE-

Cory echoes this statement, trying to back him up, but only digging a deeper hole.

-longer awkward silence-

Mr. Feeny, with a grave face, asks the entire class to leave, except them two.

Topanga chimes  in again, begging him not to fail Cory and Shawn. Feeny says, “You better stay too you little control freak.”

Turning to Shawn, Feeny states, “I want this assignment brought to my house by 5 o’clock today.

Shawn, with wide eyes, retorts “5 o’clock? That’s impossible!”

Uh oh. Feeny no likey. Shawn sarcastically blubbers to Cory, “Why doesn’t he just ask me for tickets to the Superbowl?!”

Feeny: New assignment! Come up with Superbowl tickets by the end of the week…..Mrs. Topanga!-I have an assignment for you too! Butt out of other people’s lives for one week. Otherwise, you get an “F”.  (she can’t help them)

Topanga: But I’ve never failed before!

Feeny: There’s a first time for everything. …And as for you Mr. (Cory) Matthews, since you feel so responsible for their fate, I have put their fate in your hands. Their success is your success; but if either of them fails, so do you.

 

Next scene: Silent Topanga

it cuts to the trio sitting around the kitchen table, brainstorming how to do this impossible assignment. The radio is playing in the background as Shawn and Cory come up with ridiculous ideas. The DJ announces a contest: call in for a chance to win tickets to the Superbowl! But only Topanga hears it. She frustratingly blares the radio in their ears, mimes the words, and even jumps on Cory’s back to get them to understand. It goes against everything in her nature not to yell outright it in their stupid, oblivious faces. She wants to help so bad; it’s killing her. She’s not good at suggesting; she’s good at telling people how it is. The boys finally hear it (without listening to Topanga), call in, and find out they’re the lucky caller!

Shawn (on the phone) : “Wait?! I have to do what now?!”

 

Next scene:  “He’s not going anywhere soon.”

Shawn, with a few others sitting on top of a billboard. One man is rolling by on a stretcher, being treated for hypothermia. A radio station is broadcasting live, from the street below the billboard. They’re holding a contest: whoever can stay up there the longest wins.

[By the way, it’s REALLY cold outside, where this takes place in Philadelphia’s winter.]

There are only 3 people left. Cory brings up some hot chocolate to his best friend, which Shawn gleefully taunts the other contestant with. Shawn drinks it in front of him and the man gives up. \

Only 2 left.

This “Eskimo”  isn’t moving anywhere soon.

This is Shawn’s only chance, and it is fading fast. It’s this or nothing, but obviously he can’t outlast the other guy. All options are exhausted. He sighs,

I thought I had a chance…..but

There’s always going to be an Eskimo standing in my way, isn’t there Cory?

As Shawn climbs down from the billboard, he mutters, “This whole thing was impossible.” Cory then says to himself, “Feeny knew that!”….

The trio returns to the classroom, saying they’ve “got it all figured out”.

“It was never about Superbowl tickets.”

Feeny: It wasn’t?

“Even though something is impossible, we still should have tried, because that’s all you ever wanted. You wanted us to try….even though it’s our senior year and there’s nothing left for us to learn.”

They think they’ve learned the “lesson” Feeny was teaching, as we (the viewers) are tricked into believing this is the moral of the story, nicely wrapped up– like every episode.

Wrong.

Feeny: Where are the Superbowl tickets?………

(serious pause)

Get the tickets, OR fail.

 

Next scene: “People like me”

 

In this clip, we find the climax of the story: After some searching, Cory and Topanga find Shawn, sitting alone, on top of the Billboard, thinking.

After they climb up, he blurts out, “Whenever I’ve wanted anything in my life, there’s always been an Eskimo standing in my way.”

He tells them about not being able to go to summer camp, like Cory did, and growing up in a trailer park, instead of a real house. These are basic examples for something that’s obviously a repeated theme in the story of his life.

Shawn suddenly stands up. “Well I’m going to the Superbowl!”  (Meaning, he’s literally going to find a way to San Diego, hitchhiking etc.)

Cory jumps on his feet too now, pleading with him not to go. “How?! You don’t have tickets. You don’t have a way of getting there.”

Shawn, with clear eyes and an unwavering voice declares, “Cory, people like me don’t go anywhere because they don’t believe they can get there. I’m my own worst Eskimo….If I don’t go, I’ll never go anywhere… Now be my best friend and get out of my way.”

 

Next scene: The grade

As Cory walks back into the classroom with Topanga, he says, “Mr. Feeny, I’ve failed you……..He was going to do this one on his own, no matter what.”

Feeny: Oh?…He said that? Those words?

“I guess I failed you on this one, huh?”

Feeny: On the contrary, you passed with flying colors.

…Cory, Shawn isn’t going to college and succeed because you want him to. He has to want to and believe that he can. You need to know that you won’t always be able to [help].

….Life is a lot tougher than school my dears.

‘In the final clip, everybody is watching the Superbowl at a restaurant.  Suddenly, Mr. Matthews jumps up and excitedly points out Shawn on TV, in the crowd. Feeny says to him, “How do you know?”

Because he’s holding up a sign: Hey Feeny, nothing’s impossible.

 

The Breakdown: My Thoughts and Questions about the Episode

Shawn learns the actual lesson, the most important one, though there are many to be gleaned here. He discovers the one we pass up oh-so-often in life, looking for a more neatly wrapped package. We want easy, simple answers, with rules, helpful hints and guidelines, along with a definite grading system.

Well life is a lot more complicated than school my dears.

Too often we stop at the first twist of the story, believing the lie that it’s okay to give up. As long as you “tried”. Whatever the hell that means.

It was mistranslated in our work-driven culture through the past generations, leading up until now. As I so similarly mentioned in my “Motionless Vagabonds” post, there are two ways to fail: from never trying or from succeeding at things which really don’t matter.

Somewhere along the way we started believing in the “As long as I just show up….” mentality

along with the “attempt the impossible” mindset….which doesn’t worry about actually succeeding in the reality of the situation.

It’s hard for us to envision the end goal, if we never believed it was possible anyways. We end up attempting short-sighted quick-fixes and frustratedly dragging our feet without purpose; We give up before we start.

Now, I could be wrong (and we’ll leave room for that), but what I gained from this story is not that some things are impossible….but we should still give it our darndest–oh well if we fail; some things are impossible; A for effort.

I think the question it asks is “What do you call ‘impossible’?

Better yet, is the word “impossible” just an excuse you tell yourself? I’m not saying that “trying” isn’t good enough; don’t misunderstand me. I think it’s the point.

Let me put it this way: nothing can be finalized, written in stone as “impossible” until the point at which we give up. Even if it’s whimsical, it doesn’t matter; it cannot be defined as such while you are still trying to prove it wrong.

Maybe if we completely redefined “possible,” drawing it’s circle much larger (maybe even all-encompassing) it would make us reconsider how far our “effort,” or action should go before giving up

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Feeny learns to let go, as they will be graduating soon and he will not be able to teach them any further. This is the last lesson, if you will.

Oh, and by the way, Topanga fails. Yup. Because she must learn that perfection not the point. Topanga, who has never gotten an “F” before, realizes the assignment wasn’t about her speaking up, but her always trying to obsessively control the outcome. As Cory learned the opposite, she found there is a time and place when she indeed should be speaking up, regardless of the looming consequences (the “F”). If you dig deeper there’s a lesson about priorities in here and not letting the goal hypnotize you into trampling all the people along the way, thus defeating the purpose. Never trying may ruin you, but so will comparing yourself to perfection.

And speaking of a “time and place for everything,” some of us fall into each of these roles at some point in our life. Or maybe we just “put on different hats” at certain times, with certain friends.

Sometimes, we’re Feeny, the “jerk” or “teacher,” yelling hard truths and teaching the tough lessons when it isn’t popular. They may not see  how it’s out of love yet, but it’s best way to motivate or help that “Shawn” succeed.

Whereas sometimes we need to just shut our mouth, like Cory. Even if they’re you’re very best friend, ultimately you can’t want it so bad for them that it magically happens. Cory won’t always be around to bail him out. Shawn has to take control of his life. Point blank.

Other times, like Topanga we should stop fearing the consequences for ourselves, if we volunteer to fight alongside them, and just speak up already.

But if your story is more like Shawn‘s….my hope for you is that you raise your banner high and show everyone watching, “Nothing is impossible.”

 

Here’s the episode, in its entirety. Enjoy!

Categories: Life Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The (almost) Vagabonds of a Generation. [Part 3]

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It’s the “rock bottom” attitude that I want to challenge today.

Rock bottom is just an invented place where the weary travelers rest.

 

There is always further distance to fall. And to definitely greater heights to climb.

As I’ve been talking about in Parts 1 and Parts 2, I believe

in our generation……we err not in our extremes, but in our stunning display of mediocrity. Taking a picnic between solid ground and summit. 

Also, consider there actually are two ways to fail:

-From never trying

– From succeeding at things which really don’t matter

Both stem from the “No way! I’m leaving my circle. This-is-all-I’ve-ever-known”  excuse.

 

It’s the comfort seeker inside of you.

Yes, you know the one. He’s small and green and hungry, like the creature from the Mucinex commercial, but instead lives in the deep in your belly and refuses to eat anything other than sweets.

And because, in America, sugar-infused products are never in short supply, you and he are good friends.

In fact, you have never had a single argument.

But one day……..the minute he grows parched, the minute he doesn’t get what he wants,

all hell will break loose.

Tantrums will ensue the painful aftershocks.

You will be at war with yourself. This thing inside of you. It affects everything. Like a how a toothpick under the fingernail racks the whole body with electric shocks.

And you’ll wonder,

How could something so insignificant take over my life?  When did I lose control and start letting circumstances dictate my happiness?

Why did I tell myself, I need ______ to achieve my full potential?

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We live in, not only a nation, but within an era, where possessions are the highest form of aspiration–the greatest measure of “success”.

I’m not even going to waste my time making an argument about this.

It’s apparent. It’s accepted. It’s aspired to.

If I could go even 1 day without seeing a car, which cost more than a house anywhere else in the world, I might take give a double take. For a brief second.

So, moving on with my point,

Even if you want to, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of this perspective.  We were born into it.

[The best in the west! ‘Merica!]

 

Sorry. Had to get that one in.

I like that word because “millennial” subculture has re-manned it for comedic use. When some yells, “Murica!” after someone’s statement, we take a second look. We laugh. It has helped us see the extremes of our nation and poke a little bit of fun at some things which needed poking. (Or a straight slap in the face by a bald eagle). And as it’s done with humor, we’re starting to be able to laugh at ourselves, which is awesome.

And here’s why I like that interjection:

I think it’s really hard to be aware of why we do the things we do, on a daily basis. Half the time we fall into error due to good, ol’ fashioned ignorance. On auto-pilot. It’s not purposeful. But that doesn’t really help the outcome. Also, it never hurts to have a sense of humor. When you begin to take yourself too seriously, people become objects and opposition, instead of the main focus.

 

So what is the “main focus”?

God, how do I say this to you without sounding…trite?

If you were broke – and I mean dead broke, on the street- could you still be happy?

That’s what I aim to find out.

The reality of the answer for most of us is screaming “no!”. Already. And we haven’t even left out chair! C’mon, be honest with yourself.

But……what if it was embraced…willingly?

That’s what I started asking myself. (among other things) What is the struggle of modern American youth? As I mentioned in Part 2 last week, it’s certainly not physical or material. No, it is “spiritual”. Perhaps not in the sense of religion, but that we are apathetic about creating meaning in our lives. We have given up on searching for our passion. We have given into the norms of society.

Giving up is always easier than embracing the struggle.

So, ask yourself: If you stripped away ev-er-y-thing, all the things you consider “necessities,” could you still find meaning in your life? Would you have the courage to chase after those deeper passions?

me

I mentioned I was going on a road trip across America. But I didn’t tell you how.

 I wasn’t sure you were ready for it.

Most people aren’t when I tell them.

They look at me like I’m crazy.

Well, here it is: I’m going on foot. I’m hitchhiking and riding on trains. With only a backpack, a small camera, and notebook.

No safety net. Nothing for someone to be able to argue, “well David you weren’t really homeless.” Or “Well, you didn’t really have it that bad, because you had______” (insert whatever here, like blow up mattress, The Hilton, a car, gas money, 3 square meals, etc).

Nothing.

No promises. No expectations. No guarantees. Strip away all of my comfort zones.

Some people told me, “Yes, but I’d feel more comfortable if you did it with ______ (items)”  ……….If I could eliminate all the risk from the start, what would the point be?!

The point of life is not to successfully wall off any possible room which leads to “risk” or “danger”.

THE POINT IS– WE ARE ALREADY TOO COMFORTABLE. We are entertaining ourselves to death.  Who decided comfort was the point, or single hallmark, of a “successful” life anyways?

 

All this to say: I want you to know, at the lowest of your lows, there is always an option. Believe that.

Sometimes, we just don’t like it. Mostly because it’s never an easy one. You always have an option. We just convince ourselves we can’t afford take it.

But you can’t afford not to. A heart is a precious thing to waste.

Find it and don’t let go; don’t let anything stand in your way. That’s it. Don’t over-complicate it.

Oh come on now. Please don’t make that face at the computer that says “You’re crazy anyways. No way in hell I’d do that!” I’m not saying your journey will look anything like mine. That’s your story to write and everybody’s conflict will be different. I just want to show you that it’s possible.

 

……Maybe somewhere along these roads we’ll both find hope and reason to believe in the “pursuit of happiness” again.

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The (almost) Vagabonds of a Generation [PART 2]

“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

This movie was made in 1999. Long before this “YOLO” phrase was invented.  Yet, the crie still echoes in 2013, amongst our generation: What is our identity? Is it something worth living for? How will we be remembered? What will we be remembered for doing? How will we make a difference? Will we remember to live carpe diem?

 Or will we continue to drift aimlessness, with no name and no purpose, like vagabonds who wear purposefully distressed clothing instead of tattered hobo-rags?

These are some of the questions which this movie “Fight Club” addresses.

Edward Norton in Fight Club (1999) (actor)

 

At first glance, you might think it just another R-rated, Brad Pitt-starring thriller, buzzing with scenes full of sex, bare-knuckled fighting, raging testosterone, and explosions. But, after RE-watching this film for the first time in several years, with my own story playing oh-so-similarly in my head, I saw something different. Believe it or not, I found more redeeming qualities, than not, in this film. I know, it sounds crazy with this movie’s plot being so extreme; we categorize it as unrealistic tales, entertainment, at best. But I think there are some very real things we can absorb and apply here.

I began to see myself, wholly, in this pitiful character (Edward Norton), who must choose to either take control of his future, or fall further into helplessness. He faced a turning point in his life.  It was all or nothing. There was no more fooling himself, pretending he could live happily in the world of apathy. He was at the end of his rope. It was time for either change or acceptance.

He begins to build an alternate lifestyle, a whole other world for himself. In this underground boxing world, he takes control of things; he is the man. He wants so badly to be like Tyler Durden because Tyler is everything he is not. [Really, this goes for every other character in the show who eventually follows eagerly in his footsteps. ] Watch closely the duality, if you end up renting the movie.

Tyler was an intense character in the movie because he, among many other things, confronted his problems. He confronted them head on, with very “in-your-face,” there’s-no-avoiding-this-now, way. Despite what you might initially think after watching it the first time, Tyler is actually the protagonist here (the guy fight for “good”) in this story. His character is inspirational because, though he is “reckless,” he does all those things we only wished we had the courage to.

For instance:

  • No Fear: He holds down Norton’s hand and gives him a chemical burn. Seriously. All to teach him that death and pain are inevitable; embrace it instead of running from it and fearing it. His lesson rings true in the sentiment: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything“. Painful lesson. Literally. Listen to the monologue here. (Warning: strong language)
  • Let Go: What do you wish you would’ve done, if you died right now? You’ve heard of the game “chicken,” right? First one to flinch loses. Well, Tyler plays this game with cars, in oncoming traffic. Answer the question quickly. What are your dreams? See video here. (warning: extremely strong language)
  • Hit me: Pretty self-explanatory, if you watched the trailer. This is the premise for the whole movie. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

 

It almost scared me how much I saw myself in him (Norton, not Brad Pitt’s character). I think there is a very valuable connection here, if we look close. For ALL of us are at risk of falling for the same pitch he did –like “what kind of furniture defines you as a person.”

“You are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet.”

Words that still hold true today. For our generation, more than any other’s in history.

We are a culture obsessed with superficial ideals. Our lack of drive spawns from the unattainable carrots dangled before us. We give up. Or, at best, chase after the wrong things. Meaningless things. At any rate, it all ends up back where we started: nowhere. As I said in my last post, we feel “stuck”. We are the motionless vagabonds. Hell, we don’t even live up to the definition of vagabonds. We’ve surrendered to the couch and gave up on finding a better ourselves.

Tyler predicted this kind of corporate burnout, calling it  “slaves with white collars”

At best, we might be someday defined by our tech. Our cool gadgets. I used the example of our smartphones and how everything has been given to us, literally and metaphorically. Everything is in the palm of our hand, more than ever. Though it is easy to look at this, and proudly proclaim, “see, look at all that we have accomplished in the past 20 years!”–I say “not so fast.”

Indeed we have come far, by way of tools. But, almost to prove my point, our technology is not what we’ve done,  but what we have. While impressive, they only amount to things, not accomplishments. A painter’s greatest dream isn’t a really nice brush set. It’s the image the brushes (his tools) will be used to reveal. Tyler would undoubtedly have something to say about this, if he could see us now.  In the end, these are only products, nothing more.

“advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy shit we don’t need”

I almost gasped out loud at this scene. I realized he had prophesied the inevitable, verbatim as we see it now: “We’re the middle children of history, man.”

“We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”

 

Man, I can relate to that.  Working a job you hate. . But you keep doing it because you tell yourself you “have to”. Feeling “stuck”.

I’ve been working at a grocery store, toiling away 10 hour days, making less than I can live on, daydreaming about getting out soon. Ya, it’s probably one of the most demeaning things I’ve ever done. Hell, I had a more cush job in high school.

The point is, ever since I’ve started on this journey, I’ve had countless others reveal to me in frustrated whispers the same exact feeling. I’ve been amazed by how many of you have told me your similar stories of feeling boxed in, hopeless, full of impossible dreams. There are so many of you with important and unique struggles, but you have given up fighting and feel an inevitable, dull ending to your once exciting story. There is no story because there is no conflict.

Every fiber of my being twitches, my blood pumps faster, my fists become clenched, and I’m almost angry for you, at that point. I’m not sure at who. But it makes me so mad, I want to scream out loud, “HIT ME! Dammit! When are you going to get up and do something?!”

I want to be able to save you from that feeling. That horrible feeling of bitter resignation.

But I can’t.

The reality is the majority of Americans live closely quartered, quite literally boxed in, breathing fresh air only in small quantities between the walk from cubicle to taxi to apartment. Among our generation, there are so many of you who feel stuck. The number is intangible. But whatever the case, I couldn’t fix your situation anyway, if I had the wisdom. In the end only one thing matters:

You have to want it for yourself.

You have to be willing to fight for it yourself.

Nobody can for you.

So I’ll won’t waste paper on a thousand encouraging letters. Instead, I’ll just show you it’s possible.

 

……….but more on that in Part 3……

 

-Dave (still) in South Texas (but not for long) –

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Motionless Wanderlust: The (almost) Vagabonds of a Generation [Part 1]

image courtesy of mugenmugayofficial.blogspot.com

 

We are the aimless generation.

This should not be news to you.

But it is.

And it will be, even after you read this post. You’ll forget about it, likely, and be reminded of it months or years later.

A “generation” is hardly ever recognized during its life cycle.

Not during. Only after.

So don’t feel bad.

Very few have words for it, until it has passed.

For to try to put words to it, usually results in heated criticism anyways. Give it some time and distance– the heat always dies down. Then we talk freely.

Yet, only a select handful are brave hell-raisers who can “give voice” to a generation, helping define it.

Yeah, they give voice to it. Almost as if the notes already existed on page; they were simply the person who sang them. It is the music that resonates with everybody. It’s a universal understanding.

But,

we are afraid. We are afraid to be wrong. We are afraid we might just be right. We are afraid to go against the grain. We are afraid people won’t agree with our view.  We are afraid it will be labeled “blasphemy” and our word will be rendered “untruthful” and our character deemed “insane”.

But that’s if you are even aware of said issue. And I’m not sure we are.

In reality, maybe time is the best teacher. Mostly only in retrospect, looking at our past, do we recognize its significance.

This is “life,” I suppose.

We are blind to it, most days.

Until something stops us in our paths, like a car ablaze in the middle of the freeway, crumpled and causing traffic. Police lights are flashing.

But hardly -ever- do we seek out these things: That which confronts us, blocks our view, slows us down, and challenges every urge we have to rush on without noticing…life. It challenges your current view of the world.

 

J.D. Salinger comes to mind. The rebellion of the 50’s. His book “Catcher in The Rye.” (Along with that era, why do you think James Dean is still a poster on every girl’s bedroom wall?)

Click for more info.

It’s not like people didn’t know kids smoked, cussed, and drank before that. Salinger simply was the first person to point it out, when everybody was all “hush hush. We don’t talk about that. It’s not appropriate.”

 In fact the book was banned in high schools across America; not because it wasn’t representative of the generation…but because it was.

I know, it sounds silly now. Like, how could they be so blind and stubborn to the facts? But that’s the truth. And it’s true for every generation. Every decade.

We are afraid of change.

and we are afraid of anybody who stands for that.

Let me give you some base examples you probably take for granted today, which were not that long ago:

Remember, most of the people who were raised to a level of heroic fame were those who spoke out at a time when it was unpopular, but later caught on. They were not famous at the time. They were prophets of sorts. People were amazed by them. They were lifted up as a spokesperson for the generation. Like Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg was to the “Beat Generation” or Steve Jobs was to the Computer Information age. Like Martin Luther King Jr. was to the civil rights movement. Like Nelson Mandela was the incarcerated antagonist to South Africa. Like Magic Johnson was a catalyst to ending the HIV stigma. Like Kurt Cobain or Bob Dylan were to Rock.  etc.

Those (now) household names have one thing in common. People didn’t want that change at the time.

Who will be the voice of ours? All seems silent so far.

 

We are the aimless generation.

And we don’t even realize it.

We are disenchanted with the idea being either politically riotous or corporately pledged.

That would require effort. Or moving from the couch, which has two thousand channels, Netflix, and video games all in one place.

Apparently, we’re rubbing off on the British now too. Copy cats. (click for link)

You may hear this term in “the slackers,” referring to us “millennials”.  Accurate or not, it’s because people just don’t know what to call us.

And they’d be right to feel that way.

At first, I took offense to it. But is it true? Even I have to try and take another unbiased look at it.

I realized our dilemma is slightly different, creating a unique definition, albeit symptomatic: We aren’t doing it intentionally.

Not that it helps, in the eyes of the older folks. But we’re not going out of our way to cheat the system, like that stigma of kid in class who cheats off everyone and only bathes weekly if he can get away with it….

It’s not that’w we’re out to cheat the system. It’s just all we’ve ever known. We’ve grown up in the system.

We grew up with everything. Lets be honest. We have smartphones. We can Google the answer to anything IN THE FREAKIN PALM -OF- OUR- HAND, in the middle of the woods, or in a car. We don’t need directories or boomboxes or long phone conversations or calculators or board games or email or land lines or fancy cameras or dictionaries or encyclopedias or radios or the weather report. It’s all right there.

Literally and metaphorically speaking, it’s all been given to us.

We don’t have to get up from the couch to find the answer. It’s right there.

 

We haven’t really been defined by anything. Whereas the past generations have been defined by the in-your-face things they did, we are left with a blank label. Ours is an empty name tag. It’s about what we didn’t do.

We aren’t really passionate about….anything. Despite the short-lived fads like Invisible Children and countless others. The disappear as soon as the come.

The biggest thing to happen to us was awareness of Global Warming. And I think Al Gore is taking credit for that, I hear, anyways. Not that we’ve actually done anything about it. Unless it has a bumper sticker or a cool “share”-able video, we’re not interested in actually making a difference. (Should I make a quip about Toms Shoes here? Nah. Not worth my time.)

To find a “label” for what best expresses our generation, I had to dig deep. I had to go all the way back to the Beat Generation of the late 1940’s/early 50’s, the post-Depression Era of the 20’s/30’s, and even the 1890’s.

Jack Kerouac wrote his manifesto of sorts, which was chock full of obscene, nearly libelous juicy bits exposing the underbelly of his generation’s unrest. In 1947, he hitchhiked across America and lived wildly in different cities with his friends, abandoning the conventional culture of uprising commercialism. This would  give voice to the 50’s. He would later become one of the most highly acclaimed American authors, ironically.

Jack London wrote about his time as intentionally drifting as a bum along with hundreds of thousands, on the railways of America in the 1890’s. He challenged the capitalistic ventures  and values of our system to the very core. He was a bum, feeding off the teat of democracy, without paying tribute. He was a freeloader. It was blasphemy…… but he would later become one of the most highly acclaimed American authors, ironically.

But our plight is not that which spawns a literal wanderlust, like the previously mentioned examples. So, no I am definitely not saying these decades are the same, or even close– only how this is not a new dilemma of American restlessness.

I think ours is more of a symbolic aimlessness, dissatisfied with our options, but not seeing any new ones. We are “slackers” not because we have eagerly chosen this path, but because we do not see any other available ones.

 

Again, my mind takes a humorous route to the example of “Workaholics” to show our generations ambitions and lack of optimism for the future.

No, we are not literal vagabonds. Far from it. In fact, there are hardly a couple thousand vagabonds in America today. Ours is more of a mental rejection of society’s norms, without the actual follow-through.

We don’t want to grow up. We have not be able to find our identity, so we have rejected it altogether. We threw the baby out with the bathwater (who ever did that, incidentally? Stupid phrase.)

Instead, everything becomes ironic and symbolic of past norms. (click link for fantastic article by the NYT on hipsters and irony)

We are so scared of our future, we have resigned ourselves to living in the past. (Read my previous blog posts)

We like “vintage” things, and spend much of our time dwelling on the past, yet have not learned from it. The actual hipsters were the generation which preceded hippies.  Before it became all about ingesting or inhaling large quantities of mind-numbing drugs, laying on the floor and listening to rock…..it was a social movement. Real hipsters were the ones who spoke out for change (See Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”), but unfortunately their image is usually lumped in with the latter hippies.

Perhaps, we need to rethink our definition of “vagabond” as well. Aimless wanderlust.

We need to take an  honest look at how we might be similar, or entirely different.

Perhaps we need to rethink this absurd cartoonish image we have in our head of the hobo with the little bandanna pouch wrapped around the end of a stick. Ya, know what I’m talking about.

Of course, this visual depiction in our brains is because we have nothing else to substitute it with.  (submit a comment on here with yours!)

Maybe it’s going to start looking more like a kid in his late 20’s, with a bachelors degree, working at SuperMax Supplies, living at his parents still, playing video games.

Or maybe even more subtle than that.

 

 

 

………..To Be Continued in Part 2……….

 

 

‘Merica ya’ll.

-Dave in South  Texas-

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