Rebranding

I’ve spent the vast majority of my formative years meandering through what seemed like a meaningless string of careers and experiences that had nothing to do with one another. I wanted to join the Navy, then I wanted to become a psychologist, then I wanted to work in politics, communications, sales, physical fitness, animal wellbeing, firefighting, comedy, the service industry… The list probably isn’t over.

I know I want to write going forward – that’s going to be a given from now on. In all the research I did on becoming a comedian or an author, so many of those who had already made it asked their audience, “What is it that you want to tell the world? Who are you? What is your brand?” I’ve been struggling with that ever since. Like… Why should anyone listen to meĀ talk about my meditative practice? Why should anyone be willing to lend their precious time to me for the sake of reading what I’m writing? Entertainment? Yes, obviously I’d like to be entertaining, but shouldn’t what I’m saying have some substance?

I think it should. That’s why I’m choosing to pursue this degree in counseling psychology in Vienna. I mean, sure I just really want to move to Europe, and Vienna is calling to me, but that’s why I want to reignite my passion for the field of psychology – because I think I can actually fucking help people. I think all of my failings and falling down and getting back up can actually mean something if I put some time and energy into figuring out their links.

When I was in college, I tried acid for the first time. I was just doing it for the sake of trying it, and it was a small blip in what became years of recreational drug use, but even then I knew it was something special. I read Electric Koolaid Acid Test and I became enthralled with the history and emerging science of psychedelics. I realized that there was something sitting on the edges of our consciousness that these drugs allowed us access to, but I got caught up in the powerful current of doing drugs for fun, and it took me WAY farther downstream than I thought it even could. But now, MDMA is being proven to treat PTSD and more and more research is showing there to be some therapeutic value in these substances I was captivated by (not cocaine, though).

Since high school I’ve been a strong advocate for physical fitness and eating well (mostly). I set up training sessions for my friends and me, organized trips to the park to climb on jungle gyms or throw around medicine balls, researched ad nauseum how different muscle groups worked together, and how to maximize each of their potentials. I’ve continued reading articles through to this day about the advances we’re making in kinesthesiology and nutritional science – how we can fine-tune what we’re putting into our bodies to reach new potentials.

I’ve always been an avid hiker. It’s been one of the most frustrating things about living in Chicago – I haven’t hiked once in the last six months, and I’m pretty sure it’s driving me mad. I’m a proponent of hiking because of the physical aspect, yes, but also because I believe strongly that immersion in nature can have such an unspeakably positive effect on our emotional and mental stability. There is no substitute for being five miles into the wilderness, and basking in the sunlight while you look out on rolling hills and vast mountain ranges, and absorb the energy of the life around you.

Still, there is no substitute for being surrounded by people you love, or people you don’t even know for that matter, and laughing together – unencumbered by social mores and time and space. Going to church and singing with 300 other people, voices harmonizing (or just being kind of shitty, but at least together) is an experience we should all have regularly. Having a drink with friends or making new ones at a bar in a new city can be just what I – what anybody – needs after long hours grinding away at work. We are social creatures, and socializing nourishes us in ways that nothing else can.

I want to study what it means to be a whole human being. I want to become one, sure, but I want to help others find whatever wholeness they can. I think that all of these things are a part of it, each as important as the last. We must all look inward and outward for pieces of the pie (mmmm, pie…), and each of those pieces will help us to paint a more full, rich picture of the people we ought to and can be.

That is the future I’m signing up for. That is the future I’ve been signing up for all along. And dammit, I’m really looking forward to that pie.

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.