Get Busy Living? Nah.

Jun 16, 2013


I am a colossal failure to my parents. They expected me, I’m sure, to be a lawyer or a teacher or a dentist or something by now. Maybe a reporter. I’m none of these, but you know, I’m fine with that. I don’t want to be any of those things. Not really. At least not for the long haul. The idea of being trapped in one place doing one thing for the rest of my life terrifies me. If I’m still sitting in this town in 20 years, doing the same job (regardless of what that may be) and wondering where the time went, I’d rather know now so I could go ahead and eat a bullet with desert tonight. Strawberry shotgun delight, straight to the kisser. One serving, please. Why? Because that’s prison to me. It’s Punxsutawney, PA on February 2. A dark pit of ice that continuously melts around me, trapping me deeper every time I struggle to break free.

I’m talking about Hell, in case you haven’t read Dante. No worries if you haven’t. I haven’t either. I know the Cliff’s Notes inside and out, but I can’t make it through Dante’s actual words. I don’t have the patience. At least not yet. Maybe someday. Still, even when I’ve cracked open his book nothing I’ve ever read has been Dante’s actual words. I’ve read the words of translators, which, when you really think about it, is an odd sort of thing to do, but also totally natural. But think about this really quickly. Imagine I translated a book – then forget it, because that’s a terrible idea. Right? Do you want to read me translate Milton? I didn’t think so. But it’s worth considering, because writers who do translate alter things, even if they do it unintentionally. Not one of us has read the actual words of thousands of “greats” unless we understand the language the book was originally written in and can find an unabridged, original copy. Good luck trying to wrestle one away from the Vatican or the Queen some rich collector who keeps it in his basement in Hackensack, New Jersey.

That’s a loose argument, sure. Let’s switch to music really quickly. No matter how much you like Beethoven or Mozart, not one of us has ever heard Beethoven and none of us will ever hear Mozart. We hear someone playing music they wrote, but imagine being next to them when they were alive. Imagine hearing the way they made the music sound when they played it. It’s like Jimi Hendrix. We can play Voo Doo Chile all we want, but if it’s not Jimi then it’s not Jimi. The song remains the same, but with no soul it’s just a shell of beauty. Rose petals covering emptiness while Jimi and Mozart and Beethoven are out in the ether, like salt in water, screaming “E-flat, damn it! E-flat!! You’re ruining my music!”

Or not. Back to my parents. I can’t talk to them. If I go on a tangent like the one above they look at me like I’m insane. I probably am. All of us are, at least a little. I don’t know a single truly “sane” person. I know people who wear masks and play the game, then go home and act like animals. Completely different people. Insane. I know other people who seem “insane” to the real world, because they don’t seem to understand how to play the game. These people are usually the nicest people I’ve met, even though they may seem weird as shit on the outside.

That’s been me, usually, but not because I don’t know the game. I do. I just refuse to play it most of the time, because it bores the shit out of me. I don’t do small talk. I had jury duty the other day and I listened to people around me talking about this and that, all the while replying with polite “Mmm Hmms” and “Uhh huhs.”

But … but, there’s always that one person who doesn’t understand this, right? The one who will just start talking, like Forrest Gump, for as long as you’re forced to sit next to them. I ran into one of these people the other day. Now, what’s the game when this happens? We all sit, quietly, looking down and hoping we don’t get sucked into the tractor beam, right? At least that’s what I do and I noticed many others did the same thing the other day.

What I wanted to do was stand up and scream at him to shut up, because no one cares. “No one gives a shit about your life and your cousins and uncles and your stupid jokes about Jeffrey Dahmer that are in awful taste and aren’t funny enough to make up for your lack of tact. No one fucking cares. Write that shit down if you want to get it out. That way people can choose whether or not they want to listen to the insane echoes of your mind!”

That’s what I wanted to say. I did not say that. That would be crazy. That would be ruining the game for all the people who want to play it … or need to play it, maybe. I don’t know. Another example.

When I arrived I sat down next to a sweet old lady in a sky blue cardigan with short, white hair. She surprised me by leaning over and frowning, then pointing at the large man in front of me. He was wearing a shirt that was once olive green, but was now a strange shade of green-grey and stretched to capacity around the many curves of his corpulent torso. I nodded at the man and raised an eyebrow. In the same voice I use to speak to people in bars, she said, “You might want to sit on the other side of me. He’s hard to see around.”

I blinked. Then I blinked again and glanced at the man in front of me, who shrunk down in his seat a few inches and dropped his head ever-so-slightly. What I wanted to do was stand up and grab the newspaper she had brought in, then roll it up and smack her on the nose with it while saying (in a firm voice), “No … bad … no.”

Again, I didn’t do that. That would have altered the game so much I’d have likely been arrested. Instead I just nodded and turned to my notepad, then wrote exactly what she said while she watched me do it over my shoulder. I even wrote something about people reading what you write as you say it and how those people are the worst SCUM on the planet. She merely huffed and puffed and moved down a few seats. I like to think I won that game. Maybe not. Whatever.

But I think that’s the point. My folks seem to see me as a chess piece to be used to show others how good they are at the game. And that’s totally fine. I mean, fuck that … I’m not going to play, but that’s fine. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and I don’t blame them for the many mistakes they made or what they did or didn’t do. They’re fucking human beings, literally. Shit happens. I’m alive and healthy and so are they. I’d say they’ve done a decent job. As well as anyone can do. The only issue we have is none of us know what to say because we’re colossally different. I’m ok with this, actually. Live and let live, I suppose. Sadly, most people don’t believe in this. They want you to play the game they do. They want you to be what they want you to be. People don’t have to be parents to do this, though. They’re everywhere. They’re many.

Whenever I’ve been asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” I’ve never had an answer. I used to fuck with people in the military, the ones who couldn’t believe I would ever want to leave the glory of service, by saying I wanted to be a rodeo clown or a beekeeper. I told one asshole of a Lieutenant I was jumping ship to make my way down to Bogota to work on a coffee plantation the first chance I got. He shook his head and looked at me the same way my father does. Well, almost. My old man can call you any number of things by saying nothing at all. He does it better than anyone I’ve ever met.

Still, those shithead looks I’ve received don’t matter, because I don’t know what I want to do. There’s not one thing. I want to do everything. I want to travel to places where people have walked throughout history and learn about the cultures who exist there. I want to write about shit I see and people I meet. I want to go back to school and get a Masters in history, just because it’s so interesting. I know … I want I want I want. But I do! I want, goddamn it! Maybe one day I’ll sell a piece of writing that helps me achieve those goals. Maybe not. But at least I know I want to live my life. That’s all that matters, really. At least to me.

The main thing I know is that I don’t want to watch waking-life pass me by while I do the same thing over and over like Phil from Groundhog Day, or all the people in the town around him who do the same thing, too – the ones who never catch on.

How awful would it be to be one of them?

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