Ex-Machina

As my proverbial light bulb came alive, I began jotting down this vaguely unformed idea on a piece of paper so as to avoid forgetting it in the moments following. My brother asked me to elaborate on why I was so frantically covering this scratch paper in some illegibly handwritten stream-of-consciousness. 'Ex-machina' was the term I'd scribbled, but I was still reeling through my own thoughts, and certainly in no sort of headspace to explain myself.

I was only about five minutes post maiden-voyage of my recently swapped 8-cylinder 302, the driving force perched comfortably within the doghouse of my 1973 Ford Club Wagon – my mobile home. I suppose it's worth mentioning that the voyage didn't go exactly as planned. I could hardly push the van (affectionately named Doug) faster than 30mph, and even when I did there were some awfully disconcerting rattling sounds coming from the engine, and the transmission would shift with a clunking sound that would make the Titanic cringe.

Having spent the previous ten days tirelessly pulling the old oil-burning 302 out and meticulously prepping a quote unquote new motor, to say I was physiologically dependent on a confidence-instilling test drive would be an understatement. But a stress-free anything was not in the cards for me, and as a result I had to step out of the situation and gather my thoughts sometime before I grabbed the nearest breakable item and put an end to it just for the sake of saying I did.

The decision to head back to the drawing board was immensely troublesome for me because 1.) I was already a week late for a job I was promised to work, 2.) there were NO guarantees that my vehicle would travel more than 15 minutes without a breakdown, and 3.) I had already spent nearly every available dollar just getting as far as I had. At this point I was not only completely devoid of expected income, but I was nowhere near done with expenditures.

Recognizing on my face the same lifeless expression and impending recklessness that he and I have in common, my brother was asking for the explanation behind my behavior. Dissimilar to his go-to method of stress relief, I tend to shut down. Where, in a comparable situation, my brother would likely keep his hands on the project through blood, sweat, and tears all the way to completion, I tend to take ample opportunity to zoom-out and wait for the answer to slap me in the face. This is where ex-machina becomes relevant again, if you were wondering. I'd scribbled ex-machina down because I had a moment of clarity that I didn't want to escape me. I told my brother the best definition of the term that I could conjure up.

"It's... maybe Shakespearean?.. I guess I don't know how far it dates back. But I know that it's used in reference to the miraculous saving of a character in just about any story." – I know, I've got a real way with words, huh? I went on using the only example I knew would illustrate my point.

"It happens a lot in Game of Thrones after they've got you convinced Jon Snow might be breathing his last, and then out of nowhere some totally unexpected character flips sides or a dragon swoops in. You know what I mean?".. He knew what I meant.

In this particular case my belief in the saving grace of an ex-machina was not only ungrounded, but it was compounding my stress. I was placing more hope in my problems being miraculously solved, when I should have been searching for the next step I could accomplish then and there. If I had a nickel for every time my dad capitalized on a teaching moment to tell me, "Well, wish in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up first." Apparently that lesson never stuck on account of me watching too much GoT.

Sure, I can hope that my father has the knowhow to fix my troubles, or my friends chime in for a morale boost, but when it comes down to it there's nobody but me/myself/I to make the decisions required to make positive change in my life. If I don't know what I need to know, I have to learn it. If I don't have the tools, I have to find them. If I don't have the time, I've got to make it. I have to be MY ex-machina, because there will (more than likely) be no divine intervention. 

After spewing all of this onto my unsuspecting brother (albeit, a far less composed version), I stood up, clapped my hands in an affirmation of moves about to be made, and headed back out to my freakishly unfinished project. With a tweak here and a tweak there, a jury-rigged part here and a jury-rigged part there, I was back on the road with a brand new maximum speed of 60 miles per hour. Unfortunately, I was also COMPLETELY out of time to waste, so I packed up the van and hit the road.

I guess I'm saying all of this to say that I became a pretty lame ex-machina for myself, and a parting of the seas most certainly would've benefitted me more than I did myself, but I did DO in some capacity.

My problem became (mostly) solved only after embracing the fact that the hand with shit in it filled up faster.

Recreating oneself

I left my home state, and all the family and friends it contained, about a year and a half ago, in search of... myself, as it seems. At the time I thought I was looking for a job that felt better, or some people to spice up my ever-hungry social life. The more I discover about myself in the process, I realize that it was the answers to unasked questions I sought the most. I wanted a passion, and I wanted to find an existence that fulfilled me.

Thanks entirely to this lifestyle change, I have most certainly discovered more self-worth, a happier and more meaningful direction in my life, and a generally higher quality of life. I have made friends, left my comfort zone in many ways, and accomplished goals that I hadn't even set a year ago. In some aspects, I feel like I have accomplished a lot in building myself, creating the man I want to be. Yet, in some other, painfully prominent ways, I continue to fail myself, and come up short on expectations for myself. Moreover, it should be noted that these failed goals aren't even the unattainable goals, but some incredibly fundamental healthy habits.

Among my highest priority changes were things like waking up earlier (arguably the most important, and something I'll circle back to), making productivity a habit, creating art, structuring my life more efficiently, and phasing out the habits that no longer serve me. All of these things are contributing factors into becoming the man I want to be. When I drove down to Tennessee to start this adventure, I adopted a mantra to inch me closer to my foggy future.

"Make it worth it."

I'm not sure where it came from or why I started saying it, why I kept repeatedly writing it like a grade-schooler's obsessive penning of his first crush's name. It felt then, and still feels now, like the most concise way to place my ambition. I chose to move a long way from my parents and best friends, I chose not to exercise my college degree, and I chose not to spend my twenties settling for things that didn't suit me. Because of these choices, I sought to make my decision to move to Nashville worth sacrificing the things I'd given up. I wanted to 'make it worth it', and I'm still trying.

Now, today, I'm writing because I almost feel like I've hit a lull. I can tell myself over and over what I've done to better myself in the last year, and how well I've committed to making myself a better and more well-rounded person. But then on an unprecedented Wednesday like today, I feel somehow obligated to convince myself I'm at my newest rock bottom, in hopes that I'll spur a new chapter of reinventing. Have I lost my point yet?

What I'm about to say will seem like the dumbest thing you've read on the internet, and I'm starting to think that's ok.

Today, as possibly the dozenth time in the last few weeks, and maybe the hundredth time this year, I slept in and wasted my morning despite wholly convincing myself that I would wake up and make use of my day, beginning with the crack of dawn. Now, that is exactly why I expect you've heard nothing more silly. It's exactly how it sounds: sleeping in and wasting the first part of my day is slowly but surely ruining me, and I can't conquer it.

I want to be more like my father by waking up at 6am, no matter how tardy my bedtime was. I want to ease into my day with reading, writing, listening to my podcasts, and a quick stop at the gym. I want to hit my day (or at least the part I owe to other people) with a full head of steam. I CRAVE order and system in my routine, I'm at a point where it's necessary if I want to restructure and make the best use of the life I've created up to this point. What I want is to have enough self control that every morning operates like the well oiled machine I need it to be. All of this should be as simple as just doing it, but it's not, and I can't find out why.

I've made a bad habit (possibly my very worst habit), of putting things off. Often little, tiny, itty-bitty, nearly insignificant things are what I put off best. Buying a trash can or cooking for myself or.. simply waking up and doing something - anything - with myself. Never detrimental, but almost always signs of something larger. A college professor once me the age-old lesson that thoughts become actions, actions become habit, and habit becomes character. Or.. Well, something to that effect. Does this mean I need to deconstruct far enough to reconstruct habit? It's not so much that I fear for my character, but I do fear for my habits at times. Being as I'm 24, bordering 25, there's no better time (except maybe 5 years ago) to ask myself how my habits are guiding my character, and subsequently, how do I want my character to be in the next five or ten or twenty years?

A thought rambled through my head a couple of months ago, and it struck me as something worth writing down, so I did. The notebook next to the driver's seat of my van/home now reads, in big and bold letters,

"Be a man who does what he says he'll do."

I'd never wrestled with this thought before, but it suddenly meant a lot to me. How am I perceived in this world, if not a man true to himself? I have family and friends and other loved ones who mean the world to me, and I'd like to think I mean the world to them. And if we truly operate in a universe where we're no more or less than the summation of these people's beliefs about us, than what I want is to be a man who is in tune with, and in complete agreement with, himself. That is to say, in touch with my wants and desires, what's important to me as well as those around me, what's best for me and those around me, and leaving every single interaction with every single person having impacted them positively. On a day to day basis, DO what I say I'll do, so as to be trusted and respected as such.

A bit philosophical, I suppose, but a roundabout answer to my earlier point. If I say that I'll get up and manage myself, then I should do it out of principle. If I want to reorganize my daily life so that the order brings me closer to fulfillment, then I need to do it. If I want to read, write, learn, and positively impact in the most efficient way possible, then I need to DO that, even if that means breaking down the habits that have comforted me along the way. Especially when said habits are in between me and the goals I hope to accomplish.

I think I'm writing this to be held accountable. I hope that this is all flowing from me now because I don't want it pent up anymore. If I could so easily articulate my shortcomings, I might not allow them to be shortcomings anymore.

Here's to self-improvement.

Here's to... beginning

There's some Chinese proverb I heard almost a year ago that says, 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time, is now.' I wish I could say why, exactly, this stuck with me, but it did. It occasionally leaps into my frontal lobe, and after a few times mulling the sentences over in my head, and rhetorically asking myself what it means to me, it's gone. I'm always somewhat pleased when it makes its way into my thoughts, as if, somewhere within the 25 seconds it spent rattling around in my head, I planted that tree.

You and I know that I didn't, but just the same, that quote pings my attention like a customer curiously peeking their head into your regular cafe. It's this bi-monthly meeting with my favorite Chinese proverb that servers as a reminder for me to plant the tree. And yet, the more I wrestle with the neurosis of how exactly to plant the tree, I come closer and closer to the conclusion that I've been planting some strange, incredibly ambiguous, nearly unrecognizable trees all along.

Back when I first heard it, I may have spent my first couple of hours (genuinely) investing time in myself, subsequently looking back on it and wondering what I'd done or who I'd done it for. Somewhere around the second time I was reminded of that proverb, I may have spent a couple of hours (genuinely) writing my first experimental, self-mandated writing prompt. Then, again, look back and kick myself for spending that time not planting a goddamn tree. Much to my chagrin, I'm already looking back, mere months later, and reaping rewards from the tree-planting ceremony I didn't even know I'd taken part in.

My hope is that this is a tree, although it's nearly impossible to say.