I have a lot to say.
I just wish I could word it right, well, I take that back. It’s not the wording as much as it is typing on a new keyboard. Writing becomes apart of you, and when your hand is used to flowing over a certain set of keys like shaking the hand of a familiar relative, it becomes foreign. It feels strange.
It’s been over a year since I last wrote on here.
Since that time I’ve sung on stage, resigned and started my own business.
I’ve had a cousin pass away.
I’ve zip-lined over a forest.
I defended myself and did my best to not hurt a friend while in the process, lost one in spite of it all and found myself at odds with the very job I once called home and left with a broken heart.
I also began a romantic relationship where after years of spending time on my own, decided I needed a partner to share my adventures with – one that I deserved, and be the man that she deserved also.
I struggled in a new place where before I could even stretch my legs, I found myself unemployed once more due to lay offs before I was even hired, and suddenly was forced to forge my own business – using my own craft with my own skills.
My depression returned fast, and unyielding.
Gone was the 365.
Gone were the days of new adventures and wanting to try white water rafting and biking the coast. Were is the word of the day… or at least it was for the last six months. Being out and in a new element changed me. It was time to move on and into the job I was supposed to be doing all along. While I would still continue to teach and work with children, but in my own way, I needed to work in a place and in a skill I was worthy of.
For the last six months, I’ve worked on my art, my writing – spent time with my own kids as it were: my sons Alabam, Ace, Flash, BZ, my daughters Alayna and Beta. It had been a solid five years since I drew anything for them, wrote anything for them. It had been five years since I spent time with them, and in doing so, I lost track and forgot that I in the artistic sense, was a father. Most people might see that as crazy, nowhere near the real thing, and of course they would absolutely correct. Late night diaper changes cannot compare to writer’s block at two in the morning. Nor can a lost pacifier be placed in the same category as a computer that decides to wipe out your entire novel with a click of the “save” button. (Yes, it has happened to me NUMEROUS times. Thank God for memory sticks, hidden file hacking and emailing copies to myself.)
But no one can deny that if they dismiss some portion of themselves to work a job to pay the bills, some part of them gets lost in the mix of taking table scraps when you know you deserve the four course meal.
Last year, I did what was known as the 365 – a challenge I placed on myself to complete twenty actions of a bucket list of sorts at the ripe old age of thirty-six. By the time thirty-seven came along, about ten or twelve of those adventures were done. One being one of the biggest tasks of all.
It was a Thursday night in August. I was out feeling more lonesome than the usual and a midnight run to Jack in the Box wouldn’t curb my appetite. I found myself driving down familiar roads and came by a local nightclub. Outside were the usual fanfare of smokers, wingmen and that one guy who wears a chili stained retro icon shirt that’s two sizes too small rambling o about whether or not Greedo shot first.
(He didn’t, Han did. Everybody knows that.)
I sat down and found a small group, swigging back Coronas and Coors (a beer I thought was only native to the 1980’s and E.T. flashbacks). It was Mandy’s birthday – Mandy being the woman well into her something-ties and a fresh pack of menthols that went inhaled on the veranda outside. Happy Birthday from the Phillip Morris family.
There was a small band, and when I say small, I mean a guy and his computer with a karaoke system. A number of people got up there, some were actually pretty good. As another who was a little too buzzed off of his tequila sang his version of “Welcome to the Jungle,” I sat there, fedora on head at the bar wondering, my #4 on the 365. Is it time.
For well over an hour, I sat there replaying the “what if’s” and “why not’s” in my head. Without looking at a soul, I made my way over to the big book of songs and searched through the long list of music I knew.
Candyman? Unless they’re talking about the Sammy Davis Jr version, I’ll leave that with Christina Aguilera.
No Diggity? Sam Meyer would kill me for desecrating her favorite song.
Then, as I flipped through the back, I got to some of the oldies (Lord help me, I was apart of the oldies generation). I saw Harry Connick Jr, a New Orleans native, and some of the songs he’d done for soundtracks. I saw “It Had to be You.”
Now I knew that song inside and out. I could sing that practically backwards. It was only 12 years since I’d sung in front of an audience and the last one was in college where I sang “Moon River.” Ask me the lyrics now, and I’m lucky I don’t get it mixed up with the theme from “Good Times.”
Somehow “Two drifters off to see the world, just looking out of the window watchin’ the asphalt grow,” doesn’t just float off the tongue.
I went back to my seat at the bar. I looked at the guy who was singing his heart out and he wasn’t that great, but he knew it. He had the guts to get up there and do it. I thought to myself then, no one knows me here. I can make as big a fool out of myself and walk away with never a thing to gain or lose. My heart was racing. I told myself, “just go, just get up off the barstool, tell the guy.” So I got up, walked three steps over, and suddenly turned and went out the door.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” I told myself. “You’re just not ready yet.”
And then I thought, “Not ready to do what? Sing in front of strangers? I did that before! And I make a fool out of myself everyday in front of kids. Why not full grown adults?”
I walked back in, saw the crowd of grownups laughing and drinking, talking about their last dates, who did what at work, etc. I gathered up what little courage I had and went to the guy at the karaoke table. He looked up asked, “What song would you like, my brother?”
I was asked, the gauntlet was thrown, no turning back now.
I told him, “Do you have, ‘It Had to be You.” He pulled it up, and in maybe ten seconds, he nodded to me and made the announcement. My heart was now doing the 400-meter dash in my chest, and this little man in my brain who said, “You have nothing to be ashamed of,” was now crossing his arms and shaking his head.
The crowd applauded my entrance, I stood there with the brim of my fedora shading my eyes. “I don’t have to look at them,” I thought. “Just sing it and do it ad get it done.”
The music started.
My heart suddenly stopped its race. I took a breath, and there came my cue.
I opened my mouth, and the most unreal thing happened.
I heard the sound of my own voice, singing.
And it was good.
Oh my god, I thought. That’s me.
Suddenly my confidence grew enough to left my eyes to the audience, and I saw all eyes on me, some with mouths agape, most with eyebrows up and wide. I went on to the second verse, no cracking, no stuttering. I was doing it.
I hit the bridge of the song, and that’s when I heard them. The applause.
They were clapping for me, and not the “oh good, he’s done,” kinda clapping. But the “wow, he’s good,” kinda clap. Not only that but they were actually saying, “Wow, he’s good!”
Then came the part of the song I have to belt it out… it’s not too late, I can still screw this whole pooch and fall flat on my face. Hit the high long note, Jas’. You can do it. They like you. They’re in for you.
And so it came, and so I did.
I hit every note, every beat, and just like that – the song ended.
And the audience, birthday girls, Marlboro men, Greedo conspiracy theorists and all came inside and applauded. The guy at the machine, got up, struck me on the back hard and yelled out, “You nailed that $%#%!” People total strangers I never met prior to that night were coming to me, shaking my hand or patting my back with compliments out the wazzoo.
I did it.
I didn’t sing in front of a group of people that would compliment me whether I sucked or not. I sang and bore my big fear and was vulnerable before a group of people who had no reason to compliment me except for the fact that they thought I deserved it. That what I did was worthy of it. When you write a story, you don’t always get to see the immediate reaction. When you sing, it’s there, bare and naked and raw in front of everyone to lift up like a southern church on Sunday or tear apart like you’re butchering Luther Vandross as Showtime at the Apollo.
No Sandman required, though.
Afterward, so began my biggest year of vulnerability. Some fights I’ve won, some I’ve lost. But altogether, I grew stronger. I came out a better man. A man ready for a job of his skills, a man ready for a relationship, and a man ready to be a better son, and a better father.
And maybe given time, a real father.
Is there any doubt or wondering as to why I dedicated my first book to my own father, and published it on his birthday?
So the son becomes the father and the father … well, we’ve all watched Superman: the movie.
Tomorrow I continue this journey, even after a year long absence. I finish what I started by going on the trek I did last year in walking the valley. I may not come across the same answers or even the same route to get to my final destination, whatever it may be. I just know that I’m different for having done so in the first place, and I will be still as I’m growing to be the man I’m supposed to be.
The human being.
Heart on his sleeve, and all.
Keepin’ my head above water, makin a wa–
Sorry, old habits die hard.