Sunday, July 29, 2007

A life worth living

I have just finished “Replay” for the fifth time. Well, I think it’s the fifth time. When you go years between readings you sort of lose track.

Years between readings. Think about the ramifications of that sentence fragment...

People say “life is short.” They are wrong. Life is long long long.

Years between readings.

I look back on the different sections of my life, and each one of them has so many experiences packed into them. Each like a four to ten year chapter in the novel that makes up my life...

The high school chapter. The college chapter. The manager of the Middlebury Inn chapter. The computer tech at Computer Alternatives chapter. The trying to be good at Magic chapter. The Marriage chapter. The obsession with MMORPG’s chapter. And now the Spain chapter.

All of those chapters were like little lives. Each one of them has so many experiences packed into them. So many memories.

I look back on the college chapter and it seemed to last so long. It seemed to last for a lifetime. And then it was over. And as the years passed and I would get together with friends and we would reminisce about those days and each year we would realize “Do you know that was 4 years ago? Eight years ago? Fifteen years ago.”

Lobsterfest is this weekend at my house. My college friends and past lovers will show up with chips, salad, lobster, alcohol and memories. We will reminisce and at one point someone will say

“Do you know that was nineteen years ago?”

If college was a lifetime, we have lived almost five lifetimes since then.

Which brings me to Replay.

In the past, every time I read this book it put me into a funk for days, sometimes weeks. It appeals to me so much the idea of going back to college and to make different choices with foreknowledge. I used to long for it. To know my friends in those days of burgeoning wisdom, mounting debt and dwindling funds. How fun it would have been to guide them both morally and financially. Convince them to pick up some Apple and Microsoft stock. Make us all rich. How nice it would have been to make both the same and different romantic choices as the options arose in the next decade.

How nice it would have been to collect a couple hundred Black Lotuses when they were selling for a quarter apiece. Or bet on the Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson fight at 40-1 odds and make a fortune.

To live that life over again. To not make stupid mistakes. To be effortlessly rich. To enjoy that time even more than the first time around.

The book put me into a funk because we only get one life. We only get one college time. One after college time. One set of experiences. And I would read it, and then I would look around and feel like I had blown it. Sure, I had a great life. I had done well by myself. I wasn’t homeless living in a ditch. I wasn’t drifting between jobs or women.

But this is LIFE MAN. LIFE! The great and beautiful thing! The best thing in the universe and I could have done it so much better! I could have been smarter. Made better choices! Not said those stupid things at those stupid times and embarrassed myself. I could have… I don’t know, been a better wrestler. Man I wish I had tried harder wrestling in HS. I wish had known how much money could be made playing pro tennis. I used to be pretty good. If I had practiced more when I was younger. Fitter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I always loved my life. I thought I was very lucky. I loved my wife, my home, my job, my book. I always thought I had made some good choices and was in a very good place.

But I would finish Replay and I would be filled with a sense of loss. A funk like I had screwed up somewhere and couldn’t fix it. A deep longing to go back and do things different. Despite the fact that I loved where I was. And I didn’t know why that book always filled me with that longing.

Well, I just finished that book for the fifth time and for the first and only time, I have no deep longing. I have no feeling like I have messed up somewhere and would like to go back and make different choices.

And I know it has to do with the Spain life. The current chapter of this novel that I am living.

I don’t know if my meager skills can stress enough the importance of how long we live and how many different ways we can transform ourselves to make the most of that life.

In “The Last Superman Story” by Alan Moore, Myxyzptlk reveals that he is immortal. And immortals get bored. In order to relieve the boredom, he would spend 5000 years exploring an aspect of himself, and then change. And spend 5000 years doing something else. He once spent 5000 years in silence. Spent 5000 years being good. He had spent the last 5000 years being a mischievous top hat wearing comical imp. Now he had decided that he was going to spend the next 5000 years being evil.

We do not have immortality. But we have a long long time to explore all aspects of ourselves. Life is not short. We are the elves of this world. The only thing that lives longer than us is trees and turtles. (And carp actually. I just looked it up.)

I’ve told you before about the way I divide my life into varying chapters. The chapter I am in right now is particularly interesting. At the end of my last chapter, I had never been outside North America, I was married, 213 lbs, short hair, steady almost monotonous job, retirement fund growing every week, house payments made every month and I was finally bored of Magic and WOW and constantly wondered “Is this all there is?” I would look at myself in the mirror, see my bloated neck, crooked yellow teeth and I would give that fat thing the finger, disgusted with the way I looked.

Today, I am leeching away my retirement fund in a desperate bid to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a Writer. I am 170 lbs, long hair, goatee, waist the size it was shortly after college. When I look in the mirror I think with wonder “This is the best I have ever looked, in my entire life.” I have trained in MMA, competed in a Submission grappling tournament, been to Madrid, Paris, Provence, Berlin and I’m learning Spanish. I get up every morning and I cherish the last few moments in bed because I know the rest of the day is going to be “Ready? Go!”

I had no idea my life needed this chapter. I had no idea how to make myself stop saying “Is this all there is?” because I loved my life. I wanted to be interested in WOW again. I wanted to remain at my job forever. I wanted to keep growing my retirement fund and then retire and Mare and I would just sit at home and read and play video games all day.

THAT seemed like bliss to me.

My parents go down to Florida every winter and they stay in this little cabin right on the ocean. My brother and sister have both taken their families down to visit and stay in their own little cabin. Marilyn and I were invited every year and we would decline.

“Gotta take care of the dogs.” We would say.

Wendy and I went this year. I spent time with my brother and his family. Great kids. Lovely wife. We went for an ocean cruise, fished and rode the waves. I woke up and saw a dolphin jump out of the water in the early morning sunshine. There were three dozen Manatees floating right off the dock every morning. Close enough to touch. We walked through a nature preserve filled with alligators.

I did not know I needed that. But I did.

My sister was a waitress at Rosies for, I don’t know, fifteen years. It was perfect for her. The customers loved her, she got lots of attention, and the work was relatively easy. And she and I would get together and chat and ask each other “is this all there is?”

Then she quit.

She got some counseling about why she was sad, got some tests done on her brain and then decided to explore some options. Her counselor told her she needed to do something else. Her road to happiness would start with finding out what she wanted to do.

She took up photography and she had the gift. Some of her stuff was just fantastic. Then she came to work with me as a volunteer computer tech at the high school. I’ve never seen anyone take to computers as fast as she did. I told her if she kept it up she could get a job at the school with me or at the local computer store. She could be a techie. She worked with me for about three months and decided it wasn’t for her. She wanted to work with animals and started volunteering with a veterinary service in Vergennes. I think that lasted a month and then they had a job opening that she applied for. She didn’t get it and was devastated.

We could not understand why, but secretly held onto the belief that everything happens for a reason.

Next she saw a job advertised caring for forty show dachshunds.

She got it.

Happy happy happy. Still there. Still happy.

Change is good. This is NOT all there is. There is more. So much more.

Her husband Todd was head chef and manager of one of the nicest restaurants in town. He had worked his way up through high school and been there ever since. Had health insurance and good pay. And pretty much hated and was sick of it after 20 years. You ever worked in a service industry?

It drains you. It saps your life. It has a very high burnout rate. Take it from me, I know. I would still dream about working at the Middlebury Inn for years after I had left.

Where Molly was working needed a new handy man. Todd likes working with his hands and he’s good at it. He applied and since the old money that owned these forty show dogs liked Molly so much, they paid him the same as what he was making at his last job so they could work together. I saw them just this weekend.

“You guys still love working with the show dogs?”
“Love it” Molly says.
“Best decision I ever made” Todd says. Looks quickly at Molly “Second best decision.”

My friend Steve Savage and his girlfriend Maria sold everything they owned and left a life in Madrid and moved to Australia. They’ve started up a new company called Cairns Unlimited. Nothing like a little risk to keep things interesting.

In Ultra Marathon Man a thirty year old executive making a ton of money finds his life hollow. His search for meaning comes when he decides to just run all night long. Now he runs hundred mile marathons and feels at peace. If he was immortal I bet he’d spend 5000 years running.

My friend Mizu is on a ten year plan to buy a boat and sail the ocean picking up work where he can find it. Right now he’s taking scuba diving lessons so he can repair the boat in the middle of the ocean if he needs to.

The point of all of this is of course, we live a long damn time. It is never too late to reinvent yourself and your life. You should never be asking yourself “is this all there is?” because no, this isn’t all there is. There is more. A lot more.

Mizu has a stable job and a family. It’s not going to keep him from living his dream.

Steve Savage traveled the world on pennies.

Ultra Marathon Man got up at 4 am to pursue his running. He has a stable job, wife, kids and he found meaning in the open road.

If you are perfectly happy where you are then you can read this entry and store it away for the future. I’ve been there. I have been perfectly happy in my house playing video games and I loved it. I envy you. I’m not saying you need to stop that. What I am saying is, if you are unhappy with yourself or where you are, then change.

It is never too late to pursue your dreams. It is never too late to reinvent yourself. It is never too late to try something else. It is never too late to lose weight, start writing, learn a different language, travel the world, sail the seas, and open a new business, whatever!

If you are in an unsatisfying rut, then get out of it.

If you are unhappy, then experiment until you find what fulfills you.

You don’t need a dozen lifetimes to fulfill your dreams.

You need one.

This one.

Make the most of it.

You do not get a Replay.


  1. A small quote from another blog i read

    Many dream big dreams. Some wait, becalmed in their own inertia, hoping their favorite phantoms will magically materialize. For others, the tradeoff of comfort and security is too great a sacrifice and youthful imaginings are rationalized away. For most, I suppose, the very real duties of everyday life swallow the years until, one day, it is too late for “some day.”

    Reasons for discarded dreams are countless.

    But I have fulfilled my duties, and I have learned dreams do not just come true. With joy and the force of our will we make them true!

    My dream – my Flight of Years – is just one small wave beyond the horizon and I am paddling toward it as hard as I can. Because just past where blue meets blue there is joy, and dolphin are waiting for me, dancing in the spray.

    /End Quote

    Great post. Much in line with my current thought processes
    One more written test and 2 more check out dives and im certed for basic SCUBA stuffs.
    Next up will be sailing.
    Took a friends Hobie Cat out for a spin to feel the wind and the waves. was great.
    Did you know that a sail boat will sing to you when you found just the right wind. the whole vessle thrumms. It is a bizare and fascinating sound/feeling.


  2. Good post man!

    Change can be good, you just need to have a healthy perspective on things. I thought the company I was at was going to be the company for the rest of my life.

    Until the reorg...

    I could have been depressed but it didn't work out that way (and with a wife 6 months pregnant it can make you both depressed and crazy).

    Now I'm at EA, making more scratch, seeing more of the industry and growing as a person, not to mention growing a family. Good on you Jamie. Life doesn't change for the better on it's own. You've got to actively work to make it better.


  3. Very inspiring. Indeed.

    By the way, I missed you on Madrid Regionals last weekend. You should have come, it was fun. Lots of Red decks in the top tables (as well as Islands I am afraid). Forest were there too.
    I almost made it in but I was outplayed on the final match. Not enough testing.

    Hope to see you soon in a tourney.

  4. Lovely, Jamie.

    It is good to hear all of this from you. I have lived my life in the belief that every decision I've made is the right one, even if it is the 'wrong' one. It has served me well - even more, having friends like the JSC gang has always given me a window into my past that changes and shifts like light through stained glass. You are one of those bright shiny pieces. Wow. So many memories and wonderful moments. Last Sunday was one of them for us all - I wouldn't change a thing...

    Kim Ward

  5. You are a good writer Jamie

    And that was good thinking



  6. Powerful. Speaks so clearly to where I am in my life right now. I'm not sure if I have the guts to reinvent myself, but I'm sure it's time.

    Thanks for the nudge.