When Giving Up Isn’t a Choice

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At some point towards the end of my 20’s, I decided I was going to cross the line. So I took a hike in Marin and, finding a stick in an open field,  scratched a line across the trail. My intention was once I crossed it, I was going to be the person I’d imagined being. I knew the act was symbolic, but standing on the other side, everything felt new, and different; the reality, even the lighting, and for the first time I felt what it was like to believe in, and really like myself.

But here’s the unbelievable thing: Nothing else happened. I wasn’t suddenly surrounded by old teachers, childhood or adolescent adversaries, refuting this, or trying to take it away. Even later, no one pointed at me, “Hey, there’s the guy who crossed the line.” Not that anyone pointed at me prior, if I were being completely honest.

So, did I suddenly become the person I’d imagined being? Are you smoking crack? Of course not! Any gains I’ve made were eventual as well as incremental. When I think about this now, it’s still less about the gains, and more about the continuing muted disbelief that crossing the line didn’t actually work.

And now here I am smack dab in middle age. I feel like I’ve had to drop the fuck you of youth, and pick up a trickier, higher stake, fuck you of existentialism, where eventually, is now match for  a very real urgency.

This is what I like to call having a dismal optimism.

If you don’t learn the value of time when your young, you unfortunately learn the cost in middle age. After having made so many self promises, self agreements to attempt seizing your potential, only to wind up where you are. It’s an example of what a challenge it is making changes, or the easy reframe, the positive spin.

Here’s a perfect example. What do you know about me so far? I’m a middle age, male psychotherapist who practices in San Francisco. There’s a lot of blank space for the imagination to fill. One person might idealize my life, while another think it’s the life of a depressed middle aged man, with a small, garden variety, psychotherapy practice. But rather than say which, let’s just agree the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Recently I’d let my driver’s license, along with registrations on two cars become expired. The tipping point was being pulled over with my kids in Yosemite (only one car ran, and it had a broken headlight), being questioned about drug and alcohol use, and given a citation along with chunky fine. Yet after getting home, I only increased my rotational inertia, by laying low, or if seeing a police car quickly, taking the first turn, while trying not to draw attention.

It finally took booking a Hawaiian vacation with my kids for me to deal with it—only because I didn’t want to have to explain to them at the departure gate, we couldn’t go because my driver’s license was expired.

If you know nothing else about me, know that I’m not a fan of the DMV. But I guess that’s probably obvious. However, I spent 7.5 hours. 6 of which, standing in line, and without becoming one of those people who make a snide quip at every opportunity. Near the end, I turned to a woman I’d been standing in line with, “I just need someone to know, I’ve really been making an effort to be  well behaved.”

She forced the kind of smile one gives getting TMI.

“Though I’d be the first to admit, it was heavily mitigated by necessity.”

While I shouldn’t need to say,  that leaving the dmv, I’d finally learned my lesson, with me, I couldn’t be so certain. It  wasn’t like I can say it was the first time I’d let this happened. Although I can say, this was the way I tended to let it happen. The DMV sends me the same notices that my license is going to expire they send everybody else. But I either disregard these, setting them aside, or am under the delusion that I have my ace in a hole. I probably wouldn’t have noticed any of this if I hadn’t needed to have a current ID to travel. But apparently not even that was really enough to just go and do it.

Assuming I needed a current ID, as much as having one, I just automatically showed my expired license along with the temp to the counter person at  check-in. No snags, not a hiccup. Next,  I handed a  security person just my  license, he said while I was in the middle of fishing for the temp, it was expired.

Yet when I offered him my temp, waved it away with, telling me, naw it’s cool. He could’ve been doing this to keep the line moving, or he’d thought since I offered it, chances are I had it, so the risk I didn’t was slighter. I’d spent 7.5 hours at the DMV because of this, so you can imagine I’d kick the tires a bit,

However, I put it to the test going through security for the return flight. When the TSA asked for my ID, I only gave him my expired one. While he also pointed out it was expired, but when I asked if he wanted to see the temp, what did he say? “Naw. You’re allowed to travel on an expired ID for up to a year.”

Of course, my first thought was, I didn’t have to spend 7.5 hours at the DMV after all. But at the same time I  knew I really actually had to. I mean, my driver’s license had expired. I was deceiving myself thinking it was up for debate. Still I realize if I’d known I could’ve travel with an expired license, I would’ve done that. And I’d be returning home to the insanity and stress of driving without a valid license–and valid registration. But crazier still, if I hadn’t already dealt with it, I  wouldn’t have immediately taken care of it now. I’d probably have to get my car impounded, before I finally actually dealt with it. And even then I couldn’t say for certain.

What’s the lesson? You want something? Stay on top of the shit in front of you, because otherwise, that shit will stay on top of you, preventing you from getting something you really want.

Because, are you really going to give up on what you find meaningful or want to do?

I also realized something else interesting recently. I’m a drummer—I play drums. I couldn’t say this before. Not without qualifying it. I’d say, I’m learning to play drums, because it gave me an out. Not because I’m terrible—though I’ll be the first to admit, I suck. Really, it’s not about that, but my taking ownership that I play. Drumming was the first thing that meant a lot to me, that I let myself suck at. This doesn’t mean I didn’t suck at past things, but I just didn’t let myself be aware that I was. So while I didn’t suck at many things—it was because I didn’t pursue many things to suck at.

But this isn’t what I realized, this was just background.

So, recently I was playing music—jamming, with a friend—another middle age man, in similar profession. Between songs we were getting stupid, and I said, “I could totally be a great drummer. I just have to develop finer motor skills and have command over muscle memory.” I slowed while the flow of stupidity continued without me. You know, I realized, that’s a good point. And true. I mean, yeah, mastering motor skills and muscle memory is a tall order. But no taller than my making the effort, right?

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