Sunday, April 15, 2018

My Calling

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

No question ever put me on edge quite as quickly as this one. Because you're supposed to know, right?  You either know it from an early, early age, or you learn it as time goes on. 

I never did. I still don't.

Chronologically, I'm sure at some point I wanted to do what Daddy did: be a police officer.  As a young child, the appeal is obvious. Police officers are the Good Guys. Superheroes, in the flesh, fighting all manner of evil.  It's only as I grew that I realized I could never be one myself. Clark Kent has the thick glasses; Superman has no need of them. Moreover, between the purposeful evil out there and the random purposeless peril that even better exemplifies life on the wall between peace and chaos...I could never exist on that border for long. Call me a chicken if you wish; I've been called worse just this morning and will be called even worse later today, I'm sure. As much as I despise Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men, he had a point. In the manner of every bully, he took his point far too far, but he did have a point. A society without people willing to stand on that wall will not last long against those willing to climb it from the other side.

I started playing keyboards when I was three, and composed my first piece at four. Called "A Trip Down Main Street" -- after a common Price Is Right showcase at the time -- well, in my adult opinion, it was and is actually pretty good, if simple. It has a real boogie-woogie vibe I never managed to recapture in anything else I've written since 

Piano soured on me -- not coincidentally -- right around the time it stopped being sheer play and started demanding serious effort, particularly effort at conformity. Fuck it all, I would have said, if that phrase had even been THINKABLE in a home with my mom and stepdad in it. I hit the right note, didn't I? Why do I have to use a specific FINGER to do it? HERE'S a specific finger! (The answer to this, of course, is that beyond a certain level, if you're going to hit the right next note, you'd BETTER be using the correct fingering. 

Still, I composed. Still, music was (and is) a passion. And when I started playing baritone in grade seven, I discovered an instrument I was willing to sink effort and discipline into. 

I was good. Not great -- my friend Craig was great, and he makes a living off his trumpet now -- but good, and with the potential to be great myself. Not just potential, but some level of desire. 

With the best of intentions, my mom quashed that. She didn't outright forbid me from pursuing it, but she certainly expressed her grave reservations. I'd starve, she said. I'd eventually tire of it, she said, and then what would I have to fall back on?  

And she, too, had a point. I can look at Craig and say that's what I could have been...but while I had more willingness to put in skullsweat on brass than I had on piano, I've never put in anything like the effort that Craig has to get where he is. The guy was practicing five hours a day in high school. That's passion. Have I ever had the like?


I wrote my first stories in second grade. They were painfully derivative haunted house tales that still managed to chill some of my classmates. One of them, 'Dressed to Kill', spanned something like 27 ruled-line notebook pages, and that's all I remember about it. 

All my life people have been telling me I'm a born writer. I have the same problems with writing that confound me with piano. Staying on one topic for any serious length of time turns joy into drudgery. I've been published something like a dozen times...and all of those were letters to the editor that I dashed off in seconds to minutes. This blog has been published 1,746 times as of this entry...and the most intense blog I've ever written took mere hours.  A novel, or even a short story? Days. Weeks. Months. Years. In the same place. 

How do people sustain that? How?

I still recall writing an essay in university Media Studies. The topic was Jurassic Park and whether or not it was suitable for children. That essay read very much like what a good Breadbin entry does today. I made it intensely personal, I wrote in a rambling style, mixing humorous asides in with my very serious points, and I gathered in seemingly irrelevant information and made it relevant. 

I got a 95 and a written question: "Have you ever considered writing for the media?" Why, yes, yes, I have. 

So I went to talk to that prof. And she gave me a roadmap showing how to get from where I was to a career doing just that, writing for the media. And again, I was dismayed, disillusioned, and dissuaded...because of my disinclination towards hard work. 

Look, I get the concept of paying dues. I admire my wife's determination to start at the bottom of every ladder and rapidly ascend them (her argument is "how can I effectively be a manager in a given environment if I haven't both been managed and managed myself in that same environment?"

But ugh. Reporting. That's writing precisely the kind of cookie-cutter 'stories' I'm LEAST suited to write. It's using the correct finger  on the correct note all over again, with the stark difference that I know I'm beyond that. It's interviewing people, asking them questions I already know the answers to, and most of all it's taking as gospel something I completely disagree with: there is nothing that is none of my business. Bullshit, there isn't. Moreover, most of what's published as news...isn't. It disturbs me mightily that people have an insatiable appetite for whatever the latest Kardashian is up to. Or that a man, only of renown because of a bloodline, is marrying a C-level actress. Or, for that matter, the idiocy that is Donald Trump. Have we not figured out yet that the President of the United States is a prima donna who thrives on media attention?

What I want to do is be a columnist. That's what these Breadbin entries are, right? But you can't get there from here, or rather, you can't jump over the mountain between here and there. 

What else? The only other A-level passion I have is for love, and love doesn't make much of a career. Broadly speaking, I certainly have the mental makeup to be a therapist...but for one problem. I've already lost one woman of the eight who have come to me talking of suicide. I live with that loss every day. It's a burden of a type that makes other like burdens impossible to carry. Putting that aside and stipulating family therapy...I'm 46. I should have got on this 28 years ago.  

Then we have the lesser loves of my life. Talking. My dad christened me Macaw when I was two because "all I ever did was squawk and shit"--I haven't stopped doing either. In fact, I'm told the one often sounds a lot like the other....

Spirituality. I have some pretty deep convictions, continually reinforced, that there is a dearth of empathy in the world, and that it's getting worse, not better. I do what I can to rectify that.

Or do I?

How can I best combine my gifts and interests:

  • Music
  • Writing
  • Love
  • Helping people, especially emotionally
  • Spirituality
  • Speaking/Storytelling

What might combine all of this into one endlessly changing, never boring package?

My blog from last week has been shared on Grand River Unitarian's Facebook page. A friend of mine, who was in fact the catalyst who finally got me off my ass and into GRU in the first place, asked me

Any chance ministry might be your calling?

Until I discovered UUism, I would have responded with an absolute hard no to that question, talents and interests be damned. I will not presume to inflict doctrine on people. Except...

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament, 
And service its prayer. 
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom, 
To serve humanity in harmony with the earth, 
Thus do we covenant together.

Love stands in place of doctrine in a Unitarian Universalist church. And they mean that. It is not important what your conception of the divine is, or if you have one. What matters is how you treat other humans, animals, and the planet we share.

That's the kind of philosophy I can embody. I think I've been searching for permission to search my whole life.

Roadblocks, since my mind loves to throw those up like so much chaff.

One, I'm 46. It's too late to become a minister like Rev. Jess...far, far too late. Counter: there are many other ways to use my gifts in this context, and I did just get finished saying I'm a follower, not a leader.

Two, social anxiety. I don't have this to the extent many do, but I do have it, and it impairs me. Especially in crowds, and sometimes interacting one on one with strangers. Counter: It's improving. Slowly, but it is improving.

Three, that glacial speed. Well, now, isn't this tautological. I can't have it both ways: I can't deliberately slow myself down out of fear and then announce I won't ever get anywhere because I'm moving too slowly. 

At some point, I've got to plunge.

Why not now?

1 comment:

karen said...

Why not now indeed.

I don't know you except from our blogs, but this seems kind of obvious now that you bring it up.