When in doubt, quote somebody else. I know I’m not the only weblogger who has figured this out. Most of you probably know this, which means that most of you can see right through me. Some of you have even written to comment on my little mood swing, such as Anthony, who reached over from the East Coast and slapped me like Cher and shouted “Snap out of it!” He sweetly followed this up by pointing out how far I’ve come the last couple of years. Sometimes I forget.
One of the 12 steps suggests that we become entirely ready to have our “defects of character” removed. Nobody on this planet is free of character defects, so it’s a gradual, life-long process. “Character defect” may not be the best choice of words. I think of my defects as the things that keep me from the life I deserve. Cheesy, sure, but let’s face it, recovery always sounds cheesy. My most glaring defect (I have many) was fear; of everything, of failure, of success, of men, of family, of love, of being naked or even half-naked around other people. But mostly fear of other people, naked or not.
After the first raw months of sobriety passed, I started challenging these fears, because they were holding me back from a better life. I broke up with the ex and moved out. I got tested for HIV. I sat in the front row of AA meetings. I looked at the floor most of the time, but it was progress. I made myself go to that AA conference in Palm Springs last summer and be half-naked around a lot of other half-naked people. And I had that moment of grace, sitting in front of 500 gay men on a conference room stage. Where I understood that I didn’t have to be afraid of anyone, that I was no more and no less a man than anyone else. A moment of grace that lifted a lot of fear away.
The removal of one character defect sometimes reveals another. Once I stopped being afraid of everything and started living, new problems ensued. I wanted more. Of just about everything. And the problem? I am a very impatient man. I want to take writing as far as I can, whatever that looks like. Now. And I don’t want to sit around at a job answering stupid phone calls. And I want to get my hands on the space monkey. After several months of correspondence and phone calls, my right hand needs a break. Sorry, I went there again.
I was impatient with my career path but hopelessly confused. I had no clue what my step should be. Should I keep the job, should I look for an internship, should I keep taking extension classes, should I start sending stuff out to editors?
I’ve tried to keep Joseph Campbell’s idea of “following your bliss” in mind the last few months. I got a little impatient with him, too.
“That all sounds really nice, Joe, but I don’t know what that means. Where the fuck am I going, and how do I get there?”
Of course Joe is dead, so he didn’t say anything. I also asked my mom for a little sign, or maybe even a thousand-watt arrow over the next fork in the road, but perhaps she is busy. Maybe she and Joe are having a good laugh together at my expense:
Joe: “He looks really funny when he gets impatient.”
Mom: “I know! Look how red his face gets. Wait till he starts pouting, it’s really cute.”
After ten years of real life experience, I’ve decided to go back to school and get an M.F.A. (Somebody in “The Liar’s Club” called it “Mother Fucking Asshole”). Not so much for the degree as for a focused time of writing and feedback. This isn’t an overnight decision, it’s taken a few years actually. And honestly, I just love learning, I love classrooms and research and conversations. I love hearing how other people are doing it. I love being around other people who like learning, who are fighting the good fight. And if taking this step leads me into a life of academia, well, it’s better than answering the phone all day. Or getting into the oil business. When I think about it, it just feels right, in my gut. The nice thing about being sober is that I can actually trust my gut.
Joseph Campbell also said that when you find your bliss, don’t let anyone shake you off. When something feels right in my gut, like my connection with the space monkey, I have that strength of conviction. I know it’s right, and I go for it.
So now I have the spring and summer to look at schools and get a really strong admissions manuscript together.
Also, having a goal makes answering the stupid phone a little more bearable. But only a little. Which means if you were hoping I’d stop bitching completely, you’re out of luck.