You Should Know This
I started a Kickstarter campaign less than 24 hours ago to give a house to directed idealism. If I succeed to get the backing then you will slowly begin to see and hear what ideas can really do. Not only the shaped and guided ones, the rawest of them all.
This story begins back in May 2001. I made one of the most difficult decisions anybody ever has to make. I broke my own heart because I couldn’t finish what I started. For the next eight months I traveled around the world and searched for the words to talk about what I did. I learned to say that I discovered I wasn’t the person who I thought I was. I had lost my sense of youthful idealism. To make meaning of things, I borrowed an image from Joseph Conrad’s novel, Lord Jim: Jim dreamed of being a brave sailor, but when the ship was sinking he abandoned it. I drew one conclusion in that: we never really know who we are going to be until confronted with a given situation.
And it’s true—reality is a bit of a mediated concept. All the messages in our society are reinforced to the point where who we are and who we want to be gets played out in our heads before becoming concrete. I went traveling to experience my baselines, to conduct myself through unsure and undecided moments, so that I had a set of behavioral data upon which to measure my true self against the self that I wanted to be.
One thing resulted from my travels was that I confirmed that I shy away from confronting myself publicly because I am afraid of my contradictions. While I was gone I found a way to maintain my identity, and when I came back I proved to myself that it wouldn’t do to be so rigid.
November 3, 2003, I left New York City and the adult life I’d made for myself there. I wrote down the costs and benefits of my decision to move. I still have the list. The way I weighed it was just, but I favored this notion of measurable data and the data set was skewed by my intense desire to be something more than I was. It wasn’t that I didn’t get anything out of my career or my relationships—I was living my dream alright; there was just the constant fear that I was wasting time, that I could be doing more to maximize the little bit of potential which made me different from the rest of the happily employed. That bit of indefinable something that often resists naming. I didn’t want to sacrifice it to a job that would make a good living. The living was something I would do. I could live with the unease of work that didn’t require any of my qualifications. It was the boundary between needing the esteem of others and self-esteem that drove the hardest wedge in my daily life. But it’s always something—job, relationship, status, friends, house, children, schools—and there are too many ways to worry.
You have to have eyes in the back of your head in this life. Or you just need to slow down enough to understand what it is that you are supposed to do with your days. I believed that I would write. On the morning of November 4, 2003, I woke up in San Francisco in my sister’s apartment and the first thing I did was pick up a book. There was something in my still-broken heart that I wanted to write about, but I didn’t decide how I would go about it. It’s hard to explain, but you know it’s worth waiting to figure out. So then you tell people that you are writing and they ask what you are writing. “Write what?” they say, skeptical. And often, even if you have any answer, you want to tell them things in generic terms. It takes all your energy to describe your dreams.
Some people do have answers. They say exactly what they are writing the way that the average person can get a sense of the story. Do we really want simple ways of understanding the subject and the trajectory of a narrative, or don’t we just want to be engaged in whatever we are being told? Think about it. We are creatures of passion. Every form of communication is grabbing our attention. We need to be bitten, stroked, moved. The quiet things work on us because we are more complex than we can understand. So why do we want things to be simple? Why do you ask me what I write about if you also appreciate that I am dedicated to using the energy to figure that out? You see a break in my sentence and seek to undermine my strength. I want to stop my performance and tell you that there are more than two of me inside of me. And the two of me aren’t going to the same place. Or at least we aren’t looking in the same direction.
I remember when I got on the plane to San Francisco and the feeling that I was leaving. You abandon some of your selves along the way to gain other selves. It takes strength and courage. It only stings until you get used to it. I was doing a lot of leaving. Leaving was like breaking the rules and getting away with it. It was my way. You keep on going as long as you want to go. How long you went depended on if you knew where you were going.
I wanted to give myself a chance to write full-time, and by that I meant, write without having to expend the creative and mental energy on work tasks that would take me away from the sustained focus. I figured the work that needed to be written would emerge as an outcome of life and living. Some of it would penetrate the seams of what I wanted to write and what I knew. And it could turn out fine, even if I borrowed it, but I needed time to learn not to stitch and glue. I needed to give way to the flow, to follow it, and to let it take over until it was time to do the real work required from writing. It’s not about putting more books out there. It’s about translating the impossibly communicated dualities and multiplicities of personality and heart. We could write a straightforward invention with bullets and vixens, but where would we be in the middle of that? How could we still maintain our park bench view into a life that existed on the margins? Would we sacrifice all that just to be engaging?
I gave myself a decade to write whatever it was that I needed to write, but it didn’t turn out to be anything I needed to write. It was a way of reaching the highest heights—a variation on the life of public service that interested me. Words are the common denominator between you and me now. Most of the time they are combined with images to suggest something to you. If you consider that the way we talk about a thing shapes the way we think about it, then you can begin to get on board with me. My deal was that I wanted to be reasonable and not delude myself about the prospects of making it as a writer. I would contradict myself if I really had to list all the reasons why I think that I’m right there. It’s hard to resist saying everything at once.
There are those who like to refine processes, and those who like the refined process. The difference is as subtle as seeking perfection and perfection itself. Sometimes you have to let go of a word to gain a universe. This universe, our words, the powers within us that some may see honed in their lifetimes, this isn’t the job of institutions or families or neighborhoods, it’s the job of the choices we make when we trust ourselves. It about getting out what we put in.
Yesterday marked the beginning of a new decade for me. I’m starting it with an emphasis on lasting work. I’m focused on outdoing mediated tastes and giving up on the kind of perfectionism that straightjackets innovation. I’m coming out to readers to produce visionary work. It’s been said before, in other words, if you put your heart into something that breaks you then it is the broken parts that become sources of strength and conviction. That’s right there in my idealism. It will also be in my book about the final year of life with my dad. Inspiration Drive is going to be crafted with the intuition and skill that I have learned to trust over these years. I can tell you that it will be surprising because I don’t know what it will ultimately look like. And that’s its greatest strength.