Look at the picture below and you will see a changed man. A man that has undergone a metamorphosis over the last year to become, dare I say it, an adult? Maybe not an adult. I’m actually eating a bowl of Fruit Loops as I write this (ingredient number 1? A: Magical sugar). But I’ve become more self-assured, gaining a greater insight into this stranger that is myself, a stranger who constantly is offering me things in exchange for a cheap feel, which I hesitantly accept…
But I feel that this past year has been the most productive year in terms of becoming a self-actualized individual. It sounds pompous, I know. I’m getting all Kant on your ass, and the sheer fact that I referenced Kant just there makes me a complete jerkwad with his nose in a book that is stuck up my butt (What book is it? A: Lady Chatterley’s Lover).
To understand where I am, with my new pompadour-esque haircut, my 24/7 stubble and my 1920s bathing suit-style tank top, we have to tiptoe through the annals of my past, that being the late spring/early summer of 2008. Seems like a distant time doesn’t it? Like how a hippie dreams of the Haight before it became one giant Hot Topic.
I was a young lad then at the ripe and tender age of 26. The world was before me, beckoning me to join it, but here I was stuck in a sixth-floor office that overlooked the Chicago River, writing and editing under florescent lights that made my skin sallow (trips to the tanning bed, my friend, will fix that). I smoked like a chimney, finding that my only respite from office slave labor was to escape for a cigarette break, which was really just a subtle and slow way to kill myself, death of course being the ultimate retirement plan. As I stood along the railing of the Chicago River, I’d stare at the Sears Tower (back when it was the Sears Tower, damn it) and wonder to myself if it toppled over, would it crash into my office and kill me? I would then daydream about stripping my clothes off along the crowded walkway and jumping into the river, landing in the water and letting it carry me where it may, or possibly accidentally landing on an architectural tour boat and scaring the tourists with my exposed genitals (genitals has become my new favorite word).
My home life wasn’t much better. Every day after the sardine can train would drop me off in Little Siam, a land that smells like rotting dog carcasses, likely due to all those rotting dog carcasses, I’d make my way to my shit apartment with the floors that couldn’t keep a marble from rolling and walls made of crumbly feta cheese. I lived with my ex at the time, a short, squatty nebbish man who had more issues than People magazine. There was also a cat, a possessed cat, that seemed to throw herself into epileptic fits at odd times during the night, breaking glasses, lightbulbs and clawing up anything that provided any shred of happiness into tiny shreds.
Fights were constant in my old apartment. My boyfriend at the time would come home drunk, smelling of daiquiris and vomit, waking me up just to kick me out of “his” bed. He had become territorial with age, like an ugly stupid dog. He was worried I was going to move to L.A. and become famous. I was worried he was buying into my pipedreams more than me…and that he might attack me in my sleep with a steaknife. We had a mutual loathing for each other, but neither one of us had the nerve to say when, despite the fact that our glasses had long-been overflowing with resentment. The only source of happiness I had was an Aerogarden, a small hydroponic shelf unit that allowed you to grow lettuce in your kitchen. I would stand and stare at it, basking in the miracle of life and the sense of self sufficiency it provided. “I am a God,” I’d say to myself, right before my cat bit my leg, drawing blood.
Eventually I could stand the 9-to-5 life no more. Yes, I was being paid a very reasonable salary (too reasonable some, including my co-workers, would say). And yes, I had an office with that gorgeous view. But the view only offered me a glimpse at what I was missing, which was freedom. I’d see the tiny ant people walking, doing as they please, and it only made me yearn to break out of my prison and get a cheeseburger and a beer because, DAMN IT, this is America, and I have certain inalienable rights! So one day I told my boss I was leaving. “I quit, and I’m going to pursue comedy,” I announced. Everyone laughed. Things were already going my way.
I became a freelance writer, which I currently still am. It took a while to learn how to maneuver this crazy thing called self-employment, and sure I’ve had some panic months where the cash flow was about as torrential as a constipated old man. But it’s always worked out, even if it has spelled a drastic pay cut. Money isn’t everything. It’s cliche, but it’s completely true. Leaving a high-paying editorial job (trust me, I see the paradox in that statement) was well worth entering a world of freedom and near poverty. I have a stable of clients, many large international corporations, who I enjoy working for very much. I also have the pleasure of getting coffee, going to the gym, doing laundry or just watching my balls flap in the wind anytime I please. It’s bliss. And being self employed has taught me personal responsibility more than any office job ever could. It’s one thing to have a boss breathing down your neck demanding you get this in at that time and fit that thing into that hole now! It’s another thing to make sure you get your shit done on time without a piano looming over your head. And I’ve done it properly every time. Go me.
I also got rid of that boyfriend. It wasn’t easy. I was like a roach motel, the boyfriend moves in but he won’t move out. And it was my fault, I admit. I could have told him, “It’s over. We’re through. Your drinking, your mood swings, your inability to color coordinate…” There were plenty of reasons. But I was scared to be alone and frightened of change. It’s a big world, and sometimes it’s a lot easier to hang onto a piece of driftwood, even if that piece of driftwood is full of termites. Thankfully that piece of driftwood was unfaithful. So I tossed him back into the ocean, and I haven’t heard from him since.
The cat did move with me, regrettably. I got her in the divorce. All cynicism aside, part of me did love her. But the rest of me resented her so so so much. Thankfully Craigslist is full of animal lovers with billions more bushels of compassion than I could ever muster. And so a bunch of college stoners took her in and called her theirs, presumably to get her high as a distraction while playing Wii.
For the next 8-9 months after these changes, I wandered around, meeting all kinds of people and doing all kinds of interesting things (What kind of things? A: Taxi cab confessions things). These things helped me establish boundaries to distinguish who I was and who I wasn’t. I developed unhealthy attachments, and I was confronted with my pre-existing unhealthy habits. At times I would vow to make a change, and many times I would fail. I beefed up, gaining more muscle than I know what to do with (I still joke that I feel like Voltron because I’m a computer scientist nerdy kid trapped in a robot body). And I began to realize that I wasn’t the inferior person that many in my past had convinced me I was.
Finally I got to a point where I was pretty secure in myself. My business was chugging along just fine. My artistic life had suffered many crisis along the way, as all artists’ lives do (we’re a touchy bunch), but I was continuing to find my voice and my medium. I had faced many rejections in this area and had many successes, from being kicked out of an improv group I helped create to producing a show with a sketch group I helped create (a great example of karma). Hell, I even recently went through this when I was rejected from the one show I really wanted to do in this city, but then I realized I should just produce my own show (stay tuned for more info on that), something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t have the current level of confidence I have in myself.
And of course, when everything is right and when you feel your best and you’re 100 percent content on being alone, that’s when someone comes and fucks it up. Enter my current boyfriend, who is in a word wonderful (I’ll withhold from gushing so I don’t make the cynics sick and the lovers swoon).
I’m continually discovering things about myself and exploring different facets of my cavernous mind…it’s pretty dark in there. My hairstyle is changing, my clothes are changing, my taste in music is changing and my choice in self expression (from performance to writing) is changing. This is probably what getting old is all about. And I hope I keep getting old for a long while.