Reading artifacts from the past life again, I grab a sense of my attitude back then. There was this constant sense of, “Of course, fame and fortune and connection with my tribe of people is right around the corner. Of course, one day, millions of people will be reading this and nodding along with complete understanding of what I’m talking about–except, what I’m writing isn’t so commonplace that just anyone could do it.” There was that feeling of the heightened expectation that any day now, I would be “discovered” by someone very important–like a local celebrity actor or director, and they would say, “Why yes, E, we’ve been waiting for you, come on up.” And then, I would suddenly find myself writing screenplays for movies and/or directing and maybe even starring in them (as an offbeat character actor with cameo roles in the vein of Tarantino’s appearances in his own films and others, of course). People would roll their eyes at the mention of the mild pain I had to go through for a few years, being in debt all the time and working in an office for a third-rate company, and they would commiserate with me over the loss of my brother, and they would agree that it was just so strange and not cool when so-and-so did such-and-such to me.
It was actually a healthy experience, in the long run, to be rejected by so many women or find myself in a terrible relationship or two that I couldn’t so easily extricate myself from. The same could be said for the places where I sought work or was employed. I needed years of being rejected, being told, no, you really aren’t that special, no matter how lovely you think some tiny little paragraph or poem you just wrote is. You haven’t traveled as much as us, you haven’t loved and lost loves as much as we have, you haven’t had so many one night stands and bad service jobs as we have, your parents weren’t as mean or absent as ours were. Your story isn’t the exceptional story of an exceptional young man, and your writing isn’t good enough to carry your accounts of a mediocre life by itself.
It was healthy for me to get gray hair early, and then start to see it thin. It was healthy for me to get out of Austin for awhile and go up to Waco, where people really do ignore you and think you’re special only in the sense of you sticking out like a sore thumb. I needed to feel the resistance and pushing away from both liberal and conservative people. I needed to understand that this world is not my world, but that the Kingdom to come is what I need to be looking forward to. Even in my search for a place on earth that I can really feel like is my home and community–it has been healthy for me to feel like I still don’t quite belong here in Austin, even at the church we call our home church. If I did start to plant roots that were too deep, then I would never want to leave, and I would end up making more decisions that were lazy and contributed to me burrowing down into a hole that never quite fit me well.
It’s healthy that I am not expecting too much of school or of my remaining time here in Austin, because I’ve been let down so many times in the past when I approached the next spring, summer, fall, winter, calendar year, birth year, etc. with these heightened expectations that things were going to be SO different for me (in absolutely stunning and joyful ways).
Positive change seems to always come with a lot of patience and hard, plodding work. Sometimes it never comes at all. Negative change seems to come rapidly and without any effort on the part of the person experiencing it. Maybe that’s just me.
Did I ever do everything I needed to do to become the amazingly famous and highly acclaimed man I envisioned I would be? Of course not. I relied on this sense of being special that was probably placed upon me by doting parents who did indeed find me quite special, and they desperately wanted to believe that they had the son with the golden ticket. I was mostly an agnostic and prided myself on being a hardened realist about spiritual things, and yet I continued to nurse a notion deep inside that Fate was on my side, and I would simply be “discovered” one day for some remarkable reason that was more or less the same as why Harry Potter went on to learn who he really was. I suppose every young person has some of that magical thinking that they carry with them into their adult years, but most young people at least take the time to go out and get kicked around by life a bit to learn just how unspecial they really are.
I, on the other hand, being terrified at the prospect of going down to a bar by myself and trying to pick up women, just assumed that my magnetic personality (as if there were such a thing) would shine through online on my little, pathetic personal blog and when I posted my profile on personals sites. What really was happening is that my huge blind side–the true aspect of my personality–was shining through in brilliant ways that I refused to try to comprehend.
It’s not that I wasn’t a terrible writer when I thought I was brilliant, or a stupid, callow man when I thought I was quite clever and worldly wise. Much of the writing holds a certain kind of promise about it–a kind of promise that might have got someone’s attention had I been ten years younger when I wrote it. My insights into life, while I considered them to be these great nuggets of wisdom that would stop everyone in their tracks and nod and say hmmm, were really pretty much commonsense observations that most intelligent people with college degrees were probably having. In other words, when I read what I wrote during those years, my B+ intelligence comes through quite clear, but so does my exaggerated estimation of myself.
Now that I am 40 and free of a lot of those delusions of who I really am or am to be, I can spend less time beating up on myself when things don’t go write, and I don’t have quite the same fierce outlook on the world–if people are ignoring me that’s just fine. My expectations going into seminary are not especially high. I have seen enough of myself to know that I do have potential to be more and do more than I’ve done so far professionally, but I am also still very much an introvert who has to really work at getting to know people and maintaining relationships with them. I suspect that if I do modestly well here, I will be called to preach as an associate pastor at a church much like the one we were at in Waco, perhaps an even smaller one. I might not get to be so particular about the part of the country where I preach–we may have to accept that Cleveland will be okay for now, or much to my disliking, I might have to swallow my hopes and dreams a bit and accept that we are going to be staying in Texas for some time to come (which is probably the most realistic thing that will happen).
I have to accept that there are going to be plenty of people along the way who will appear to be downright hostile to what it is I’m doing. Family and people from my past who hate God and Jesus and Christianity, and think that I am trying to be like Joel Osteen. Fellow seminarians who feel like they are in a highly competitive program and may at times see me as a threat to their futures in holding whatever they think are the choice posts in ministry or academics. Random strangers who hate Christians or hate liberal Christians or simply think that a grown man of 40 with a small child shouldn’t have pulled the plug on his career to go do something different.
This is where I am going to need a ton of faith, and I’m going to have to constantly ask myself if the faith is genuinely from God, and not my sad attempt to manufacture faith that isn’t really there. This is where I am going to have to listen for God to offer me novel solutions that I wouldn’t necessarily come up with just using the power of my own reason and imagination. This is where I am going to have to accept that the old me is truly dead, and that there is nothing left of me that needs to be esteemed, adored or gratified by other people.
I am surely not on a quest to one day have even a small group of people hold me up in high regard as being this utterly special and profoundly significant human being. The quest is one of pure self transformation, and learning to spot when God is pushing me to serve others. Service of others as it pertains to gratifying the ego is some of the worst kind of activity that there is. People who need to receive acclaim and praise for what they do, or even go so far as to look down on others who aren’t doing as much good as they are–these may seem like strawpeople, but I’ve encountered more than a few of them in the non-profit world. The truth is, I may find myself doing any number of things inside little moments where someone is being helped by me–either through tangible charitable works or through me having a deep, empathetic and caring personality that can simply take the time to listen to what they are going through. In these little moments, my face and name will be forgotten, and nobody is going to give me an award, but I have to be 100% okay with that. It doesn’t require much effort to look around you and see that almost everyone is behaving this way, and this is just part of being a decent, grownup human being. You reach out and help when you can, and you stop seeing everyone around you as being merely an opportunity to advance whatever it is about you that you are trying to advance.