Last Tuesday, September 17 was, as far as the Roman calendar is concerned, my 31st birthday. But, time being relative and limited and unlimited only by the things we measure it by, it’s hard to say how old I really am. For example, yes, I’m 31 years old or 372 months old or roughly 11,160 days old but I could just as easily say that I’m 160,000 gallons of water old, if I were measuring time by the amount of water that dropped from a faucet since the day I was born. The point is, age, as well as time, is relative, it’s just a number that is representative of a measure of time that we have created. You can’t look at a chart and say, here I rest, just entering into the middle section of life because “middle section” implies that your specific life line will stretch until “The End”, presumably 90-something.
Which it probably won’t.
You, like most people, probably won’t live to a ripe old age. You, like most people, will die earlier than you planned, leaving behind a lot of things unfinished and unsaid and unaccomplished because you, like me, like most people, never tried to do them all.
Age, like dreams, are only relative to what you do with them. What are you spending your time with / on? Are you bottling 31 “years” up inside of you with 31 years of “talent” and “hope” and “fear” because you’re afraid to show anyone anything or afraid to try because you’re afraid to fail or, worse yet, you’re afraid that everyone is going to sniff you out and know that you’re a fake. He’s not a writer! He’s not a director! She’s not a musician! She’s not a photographer / actor / artist/ restaurant owner / chef / Pie Eating Champion of the World! I know him! He worked at Subway! She’s a mom! She’s a barista! You make coffee and that’s what you do—
And I want to tell you that it’s bullshit.
Five years ago, on my 26th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer; testicular, Lymphoma, heart and lungs. I was looking down the barrel of a gun and pleading for my life and swearing that yes, when I came through the other end, things would be different and I wouldn’t be so complacent about my life and I wouldn’t be bored or boring and I would do all the things that needed to be done and say the things that needed to be said and if I died with a list of regrets when I was 90 or 80 or 70 or 35, that list would be incredibly short and pathetic and would contain things like, “Eat a pizza from the inside out.”
ABOVE: CLOCK READS 12:02am. MY BIRTHDAY HAS JUST BEGUN AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S HEADING TOWARDS ME.
I told myself that I would start a family… and I have; a set of twins with a third one on the way. I told myself I would start directing; the entire reason I moved to this city… and I have. I’ve worked on commercials both for the internet as well as broadcast and have gotten my personal work into several film festivals and have worked with musicians who’s work inspires me. I told myself I would read Moby Dick… and I did and it was the worst thing ever but I finished it and can say with utter confidence that you should never pick it up. I told myself I would read Grapes of Wrath… and I did and it’s one of the best things ever and I can say with utter confidence that you should pick it up. I told myself that I would tell my father that I loved him on a semi-regular basis and even though, for some reason it’s very difficult for sons and fathers to say these things to one another for a variety of reasons… I have. I told myself I would start camping… with my kids… and I have. I’ve taken vacations and adventures with them.
I’ve written TV pilots and done podcasts and directed music videos and had 80s parties and made new friends have started a blog and am learning to play guitar and I play hide and seek at least once a week and, even though my kids don’t quite understand the concept of “Be quiet, we need to hide,” and they just scream instead it’s still so much fun! I’ve started playing frisbee golf and hiking and I just got a membership to a gun range where I will learn the rules of steel. I read. Everyday. Sometimes out loud with my wife. I write. Almost everyday. I keep a journal but I almost never read it. I go to live shows, both theatrical and band performances. I started a financial budget with my wife and we’ve done pretty good at sticking to it. I’ve loved those around me because I almost lost them all.
My point is just this; first off, don’t get cancer. And I know there’s only so much you can do about that but do what you can. Second off, just go. Get out there. Stop waiting because today, sadly, you and I and everyone, we are older and older and older and today I looked at a photo of myself when I graduated high school and I didn’t recognize that kid. He doesn’t stare out of the mirror at me anymore. Sure, some shade of him is still there but… we’re getting older and you can’t trade in your regrets for extra days. They’re just baggage.
My last word here is this and it is a truly desperate plea…
Shut off your TVs.
That sounds righteous and high-and-mighty and maybe it is but television is killing our creativity. It is sapping our time and melting our brains. We say to each other, “I’d love to do this or that but I just don’t have any time,” but we still manage to watch 3 hours of TV in the evening after a full day of work. Shut it off. Pull the plug. Throw it away. Whatever you have to do. Television is a crack in the dam by which all motivation drains out. I would challenge anyone reading this to put their TV in a closet for a month and then examine how much they’ve accomplished. Practice music, read a book, go to the gym, pray, meditate, play a board game and talk to your spouse but please, please, please, shut off your TV…*
Don’t wait to get sick. Don’t wait until you’re lying in a hospital bed to have your personal revelation. God made you a very particular way with very particular talents and you know what they are (and if you don’t, you need to start looking harder). Stop building walls around your gold to try and keep everyone out. Tear them down and let everyone see it regardless of your age because you are never too old.
Too old and too tired and too busy are excuses invented by lazy people with no personal ambition. Age is relative. Time is relative. Even success is relative. But what you do with your time and your 31 years or your 54,000 ocean waves or your 7 Summer Cycles – your every move, even your non-moves, are very, very relative. Today, take your first steps; buy that used guitar, sign up for piano lessons, research small business loans, purchase a copy of Harry Potter.
Life is too short to be stagnant and The End already comes too swiftly; don’t be sitting back in a recliner with a TV dinner and a re-run of Pawn Stars on when it happens. Don’t be caught off guard.
When Death finally comes to me, hopefully in 60 more years, I want to smile broadly and look at my To Do list and I want the last words I see to be, “Embrace Death. You did everything.”
ABOVE: ME LOOKING LIKE THE POSTER CHILD FOR THE MAKE-A-WISH FOUNDATION ON MY FINAL DAY IN THE HOSPITAL.
BELOW: ME AUDITIONING FOR CALVIN KLEIN’S NEW FALL LINE “CANCER CHIC”.
*If you’re going to participate in this exercise, I would strongly suggest waiting until September, 29th when the finale of Breaking Bad airs.