Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Letter to Achievers Concerning Carrots and Brass Rings

Dear Type A hardons,

I have something in me that my dad never could find in himself: compassion. HA! No, I'm just fucking around, that’s a whole other thing I’ll get into at another time. No, what I think I have that my dad always wished he had more of is ambition. That drive to achieve something greater than a nine to five and a 401K. I want fame and notoriety and respect, where he just does what’s available and wishes he knew how to wish for more. But, the older I get, the more I realize that the joke is kind of on me on this one, because I’m lacking something important that my dad has in abundance: the ability to work on something for more than 15 minutes without getting bored and spending the rest of my free time doing jack shit. The man is an achiever, and I am really not.

When life was just about school and grades and first jobs and making rent, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t an achiever. I could revel in my slacker lifestyle and…

(hang on, the Demetri Martin special is back on)

(ok, I’m going to mute it or I’m not going to finish this)

…So, anyway, I could revel in my slacker lifestyle without any care or worry that I wasn’t making any kind of forward progress with my goals. It also helped that I didn't have goals. I could do fun things like declare that next weekend we’re going to watch the entire first season of 24, only breaking to eat and play Splinter Cell. I could lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling, completely for the hell of it, for an hour straight, if I felt so inclined. After I dropped out of college I lived a life of lazy gratification, having decided that I should turn my life into a vacation for a few years, even though I hadn’t really been working all that hard up to that point anyway.

Now, later, even though there’s nothing physically keeping me from doing that, it's a little tougher. I can still lay on the couch or watch four episodes of House back to back while I eat cookies from the Dollar General (in the back left they have this row of boxes that are generic brands of ALL the different kinds of Girl Scout Cookies. Can I get a hell yeah?). All of my old activities are still available to me in theory, but, where I used to be able to spend an evening celebrating the 10th time I’ve watched Pirates of the Caribbean by drinking wine right from the bottle, now when I engage in a similar act there’s this nagging guilt latched onto it the entire time.

And, when I say nagging guilt I don’t mean a funny little feeling in my subconscious or a little reflective pause as I notice an unfinished manuscript. No, it’s more like I sit down to start goofing off and in my head it’s like AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! And, then as I keep going through with the goofing off it’s more of a AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! It’s fucking annoying and…

(hold up, Demetri Martin is back on)

(no, I didn’t mute it, shut up)

(Jesus the wind just opened my back door. This happened last night too, and I briefly had the thought that a ghost had wandered into my house. Let me explain. I’ve had mice in my house for a little while now, and I had been drinking, and I was playing a driving game, so a lot of my concentration was going into thinking about what a great drunk driver I would be. So, in the middle of this, the wind opens the door, which startles me, and then I think I hear footsteps in the kitchen, which was actually a mouse trying to get into the dog food. But, I didn’t know that, so I kind of pulled myself off the couch and shakily walked over to the door that connects my kitchen and living room, a little terrified because all the times I’ve run through how to handle a ghost in my head, I had never assumed I’d be pretty buzzed at the time, which was really just an unforgivable oversight on my part when I think about it. Anyway, what?)

…Oh, so the guilt is fucking annoying, and the worst part is that it doesn’t even help me. It’s not like I have this constant compass in my head that always gets me back on track. It’s just that I have this screaming guilt that doesn’t want me to goof around, but I goof around anyway, because that’s kind of my thing. I spend a lot of time just fucking around the house. I always have. At first I think it was out of necessity, to keep sane with no parents and an alien visitor as a sister, and then the habits were already formed so I just kept being a slacker. A term that I never understood the negative connotations of until later in life.

When I was young I associated the word slacker with Marty McFly from Back to the Future. That bald guy from Top Gun was in his face all the time about being a slacker, but Marty got to ride in a time machine and played the guitar. So, fuck yeah, I’m a slacker. Let me do some of that shit.

Later on I realized that slacker really meant that I cut class whenever I could, and liked to run half way down the track in high school until I was out of site and then cut hard right to go behind the supply building and smoke. I learned that being a slacker meant that when the teacher said that we had to write our names on the tops of our research projects, because that was five points right there, I would write my name on a blank sheet of paper and demand my five points, to see if she thought that was as funny as I did. I actually got a laugh once, which surprised me.

So, no time machines, and no guitar playing. Although, I did actually try to teach myself the guitar for a couple weeks. I even started to make progress, but, then I quit. I keep telling myself that I’ll pick it up again, but I won’t. No, the only thing I can guarantee WILL happen, is that I will find new and interesting ways to NOT do what I think I should be doing.

(I’m going to work on this later. I think Danny’s online and I want to play Test Drive.)

(Never mind he’s not.)

(God it's been hours. I've even been working on another letter. I have to admit I'm a bit drunk at the moment. Let's just keep it going.)

So as I sit here, convinced that I can both watch House AND write a letter at the same time, while pretty buzzed on Bacardi Gold, I am still thinking about how the only good thing I could manage to do with myself this week is clean our kitchen and bathroom top to bottom. What a spectacular achievement! Next stop, White House! No, that's just a joke, I don't want to be the president. I just want to do what I want to do and make a substantial living at it. But that's what we all want isn't it?

(Writing this drunk and distracted probably isn't the best, but, that's kind of the point of the whole letter so I'm going to just run with it.)

I'm starting to wonder just how useful ambition really is. I have plenty, I think. I know pretty much exactly what I want. I know it so well that when and if I ever reach that point, I'll be able to look around and say, yep, this is it. But, where has that got me? I basically just work long night shifts to keep my house and my life intact. I work, and my wife works her ass off, and that's just to keep our heads above water.

My dad, on the other hand, with his admitted lack of ambition has done some pretty amazing things. Being part of a yacht racing team around Africa, working on a drilling platform in the rough arctic sea, getting promoted to the point where he is building drilling platforms in Singapore, India, now Australia, abandoning his family, starting a new one half way across the world that we never get told about. The man has had a busy life.

But, me, nah, none of that. Most of my adventures exist in my own head. All part of this amazing imagination engine that I use about once a month to inch towards some kind of career that hasn't even happened. Go me. Yeah, this is MUCH better. I'm so glad I was born with creativity instead of all that other shit my dad got to do.

(Ha! House put a possum in Wilson's tub! What an asshole!)

(I think in the spirit of this letter, I'm going to stick with just drinking and watching House, and work on this later...again.)

(Ok, it's been like a fucking week and I haven't touched this. But, I started watching Californication and there's something about watching washed up writers that makes me want to write, go figure.)

I've made the comment before that it was hard for me to rebel as a kid, because my parents never seemed to react in a significant way regardless of the circumstances I got myself into. Maybe this, this jagoff attitude I have, is the big rebellion against the old man. Committing myself to as little as possible while he works himself into an early grave.

The alternative is to try and be different, work in the system, be a "go getter", but, I just know that's not going to happen. I have bursts of productivity. I've always been like that. I truly have to be in the mood to do something, or be struck by some kind of subconscious urge to really get down and get anything done. Better just to accept that that's the kind of pattern I'm on, because every time I try to force myself out of it, I just end up frustrated and angry and STILL unable to produce anything.

I've never thought of myself as a "company man." I'm the guy that mocks the over achievers. Not always to their face, and not always with a clear conscience, but I still do it. I make cracks about hamsters on wheels and brown nosing and empty suits. The only time I go above and beyond is to build up a buffer of good will that I can use as a cushion if and definitely when I really fuck up later. I can be a hard worker, and consistently, but mostly it's just a con. I'm a con man, and what I'm swindling you out of is forgiveness for something I'm going to do in the future. My wife figured this out a while back, and it makes things difficult, you know because I can be a real piece of shit.

I blame being raised by TV, partly. I grew up with onscreen dads that discovered artifacts by shooting Nazis, and saved the day in universal wars by coming in at the last minute to do ONE awesome thing, and getting paid handsomely. Hmm. Maybe I just blame Harrison Ford. Either way, I grew up learning that having superior natural abilities and intelligence was the way to get ahead, and the coolest thing to be in life was a smart ass scoundrel. With his own ship. And a dog. That part, actually, I still think is true. But, overall, running on the Han Solo play book into your adult life only gets you so far; I guess this far.

I don't really ever retain good habits from anything that could actually probably help me out overall. Now, I might have a change of ideas, and my habits will shift according to new philosophy, but that's big picture stuff. Things like: don't be late, ever, or people deserve second chances or spend more time with your loved ones. Those are qualities I'd like to have so making the change is easy. As far as things like, put the dish in the dishwasher after you use it or change the oil in the car when it starts to rattle and smell funny, those are things that I KNOW make sense, but, for some reason just can't ever seem to give a shit about. And those two things I mentioned do make me a hypocrite as I have chastised multiple people about them on multiple occasions.

For whatever reason, that latter category, the one with the dish washing and the oil changes, is where all my personal projects have been filed. Guaranteeing that, even though I love to do it, and want to do it, it's going to be pulling teeth from start to finish for me to produce anything, which is just stupid.

I think what it boils down to is that I just have to stop worrying so much if something is going to happen or not before I'm food for worms. Like I said, my dad has that drive, that eye for the future and the coulda-shoulda-wouldas, but he also has one of the worst cases of miserable bastard syndrome I've ever seen. And, that is exactly what worrying about making something of myself does to me. It makes me fucking miserable.

So, is that the trick? I gotta want more, but not plan to have more? Maybe. Fly with all thrust and no rudder, the way GOD intended. Just fucking do my thing and not worry about what the hell it means or where the hell it fits, or pushing it into a direction. Just buy some shit that looks good from a tent on the side of the road, light away from face, and point at neighbor's house. Let chance and physics take care of the results.

Is the key to dealing with ambition just not giving a shit? That doesn't sound right. But, fuck it, I'm running with it for now. I honestly don't feel like coming up with anything else.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
...if you try sometimes, you just might find...

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