Restless Adult Syndrome (Part 2)– Muting the Clatter

“There’s nothing more inspiring or – beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it’s cool there now, see? Texas is cool now, and it’s spring. And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I’m not getting’ anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I’m thirty-four years old. I oughta be makin’ my future. That’s when I come running home.”

-Biff Loman

Biff’s polarizing quote summarizes what many adults think and feel.

When working among the simplicity and beauty of nature Biff is alive. He is authentic. He’s “inspired” at the “sight of a mare and a new colt”. But then, in only a matter of a sentence, he chides his own happiness and thinks himself foolish and childish for playing with horses.

Biff the common, vulnerable, impressionable modern man is spinning in the same world of materialism and cynicism as we are. It’s discouraging to see how quickly he discounts the romanticism of being alive and becomes so burdened by thoughts of money, time, and judgement that he “comes running home” to New York to join the rat race that he’s been trying so hard to get away from.

But I was no better.

Just before I got sick, I enrolled in an 18- month accelerated online college to earn an administrative certificate to become a school principal and start making principal money so I could keep up with my corporate friends who were welcoming quarterly raises, building houses with central air and buying imported cars with heated seats. In the house, in the car they appeared –well– comfortable. I was jealous. I wanted in.

The idea of administrator money in less than two years was enticing. I imagined central air, leather seats, and weekends big pimpin’ and sipping D’USSE’ with Jay-Z.

I figured a few months of homework, a couple flimsy research papers–and I could skirt through grad school with as little work as possible. Little work, maximum results–how ironic– I was my own high school student.

Then the best thing happened–I got sick. My brain was damaged and my time on this earth was questioned.

For me, it was a no brainer (ouch)–I had to wake up and listen to my life. I had to accept the fact that I didn’t belong in an administrative office or on a yacht with Jay- Z. I belonged in the classroom, with Salinger and Shakespeare, so I could further learn the craft, teach the craft, in preparation for my own crafting adventure.

In December 2013 I dropped out of grad school, nine credits short of graduating so I could devote more time to writing.

And Biff, well he hit the westward road, toward those colts and mares minutes after his father’s casket was lowered in the ground. As far as we know Biff never returned home.

Now you don’t have to catch a Greyhound or endure a medical calamity to get out of your work rut. But you do have to mute the clatter. And since you’re a modern person, you’ve been injected with other people’s opinions regarding what you should do with your life.

The journey of finding your purpose begins with listening to your inner voice. That same inner voice that tells you to order riblets at Applebee’s or tells you to bet the Steelers and the over—do your life a favor and start listening.

Remember, treating RSA isn’t going to be easy or quick. You must be patient and you must eliminate money and fame and central air and heated seats from the equation.

RSA treatment is about achieving an individual freedom that is not found in the commercialized American dream.

Treating RAS begins with muting the clatter of modernity and tuning into what you– and only you– want with your life.

The work ruts and RAS will only deepen as time passes. We know that overnight, five year plans can fold into ten year plans. And over time, regret can harden in to something nasty.

I implore you to champion for your life and start listening to the voice inside. You just may be interested to hear what it has to say.

Be Well,

Jay

 

 

 

Restless Adult Syndrome

dos“Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future.”                                                    -Biff Loman

One of the most popular units I teach every year is Arthur Miller’s classic American drama Death of a Salesman. If you’re not familiar, Salesman is an honest examination of the disillusioned pursuit of the American dream.

There are many ways to analyze Salesman. My students are naturally drawn to the strained relationships between the parents and the adult children. However, I’m more fascinated by the oldest son Biff Loman.

Biff, in his mid-thirties, is floundering to find his place in the world. As a teenager, Biff heartily believed in the prospect of the American dream. He believed he would become rich, stay popular and attractive and thus be happy. Of course it didn’t work out for Biff and he finds himself sulking in his childhood home saying things like, “I know every time I come back here all I’ve done is waste my life.”

Heavy stuff.

Maybe it was the fickle engines of fate at play, but in recent weeks I’ve had several conversations with friends that echo Biff’s sediments. My longtime friend Pete, a successful Engineer with two children, a great wife and newly built house in the suburbs, called it being stuck in a “work rut”. My college buddy Angelo, an IT expert also with two children, a great wife and newly built house in the suburbs, confessed that “adulthood sucks.”

Both friends, working at their respective jobs for close to 10 years, have begun asking…

“Can I do this job for the next 30 years of my life and be happy?”

Literature and life has taught me that adults are constantly restraining themselves from doing the things they really want to do with their lives.

Children do as they please ( if you’re a parent you live this truth everyday). The child’s mind runs wild with imagination and possibilities.  But then the child becomes an adult. And before the adult knows it, they are sinking in responsibilities and trapped in their own lives without imagination, without direction  and without a feeling of purpose.

Between the nightly news and gossiping about the neighbors. Between comparing car insurance rates and sitting in turnpike traffic. Adults quickly become crestfallen with the life they’ve spent their days building.

And their job- you know- the one they went to college for, studied for and spent thousands of dollars on, becomes a spiritless celebration of adulthood.

What I like to call- Restless Adult Syndrome- is old fodder for literature. Biff Loman, Ulysses, and every Springsteen song all lament on aging with hungry hearts that pump and yearn for something more.

So, how do we cure RAS?

Unfortunately, I don’t think RAS is curable. But I do know its symptoms are manageable.

So for the moment– pop in the Born in the USA cassette, grab a copy of Salesman and hold tight. In the next post I will examine how Biff Loman overcame RAS and explain how I treat my own RAS.

Be Well,

Jay

Get Your Writing Running!

I often equate writing a sentence to starting a jog ( or at least the way I start a jog) .  The first few words/steps may be awkward, unbalanced and  a sad  attempt to find a rhythm.

A simple way to to gauge your writing rhythm  is to take a concentration of sentences ( I recommend at least 5 sentences in consecutive order)  and  underline the first three words in each sentence.

running

Now look at what you have underlined. Do you use the same or similar words to begin multiple sentences? Do you start multiple sentences with nouns? Are you over- using elementary words like  “the”, ” to”, “it” at the start of multiple sentences?

What I have found is that novice writers tend to use these old familiars to begin a sentence in an attempt to establish their pace.

Using old familiars has the following effect:

  1. Cause sentences to lack structural diversity
  2. A lack of structural diversity causes the reader to not read as closely
  3. A lack of close reading  causes the  reader to quickly lose interest.

Unless you’re Ernie Hemingway, old familiars cause sentences to stutter and stall before they even get going.

3 ways you can establish a more fluid, diverse writing rhythm is to:

  1. Edit down the three words to two or one word
  2. Replace the three words with a fresh transition word
  3. Begin the sentence with a verb

This editing tip can be applied to any type of writing…creative,  informative, college application essay, or  even a coy love letter to one Chris Pratt.

If you  found this editing tip useful  I’d like to hear from you. Thanks.

Great Lines in Literature- “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

the road

Book: The Road

Author :Cormac McCarthy

Publication Date: 2006

Line: “Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

Analysis: Damn you Cormac!!!

Lesser writers, like myself, would have simply ended that line  with “each other’s entire world” because  I like clichés…I sigh at Hallmark cards and cry at Lifetime movies. By manipulating the structure of the cliché, McCarthy subtly creates the absolute exigency of the father and son relationship.  The genius of the  flipped cliché  is that it manages to radiate through the surrounding bleak imagery — ” gunmetal,” “blacktop” and “ash” further  fortifying the father and son bond as “they set out” into the madness of the world.

Got a great literary line? Please share. I may just feature your line in a future post.

Ordinary Experience + Extraordinary Reflection = Great Success!

Regarding writing, the most frequently asked question by my students is, “But what do I write about?”

My  answer: “You write about anything you want. As long as you write it well.”

This response causes a wave of moans and groans and exaggerated eye rolls  followed by silence followed by one annoyed student asking ” But seriously,  what do I write about?”

 Thankfully, writing is not algebra. No matter what your sixth grade English teacher taught you, there is no writing formula. If you try to follow a writing formula, your writing will be boring and generic.

But to all you algebra people, don’t get all slope,  over the years I have developed a brainstorming formula that has helped many students get the proverbial ball rolling toward a finished  writing task.

The formula…

Ordinary Experience +Extraordinary Reflection= Great Success.

Your audience… whether it be a solitary college admission officer or a classroom full of aspiring writers… knows (with all due apologizes to your mother)  that you are most likely an ordinary young adult . Your audience  knows your range of experiences is limited. So don’t stress that you never climbed Mount Everest , dug a ditch in Peru or dined with an American President.

I encourage my students to consider the ordinary things they do and ask why do they do those tasks and what have they learned from doing those tasks.

For example, several years back I had a student come to me and complain that he had absolutely no material for his college application essay.

He lamented how he was so incredibly average, how his family never traveled anywhere exotic  and that all he does is work and play video games in his basement.

Our conversation went like this:

Me: Where do you work?

Dejected Video Gamer: Dunkin Donuts.

Me: What do you do there?

DVG: Get coffee and make sandwiches.

Me: What to you want to go to school for?

DVG: Engineering

Me: You like to build things?

DVG: Yes.

Me: So at Dunkin Donuts is it fair to say you that don’t make sandwiches, you build sandwiches?

DVG: ( his eyes widen like he just scooped up a Boomerang Flower on the Mario Kart Grand Prix track) Yes, I build sandwiches Mr. Armstrong.

DVG rises out of his seat.

With his  average chin jutting upward, his average hands fixed to his boney hips and if he were wearing a cape it would be blowing rhythmically in the soft wind…

DVG exults  with an above average roar… “I AM A SANDWICH ENGINEER!”.

And that was the advent of his college application essay.

DVG went on to write a tremendous essay about how building breakfast sandwiches inspired him to pursue a degree in real engineering.

I’m proud to announce  DVG is at the University of Michigan still playing video games and more importantly  learning to become a real engineer.

So make a t-chart…

On  the left side list ordinary things that you do …

On the right side …jot notes how those ordinary experiences have changed and shaped you.

Great writers have been using  this “writing formula” for years. It works well for both fiction and non fiction writing.  If you’re curious, check out some fictional examples- Araby by James Joyce , A&P  by John Updike and Chapter 25 of The  Catcher in the Rye ( technically all of Catcher follows the formula but Chapter 25, the ‘carousel scene’ is a great example) and see how their stories combine ordinary experiences with extraordinary reflection to produce compelling reading.

If you give the “Ordinary Experience +Extraordinary Reflection” formula a shot I’d love to hear from you.