At a certain point, I feel that a writer has to make a decision on how they view life: Do they see the journey as a lonely one where they have to forgo family and friends to find their voice? Or do they need to be surrounded by family, friends, and strange characters to fill those pages with? I’ve made my choice, and it’s certainly the right one for me. But I have a feeling this is something most writers struggle with during their creative journey. You ever struggle with this question?
I’m turning 30-years old on Saturday, August 15th. That means I have been alive for 10,950 days and 262,800 hours. Now this nice round number approaches, and I’m being asked by friends how it feels to be old (some in jest; some young people in fear that they will one day feel old, too). So, of course, it causes me to think about my life, my career, my direction. Anybody who tells you that when they turn 30-years old that they don’t consider what their life means is probably lying or just not very great at telling time. So I started to think about the best way to turn thirty years old.
5. Freak Out: When I married my wife, I wrote in my vows that I will never let her feel old. Women deal with age in different ways than men. There is just so much more pressure on women to look young, to have “flawless” skin, to never wear mom jeans. While that’s unfair in many ways, it also hits men. I promised myself for years that I would never allow age to worry me, but sure enough, as that birthday approached, I felt something start to rise in the back of my mind, and it was the sense that I was getting old. It was the feeling that I perhaps haven’t done enough with my life. It was the thought that I have failed because I don’t have a novel out yet. I looked in the mirror, and I thought: Perhaps my hair is receding. I brought my wife into the bathroom, and I said, hey, look at my hair. Has it always been like this? She looked at me confused, and she examined my hair in a very serious way. She seemed to be measuring it with her eyes. She touched my scalp and felt my hair and said: “I don’t think so.” Well, that sent me over the edge. Her doubt scared the shit out of me. Could I actually be losing my hair? Isn’t this what made me who I am? Oh my god, I thought, I’m getting old. I started to look at other guys’ hairline and see if it was just perhaps the way my hairline was shaped, and I spun into a dangerous cycle of doubt and insecurity. Yeah, I know it’s lame. 30-years old is not old. I have so much life ahead of me, and I eventually came to that conclusion, but I realized that it was okay to freak out about your birthday. It’s just normal. Just don’t let it consume you. (I also realized how much of prima donna I am about my hair. Shit, that was embarrassing.)
4. Stay in Shape: I remember when I was 24-years old, living in Miami, Florida, and I thought I was hot shit: A young kid in graduate school on his way to a career as a “famous” author (which is still the plan), teaching classes at Florida International University and playing basketball within view of the beach after class. I used to play basketball with my massively tall friend, who was a bit older than me, and he sometimes would complain about his knee. He would have to sit out a game or two, and he sometimes wouldn’t come play ball, citing knee problems. I used to give him a bunch of shit. He was 30-years old at the time, and he used to say: “You just wait until you’re my age; you’re going to be hurting just the same.” I never believed him. I told him I would never let that happen to me. Well, sure enough, I started playing basketball again several weeks ago, and after the first game, my knee hurt so bad that I could hardly jump nor hit my deceptively sweet jump shot. I wasn’t feeling myself, and my wife told me I had to wear a brace. I officially felt like the old man at the Y. But I didn’t stop playing. I just realized I had let myself get out of shape, and if there is one thing I learned about turning 30, it’s that you have to work harder to feel young. You can’t allow age to set into your bones. You have to try — even though it’s impossible — to out work time.
3. Take a Day Off from Work and Drive: I’m planning on taking Monday off from work, and I’m just going to drive into the desert. That might sound like a metaphor, but I mean that literally. In my twenties, I prided myself on my adventurous spirit. My goal is to write novels, and I knew the only way that I could ever have anything to write about would mean that I would have to travel. So I went to school in Florida; I traveled in Europe; I moved to Detroit at the beginning of the Great Recession; I went West with my wife; and I fell in love with a tremendous woman and promised her my life. I’ve taken a lot of adventures, and they were all accompanied by some sort of actual voyage. I have to remind myself of that the spirit for adventure, for the open road, for just driving, and I have to maintain the desire to get lost. Whenever I move to a new city, I always tell my wife when we’re driving home and don’t know where we’re going: It’s important to get lost to learn your way. So I’m just going to drive on Monday, take photos of whatever I see, and enjoy the search.
2. Recommit to a Goal: I have a great wife; I have a tremendous dog; I have a lovely apartment; I have a fulfilling job. I want a home, children, and some material objects. Honestly, I’m pretty ambitious. But I don’t know how I could ever wake up in the morning and feel alive if I didn’t have a goal that I was striving toward. I am writing a new novel that I hope to publish. I’ve written 45,000 words, and I actually feel good about it. (I know all first drafts are shit though.) Every day I have to write at least 500 words or I am miserable. I mean I felt like I just wasted my day and I should probably beat myself with a belt. (Hyperbole, of course.) But I am more committed than ever to write a great story, and I want to spend the rest of my nights and the rest of my birthdays writing other great stories. I think the only way to turn 30, 40, 50, and on and on is to find a way to breathe life again into the promises we made when we’re younger, because growing older is a conversation with our younger selves: Is this where I wanted to be by now? Is this who I wanted to be? Do I like myself and the person I have become? These questions are essential for turning 30-years old, and the way that one can answer yes is by staying true to the promises. One shouldn’t let the things we say when we’re younger just be empty promises.
1. Make a Legacy: I don’t have children yet, but I think the essential part about turning thirty is finding a way to leave a legacy, to leave something behind, so your image or your memory keeps on ticking long after your own heart stops. This is why I write, and this is the same reason that I’m going to have children…soon. Maybe a person’s legacy doesn’t have to be children, but it has to be something that burns, something that is full of life, even if it’s not alive. I think that’s the real important part of growing older: Finding a way to make something that is bigger than yourself.
10. Walter Sobchak from the Big Lebowksi
9. “Do you see me now? I’m the guy with the chain saw for a hand?
8. Darth Vader is Actually Pretty Cool
7. The Joker is Shooting people in the Gaslamp: Too Far?
6. Nick Fury
5. Even Spiderman People Watches at Comic-Con
It had started out like any other night in North Park, San Diego. I had just finished a long day of work, and it was still dark outside. We were a couple of weeks away from daylight saving time, so the longer days of summer were still in the future. I was craving those longer days and the extra amount of light, and by looking so far into the future, I wasn’t thinking about how life can change on a dime.
I had just taken my dog Hendrix (read more about Hendrix’s epic life) on a walk around the neighborhood. He was panting a bit from the exercise. He’s in good shape, and he’s about 70 pounds of muscle. While he looks like he could rip out someone’s throat, he’s a sweetheart and wants to cuddle way more than fight, unless he feels that his family is unsafe. Then he can be a terror. He was a bit on edge when I approached the house. It was almost as if he could tell something strange was about to happen.
As I approached the house, I was wondering what to cook for dinner (my wife was at work function), and I was even thinking about just saying screw it and driving to Downtown North Park and grabbing some sushi. My thoughts were normal, and it’s funny how the moments that lead up to something important can feel so ordinary.
When I opened the screen door, I heard the creak of the wooden door, and I didn’t think much about it, until I could see Hendrix staring at something on the door. Sure enough, clinging to inside of the screen was the biggest lizard I had ever seen. I wasn’t sure what kind of lizard it was at first, but I just kept staring at it, because it was almost shockingly large. It wasn’t an iguana, and it wasn’t a snake either. I have only lived in San Diego for a few months, and my guess isn’t that good. But if I had to take a guess, I would say it was the San Diego Alligator Lizard.
I hate to disappoint you if you were expecting something more monstrous or even poisonous, but the San Diego Alligator Lizard isn’t as dangerous as the black widow, which I’ve seen in my home, or a rattlesnake. In fact, when this particular lizard wants to defend itself, it sometimes releases its tail, knowing that it will grow back, according to California Herps. They are known to bite, but I knew right away (despite the lizard’s size), it wasn’t going to be dangerous or threatening.
Hendrix was still scared, and because the lizard was on the inside of my screen door, I knew I had to get on the other side. I didn’t want the lizard crawling into bed with me at night. So I grabbed a Time magazine, rolled it up, and gently nudged the San Diego Alligator Lizard off the screen door and onto the front porch. When the lizard hit the ground, Hendrix freaked out as if he was Scooby Doo and just saw a ghost. He was backing away and barking. I’ve never seen Hendrix back away from anything before.
I didn’t want him to kill the lizard, so I brought him closer and told him the lizard didn’t want any trouble. I told him to relax and stroked his back. Calm down, Hendrix. Calm down. The lizard and Hendrix just kind of sat there looking at each other, wondering what they hell they were. I let Hendrix go inside, left the lizard alone, and cooked dinner.
The next morning I wasn’t thinking about the lizard at all. I was thinking about the same routines that I think about every day. Did I feed Hendrix? Do I have time to shower? Should I cook fried eggs again for breakfast or try that new yogurt my wife is always raving about?
Without thinking, I grabbed Hendrix’s leash, roped the leash around his neck, and opened the door to witness the sun shining so bright I had to cover my eyes from the rays. I went to shut the door behind me, but it was stuck for some reason. We have a heavy wooden door, and sometimes the welcome mat gets stuck underneath. So I moved the mat aside and tried to shut the door again. Still no luck. I slammed it perhaps four more times without the door shutting. I was confused and frustrated.
That’s when I looked into the corner of the door, and to my great horror, I saw the San Diego Alligator Lizard. It’s hard for me to say (you might think I’m crazy to give this much thought to a lizard), but when I saw the lizard in the crevice of the door, I felt like a brick had just fallen down my throat and decided to push up against the lining of my stomach. It was an awful site. Just the head of the lizard was stuck in the corner of the door, and as I was slamming the door to try to make sure it was shut, I had literally flattened the head of the San Diego Alligator Lizard.
I’m not sure how this is possible with a completely flattened skull, but the lizard was still moving. It was almost walking. I thought about trying to save it, but when you unintentionally bash the head of a 12-inch lizard, you don’t really know what course of action to take. I quickly realized there was no coming back for this reptile, and I had to bury the body. I took a rock and finished the job.
In our front yard, we have this area where there is mulch and some sculptures. We share it with our upstairs neighbor, but I wasn’t sure if he ever messed with the area that had mulch. It seemed untouched, and I figured no one would ever think twice to look there. So I took the lizard’s body, picked it up by the tail, and began to bury it under mulch and rocks.
Yes, I had just buried a body, and I felt awful. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would feel that pain. In fact, I thought that anyone else would probably poke fun at my sensitivity, but I hated the fact that I had unintentionally killed something. I told my brother-in-law when I arrived at work, and then I told my wife later. But I still felt shitty about it.
Over the next couple weeks, I would look and see if the lizard was still there. Sure enough, the lizard was still there. I probably could have buried him better, but I went about my routines, and the San Diego Alligator Lizard eventually left my thoughts.
Honestly, I didn’t think again about the lizard until a few weeks later. I was out with my neighbors, and we were talking about gardening. I started to tell the story of how I killed the lizard, and then they looked at me and started to laugh. “That explains it,” my neighbor said. “It was you.” Yes, I was caught. They finally found me. It turned out the lizard’s body had started to smell, and they uncovered the lizard under the mulch. They thought some kid had killed the thing in some cruel example of torture and wanted to hide the evidence, but in reality, it was only a grown man who felt terrible about squashing its head in a door.
I know this blog post is super dramatic (perhaps misleading), but at the same time, I actually did feel guilty for killing this creature. Would you? So I’ll put a poll question out there: Would you feel bad for killing the lizard? Answer below:
You want to know how to evaluate the bond of a life-long love? Well, like most great aspects of life, it can be found in a book. Let me explain.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve read Richard Price’s “The Whites,” Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train,” William Gibson’s, “Peripheral,” and David Sedaris’ “When You’re Engulfed in Flames,” and I’m also listening to a Stephen King book. But if you want to know about how to evaluate love, then you need to read Kazoo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant.” I want to focus on Isighuro’s book, because something took place in the novel that has stuck with me since I came across it.
The novel is set in a period of English history that would have been associated with King Arthur. It’s a magical world that blends myth, fantasy, and pieces of history into a journey about a married couple who are looking for their son. In the novel, everyone has a difficult time remembering aspects of their own lives. There is a mist (an almost memory-stealing fog) that pervades the land.
As the married couple is trying to find their son, they encounter a terrible storm. They need to seek shelter. The story structure follows the “hero’s journey” that was made famous by Christopher Vogler in his book, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.” It’s a guide for screenwriters, and it was influenced by the works of Joseph Campbell. If you’ve ever seen any movie, or heard a fascinating tale told over a campfire, then you would recognize the structure Vogler presents.
What is amazing about Ishiguro’s books is not the structure itself, but it’s the way that the structure becomes a vehicle for the voice to tap into a mythic and fantastic world, where dragons, knights, and Sir Gaiwan still exist. But it’s achieved with such artful and tasteful strokes, as if he had found a way to make King Arthur seem more like Game of Thrones…minus the sex and random killings.
So this married couple comes to a shelter in the rain, and inside the shelter, they find a boatman inside. He is on a holiday from his job, which is to take people across the lake to an incredible island. On the island, people walk alone for years. They can hear other people, but they can never find each other. They are doomed to be alone. But certain couples are brought to the island together, and they are allowed to walk in peace and harmony for the rest of their lives. The boatman only brings couples over to the island who actually have true bonds of love, and if they fail his test, then he brings just one person at a time, and they are doomed to never see each other again. You can see how this has a fairy tale feel to it.
What was so interesting to me was how the boatman decides whether the couple actually has a strong bond of love. The boatmen simply ask the couple to tell him their fondest memory with each other.
“Besides when travelers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years–that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together…”
I thought this passage was memorable, and it’s an interesting way to evaluate love. When you ask your partner what is the fondest memory, what will they say? What does their answer reveal about the quality of love? What does that say about the very nature of memory? Can a memory define love?
I dare you to ask your wife or your husband this very question tonight. Make sure to check out this new novel by Ishiguro.