Thursday, May 29, 2014
Warning: Harsh language ahead...
In a couple of days, I'll be turning 40.
A lot of people see this as some kind of otherworldly milestone that requires endless celebratory nonsense but I've never been one to make a big deal out of my birthday.
I usually use the time to reflect on what I've learned in the previous 12 months and pray that I've become a better person in the ways that matter.
The past 39 years have not been a walk in the park. I had to leave my family much earlier than I preferred and spent many years hating myself for decisions that I never made - about situations I didn't create but had to deal with during my formative years.
By the time I hit 30, I felt I figured out everything I needed to know about life. By 35, I realized I didn't know a motherphuking thing about life, reality, the human soul or what love is supposed to be.
On the verge of 40, I've seen some crazy stuff happen with my family and friends and I've lost more than a few of both along the way. However, there have been lessons that I've learned that get me a little closer to spiritual peace and relaxation.
Feel free to share, discuss, compare and contrast if the mood hits you. No animals were injured during the production of this blog.
LESSONS BY 40:
1) A good chunk of people are selfish. There's nothing you can do about that. Selfishness manifests in multiple ways, but the best way to tell is if a person constantly "takes" and never gives you anything in return. Taking advice, money, food, time, space, clothing, job leads, other friends, lovers, etc. Yet, in your time of need, these folks are nowhere to be found. Selfish people aren't bad, but you cannot expect much from someone whose best friend is a mirror.
2) Family can be awesome but family can also destroy you. I know that parents and siblings like to run guilt trips as a form of manipulation. Don't fall for it. I realize honoring your family is a core social and cultural construct that helps maintain a stable civilization, but we often confuse "honoring" with "appeasement" or worse - enabling. No one is obligated to give up their dreams or a chance at success because their family needs something. If your family loved you, they'd want to see you happy instead of acting as a servant. Of course, go back to #1 if you need clarity.
3) You cannot hold other people accountable to your idea of success. This one was the hardest lesson to learn and accept. For a while, I truly believed that some of my friends needed a kick in the ass to get to the next level in their lives. I believed that seeing me struggle and fight and then achieve a measure of success would inspire them to pursue their goals and dreams. When they didn't do much with their lives, I began to lose respect and consider them underachievers. Whether or not they were "underachievers" is irrelevant because it is not my place to tell them how to live their lives.
I spent the better part of my 30s trying to help a few friends go to college, move to better cities, engage in healthy romantic relationships, start their writing career or just be happier people when I should have spent that time working on myself. Around 36, I decided that I wouldn't do anything else for anyone unless they specifically requested my assistance. I'm still dealing with this one, but I've learned to let go of my disappointment - after all, it's based on what I think my friends should be doing instead of what they want to do for themselves.
4) Ignore people who turn being "healthy" into a religion. I know I'm overweight. I deal with it everyday. I know I might die a little younger than others. That's life (no pun). There's a group of folks out there who plaster social media with images of tortured cows, chickens and sheep (because *gasp* we shouldn't eat meat). They take selfies with tall glasses of green sludge at fancy juicing bars. They specialize in sharing pics of them doing some ridiculous athletic activity. This wouldn't be an issue if the photos weren't accompanied by a fanatical smugness and sense of superiority about going to the gym and "eating right."
They remind me of born-again Christian nutjobs who believe they're responsible for saving the heathen masses from an eternity of suffering in the bowels of Hell. In the case of the health nuts, saving the masses from the hell within our bowels. A few have their hearts in the right place, but most are just being annoying and sanctimonious. See #3.
5) Get rid of sexual repression. If you believe I'm about to admit something salacious or scandalous, think again. I like women, always have liked women and will always like women. I'm not into BDSM or anything regarding pain or filth exchange, no bestiality, no kiddie porn, nothing illegal. Yet, there are things I like to do and like to see happen on a sexual level with consenting adults that I would have been ashamed to admit to myself in the past. I'm not telling you people any of that stuff but I will say that we all are sexual beings and many of us have desires that society makes us feel bad about (FYI - Not bisexual).
One of my core theories about what's wrong with our world is that many personal problems are the result of sexual repression. When humans repress what they desire or need to function on a regular basis, that repression often morphs into hatred, spite, anger and devious behavior. The best example of this can be found HERE - where a list of anti-gay activists are caught doing gay stuff in deviant situations. I'd argue that the men in that list repressed their natural feelings for so long that it turned into a crusade against their base nature. Who knows how many other people react violently because of repressed sexual impulses? I do know that when I stopped feeling ashamed or angry with myself about a few sexual desires, I had the best sex of my life.
7) Making declarative statements can solve problems before they begin. Here's a good one - if you have a girlfriend that you love but demands most of your time and attention and you also have friends you want to see on occasion what is the best way to navigate that situation?
a) "Hey babe, I'm going to see my buddies next week. I won't be out late, but I'm looking forward to catching up with blah blah blah."
b) "Hey babe, is it okay for me to hang out with my friends next week?"
If you said "b" then go watch the movie I LOVE YOU MAN and/or get a testosterone injection.
Of course any man worth his weight in salt will want to be considerate to his lover, but there comes a point when you have to show that you have your own life and interests. This doesn't just apply to dating, but also career, health, family and friendship. No one can read your mind no matter what the X-Men films would have you believe and if you don't say what you want, how you feel and what you need to be happy, then no one will know and you'll stay pissed off. It starts with a simple statement: What I need to be happy is...
8) Women respect strength. I get in trouble with women colleagues and friends because I say that women are as flawed as everyone else because they're human beings. This doesn't excuse rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or intimidation, this just means that women can do fucked up stuff just like men, can be as shallow and superficial as men, can hurt other people in deep and everlasting ways just like men. I don't claim to know much about women because just when I thought I had it figured out, women changed the universe again so I've decided to just stop trying to reach any kind of conclusion on the opposite sex.
With that said, I have observed that women respect men with a backbone. They don't like wishy-washy guys who don't take a stand on anything or aren't working toward a goal. Women test men in small ways to see how far they can go with making you acquiesce to their demands. If you get past a tipping point, they will lose respect for you. Now, I'm not saying that a man should be a recalcitrant prick on every issue, but there comes a time when you have to stand up for your beliefs and show that you're willing to be an equal partner, not a pushover who hangs on the whims of a girlfriend because you're afraid of driving her away.
9) People take you seriously only after you achieve a few goals. During my 30s I was constantly working toward getting my graphic novel Shadowlaw published. Even though I really was waiting for my various art teams to finish the work, after a while it must have seemed that I was just another one of those "it's coming soon" creators on the scene. You know the type, always got some "project" just over the horizon or an excuse why their work hasn't hit the scene.
When I moved to LA in 2008, I didn't realize how tough it was for anyone to give you the benefit of the doubt. People in the industry do not believe anything they hear, only what they can see, which means that you better have something to show for your talents or else you'll end up in the wastebasket of human potential. I met a few creators here but I noticed that they kept me at arm's length despite me being earnest in my intentions of breaking into the screenwriting scene.
Then my graphic novel was released. Then I got some TV animation writing credits. Then I won a writing award for my graphic novel. Then I got signed to a new comic book company. Then got nominated for some more awards. Then I produced and directed my first documentary. All that stuff happened to me over the course of about 20 months. Now, influential and important people within the film and TV biz return my emails and phone calls. I get meetings with very talented writers and producers. Some would say it's common sense that an increase in output would equate to a growth in respect and recognition. I take everyone at face value and that's considered a positive by some and a negative by many. That's not something I plan on changing anytime soon.
10) Trust people until they give you a reason not to trust them. There's a dominant pathology out there that suggests you must always "cover your ass" (CYA) and "don't trust anybody" (DTA). I've always found that mindset to be a monumental waste of time. An intelligent and logical person will always do what is necessary to protect their interests and assets. That comes with basic survival skills. The idea of not trusting anyone is kind of stupid unless you're kind of stupid too.
Here's why: all you have to do is learn how to read human body language and ask the right questions. It's not magic, it's not something you learn from watching The Mentalist, it's not a just a requirement for CIA agents. When I meet someone that claims to want to be a screenwriter, I ask them a few simple questions about their progress and process. If they're serious, I can tell instantly and I take them seriously. If not, I move on. It's that simple. You can apply to this any career or conversational situation. Serious people stand out, serious people have real answers - not amorphous rhetoric; serious people can back up everything they say, serious people don't have a need to show off.
The idea that everyone is out to get you with their hidden agenda is born from arrogance and narcissism. The only folks on Earth who actually have people out to get them are political heads of state, chairmen of central banks, CEOs of multinational corporations, law enforcement officers and drug lords. If you're not on that list, then you probably have an overdeveloped sense of self-importance.
I still believe that most people are good, but there's a lot of bullshit-minded jackasses out there who have nothing to contribute to our society. They're usually not hard to spot but for some reason, way too many of us assume those jackasses are the rule and not the exception.
Halfway through life... it's been a helluva ride so far.