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.

Working Title

Are you in love right now? How awesome is that shit? If you’re not, have you been in love before? I bet you remember exactly what it feels like. If you’re like me, the powerful torrent of a river that was that love etched an indelible path deep down in you somewhere. Looking at it, now barely a trickle (but never completely dry), brings a weird combination of sadness and awe – how deep it ran, how wide its breadth.

Every now and again I get brief flashes of it. Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint – I see a picture of an ex that reminds me of them. Sometimes it’s more subtle – like today when I heard a news story about how women smell their partner’s shirts as a way to calm themselves; just like she used to. I’m instantly transported to her side, and I feel her skin against mine for a split second before I’m thrown back into the present. It’s painful to remember just how happy I was, mainly because no matter how happy I feel now, it pales in comparison to that feeling. It’s a reminder that that shit is out there, waiting for me in the heart of someone I probably haven’t even met, yet.

She sits in a coffee shop and stares at the rain hitting the window. She listens to a combination of podcasts, NPR news stories, and sweet, somber instrumental music that matches the tone of the season. She feels perfectly happy with herself right now, but she too is reminded of the flame that burned in her belly once for that someone. The pang hits her as the music crescendos, and her eyes well with tears, and one sneaks its way down her cheek while she’s distracted by the beauty of the moment.

She’s proud of that tear for its audacity. She’s thankful for it being there for a moment before she wipes it away. She yearns for something strong enough to pull more of them from her someday when she’s so goddamn happy that tears are the only way for her body to cope with the overload of joy, happiness, and true love coursing through her veins.

It’s fucking corny! Deal with it!

Anyway, I can’t wait to meet her. I can’t wait to see her smile for the first time. I can’t wait to feel the electricity pulse through our skin when our hands meet for the first time. I can’t wait to see the glint of realization in her eyes when she finds herself thinking, “Holy shit, I love this guy,” for the first time. I can’t wait to feel that spark in me again.

Then again, I can wait. I AM waiting. I hate waiting. But the leaves are certainly pretty rustling in the fall winds, and I’m happy she and I both have that to enjoy while we wait, sipping our coffee (beer) and staring at the rain hitting the window.

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The Process

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Look at how contemplative and artsy that shit is! LOOK!

Ya know… I didn’t go into this writing thing with the thought that my perspective on the world and its goings on needed to or would change in any way, but I’ve noticed a shift that’s worth mentioning. The process of sifting through my past for things worth discussing is a strange combination of cathartic and anxiety-provoking.

I find myself flying over forests of memories, then every so often a single tree catches my eye. Most of the trees are too obfuscated by time, a life of rotational inebriation, or a lack of enough interest to recall their details. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I see one clearly – I circle over it, looking at it from different angles, trying to decide if it’s worth landing on. Sometimes it isn’t, and I resume my aloof perusing from the comfort of the clouds, but other times I like the shape of the branches, or the feel of the bark, or the color of the leaves, so I land.

Some trees have a beautiful aesthetic, and I can play around in them for my enjoyment, and ideally the enjoyment of the reader. Some trees are riddled with thorns that I must endure, ideally also for the enjoyment of the reader. Some feel like coming home, some feel like I’m standing on fucking thorns the whole time (I don’t need another metaphor there – thorns suck and so do some of my memories).

Sometimes the damn things are just too uncomfortable to get close to. It’s both exciting and frustrating to find these particular memories, because I know I’ve struck writer’s gold when I can’t bring myself to confront them, and eventually, I’ll have to endure the shitty feelings for long enough to get it in writing. I’m sorry to say, you’ll have to buy the book to get those stories (I’m not that sorry – it’ll be a good book).

I suppose that even in those instances, I get some sense of enjoyment, or at least some long-term benefit. Even when it’s at its worst, this process can offer some degree of healing. I had a spent bullet casing lodge itself in my collar once, and by the time I got it out, the water forced from my skin had already cooled it to a manageable temperature. I ignored the burn for what was probably too long, and it got infected. After my first shower in a while, I scrubbed away at the wound with a rough washcloth until it was raw again. Now it’s healed and you can barely see the scar.

Point is, the process can be like scrubbing an infected burn wound with a rough washcloth, but eventually it’ll heal over more completely than it would have if you hadn’t done that. Or at least that’s the hope. If it doesn’t, I’ll at least try to make the scrubbing look choreographed. Either way, I hope you enjoy the spectacle.

Maybe Try Going Up Less Drunk

It’s odd to have a travel blog when you’re not traveling. My process when moving to a new city or acclimating to a new lifestyle has consistently been messy, and moving here has been no exception to that rule. As many of you know, moderation truly isn’t my thing.

I’ve repetitively made my rounds to bars and night clubs and comedy shows and more bars, and it’s been a crazy week. Like most of my weeks, I suppose. For the sake of updating you, though, I’ve now done a total of four open mics since landing here. My understanding is that I will have to do more like 5-10 a week to be truly “committed to the craft.”

After the show Friday, the primary note I got was to just keep plugging away. Repetition, repetition, repetition. The secondary note I got was, “Maybe try going up less drunk.” I think both are decent pieces of advice. It’s hard to remember which pieces of which jokes struck the audience when remembering the evening as a whole is a bit challenging.

For me, one week is an impressively short time for the pendulum to have hit an apex, and begin its swing back in the other direction. I find that each critique and each bombing (the comedy kind, not the terrorist kind) only encourages me to push myself harder, work on my material more, and get out there to try it again.

Last night went better. I felt more nervous on stage, or at least I think I did. In any case, I remember feeling more nervous this time. Another thing I remembered was all of my lines, and I think that’s a start in the right direction. As for the direction of this blog, I think it will begin to take on more of a “repository for stories” role for me. I may not be doing anything worth sharing in this moment, as working on oneself tends to be less entertaining, but dammit I’ve done some pretty ridiculous shit in the past that should be written down somewhere.

Pulling from my past will also allow for a little more consistency with the pacing of my posts, so this too will develop into a sustainable practice. Or maybe this is all just masturbatory for me, in which case enjoy the show!