People say work takes up a 3rd of your life because you sleep for 8 hours, work for 8 hours, then have 8 hours of your own time. But that’s bullshit. I get up and get ready for work at 6am and I get home around 6pm, that’s 12 hours right there but really the fact is the work day starts when I say no to doing anything the night before and try to go to bed at 10 to get 8 hours of sleep so I’ll be functional at work. So truthfully I have 4 hours a day to be sad and exhausted before preparation for the next days work starts. Then I get Monday, Tuesday off to be my authentic self with my songwriting, nunchuck videos, philosophy, and quality time with my loved ones.
I realized as I thought about this during another miserable day at my latest miserable job that it’s not that I hate myself or my life, it’s that I hate my place in modern life. I often say I’m really good at not working, I wake up, I read, I blog, I study, I nunchuck, I sing, I drum, I write, and then I find some food for a late lunch. I excel at being myself when I don’t have to sell the best hours of my mind and body to make slightly rich douche bags break even.
And it’s easy to say walk away, follow your dreams, live what you love, blah blah blah… but how’s that going to look when Simone is homeless because her boyfriend wanted to follow his dreams? I don’t know how I’m going to eat the day after tomorrow and the thing is I don’t really care.
When I think about losing 5/8ths of my life to propagate more of a life in which I only feel alive a quarter of the time at best it doesn’t seem pragmatic. And when I think about the path that lead me here and how it’s likely too late to actually change anything I think I might as well kill myself.
But the notion that I might as well kill myself and the actual feeling of wanting to die are 2 different things. I realized a few weeks ago when I felt trapped and planned on jumping off the balcony that I did, and do, want to live, I just can’t stand the thought of living like this.
I can look back and see how I got diverted. My current hero Frank Turner is 3 years older than me. When he was 15 we was starting bands in the flourishing punk scene of London. When his band Million Dead broke up he was gutted by the assumption it was time to get a job. Instead he grabbed an acoustic guitar and kept doing his thing. He didn’t internalize what his teachers, his mother, or anyone else said about having a fallback or being a loser. I had all those same voices telling me I was lazy and stupid and I had no reason not to start believing them. By the time I met someone else who felt the same way and could commiserate with I was in my late twenties.
I spent my twenties at Wolfman’s Pub. Along with all the other defeated non-conformists who thought they were grabbing life by the balls. I felt accepted among the losers because I’d had it drilled into me that seeing school and work as pointless and dreaming of being a musician was a trait of self-involved failures. I basically lost a decade of my life because I bought into the idea that anything outside normal mainstream life didn’t matter so I just floated through that time.
Naturally I was planning on killing myself at 27. And when you’re planning on killing yourself it’s easy to say yes to things and do stuff that seemed too abnormal before. So I shaved my head into a mohawk, wore suits everyday, I introduced myself to my hot blonde neighbor, and I said yes to trying out for her boyfriend’s crappy band when they needed a guitarist. I felt at ease seeing what life might have had to offer since I was a little passed dead anyways. I was liberated and I could sort of see the life I thought wasn’t really out there.
When I met the guys in Caught Off Guard I found hardworking, insightful dudes who were trying diligently to live the life they wanted without nihilism or defeatism like all my previous friends. They thought ambition was a virtue and not worthy of derision. As I met our little corner of the Calgary music scene I finally felt like I’d found my people.
But the feeling that I’d missed my window never went away. It sucks to look at your life and feel like it started at 28. Because now I’m 30, I’m four grand in debt from touring and recording, I’m putting in 12 hour days for a boss I’d like to murder, and I’m trying to fit my real life into smaller and smaller windows between all the obligations of normal civilized life that are required to support that ambition. Things which being a nihilistic drunk for ten years did not prepare me for.
The capitalists finally got me. I give up 80% of myself to eek my 20%. A lot of my old friends have told me they still envy me, though, because they’ve given up 100%. They kept believing that going after your dreams was for other people and now they toil. That’s it. They find, or try to find, a job that balances money and misery and they spend their free time drinking to escape, to commiserate, to emotionally time travel, to bolster the feeling they could have been somebody. And it feels good when they tell me they notice how much I’ve changed since back in the day, and how they’re proud of me. We all know the narrative of the fledgling rockstar who wants to make his family proud it’s just that for me that family is a crew of misfit blue collar drunks. Instead of the cliche of buying a house for my parents I just want to get big enough to take my friends out for all the drinks I owe them.
In the book Steal Like An Artist (by Austin Kleon, go buy it) he talks about using the areas of your life as a refuge from one another and on good days at work I do feel free from all the anxiety of being an artist because I just have simple clear directives from above, and on good nights with my friends I get to vent about the amount of drama queen asshole behavior in the music scene. I also have bad days at work where my boss makes me feel like a useless idiot and I have nights with my friends where I get frustrated trying to explain satisfaction in toil, or artistic versus monetary reward, or the importance of trying to achieve anything, and they just want to live comfortably while waiting to die. Sometimes I see in them traces of the old me and everyone who chooses to grow eventually has to hate the old version of themselves so when I get annoyed with them it’s because I’m trying to talk to my younger self.
The most important and difficult thing I’ve had to work through is the idea that if you’re willing to die for something then you have to be willing to live for it too, and that’s the harder of the two options. Anyone can not live and that’s may take more forms than simply dying.