Self-examination is a bitch.
Of course, I'm not talking about the physical. There's nothing funny about finding lumps or shoe fragments where they shouldn't be. No, I'm talking about the meta-physical, the mental, the dare-I-say spiritual experience of taking a good hard look at yourself in the proverbial mirror. And it isn't the act itself that's rough - you basically sit around and put on the Cure and mope for a few weeks. One of my buddies in college did this when his girlfriend dumped him. Face down on the floor with Disintegration for three days straight, emerging once a day to shove a bucket of Ramen down his melancholy hole.
It's hard because it's a downer, a total mindfrak, and mostly because the whole reason you decide to take that walk of shame down Me street in the first place is because you already have an inkling that there's something hiding behind the shiny exterior that you probably don't like.
However, if you're trying to get better at anything, writing, writing about writing, founding websites about writing about writing, foosball, the process of self-examination is crucial. For me, this process usually coincides with Lent, not for any sort of higher reason -- I've already detailed the fact that I'm not a great Catholic -- but just because it ends up being that way.
I usually give up things for Lent, and I try to make it tough. Like this year for instance, my daughter decided to give up something for the first time, and her first three choices were vegetables, church, and her little brother. After I intervened, she wound up choosing chocolate because AT THE TIME she thought it'd be a breeze -- what with Starbursts, Skittles, Jelly Bellys, and Twizzlers still in play. It wasn't until the time came when everyone randomly got chocolate for some reason and hers had to go in her pocket that the true meaning of Lent made itself clear.
I'm just as tough on myself. One year I gave up drinking and I'm still apologizing to anyone who got in the way of that train wreck.
But this year I wasn't feeling the self-deprivation thing. I don't know why. I mean, am I really proving I'm a good person by not eating a cheeseburger for six weeks, especially if I'm still shooting smack and watching Survivor? The answer, of course, is maybe, but I got to thinking that if I'm starting to doubt my convictions on what I've been told is a pretty fundamental level, then maybe the old reset button needs a nudge.
So I decided that what I would do is wake up every morning during Lent and make sure I didn't suck. That probably meant staring down the barrel of the cheeseburgers, the smack, Rob Marinelli, AND a heavy dose of just letting things happen, acting on instinct, and playing a little "now, was that a good idea?" when the shit hit the fan.
So I did.
I'm still here.
Which is good.
The rules of self-examination are simple. It starts with the basic question "Who am I?" This seems easy enough, I'm good-time-laugh-a-minute-blue-shirt-wearin' Joe! Right? No. Because the point isn't so much to figure out who you are, but rather what you are. And for me, that started at the superficial and got right to the bone pretty quick.
Do I still like U2?
Am I too old to be wearing this U2 t-shirt?
Should I be running a company?
Am I still technical? Am I management? Good heavens, am I sales?
Do I need a real job?
Are these books a good idea?
Should Intrepid Media still be?
Am I still a musician?
Am I a good dad?
Am I funny?
Am I talented at all?
Am I phony?
GOOD GOD WHO THE EFF AM I?
I know. It starts to sound like a mid-life crisis, and in that, it's definitely not something you'd necessarily want to be reading. Please don't click over to Netflix just yet.
The fact is that those questions were painful to write, and I'm not talking about painful like I had to scrape my soul and rip out my intestines to splatter all over the interwebs for you, I'm talking about painful like -- Am I really going to get that lame and self-consciously stupid in piece that's meant for others to read? Let's face it, if I don't pull the nose up and make it over Mount Douchebag here, you might not ever read me again.
I did it because there's no other way to advise you on how self-consciously stupid the questions need to be for this exercise to work. You have to put it all on the table, Meredith Baxter-Birney-style, and answer each one to the best of your ability.
Furthermore, if you don't know the answer, or if it comes out a "maybe" or a "push," then you're not done. Cue up Head on the Door and crack open another beer.
When you do get through your 40 days in the desert, consider each answer carefully. Pat yourself on the back for the good ones and put a sharp focus on the ones you don't like. Because when you're all done with it, you'll never be more comfortable in your own skin or ready for what's next, and when you want to talk about what you want to be, you have to start with what you are.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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4.2.10 @ 8:57a
OK. Self-examination/Self-improvement methods, anecdotes, disasters. Please post your best.
4.2.10 @ 9:09a
I'm not sure why you went to all the trouble when there are about a jillion personality quizzes on the web. One day last summer I was where you are so I went online and took about a dozen. I felt wonderful for about a week. Great post, by the way. You made me smile.
4.2.10 @ 1:40p
Been awhile, man, but had to post for this.
I've been down this road many a time. I think it's exacerbated by middle-age and parenthood. I've heard the truism that the fundamental human emotion is fear, but more lately I think it's just overall insecurity. All things, love, fear, happiness, misery, abd despair seem to spring from that. It is a head trip, so balance is what I try for, enjoying all the slices of life, but eating some humble-pie as well to stave off narcissism and hubris without overdoing it. I've had my share of setbacks, from failures in music, writing, teaching to succeeding as the geek that I am. They are too numerous to list, all you can do is bull through them.
I read a bunch of philosophy and stuff back in college and over the years, and at times like you described here, I think back to them. Some of that was pretty bleak stuff, but it comes back and I can't quite shake it. I have all kind of cliches and quotes I use. "That which does not kill us makes us stronger", "Fight the good fight", and "Dare to be great", and the trite classic "It is what it is", and on and on, but, even though some are from Nietzsche and other thinkers, they often seem frail against the implications of those deeper, darker pieces of thought, and no matter what, I often end up feeling like a chicken-sh*t, a bullcrapper.
In the end, I do believe that in terms of human existence, all of us that are alive go back to the beginning -whether one believes in Darwin or Creationism is irrelevant- it is one long chain of life-cycles. I concluded, before I became a parent, that the sensible response was to continue on. Whether life can be proven pointless or not, it will go on and parenting is a chance to contribute to the hope life will improve, the next generation will do better, and better after that. It seems that Camus agrees with me on that, I probably got it from him anyway, but who really knows. We're all blind going forward.
Phew, that was long and meandering, sorry. Oh yeah, and also, hope everyone is still awesome and kicking butt.
4.5.10 @ 11:01a
I'm doing a bike relay of a triathalon this year for the first time. I've become a yoga instructor. By sheer chance, I've also become a Nordic Walk instructor, but still need to be certified. If all this doesn't scream 40+ self-examination, I don't know what does: I am YOUTHFUL because I MOVE.
I've also realized in the past year that I prefer to continue to lead by example and help others tap into their potential and that I really, really, really don't want to have deadlines anymore ever, especially those dictated by other people. Obviously, this may hamper my writing career a bit.