When your heart it screams to belong
But we live and die as we dream all alone
And I heard those sirens singing on FM radio
Yeah, darling, they won’t let me go
No darling they won’t let me go
-Sons of Bill, “Siren Song”
I started a new job back in February. I knew by lunch on day 1 that I wouldn’t be there for long. It was just one of those places where everything felt…wrong.
Among the many, many problems with the place was the fact that I basically couldn’t play Magic while I was there. My usual stores are down in the south suburbs and the job was in the north suburbs. The boss insisted that I be there from 8:30 to 5:30 every day. That meant rush hour traffic and no chance to make it anywhere close to my usual stores to see my usual friends. Most Fridays I would try. I’d get halfway, do the math, and ditch out to head home.
One Friday I gave up on trying to make it south and just headed over to Pastimes instead. There were a couple of big tournaments coming up and I hadn’t played in a few weeks. I needed the practice, especially since the last time I’d played was at the prerelease for the last set.
“Siren Song” came on while I was cruising down Golf Road and I realized something. On the surface it seems absolutely asinine for me to be going to FNM and dreaming of taking that road to the Pro Tour. I’m a spectacularly average player who has shown no proof that I’m ever going to be more than the guy who backs into the top 8 of a local tournament and loses in the first elimination round. The guys my age who are on the Pro Tour are guys like William Jensen, Jon Finkel, and Adrian Sullivan, guys who started back when I did the first time and didn’t quit almost immediately after because they thought baby Jesus was crying at the witchcraft.
On a deeper level, though, it doesn’t matter. The Pro Tour is out there, over the next horizon. It’s something to chase. I finally realized that there always has to be that thing out there in the distance. There has to be an unattainable dream. The minute you stop chasing a dream you start dying.
I’d been dying for a long time.
Didn’t you know that this world is not meant to be dreamt in?
But what hurts me most is all the time that we wasted
I’ve wasted all the dreams in my head
I’ll have to move out of this country, instead
–Idlewild, “You and I Are Both Away”
I wish I could find a starting point for it. I wish there was some neat origin story to set the stage for all the times I failed to try or tried to fail. I don’t think that there’s a point where you just start dying, though. It’s always a little thing, a little chunk taken out of your soul here and there and over around the back. It has to be that way, I think, because for a dream to die it has to die slowly.
A dream, you see, has an origin story. Mine came in the 1st grade when I won a writing contest with a short story about dinosaurs on a picnic and knew, right then and there, that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. It’s neat, it’s tidy, and I’ve spent the last 28 years bringing that story up when explaining why I write while trying to figure out why I’ve never once figured out how to get someone to pay me to write.
The long answer is fairly simple. I’ve spent the last three decades coming up with all the reasons why writing isn’t a viable use of my time. I’ve spent the last three decades coming up with reasons why the thing I’m writing right now isn’t something anyone would ever want to read, so why bother? I’ve spent the last three decades figuring out what my fallback plan is if that writing thing doesn’t work out.
Funny thing about backup plans: if you spend enough time focusing on them they become your main plan by default. The shit of it is that I knew this was exactly the path I would take long before I even started on that path. I can even prove it without ever leaving this blog behind.
Last year I decided to break out a book I wrote back around 2001 with the intention of getting it published as a Christian novel. The general, miserable failure of that project when I realized the book was fundamentally irredeemable from my current perspective doesn’t matter here. What matters is the way the book started. It started with a guy in his late 20s who had done everything he thought he was supposed to do in life and already found himself looking into the abyss. So he ran away from home.
I wrote that book in my early 20s. I had already written an entire sci-fi novel and a whole bunch of short stories that I only half-heartedly shopped. I had, in short, already given up on my dreams even while I went through the motions. Running away was actually a pretty strong motif in a lot of the stuff I wrote at the time.
I briefly revisited Second Chances when I was down in Texas and wanted nothing more than to get away. It seemed like something I could hang on to, something I could control. It seemed easier than writing a resume, I suppose.
Whatever I fear the most is
Whatever I see before me
Whenever I let my guard down
Whatever I was ignoring
Whatever I fear the most is
Whatever I see before me
Whatever I have been given
Whatever I have been
–Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Whatever I Fear”
This is one of those things I want to blame on religion. Well, not religion so much as the warped concept of Christian responsibility with which I was raised. I want to say that I was never fully deprogrammed from that world.
It goes back to the old Puritan work ethic, really, that notion that if you’re good with god then god will be good to you and show it by blessing you with wealth. It’s carried forward now through prosperity gospel and the fools who stand in front of television cameras in thousand dollar suits and say that you, yes, you, can call down god’s blessings if only you send your last ten cents to a man who wants a tenth vacation home. Who wouldn’t want god’s blessings?
Maybe that’s not it, though. Maybe it’s the way I grew up learning that I wasn’t supposed to do anything without first seeking god’s will. I learned to be passive, to wait, to only do what I was told from all of those lessons.
I think it’s something deeper, more primal. I think I’ve always been afraid of the unknown. I’ve always wanted the safe path, the well-traveled road.
At the same time I’ve always gravitated towards and admired those who take the narrow, scary road. It’s why I’ve found most of my favorite bands in shitty bars and made it a point to buy their CDs. I always wanted to say that I had a little part in helping someone else try and succeed.
I’ve always wanted to run away. I’ve always wanted to go with them. I’ve always wanted to see what was out there, just beyond the next horizon.
I’ve always been too afraid to start the car anywhere but on the printed page. I’ve always been afraid of showing those stories to other people. I’ve always been more afraid of what will happen if I succeed than if I fail.
How young are you gonna be when you die?
I guess I never really thought about that
You’re dying when you start thinking like that
All I know is that time is undefeated so far
–Alkaline Trio, “Only Love”
Something broke inside of me last year. I had just gotten yet more bad news in a year full of it and suddenly realized that it didn’t matter. Everything would work out in the end. In that moment, possibly for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid of the future.
I started working again in the sort of job that results in watching Office Space on Comedy Central at 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning and realizing it hits too close to home. I realized that easy, well-traveled path I’ve always put my dreams on hold to find just doesn’t work. I’d let myself be an easily replaceable cog in a machine that gives no shits about me.
It’s time for everything to change. It’s time to awaken the dead. It’s time to start chasing that horizon.