An Ordinary Life

I think everyone should write their autobiographies. Each person should write everything they can think of about their lives, how they felt about the things that they did and what happened to them, the minutia, and the tragedy and the glory, if there is any, the truth, as they see it when they are writing it, and as they see it later when they write it differently, everything. The length should be unlimited. And then each of these people should edit it down, and edit and edit and edit, until their lives seem worth having lived and maybe worth reading about, but not necessarily.

I forgot to write last Friday.  Just forgot. And I kept blowing off writing for this week, because, I broke my streak.

I went to Bogota, Colombia for business.  Left on Tuesday, came back on Friday, came into the office worked for an hour and then drove to Lake Hartwell, in South Carolina, where I joined some other dads and their sons, mine was already there, for a weekend of tubing, wake surfing, swimming, jet skiing and poker. I won again, but not much, and only at the end.  The trick to poker is to save your winning streak for the end of the night. My friend describes lake Hartwell as the blue collar lake, but to me, it feels like I have friends with money.

I didn’t realize that I had completely forgotten about posting on Friday until Monday when I was back at work.  I could have worked on something in the evenings from Colombia, but I forgot.

So, I’m writing this without any editing, straight into wordpress at the last minute so that I don’t neglect it on purpose this time. I can’t use the same excuse this week. I’ve  been thinking about it every day, but watching TV instead: Turn, which is ok, my wife likes it, and I finished off Merli, that Catalan show about a high school philosophy teacher, which I liked, and an episode of a Colombian telenovela called Without Breasts There is no Paradise (literal translation).  And I slept in, when I might otherwise have been writing.

My daughter wants to collaborate on a screenplay about her grandfather, my dad, who is somewhat famous/infamous in specific circles. I’ve always wanted to collaborate, cause I just can’t get it going on my own, so I am somewhat amenable to being driven by her on it, even if I’m not completely sold on the idea. I told my employee in Colombia that she should meet my daughter, because they are close in age and my daughter has a Latin soul.  “Like you?” she asks.  “More than me,” I said. I’m not sure I really have a Latin soul, but my daughter loves Latin America and actually learned Spanish, unlike the 40 years of my trying that has not born fruit . My employee describes Latinos as very enthusiastic, and that fits my daughter. She can get so excited about something she just makes you want to do it. She can also stress herself out with all of the things she wants to do, but she gets a hell of a lot done. She is driven. She can push you. She wants it all. I encourage her to try. Because I don’t want her to give up, like I do.

Alternate Realities

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I regret everything, except as a joke (and you know there’s a bit of truth in every joke) , but I do wonder about all the decisions I ever made. I dream about the alternate realities that would have been if I had made different choices.

I think, what if I had chosen to go to the High School of Performing Arts for acting, instead of the High School of Music and Art for music? What if I had remained a lit major at Bard College? What if I had stayed at Bard and actually graduated there, as a lit major, or even a math major? What if I had not quit the band I was in, in order to be the Treasurer of student government? What if, when I left, I decided to resume my music career and applied to Berkeley school of Music, instead of Hunter College where I studied accounting? What if I had committed to being a writer come hell or high water, and had never become an accountant? What if I had saved money from the moment I started working and could retire now? What if I bought a condo in NYC, where real estate has skyrocketed and stayed there instead of moving south? What if I had moved to California and pursued a screenwriting career? What if, when I got to pitch to Star Trek DS9, I had quit my job and dedicated myself to getting into that door? What if I had committed myself to politics, and dedicated my live to causes that I really care about?

What if I had not been so shy and had explored the possibilities of relationships with any of the girls who ever liked me and had gotten married to some other girl, or other girl, or other girl? Or what if I had just had more sex when I was younger? How would that have affected my confidence?  What if I had said, “what are we doing here?” to someone instead of always trying to figure it out on my own? A simple enough question. What if it wasn’t so hard for me to be conceited enough to think that someone could even like me, so that when I did try to figure it out on my own, I would have come to a more self-complementary conclusion? What if after I married my wife I had pushed back more on some of our differences, like saving money, or in how we raised our kids? Would we have been stronger or would it have driven us apart? Would we have lived in the same house, or lived somewhere else?

What if I had found a way to live in another country, and actually learned another language? What if I had not volunteered to go back to work when I was the stay at home dad?

I have answers to most of these questions. I carry these thoughts out to their logical and imaginative conclusions. I try to be realistic, at least after the initial reveries that include success and riches and, most importantly, happiness. I temper the fantasy with some logic, like “relationships are hard no matter what,” and “no one was going to save me from myself,” and “I could have been hit by a bus in that alternate reality.” But more importantly, I know that mistakes are a necessary part of the journey, because they teach you what you need to know. If you’re not self-aware enough to make good decisions, then you have to learn the hard way. We’re here to learn what we don’t know! But what if I was self-aware enough? What if I kept a journal more consistently and became more self-aware in time to act on that knowledge?

For the most part when I imagine these other lives that I could have had, they turn out great. But they’re not just great because I’m a screenwriter or because I know another language, or because I got to change the world. They’re great because the type of person I would have had to be to take initiative, would have been happier no matter what path I followed. It’s not about what path, but who I am. So, what if I could have been someone else?

Is it healthy to indulge regret, to second think everything, to delve into the inevitable depression that surfaces from these attempts to understand that I made mistakes? I’m not really living in the moment am I? OK, no. But that’s not the point. Because unlike the decisions I second guess, this is not a choice. Yes, I would be happy if I believed that I am always where I’m meant to be. If I were to act as if I woke up today in someone else’s body, as if the person who got us here was someone else, and in many ways he was, then I could be happier. A clean slate. No regrets.

But It’s futile. Because I can’t do that. If I am to accept anything, I should accept that. This is the burden of having an imagination that I appreciate and value though it has it’s downsides. If I am to be happy, I have to make that imagination work for me. Because there are upsides too. For one, I can use this imagination for good. How, I don’t know. I just can. I believe it’s a good thing. I could write something, like that people read, Something like that. For two, I can learn from my mistakes (Miles Davis said there are none) to be who I want to be.. later.

All kidding aside, what anchors me to this place is my kids. No matter what else I might wish I had done, no matter what choices I could have made, no matter what I consider to have been a mistake, given the circumstances at the time, no matter what course might have led to a more blissful existence in ignorance of what otherwise would have been, I would hate for my kids to be any different than they are. Whatever comedy of errors got them here, I wouldn’t actually take any of them back.

That’s irony. I’ve spent my entire life, practically, wishing I had done this or that differently. I dream of finding myself in my younger body and getting another chance, do overs, to do everything better, different, and more in line with what I planned all along. But if somehow the opportunity was offered to me, by some fantastical and unrealistic science fiction, I would have to decline. Because I am anchored. But they don’t anchor my mind. I can dream.  I can think. I can understand. At least I hope I can understand.

Wasn’t it Grand?

Trying something new. Happiness in the morning.

I’m going to tell you a story about a time when I was happy.

I’ve written before, here, there, somewhere, about trying to revisit the narrative of my past to remember more of the good times, even if they didn’t happen. In other words, to spin those days of lore as better than I ever thought they were. Because if I was always happy, then I’d have no reason to be unhappy now, which I don’t. It’s all about how you think about your life. And whether you think life is worth it. And whether you’re proud of who you are. And whether you can or do recall, at any moment, a memory that will make you smile.

I grew up in New York City. It was diverse in my neighborhood then. Not just black and white, but various denominations of Hispanic: Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican (not so many Mexicans). And Chinese, and Japanese. Also Catholic and Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and Atheist.

And the weather was great then. That’s how I remember it, a spring or fall day every day. I remember the distinctive smell of those Tamarind looking things (except flat) that fell from the trees and you could shake them, like Maracas. Speaking of Maracas, shaved ice! And Sabrett hotdogs. And Pizza. The Pizza was so good. Get it with extra cheese if you ever go back in time.

I remember how wonderfully dirty it was in the subways and on the streets. There was dog shit everywhere.This was before pooper scooper laws. The law was that you were supposed to “curb your dog,” which meant to let it shit in the street, where the street cleaners, that never came anymore because the city was practically bankrupt, would clean it up. But people didn’t curb their dogs anyway. The police would never enforce something like that, or jaywalking, or hardly anything those days, they left you alone. There was one street, 29th, between 8th and 9th which had buildings only on one side. The other side bordered a small green space, but there was a fence in front of the grass, so you couldn’t take your dogs in there. The residents of the buildings would cross the street and let their dogs shit on the sidewalk. To watch kids traverse this particular street was like watching them play hopscotch. I don’t know why we ever went down that side of the street, but we did. I guess because it was so much fun.

There’s this smell I remember, like it’s still in my nose. It is the smell of hot garbage piled up on the street near I.S.70, my jr. high school. Let me tell you what it smelled like. It smelled like home. And who wouldn’t want trains that were colorful and painted with Graffiti? When they solved that problem in NYC, they ruined my life. After that it was all downhill… well, just kidding. I’m still the happiest guy I know of. Seriously.

I never knew who painted the trains, but I knew guys in 9th grade who would tag everything with their own “handles” so to speak, the walls of the school, mailboxes, and the insides of train cars. Mace and Strider and Saki were some of their tags. Saki’s actual name was Sasaki, Brian Sasaki. He tagged the music room of our school with “Saki”, and the teacher asked us to rat him out.

“Was that Brian?”

“I don’t know.”

There was this rectangular blacktop playground near my apartment building. We played pickup softball there. There was no right field so we would play that if you hit to right field it was an out.

Second base was first base, so you had to run there first. Old ladies walking on the path out in (the) right field (that wasn’t) would yell at us, scared they would be hit, but those old ladies could run when they had to. Just kidding. I don’t ever remember almost hitting any old ladies. We also got yelled at for walking on the grass, making paths where there already should have been some. We built those paths, and now they are paved. Now adults walk on them too. Well, we’re adults. We helped design the cityscape, And I’m proud of that, even if we never got any credit.

Here’s a thought that makes me happy, water keys. There were faucets attached to the buildings but they required a certain kind of key to turn them on, so that only the building maintenance staff could use them. But you could buy a key, it was really just a tool, and we all had one. It made me so happy to have a water key in my pocket. You know what else made me happy? Drinking water when I was thirsty and not because I should stay hydrated.

Was it dangerous in New York City? Well, we grew up there, so no, we didn’t think so. I got mugged a few times, but you got mad and then went on with your life. We were feral. We were free. We kids would meet at the playgrounds, and play freeze tag, or tag no touching the sand, or we would wander around, climbing fences, taking the subway at all hours with our school train passes that were only supposed to be used to get to school and back, or we would jump the turnstiles, or when we had to, we would pop a token into the turnstile. I miss tokens. 

We would climb on top of elevators and have our friends operate the elevators from inside. We would go to the roof of our apartment building and survey our domain. We would head down past the warehouses on the west side, past the hookers that hung out there, and play on the elevated and abandoned (after a truck fell through it) west side highway and light firecrackers. We would go to central park and ride our skateboards, or play in a pickup softball game there on a real field. We would take the train out to Coney Island and “pay one price” for all of the rides and go to the Mets games day of, and get great seats.

This is what it was like to be a kid in NYC.

An Assembly of Minds

I have multiple personalities. I think it is true for most people and not particularly unique especially among writers, though not everyone will acknowledge it. I was at a book festival once and someone was handing out leaflets for a writer’s group. I took one, and after a few minutes he tried to hand me another, saw that I had one, and stopped himself. “I’ll take another,” I joked. “For the others.” He laughed and told me who knew exactly what I was talking about.

It has it’s downsides. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get going because I’m worried that I’ll interrupt myself. Like I’m scared I won’t get to finish my thought. I don’t want to get my hopes up only to be disappointed because I can’t ever finish anything. But you know what? We need to have our hopes up. Without hope we can have no confidence and, confidence is all you need to succeed, according to Mark Twain.  

The exact quote is, “all you need in this life is ignorance and confidence and success is sure.”

The point I’m trying to make, is that you try.

I like to let all of my personalities out. I admit that I think it makes me interesting to others. When I simply let myself out, just go with the flow, just write whatever comes to mind, the writing already has conflict.

You may think this is just a trick that I use, to stoke my imagination. Maybe it is, but I really believe that I have to take this seriously. If I consider them a figment of my imagination, then that marginalizes them. Even if they were, even if you believed this was all a fantasy, and you were right, I still need to believe it for it to work. I need it to be true, if I am to tap into the entire team and fulfill our potentials.

And no one usurps the throne. We’re either all free or we’re all in prison.

When I was, I don’t know, 13, I wanted to be an actor so bad. I think it’s because I wanted to acknowledge the “assembly” of minds inside here. Maybe the way we let them out is to think of it like there is no distinction between what we are and what we pretend to be. 

I’m not like Sybil, where all of her personalities are fucked up. We’re a team. We’re friends, or at least co-workers.

Now, it would be disingenuous not to admit that if one has multiple personalities, then it would be unlikely that they are all the same gender. And it suggests that gender is not so black and white (neither is black and white I guess). But regardless, don’t call me, like some who are non-binary like to be called, “they.” No offense intended, but it’s just a pronoun. I think that even if I wanted to be a female, I’d be fine being called a he. Is it because that’s what I am on the outside? Yeah. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist. But even she has to acknowledge that physically we are in man form. So call us that. It’s simpler that way. It doesn’t mean she isn’t a she. It doesn’t mean she can’t think of herself as a she. Other people don’t define you. 

Go ahead and get mad at me and tell me I don’t understand anything, if you want. I understand myself. And I’m not telling anyone else what to do, or feel, or trying to suggest that anyone else is exactly like me and should define anything the way I do, That said, I think that if people with gender ambiguity would just acknowledge all of the characters in their play, so to speak, that they wouldn’t be as hung up on pronouns. It’s highly symbolic, in my opinion, because they think it would be easier to think of themselves as multifaceted if they were referred to differently. But what they are called doesn’t change who they are. I am a he. It’s not untrue to say that. I also may be a she, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a he. 

I don’t think anyone would be allowed to come back the same all of the time. How would we learn and grow? We have to get outside our comfort zones. If we have male or female parts, or hormones, or brains, or roles to play in this incarnation, we should make an effort to get used to them and to appreciate them. But we shouldn’t deny our spirit. We should accept everything that there is in here and stop hating ourselves. And if we want different parts, then we should be patient. We’ll probably get another chance, in another life, unless we destroy the world first.