growth and maturity

Today I want to write about growth and maturity. Not in an economic or financial sense, because I really don’t have much personal knowledge or experience with any of that, but rather in an individual sense; the growth and maturity of an individual.

Of course I don’t have a lot of personal knowledge or experience with that either, obviously, but I’m going to write about it anyway.

Apparently, some people out there are of the opinion that men today are not very mature. For example, this silly bint claims that men today in their 20s are in some sort of lamentable post-adolescent but pre-adult phase where they would rather play video games and hang out with their friends than have a so-called “traditional” life.

Which of course is pretty stupid. Stupid that she considers it lamentable, I mean.

Because so what if guys want to actually enjoy themselves? What she fails completely to mention is how many of these guys are gainfully employed. Because yeah, if they’re just living in their parents’ basement and being human leeches, she probably has a point. But if these guys are hard-working and taking care of themselves and their obligations, she really has no right to object to how they spend their spare time.

Well, if you look closely, what she’s really criticizing is the fact that these guys don’t seem to be interested in getting married. That seems to be her single criteria for “maturity”.

As a 31-year-old who has absolutely no intention of getting married any time soon, I find that pretty funny. Because I know myself pretty well, and I know for a fact that I am definitely not in a good position—emotionally or financially—to get married any time in the near future, and for me to marry someone now would actually be an extremely immature and irresponsible thing for me to do.

Which is why I proposed to a hot 21-year-old girl a couple of weeks ago. But that’s a whole nother story.

For what it’s worth, I don’t consider myself to be particularly mature. But I also don’t have any desire to be mature. I especially don’t have any desire to conform to someone else’s definition of maturity. I do, however, consider myself to be reasonably responsible. I always try to take responsibility for myself and my actions, and I generally do my best to not excessively inconvenience others with my immature antics. And yeah, I don’t exactly go out of my way to take on additional responsibilities, but I don’t shirk the ones I do have either.

But while I may not be particularly interested in maturity, I am interested in growth. Spiritual and intellectual growth, and the continuous expansion of my knowledge and experience. I have great plans for the places I want to visit, and the books I want to read, but I can’t help but observe that there’s a very specific chunk of human experience that I may end up missing out on, and as I get older the odds of me missing out on it forever are only going to increase.

Then again, sneaking into the UN building and rearranging all the countries so the representatives of the ones that hate each other have to sit next to each other and then run away before security catches me is kind of a stupid goal anyway.

There’s also the thought of getting married and having children. Because I have absolutely no doubt that I would experience a whole heckova lot of personal growth, and gain a lot of human experience, if I were to do either of both of those things. Hopefully in that order, too.

And I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good or bad thing, but I think a lot of men around my age aren’t experiencing this because they’re not forced to. With the increase in the variety and prevalence of birth control, along with the decrease in weapon-toting fathers, we’re seeing a lot less unexpected and unwanted pregnancies, and by extension a lot less shotgun weddings. So guys like me are no longer compelled against our will to “grow up” and “take responsibility” and all that other crap.

I can’t help but wonder if by not getting married and starting a family I’ve simply exchanged personal growth for a sort of hollow and empty freedom. Unfortunately, the only way for me to know for sure would be to get married and impregnate my wife, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to do that until I’m absolutely sure that I’m ready.

Plus, you know, I’d still have to find someone I actually want to marry—and who wants to marry me.

Still, despite my worry that I’m missing out on something profound, as an abstract concept I do not find marriage the slightest bit appealing. And I mean this in the kindest way possible, but all the wifey/mommy comments I see on Facebook only serve to cement this feeling. Because while I am absolutely and genuinely thrilled by the happiness my friends are experiencing, every single comment serves to confirm that it’s not something I want for myself.

At least not at the moment.

I was in love once. Well, I thought I was, anyway. Back in 2003 I proposed marriage to the girl of my dreams. Well, actually I just told her I was thinking about asking her to marry me, in order to gauge her reaction, but that’s not the point. The point is, while they were never things I’d wanted before, suddenly I wanted to get married because I wanted to marry her, and I wanted children because I wanted to have children with her. So yeah, marriage as a concept doesn’t appeal to me, but I have no doubt that if I got together with the right girl I’ll feel differently.

On the other hand, when I think about all the stuff I would’ve missed out on over the past eight years if I’d gotten married in 2003, I am so fucking glad that girl flew out of my life before I had the chance to do something really stupid. Even more stupid, I mean.

And yeah, I mean that literally. A couple of weeks after I asked her to marry me, she left the continent. Not the town, or even the country, but the freaking continent.

A simple “no” would’ve been sufficient.

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revision

William Faulkner once famously said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Apparently he meant this metaphorically, and not as an exhortation to go out and perform some sort of bizarre and ritualistic sacrifice of all those you hold dear in life. Seems like he could’ve made that more clear.

But hey, lesson learned.

I’m currently in the process of revising my first novel. It’s a nonfiction account of my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, appropriately entitled, The Peace Corpse: Misadventures in Love and Africa.

I’m trying to do everything like I’m supposed to. In Stephen King’s excellent book on writing, appropriately entitled, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he says that after you finish your first draft, you should set it aside and not even look at it for at least six weeks. So that’s what I did. I even marked six weeks out on my calendar, because I’m just that anal.

Sure enough, the day the six weeks were up I eagerly brought out the manuscript, ready to turn something that was maybe just sort of ok into a literary masterpiece of such magnificence and profundity that it would instantly skyrocket me to such esteem and admiration that my mere presence would cause beautiful women to spontaneously tear off their clothes and enthusiastically wrestle each other for the mere opportunity to talk to me.

Because that would be awesome.

And yeah, if my writing—and especially my editing—ability were as unique and colorful as my imagination, maybe I could approach something close to that level of success. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Because as I read through my manuscript with what were supposed to be “fresh” eyes, I found that while there were parts that I really liked, and parts that I felt could be a lot better, I didn’t have the slightest idea what I could do to actually make any of it better. Which is especially frustrating because there were many times while I was writing it where I was thinking, “Yeah, this part sucks, but I’ll fix it during the revision,” but now I don’t remember exactly which parts those were, and in particular I don’t know how to fix any of it.

Dammit.

What I need is for someone who isn’t me to go through it and tell me which parts don’t work. The problem with this is that it’s hard to find someone who is willing to sit down and read through a 98,000-word manuscript on a computer screen and make critical comments about it. That’s a pretty big request to make of someone.

Of course, the other problem with this is that I’m an arrogant ass who doesn’t take criticism very well. But I’m going to have to get over that.

Regardless, I’m determined to get it published this year. Because 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, and my book has exactly 50 chapters. Plus, I think the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary might make the general public more interested in it than they otherwise might be, and if nothing else, setting the goal of publishing it this year gives me something to motivate myself with.

But the fact that I have to face is that it’s entirely possible that no publisher will want to take it. Plenty of Peace Corps Volunteers write memoirs, and I have no doubt that most of them are better written than mine, with a lot more description and character development, and a lot less random and unnecessary swearing. And that’s cool. If I can’t find a publisher, I’ll self-publish. Which means of course that my Mommy will be the only one to actually buy a copy, but that’s ok. It’s not like this is the only book I ever plan on writing.

Of course, there’s a completely different type of revision I’m doing right now: revising scientific papers. Yeah, in the past few weeks I’ve worked on no less than four separate papers. Hell, if all goes well I’ll have at least five scientific publications this year—two research papers as first author, one as second author, a comment paper as second author, and a chapter of a computational chemistry textbook (first author). That’s actually pretty damn good for a guy who claims he’s not that great of a scientist.

It’s kind of got me thinking that maybe I’m making a horrible, horrible mistake by leaving science. After all, while I’m not exactly the greatest scientist ever, I’m actually pretty good at what I do. If nothing else, I know how to write papers and grants, and I know how to interact with people. And that’s about half of what a scientist does anyway.

What really struck me was something an American researcher I met at the conference in November said: “Doing science is like a hobby.” Now those weren’t his exact words, and I’m just now getting to the edge of being too drunk to type coherently, but the reason this struck me is that I always thought that you had to be passionate about science in order to do it well. But the fact is, you don’t. But at the very least, you have to see it as a hobby. It has to be something you enjoy devoting a good chunk of time to. And I think it’s possible for me to see science that way.

But only if I no longer have the delusion that I could be commercially successful as a writer. And that’s why I’m still planning to move to Australia in May, in order to devote an entire year to nothing but writing. And if I can’t come up with something marketable in that time, if everything I submit to agents and publishers gets rejected, I think I could give up my dream of being a writer and be content to be a scientist.

But only if I know for certain that my dream of being a successful author is just a dream.

Regardless, there’s a third type of revision I’m doing at the moment. I’m 31 years old today. 31 years old and $80,740.20 in debt. I’ve had a great time screwing around these past 31 years, but I think it’s time for me to start taking things seriously. I was loaned that money for college and graduate school in good faith, and I fully intend to pay back every dime that I owe. And if that means I have to take a job that I hate for a while, so be it. I knew exactly what I was getting into.

Of course, this doesn’t in any way change my plan to screw around in Australia for a year. I mean, I’m serious about my responsibilities, but I’m not that serious.

goals

What are your goals in life? If you’re reading this right now, one of them obviously isn’t to make the absolute most of every possible waking moment, but that’s cool.

Not everyone needs goals. Some people are perfectly content to just go with the flow, and accept whatever life throws at them. The Zen of Apathy. In some respects that’s enviable. It must be nice to be so at peace with your life, and to never feel the need to fight against the current. Unfortunately for me, I’m way too anal focused for that. I seem to need plans, schemes, or at least a rough outline of a goal in order to be happy.

My main goal right now is to become a commercially successful writer. Emphasis on the “commercially successful” part, because writing truly satisfies me in a way that nothing else does, and while I’ll never stop writing no matter what, it would be nice if I could support myself financially by doing what I love.

The key to achieving your goals, I think, is to break them down into smaller, specific, everyday pieces. “I want to be happy” is not a useful goal because it’s too vague and ambiguous. What really makes you happy? What do you need to do to get it? Will what you think will make you happy actually make you happy in reality? Why don’t you love me for who I am?

Wait. Scratch that last one.

In that respect, “I want to be a commercially successful writer” isn’t that useful of a goal either, because it doesn’t give any specifics. How exactly does one become a commercially successful writer? Write, obviously, but if it were as simple as that, all bloggers would be millionaires, and the world would promptly collapse under the weight of their combined pretension.

So yeah, you have to make your overall goal specific and realistic, and you have to break it down into smaller goals that can be accomplished on a more or less daily basis. But how should the overall goal be broken down, and what specific steps should be taken?

Depending on you’re goal, you’re probably going to have to do some research. Fortunately, there’s the internet, where all shopping and porn-related dreams really do come true. And there’s probably a lot of really useful free information as well. But I wouldn’t know, because I never get past that second thing.

But seriously, there is a wealth of knowledge relating to just about any possible goal to be found on the internet. And if you’re willing to sift through all the advertisements and whatnot, a lot of it is free. Because human beings love to give advice.

I recently finished the first draft of my first book, a nonfiction account of my Peace Corps experience tentatively titled The Peace Corpse: Misadventures in Love and Africa. As you can probably guess from the title, the narrative is primarily driven by stupid humor.

It’s hard to get a book published if you’ve never been published before. Hell, it’s often hard to get a book published even if you have gotten one published before. But while it still seems somewhat daunting, my task is at least a little easier because I’ve done the research and I know exactly what I need to do to maximize the chances of finding a publisher. And I’ve solicited my friends and relatives for help with proofreading, editing, and trying to find some contacts within the literary world, no matter how tenuous. I can’t help feeling a little dirty and depraved about this, but that might just be because I chose to describe it as “soliciting”.

I have absolutely no idea if I’ll ever succeed at my ultimate goal of becoming a commercially successful writer, but what I can say for sure is that if I don’t succeed, it won’t be for lack of trying. And if nothing else, the process of moving towards my ultimate goal is enjoyable in and of itself, and even if I don’t succeed in the end, I feel like I’m a better person for having tried. The small accomplishments I’ve made along the way are actually improvements to my character, I think.

According to some random study I found on Google when I was looking for something else, 78% of all people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions. I actually read the study after I wrote most of this post, but they say pretty much the same thing: If you want to achieve your goals, you should 1) Make them specific b) Research the topic so you have a realistic view of what the process entails, and &) break your ultimate goal down into smaller goals that can be accomplished on a day-to-day basis.

I should also probably add that in general it’s probably best to not start drinking until after you’ve finished whatever it was you were trying to do.

The new year of 2011 is an arbitrary Western thing. The Chinese New Year isn’t for another month. But still, that doesn’t mean we can’t make arbitrary goals for ourselves based on our arbitrary calendar. But if you’re serious about accomplishing your goals, you’re probably more likely to succeed if you follow the steps I’ve outlined. Or ignore my advice entirely. One of those two.

I sent out my first Query Letter for requesting an agent to represent my book today. I expect to send many, many more before I’m done. But that’s ok. I know what the process is, and I know what to expect. I’m just happy to be working towards my goals.

My other goal is to become Vice President of the United States of America.

Seriously.