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A. Lawrence G.

just thinking

What Scares Us

Something happened

A long time ago

To make me feel unsafe

 

Probably

A very minor thing

I can’t remember

 

Maybe it was when

The other boys

Told me I looked like a girl

 

And laughed at me

Though it was

Just the truth

 

Sometimes I think

It would be easier

To have been a girl

 

Because men

Are afraid

Of the laughter

 

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Tell Me

I am not honest with people. It bothers me. I think that it is what makes me feel like people don’t know me. It’s not because I have some big secret (I always wondered why I always feel like this; what am I even hiding?)

It’s because I don’t tell people what I really think. And then I feel like I’m pretending. Would they still like me if I did? I don’t give them the good advice that friends deserve, even when they ask for it.

It’s because I’m scared I’ll do more harm than good, and I might. I’m scared that the way I ran it through in my head won’t be the way it goes. Or that I didn’t even run it through.

“He came to my office and started complaining about someone. So I told him it was his fault,”

No preparation.

Do this badly, and you can hurt your relationship, at least. Maybe I am better off keeping it to myself. So, I do. After all I don’t have a good track record of convincing people I’m right about anything, even when I am. Or maybe it’s just my wife.

“I must have said it wrong.”

You have to tell the truth. But you also have to do it well.

This is something I have to learn. I can’t be satisfied with lying. I want to help people. I may not be good at this, but it’s important as a

  • Parent
  • Husband
  • Friend
  • Manager

to try your best, if you have any chance.

Interesting, this came up primarily in regards to work, but notice that I put “manager” last in the list.

This all makes me feel conceited. Probably another reason I don’t have these conversations, because I think it’s conceited to presume to know better than someone else. But maybe I do. More often I probably just see something they don’t, because I have a different vantage point. It’s not even like advice is unsolicited. People ask your opinion, either explicitly or they call for it some other way by what they do, and it’s important to give it to them.

You may give bad advice, but if you don’t tell people what you really think, there’s no chance that it can be good.

Hell, how can I be a writer and I’m scared to tell the truth? That’s just stupid. I should have put “writer” up there in that list. But where do I put it? First? Or second?

Why I Write

Look at me

I am an American

You know what that means

But in this Turkish coffee house

In Decatur, Georgia

Women wear the hijab

They sit in a circle

And lean in

Talking and laughing

The owner’s family is here too

With coffee colored babies

Yes I noticed

It makes me

Glad

That they can feel at home

And that I am welcome

Because that’s what they sell here

They sell welcome

Maybe I can cross my legs

And be less American

And maybe they wouldn’t judge me

Even the one

With the burka

Would she?

Stylish

Comfortable

Something to be said for headscarfs

And modest

Maybe they don’t want from men

What men are like

You know what that means

Don’t try to tell me

That American men are not

But the burka bothers me

If only because it reminds me too much

Of myself

I Pretend to Hate My Job

I don’t know how I feel about work. Sometimes I like it, but I seem to try hard not to admit that, as if I don’t want to like it. It’s because I’ve always dreamt of doing something else. I originally intended it to be temporary, this career, I told myself that. And then it went on and on and I have always felt trapped, like I just couldn’t get out. Maybe I lied to myself. Maybe I always intended it to be permanent. I mean, there’s got to be a reason I didn’t do enough about changing anything.

This is the best place I ever worked now. People actually do enjoy it. I enjoy it. I work with nice funny people. They are like friends. 

Do I feel completely comfortable there, like it is home to me? Am I relaxed enough to just be myself? No, but I rarely feel like that anywhere I am among people. What would happen if I did? I’m not even sure I’d act any different, I just usually feel guarded. What is it I would admit, or show people about me that they don’t already know? Would it get me fired? I’m sure they’d give me a warning first.

“A. Lawrence.  You’d better start pretending again. We don’t like this new you.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Sorry.”

But really, I’m already an open book. I probably admit way too much shit about myself, and yet I feel guarded. Like I’m scared they’ll see something I didn’t tell them.  What?

It’s probably worth it to think about this stuff. What do I really like about my career, job, life, and what could be better. I could like it if I admitted that I liked it, and that I don’t have to be scared of anybody.  What’s the worst that can happen? I could lose my job. But that’s pretty unlikely.  And if it happened, particularly because I was being myself, then it’s probably for the best.

I think I’ll try to like it. I want to like it. This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had to like it. It will help me to do a better job, which will in turn help me like the job even more.

Yup.  

I Don’t Want to Talk About Work

I wrote a poem this morning, inspired by the movie Paterson.  Ron Padgett, who actually wrote the poems for the movie anticipated this. In an interview with the PBS newshour he said, “Maybe a film like Paterson will help some people say, ‘huh, maybe I could write something like this too’.”

But I didn’t know that when I wrote it.

It’s 7AM.
Time to start the routine
The same routine every day

I take a shower
Shave
Brush my teeth

Put work clothes on
And torment myself
Over whether to eat breakfast

But I don’t want to talk about work
I get up at 5 or 6
I stretch or write

Who do I blame?
That’s what I want to know
That’s what I write about

Lately I’ve been having breakfast
And drinking coffee
And liking it

But I’m behind
Always behind
In my tasks

Maybe when I retire
I’ll keep a blog
And ride a bicycle

I’m Not Lazy (it just seems that way)

I didn’t go out much. I remember the few times I did hang out late in the city. Jr. High School prom night, for example. After the prom was over, a group of us just wandered the city. My date and I were ignoring each other. She didn’t really want to go with me, it was a long dance that led up to that night, complicated by the involvement of others to put us together, and an older guy that she was interested in, at least that’s what she said. She wrote in my yearbook, “sorry about all those broken dates” to immortalize it forever. I ended up talking with another girl at a swingset somewhere that we all stopped at along the way. She was someone that actually liked me, and we ended up dating for about four months.

There was a night much later when I was at Hunter College that I hung out with Raul Dennis and the Envoy newspaper entourage, they liked to call themselves that, on the roof of my apartment building before they put an alarm on the door to keep people from going there anymore. We climbed up and hung out by the chimney, and I played rhythms on the metal ladder, and Dennis was impressed. So was I, I was impressed with myself. I’m not very consistent, at anything, but I have my moments.

I thought that the roof of my building was one of the coolest places. I took people there a lot. The view was unique, if not the empire state building, or top of the rock, or the world trade center. I have pictures somewhere. I took them in 360 degrees because I wanted to blow them all up, stitch them together, and make a roundabout, where you could stick your head in it and look around and see what it was like. I had this idea that I could turn it into wallpaper and make my bathroom look like I was on the roof. Except for the notion of actually taking a shit on the roof, it was a cool idea.

I hadn’t realized there was slide film in the camera when I did this, so I never even stitched together a prototype. I’m not sure I even know where those slides are. I would never have thrown them out, but I swear it seems like I used to have a lot more slides and negatives.

But I was more of a homebody. I didn’t really like going out, at least that’s what I told myself. Either I was shy, or I really didn’t like the music most people were going to listen to, or the volume, or the crowds, or dancing. But I see now that it would have been good for me to get out, to watch life, the lives my peers lived, even if I didn’t participate. I might have understood the context in which we lived, and who we pretended to be. I imagine that it would have made it easier to be something different, or even influence what it was that defined our generation. We’ll be happier, in my opinion, if we know what we are expected to be. And also if we come to understand how much variety there is even among our peer group, then that can help us find the confidence to be unique.

My one and only reader (not really, but the others don’t SHOW  YOURSELVES) wrote recently that when you travel to where no one knows you, you can be anyone, even yourself. I’ve always embraced this idea, that you almost have to pretend to be someone else in order to shed the expectations of people who know you. To be yourself, you have to be free to be anything. But the opposite is also true. If  you know what you’re expected to be, by whatever group you belong to, that makes it easier to willfully divert from it. You need to know what society expects, if you are to rebel.  

I never really had the strength to rebel. I don’t feel like I ever really took charge of my life. I had an argument with my wife this morning on our way to the airport, she’s taking a trip. We were talking abstractly about people who are unhappy, because, perhaps, they just don’t take charge of their own lives. She said that they’re lazy. I was like, “I think that’s judgmental to call them ‘lazy’.” Then we got into a fight. I’m like, “I feel like you’re calling me lazy.”

“I wasn’t even thinking of you,”

“But you’re describing me to a T,” I said. “I’ve never taken charge of my life, I haven’t even learned Spanish, and I’ve been trying for 40 years, I have a career I always say I never wanted. Everything I’ve ever said I wanted to achieve in life, with writing, music, or political activism, I have not. I’ve never taken charge.”

Honestly. I’ve got issues. I lack courage. I’m shy. I lack confidence. I have trouble choosing between multiple interests. I may be over-analytical. These things affect my motivation. But it’s not just laziness.

I hate it when people call other people lazy.  I feel like, more often than not, the accusers are a certain type of person, it comes natural to them, and they expect everyone else to find it just as easy. They’re results oriented, direct. They make decisions and never look back. This is merely a particular personality type that certainly has value. But there are other personality types, which also contribute different talents.  Like the kind that triple check their answers, are more focused on getting things right than getting things done. Like those who want to bring teams together, get people to do the work collaboratively who may not really do the work themselves, but do facilitate the outcome. Diversity is grand, and needs to be understood and not judged. Calling people lazy is like saying there is no hope for them. Actually calling people lazy is lazy. Cause it’s just not that simple.

The Fame School

I auditioned for the fame school. I’ve always told people that I actually went to the fame school.  That’s because, at the time, there were two divisions of the same school, and I went to the other one, the one that wasn’t in the movie. But we had the same principal. And they used our students as extras. That was just maybe a year or two before I got there. My older brother was in the movie, and on the soundtrack, in one particular scene in the lunchroom where, like, a thousand musicians are playing at once. For awhile there he would receive royalty checks for, like,19 cents.

Used to be people knew what I was talking about when I said the fame school. But the movie may not be in the common domain of cultural literacy anymore. I’m dating myself. Young people never heard of this movie.  They made it before I was even there. That was over 35 years ago. I know there’s been a television series and a remake that was a flop and nothing like the original, which wasn’t ever my favorite movie anyway. I didn’t think it was really like that, but then again, I wasn’t really there, was I?

They both had music. But that was the only art they had in common. The one that was in the movie also had drama and dance, and ours had Art.

I went to Music and Art, for music. I also auditioned at Performing Arts for drama. It was competitive, like only 10% got in. And I got in.

I really should have gone. I’ve done well making the best of life after regrets, we all make mistakes, and I wouldn’t change anything, because I don’t want to give back what I have earned. But I loved it, acting. I didn’t choose it because I guess I didn’t fully realize how much it was the thing that engaged me. I truly believe that I would be a completely different person if I had gone there. It would have been the difference between being drawn out of my shell, or driven into it. That stark.

I didn’t trust myself. Maybe if I had a therapist then, I’d have been self aware enough to know what was good for me. I always wanted one. I still do. If I were rich, I’d go to therapy, like, a few times a week. If he/she were good, or even not. It helps just to have an excuse to say what you think out loud (that’s also what this is for). I don’t want to be sexist. In most cases, I’m not like this, but I think I’d need a he. I doubt I could  be completely honest with a stherapist.  She’d have to be particularly good. What I mean by that is non-judgmental. And I would have to be able to see it.

The audition was great. My Jr High school had a drama program, but I was in music. I acted in a community theatre outside of school.  I worked privately with one of my acting instructors to prepare for the audition. I was late, because I also had an audition for the music department, which I botched, and then I showed up, like, 4 hours late for the drama audition.

“Are you A. Lawrence?” Some girl asked.  A student volunteer. Most everyone there was a student in the acting department. They had been looking for me. I explained the other audition. She said, “yeah, I play the drums too,” and she air drummed. I didn’t believe her at the time, but it was probably true. Everyone has played the drums at some point in their lives.

They took me to a room, where I waited. They wanted me to write an essay about some shit, sounded made up.. Another student came in and did a spontaneous skit with the proctor. I was getting the feeling that this was part of the audition, so I got up and complained about my pencil.

“Huh?” the guy said. The girl helped me out.

“You heard the man,” she said.. “Get him a new pencil.”

I went back to my desk and another girl came in and asked if this was the place to audition for the drama department.

“Yes it is, surely is. You’ve come to the right place. Now we’re going to need you to do a bedroom scene with, um, that fellow over there.” he pointed at me. I smiled.

Shit like that kept happening.

I auditioned, with two solo scenes. One was an adaptation of something old into something new, and I don’t know. It was a long time ago.

Then they wanted to do something else, but it was late and they needed more students, so they asked me if I could come back the next day, Sunday. I still thought that everything they said was an act, and a test, and so I told them I had to go to Church. If you knew me and my family, you’d think that was really funny. Well, my mom actually went to this school, and this teacher knew my mom, and was like, “Church?”

“No, not really. I’m just kidding,” I said.

So I came back and they filmed us, a bunch of us, acting like animals. I wish I could see that film. I had just seen some performers on a variety show of sorts, can’t remember their names, acting like apes and I thought it was cool, so I chose an ape. I had some good play with this other kid who was a monkey. I bet he went there. We could have been friends. We could have remembered the audition together forever.

You know what else? I told them no, but they thought I said yes, somehow. I went to M&A and a friend of mine who went to PA told me they called my name in his homeroom.

I could have changed my mind, even after school started. But that would have taken guts I didn’t have.

I actually flipped a coin, I’ve always told people that’s how I decided, and it may be true. Seriously, I was leaning towards Drama, and I flipped a coin on a fluke, not expecting to take it seriously, but when it came up drums, I felt strangely compelled. I liked the drums too. And my brother was at Music and Art, and I wanted that to be the answer in some ways because of that. The coin toss allowed me to consider it, and I thought it felt like maybe I should to it. I felt a little relieved with the idea. But really, I think it was just the path of least resistance. I had my own thing.

Oh, this is such a sad story.

Ordinary

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. Because this is not you, it’s for us.  If that makes sense.

That’s what I think.

I forgot to write last Friday.  Just forgot. And that broke my streak, and so I kept blowing off writing for this week, because, well, I’ve blown it.

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 (English translation).  And I slept in, when I might otherwise have been writing.

All in all, I think my life is pretty ordinary.  I really didn’t want that.

My daughter wants to collaborate on a screenplay about her grandfather, my dad, who is somewhat famous/infamous in specific circles. He is less ordinary.  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. 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.

She’s not ordinary. Maybe it skips a generation.

 

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.

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