Purpose, Fiery, Frozen

I envy people who have a purpose that so consumes them that they are willing to burn their worlds down to achieve it.

I’m a little afraid of them as well, to be honest. I feel, inside of me, a burning angst to get out and fulfill my dreams, but somehow, somewhere between the fire stoked and the engine it’s meant to run, there’s a disconnect.

I know my why. I know my how. And still, at times, I feel like a victim of some sort of motivational locked-in syndrome, aware of everything around me, everything that needs to happen, that could happen, but I can’t force my muscles to move to get it done.

Hell, I wrote a novelette about the torture of it called Jeopardy. It was published just over a year ago in the December 2017 issue of the Scarlet Leaf Review. I’m in the process of converting it to a single issue comic book, for the purpose of building up a portfolio.

It won’t make me millions, but I’d kill to write for Marvel or DC, or better yet, have my own ongoing creator-owned series through Image or Vertigo.

Of course, all that sounds like bragging, and it’s hardly the point. Most days, I can get myself to write something, though I go through lazy stretches or stretches where I’m so dejected, I can’t muster the effort to click on OpenOffice. It’s literally too hard. Too fraught.

It burns me up inside to know what I want and still be seemingly incapable of actually acting upon that desire. It is an internal threshing machine that mows down the fields of purpose without turning any of it into actual fuel for propulsion.

Freedom. Growth. People being decent to each other. Writing novels that attest to the essentially good nature of humanity, despite all the examples to the contrary. Fighting to create a world where our better halves are able to overcome the regressive, fixed mindsets of the past in favour of one that continues to grow. That’s what authoritarian rule is all about – maintaining the status quo. Free societies allow movement. They allow change. They allow growth.

That’s what I want. A world where people are free to do what they want to do, that they are, in fact, encouraged to do so and to do so with kindness. Basically, a free-for-all with one caveat – do what you will and allow others to do the same, without violence. It’s a world where we can make mistakes, test our mettle or not, to just do and be who we want to be, without prejudice, in a state of constant growth and peace.

That’s what I want.

Unlikely, I know, but it’s where I’m headed, in my mind. My problem is getting there. It’s one thing to write the book. It’s a totally different thing to publish and promote it.

That’s where purpose meets the wall. It’s not enough to write a book, but writing the book seems to be all I can do. Getting someone to read it, hell, even allowing someone to know it exists… that’s a whole other thing.

And that’s where purpose is failing me. If I’m truly passionate about it, says every trite piece of entrepreneurial and self-help pablum out there, I’ll move heaven and earth to birth it into the world.

But I don’t. And it burns inside so hot that I can barely control it. Is it a lack of passion that causes such a fire? A lack of purpose?

I do not know, but I suspect I must find out quickly, before it’s too late.

It’s Cold At Night In Tampere

I like the idea of minimalism.

I really do.

Unfortunately, I have this problem. It’s not the usual problem where someone says yes to everything and then ends up overwhelmed and letting everyone down because they’ve got too much on their plate.

That’s for people with an obsessive need to please. I’m not super interested in pleasing everybody, just the people I like. I don’t think life is particularly fair to those who think everybody can be pleased all the time.

Punk rock roots, I guess, though that’s a bit of a misconception. I love the ethos, but I was hardly the mohawked kid in the centre of the circle pit of some grunged-out warehouse.

That’s not to say I’ve never been in a circle pit or a grunged-out warehouse. I saw Fugazi in 1994 in Tampere, Finland. There were two sets of bleachers and an empty space. There was a girl dressed up like a flower child dancing on a patch of empty floor all by herself, in twirls and pirouettes. Everyone else was losing their shit.

Me and the other guy I was with, Craig, talked all night, unfortunately ignoring a wonderful girl who not only brought us to the concert, but was clearly going through a hard time, homesick maybe, in need of a friend. Instead, we shot the shit with each other and barely talked to her, which was super shitty.

Molly, we were assholes, if somehow you ever stumble across this. I apologize for both of us. You were right to ditch us and yes, the streets of Tampere are cold at night. At least they were safe. You deserved better and I hope you got everything you ever wanted when you got back to Kitchener.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with why I like minimalism and why I can’t seem to condone it in my life.

My problem stems from an inability to take things in just their small chunks.

I see a person behaving poorly and I need to know why. What drives them? What are their methods? Why are they doing things the way they are? What keeps them from changing?

I find an author I like and I’m forever tied to them. I can’t just read one book. I have to read their entire canon.

I can’t read an issue of Captain America and leave it at that. I need to know everything about him, ever. Oh, and if I could find all the appearances of Falcon, Nomad, Diamondback and the Serpent Society, then that needs to be done as well. Marvel and DC tend to be very fraught for me. Every cool character that comes along becomes a whole new world to explore.

That’s why I stick to the smaller Image press, mostly, these days. It’s a lot easier to explore the world of Wytches or Pretty Deadly than it is Doctor Strange or Deathstroke. Don’t even get me started on Batman or the X-Men. Trying to navigate those worlds is like untying a Moebius strip tied in a knot with six other Moebius strips.

I’ve learned to rein it all in a bit, but it’s still a problem. A cool world comes up to explore and I’m all in. If there’s interesting side plots not yet explored, I start writing them in my head. The tenets of minimalism (applied as loosely as they are) keep me from going insane or getting crushed under the weight of all the things I’ll never have time to get into, even if it’s largely ineffectual.

It happens across the whole spectrum of media – books, comics, music, video games, movies, television shows, office politics, actual politics, religious beliefs, human psychology, name it.

Where there are worlds to explore and connections to be made, I can be found, losing my mind in trying to dissect what’s going on and bring some order and reason to it in my mind (along with whatever craziness and chaos it brings).

I’m still trying to figure out the reasoning behind the system they implemented at a job I left five years ago, before the system was implemented. Still, I get told about it at every Christmas party and every chance meeting at Walmart or the grocery store, and it makes no sense to me.

It’s filled with the kind of bullshit buzzwords that mean nothing that I hate, and as far as I can tell, both philosophically and practically removes any and all accountability, productivity, communication, intelligence and ability to actually get good at anything. Hell, it actually penalizes people who excel. There’s no common sense. It lacks even a basic understanding of human nature and individuality. The whole place, as far as I can tell, is going down the shitter, and if it wasn’t for the fact that working there left me suicidal, I’d love to go back as a fixer and start dropping hammers to straighten everything out.

See what I mean? Five years, still trying to dissect the system and see how it all fits together. I’m only a little ashamed that I actually googled the system they were using and read their entire manifesto. It was bullshit and applies terribly to time-constrained environments like a call centre.

In the interest of minimalism, or rather to find myself productive enough to move forward with the things I actually want to do, I have to learn to let stuff like that go.

There’s no “value-add” to my life, as the purveyors of this particular method would probably say.

No, my problem is not saying yes to too many requests from others, but yes to too many areas of exploration for myself.

It fills every portion of my day, and when it overwhelms me, I end up feeling like I just got ditched at a concert for being an idiot. Alone, in the dark, in the cold, desperate for a place to stay, and knowing that it’s all my own fault.

And I do it anyway, because ultimately, shitty as it was, both behaviourally and in consequence, it’s a story and cast out into the streets as I was, at least a little quiet. Eventually. Plus, you can’t turn back time. You can only suffer through, do what you can and ultimately, start again and try and do the next thing the right way.

Minimalism. Forget what’s past. Focus on now. Try not to repeat the same mistakes.

It’s all we can do.

For the record, the concert was fantastic. Top three all-time, in my life.

At least, until I realized I had nowhere to go.

Carnies And The Way Forward

My father-in-law started working as a carnie when he was twelve. He showed up on the day the circus hit town and was swept up by some guy who yelled, “Hey, kid! Need a job?” and next thing he knew, he was holding one of the ropes that guided the elephants that helped lift the poles of the big tent, all for one free ticket.

At least, that’s part of the story. For all I know, he was peeling potatoes before that.

***

The book I’m reading feels like it’s been written by a crazy person. It’s one of the billion self-help books out on the market, which I tend to read sometimes, because well, sometimes I need perspective.

Why I think I can find this in the half-narcissistic, half-con-man, all-bullshit ramblings of a man doing his best Woody Allen meets Charlie Sheen impersonation, I don’t know.

I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to spread more anger in the world, so I won’t mention names.

That said, I still believe in reality and behaviour-based evaluations of character. That’s not going away anytime soon, no matter how loathe I can be to turn it on myself.

***

The other thing I learned on my wife’s birthday this year, on St. Patrick’s Day as it falls, is that you should never drink the orange drink at a carnival.

Somewhere in the confusing series of tales regarding my father-in-law’s ventures into carniedom, timeline uncertain, he began working for 50 cents an hour peeling potatoes for the day. He started with one fifty pound bag, peeled it, and was told to go empty it, and bring back a pailful of water.

And so he did, dumping all those mud-and-manure caked potato skins out of the bucket, and re-filling that same bucket with a hose. No rinsing.

This doesn’t sound bad, until he returned with the water, and the guy working with him turned and dumped the (recently filled with dirt-covered potato peels) bucket into the machine with the orange drink.

At lunchtime, they gave him a hot dog and some french fries.

***

I think the reason this book bothers me as much as it does is its fundamental dishonesty. That and somewhere in and around all the self-promotion and the pretense of guruhood that there’s actually a nugget of truth.

I don’t like when people present themselves one way but behave another. It’s hard to take a guy seriously when he talks about what a great boss he was and how all his prior employees have done wonders with their lives after his tutelage, then later tells us how he used to call his secretary to ensure the hall was clear so he could run to his office and lock the door, and avoid interaction with any of these supposed proteges.

He has a whole section on how honesty compounds, apparently oblivious to the repeated examples he gives of screwing people over and his own admission of thievery and sociopathy.

The whole not-spreading-anger thing is a work in progress.

There’s a bunch of these types of scenarios where he claims one thing and then later contradicts those same claims. It’s hard to buy that he believes in kindness and gratitude when in the same breath, he tells us that his family refuses to speak to him. And not in the deep past, when he was a fuck-up, but now, or at least, now when the book was published.

Still, the problem remains. In one thing, he’s fucking right.

***

You know those clanky, creaky, screeching rides that pop up overnight at the fair? You know. The spinning cups, the merry-go-round, the one with the two opposing cages that whips around opposite ends in a circle and slams you and your face repeatedly up against the grated metal? You know, the one you always thought you were going to die on? The one that made you walk like you had just been in a car crash?

Yeah.

That was, most likely, by the way my father-in-law tells it, put together by a twelve year old boy pulled fresh off the street. His qualifications?

“Hey, kid! Need a job?”

The good old days were a wild place.

***

The jobs are leaving and they aren’t coming back. The days of any random monkey being hired off the streets for menial tasks are gone. Factories are being automated and so are offices. Programs replace spreadsheets replace workers. Robots replace hands. What was once the work of four people is now the work of an hour, through a part-time temp.

Sure, people need to maintain those robots and write that code, but those aren’t the jobs you get off the street. Those jobs are gone. Or at least, they’re leaving.

The creative arts are good, but how to get into the space? How to monetize it enough to cover the basics, let alone live with any comfort? How many artists can the world support?

What about plumbers?

The time is coming when that question will need to be answered. The education isn’t there. The opportunity isn’t there. The safety net isn’t there.

We are all on our own.

***

He reached his finger in the cage and poked the back of the lion, quick. As quick as he could. The lion turned and headed toward him, far too late.

You could poke the big cat. You just had to be careful.

Probably best not to do it too often, lest he start paying attention.

For one day a year, my father-in-law was a carnie. He peeled potatoes, scooped up elephant dung and somehow assembled and ran the merry-go-round, usually for a free ticket and a meal.

In the evening, after the three rings were empty, he ran home, without bothering to help tear down. His mother wouldn’t let him. Presumably, she might not have let him set up either, if she’d known where he was. I thought my wife was going to pee herself laughing.

He swears he never drank the orange drink.

***

I have nieces, a year past carniedom in the old world. I have no idea what we’re leaving them.

Hell, I have no idea what I’m getting into, and I’ve got thirty years on them.

I can’t claim guruhood or prognostication. I can’t even claim any particular insight. I have no intention of pretending to be anything I’m not here, though it’s not my intent to pour out all my secrets. If it’s relevant, I will. If I need to clarify that I’m a fuck-up and should not be trusted for advice, I will.

All I want at this point is a path forward. It’s increasingly clear that this must be achieved on my own, if there’s to be any hope. I know I’ll need help and I know I’ll make mistakes. I’ll have setbacks and things will not turn out how I want them.

But it is forward.

I used to repeat the phrase “every step is a step forward” to myself. Not every step is a step in the right direction, that’s for sure, but it is forward.

Always forward, even if we don’t know exactly where.