I turned 34 today. I have a gut, a bald spot, and an off-shore bank account. I outlived Jesus Christ, Jim Morrison, and Chris Farley. Considering that I was raised Catholic, developed a Doors and Jim Morrison infatuation in college, and considered Tommy Boy one of my Top 10 All Time films... I hung around the party much later than those three influential men.
I've been living on borrowed time. I once told that to Senor when we drove cross country nine summers ago. In my mid 20s, I never expected to make it age 30, let alone see the day when I'd actually be eligible to run for President of the United States. That qualification also groups me into a new demographic... middle-agedom.
34 is not a bad number. I'm still three decades away from retirement age and I can still get away sleeping with 18 year old girls.
Over the last three decades birthdays have come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some I don't even recall like when I turned 22. Some I vividly recall such as my 23rd birthday when a cunt-whorebag French chick who I dated broke up with me. While we stood on the corner of Astor Place in the East Village she made a point to tell me she waited until my birthday to break up with me so I'd always remember the pain for the rest of my life. I've never struck a woman (not counting sexual intercourse) in anger in my life, but she pissed me off so much that I wanted to tackled her down a flight of stairs and beat her face in with my shoe.
One of my parent's first huge fights occurred on the morning of my 7th birthday in 1979. They followed each other through the apartment screaming at the top of their lungs. I had my birthday party at McDonald's and my parents weren't even speaking to each other when it started. Even though the cute girl with knee socks who I'd have a soul numbing crush on for the next six years showed up, a somber mood lingered the entire evening.
From the day I turned 7, I always had an indifferent attitude about birthdays. Like on my 28th birthday when the Knicks traded away Patrick Ewing.
Most of the time, my family gave me clothes for my birthday. As a kid, that's always a total bummer. As an adult I can appreciate the sacrifices my parents made, especially my father who had to hump a crappy desk job while 99% of his paycheck went to pay bills and the government. But when you are ten years old and expecting a new Atari game, getting a new pair of Tom McAn shoes totally sucks donkey balls.
Luck found my way in 1985, when I got a Commodore 64, which made for all the crappy presents that I got for the entire decade. I ended up wasting thousands of hours playing video games on that C64. I also wrote all of my high school term papers and penned articles for the sports section in my school newspaper.
And I spent most of my 21st birthday in Atlanta puking in the parking lot of Dooley's Tavern after drinking 21 shots of assorted liquor, mostly tequila and bourbon. I managed to make it to Cheetah for lapdances.
I don't feel 34. My body does. I don't party as frequently as I used to a decade earlier, but when I do party I'm still pushing the limits. There were points and moments during benders earlier this year when I partied harder than in my twenties. The biggest difference is that my body needs several days to recover from a weekend of brain damage.
I finally accepted the fact that I needed glasses and went to the doctor in August. I haven't been wearing my specs at all since I left Las Vegas. I only used them for working in casinos and while driving. Since I'm doing neither in NYC, I haven't touched them. That was an obvious sign of aging that jumped out of nowhere for me.
Although I new my vision had been slipping the last few years, I didn't go for an exam. Without health insurance, eye care is one of the first things I never followed through on. Plus I couldn't afford glasses. I still don't have healthcare and had to shell out $600 for glasses and an exam. After the World Series of Poker, I had to use one of my paychecks to buy a pair. I never knew how poor my vision was until I wore glasses for the first time. I could see street signs from a block or two away. I could see the sports scores on the bottom of the TV screen without squinting.
And after Nicky, Grubby, and Derek tried on my glasses they all told me that I had a weak prescription and that my eyesight is still much better than theirs. So I barely needed glasses. And since I travel around so much that's another item that I have to constantly worry about and keep tabs on.
In my 30s I discovered that I had more responsibilities with less time to question things such as the direction of my life.
Discipline and effort. I lacked both in the 1990s and wasted so many opportunities and moments. I let my freedom slip through my fingers and didn't soak up as much as I could have. At the end of Easy Rider there's a line where they say, "We blew it." Decades later, Dennis Hopper explained that was an admission of regret and failure from the 60s generation. They started a revolution and tested the elasticity of freedom and they had chance to change the world... and they blew it.
That's how I feel about the majority of my 20s. I got too caught up in what other people thought about me. And I lost my way. I wanted to be a writer and fucked around too much, not applying myself or working on improving my craft. I wrote frequently, but just enough to get by to justify my existence as a writer.
I was lazy like so many other people both creative and non-creative. I wanted all the attention and respect of being a writer without doing any of the work. That eventually changed the last few years. Here's something I wrote two years ago:
About a year ago I almost hit rock bottom. I live to write and one September day in 2003, I woke up completely uninspired. That was not a nimble mischance. My once vast pool of inspiration had dried up. You could imagine the treacherous confusion that set in as I wandered around unhinged, unbalanced, and under-excited-about-life, surfing the tumultuous waves of postmodern society for several weeks while my mindset was tepid, at best. I was anonymously slumped at the end of a bar, muddied in a mid-afternoon buzz, when out of nowhere, I got up from my stool and walked out into the crowded street. I decided at that point to stop contemplating the big questions and start living. I'd push myself to write, to live, to travel, to explore, and most importantly... to make mistakes. Lots of them. I found something that day. Something I had been missing for several years. I discovered the intangible fearless attitude that I used to give me a glittering swagger when I walked so many years before. Within eight weeks, I penned two new novels, one of which I can proudly say, was my best piece of writing I ever created. Coincidence? As soon as I shrugged off the possibility of failure, I found the energy and inspiration to start more projects. Some of them have panned ut, others fizzled out. But if I didn't take the first steps, I never would have figured out what parts of my vision could become reality.
A year later, I find myself overwhelmed with projects. Instead of pulling myself out of a deep depressive funk where I felt I had nothing pushing me... I find myself, today, slipping into a deep depressive funk because I realize that life is so short and because of that... I won't be able to have the time to do every project that has crossed my mind. Sadness smothers me when I think about all those poems, short stories, screenplays, stage plays, and novels that I'll never have the time to write. Or how about those magazines, paintings, photographs, films, and sculptures I'd like to create? I had so much time... and I wasted it all, mostly, caught up in a haze of conformity. If I just slipped away from the restraints of conventional thinking years earlier, who knows what I could have accomplished by now.
Alas, I am where I am and how I got here has very little importance anymore. It's how I live my future days that counts the most. I'll make myself the same promise; to live, to write, to explore, to travel, and to make mistakes. This upcoming year I shall still be a student of life. I'm a decade away from being a master of both literature and poker. If I study each subject with tenacious focus, I'll reap the benefits of my diligent efforts in the next decade. For now, my energies will be focused on strengthening my liabilities, while capitalizing on my assets, and plodding forth on a path of creativity and personal enlightenment.
I struggled with insomnia and made a deal with myself. Since I slept 3 or 4 hours less than the average person every night, I looked at those hours as a blessing or a gift. I would use that time to write and promised myself to write two hours a day. I might have already been a writer, or born a writer, or evolved into a one. But I knew that if I wanted to become a good writer, then I'd have to write two hours a day everyday for a decade. If I lived to 40, I'd have the life experience and writing ability to pen a piece of literature that I can be proud of. Like an Olympic athlete, I've been training everyday prepping for a moment several years in the future.
I stuck with my two hour a day writing regimen over the last four years and I've noticed a difference. That's why I've been loathing all those moments in my 20s when I didn't apply myself and only write for ten or twenty minutes at a time instead of toiling over the craft.
Writing is a moneymaker, an escape, a drug, and a therapist all rolled into one. I've supported myself as a writer over the last two years, something I never thought was possible, especially when I worked 15 hour days.
I was given a rare chance to write. I blew my first one and took the second one more seriously. That's when the ideals of discipline and effort took a hold. I pushed myself and got lucky with the blogs and a freelance writing career in poker fell into my lap. I was at the right place at the right time. I'm finally seeing the benefits from all the dedicated work I've done the last four years. That's enough to inspire and convince me to keep at it and keep writing everyday.
If there's anything I learned in the last 34 years...
1. I place a high value on not taking life or myself too seriously. That's hard to do, but when I follow that attitude, I have the most fun and experience bursts of happiness. I do make an exception for writing. I'm dedicated to making myself a better writer which means discipline and effort in that aspect of my life.
2. Your time is your most precious resource and it shouldn't be wasted.
3. You need something to live for.
4. If you reduce your TV viewing time by 30 minutes everyday and talk on the phone 15 minutes less everyday, you will create enough time to read 20-25 books.