If a blog sits dormant, seemingly abandoned, without a new post, is it still a blog?
I’ve had a few big firsts since I last officially visited this space one year ago today. I’ve had several drive-bys here, but until now, have not stopped and left anything behind. Maybe not as important as some of my other firsts during the first year of my 40s, but never before in the shockingly long – if unspectacular -- history of Out of Focus have I ever gone an entire year without posting … something. Never before have I left one birthday and arrived at the next with nothing in between.
But this year, too, I continue this humble tradition: I’ve never failed at the birthday post. Like this one.
It’s my third Jack Benny Birthday. As I get deeper into my 39s, my relationship with writing as an act, action, activity and art develops in complicated ways that I don’t always understand.
For more than two decades, in an on-again/off-again fashion, I have kept a journal. Or rather, for the vast majority of the past 20+ years, I have actively not kept a journal: the off-again clearly overpowering the on.
A few nights ago, I was examining some miscellaneous crap I had under my desk at home, and I ran across the journal I kept in 1993. It was a UCLA-branded spiral notebook. I had ripped out most of the pages, but as I read the scribbles my 21-year-old self wrote on those lined pages with an extra-wide margin, I flashed back to those late nights, sitting on the unused sundeck – upon which nobody ever sunned – of my Westwood apartment, late at night, chain-smoking and trying to ignore the noise from the fraternities across the street.
An intense period in 21-year-old Aaron’s non-existent love-life, I spent many a witching hour on that deck during August 1993: One night, bemoaning my inability to figure out how to turn my infatuation with a friend’s friend into the courage to simply ask her out; the next, dreaming about my new – and gorgeous – upstairs neighbor; and when not flip-flopping between the two, discovering that I still couldn’t stop thinking about my high school crush, who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in over three years and who had essentially dismissed me from her life even before that.
What better time for me to mark my return to journaling?
I had always envied the discipline of Doogie Howser (I wish I was kidding). I admired his desire to record his life nightly and to sit there staring at the blinking cursor until the most profound lesson from the episode streamed from his fingers onto the screen. Sure, he would have to pause, mid-thought to determine that second all-important sentence, glancing at the ceiling of his room or out the window to indicate, “Insightful moral now forming.” Here I was with all this soul-searching lady drama – without actually directly involving any ladies; how could I not delve into handwritten self-reflection.
And for a bit more than two weeks, I did just that – alternating between Crush #1, Crush #2 and Crush Long Gone – recording my dreams, my fears, my insecurities … as well as my shames, my hopes, my ambitions.
And then I stopped. Two weeks … that’s about as long as it lasted. Self-reflection was hard, especially when I was doing more whining than reflecting. Or maybe I realized that at the time: that my meditations weren’t honest enough; existed primarily on the surface because aside from nervous, I knew not how to feel, and so I probably got bored.
Each night, I told myself, “I should go write in my journal,” but instead I’d watch several hours of AMC. (Just to be clear, we’re talking pre-TCM, awesome “American Movie Classics"-AMC; not years-in-the-wilderness, pre-Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc.-AMC). I stayed up late so I could pour over the baseball box scores when my L.A. Times arrived around 4 am, because winning my fantasy baseball league seemed far more important at the time. I had no idea where I’d be at the start of my 42nd year.
Three years later, I cracked open that journal once again -- for another week. Two years after that, I tried again. But not until after my 1996 move to New York, while on a three-week trip to Italy in 2000 with NYU did I resume the habit. I wrote every day of that trip; every entry another record of this amazing time.
My consistency ended when I landed in Newark three weeks later. Three months after that, I resumed my journaling … for another two months.
Not one of the first, nor the last, 2004 was a good time to start a blog. I began writing about film, TV and all the other enablers of my ADD from a personal place at a time when a greater number of people were still trying to figure out how to make a living by being an independent loud voice on the Internet. But I was just trying to release the opinionated voices in my head and force them to shout somewhere else.
For the first few years, I did so with a great deal of consistency. It was my escape from a job that bored me; my refuge for spouting opinions about those things that were important to me and even some that weren’t. But I never intended to regularly use this space as a public diary, a place to reflect upon myself and let you all share in that experience.
And then, I became confused. With so many voices competing for their own narrow piece of broadband, and without the time to maintain a constant presence with a clear – and even niche – focus, why bother? Suddenly, my loose-and-easy, draft, quick-and-poorly proof, publish methodology (which you can still consume by visiting this blog's 2004-2006 posts) no longer appealed to me.
I didn’t like my own writing. I didn’t want to so carelessly throw my words out there. I knew that moving forward I would exert an extreme amount of time, effort and energy simply forcing myself to focus long enough to compose coherent and compelling entries. I enjoyed contemplating writing for this blog; sometimes, I even enjoyed the writing itself. However, stopping all else and focusing on that process, or taking a moment after typing that last word to ensure that I’ve written well, regularly generated roadblocks to starting or finishing anything.
Do I care that I might be writing solely for myself? If the audience isn’t present, does the exercise serve a purpose? Is it worth the effort?
My hate-love-hate relationship with writing originated decades ago, maybe before I even recognized it. “Writers write,” so I must be a passive writer, which (according to the definition at the beginning of this sentence) might be an oxymoron. I think about writing far more than I write. The idea of writing maintains a consistent pull on me, one I refused to acknowledge for a while before actively resisting it for years. Perfectionist Aaron refrains from starting until I know the words will flow from my fingers through the keyboard, fully formed and perfectly communicated – the writing version of the birth of Athena; an utterly ridiculous “plan” since whatever I create generally moves in its own direction after I start, diverging from its intended path, sometimes by a wide margin.
I continue to have ideas, sometimes start them, and leave them unfinished. I continue to tell myself I will develop a new writing habit, primarily in this space, and exorcise the crazymaking opinionated part of myself; a return to a few stories and screenplays I’ve started over the years; writing every day, for some set period of time, no more and no less. Certainly not a revolutionary idea, but one I have yet to find the discipline (or the courage?) to stick with.
Well, that’s not totally true. At the beginning of 2010, my journaling became a habit. Every day. Usually right after waking up. I wasn’t perfect in 2010, but in 2011 I filled eight Moleskine notebooks, showing up to the page every day. Without fail. Usually for 30-40 minutes. Set to a timer.
So far, in 2012, I haven’t missed a day either. Somehow, night owl that I am, I wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 A.M. to ensure that I have the time I need to perform my morning routine.
The journaling is productive in ways I never imagined when I sat on that sundeck 20 years ago. In fact, even when I bore myself with drivel, not wanting to sit there maintaining sleepy focus, I find it helpful. Last year, I began the practice of reading my previous year’s entry from that date before putting pen-to-paper; a terrifying but illuminating practice that continues to amaze, surprise, excite and depress me.
The journaling has not helped elevate or develop my writing, though; certainly not in the sense of producing anything I might want someone else to read. And more importantly, in regards my little corner of the InterWorld Wide Webnets, the further my journaling habit progressed, my abandonment of this blog (and more importantly, any writing for eyes other than mine) became more pronounced, occupying a longer period of time.
Even at 41 – I mean, 39 III – I force myself to confront my poor rapport with Patience on a nearly daily basis. My life has been filled with successful baby steps and disastrous giant leaps, both constantly testing my resolve and consistently fomenting my frustrations. In 2009-10, I recovered from an emotionally devastating lay-off from a job in which I had invested so much of myself; unsurprisingly coinciding with the beginning of the most difficult financial period of my life. In the midst of such a long and somewhat desperate period, I discovered and developed a new relationship that became the most important one I will ever have.
In 2010-11, it meant watching that relationship grow, even as I continued to struggle financially, frantically scrambling to get off the dole. It took what seemed like forever (in actuality, 18 months) to find a job; it was not a job I was looking for; but it was (and remains) a job that returned me to financial stability and has allowed me to contribute to the opening and development of a vital new institution for New York City and the United States – one of healing, memorial and remembrance.
This job also allowed me to develop that relationship to a point beyond what I had ever previously encountered. Since I last visited this space, 366 days ago (leap year, natch!), I became and – just over a month ago – married, to the love of my life: A woman who constantly makes me feel like the best person in the world and motivates me to want to be (or become) that person, even when I’m not.
At our wedding, when we spoke our vows – or as our rabbi preferred to call them, our “personal sentiments” – I stole from James Corden’s acceptance speech for his best leading actor in a play Tony win for One Man, Two Guvnors. He said, “She made me say us instead of I and we instead of me. And I love her.” I couldn’t have written it better myself, so I didn’t.
So in this next year, I’m hoping to find that next step. Recently, more than usual, I have felt further away from myself, the things I enjoy, and the Aaron I know I am and have always been. A mid-life crisis. A journey of self-discovery. A bunch of blathering nonsense. Any and all of these. I’m hoping as I focus more on my writing – whether here, elsewhere or a combination of the two – that the answers will become more apparent to me.
I’ve never really enjoyed my birthday, rarely celebrating it. I’d prefer it just quietly passed by – nothing to see here, and therefore, no pressure. I always feel like I should be happy; I should enjoy it; I should celebrate; I should have a party; I should say, “Look at me, it’s my special day.”
But I don’t want to. I always used to say that I would be much happier if people treated me with generosity and kindness 364 days out of the year but shit on me just on my birthday. I find that preferable than the opposite, which is the reality of our world too often.
In each of these birthday posts – with the exception of last year’s – I’ve focused more on other people and events; on those who share September 21 as their special day – and it’s a pretty awesome list. I enjoyed focusing on the external and pondering all the interesting people and exciting events that joined history on the same date as I did. I wish all my birthday buddies the happiest of days, but this entire missive is a result of my realizing that my current course requires more inward self-reflection and a new attempt to release whatever it is I may have to say. But I’m making no promises to myself (or anyone else out there) that Out of Focus will see a return to vitality.
I also, once more, won’t be celebrating in any way other than a quiet dinner with my wife (heh – I still giggle when I say “wife” – it’s more of a cackle when I hear “husband”). Maybe by the end of this, my 42nd year on the planet, the all-encompassing it will make more sense; maybe next year, I’ll return to this space with my 10th birthday post and an altered outlook, fondly anticipating and embracing my birthday in ways I haven’t for years. By then, it should all be easier because I should understand – 42 is the answer, after all.