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There have been a lot of birthdays going around — cold nights in the late seventies and early eighties created more than fondue parties — and since both Simon and I turned one year (b)older in the past two weeks, we’ve both been forced to think about our inevitable deaths. Awesome.

Aside from the guy with the scythe, I personally was left wondering why it took me so damn long to give up on office slavery and do what I wanted to do. Which is not just stare at Olympic swimmers on the idiot box, skateboard, and eat burritos, despite what my whip-cracking inner manager says.

Success comes from doing. You want to do something? Do it. Period. No excuses, no disclaimers, no waiting.

Of course, this is after twenty-seven years, one wasted degree, and a bevy of jobs that include receptionist, fish monger, video store clerk, legal assistant, and pilates studio lackey. It has been a long, meandering path filled with complaints. Although I’ve sworn that I’ve thrown the yoke off for good, I still feel that at any moment I could be forced back into my button-down shirts and interview heels. But what got me to the point where I could write for a living, just barely scrape by, and be happy, has been simply doing it. Well, that and Simon. He’s been the fire under my ass and on my full-size mattress.

The psychological implications of manning up and doing what you want are immense. First, there’s the pocketbook risk factor. Then, there’s the idea of caring. For so long it was easy for me to rely on the stable nine-to-five lifestyle because if I got fired, or bored, or criticized, it meant little more than a momentary annoyance and the need to listen to pretty hate machine during my commute home. Now, failure is epic. Spectacular even. And this is not only because freelancing provides the sort of income as dependable as the baggage claim at O’Hare. It’s also because, for the first time in my life, my work matters to me.

To take the risk was the hardest part, of course. Success, however, is something less concrete. Sure, you can buy yourself a bandana, a pair of skinny jeans, the newest Band of Horses album, and put your ambition where you keep your weed stash, just like the average twenty-something hipster. There’s no actual achievement to be gained or reputation to be lost from not doing, and that’s a good thing to a lot of people. However, there’s a dichotomy between thinking and acting. And this is where I find myself engaging in some serious mental gymnastics that usually leave me frustrated and saying, oh fuck it out loud.

There are two approaches to success that I can see. One is the sort of attack that Michael Phelps made me think about (after I got finished fantasizing about licking Pop Rocks off of his fuck me muscles.) That guy totals about 7080,000 yards per week. Literally. Not including whatever non-amphibious exercise he engages in. It has been stated that all he does is eat, sleep, and swim. I have never been lucky enough to wake up and make him breakfast, but thank God for that, considering that every morning he basically eats an entire Denny’s in one sitting. One can only assume that his whole life is dominated by swimming, from his meals to his downtime. I imagine that most of his days are spent either preparing to swim, getting to or from his training facility, recovering from swimming, scheduling interviews about swimming, and not drowning. Of course winning two dozen gold medals is, in part, just luck, but one can’t help but imagine that it’s also the inevitable outcome of a machine-like training regimen since he was fourteen. Michael Phelps is an example of putting ambition into action and muscling his way through, nonstop, until he got to where he wanted to be. Also, he doesn’t seem to like indie rock. Which, to me, has become directly correlated to being lazy and whining.

Look at the fuck me muscles.

Look at the fuck me muscles.

The other approach is that of creative visualization, based on the Law of Attraction, that Secret book whose cover makes it look like it should be about pirates and Oprah. Okay, not Oprah. Visualization seems to mean thinking about something in a manner that is less based on hope, and in a way that’s more like imagining when it happens, rather than if. Some of the people I know who have employed this technique include a cardiologist, a schoolteacher, an actor, and a TV writer, who used it and not only got the job, but also got the girl.

I’m not sure which practice works, or if they have to be mutually exclusive, or if, because the latter of the two can’t be proven by certified scienticians, both can even be attributed as the reason for a person’s achievements. I do know that I fall more into the camp of trying until dying, and applying all muscle and mettle towards getting what I want. I’m far too much of a skeptic (I call it “realist”) to believe that meditation would be anything more than a waste of minutes that could be spent typing or editing, but I am intrigued enough to try. Besides, every single one of the individuals I know who has employed some variation of the visualization method makes more in six months than I make in an entire year.

Granted, I’m more poor than I’ve ever been, but I’m also happier. So I guess that happiness, to me, is viewed the same way that most people view money: I could always have more. I suppose that I’ll just visualize a book deal and making someone laugh until beer comes out their nose.

Maybe a consumer society is what breeds the success of books like The Secret. It must in part, because the book’s status is based on people tossing paper. I do not equate money with happiness, though I do equate it with the ability to relax, freedom, and sushi dinners. I find a lot of pleasure in eating watermelon, listening to Pandora radio, and imagining how cool it would be if I could do origami. Can that buy me a house? No. But it does help me feel like my life is fulfilling outside of the written word. I still might check The Secret out of the library.

I’m going to attempt to be more open to positive visualization and see what happens. Outside of writing a list of goals, I’ve tried to dedicate some quiet time to tinkering around with my cerebral wiring and shutting up the voice in my head, which sounds just like actor Richard Lewis, that says, “You can’t do that. What are you, crazy? Can’t ever happen.” We’ll see how it goes. For now, though, I’ll keep on keeping on and stick with the philosophy that has brought me this close to the brink of starvation and joy: keep trying. Or even better, maybe now it should be try harder. After all, it’s sink or swim.

I know it’s been said before, and I’m anything but original, but if anybody who is related to someone who works at Apple reads this, you should really get Michael Phelps signed to an endorsement deal. Stat. Now I know that while I cook him breakfast I can totally listen to Tha Carter III.

And, lastly, unless you’re actually training for the Olympics, you have no excuse not to be reading Shows I Missed on the regular. If you are training for the Olympics, I hate to tell you this, but you just missed them.

Send a note or compare Michael Phelps fantasies. AinsleyDrew at the gmail one. And thank you to everyone who donates. It helps to keep me afloat. And that concludes all of the play-on-words related to swimming.

In the lane

Doggie Paddle

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