On Purpose (and Reinventing the Delusion)

I haven’t written in a while. Once again life does what it does best!

The last two weeks were full of desire to stay optimistic and to find relief from the strife of adulting. This means I let thoughts or impressions percolate for far too long. I need little interludes to process and unpack. I’m getting better at taking breaks, and telling myself that working a full time job and raising a child and maintaining a household with my wife is all part of a delicate balancing act. Much like a squirrel swaying on the power line, life is always in the balance; and surely a constant flow of traffic will remain eager to contribute to my demise.

Okay, I didn’t mean it to sound so fatalistic, but it’s a Monday, so forgive my tone. Let me cheer it up slightly: I’m fortunate I can give myself breaks. I have never been in a position, at work or outside of it, where I could take a moment to adjust my direction and that of my career/family/creativity. Most of my twenties, I felt I couldn’t breathe because I had to do something. I had to busy my mind and body with tasks without really pondering the direction of my actions. If it’s one thing I would advocate as a stepping stone to quieting the anxiety of one’s life, it is to slow down.

Listen to your heartbeat.

Listen to what ails you and what your mind is telling you. I felt aimless for so long because I was following goals and objectives that I had set for myself from a young age. Goals and ambitions don’t remain static. They grow with you. The only way you can adjust accordingly is to forget the external factors and dial in on the things that make your mind soar. Clarify the possibilities that only you know will bring you joy. These are the actions that will make a difference to you and yours and what you care about.

There was a period of about 17 years, during which I lied to myself about what I wanted to be. It was difficult to accept. I wanted to be a filmmaker. That’s it. According to 13 year old me, that was the one and only thing that would make me someone worthwhile. I imbued my all to this purpose, into this fantasy, that for a long time, there was room for nothing else. No room for growth. That all changed. And so before I tell you why I call this filmmaking dream a fantasy, let me explain:

In early 2013, I had a nervous breakdown.

I, the filmmaker-in-the-making, had this glorious orange and teal tinted idea of tomorrow: I was to make movies, and something would happen that would allow me to do that in the future. Something.

I was praying to the cosmos something would happen to me. I never explicitly sat down to ponder the actionable things I needed to do in order for me to be in a position to be successful as a filmmaker. I didn’t reverse-engineer how to get my foot in the door. I never explored and investigated the way I should have. That’s not to say I was twiddling my thumbs during that time. Back then, I explored viciously. Though I couldn’t afford to go to film school, theater was close enough, so I performed and wrote seven full length plays, three screenplays (outlined a shitload) and countless short plays and ten minute plays and so on. I made movies with my friends, two of them full length films and several shorts. I continued to write poetry in my journal like I used to as a child, and recorded music like I’ve always wanted to do. I created simply out of curiosity. A very productive time, but undoubtedly aimless.

Something will not happen to you. You have to create the conditions for you to be in the vicinity of something.

In 2013, my wait for something came to an end. As Maddie and I anticipated our child coming into this world, I sat in the living room of our little one bedroom apartment in Seattle, and I came to the realization that the reason something never happened, was because I never went looking for it. What were we doing in Seattle? Did I come here to write and direct? Did I ever mean to produce anything? Did I come here for the coffee? Why did I waste my parent’s money to learn playwriting and directing for the stage, which ultimately, was an approximation of the filmmaking dreams of my youth? Did I even want to be a filmmaker anymore? Maybe. No. Not really. I don’t know.

I thought of the journal entries of a middle-schooler with broken English who wanted to make action movies and would draw posters of his made up films. I thought of the dramatic scripts I wrote to prevent me from giving in to depression and potentially doing something really stupid. I dreamt and wrote and sang about doing stupid shit, but then my dreams began to take another shape. Dreaming of cinema was a beautiful coping mechanism and it became the compass of my life. I was a shell and I ascribed my person-hood to the act of movie-making. The kid who bugged his friends to make movies. I was a volcano of creativity, out in the vast Pacific, spewing lukewarm magma and calling it art. I was the Movie Guy. That is all I was and over a decade later, I looked up and saw myself still hiding behind that false purpose:

Quiet, opinion-less, and empty.

I wept there in the living room. I felt like an insane person. I never had a goal to have a career as a filmmaker. I had an unreachable fantasy because I never determined what I would seek. I broke my own heart and I cried not out of sadness, but out of brute desperation that I had not realized my own lack of purpose up until that point. I was shocked at the obvious. In the aftermath of this uncomfortable epiphany, I didn’t feel like I had much left of myself. But in the rubble of a burning shit-show of my non-existent ambitions, I pulled my head out of my ass and remembered I could not dwell on this for long:

We have a baby to raise.

And so together with my beautiful, supportive and loving wife, I went back to the drawing board. I asked myself for the first time, what do you need to do to be fulfilled creatively? What the fuck do you actually want?

I want to go home to start over. We wanted to start our family on the right foot. That’s when we returned to Wyoming. That was six years ago. Trial and error, luck, and the help of our families steadied the ship until the Captain remembered where he left his compass. We figured out what we wanted out of life, we saved our pennies, worked hard, started a business, made sacrifices, took left turns, asked more questions, then took the right turns, bought a home, closed the business, stumbled into good jobs, and suddenly I fell face first into a job I love and while things aren’t perfect, they have never been better and I have never felt this much empowerment in my life. I want to share and prolong this feeling of wonder and possibility with my wife and son every single day. I want to share it with my friends and my community but I am still building the courage to look inside myself to see how the emptiness in my soul is now full of love and ambition for a future of honesty, love, and empathy. This is the compass I have longed for. When you ask the right questions, the answers will follow. I’m blessed to have a partner who has helped me so much to be better. This is what I’ve always wanted. Being a father is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me for so many reasons, and one big reason is that I was able to set aside my priorities to help my little one get settled into his life, raise him and learn from him. And I’ve tried like hell to learn as much as possible. This is what I’ve always wanted. And lo and behold, creativity flows not aimlessly, but concisely and out of love. So far so good.

I thought this would be a brief post about Mondays and finding time to breathe, but the heart and subconscious had other plans. I guess what I’m getting at is that nothing really started to fall into place until I began asking difficult questions of myself, and challenged myself to assess my personal growth honestly. I’m not writing about a catastrophe at all. In my fat head, I liken this to missing the morning alarm and waking up late when you should have been at work two hours ago. Yes, there is an urgency, but you can still use your get out of jail free card with your boss. And then you get to work to play catch up, knowing you won’t have many more chances to get this shit right. Don’t short yourself, life will do that without your help. Yes, it’s an awakening that took way longer than it should have. Could be worse, though: I have seen folks at the tail end of their lives still waiting for their something to reach down into the well of suffering and carry them away.

So as I wrap this up, what can I say? I strongly suggest you ask yourself the tough questions, be brutally honest, and make plans full of good intent and strong purpose. No matter your age, your station in life, your current status, there’s still time to breathe.

I’ll keep trying too.

j

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