Mike Davis

My former teacher, Mike Davis, wants us to get out of our cages.

Another Year Over

I took a couple of courses with Mike Davis, and we were on good terms. I enjoyed our interactions, and I learned a lot. The classes were online, so all of the interactions were online. We kept up for a short while after the classes were over, via facebook, or via the comment section on his blog, and I still read his blog, as you can see.

But I imagine that Mike Davis doesn’t like me. 

More likely, he doesn’t think about me at all, cause I don’t mean anything to him. I’m fine with that.  I know I am irrelevant. I should be. We’re not friends, and I don’t want to be.

I admire the guy.  He taught me, and he was a good teacher.  He was actually the best writing teacher I ever had, which, ok, admittedly, isn’t saying much.  But it’s something. 

And I like what he’s trying to do.

I imagine that he doesn’t like me, only because I am the kind of person, I imagine he doesn’t like.

(Yes, I’m making it all up. That’s what writers do – but it could be true, because we have gifted insight).

A person who won’t get out of his fucking cage.

Why should I bother saying that I want to be a writer, that this is my aspiration, that someday, yes, algun dia, I will visit America. If it’s just a dream that will never happen, then you’re full of shit. You either do it or you don’t. You get no credit for saying you want to.

This is why I think he doesn’t like me. How can I be inspiring, in a cage? Why would you want to surround yourselves with people like that? 

I want to be a writer but I am an accountant. I want to be a writer, but I travel a lot, and have a nice house and cars and fine dining experiences and furniture, and an under-funded pension, and a lot of other expenses. I want to be a writer but I am a husband.

And I eat too much.

You know, whatever.

I am in a cage. 

I can’t make different choices (except maybe that I could eat less).

I can’t sell our house and all our stuff, so I don’t even have to pay to store it, and move only what we need into a cheap apartment. I can’t decide we don’t need cars, because we won’t work, and we can uber if we really need to get somewhere or rent a car twice a year for a trip, and walk everywhere else, or ride a bike.

I can’t live frugally enough to retire, now, or even in three years. I can’t change careers, or move to another country.

I don’t have that freedom.  

Not that I would want any of that.

But I want to be a writer. I’ve pretty much always said, effectively always, that I want to be a writer. And doing some or all of those things would help.

I know I’m not going to do them, but can I write from my prison cell?

That’s a kind of freedom.  To write the truth.  Can I do that? I would need to free myself from another cage.  I have to escape the past. No simpler way to say it. I think that’s what Mike Davis is talking about.

I mean what that means for you, escaping the past, may be different than what it would means to me, but it is a very broad all encompassing statement.  So, probably it’s true for everyone.

Maybe for her it’s a trauma, maybe for him regrets, maybe for me it’s just the expectation that I will stay the same as I have always been. How do I escape from the expectations people have of me that I, myself, have nurtured and established?

I don’t know. But this is why I write now. Whether I post it anywhere or not, writing is, for me, the means by which I am going to attempt an escape from prison. I don’t know if I’ll be successful. We can never know.  But I believe I can prevail. So, I’m working on the locks.

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.

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.

Who I Am (Not)

This is why it is so important for me to write. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone else, but I don’t think well without writing my thoughts down to see how if feels to say them and to check them with their logical implications. I need this to disavow myself of all of my wrong thinking whether it be that I hate myself, my parents, my friends, the Yankees or whoever. There’s enough hate to go around. But I don’t really hate anyone (except the Yankees). I just have to write it down, so that after I die, if I were to die while any of these people are still alive, they could read it and think that I really hated them, when in fact, I just wrote it down so that I can test the thesis, and likely prove it wrong. Start with who I am, and then become someone different. Start with what I think and then change my mind. Start with bias and gain perspective. It’s a process. So don’t believe anything I write, including this.

I write to learn about myself, cause I don’t know that much about me.

My favorite scene in Seinfeld (right at this moment, tomorrow it will be something different) is when George is trying to figure out how to break up with his girlfriend. They are pitching “Seinfeld” to NBC. He finally has a job he can brag about to get girls, except that if he breaks up with his girlfriend, who works for NBC and has influence over the show, he loses the job. So he comes up with this idea.  She loves David Letterman.  Letterman works for NBC, he works for NBC. Maybe he can meet Letterman, introduce him to his girlfriend, she’ll dump him for Letterman, and everyone gets what they want.

“I’m just thinking,” he says.

“I don’t think you are,” Jerry replies.

So, I’m just thinking.

I can’t believe that I ever, like when I was 18 for example, felt intimidated by fellow 18 year olds who thought of themselves as good writers. How could they have been? They were 18. Where are they now? I have no idea. I don’t even remember their names. Statistically they are not famous writers. So no one be discouraged that you are not, at some young age, great. Imagine if I sat here today and was only 20 and had 50 years to perfect my craft.  If I pushed on with persistence, I imagine I would be excelling in the first 10 years, which, if true, suggests that I’ve still got enough time because I have no reason to think that I don’t have 10 years left. I could easily have 20. That’s a lot of time. I could have 30. I could be writing with clarity at 90, or without clarity; which could be just as good if not better. More of a poem than prose, like something that came from a spirit in the sky. It could sound like the bible, or like Jesus actually wrote it and maybe he will have.

Because once your mind is gone, it isn’t you talking, right? Or maybe it never is. If you don’t know yourself, then nothing you say can actually be you. Just let it flow and say whatever flows and then ask yourself, does that sound like me? Yes no maybe so?

I think we need to forget who we think we are, unless we’re really happy with ourselves. I’m not happy with myself. I never particularly wanted to be me. So speak as if it’s someone else. Until it isn’t.