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Monthly Archives: April 2009

pen-paper

I attended a career seminar yesterday for Psychology Majors. There, I learned all of the “transferrable skills” that I would gain by majoring in psych. Here’s a few: “Ability to communicate and present ideas and information, ability to understand and improve human relationships, ability to promote healthy relationships, concern and sensitivity for others, decision making, empathy, evaluates personal problems and makes appropriate decisions, good listener, insight to deal effectively with people, problem solving…” etc. And as I was going down the list, I began to think to myself… I can already do all of this shit. What am I wasting my time for? Oh, but Zack, don’t be silly! You’re here to get the degree, so you can get the next degree, and then the culminating degree. And then, you can charge more money for your transferrable skills that you have mastered by majoring in psychology. Right? Or is it the prestige? To be able to say I got a degree from a top-notch university, and then another degree from another one, and blah blah blah. It’s table talk then. Is that it? To be able to impress my future wife’s parents? Or to be able to say UC Berkeley when I run into old acquaintances?

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe I’m just taking the next right action. Get my shit together, get a job, go back to school, then transfer to a University. It was just the next step in the assembly line of Zack. This is just one foot in front of the other. The truth of the matter is, I just don’t know. If I had some unbridled passion for something, or some grand purpose, I think all of this would be easier. I’ve often envied people where this was the case. A few years back, I went to see a jazz show at the Jazz Bakery in LA. Afterwards, the guy on the bass guitar was outside smoking a cigarette, and my friends and I approached him to let him know we loved the show. We got to asking him questions, of course, about how he got into it, how long he’d been playing, etc. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like, “Well, you know, I always say I came outta my mom with a bass. Ha! I tell ya boy, long as I can remember, all I’ve wanted to do was just play the bass. Ever since the first time I picked it up, held that bass in my hands, felt the strings under my fingertips…. I knew. I mean, what else in life is there?”

And I remember looking at the dude and being so jealous. To have that passion for something, and know it in your bones. And what else in life is there? Well, that’s definitely not my story. I used to think that writing was my unbridled passion. I’ve even had a couple esteemed writers tell me, “Zack, you’re a writer. There’s nothing you can do about it. Writers are chosen, they don’t choose. Just wait. You’ll see….” And I’ve been waiting. Trust me.

A guy I used to write with, Jack, a mentor of mine, he definitely knows. Writing is it for him. Every wall in his house is lined with bookshelves. He’s got his books organized into his own library. Different time periods, different genres, authors, text books, you name it. Thousands of books. His office, where we used to write, is scattered with drafts, revisions, post-its, poetry, more stuff to edit. He teaches a writing class, he edits for a publishing company, he writes plays, he writes essays, he writes poetry, he writes critiques, he recites Shakespeare and quotes Faulkner. He knows what he is. He’s a writer. That’s his craft. And he’s completely devoted to it. Me, I don’t know what I am. I know that I’m passionate about a lot of things. But I’m not completely devoted to any of them, I don’t think.

And for me, my practice is to learn to be okay with that. For right now, I’m a psychology major at UC Berkeley, getting adept at a list of transferrable skills. I guess, no matter if you have that unbridled and hopelessly-devoted-to passion or not, the real challenge is to have passion for the moment. This moment, right now; whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. And you know, come to think of it, I’m not too bad at that. I may not find that one task that defines me, to be able to say, “and what else in life is there?” than that one thing. But, like a writer, I suppose, I can find meaning and beauty in the every day repetition… in the smiles. Because, at the end of the day, when I put my head on the pillow, it doesn’t matter whether I’m a psychology major, or a writer with a library for a living room, or a personal trainer, or an academic, or a therapist, or a bass guitarist, or what transferrable skills I have. We start each day with a blank page. Today, I’m happy with the words that fill the margins. And what else in life is there?

sunrise_beach

I was walking to my Psych 101 class today, headphones in my ears, and I looked up at the giant Valley Life Sciences Building on UC Berkeley’s campus. I remembered, last Spring, walking through the same exact campus for the first time, staring up at the same exact building, wondering if this was where I’d live the following Fall.

The image of myself walking through campus, arm around the woman I was sure I’d still be with, flashed before my eyes. I tried to put myself in that position again; scared of what the next year would bring, wanting to move to Berkeley but scared of what the separation would bring. But I was so excited…. I was so proud of myself that I even had a chance to go to a school like Cal. And I just stared up at that building….

And now here I am, exactly one year later. I now know all the little things that I was so unsure of. I know that the girl is gone, has been for a while now. I know that I can do well here, that I can succeed in a place like this. I know that it’s okay to move away, to make myself vulnerable again, in a new place with new people. I know that I can survive and do well despite things not having gone exactly how I planned since I moved up here. I want to be able to go back, to go back to that image of myself, with the girl, walking on the campus, and whisper to myself all of these things that I now know. I think that somehow that will protect me. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving up here, it’s not to become too attached to any idea, or any person. These moments are fleeting. People, perceptions, what things mean to you, they all change. Now, when I walk by the Valley Life Science building, I no longer am filled with wonder and accomplishment, but rather disdain at the fact that I have to go listen to a terrible lecturer talk for an hour and twenty minutes about a subject that I could much easier learn on my own. And some of the people I thought I’d be close to forever, are gone. Things I thought I knew, I really didn’t know.

But just because things change, doesn’t mean I can’t still be attached to the images, the moments, the memories. Those don’t change. And I’m so incredibly grateful for all the images, all the moments. And in that moment today on campus, so many images flashed in front of me. From climbing castle walls overlooking the coast of Nice, to trying to drive a rental car in a foreign country, to jumping off of a waterfall in Big Sur, to walking the medieval streets in Eze, to watching boats dock in Monaco, and when I ran for what seemed to be hours on a beach in the Bajamas with no shoes on at sunrise. Oh, and in Ojai, when Burt placed a small rock at my feet to represent our friendship, and told me, very simply, “be patient.” And in Catalina, in 7th grade, for our school trip, when I was the only kid in the entire class that couldn’t make it up the rock climbing wall. Everybody stood at the bottom and watched as I fumbled around and kept falling. And then the following year, in Arizona, the class had to climb up a pole and reach a bell at the top. And guess what? I fuckin’ did it. And now, when I’m running, and I want to quit, and I’ve hit the 6th mile, and the wind is blowing against me hard, and I’m pressed up against all that is pressed up against me, I think about that wall in Catalina, smile, laugh, and keep going. And high school, ahh, high school. The 72 hour days without sleep, the people that came and went like a dream.

There’s so much, too much. And just because the meaning changes, and just because my perception changes, doesn’t mean the images do. They stay the same.  They stay real.  They stay just exactly how I always remembered. Ha. It’s funny how we get so flustered, you know? We get so caught up in how we appear to others, or if this person likes us, or that person doesn’t, what we’re going to do next year, or the next five years, or even tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. I know who I am. I’m proud of all of the images, all of the memories. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And when I remember that, it doesn’t matter how I appear to you, or if you like me or not, or if I’ll go to grad school or not, or how much money I’ll make. Because I’ve got all that I need.

It’s like my buddy Alec said to me, in his car outside of class my senior year of high school. I was upset about something, my grandmother’s death or some surgery I was about to have. He hit the blunt that I had nicely rolled, blew a little smoke out of his mouth, sucked it back in through his nose, and with a cool exhale, said some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard. “It’s all good homie…. It’s all good.”