I’ve been listening to the Replacements a lot lately.
Actually that’s not big news. I’ve been listening to the Replacements since the early 1990s or so. In fact, they (along with NIN, Pearl Jam and a few other bands) were the ones that moved my musical tastes away from most of the crud that MTV was offering and on to music with an edge to it.
However, it has been lately that I’ve found myself identifying with a line in a Replacements song. Of course, I’ve identified with the themes prevalent in their music before now. But lately one particular line seems to sum up how I’ve been feeling:
God what a mess on the ladder of success/Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung/Dreams unfulfilled/graduate unskilled/It beats picking cotton and waiting to be forgotten
While looking up some articles on the band, I happened across Rolling Stone’s review of Pleased To Meet Me. In the article, David Fricke writes: “When God was giving out self-confidence, where the hell was Paul Westerberg? Out buying beer? For someone so blessed with songwriting ability, the singer-guitarist seems unduly consumed with doubt about his own worth.”
I seem to fall into the Westerberg camp when it comes to self-confidence. I’ve dealt with some pretty tough things in my life. I started out in school as learning disabled, yet advanced to the point where I was all regular classes by high school and graduated high school with a few honors ones thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the hardest thing I ever had to deal with was the loss of my mother to cancer on May 3 2001. Actually, there’s no “perhaps” about it. That WAS the hardest thing I ever had to deal with.
Seeing as, like Westerberg, I am a writer (albeit not a songwriter and nowhere near Westerberg’s talent level) I find myself wondering if maybe the reason many people decide to become writers is because their confidence level is so low. Just a momentary digression.
Upon graduating high school, I pretty much found myself on the fast track to college. Not necessarily because I chose to. Partly because it was expected of me, partly because at the time I didn’t see any other option. I don’t blame my parents because they truly were concerned about my best interests.
Upon graduating high school, I had several career possibilities considered. I planned to either become a writer, a radio DJ or web designer. At the time, my main interest was in radio, yet upon enrolling in College I opted to major in Computers. Mainly because I was hearing stories of how the radio market was drying up and how technology was taking the place of the human element.
My computer major lasted for two semesters. After spending two four-month periods struggling with abstract math equations (unsuccessfully I might add) and realizing that the life of a corporate drone did not appeal to me, I changed my major to Radio/Television.
For the record, the amount of time spent (in the computer classes I took) on my area of expertise (web design) amounted to maybe 2 hours. 2 hours out of a 3 and a half-month course.
Around the same time, I was contemplating starting a web design business. In fact, I actually designed a page promoting it and was preparing to purchase a domain name.
Unfortunately, that lack of self-confidence struck again. Fear that I might not be able to make the business work or that the combined responsibilities plus school would equal too much led me to abandon the plan.
Now fast-forward 5 years to today. Today as I write this, I find myself feeling like the character Westerberg describes in the verse quoted earlier. I’m currently unemployed and in the midst of looking for a job. The majority of the skills I have are in fields that are either ultra-competitive or in fields that are over-saturated (the computing field). I’m currently not married or even dating.
Writing is my main passion, my main career goal. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of radio work either, although I’m rather rusty in that area since the last time I was behind an actual announcer’s mic was at my high school’s station.
In retrospect, I wonder if maybe I should have instead of going directly to college from high school actually looked for some radio work in the area. In actuality, I did think of that. But again, I could not bring myself to actually go against what was expected of me at the time.
My overall negative college experience proved one thing to me. I’m not the type to arbitrarily take orders from people and follow arbitrarily established rules that make no sense whatsoever. In other words: I’m not a team player. Or at least, not in the establishment always knows best sense. Unfortunately, that seems to be the common attitude in most schools, most jobs etc.
Unfortunately, I do not have the money or the self-confidence level needed to tell the rest of the world to fuck off and go to Paris (or more realistically New York) and work on my writing until something comes along. Jim Morrison in 1970 could do that. Ernest Hemingway could. I can’t.
So I currently find myself not wanting to compromise, yet realizing that I have no real choice. Like many other aspiring writers I’ve basically resigned myself to taking whatever regular jobs I can find in the real world, while writing for Internet publications on the side. I’m also in the process of returning to school. So I currently find myself fighting to keep from sliding into slackerdom, yet not resign myself to a bright future in sales. Also try and build my self-confidence level up.
Jeff Wilder is a writer-filmmaker-philosopher who lives south of the south.
ABOUT JEFF WILDER
more about jeff wilder
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.8.04 @ 3:36p
I am sure that many of us empathize, my friend. Existential angst, directionless, and self-doubt plague me frequently. But I am fortunately just as frequently plagued by spontaneous joy and delight. Must be all that vipissana meditation.
Don't fret Paris. Its overrated anyway. I've been there and its full of French people.
But, in your honor, I propose that we list platitudes about what to do when life is taking your knees out with a baseball bat...
1) When life gives you lemons, make lemonade
and the writer's corollary:
2) When life gives you lemons, write a cookbook.
Oh, they hurt enough that I want to chew my hand off for typing them down!
3.8.04 @ 6:39p
Platitude: Roll with the punches, but throw some of your own.
Musical Platitude: Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
3.8.04 @ 7:45p
Don't want to upset you, Jeff, but I'm in the same place in a way, and I'm pushin' 40 here. Just today I decided it was time to get a job (after 11 years off the market) and go back to school. I'm starting small - just signed up for a refresher course in Spanish - because, at nearly 40, I STILL don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
3.9.04 @ 11:03p
Platitude, re: Rachel -
When life's the pits, I figure there's a bowl of cherries nearby. I make cobbler.
And here I am at 37, just now getting around to applying to law school. Alex P. Keaton, where are you when I need you?!
3.10.04 @ 7:10a
Paul Westerberg was a genius who bought his own press and just got odd. Everything from Let It Be to 14 Songs is all class - he's our Dylan. But then the rust started showing on Eventually and everything after that has been so navel-gazey that it has become impossible to listen to.
I guess let that be your lesson - if you totally tune out, sure you're happier, but what are you worth?
Jeff, there should no longer be a "working on your writing" phase. Do it, get it done, and pay the bills along the way. Life tends to present a series of adventures dozens of times a day, we're just programmed to turn them down. Look for those opportunities and take them, you'll be happier and your writing will benefit.
3.10.04 @ 3:34p
Okay, here's the thing.
Self-confidence is just "confidence." Confidence in your abilities comes from taking a chance, sticking your neck out and walking away with a few nics. Not a single person has ever been successful the 1st time out - those of us older than you can all cringe at mistakes made, some in public, but that's how you learn. The difference between Westerberg and you is that he wore his insecurities on his sleeve for everyone to see, and made money from it. Make no mistake: it took a lot of confidence (or performance ego?) to play that card.
Cut yourself some slack. You say you don't have confidence, yet you post your inner fears on a website. That takes a lot of courage, ego, confidence, whatever.
As the radio vet, I'm not going to tell you it's a waste of time, but just to be prepared for what you're getting into. Start in promotions, get a feel for it all, (at least you'll have a more-relatable-to your-interests-job then, which also helps confidence)and then decide.
Also, read Stephen King's "On Writing", if you want a good lesson in shitty jobs while writing/handling rejection, as well as Anne Lamont's "Bird by Bird." Successful writers who have gone through exactly what you're going through now and help to push you back onto solid ground.