Not Enough of This

Looking fly as fuck for my interview.

After the tail-between-my-legs return to my mother’s house so common in my generation, it was time to start working again. That meant applying anywhere and everywhere offering money for labor. After a little under a month, I was interviewed and hired by a small, family owned and operated boatyard. Per the Craigslist ad, I was to work in their front office as a sort of administrative assistant – a role previously held by their daughter who was now on her way to bigger (and undoubtedly better) things.

I was under the assumption that I would love working there. The harbor is beautiful, I love the smell of ocean air, and I love working at small businesses. There was a small yapping dog that ran around the shop, and a large cage with birds who added some color behind the desk. It was rundown, but clearly the regulars loved the homey feel, as did I.

This place clearly had a lot of room for improvement when it came to marketing itself, and I felt like I could really make a positive impact on their business practices and long-term marketplace relevance. The shelves were stocked seemingly at random, little was done in the way of digitizing, and there were no policies and procedures to speak of (I don’t believe I ever signed anything but a W-2), so I was excited to get to work.

I was in the office for very little time before they realized that I had muscle tone and a willingness to put it to work out in the yard. Having never worked in a boatyard before, I wasn’t exactly the fastest when it came to knot tying, and I had to ask a lot of questions, but I was hired as an admin assistant, so…

Anyway, I actually enjoyed the work for the most part. I had to pick weeds from the planters surrounding the parking lot, but I got to listen to my audiobooks while I worked. I had to lift and carry rusted slabs of steel, but I got to enjoy the beautiful weather (except when it was raining) of Southern California’s beaches. I had to carry large quantities of insulation and fiberglass, much of which got embedded in my arms, but… Actually, no, that one just sucked. The rest was pretty enjoyable, though.

Then the problems started. I talked more than I suppose was appropriate. I asked more questions than was absolutely necessary. Once I was asked to dust all of the shelves, and when I said I was done, the owner went immediately to the only shelf I had overlooked (it was the highest shelf and it was completely covered with signs), and ran his hand along it. He threw his hand up in my face, putting the coating of dust on display, and said, “I guess you just don’t feel like doing the things I ask you to do, huh?”

Can’t really fault him on that one. I didn’t dust the shelf. That was my bad.

Another time, though, I was actually working in the office (ya know, the thing I was hired to do given my years of experience working in offices and marketing for small businesses), and I realized that there was no call log. So, I took it upon myself to spend ten minutes drafting a sheet that could be printed regularly, and give whoever was answering the phones the chance to record information about the people on the other end – why they were calling, who they were, what their contact information was – so that that information could be used to follow up at a later date.

When I explained this to the wife, she was all about it. When I explained it to the husband, he said, “You never heard of Post-Its before? Ya know, those little yellow pieces of paper with sticky stuff on the back?”

“I have,” I said, “but this is a more organized way of keeping track of who calls and why.”

“I only care about the people giving me money!”

“Well everybody who calls is potentially someone who just hasn’t given you their money, yet.”

“Oh, so you know how to run a boatyard now?!” he spat.

“No, but I do know…”

“I’m seeing a lot of this!” He did the hand open-and-closing thing, like hand shadow puppet prattling on, “and not enough of this!” and he clasped his hand shut, and stormed off.

Well fuck this, I thought. I didn’t quit, and I wasn’t fired, but I did get a call the next day saying that there “just wasn’t enough work to do in the office right now,” but I would definitely be getting a call back when business picked up again. I never got that call, and I opted out of telling the wife that her husband’s stubbornness, unwillingness to adapt, and dickish nature were running their company into the ground.

I did get the chance to learn a little about boats, and I definitely got a lesson in humility, even if it was unintentional. I learned that starting again at the bottom isn’t the end of the world. I learned that showing up on time, working hard, and doing a job thoroughly and correctly without backtalk will get you far. I also learned that there’s only so much douchebaggery I’m willing to put up with in the workplace, and that dude had more in his gnarled pinkie than I was willing to tolerate in a whole human being.

Would I do it over again? Probably. But I’m a glutton for punishment and good views, and speaking solely in those terms, that boatyard had it all.

Reaching for Ten Percent

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I listen to them while I’m driving, while I’m walking the dog, while I’m on the train or bus, while I’m doing dishes… You get it. I listen to them a lot. A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon a book called Stealing Fire, which looks at the potential therapeutic value of altered states of consciousness (as brought about by psychoactive drugs, exercise, meditation, watching TV, etc.). It’s great – I strongly suggest you check it out on your own.

I was so intrigued by their research, that here I am a year and some change later, and I’m revisiting it with the intention of pursuing higher learning in the same vein. I want to know what these people know. I want to be responsible for teaching them some of the things that they don’t know. So where do I start?

Well, I went to their website, and shot them an email outlining my plan and asking if there were any institutions already actively engaged in this type of research. I don’t expect to hear back any time soon, but while I was on their website, I took the liberty of reading what they already took the time to type up. They (not exactly sure who “they” is in this instance) recommended that someone with my particular set of ongoing foibles check out 10% Happier, written by Dan Harris.

In line with my impulsivity and hunger for information of this ilk, I downloaded the book for immediate consumption. It chronicles the TV journalist’s journey through the Woo Woo world of conquering one’s inner demon’s by striving toward “enlightenment.” You get the narration of a skeptic as he chats with leading self-help gurus, religious figureheads, psychologists and neuroscientists, and peppers them with questions driven by his own quest for inner peace (he’d probably object to some of that verbiage). I love and strongly recommend this book, as well.

As a result of this book (and probably partly as a result of me choosing not to drink alcohol for the remainder of January), I’ve decided to embark on some meditative shit. Dan did a video with meditation expert Sharon Salzberg, giving me the chance to do a quick trial run before making this choice. So what did I learn in my very first session?

I’m angry. I’m not sure exactly what I’m angry about. It comes out as anger at my cousin for not doing the dishes, or anger with my dog for being distracted by squirrels and conveniently forgetting that we went outside because he had to poop, which he doesn’t remember until we’re back at the top of the stairs and in the apartment. Max (my dog) barked within the first minute and a half of starting the meditation session, prompting me to get up and put him in his kennel so I could start over.

Other than that, I’d say it went well. As they say in the video, the whole point of meditation is repeated failure. You’re supposed to continuously be distracted by whatever, then refocus your attention on your breath. Each time you catch yourself, and bring your consciousness back to your breath, it’s the equivalent of a brain-bicep curl. I enjoy regular bicep curls and the idea of conquering my wandering mind, so this all seems like a good fit.

Goal time: I’ve ordered Sharon Salzberg’s book, which includes a 28 day program of guided meditation. I’m gonna do that. Why? Hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on why so many people I respect seem to really dig it. Hopefully I’ll gain some insight as to why I have a tendency to fly off the handle about little shit in my life. Hopefully I’ll be able to eek out a percentage point or two while I’m reaching toward that 10%.

Like Mr. Harris, I’m skeptical, but I’m approaching it with an open mind. After just my first attempt, I can see how this might be tough at the get-go, but how it’s ultimately doable. Oh, and I’ll tell you about it. And probably some other things I’ve been meaning to tell you. We’ll see.

Namaste, motherfuckers.

Purposefully Lost

I try to make a habit of getting lost whenever I’ve got some free time. Years ago, I’d drive around the back roads and farmlands of California, turning whichever way the wind took me, and enjoying the scenery before making an effort to find my way back. Now, I spend time walking my dog along different paths as often as time will allow. The best part about being lost comes when you allow yourself a bit of presence.

There you are, not entirely sure where, subject to a completely new environment filled with sounds and sights and smells that in all likelihood, are familiar to you, but with a subtle tinge of newness.

Just the other day I stopped at a house that I was captivated by. I had never seen that color of door, that type of wreath, that arrangement of stones, those hearts painted on its staircase, and that sign telling me that they were glad they were my neighbor (not in the photo, sorry). It was striking, and had I not had my head on a swivel, I would’ve missed it completely.

On a similar route recently, a middle-aged woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair and high-end winter gear nodded at me with a smile as my dog barked frantically at three dogs in a window above us. I took precautions and went around her, but something in her eyes told me she had something to say, so I pulled out my headphones, too.

As it happens, she also had a rescue dog that was quite reactive and around one year old when she got him. He’s a bully breed, so she was able to sympathize with the kinds of looks I get when my dog gets loud. She also saw past that, and remarked about the “special connection” he and I clearly shared. She also complimented him on his vigilance. We talked dog books for a few minutes, then she thanked me for stopping and we said goodbye.

The wondrous thing about being lost is that it affords you so many opportunities for discovery. It allows you the chance to dwell on how beautiful or interesting something is just for the sake of doing it.

Many of you are aware that I’ve felt lost lately. I’d go so far as to say it’s concerned you. Given the discomfort most people feel when they’re lost, that’s a pretty fair emotional conclusion. But this is me we’re talking about, and I thrive when I feel lost.

I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with my sense of wonder and mysticism. I’ve had the chance to solemnly reflect on my immediate surroundings, and take in the positive parts of them, and glean information from them that I wouldn’t have if I had been ceaselessly moving forward, head down, headphones blaring.

I am a passionate person. I am, therefore, passionate about a lot of shit. So, instead of fighting that, I intend on using it to propel me forward. I intend on taking all of the parts of my past that inform the person I’ve become, and turning it into a whole that I’m excited to tell you about. Comedy is a part of it. Design is a part of it. Writing is a part of it. Psychology is a part of it. Sales, politics, service… You get the idea. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve found myself, more that I’m learning to appreciate being lost with a purpose.

I’m an advocate for consciously losing yourself. Take turns you don’t normally take. Have a heart to heart with a total stranger. Take a deep breath and enjoy the vibrancy of the world around you by staring at a door instead of your cell phone. You might find some peace in the minutia, like I did.

Dammit! I forgot to be funny again.

Spinning Wheels

I’ve cycled through so many career plans in the past year that it’s hard not to feel a little lost. I was going to be a SeaBee in the Navy, then an architect, then a firefighter, then a search-and-rescue paramedic, then a veterinarian, then a writer/actor/comedian, then a clinical psychologist, then… well… Who knows? I’d like to think I’ve settled, but history would indicate that there’s another shift just beyond the horizon.

What (if anything) do I know for certain? I know I want to write, I know I want to live abroad, I know I want a family, I know… no, that’s it.

I think that a PhD will provide me with a base of knowledge to fuel my writing, and I think that it’ll provide me the type of stability I’m looking for in the upcoming stages of my life. I think that I will enjoy studying psychology, in that I remember enjoying that field when I was younger, and I miss feeling like a subject matter expert.

While I’m on the subject of missing things from when I was younger, I miss being viewed as a leader. I was young for my accomplishments once. I was hungry for my future, and I was pursuing it voraciously. Then I got fired from the lobbying firm (I seem to have blocked the specific reason, but I imagine it was related to my partying-influenced attendance record). Then, after some scrambling, I landed a job as a campaign manager. I lost that campaign hard, and in response, I partied harder.

I’ve dragged you all down this rabbit hole before, I know, but it’s hard not to dwell on the feeling that I’ve lived a decade of squandered potential. So, now what?

Presently, I’m working at two different bars (soon to be three), and I do this well. It’s physical, it’s never the same night over night, I get to socialize and drink while I’m at work, and it gives me the time and mental cache to write during the day. To put it shortly (I know, it’s a little late for that), I enjoy this line of work, but I’m not proud of myself.

I’m not proud of what I’ve done because it’s hard not to focus on all that I haven’t done, or all that I could have done by now. When looking myself in the mirror, I can’t help but echo the words of my stepdad when he said, “I just wish you would pick something.”

Realistically, I don’t know that I’ll ever just pick one thing. I’ve always viewed myself as a Renaissance Man, but I think that’s gotten in the way more than it’s helped. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Farrell, stop spinning your wheels! Let yourself gain some traction by slowing down long enough for the tread to catch and move you forward!

The fear of becoming nothing has me exhausting myself sprinting in each direction that offers even the slightest bit of potential for longevity, and it’s preventing me from gaining any clarity on which way I should go.

I’m tired. I’m tired of wasting my potential. I’m tired of looking down on myself for not being what I could have been. I’m tired of being disappointed in me. Also, I’m just actually tired from the insomniac-like existence you get when you combine working in a bar and my dog’s ceaseless need to go outside in the morning (I’m not faulting him for it, but it’s definitely part of my issue). Also I have a cold.

Sleep will help. Sobriety will help. Exercise will help. Meditation will help. Exposure to nature will help. I should probably find a counselor of some sort… Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Sometime.

Whew… That’s some depressing shit. I’ll make the next one funny again. That’ll probably help, too.

Scientist v. Artist

I’m subject to the incessant debating of the scientist in me and the artist in me. They have differing views of my future, and they’re actively engaged in a verbal battle that doesn’t really include me.

The scientist screams, “You need to go back to school! Get a PhD! Earn people’s attention with a combination of good writing and original research!”

The artist yells back, “Go experience the world! How the fuck are you supposed to become a real writer while you’re distracted by all that science crap?! Go work on a farm! Go work on a boat! Go travel the world taking whatever odd job comes your way in order to make it to the next country! Just keep fucking writing!”

I think both sides have good points, but the scientist’s route is certainly more comfortable. I can still travel for research (I think), or enroll in international programs (more sure about that one).

The artist also calls the scientist a sellout, which hurts because the scientist considers himself a bit of an artist. The scientist calls the artist lazy and says he’s not considering our future. We all want a family, and we all want that family not to want for anything.

“Well if you’re a famous novelist with a more reputable life partner (doctor, lawyer, whatever), that’s totally doable!” the artist says.

“Sure, but what are the odds of that happening?! The numbers are against you! We need the stability of working at a university! the scientist spits back.

Neither is winning, neither is conceding, and my head is left spinning in their wake.

“Shut up!” I tell them.

“Yeah, shut up!” the artist says to the scientist.

“You’re a child,” says the scientist, and the cycle begins again.

I’ll buy the scientist a masters program application, and I’ll buy the artist a sewing machine, and maybe that’ll distract them long enough for me to catch a break. Needy little bastards…

Writing Laxative and Hedging

My cousin asked me the other day, “What would be your elevator pitch for your book?”

And I couldn’t come up with one. I’ve ruminated over the question since, and it’s gotten me thinking about, well, a lot of things. Here’s what they are (hopefully putting them into writing will get them out of my way):

I don’t think I want my book to have a point. I don’t want to beat my readers over the head with some sort of takeaway from my nonsense. If you’d like to glean something from my storytelling, then I strongly encourage you to do just that (and let me know what it is because it’s probably something I’m missing). I have full faith in my readers’ ability to do that without me. I feel like so many autobiographical works are written from the perspective of “look where I am today,” and I don’t have that, yet.

On that point, I’m not sure that I ever will have that. I view myself as a continuous work in progress, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to wait until I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere to justify publishing shit. I want my stories to serve as entertainment – as an escape from your every day humdrummery. I want you to be able to immerse yourself in my poor decisions so that you don’t have to confront yours for a moment.

If we all want a longer narrative and more meaning, why is YouTube so popular? Then again, do I want to be the writing equivalent of YouTube? Do I want to support the continuing downward spiral of our attention spans? Or is it less a support and more an acknowledgement? Like, this is the way the world works, and I can either take advantage of it or stand behind my love of long-form storytelling, and try to be “better than.”

I’m left feeling like maybe I should have something specific to say. I should have a reason to be telling these stories. I should have a model of the world I’m working toward by telling them. I only got so far as “I want my voice heard,” and I didn’t take the time to think about what it would be saying. Shouldn’t I be trying to have some sort of positive impact?

I think I should. So how do I do that? Well, going back to school to study psychology is a start. I’ll get a masters degree in clinical psychology, then I’ll use my vastly-better-than-my-undgrad-GPA to apply to PhD programs in Europe. Largely, I won’t listen to the recommendations of people without doctoral degrees, so why would I expect people to listen to me?

Also, it seems like one’s degree of success in the entertainment industry ultimately doesn’t matter. Eventually, everyone loses “buzz,” then what? My grandfather had a degree of success in the business, and it got him into a union, and it got him into a very nice retirement home in the valley. But is that what I want? Is that where I want to end up? I don’t think it is.

I’d much rather explore the world and write about it, as I’ve always made decisions informed by the question, “How good will the story be if I do this?” I’d love to just rest on the laurels of my writing, but I’m scared by the potential of being another 5 years down the line without anything to show for it, if it ends up being the case that I’m just not as good as I think I am.

I will not stop writing. I will not stop trying. But I will give myself an out in the form of a PhD. I will allow myself the comfort of knowing I can always teach at a university if things don’t pan out exactly the way I want. And I will be called, “Dr. Sean Patrick Farrell,” which I gotta say, has a pretty nice ring to it.

*Sigh* That’s better.

Standing On Corners

There’s an old man in the building next to mine who’s outside on the corner nearly every day. He’s balding, but most of the time he’s got a cap on to ward off the cold. He smokes, so he certainly has a reason to be out there when he’s smoking, but once he finishes his cigarette he usually lingers. My dog usually barks at him, and despite my dog’s imposing size, bark, and snapping teeth, the man’s expression never changes. He doesn’t alter his course of direction, and he rarely even acknowledges that my dog is there.

His cool stoicism makes me wonder what he did before he had all this free time to stand around on a corner. Did he work for the mob? Was he some sort of hardass union boss? How often did he face death to be so calm and collected at the sight of a dog about his size and weight snarling and barking with so much anger? What part of his soul does my dog see that puts him on edge?

And what’s his apartment like? I imagine it’s sparsely decorated with a few old pieces of furniture that he spends about as much time on as he does that corner. He doesn’t like the furniture to smell like smoke, or maybe his late wife didn’t, and he can’t bring himself to smoke in the house out of respect for her wishes. So he walks himself outside no matter how cold it is, regardless of what’s out there threatening him, to make her happy and watch the world go by. 

There’s got to be some appeal. I see old people standing on corners all over Chicago. Is this just a Chicago thing? Is there more to ponder on corners here? I feel like I never saw old people on corners in Los Angeles. Was I not looking for them? Was I looking through them? Were they even there? Or were they somehow more contented being inside, despite the fact that by and large, the weather where they are is much more ideal for standing in? 

I find myself lost in thought a lot more here. Or maybe I just have more time for thinking because I walk my dog four or five times a day, and lately I’ve been opting out of bringing my cellphone. Mainly when I walk, I listen to the trees rustling in the wind. I listen to cars and sirens going by on the busy streets blocks from my walking route. I listen to the silence of the morning, or the evening, or whatever odd hour both my dog and I happen to be awake, haunting the streets. 

Maybe standing on the corner is all these older folks can muster now. They used to be me, walking their dogs or their children around the block to make their life in the house a little more bearable because everyone’s energy levels were lower. Now there’s nobody else to walk with them, but they’ve grown used to having their time to think – to wander around lost in their own thoughts – so they’ve kept the routine by visiting the corner.

Sometimes they’ll start up conversations with passersby, similar to how I’ll shoot somebody a text out of the blue – they just meander into my consciousness for a moment, so I engage them. Sometimes they’ll be picking up odd, disgusting-smelling fruits one by one and placing them in a shopping bag for some reason. Sometimes they’ll be raking leaves, or tending to their small garden. 

But mostly, they just stand there, staring off into the distance. Looking either forward or backward in time, or just being present and in the moment. Listening to the rustling of trees and watching the light of the sun or the moon glint and flicker off the frozen surroundings. Taking as much of it in as they can, while they can, because who knows how long that’ll be?

I’ll be honest, when I started writing this, I really didn’t expect to feel so connected to the people on the corners, but now that I think about it, that’s what we all are. People on corners, looking down each street expecting something to come to us, or preparing to move ourselves in new directions. And hopefully we get to enjoy as much of what our senses can grasp on to while we stand motionless. I started out pitying them, but now I think they’re really onto something. I’ll have to give it a shot someday when I’m not so busy moving.