I can’t remember people’s names and I hate myself for it.

I am so impressed when people remember my name, or especially impressed when they remember the janitor’s name, or the guy that picks up the garbage in the office and stuff like that. I think it says so much about how much they care about people.

It may not actually say that, but it looks like it. It makes people feel good.

But I am not good at that at all. And I have this theory that it just comes naturally to some people, like the ones who always try to teach you how to do it, as if it’s easy.  Yeah, for them. I ought to invent an app.  

“Hi – I’m A. Lawrence, hold still for a second while I take your picture. Now say your name into the microphone. How do you spell that?  Let me type that in. Thanks.”

Then I can go home and study the pictures.

I met this guy in a meeting once. The next time I saw him he said, “How are you, A. Lawrence?” And I was like, man, I need to look at the list of who was in that meeting. So, I did, and none of the names rang a bell. That was because he goes by his middle name, Scott. But his name in meeting requests was William S. Foiledagain.

I met this guy from another department at some kind of corporate banquet. We had a good time, sitting at the same table laughing and talking. We still say hello. He comes by every once and awhile and we talk. I have no idea where he sits, but he has had the advantage of seeing my name where I sit, at least that’s what I tell myself. This goes on for years, and it’s way too late to ask him his name.  I’m like, “Hey, how’s it going.  How are you,” and stuff like that. I’m talking to him about his kids and all kinds of things. I am practically intimate with him. I see him talking to other people, he knows everybody, so I ask them, “hey what’s that guy’s name, I’ve known him for years but I don’t know his name.”

“Yeah, I’m in the same boat,” I’m told, again and again.

I finally find someone who knows. “His name is Bentley,” she tells me. But can that be real? Is anyone really named Bentley? I still haven’t been brave enough to call him Bentley.

I went to a wedding of a friend of my wife. I didn’t expect to see anybody I knew there, but I did. I saw a guy I used to work with, only I hadn’t seen him in a long time, didn’t expect him to be there, and was taken by surprise, so it was taking a minute for it all to come back to me and I understandably blanked on his name. Right? I remembered a lot of things, projects we’d worked on, practical jokes that we played on each other. This is stupid, I thought, a lot of people can’t remember names.  I decided to be forthright about it. “I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name,” I said. He went silent and vibed me from across the table the entire night. My wife had met him before and remembered his name (because she’s one of those) and could have told me, if I had just asked her. I haven’t seen him since, but I do remember his name, now. It’s Stan.

I was at a Christmas party talking to a woman that works in my office. I introduced myself, and told her, “It’s good to meet you, I always see you around, but I’ve never introduced myself.”

She said, “we had this same conversation last year.”

Now I say, “Hi Jennifer” every time I see her. It’s getting ridiculous.

So maybe I can remember names.   

But there’s a trick to it that the experts don’t tell you. You need to embarrass yourself.

I don’t know why I care. I guess I just want people to like me. What’s with that?

I’m Not Prejudiced, I Hate Everybody

I was in a team building event for work recently and the facilitator asked us whether we like people more or technology more.  Only one person was brave enough to raise his hand for technology.  When asked why he liked technology more, he said, “I hate people.”

I’ve been in a funk lately and the longer it lasts the more I hate people too. Earlier this week my daughter had a chorus concert, the second of three this month (don’t ask me why), and I arrived straight from work and a friend of mine took a picture of me sleeping and posted it on whatsapp.

She did the same thing at the last concert, and I got mad. So when she did it again, I got madder. I told her I was mad, and that it was disrespectful to the chorus and it made me look like I was the one being disrespectful. I know I used the word “fucking” somewhere and I heard her ten year old daughter say, “ooh.”

Anyway she apologized and said she didn’t realize it would make me so mad and she wouldn’t do it anymore, which is good because I’m pretty sure I’m going to fall asleep at the third concert.

End of story? No. My wife is mad at me, because she thinks I shouldn’t have talked to her like that in front of the rest of us. She thinks I should apologize, probably because whenever she does me wrong, I always end up apologizing to her.

I hate people.

OK, maybe it was good-natured fun, and maybe I’m overreacting, and maybe I’m overreacting because there’s something else going on with me. The question I have is, does anyone care about me? Does anyone care that this pisses me off, whether you understand why or not? Does anyone stop to think, Is A.Lawrence ok? What else might be going on with A. Lawrence?

Is it even such a big deal? It lasted two seconds. I said my piece. I got it off my chest. I’m not holding a grudge. For God’s sake, I had just woken up. Is that worse than making fun of people? She didn’t kill my dog, no (as my wife felt compelled to point out). But I didn’t kill her dog either.

Right now, as far as I’m concerned, I would be fine not being friends with anybody. I’m as angry, more so actually, at my wife. She encouraged it and laughed at it and now she’s giving me shit and telling me to apologize. We had an exchange over text about it, which I ended with, “when I get home tonight, don’t talk to me.”

I hope she doesn’t talk to me for days. Maybe if people weren’t in my life I could live the way I want to live, for once. I’m in a mood, I know. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it will wear off, but I don’t know if I want it to.

Faith

I try to keep my chin up, convince myself that if I get up early and write for two hours every morning that I can finish one of the many stories I’ve started over the years, maybe after whatever time I need to stretch or pee and after whatever time I spend keeping a journal to warm up to it, or to get past the despair that I write to outrun, or better yet, after whatever time I spend on the self-motivating completion of a blog post.

Maybe after that I can comb through the many different drafts, saved in google docs, of what I don’t even remember writing once, and can’t piece together into a cohesive complete work of fiction. Not without time and quiet. There are many different stories, with some good scenes, evidence of a potential we usually ascribe to teenagers (because they can be anything). Finishing anything longer than 1,500 words seems like climbing a mountain to me, the kind of thing you only do once, if at all, and so which one is my Everest? Which story? If there’s only going to be one? How do I chose?

Why does my first work have to be my life’s work?

I can’t work creatively at 5AM in the morning, tired, sober, the clock ticking. And I can’t do it at night more tired, depressed, waiting, this time, for the house to be quiet, for everyone to go to sleep before I can go to work, knowing that I have to get up in the morning and be sharp and alert enough to be productive (or look like it) at a job I hate. I go into work and sit at a desk all day checking numbers, working in a profession I never intended to stay in.

It’s my winter now
Cold so long my toes feel numb
My head swims in blood thick
And my bones have frozen
I keep thinking about my toes
And then I dream
About friends who don’t remember me
And wake to work done at a desk
My thick blooded head
And stiff neck and shoulders
Move in shudders only and yawns
And I can’t get warm

You are what you do. It’s never just a job. We write not to make money but to be writers. But in order to become writers, we have to spend time writing, and I don’t have the time. What I have the time to be is an accountant. It’s not what I do, it’s what I am. And when I do write, the more I write, the more I hate accounting, the more I hate myself.

I wake up early because it’s the only time the house is quiet, the only time I have to think. Then the house wakes up, sometimes earlier than expected cheating me of the peace, the small piece of that for which I sacrifice sleep (and exercise and whatever else I could be getting up early to do). Then in the evening there’s the TV, and dinner, and piano playing. There’s the dog barking and the people coming in and out of every room. Please stop looking at me.

I want to be someone else in so many ways.

I go to coffee shops sometimes on the weekend. They are noisy, playing music I don’t want to hear. I sit in uncomfortable seats. And all the fucking happy people. And the rent: coffee, the creativity limiting stimulant that only makes my mind race. 

So, what else am I to do but feel hopelessness? I have been running on fumes forever, relying on the fiction (ironic) that I can find time to do this, that I can carve out enough, that I can maintain a creative mindset when what I do all day is unimaginative except in the limited way that business people sometimes think of themselves as innovative.

I maintain hope by believing that I have a plan, despite that every plan I’ve ever had has failed. I make a new plan when it’s clear the old one isn’t going to work so that I can believe in something again. I know the new plan will fail too, I know it from the start, but it doesn’t seem to matter because it’s a mechanism I use to keep from drowning. It serves my denial, at least temporarily. I justify the farce, because I know that faith is my only chance, the only thing that will keep me going given the historical evidence that I will never do enough. I could be wrong about the new plan. Maybe this time it will work. Allowing that helps me to keep crawling, at least. If I stop completely, the game is over. But I still always lose.

That’s why I’m depressed.

But I have posted something every Friday for the last eight Fridays. Blog posts that may not be any good, maybe mildly entertaining at best. I’ll suspend judgement while they are fresh, because I may not have perspective and anyway it doesn’t matter. Thinking they suck will only lead to stagnation. I committed to myself, eight weeks ago, that I would post the best thing I could, weekly, that this would be my deadline, and I would embrace, in faith, that if I met this goal over the long term, I would improve, and that maybe the writing would even be better than I think it is. It’s an experiment, and I shouldn’t assume I know what the results will be before it runs its course. But I really expected the posts to be better than they are. I am hanging on by a fucking thread. Hanging on because I just don’t want to give up.

I’m Sure It Will Be Fine

I’m reading this book on creativity. It sounds personal, but it’s actually a work goal I set to read a book about being creative at work. A pervasive theme in it is that work can be your passion.

Like Robert Frost wrote in “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.

In the book, the author talks about how someone he knew had a countdown to retirement even though it was an entire year away. That was supposed to be an indication that the person wasn’t enjoying his or her job. It was a real tragedy, counting down the final year of work instead of living in the moment.

Only I created a formula in excel probably a decade ago or more, where I could input my retirement age and it would tell me how many days I had until retirement. I’m still 2,686 days away.

I think a lot about retirement. I wish I had thought about it more seriously when I was younger, or that I had actually done more than create an app in excel that told me how long it would take to get there.

But I’m getting closer now, and I’m past the point where I think I will escape this working world by writing Star Trek episodes, or a screenplay or even a Kindle Single that goes viral and makes me millions (well, I actually still dream about that last one, but I’m not relying on it). I’m close enough to retirement that I can actually plan for the day when I will be a full time writer not because it makes me money, but because I don’t need the money.

But I didn’t plan early, so I’m playing catch up. I think I will be able to retire at sixty, eight years from now, or sixty-three at the latest. I’m worried that I will be too old, that I won’t have enough good years left. Because not everyone ages at the same pace and there are no guarantees, even though I’ve got some decent longevity in my family history. 

I’m sure it will be fine.

But if you can plan to retire at fifty do it. It’s a good age to retire at. I would have been retired for two years already and I can’t tell you how much fun it would have been. All you have to do is save the maximum allowed into any kind of deferred retirement plan (401k, IRA etc). Save some outside of the retirement plans for contingencies too, because you don’t know what, but something will come up. And live off of what’s left, no matter what you have to sacrifice to do it. 

You can enjoy life without a lot of shit, you might even enjoy it more. You can travel (or at least visit people, stay in hostels, etc). You can eat good food (you just might have to cook it). You have to do it the hard way, but that becomes easier with practice and in the meantime helps you collect stories of failure, which are the funniest kind, at least once you have some distance.

Trust me, it will be more fun than if you do things the expensive way.

The other advantage of learning to live off less is that you won’t need as much when you do retire. For example if you spend $120,000 every year, then it’s reasonable to think that in retirement, you’ll need the same amount every year and for the rest of your life.  If you’re fifty when you retire, that could be another fifty years. That’s $6,000,000.  And the amount you allow yourself to spend needs to grow because there can be a lot of inflation in fifty years. But if you can live off $30,000 a year (I’m just making up numbers here) you’ll only need enough in retirement to live off of $30,000 a year also!!  That’s 4,500,000 less. You might not actually need everything up front because whatever you have at retirement earns for you while you’re waiting to spend it, but you get the point, you need less. So every dollar you learn to not spend saves you a dollar now and every year in retirement.  

Another important thing to remember is that the money you save early grows for longer, and once you get to some kind of critical mass of savings, it earns for you, and your fund essentially contributes to itself.

And finally, the less you learn to live on, the more significant social security seems when you finally get it. I knew a guy, a bass player in a band I was in, who was working some shit job in I.T. support that he hated. It might have been a great job for someone, but he hated it. He probably wasn’t that good at it either, cause generally we’re not very good at jobs we hate (the book I’m reading confirms this), so his boss, some insensitive young know it all whipper snapper, no doubt, didn’t like him either. Anyway, the bass player had once done better, had a good paying job (not playing bass) but he got divorced and lost his career and had nothing for himself in the end except a modest house and this shitty job. He told me that when he was eligible for social security he was going to retire because social security would be as much as he was making working. And that ain’t much. social security really doesn’t pay much, but it pays something and it was as much as he had become used to. And he did that. He lives off of social security now (I’m guessing he had his house paid off at least) and the last time I saw him, he looked really happy. 

But he lives alone. For me, social security will help, but it won’t be enough. Because my wife likes to travel a lot, and she spends money without respect to what we have. She gets good deals on what she buys, shops for bargains, and isn’t particularly frivolous, but she still spends and doesn’t like to budget. I can expect that we will need a certain amount and maybe a little extra in case we have to adjust to the market by tightening our belts in a way that she just doesn’t do. I could have quit to write full time a long time ago, probably, if I had the freedom to stay in my “castle” by myself and eat nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Campbell’s soup and cereal. But then I’d probably have gastrointestinal problems, and I’d be lonely.

When I was twenty I drove cross country with my best friend and we were way under budget, but I didn’t eat peanut butter after that for twenty years. I was also lonely because I was missing my girlfriend at the time who I found out upon my return had already dumped me for someone else.

Hey, but I’m counting my blessings, because if I can retire at sixty, or even work part time at that point, then I am luckier than a lot of people. And time flies fast when you get old and start forgetting things. Last thing I remember my daughter was a baby, and now she’s twenty-one and I have two other kids, who I call kiddo and cupcake because I don’t know their real names. Sort of kidding. But time does seem to go by fast, and I don’t think it really does, so I must be forgetting stuff.

Bottom line, do as I say, not as I do. You won’t be sorry. It’s good advice. The best advice. I’m really good at giving advice.