“We are all afraid of getting old. We don’t want to think about it. Yet deep down in the recesses of our minds we know it’s true. When we suppress these fearful thoughts they continue to fester there in the dark. We are driven to consume (food, alcohol, movies, etc.) in our attempt to forget and keep those thoughts from surfacing in our conscious mind … When we really face the fact that we will die one day (and maybe sooner than we think) we won’t embarrass ourselves doing ridiculous things, keeping up the delusion that we will live forever. Contemplating our mortality helps us focus our energy into the practice of transforming and healing ourselves and the world.”
- Thich Nhat Hahn
I never was much for News Year’s resolutions. Not that I ever had a problem with resolve. I actually can be pretty determined when I want to be. I’ve just always been self-aware when it comes to my noncommittal level of personal commitment to staying committed and I never bothered. But since I got sober, I now spend much time pondering ways to improve my life, instead of destroying it. As such, several goals have come into focus. Still though, just saying that causes me to cringe. It sounds like a corporate training video or cover letter. And I have a teensy problem with cover letters or resumes or, really, staying with a job in general.
I’ve heard that the average American will change careers 3-4 times in their adult life. By that wisdom, I’m way ahead of the curve. The first count was the outdoor industry when I worked for a little clothing manufacturer, but that was derailed when I ended my stint living in Seattle. I don’t count that one and instead chock it up to geographical whimsy. The second time was as a staff writer for a one-horse newsweekly. That one was derailed by the small matter of almost dying. The sickness left me unable to speak at first and shattered my confidence so I was unable to write for many years. The third count in the animal care industry was also derailed, this time by a wicked substance abuse problem which led to treatment which led to sobriety which led to an impassioned and nobly conceived, if ill-executed, attempt to enhance the animal care vocation. A decision that, as it turned out, was made personally and professionally impossible by factors which stemmed from the previous derailing. All this is to say nothing of the fact that I can’t even count the smattering of piddly jobs I’ve held in my working life, from the Bagel Bin to Pizza Pipeline to my gig as an umpire for YMCA coach-pitch Little League (I had the little hand held ball/strike/out counter and everything, which actually turned out to be pretty useless because in coach pitch, according to the rules, there’s literally no end to the amount of pitches Daddy’s little Taylor/Tyler/Tucker/Skylar/Etc. can shake off before they ground into what should be an out if Mommy’s little Dylan/Brandy/Randy/Rufus knew to how to field a ground ball hit into their bread basket.) If I went back to when I started my streak of gainful employment with my paper route in 6th grade, I’ve had approximately 462 jobs.
Okay, that number is hyperbolic, but not by a helluva lot.
So I’m no stranger to trying something new. But this time, I’m bringing a truckload of resolution to the resolution that I can do this and I will do this, even if it means exasperating every guy I work with because I have to ask them again what Counterstrike is (it’s the copper pipe that the natural gas runs through in a house if you care and I know you certainly do not. I barely do but I kind of have to now.) But this time, I’m 87% sure I can do this and there’s a financial payoff at the end of the tunnel. Not a huge payoff, at least financially, but enough that it’s definitely worth doing. And there’s the added benefit of being the first male in my blood line that knows how to fix something with more than a hammer, brute force and a likely trip to the Emergency Room.
I’ve also made a second resolution to quit smoking. I know I’ve said before on this blog that by the time I hit 40 years old, by father God and sonny Jesus I will have quit smoking. Well, I guess what I didn’t fill God in on is I recently started a new job and started back in school and both of these require a lot of driving. Any smoker will tell you that smoking and driving (not to mention smoking and studying) go together like pees and carrots or ham and eggs or chocolate and peanut butter. Today is my 40th birthday and, well, let’s just say I’ve admitted that there really is never an optimum time to quit other than all time. There’s an ad on one of the radio stations that plays country music (not the really good, old-school country either like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. The modern, “I can’t believe this is considered country music just because it has a twangy guitar” of Toby Keith and Darryl Worley. The latter is especially excruciating because every time he comes on he’s singing the musically mediocre anthem about 9/11 called “Have you Forgotten?” No, Darryl, I haven’t forgotten because you won’t stop freaking singing about it. Trust me, I know people who live in New York who desperately want to forget about it so shut your freakin’ pie hole.) Anyway, the ad is for e-cigs and the spokesman says in his best game-show voice “Now you can enjoy the nicotine you love without always smelling like smoke. The financial benefits are considerable as well!” Well smack my ass and call me Dylan/Brandy/Randy/Rufus but tell me something I don’t know, jackass. No smoker will tell you they love nicotine and in this capitalist society, I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of the financial hit our budgets take. As Denis Leary once said, “I love to smoke. I smoke 7000 packs a day okay, and I am never quitting. They’re a drug, we’re addicted, Okay?”.” Or alternately, it was Bill Hicks who said “Make you a deal. I’ll smoke, I’ll cough. I’ll get the tumors. I’ll die. Deal? And I gotta secret for you … non-smokers die every day too so I hope you don’t mind if I just enjoy my cig.” The reality is there’s two equally powerful, equally compelling arguments that surge in my brain, I hate smoking and I want nothing more than to quit. Meanwhile, I love smoking and am deathly afraid of that malady that plagues the reformed smoker that is free time.
I picked 40 because while I know that I will never undo the damage I’ve done by smoking for 25 years, I still might be able to hedge my bets enough that I never need an oxygen machine, never cough up blood and never have a portion of my lungs removed. And who knows, if my looks hold together long enough I could still land a smokin’ hot woman (pun kinda intended) who would never have anything to do with a smoker. In the short term, I’ve also resolved myself to the fact that I may, very well, gain 20-35 pounds if the nicotine gum doesn’t suffice and as far as ham and eggs and chocolate and peanut butter go, well, I can always rededicate myself to the gym. It comes down to a new way of thinking, a new way of being in myself. To truly know myself as a non-smoker.
My third resolution, again, stems from the life-altering changes that have come from the HVAC endeavor. I work 50 hours a week and I’ve gotten into the habit of coming home and hunkering down with dinner and queuing up the show Lost. Before that, it was The West Wing. Before that, it was The Wire. The physically taxing nature of my job is not conducive to working out when the day is done, and yet I know that it’s plumb necessary. I have three things I have prescribed for myself for “relaxation time’ and not one of them involves television. Playing piano, working out, and writing have all taken a backseat to this gorge-and-veg routine I’ve slid into and I must resurrect all three of them to recapture the feeling of accomplishment.
All three of these are difficult and they are all necessary for my sanity. All three have a level of difficulty that I must abolish or at least deal with because no one is watching but me. Piano is difficult but I can do that and it’s a purely luxury hobby that no one will ever be interested but me. That’s the great thing about it. I’m the only one who will know how bad I am as I’m my only audience and I think I can sound alright. Working out is easier, mindless, and should be a lot easier once I quit smoking and enjoy all the extra energy (spoiler alert: The extra energy is a myth perpetuated by the fitness industry. I’ve talked to many non-smokers and what comes from quitting is slightly improved health, a better sense of smell and the feeling like you’ve lost a best friend. Can’t wait.)
On writing, I quote On Writing, Stephen King’s seminal work on the subject:
“If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows and how far.
Just an idea.”
I keep writing about finishing the book about my journey from bacterial meningitis to sobriety because, if I keep telling myself to do it, I will eventually finish it. Besides, y’know that saying about how no one was ever on their death bed and wishing they’d had spent more time at the office? I don’t want to be on my death bed, wishing I had finished watching Lost before I died. I have a least two or three books in me. It’s time to get to gettin’.
I started the HVAC gig 6 months ago and have concluded the adjustment period, It’s time to progress to the next phase of my life. Nay, to embrace the dreaded title of “Middle-aged” with zeal and gusto. I am thankful that I have had the presence of mind to greet this new stage, so far at least, with a healthy mix of cautious optimism, humility and, yes, a little fear. It’s time to move on. To not do so would be to blame many factors for my own inertia. Or, to borrow from Billy Shakespeare, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.