It’s no secret life is complicated, but fundamentally, it can be boiled down to two things. Fear and love. You can choose to live a life of fear or you can choose to live a life of love.
I know what you are thinking, “Aren’t you really oversimplifying it?” Maybe.
I’ve spent the better part of my life choosing to live in fear. I always had some stupid sense of ignorant arrogance that made me think I was cooler and better than everyone else; some sense of entitlement that I would somehow be recognized for my brilliance, my genius. Truth is I’m neither a genius nor I am particularly brilliant.
Looking back, that kind of thinking was driven by fear, to say absolutely nothing about delusions of grandeur. Fear of trying those things that you know you WANT to do, but for whatever reason (mostly fear, but familial or societal pressures certainly contribute) you don’t do.
Next week I am making my stage debut (off-off Broadway) and I am scared shitless. But you know what? Fuckit, if I don’t do it, someone else would and if I think I can do it better why not? I am not arrogant enough to think I can actually do it better, but I sure as hell am gonna try. Of course I am afraid.
But, a few years ago I made a conscious decision to express myself creatively, for better or worse, and to NOT just hoard it all to myself thinking “I’m fucking awesome and what I do is great and no one can tell me otherwise.”
Of course no one could tell me otherwise because I never put anything out into the world to be judged.
Has everything been great. Not even close. Has everything been good? Nope. But “good” and “great” are subjective terms for which I am unqualified to apply to my own work (or probably anyone’s work). The work I have put out there has been, I felt, good enough to be judged and work I am proud of.
Had I continued on the path I was on, I would have never realized that fear can be intellectual and emotional paralysis.
I’ve had my heart put through the meat grinder by more than one woman and I am afraid to fall in love again? No. What kind of coward would I be if I packed it in and said “Ya know what, I can’t risk the hurt anymore?” To be afraid of love, to be afraid of making a mistake, is cowardly.
It’s a CHOICE to embrace that fear of love and it’s a CHOICE to let it paralyze you from the experience. Who knows how the experience ends up? It could fail miserably. Or it could end up brilliant. But to dictate your decision about love based on fear alone is no way to live.
Love is an odd thing. It comes in different forms, at different times. There is familial love, there is friend love, there is respect love, there is romantic love…well, you get the idea. Each one of those comes into your life and, for each, you respond differently.
Recently, I saw my parents, along with my brother and his family. Seeing my family can cause me a fair amount of stress and anxiety. I love them all dearly, they’re blood and you can’t escape that, but I know who I am and I often feel they don’t get it and/or judge the way I have chosen to live my life.
I’m single, live alone in New York City, do creative things and would guess from their perspective, I appear rudderless at worst and a hopeless dreamer at best. Which is probably a fair assessment if you have never taken the time to examine my life or actually talk and listen to me.
And in all fairness, they have known me the longest and in that time I have made mistakes, huge mistakes, and my parents have bailed me out, literally and figuratively, so often it’s embarrassing. Based on their experiences, I can’t necessarily blame them for how they may view my life. However, the reason that I am writing this now is solely the result of their kindness and love (so blame them).
The familial love is one that you simply can’t escape. It shapes your foundation and understanding of what love is. To my parents benefit, they are a great representation of forgiveness and unconditional love.
My brother has two children and I was meeting my niece for the first time on this visit. Not entirely true, I met her when she was an infant, but neither one of us recall that.
When I came into my parents house, she looked at me and screeched “UNCLE KEITH!” and ran towards me and gave me a giant hug. Which is to say it’s the largest, most heartfelt and genuine hug you’re ever likely to experience.
To say I was taken aback is an understatement because God knows I never encountered that kind of greeting from anyone in my family before. I seriously paused to make sure I was even in the right house. This little girl, in that one innocent act, showed me the very representation of complete fearlessness in love. It’s the type of fearlessness that only a child could have.
And over the time I spent with them, this little girl looked at me and saw me in a way I am not sure anyone else does. She didn’t have the guarded prejudice of my past experiences to judge me by. To her I was simply an Uncle who she was meeting for the first time.
At her age, love is simple, “He is my uncle and I love him.” Wouldn’t it be great if it always stayed that way, “This is the person I love” and that’s it. No complications.
Life gets in the way though.
We lose that innocence and simplicity, don’t we? Gradually, through love and loss (rinse and repeat as needed) and life’s experiences, we become more selective as to whom we love.
As life goes on we parse that love out more sparingly, based on our experiences. Intentionally or note, we gradually let fear creep in and give us reasons to forgo love or cast it aside in the belief that something better is out there or it’s not time or (insert your own reason here).
It’s that fear that dictates that we must let go because maybe this person isn’t “the one“.
The fears get in the way of opening yourself to something wonderful or something shitty. And it can often be a very thin line between the two and it most certainly can go either way at any given time.
When you let fear dictate your life, in any capacity, it opens the door for mediocrity and complacency.
Would you rather be so in love with someone you can’t live without or would you rather be satisfied with someone? Would you rather cry yourself to sleep knowing you made a mistake by leaving or would you rather be with the love of your life, knowing they drive you fucking crazy?
Well, for me, and perhaps this is reckless behavior, I will take the love where I can’t live without someone knowing they are gonna drive me bonkers. It doesn’t mean it’s gonna last forever. What the hell is forever anyway? If I died tomorrow, would I want the love of my life holding my hand as I slipped away or would I want a revolving door of lovers paying their respects? I’ll take one love please. But forever? I dunno, in a perfect world that exists, but this world is many things and perfect isn’t one of them.
More often than not, fear is the motivator in decisions, isn’t it? “Well, what if this person isn’t the RIGHT person for me?” What does that ultimately mean? Is the fear of exploring whether or not they are or just EXPECTING them to be the right person driving you?
If it is truly love, then you would say “OK, what is going on here, I know I love this person, but what is wrong and how can it become right for BOTH of us without compromising me.”
Sadly, complacency, mediocrity and the fear of exploring the more complex thoughts and emotions, examining the more complicated compromises needed to make anything work are what lead people to forsake true love and make decisions to settle for something LESS than what they deserve.
I mean, if you want to watch shitty television, listen to shitty music, go to shitty movies, that’s a choice (also, shitty is wildly subjective). But to deny the possibility that something may actually be better than just mediocre, or shitty, is to deny an entry to a potentially wonderful experience. “Oh come on now, you know what, sometimes I am tired and I just don’t want to think. Life sucks enough and maybe I just want to be numb so I am going to watch ‘The Big Bang Theory'”.
Certainly, you can choose to do that. But why would you want to? When did this bottom feeding bullshit become the remedy to escaping the banality of your existence? Your life doesn’t HAVE to be banal OR mediocre. That choice is yours to make but I wonder, are you making it based on the fear of being challenged or the fear of not understanding something?
Frankly, I never thought I would quote Franz Kafka, but alas:
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.”
While I don’t agree entirely with Mr. Kafka, I like vapid escapism as much as anyone and certainly believe there is validity in them. But I also like things that “affect us like a disaster“, be they creative pieces or relationships.
Wouldn’t it be much better to come home and say to your partner “I had a shitty day, I wanna take a shower and just stare off into space for a while and not talk.” or “I had a shitty day, do you just wanna play a game of backgammon and listen to music? And let’s not talk either.” or “I’m tired, do you want to take a shower with me and just laugh for a little while?”
Isn’t that better than coming home and taking your shitty day out on them? Isn’t that better than accepting defeat and becoming conditioned to embrace the shitty day, then coming home to numb ourselves with drugs and alcohol and/or sitting in silence as media jams its absurdity down our throat?
Too many people choose to not explore the power and joy of what is actually out there in the world to experience, either alone or with another person. Look, I don’t profess to be an expert at any of this, or to have even had much success with it, but I can tell you that I have tried. I can tell you I will keep trying.
I fear mediocrity, complacency and banality much more than I fear love. That is my choice.
You can actively live your intellectual and emotional life or you can be passive about it and expect everything to work out the way you have it in your head, but it’s probably never gonna shape up that way.
You can use the numbing agents of media, alcohol, drugs or whatever to escape the reality of existence, but that’s just ignoring love or just pushing it down.
To choose fear is in direct opposition to choosing love. At the end of the day, it’s a choice and it is yours to make.