I sometimes compare my life to my father’s. It’s a dangerous thing to do, I know, but who can resist it?
When Dad was in his twenties, they had a child–me. The child led to another child, and that led to a 9-to-5 job in a corporation, which led to the shedding of friends and hobbies, which led to a focus on responsibilities rather than joys. Truth be told, that led to a kind of disappointment as to how he was living his life, a feeling of imprisonment rather than happiness, and later, a disgust with office politics, not to mention the brutality and ungratefulness of the corporate machine. In the end, it affected his personality, evolving into a vague resentment towards everyone and everything.
Say! Mr. Guder
I have seen you go through a day
You’re everything a robot lives for
Walk in at 9 and roll out the door at 5
You reflect the company image
You maintain their rules to live by
Shine your shoes, let’s keep a neat haircut
Now that you’re wearing a coat and tie
Say! Mr. Guder
Some day soon may realize
You spend your life just playing a game
Where no ones wins but everyone stays the same
Growing up, I absorbed my father’s attitudes towards corporate life, even as he put on a white shirt and bland tie and polyester slacks every morning and drove to the office, working hard to provide for us. He endured massive workloads, incompetent bosses, corporate whims, maddening memos, organizational dysfunction, and once, even an accusation from his superior that he was an alcoholic, even though it was obvious to everyone with eyes and ears that he never touched the stuff. Some bosses will grasp at anything to put someone in their place.
When I hit my twenties, I shunned the corporate suite and got a job as a freelance journalist, immediately publishing in magazines such as Esquire, Mademoiselle, Harper’s Bazaar, McCall’s, Ladies Home, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, CNN.com, and many other publications. My father was astounded that someone could make their living by doing something creative. But midway through that decade, I was burning out on stress, as well.
So when my father died, I changed my already creative life. It happened in a moment. My father was hospitalized at age 59 with lung disease, and within 30 days, he had a series of strokes and heart attacks that left him brain-dead. We were allowed to go in and say goodbye to what was left of his body. Seeing my father’s body in ICU, I saw myself. I saw all in an instant how short life is. I realized that when I next blinked, it might all be over.
In the months that followed, I decided to open up my life. Defining that is difficult, but generally, it had to do with gravitating towards open flames. I became a kids’-party magician, making my living by jumping around in a Ninja Turtle outfit at kids’ birthday parties. I yelled “Cowabunga!” at the top of my lungs and loved it. I eventually became obsessed with adult magic, learning sleight of hand and misdirection, pouring hours and hours into it.
I no longer thought life should be lived according to a formula, but instead, followed my curiosities. I went to gigs instead of offices. I performed magic for Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Norman Lear, Candace Bergen, Bob Newhart, and many other luminaries. I had full weekends and lazy Mondays. I stayed out till 1 am at the Magic Castle, and sometimes went to IHOP after the Castle closed to trade sleights till 4 with other obsessive magical artistes.
It was a decidedly different life than my father had lived. I was able to live it that way because I didn’t get anybody pregnant and didn’t get married, so I didn’t have to worry about disappointing anybody.
Recently, I published a novel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, which was a joy to write. It was the apotheosis of everything I’ve learned in this curious sojourn. I just looked inside and wrote about the things I was most passionate about, the most extraordinary things I had ever seen, the very best things that reside in my heart. It took me six years of inner reflection. The result is just fabulous.
Sometimes, I see my father in my mind’s eye. He’s smoking in his soft blue chair in the living room, trying to decompress from the day’s worries. He’s a rat caught on a wheel. In his early twenties, he had ambitions of being a professional photographer, to look through a viewfinder and frame the wondrous things that he saw. But then I came along and ruined his dreams.
When I create something, I realize now, it is what he wanted to do. Novels, magic shows, blog posts, whatever. When I’m happy, it’s what he wanted to be. I was happy this morning, just reading in bed. I hope he knows that he was the one who gave me that gift.