The other day, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was sitting at my desk, dutifully checking off items on my to-do list, staring vacantly at my computer screen, wishing I were somewhere else. I had awoken extra early to put the finishing touches on a new piece for this blog – something about the importance of focus – but as I read it and read it again, I realized I couldn’t publish it. It felt dishonest, like I was trying too hard to sound like someone else. Someone who – unlike me – had their sh*t together.
And that’s when the existential dread set in. Who am I, anyway? What could I possibly say that’s important, or that will make any difference? Who cares?
The what’s the point of it all feeling rose quickly in my chest and caught in the back of my throat, a dull nausea spinning in my stomach, and I knew I had to get out. Before I could let the to-do list stop me, I slammed my laptop shut, laced up my beat-up running shoes, grabbed my keys and left. I got in my car and drove westward, toward the coast.
I live only seven miles from the ocean, but it’s staggering how little I make time in my schedule to go and see it. Throughout my life, the sea has always had a powerful effect on me. The sense of calm and peace it instills is so profound that I know in my bones I could never live far away from a body of water. When times are toughest – when I’m sad or lost or feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin – that’s when I crave the sea the most.
I parked my car on San Vicente. Putting my ear buds in, I trudged down the Santa Monica Stairs and then back up the incline that leads to Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park. I jogged through the park, marveling at the dense marine layer still blanketing the coast, even though just a handful of miles inland, my little stucco bungalow was already baking in the 11 a.m. summer sun. The fog shrouding the sea was so thick and white, you couldn’t tell where the horizon ended and the sea began, casting a hazy sort of magic over Palisades Park. I breathed in that fog, the sea, and almost immediately I felt soothed, better.
I let my brain race freely as I jogged along. When I got to the construction zone at the California Incline, I turned around and headed for the entrance to the steep set of stairs at the Montana Beach Overlook. I descended the sandy wooden steps toward Pacific Coast Highway, dodging beachgoers carrying bikes and surfboards. And then back up I went, the burning in my calves intensifying as I climbed faster and faster. Descend and climb. Descend and climb. I pushed myself again and again, the fatigue in my body finally allowing my tired brain to relax and settle into something that felt less like chaotic noise and more like calm, focused thoughts.
As I climbed, I thought about my Dad. Father’s Day had just passed, and his birthday was coming up. If he could see me now, what would he think? I didn’t have to wonder about it, I already knew. He’d tell me that I needed to stop complaining about my “problems” and get to work. Throughout my life, whenever I was slacking off or not doing all I could, I’d dread the inevitable grilling from Dad. He’d always unearth the truth in his lawyerly fashion: straight to the heart of the matter. “Well if you know better Sar, then why don’t you do better?”
The truth is, my recent lack of motivation isn’t rooted in laziness, or lack of ambition. It’s rooted in fear. I’ve been experiencing what you might call a crisis of confidence: blocked in my writing, hating all of my creative ideas, feeling hopelessly stuck and worried that everything I’ve been working so hard on is no good and a waste of my time.
Time. Whenever this “what’s the point of it all?” paralysis sets in, it always comes back to that question of time. What am I doing with it? Am I making the most of it? Is activity A, B, or C really worth my time? I’m ever aware of how precious it is, ever fearful of it slipping through my fingers, even as it does that very thing.
Plenty of things we invest our time in don’t work out. People die. Relationships fail. Jobs end. Does that mean they weren’t worth our time? I don’t think so. It’s all a part of life, experiences we need to have so that we can learn and grow and (hopefully) improve. I suppose that nothing about how we choose to spend our time can really be a waste unless we willfully choose to waste it.
Is that what I’ve been doing? Willfully wasting my time indulging in my own neuroses? What would Dad say? He was an “all in” kind of guy. He wouldn’t let fear or doubt stop him. And as I thought about Dad, I remembered a poem written by Charles Bukowski. It’s called “Roll the Dice” and it’s something I’ve loved for years, returning to it again and again whenever I’ve needed a swift kick in the ass. Here it is:
if you’re going to try, go all the
otherwise, don’t even start.
if you’re going to try, go all the
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.
go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
how much you really want to
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
you can imagine.
if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
do it, do it, do it.
all the way
all the way.
you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
I left the beach and went home, utterly exhausted. Later, when I re-read those words by Bukowski, I thought about how my Dad spent much of his life as the living embodiment of them. I thought about how I wanted to be more like that. And I thought about how the best way I could honor my father as I approached his birthday was to stop hesitating, stop moving through my life with so much doubt and uncertainty, and simply “roll the dice.”
Easier said than done, but maybe my first step is to spend a lot more time climbing those stairs, breathing in the ocean, clearing out the noise.
Until next time, friends.