The time Page 204 of “My Ishmael” saved my life.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” ~Dr. Suess

Just the other day fellow coffee drinker, minimalist, and blogger, Jeff Sandquist wrote this blog post. In it, I learned of the word “Multipotentialite.” Multipotentialite is a term, coined by Emilie Wapnick, used to describe a person with many different interest and creative pursuits. My reaction to this was the same as Jeff’s, “Up until this point I thought it was just called ADD—or worse, lost.” Jeff’s brief and to the point post hit home with me and it caused me to recall an essay I wrote a few years ago while one of my “had to get away from it all” trips. Below is that exact essay, with the exception of a few typo corrections and links I have made. I cringed at the tone I took in a couple places as well as the structure of this essay but I feel it’s necessary to publish it as is. So here it is: 

It has been suggested that I write. About what, I don’t know. I have tried so many times to write but I usually never finish anything. Anything bigger than a page that is. I used to write stuff and post it on MySpace but that itself didn’t last long. So here I am sitting at my computer in the middle of Mexico. I have decided to start writing and I guess I have something to write about, for now anyway, who knows where it will go or how long it will last.

Do to some sort of illness, probably from eating chicken for the first time in over four years, I decided to take the afternoon off. Instead of laying down I decided to grab my book and enjoy the gorgeous day here in Cajones, Mexico by reading outside. That’s when Page 204 of “My Ishmael” may have saved my life. It was probably the whole chapter but it wasn’t until the last page of the chapter, page 204, that made me close the book, take off my sun glasses and put my head in my hands and sob.

Without rewriting the entire chapter of Daniel Quinn’s follow up book to “Ishmael” I’ll try to sum up what I read. Ishmael was telling Julie about a guy named Jeffery who had trouble fitting into society. He could play guitar, write, was good looking, personable, and had plenty of friends. His “problem” was he would never get a “real” job, start a career or even a family. After graduating college he just traveled the country for long periods of times, sometimes driving and sometimes hitchhiking. All he ever had with him was a backpack, his guitar, and his journals. Through the years he saw his friends settle down, get jobs, and have kids. All the things he had yet to accomplish. One morning, after celebrating his 31st birthday with friends, Jeffery stepped out of a cabin on a lake some where in Wisconsin wrote a few lines in his journal and then stepped out into the lake and drowned himself.

Jeffery is an example of a person who lived the way many people would love if they had the money to. The streets are full of people like Jeffery. They just don’t have rich fathers to back them financially. These are the people most people don’t care about. They are dirty, addicts, criminals, and just don’t fit into society period and that is the key. They don’t fit into society or rather they refuse to fit into society or moreover they can’t. They can’t get a career, they can’t get married, they can’t have a family. Yeah they are physically capable of these things but something keeps them from conforming to society’s demands. Something instinctually keeps them from falling into the cycle of school, work, marriage, kids (which starts the cycle over), death. They would rather live on the street than conform. Whether it’s the kids on skid row or the kids who travel the country or the world on daddy’s dime, there’s a population out there that do not fit in to the “norm.”

Since they don’t fit into the “norm” that makes them “abnormal.” Relatively speaking of course but when enough people tell you your fat you’ll begin to see a fat person in the mirror. The same goes for weirdo, reject, and piece of crap or phrases like, what’s wrong with you, what can’t you live like every one else, get a job. In fact it doesn’t even have to be the words. When the majority of the population around you feel like you are a burden to society, that you don’t fit in, or that you should leave, they don’t need to say a word. Their behavior, facial expressions, and thoughts are enough. Ever walk into a room and immediately felt uncomfortable or not wanted. Imagine that feeling everyday of your life. Imagine one day looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “What the hell in wrong with me.” Or, “Why can’t I just fit in?” These feelings will have to be dealt with somehow. Jeffery’s coping mechanism was travel but for most people in this situation it’s drugs. When the coping mechanism no longer works then that’s when someone like Jeffery walks in to a lake with the intention of never coming back or a young man somewhere injects a little more than usual into his vein. It’s a lot of weight to carry for any amount of time. Jeffery did it till he was 31. Hemingway did it till he was 61. In a world where there is no answer to the question, “What the hell in wrong with me?” death is can seem like a better option.

Ishmael asked Julie to reflect on this situation with Jeffery and all the homeless kids on the streets and as a result Julie burst out into hysterical sobs. She had realized that she too was one of those people. She was one of those who wondered, “What is wrong with me?” That’s when Ishmael said the words that saved my life. “… my role here is to bring you tremendous news, that there is nothing wrong here with you. YOU ARE NOT WHAT’S WRONG.” This is when I burst out into hysterical sobs.

I had realized that I too was one of those people. Although I see more of myself in Jeffery than I do the thousands of kids in the streets, but that’s just superficial. I am one of those kids that don’t fit into society. I can’t have a career, the marriage, the house. Anybody who has tried to share their life with me when I was trying to do these things will confirm that I cannot function when I try to live this way. (And if any of them are reading this now I hope this helps them understand why I was the way I was when we were together.) Have you ever had that feeling that something bad was gonna happen and you couldn’t continue with what you were going to do? Like in “Boyz in the Hood” when Tre got out of Dough-Boy’s Impala. Or have you ever felt so deep down in your gut that what you are doing is useless, pointless, or stupid. Now imagine having these feelings but ignoring them and continuing on with what you are doing for years and imagine how miserable a person you would be. That was me.

For many years I tried to fit in to “norm” because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. No matter how unnatural it felt to me I tried and of course failed. During those years I accumulated a long list of failures: relationships, careers, attempts at domestication, I have even had to give up both of my best friends, Wyatt and Pablo. During those years I was able to survive by running away, two of those times were to war.

Ishmael’s story made me think of the last time I was fired. I sat in the parking lot of that restaurant in Fenton, Missouri crying wondering “What the hell was wrong with me?” A question that I have asked myself before. A question that had gone unanswered until page 204. Why couldn’t I even hold down a job as a waiter? I mean I was a terrible waiter but I could have gotten better. I was so not liked at this place that coworkers complained about me enough to askew the vision of management. Eventually, after I let a manager know how I felt after I was wrongly accused of doing something I didn’t, I was let go.

It was a relief, really. The vibe I felt walking into that place everyday was enough to make me want to hang myself. Why did all but one or two people hate me so much there? It’s odd how many people don’t like me at any of the jobs I have ever had. It’s not odd really, if you think about it. A job is the only place you are forced to socialize with people you wouldn’t normally. So many times at so many of my jobs I have been surrounded with people who can’t stand me. Think about what the negative energy they had towards me is doing to them not to mention what it was doing to me. It makes no sense at all, to submit yourself to that for eight hours or more a day. Why would anyone want to do that? Why should any human being be forced to do something they don’t want to? Like spend the majority of there waking hours with people they don’t like.

I applied for a law enforcement job not to long ago. For the background check package they wanted to know every employer I had ever worked for. Luckily I have had to fill out packages like this before over the years and had kept those records. When I completed the list of all my previous employers what I found out was that I had been fired from most of the jobs I’ve had in my life. The jobs I did manage to keep for a while I would master, get promoted, ended up hating and eventually quitting. The longest I have held down a job, besides the military, was for four years and eight months of those four years I was activated for Operation Enduring Freedom and wasn’t actually there.

It’s not that I am lazy or don’t like to work. It’s that after a while I can’t tolerate it anymore. My last assignment with the military lasted two years. In the beginning I was gung-ho and loved learning a new job after having the same one in the Air Force for 15 years. Once I learned everything I could within the limits I was confined to, the job started to get boring and routine and at the end of those two years I couldn’t stand it and sacrificed a lot of money to terminate my assignment as soon as possible.

A career seems to be the most unnatural thing that a human being can possibly have, more unnatural than artificial sweeteners. I know millions of people have careers but that doesn’t make it right or natural. It seems that people hate their jobs so much that they complain that it’s Monday, happy when it’s the Wednesday, and actually praise god when it is Friday. A career is so unsettling to people, so unnatural that they resent it yet, for some reason, they tolerate it for 30+ years.

Now and then I’ll make negative comments on facebook about jobs and 9 to 5’s and the biggest response I get in defense is that people claim to have responsibilities, mouths to feed and such. I immediately think, true good point, but after some time I realized how much of one’s income is spent on food and shelter and how nice is that shelter? Now I realize that for some people most of their income IS spent on food and shelter but those aren’t the people responding to me on facebook. I am willing to bet that the amount of money spent on food and shelter is considerably less than the amount spent on things. Cars, motorcycles, iPhones, flat screens TVs, these are the reasons people tolerate their careers.

People work jobs they don’t like to buy stuff they don’t need and they look at me like I am weird. Am I and the thousands other like me really weird because we only want to do what makes us happy and refuse to do things we don’t like to do?

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One comment on “The time Page 204 of “My Ishmael” saved my life.
  1. Nicole Charles says:

    I’m looking forward to reading your books.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "The time Page 204 of “My Ishmael” saved my life."
  1. […] Again Ishmael, who is a gorilla by the way, had a lot to teach me. The most important thing I got out of this book is that there was nothing wrong with me, NOTHING! In fact, just the opposite is true. I am actually the normal one. This is why I can’t fit in to this society filled with people who are focused on careers and things and other meaningless shit! I read this book while I was living and volunteering in a very small town in Mexico. When I got to page 204, I broke down. Read about it here. […]

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