Posts Tagged With: carpe diem

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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10 Years From Now…[Part 2]

Sorry guys. I forgot to upload the video for the movie “10 Years,” which reminded me of this question, spawning this series of blog posts. It may help you get the gist.

 

So, to back up.

The hardest class I ever took in college wasn’t even required for my major. And the worst part of it was… I took it “for fun”. Ya, I was that guy in college. I took extra classes, “just cause”.

[So I totally understand if that makes you want to tune me out right now. But I promise this series of posts isn’t about school. Unless you want it to be. Hopefully, it will mean something different to everybody.]

Anyways, I took this Public Relations course, where your grades were judged from projects like raising money for a non-profit cause, by putting on a benefit concert, or selling raffle tickets. Stuff like that. Very unconventional class, to say the least.

Our groups created imaginary P.R. companies. If we didn’t succeed, we didn’t pass.

Ya, there was no pressure on us or anything.

This teacher was like Mr. Keating, but raging on steroids [Dead Poets Society]. I think I’ll call him “Dr. Reality Check”.

Instead of bubbling in scantrons, I found myself drawing up a business model and creating commercials for TV and radio, to promote our company’s cause. It was almost all out-of-class work.  In class, we gathered around for fireside chats and discussed, realistically, how we planned on executing our business plan – the specifics. No generic fluff. He spotted that quicker than a fat kid tastes splenda in his “sweet” tea. We quickly realized that proposing solutions for problems are easy, when everything is hypothetical and the hot air never rises beyond the classroom ceiling.

With Dr. Reality Check, the usual college-kid bull shit answers were not acceptable. We all feared the moment he lifted his pointer finger to call on one of us. There was never a “right” answer, it seemed. No quoting the textbook. He would pace back and forth, saying, “hmmmmm….does anyone else have a better answer? That’s not what I’m looking for.”

But in my defense, it wasn’t our fault. We had been programmed over the past 18 years of our life in the public education system to give the predictable, textbook highlighted “right” answer. It’s what the teachers have always wanted to see, grading our tests. I think it is every bit like answering “Jesus” for any given question in Sunday School; Yes, it’s expected, but never wrong. But that wasn’t what this teacher wanted. This dude required us to think for ourselves and show how we came to that solution.

We all hated him by the end of the semester.

Poetry would have been a whole lot easier to come up with, on the spot.

We barely slept. My classmates, to this day, will attest to having violent, PSD-induced night terrors, imagining him calling on us. We thought we had the school system all figured out, by this point in our college career. But this random class was more work than all my other classwork combined. This isn’t how it works! We had no clue how far off we were. But none of those are the reasons we dreaded his deep breath, before announcing end-of-class assignments. Well, mostly. I did enjoy sleeping and having a social life, before that semester.

Yes, we loathed, even feared, the inevitable homework  which we wouldn’t humanly have time for. But the real reason for this dread is, we couldn’t stand the fact….. the answers couldn’t be copied, word for word, out of the book. He made us think.

We just wanted our standardized testing back. And his hardest portion of the final test was the question:

 

What do you want to be in life? What are your highest aspirations, if nothing stood in the way?

[Give essay answer]

Sounds easy right? Everybody has dreams and shit– you know, the stuff that keeps you awake at night. Or daydreams at a dead-end job. Either way, we all got ’em. Everyone could write a novel here. But the second part was harder.

 

Now list 10 specific steps you will take to get from here to there.

“Oh.”

Ya, that’s everyone’s reaction. I dare you to get out a pen and paper. Because it’s really hard to commit to the second part, listing verifiable ways to actually see them happen. This is the part that stumps most of us. We have the first part, the easy part down, like our last name. We’ve rehearsed it a million times in our head. But the second part, we’ve contemplated about as many times as Lindsay Lohan has sobriety.

Dr. Reality Check said it is very easy to keep creating these elaborate dreams, if we don’t feel the pressure to follow through on them. No commitment factor= no pressure, basically.

 

Even today, as I write this, the question still hangs over my head.

So, what’s it gonna be? I mean, sure, I have an pretty good idea. But I sure as hell don’t have it all figured out.

There were no easy answers for the “solution” to this problem.

There never will be.

Because nobody can take control of your life for you. It can feel like others are integral to it sometimes, as they help guide you, walking along a similar path, in step, but nobody can walk it for you.

For example, a couple months ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for him to show. I asked the nurse, “What kind of vitamin supplements should I be taking, as a 21 year old guy?”

Her response: “Oh, just Google it. I don’t know.”

Gee thanks.

But honestly, the secret is really this: nobody knows. Almost everyone’s faking it. The few who “get it,” have already been to the lowest place, the place where everything is stripped away, where only the bare truth remained, where they were forced to find the answers themselves, because those higher-ups who were “supposed” to know didn’t– a place where there is no Google solution.

We need to learn to be okay with that.

Especially in our (my) generation of get-it-quick-results and Googling damn near ev-er-y-thing.

High school and college can be great times for learning and thinking outside the box. Yes, I know that. I’m not discounting their importance. [More in part 3]

But, after that, what are you going to do–when the regimented structure and prodding is stripped away?

You will only have yourself consult. Only yourself to fault for failure, not the system.

No matter how much other people may want it for you, the choices in life are ultimately yours.

And, as I described in Part 1, not deciding to do anything IS making a choice.

 

So, 10 years from now, where do you want to be?

[To Be Continued……..in Part 3]

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10 Years From Now…. [Part 1]

Where do you want to be 10 years from now?

So I came across this movie the other day, 10 Years [2011]. I was mildly intrigued. At first, I passed it up and looked for another movie. I mean, it’s not exactly a cookie-cutter blockbuster script. So, it didn’t get a lot of attention. But, after a few days, this “10 years from now…” question really started rolling around in my head and gaining traction. It reminded me of something my teacher had asked me last year [more in Part 2]. I found myself daydreaming at work about what my reunion would look like. I wanted a really badass story to tell. Lets be honest– we all do. Would I be single, married, poor, or rich? etc.

The concept was really starting to interest me, and I hadn’t even seen the movie yet.

Well, I finally watched it. And yes, it was good. Remember, the film is NOT set in their high school prime. Which is odd for a plot. Think about it: In casting, they usually like to keep the characters young, healthy, and bright-eyed– in the “best years of their life.” But not this movie. It fast forwarded to 10 years later.

It’s the story of 4+ bachelor dude-bros/best buds who triumphantly reunite after all this time. Some things are the same, but things aren’t as they left them. And a bunch of insane guy-talk, beer, and hi-jinks are thrown in for good measure. And lots of reminiscing on old pictures and scrapbooks and memories.

But I’m more concerned with the reunion aspect.

It’s never how you picture it.

(or in some cases, it IS, because they stayed exactly the same, which is equally as sad)

I imagine, some of us will get fat. Some of us will chop off a foot of hair (some of us will grow it out and do the comb over. It will look horrible). There will always be the inevitable goatee, everyone sports. Which will be a better option than the other half of men, which will own mustaches. Some of us will have kids. Like 5 or 6 by then. But a few will just be getting started with their marriage, due to graduate school or a start-up business. Some people will have traveled around the world, or made a fortune; but others will never have left their hometown. Some will be druggies. Some will be unrecognizable with plastic surgery. The prettiest kids will lose their looks, and others will finally grow into them. Some of us will be famous, finally gaining popularity we never had in high school.

I think it will shock you. I have no idea what your reunion will look like. But I think the lack of nostalgic dreaminess you once envisioned will be what does surprise you. It will surprise you for completely different reasons

When I left for college, I didn’t go back to visit for over 2 years. At all. And, moreover, I can count on 1 hand the amount of times I’ve been back after.

I was only out of high school a couple years when I first got a taste of this. And it hit me in the face. Hard. One winter, after this long-awaited visit, I found myself shuddering in the rain, leaning heavily on a (now long-gone) friend’s shoulder, searching for cover from the downpour on the town square, shaking uncontrollably, whether from the cold or the night’s string of hazy encounters, I don’t know. I swallowed back the dry, inevitable feeling which rose in my larynx, threatening to steal the moisture also from my eyes.  I hadn’t cried in years. And now I found myself trying to hold back all those rising emotions, for fear of embarrassing myself in public.  I didn’t want to leave yet, but I realized I had nothing and nobody to stay for. I didn’t know where to go just yet, so I curled up on the steps of the  courthouse. Shit. I had come back for nothing. It was too late. I felt I wasn’t there when they needed me. Not that there was anything I could do, but it was crushing me anyways. I had found out one of my best friends was a drug dealer, who now hated his life, who talked in a passionless, monotone voice. Apathy filled the slow stride of his walk, like the bottles in his fridge. It broke my heart that night to see the depressing state some of my friends were in.

Anyways, When I did finally go back, I didn’t recognize my hometown. The usual shock I suppose: high school quarterbacks now fat, working minimum wage jobs, your old sweetheart is married, the religious zealots are now drunk dropouts, the nerdy kids became ridiculously successful, and an assortment of druggies, community college cop-outs, baby-mommas, and altogether lost friendships.

Very few of my closest high school friends made it very far. Even fewer had goals, for the next year. Much less 10 years.

I vowed to never let that happen to me.

I wanted to keep moving forward. High school would not define me. I was determined. I believed that. And I still do, very strongly. Your past does not determine your future. No matter how unlikely.

I want you to see that I am living proof of that. I was told I would” never finish college”, and “never make it in the real world,” and repeatedly that “I would never amount to anything”. But I did. And I am. Despite all odds. This is not a Joel Olsteen inspirational speech. I’m certainly not saying its easy. But I am saying its possible. I am saying, don’t buy into the lie that where we grew up defines or limits our future. I’d say more, but that’s a story for another day.

So, here’s a belated “I’m sorry” to those  friends. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. It was just something I had to do. I had to take care of me. I had to go learn all the things that made me the man I am today. Or else I’d be in the same, or likely worse, place, instead of traveling this world and writing to you. I fear what I would have become, had I stayed in that town.  I couldn’t grow, as a person, sleeping in a bed which I’d my feet already hung over the edge. I had to roam and stretch those legs. I still do. I’m not done yet.

I noticed the physical changes of the landscape too.  Even the city was in on the joke, playing along to this giant metaphor. As the city slowly started to creep in on my quiet suburbia. The bike trail I used to ride on with my best friend, taking long day-trips far away on countless adventures, was defiled by a modern transit system which links to Dallas. Well, there goes a piece of my childhood. That’s growing up for you. Change happens whether you like it or not. I will happen with or without you. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a bad thing. Use it to catapult you, to give you the needed shove to move forward, to embark on something much better. (instead of being left behind)

 

 

I’ve been thinking lately,

Where do you want to be, 10 years from now?

Because that will change how you live, in the present moment.

 

{To Be Continued…..}
More on this question in Part 2.

 

 

-Carpe Diem Dave-

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