Monday, September 17, 2007

To Live A Life Uncommon

To Live A Life Uncommon
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To Live A Life Uncommon

It is not easy to live a life that is true to one self, that fulfills our potential as distinct individuals.

Since the inception of my role as my parent, which I guess one could pinpoint as the conception of our first child, Enzo, I have had a fervent desire to ensure that each one had an opportunity to live a life uncommon, one that was not beholden to a trite passage through life.

Ironically, it is fairly difficult to achieve this when you’re constantly reminded that you’re bound to fall into the black hole of mediocrity yourself, so that, if ultimately you can’t escape, you can’t expect that those who you tow along will end up leading much of a different destiny themselves.

Nonetheless and allthemore, I am trying, I am vying to free myself of the shackles of all that I’ve learned and been indoctrinated to do, so that, much like Howard Roark, the uncompromising hero of The Fountainhead, I might pursue a life that is true to one’s purpose in life; one that if met, is essentially extraordinary for everyone who can free themselves of the oppressing expectations, demands and ideals of others.

From the onset, I feel Enzo, the oldest, has demonstrated that he is duly headed upon this course. Everyone that meets him often comments that there is something special about him, that his curiosity and questions belie a force of intellect that are unusual for a child.

As his father, I’ve done my best to usher his potential, and feel that it is incumbent upon me to facilitate extraordinary experiences that will cater to the innate abilities of both him and his brother, Nicky the Brave, despite the circumstances that often thwart all parent's well-meaning intentions.

My forthcoming book, 25 Lessons: The Art of Living, is in and of itself an attempt to make life extraordinary for my children, both by way of attempting to convey a bit of the wisdom that I have learned along the way—to relay some of the mistakes I’ve made, so that they don’t have to make them all themselves—and also, by way of example, so that by showing them how I have exerted myself, I have retaken control of my own fate, and in turn, hopefully, will provide the means by which they—never have to lose control of their own.

It is not easy though. Albeit the manuscript for 25 Lessons has been finished for some time, there have been interminable production delays, so that the release date has moved from Spring of 2007 to August to October, and now to February 2008.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, that a certain emptiness hasn’t overcome me because I had pent up so many hopes and dreams into the rocket launch of my first book, the momentous occasion that I often imagine could prove to be my winning lottery ticket, the ticket that will allow me to pursue my passions, my art, my true work.

Nonetheless, I’m doing my best to cope by trying to be “objective” about this situation and accepting, with a smile, the fact that I must return to the rock quarry of corporate life, at least for a while, at least for another six months.

And in the interim, I’m doing my best to remind myself that at least I’ve got a book deal, and that the book is essentially finished now, and that this, in and of itself, is no small feat.

Yes, I must remember that I am very lucky, that it is now only a matter of time, and that meanwhile I need to get back to trying to make life extraordinary by other means—if only by seeing that there is something pretty extraordinary in almost everything.

Enzo has often reminded me of this important lesson. And, I believe, children in general inherently have the power to see beyond our adulterated perceptions, to perceive how extraordinary common life really is.

That’s why their fascination with the little things often abets anxiety and frustrates the parental agendas that urge us to get somewhere or get something, done, on time.

That’s why when they pretend to be superheroes they are essentially embracing our innate abilities to fulfill our greatest potential to actually be our own heroes.

Alas, it is only when we are battered down by circumstance as adults that we lose faith in ourselves. That is why I often smile when I realize that my children are my superheroes, and that their innocence and organic mirth are the powers that serve to rescue me from myself.

As I will share below, “…we need to nudge ourselves off the road every once in a while, to take a detour without fearing to get lost.” Thus, I have to believe that these production delays are my nudge off the road to so-called success, and that they will prove to be an opportunity to enjoy life a little more, play with my children more often, and ultimately, that they will prove to be a delightful detour in the end.

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
—Ayn Rand—

In celebration of my little superheroes, I want to share another excerpt of 25 Lessons: The Art of Living, if only because sometimes some things need not wait; if only because life does not wait for anyone.

Excerpted from Lesson 4: Take the Long Way Home

When I used to commute into the city each morning from New Jersey, I walked a different path to and from Port Authority, to my office at Park Avenue and 26th Street. My objective was not only to ward off boredom, but also to become intimately familiar with the city.

Sometimes, I’d walk straight across one of fifteen numbered streets between Port Authority and my office, and then head straight down one of the seven avenues: Eighth, Seventh (Fashion Avenue), Sixth (Avenue of the Americas), Broadway, Fifth, Madison or Park. Other times, I’d zig-zag between all the possible combinations of ways to get to and from work. By any and all means, I always seemed to come across something new and exciting.

At the end of my workday, I would wander back to Port Authority to take the bus back to New Jersey. Located at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, Port Authority is right at the edge of Times Square and at the periphery of “Broadway,” New York’s theater district, so there was always a lot of action going on around that area.

After my separation, I drew on my understanding of the city, of its hidden nooks and treasures, to feed my passion. I also discovered that many of the places I had seen on my way to and from work, were hotbeds for photography. Times Square, especially at night, proved to be a particularly favorite playground for me.

… No matter where you live or work or go, there are treasures to be found everywhere. We only have to make an effort to look for them; sometimes it is simply a matter of opening our eyes and senses to see the beauty that envelopes our daily lives.

A good way of achieving this is by trying to see the world through a child’s eyes. To do so, you must let go of all the things you must do, and simply explore without an agenda, without the compulsion to keep track of time and place, without a care to divert you away from appreciating all the glorious details of the environment that glimmers around you.

On occasion, we must remind ourselves to think and run and play as freely as we once did, when we were kids, when, as children, we often took the long way home or spun in circles and made odd noises until we got so dizzy that we could no longer stand up straight, so that we spilled ourselves silly onto the grass, and with our arms splayed apart, we watched the clouds congeal into giant animal crackers up above until we caught our breath and our equilibrium again, so that we could do it all over again without a second thought as to how sick we might feel afterward.

I am fortunate to be a father of two wonderful boys who inspire me on a daily basis in this manner. As much as parents serve to guide their little ones via their own errors and experience, children likewise serve to prompt us to let go every once in a while, so that we might truly enjoy and appreciate life. Watching my sons play, I am constantly reminded that kids get in trouble mostly because their organic way of being does not naturally fit into the rigid outline of an adult agenda imposed upon them.

Reviewing photos of my children often reminds me of the adage that, indeed, our little ones become big ones all too soon. It is impossible to over-appreciate every minute of their blossoming, especially when, as adults, we are so eager to regain that blissful state of ignorance and freedom.

Ironically enough, it is the inherent qualities of a child that lead us to the wisdom we often seek as adults. “Wisdom begins with wonder,” Confucius once said, and it is curiosity that puts us on the path toward such enlightenment.

Far too often, as adults, we forfeit the precious traits that are inherent in us as children—all in the name of fear, conservation, propriety and apathy.

And often, for good reason.

But just as often, we do not risk enough, we are not willing to step out of our safety zone, to try something new, to just waste time in the name of frivolity—to take the long way home.

As a result of succumbing to the requisite pragmatism of adulthood, we stay stagnant, we diminish our potential, we stop growing, and we proceed down the straight and narrow path until we become bored and unhappy.

This is why we need to nudge ourselves off the road every once in a while, to take a detour without fearing to get lost. If anything, we must welcome the opportunity to see new things, meet new people, have adventures, and most importantly, learn. And by learning, grow wiser via youthful ignorance, precocious restlessness and relentless inquisition about this and that, and this again.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our behavior; but other times we find that our circumstances afford us an opportunity to cut a different and unexpected path.

For instance, having the opportunity to live at the little church is a good example of how my all-too common circumstances allowed me to draw upon my individual initiative and develop a unique solution. Like so many others before me, I could either have given in to the notion that divorce was the only real recourse and completely moved out, hired a lawyer, split up the assets, determined custody, and said goodbye. Instead, being that I wasn’t yet ready to do this— to simply give in— I made an effort to realize another solution tailored just for me. In the end, the extra effort paid off because I realized and was reminded of and was turned on to a wealth of awareness about my life, my self, and my passions.

It is true that if it were not for the pioneers who preceded us, we wouldn’t have been able to see beyond the thrush. In other words, our predecessors can help us by clearing the way, and thus enabling us to spend more time paving a path toward success. However, such success also depends upon whether or not we can continue to pioneer on our own, to risk, to innovate and, on occasion—to take the long way home.


More stories, musings and poems about and written for my sons:

To Live A Life Uncommon

There’s Always Something (Ode for a Son)

Nicky The Brave (The Spine of Life)

Like Father, Like Son (a paternal self-fulfilling prophecy)

I Love You, Dominic

Three Familiar Faces (Lesson 6: If…)

I’m A Father (Designing My Little Architects

Just The Two of Us (Papa Loves You)

The Quiet One

The Boys (Collection of Photo Sets )

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