You Spend Your Life Just Playing a Game

I sometimes compare my life to my father’s.  It’s a dangerous thing to do, I know, but who can resist it?

Family 479When 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.

Nuclear family, ca. 1967You know these things, living with someone for years.  My father’s favorite song was The Carpenters’ “Mr. Guder”:

Mr. Guder
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

Mr. Guder
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
The sa-a-a-me

The Carpenters playing “Mr. Guder” live in Japan

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.

214Sometimes, 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.

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33 thoughts on “You Spend Your Life Just Playing a Game

  1. First off, thanks for following my blog Contrafactual.com

    Second, I am the same age your dad was when he died. I also work in the corporate world, raised two kids, and now also take care of my disabled wife. As I write in my “About” page, I have a life outside of work and am not defined by my job. But regarding my job, I generally love it and making a living doing what you enjoy is the most important thing you can do.

    As husbands, wives, and parents we all make choices that involve deferring some personal goal, in order to provide for our loved ones. Life is just an endless stream of choices. We all wonder what life might have been like if we had made different choices, but at the end of the day we all do our best to make he voice that seems right at the time.

    Is your book available as an eBook?

    Be seeing you …

  2. I’m taking a shot here, but it appears the photos you posted were 1960’s era. I was born in ’56 and both my mother and father ran the rat wheel. Growing up, my sister and I came home from school to an empty house, did our chores and homework and waited for our parents. Neither of them had much time to relax-ever-between working 8 hour days, maintaining a house, and raising two girls. But that was the American dream and it still is today, but multiplied. Life is faster, houses are bigger, vehicles are more expensive, hell, everything is more expensive. I would not want to be raising a young family today. But the point I’m attempting to make is everyone has a choice. Your dad made the choice to live his life the way he did. Your birth did not make that choice for him. He could have gone off in another direction. Dabbled in his photography and possibly made it into something else.Has it occurred to you that he may not have had the gift of risk which you so obviously have? Or maybe he was stymied by fear. Or maybe he just plain didn’t know what he wanted to do.I’m fifty-seven. I’ve always enjoyed writing, have been told I’m good at it, but never had the confidence in myself and my abilities to ignore my fear and stretch my boundaries. Until this summer. But it takes work. It takes commitment to plink away on this laptop night after night and wonder where it might take me.
    My jaw dropped as I read the risks you’ve taken so far. You are an exception to most, and I admire your courage and tenacity.
    Thank you for dropping by my blog. I look forward to reading more about you.
    Dennie

  3. This was beautifully written, I enjoyed how it flowed and even more so the moral of it… I can relate to your father’s favorite song “Mr. Guder” on a personal level, working a pink collar job in three shifts makes me feel like a robot at times trying to make it to another day, and yet… There is beauty in being able to support your family by being the working stiff of the family.

    This was a good read.

  4. Thank you for finding and following me so I could then find you and read these posts. Your blog is pretty damn wonderful and I love the premise of your book. I think I might have to download it, so thanks! Thanks for supporting me and thanks for your writing. 🙂

  5. Hola: Thank you for tagging along on my blog as your outreach provided me the opportunity to read your work. My mother also gave up her life as a creative to provide for my brother and me. She was a female executive in a world of men executives. I too bought into this ride until one day I realized I was never going to get the secret handshake to the boys club. Hitting the stained glass ceiling provided the fuel to go out and become a free-lancer and then eventually design, build, market and operate a shared dream. We are curious addicts of freedom whose life force emanates in sync with each other. Bonnie

  6. Thank you for following and introducing me to your blog. I really enjoyed reading this heartfelt piece of writing where you free yourself. Thank you.
    I read something wonderfully enlightening recently and maybe it may be helpful to you or others.
    “We don’t need to find ourselves – we are creating ourselves”

  7. Thank you for noticing my blog. It means a great deal to me when someone takes the time to read my assorted ramblings.

    I wanted to leave a comment, less about you and your father and more about societal expectations in general. There seems to be this idea that a person cannot fully live if they have a family… but without the families there wouldn’t BE anything here at all… I just… there’s gotta be a different way. A way for people to be themselves, whole and complete, without feeling that parenthood means the death of dreams or that dreams must be abandoned for some eternal servitude that is “adulthood”. I don’t know if it’s just looking at the central themes and mottos of Neverland of late or something else but we aren’t really living anymore. I’m not entirely certain that we ever really have as a people.

    We need to live, not just exist.

    I lost my father a couple years ago and the wound… well, it’s not easy. Lost him and my step-father in the same year, within months of each other. I fight with depression each and every day and struggle to write through the draining effects of it. Writing, though, writing is what I’ve always known that I was born to do. I made that life’s choice at eleven when I read Lord of the Rings for the first time and found the path that had been waiting for me all along.

    As a culture we need to take a good, long hard look at what we assume is “being responsible” and realize that it’s not healthy, not for us, not for our children, and especially not for society at large. Stress kills, literally, and stress is eating away at us from far too young an age. Something’s gotta change, but heck if I know what or how.

  8. You obviously learned from your father’s choices in life and made the best of yours. To follow your passions in life is indeed a gift and you seem grateful to be living yours. Well done. I am so pleased that you found my blog and I found yours…thanks for following!

  9. Thanks for reading some of my stuff. i love this piece. I like what you learned. the game never made a damn bit of sense to me. when i’ve stepped even partially into it all goes to hell in my life and i get the fuck out, as much as i can. now i’ve learned to live on the outskirts, amicably and without guilt. i like your father, he knew, though that makes his predicament even worse. when people know but feel they have to remain that is like being in a cage. i’m glad you have used his lessons and maybe that’s why he signed on for the job… life is strange, so many dimensions… take it easy!

  10. I’m glad that you’ve had the vision to stand out and do something different – its nice to see people take action rather then talk about it and it was interesting for me to see that even though you took journalism which I would have assumed to be something away from corporate wheels actually turned into another cog.. Something to learn for all of us, I hope many people read your book and start making their own changes too..

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