Monday, May 25, 2015


Words, for me, are powerful. They are not just powerful in what they do, have done and are capable of doing, but they are also my power. Putting words together with punctuation in a way that makes sense is art. There is beauty in writing such that words can be assembled in near infinite ways that mean essentially the same thing, but those that are beautifully arranged carry much greater impact. And in the big picture of writing, while this craft is the one that picked me, the one I hold some talent for, my ability falls woefully short when compared to the great writers of our time and throughout history. However, I read recently that it does not do to aspire to be the next great Hemmingway, or Maugham, or even Shakespeare, but rather I should aspire to be the first great me. Of course, actions still speak louder than words and what people do say more about their character than what they say, but history shows in ways both great and small that it is often words that inspire people to act – and they often inspire them to greater versions of themselves than they thought possible. I know from personal experience it is true for me. I have been inspired into action by the words of others.

It is a double-edged sword, however. This “gift,” this super-power, my very strength can also be my downfall, my greatest weakness. Some of that is a necessary evil, a curse, if you will, that with art there will be some who view those versed in that art with disdain. That exists, and it might even be truer of the “academic” arts, but it’s not the norm. The larger problem comes from within; it comes from me. It is also a problem that mirrors denial – part of the problem is a blindness that says there isn’t a problem. And it’s not that my writing isn’t thoughtful, it’s not that there is not an inherent truth in everything I write, but like any other art, it is very reflective of where my mind is at the time the work is produced, and depending on the type of writing it is, the oversight process varies from extensive to none at all. My Facebook posts tend to be extremely temporal, they are produced on the fly with not a lot of scrutiny – in a way they are the most truthful in terms of my psyche in the given moment. The essays I write for The 25 Year Plan are, by their very nature, more scrutinized; they are intended to be more detailed and as such I review them and edit them and, often, soften them – to a point. But, like my Facebook posts, they are more reflective of my internal state than the professional or academic work I produce. I believe that, by and large, the best art is spawned from trouble, it reflects the universals of the human condition as portrayed in specific and individual life experiences. I have had some of those, and I have written about them.

Up to about three or four years ago, the general theme in my personal essays (most of which can be found in my archives here), was positive. While they document certain life experiences I’ve had, for the most part those experiences are of a redemptive nature. Even when I’ve struggled, I found a way through it and came away with some nugget, something that added to my life in a meaningful way. Beginning sometime in late 2011 or early 2012 that optimism started to fade. Although I held onto it for most of 2012, by early 2013 I had life experiences I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My writing started to take a darker turn. It wasn’t any less artistic, and what I wrote about was absolutely real, truthful and as universally indicative of the human condition as can be, but that darkness enveloped all areas of my life to one degree or another. The one that came home to roost is this apparent need to condemn not only those who crossed me, but also others who, in my view, acted in certain ways that were less than honorable. I transferred my indignation for a very limited few onto many others – usually namelessly and in abstraction, but nonetheless I entered a period of justification and condemnation.

Perhaps if I call it what most others do, it would make more sense. I tend to stay away from the word “judgment” because it is more ambiguous than condemnation. But for the purposes of this, and very much in keeping with one of the more common connotations of the word, “judgment” is appropriate. And even in making this qualification, it could be viewed as arrogance that, up until very recently, I did not feel I deserved. But I’ll just go on the record and call it what it is – judgment. And through my justification I was blind to it. I can be assertive, I can even be direct and sometimes I can be an asshole, but when I am those things as a result of looking down on another person because of that person’s behavior, I am in judgment. While I never claimed to be perfect, I would insinuate that because I never did “that” or because I have “progressed” beyond doing it anymore, I am better. I don’t consciously believe I am better than anyone else, but for certain “anyone elses,” because they did certain things to me I that I felt I would never do... yes, I went there. The problem is that, while I have a right to hold certain opinions about those who did directly and intentionally harm me, I expanded that to those who did not. And while it is obvious in hindsight, I didn’t know I was doing it at the time.

And here is the really fucked up part. I do not truly believe that I am a better human being than anyone else. While I do certain things better than others and others do certain things better than me, and I have behaviors that could be viewed as more honorable and some that can be viewed as less so, too often I still come up short by my own assessment. And I am certainly as subject to being (and have been) judged as anyone else. It does not mean I have to appreciate those who entered my world and fucked it up, it does not mean I have to trust them, but it also does not mean that those things done - be it to me or anyone else - make anyone necessarily a “bad” person. Bad to me? Sure. But just bad? That’s not for me to decide. Really. If others were to apply the same standards to me as I have to others, even though they would have to pick a different poison because my terms do not apply to me (that’s what makes judgment possible), there are terms available that do apply. And, truth be told, I often judge myself negatively against those applicable standards, too.

This entire revelation has been as enlightening as it has been painful. With the clarity of hindsight, I can see the effects. I have pushed some people away. Also, because of this ability to use words so effectively, I might have made it extremely difficult for anyone to approach me and say anything about it. I’d surely have a well-articulated justification for my view. While my self-righteousness might have been a defense mechanism (and, in certain isolated cases, justified), it is no longer serving me. Although I do not excuse the indiscretions done to me, I am in a place where those acts can no longer justify my arrogance. They say “hurt people hurt people,” but I didn’t see what I was doing as that. I see it now and, fortunately, this curse I have been gifted with works equally well to make me a better person today – compared only to who I was yesterday.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

One More Time

I used to write this sort of writing a lot. Not once a week, not twice a week, but more like every two or three days, on average. Furthermore, I was doing it when I also had quite a lot of other writing to do – first (and continuously) for school projects that became increasingly more complex as I moved from undergraduate to graduate study. But I was also writing here as I was writing (from 2006 to 2008) as a newspaper staff writer, reporting and writing for a weekly local newspaper. In 2006 and 2007 I wrote more than 250 original blog posts – essays, really – that were mostly about my experiences, perception, revelations and opinions. Or, as this blog’s subtitle suggests, “Perspectives, Purpose & Opinion.” In the next three years combined I produced less than those first two combined and from 2011 to right now my production has been sporadic, at best.

The overall blog content for this online journal never had a defined plan. I wrote (and write) mostly about what is on my mind – some of it so bad I’m embarrassed to claim it, but some of it so insightful that I am honestly surprised it came out of my head. With rare exception, however, it all remains (though when I catch typos in older work, I do fix them). It isn’t about producing excellence in isolation, but more about an ongoing narrative, the near real-time telling of a story that now spans more than nine years. To put that into perspective, I have publicly documented part of nearly 20 percent of my private life. And this year, so far, while not nearly as productive as those earlier years, is off to the best start since 2011. No plan, still, but I’d like to pick up the pace.

And what better time? So much is going on, so much is about to change, so much work is left to do and so much of that gets sorted out right here. I didn’t know that was what I was doing when I started this project. I don’t really know what I was doing. And that is nothing new; it is, for better (sometimes) and worse (too often), a defining factor in why my life has turned so many times. Starting over has been a living place for me and, to be perfectly frank, I am tired of picking up the pieces and reassembling myself. To be fair, this last reassembly has been much more thorough, yielded far greater success and is not finished yet. The changes coming down the road are positive (if, to some degree, heart-wrenching) and build upon what I have already established. In other words, I am not starting from scratch this time nor have I burnt any bridges. But… it’s a lot of change all at once and while I don’t exactly feel as though I am facing it alone, a significant part of it necessarily means just that.

I’ve been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. There is some trepidation, some excitement, some anticipation and some dread all taking turns at the front of the line. I am torn between two places that are more than 2,000 miles apart. I have friends and family who love me and whom I love very much in both places. My decision to move back to Sacramento was based on numerous factors, but there were absolutely pros and cons – it was not a slam-dunk by any measure. And, to inject a little more honesty, I had no idea that I would develop the intimacy I have with the friends I made while living in Baton Rouge. These friends mean as much to me as do my close friends do in California or anywhere else and I wish I could have them all in one place.

I have learned so much in the last four years in particular; what I have studied as a doctoral student is only the tip of the iceberg. I have learned more about life, about me and about love than I ever knew I could. It wasn’t always easy, in fact, it rarely was. I have a restored faith in humanity not because I have read so much about it, but because I have seen it in action amid all the destruction, all the despair, all the hate not just in the world, but also in my very own little piece of it. I would not go so far identify as an optimist, but I have moved far away from pessimism, through idealism and maybe, just maybe beyond realism. What I have, especially after the weekend I just had, is hope and love. And today, that is enough rebuild one more time.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Phoenix

Today is a defining moment in my life. Today marks the end of my eighth semester at Louisiana State University. Although I will still be enrolled for another two semesters, and while I am still technically a student, I have come to the end of both teaching and taking classes at LSU. I will be enrolled because I still have yet to clear the final hurdle standing between a PhD and me. That is largely due to the fact that I have pissed away the last year doing next to nothing in writing that dissertation. I have researched (not enough), I have consulted (also not enough) and I thought about it (maybe too much), but I have not written anything. And I was about to throw in the towel with a monumental “fuck it.” I changed my mind. I will make the effort and that decision was also a defining moment. In this period of defining moments, there is another big one – soon I will be going back to Sacramento, I will be going home.

The fact of the matter is that a PhD does not do all that much for me professionally. It isn’t worth nothing, and it even has some monetary benefit, but at this point in my life, considering my “non-traditional” status (traditional being a student who is 20 years younger), the doors it would open are logistically closed for me. It helps in some ways, to be sure, depending on which direction I choose to go, but too many of those directions involve sacrifices I am not willing to make. I am not willing to relocate outside of Northern California to where a tenure-track assistant professorship position might be; I am not willing to jump through the significant hoops involved in landing such a position and I do not have enough career years left to climb the ladder even if I was willing to do everything else.

But the PhD has become important to me – again – for the reasons that it should have been all along. It is my personal Mount Everest. It is a challenge I undertook that just 10 years ago wasn’t even a fantasy; it was so far outside the realm of possibility that to even dream of such a trajectory could be considered nothing more than delusional. Yet here I am so close to the top that I can see it. It has not been an easy road. The last 10 to 15 years have seen a complete rebuild of a life I almost completely destroyed. And “completely destroyed" means dead. Starting over doesn’t even begin to describe the journey of where I was to where I am. For me to leave the biggest prize on the table without even reaching out for it is insane.

But even with a PhD, the Phoenix has not finished rising again yet. There is still the little matter of getting a real job. I have been on the periphery of gainful employment since a near fatal wreck in October of 2000. That is not to say I haven’t been working all that time, but much of that work has been on my education. As an undergrad, I worked part-time writing news and full-time on getting excellent grades. As an MA graduate student, I worked as a teaching associate at California State University, Sacramento while I also worked more than full-time earning my MA. As a doctoral student at LSU, I also worked part-time as a TA and much more than full time on my own coursework. A nine to five, 40-hour workweek is not something I would even recognize anymore. There has not been a single moment in my graduate studies when there wasn’t something on my plate, something I could be doing… something I should be doing.

I have spent most of the last four years in Baton Rouge. I have never been that far away from home for that long in my entire 52 years on the planet. Had I logically thought about the practical implications of a doctoral degree, I probably would have decided the effort is not worth the payoff. But there is a payoff that defies logic. Hell, I defy logic. I do and have done lots of things that I probably should not do, but in the grand scheme of things, at least this thing has some merit. And when all is said and done, I will have climbed that mountain. The key, then, is to not fall off it. I don’t know how many flights the Phoenix has left.