There are moments in which one can only look toward the heavens and ask whatever deity or force they believe in, “Really?! So, are You just bored or what?!”
That, roughly, is where I find myself. If I may, I’d like to explain why, in the hopes that perhaps you too will consider the things that are plaguing me. Perhaps if we consider them together, we can begin to come to some answers.
Though it has been asked in a variety of forms, with varying sentence structures, word choices and inflections, I have been asked the following question no fewer than seventeen times over the last two weeks:
“Who are you?”
It is a question that is starting to get on my nerves, and for a variety of reasons- not the least of which being its relatively changeable answer. The question, in my mind, ought not to be “Who are you?”, but rather, “Who are you today?” After all, we humans are nothing if not fluctuating, erratic creatures who are blown by the various winds of our changing passions, interests and challenges.
But the question(s) remain. Indeed, it always will. It must. Self-reflection and analysis are how we have come to (and, hopefully will continue to) thrive as a species. But just because I know that the question is helpful does not make it any less irritating.
Here is the first version of the question that was posed to me. It was asked as a part of a larger discussion, but struck me violently, as the discussion did not regard me personally, but rather the future of an institution I am merely a part of professionally.
“What do you believe in?”
The obvious, indeed, the easiest answer would be the opening lines of a prayer that I grew up reciting, the Nicene Creed. It is, after all, the most widely regarded and simplest confession of the Christian faith that I know of. “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…” It is a beautiful statement and one that I hold dear, but, it is not enough to say all of the things that I believe in. I do believe in “…the Father Almighty…” and His Son, but I also believe in a good night’s sleep (and my inability to get one due to never going to bed at a reasonable hour). I believe in the power of words- both to express and articulate thought and deed as well as to completely destroy people, places and beliefs. I believe as Ludwig Wittgenstein believed. I believe that coffee is best when made too strong (and with some honey in it, please). I believe in courtesy, in kindness, in consideration, in respect and that these things, if used altogether more often, would fundamentally change the way that we view one another. “Please” and “thank you” go a long way, in my book. I believe that there are too few gentlemen in the world. I also believe that there are too few ladies. I believe that gender and race are powerful forces too often used to stereotype, to put down and to subjugate- again, manners would go a long way. I believe that silence and patience are undervalued. I believe that everything (and everyone, for that matter) is too damned loud. I believe that greatness is overrated- it’s goodness that saves the day. I believe in wit, I believe in candor. I believe that “I did” beats “I will” any day.
I believe that thinking about what you believe in goes an awfully long way and that we all ought to be doing it more.
The second version of the question struck me harder, if you can believe that. Because it, again, seemingly came out of nowhere.
“What brings you joy?”
This question bothers me because my initial gut response was, “I don’t know”. Indeed, it still is. Perhaps most troubling is that the things that I most want to bring me joy, the things that I do most in the pursuit of joy (the guitar, performing, gigging, etc.) do not bring me joy in the slightest. Whether because I weigh them down with expectation or because they are not what I am supposed to do, I am not sure. I only know that these things ought to bring me joy and, occasionally do, but more often than not exist as provocateurs- things that bring me stress, doubt and a feeling of insincerity. The irony here, of course, is that the things that I do not want to bring me joy, invariably do. I do not want to find joy sitting in front of a computer screen and writing about what brings me joy. I do not want to find joy writing. But I do. I do not want to find joy behind a drum set, but I do. I do not want to find joy listening to, thinking about and reading about the histories of great musicians and writers, but I do.
There is a short story that I have been considering in the back of my brain for two and a half months now. It is, in fact, complete in form, style and chronology. Were I to just sit down and write the blasted thing, it would (most likely) be a breeze. I’ve tortured myself over it. I’ve considered all of the angles. I’ve come to love both characters as though they were people whom I knew well. But I have not written it yet. I don’t want the story to bring me joy. I don’t want to care about the characters, I don’t want to pack them full of my insecurities, my feelings, my views on the world. Moreover, I certainly don’t want you to read about those characters and know that they are thinly veiled versions of myself.
It’s easier to lie to you when I write a song. It’s much harder when I just write.
Moreover, I wonder how many of do not pursue the things that truly bring us joy in favor of the things that we believe ought to bring us joy. My gut feeling is that the answer would be “all of us”.
The final version of this question is not the most difficult. It’s just the most imposing, but for reasons that might not immediately be apparent:
“Where are you going?”
There is a pair of jeans hanging on the back of my desk chair as I write. I have had them for two years and they are falling apart at the seams. There is a very large hole in the right knee, a very large tear across the left inseam. When I bought them, they were as close to black as one can get navy blue to be. They are now periwinkle. I have worn them through and through. I have bought new jeans recently. I know that I should throw the old jeans away.
But I don’t want to.
I am that person. The person who holds on to things too long. The person who doesn’t like new things because they don’t feel like the old things. New shoes are hell. I want the old ones with the hole in the toe and the break in the sole. I hold on to t-shirts until they are threadbare. I wear jackets well past when they are useful.
The jeans are indicative of my entire life, at the moment. I am in the process of drastically changing my entire lifestyle and purchasing either a travel trailer or tiny house to live in full-time. Because of my desire to live in a thing that needs to be towed, I also have to consider selling my car (a Toyota Matrix that has been affectionately dubbed, “Meep Meep”) for a truck of some variety so as to tow said rolling domicile.
I don’t want to. I mean, I do, but I really, really don’t.
I test drove a Toyota 4-Runner yesterday. It is a beautiful vehicle. More than enough to handle the sorts of things that I would ask it to do. I was allowed to take it for an extended test drive in which I took it south of the mountain town I live in to find the dirt roads and inclines and driving conditions these sorts of vehicles are made for. Inevitably, I found them. I drove the thing as it was meant to be driven. It was wonderful to have so much power in a vehicle- to not worry about getting stuck, to not even remotely concern myself with bumps in the road.
I hated it. I spent the entire drive lamenting and missing Meep Meep.
So, when I am asked, “Where are you going?”, the answer is easy enough. But the process of getting there is quite another thing. The process is painful and involves sacrifice. It involves a transitory state- something that I am not, and have never been, comfortable with. So, while I love the process, I also megaloathe the process. I hate the change, hate the newness, hate the inevitable proposition of taking the new jeans and making them the old ones that I never want to get rid of- which of course, is the irony.
So, I suppose then that the only question that remains to be asked is: whether or not you will forgive my gratuitous public self-reflection.