I used to think people don’t change, but we do, around the edges.
Here’s my list of what used to impress me…overly.
1. Movie memory: My wife remembers where we were on vacations. She recalls the restaurants, the sights and the good times. I can’t remember any of that. My memory box is stuffed with movie dialogue. In fact, that’s my super power. My parents owned a video store and I watched at least two movies a day for years. If you’re watching a movie with me and I feel the urge to show off —a sad, dependable occurrence — I’ll jump in and tell you the next line before the actor can deliver it. It doesn’t have to be a great movie like The Karate Kid. It could even be The Karate Kid 3.
I’m briefly, ridiculously, proud when this happens and She Who Must Be Obeyed smiles tolerantly. But it’s not a super power that saves babies from house fires. I can’t monetize it. Any memory that’s at all useful, and much that isn’t, can be found on the web. Every time I hear a podcast where the host and guest speculate about what happened, which movie was what and who was Miss October 1993, I think: Look it up! We don’t need our pitiful brains anymore for trivia!We’ve got Wikipedia and the hive mind! Google it!
If our experience makes us what we are and all I’ve got is movie dialogue?
I. Am. Screwed.
2. Unguarded moment memory: Yesterday I chatted with a college buddy on Facebook. We have a strange friendship because: on the political spectrum, I’m Lefty Lefterson, he’s to the right; he loves debate and I love people who agree with me too easily; and we weren’t that tight in college. We even came close to getting into fisticuffs once. And what’s more? He doesn’t remember it. I have joked with him, somewhat passive aggressively, that I remember all his unguarded moments. We spent very little time together at school, but for some reason, as soon as I was around him, my brain box was wired in to his every utterance as if he were on film. (See #1)
One incident in particular became a source of hilarity: In the journalism school newsroom, he looked at me and then he ogled my girlfriend (who years later became my wife.) “How could a guy like you get a girl like that?” he asked, genuinely dumbfounded. I was a tad sandpapered by that at the time. Now, as I write this, I’m suppressing a giggle. He’s a supportive, funny guy who manages to think and smile, often at the same time. I don’t have that capacity and I admire it. But my wife’s still hot.
When I bring up unguarded moments from the past, my buddy has a certain lopsided smile of chagrin. I confessed to him yesterday that I have an eidetic memory for everything he said or did in college whenever I was within ten feet of him. (No, Marvel Studios won’t be making a superhero movie about this mutant power, either.) I told him that if I were him, I’d kill me.
But we’ve found transcendence. We laugh a lot. And I’d rather laugh than remember #2 sandpaper moments from the dead past.
(I’m an asshole for carnivoring yesterday’s conversation and bringing this up at all, so this was the last time.)
3. Domination: I used to watch Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and a host of Hong Kong martial arts movies obsessively. The idea that one man could dominate others with precise kicking skills was attractive. Now it strikes me as silly, simplistic and repetitive. Back then, I aspired to — this is really embarrassing — a whole whack of macho bullshit. As I edit my books, the theme that macho doesn’t mean mucho comes up a lot. Many of my stories explore how men relate to men, how men relate to women and how to be a man without devolving into a bully or a pussy.
I’ve figured out that my need for domination wasn’t rooted in strength.
That bullshit was all about fear.
4. Being a loner: I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, so I wasn’t brought up by parents, but by movies. And what do all cool movie gods have in common? They’re alone.
Dirty Harry didn’t have to pick up the kids from daycare. Except for Casablanca, even bulldog-faced Bogey got the girl. The movie was about the getting, never about enjoying the having. Bachelors are available and open to romantic and adventurous opportunity. They don’t have to arrange a babysitter before they go on safari or take up a mission. Martin Sheen wasn’t on screen debating about who left a ring in the tub after the crazy caper to tunnel into the bank vault in Loophole. Heroes were alone and liked it until they chose, at the end of the story, to start a new, more mundane, domestic story. The few female heroes of that era were largely indistinguishable from men. The glamorous life was not a life that included children. All movie heroes (who aren’t superheroes) were, and are, marvellously egocentric.
Since I’m not-so-marvellously egocentric, emulating The Loner with a Mysterious Past or The Last Honest Man seemed a good thing. I need space and a buffer zone and time to myself, too! I’m a writer. Of course being a loner was the key to happiness!
But I was confusing fiction and reality.
Being a loner in real life isn’t glamorous. It’s lonely.
5. My library: I’ve been getting rid of a lot of books, but I still have a lot of books. My collection not only conveys to visitors that I’m bookish. It says, I’ve found an alternative way to further insulate my home. Look at all those books! See? I must be smart. Please love me! Respect me even though I prefer books to interacting with people!
A doughy guy in a midlife crisis is to an expensive red sports car
as you are to…?
A. The hypotenuse of the square
B. John Adams
C. the Bill of Rights
or D. books.
Yes, D was the correct answer.
As my e-readers fill up, the walls of books look less like a personal statement of integrity and more like (Krom forgive me) clutter.
My new policy with paper books is to sell them or give them away once I’m done with them.
If all that macho bullshit was about fear,
my hoarding is about low self-esteem.
6. Anger: I mistake self-righteousness for being right. Often.
I always loved that line from Dr. Bruce Banner just before he turned into the Hulk: ”Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
You know what I’ve figured out about readership with all the blogging I do?
People don’t like me when I’m angry.
People like me when I’m honest and authentic.
Well…most people. Fuck those trolls.
(See what I mean?)
7. Heroes: My daughter asked me who my heroes are. Her first guess was, “Kevin Smith, right?” A few glib, funny answers sprang to mind, but she had that earnest look on her face, so I went serious and gave her the true, complicated answer.
I like Kevin Smith a lot for his independent spirit, wit and smarts. We agree on a lot. He’s definitely Top 10 material, though I get the feeling he’s also a mercurial god who can be moody. Maybe that’s why I relate to him. But I’m lucky because I know my top heroes personally. They aren’t nationally known, but they should be.
My heroes are celebrities in small circles who lead by example:
Anne is the bravest woman I’ve ever known. She suffered greatly from a terrible disease, nearly died several times, and overcame it all to rise again from her electric wheelchair and walk again. She remade her life long after most of us would have given up.
The late, great Reverend Johnny T. Collins was the single best Christian I’ve ever known. My love and respect for him hasn’t changed a bit though I became an atheist after his death. It would grieve him enormously to discover that I became an atheist largely because of his death.
One of my best friends (I’ve mentioned several times in this blog) is Peter. He has a super power that’s much more useful than mine: Peter makes friends easily and unselfconsciously. Few people have so deep a capacity for joie de vivre. He’s forever the Big Man on Campus no one can hate. (As opposed to the other Big Man on Campus, the smug bastard who led the football team and everyone secretly hoped would get leprosy.) Everyone is richer who has Pete in their lives.
And number one? I’m a very lucky man because my wife is hero number one. She’s the single most kind and generous person I know. (Also, as previously, pervilly mentioned, hot. Really can’t go without mentioning that.) It makes sense that the woman I’m married to must be a paragon of patience.
The heroes I know as individuals are beyond cool. But heroes as a class of people to look up to? No. Heroes as a group are overrated. Kevin Smith, for instance, idolized Brice Willis until he worked with him. I’ll never forget Kevin’s look of regret and disappointment when he stared at the floor and said, “Never meet your heroes, man.”
My heroes are stellar people who are my friends and family. They are people I can rise to be among and still belong. Any hero worth the title empowers you, assuring you that you can be a hero, too.
Don’t just watch heroes. Be one.
8. Greatness: Perfectionism is self-hatred or, as writer Mur Lafferty says, “It’s okay to suck.” I write books. I’ll begin making them available to the universe this fall. The universe may or may not notice. That’s okay because this is what I do now, whether it goes big or stays small. Of course I want all my books to be made into movies and checks in the mail, but that sort of all-or-nothing thinking will hurt and hold me back. Last night I was up until two finishing a draft of my third book. I had stamina because I was excited about what I was creating. I wasn’t living in the future, thinking about accolades from strangers from whom I desperately want love, respect and money. I do want those things. But writing is about how to make the story more clever, more funny and more surprising. I get brain tickles from the dopamine kick of doing my thing.
Enjoying the journey is the only way to get to the destination.
We learned in The Matrix “There is no spoon.” There’s also no destination. It’s all a journey.
Knowing there is no destination allows you the chance to get to the destination
(Yup, I have a minor in philosophy, studied Zen and yes, that was annoying!)
9. Ego: When I started out as a therapist, I put on my ID badge and my shoulders went up and my chest went out, much the same way Erik Estrada always substituted posing for acting on CHIPS. I walked into my clinic, “The Expert.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this was self-aggrandizing bullshit I used to meet challenges I wasn’t sure I equal to.
Ego can make you do stupid things. Longer. Everybody needs self-esteem, but too much ego pushes people away and makes you a prick. As a prick in rehab, I know.
Ego leads to stupid shit, like planking. All over the web you can see pictures of people doing the latest thing: Somebody had the balls to stand up and call it planking. Or, as we used to call it, “Lying down.”
Too much ego betrays the truth about ourselves:
NOT. ENOUGH. SUBSTANCE.
10. Certainty: I used to want to know exactly how things will turn out. That’s part of the whole, living-in-the-future disease. I thought that if I could just get this one thing right, everything else would fall into place and success would be mine. Certainty is poison, though. Success comes from doing a lot of little things right along the way, not from sweeping mission statements (like this.) A need for certainty can lead you to avoid tackling those little things.
For instance, I don’t know how to format my manuscripts for ebook formats. Yet. If I had to know it all before I could start, I’d never get it done. Instead I’m learning as I go and nibbling away at it. I’ll never know it all and get it “perfect”, but eventually I’ll be able to digest enough to get my ebooks done and out there.
Recently I listened to a podcast about how to podcast. There is a staggering amount of trivia to know about podcasting. But you don’t have to know it all to begin. You just have to begin. A need for certainty can give you paralysis by analysis (a confident, oft-spouted aphorisms which must be true because it rhymes.)
George Bush elevated certainty as a virtue over intelligence. (Obama doesn’t convey any certainty, so the culture may have over-corrected on that one. Oops.)
Certainty is a conceptual synonym to dangerous things like patriotism and zero tolerance. When someone comes at me with too much certainty, my bullshit detector rings an alarm. Absolute certainty tells me there’s a loss of nuance, somebody’s a quart low on compassion and probably suffering a dearth of thinking.
And I’m sure of that.