I was reading something I wrote a while back and I didn’t like it. I read some other stories and realized that I always write in the past passive, third person. That’s probably a grammatical observation as well as a life statement. I live my life as a passive observer, rehashing past events, looking for myself somewhere between the letters, in the gaps between memories and never quite succeeding. I want to make this different. Usually I think of a plot line, starting from somewhere near the end, and work it over in my mind until it is complete. I begin writing at the beginning, because I am afraid of straying too from sanity, and when I finish, I go back and edit the whole mess. That’s also more of a life philosophy than literary strategy. I am terrified to put down words as they come. But isn’t that how we live our lives, laying down days like bricks, with a vague idea of what it will look like when its done. I have a shaky belief that I know the beginning of the story of my life. Most of what I know is third party retelling, witnessed from afar. Even if it is my own memories, it is suspect, worked over by ego, super-ego, and id, into a sanitized version that I can live with. We believe our stories and allow them to replace our memories, even when they leave us with a second-hand jigsaw puzzle, spread out on the kitchen table, with several pieces mysteriously missing, and several odd-shapes and colors that obviously don’t belong. It can’t be that I sit down with myself like a stranger, yet here I am. I don’t have a plot that knits together well. I can’t magically pull out answers from the exalted position of the invisible participant; the omniscient author. In the story of my life, I am the shlepper that has to toil through the mud without a map or storyline. It feels like the opposite of waking from a dream into a dream. I wake from one reality into another, disconnected, even more bizarre reality, gasp for breath while grabbing a cup of coffee, run out the door into a world that has no time for childish misfits. Left alone, I stop, breaking surface to gasp for air, content to tread water as my mind clears.
If anything, I feel like I am struggling to write an uber resume’, a gestaltic ‘who-am-I’. That’s comforting. I am great at job interviews. I’ve gone on hundreds of interviews. I love them. I always get offered the job before the interview is over. It’s easy for me. I am never intimidated at interviews. A long time ago I learned that I am an okay guy and that there are few jobs that are truly beyond me. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to hire me to command a manned mission to Mars, though I even have a few ideas about a better way to go around doing that. Interviews are the best part about n new job. I love meeting new people who need something and convincing them that they need me. I can present myself anyway they want. The problem is that today I am applying for the job of ‘me’ and I am not so sure I’m qualified. I am not so sure that if I get the job, I can handle it. Job interviews are comforting. You walk in with a past but no future. You walk out saying “I am now a (fill in the blank)” and suddenly the storyline seems to have a direction. The nicest thing about job interviews is that avoid asking the one question I can’t answer and it is probably the most important question for a person who is considering employing me. It’s the question that caused no end of grief for my father and shaped much of my life. At forty-six years old, I spend those precious pre-sleep moments lying in the dark asking myself in my father’s voice, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
In my finer moments, I dare to whisper the answer my father would never have accepted but might have understood. The teen-rebel remnants of my persona deny that my father ever understood me yet I am, after all, a product of his deeper dreams, a tiny remnant of his physicality, a dead man walking. I am sure that he would have understood but I don’t regret never having told him. He would have understood but he never would have allowed himself to accept. He would have been overcome with obligation and guilt, warning me of the danger and inconvenience of such a profession. And, of course, there is no demand for it these days. I would be a cooper, a candle-maker, a shoemaker, a shepherd. I would be a minstrel, a blacksmith, a bookbinder.
So today I sit down for a job interview and for the first time ever, I didn’t shower or tuck in my shirt. My socks don’t match and my hair is uncombed. I sit across the desk from myself and smile as I ask me the ultimate question. The re3flection on my computer monitor looks shocked and confused for a few seconds but manages to pull itself together. I am scared for a moment as I clear my throat, but I am ready to answer honestly for the first time in my life, clearly stating the words that have never been spoken to anyone but my wife as she slept by my side.
“I want to be the town wise man. I want to be the fool on the hill, shouting out the truth for all to hear whether they liked it or even wanted it. I want to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, night and day, until even my best friends tell me to shut up. That’s my idea of a job. Lousy pay but great benefits.”
I am shocked when I reach across the table and shake my hand. I have been offered the job. Part of me wants to flash a smug smile and politely reject the offer, as I have done so many times before. But I’m stuck. In the first few minutes of trying on the hat for size, I realize that I have spent my whole life doing the job and the interview was a sham. I think the only job requirement is learning how to laugh while you cry, and being very careful to turn down the ends of your mouth when you smile. If I ever have a totally good day, you’ll never hear about it and I probably wouldn’t survive it. The book of wisdom is written with a bone pen dipped in tears. Of course, it’s hard to read because the writer is shaking with laughter while he writes.
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