I’ve been promising a big announcement for just over six weeks, and while some might think it is just “Paul setting his goals for the new year”, trust me, it’s different. How? Let me start with how I got here.
I started by looking back. Way back. And I realized that my life, or at least my levels of personal development, can be broken into three general phases.
First there was “young me”, maybe up until about Grade 11. Call him PolyWogg 1.0…I’m sure there were early beta releases, but somewhere around Grade 7, I realized two things that made me “unique”. First, I was pretty good at academics and most of it came easily to me. I wasn’t an athlete, I wasn’t the funniest guy, I wasn’t a bad boy (the edgiest thing I ever did was wear a hat that said “Take A Flyer”, which was short for “Take a flying f*** on a rolling doughnut”), and I wasn’t any woman’s dreamboat. Second, I was an extreme introvert, and didn’t mind spending time alone rather than trying to win more friends. I wanted a few close ones, not a dozen acquaintances.
So I was “book smart”, with my brain leading me into my future. Later, around Grade 11, I realized that not only was I good at figuring out systems, rules, computers, math, logic, etc., but also that I actually enjoyed writing when I wasn’t worried about a formulaic grade calculation. I’ll post more about that in coming months probably, but for now, suffice it to say that I realized that I was a decent writer (yay for Grade 8 teacher Mrs. Elaine Gallagher who predicted that my writing would take me further than my math skills).
From Grade 11 (age 17-ish) to age 29, I moved into a new version of me. Call it PolyWogg 2.0 if you will. I did university in Peterborough, had my first serious romance, went off to law school in B.C., made friends and more than friends, learned a lot but was mostly unhappy, and moved back to Ontario to do a co-op at Foreign Affairs. I found that I liked policy, programs, even corporate files, and that I was pretty good at most of them. I basically found my career “calling” in government, something that hadn’t happened in law school. On the personal front, I had a year of hell between 1995 and 1996. A significant romance died, my finances were in the toilet, government hiring was frozen, I stuck my toe further into the consultancy world. I was trying to get a few things on track here and there. Managed to get a term with Foreign Affairs, started straightening a few things out (I was car-less, living in suburbs of Nepean, with poor bus service, and working 60 hour weeks more out of boredom than actual required workload), thought of moving to a better apartment, doing some studies at Carleton to further my MPA. Then my father died. I spent a lot of time helping my mother, did a bit of travelling, and work was going great. But on the personal front, fast forward about two years and I realized I had no freaking clue who I was or what I wanted anymore.
Based on that drift, I made a giant decision at age 29, the start of PolyWogg 3.0. I decided to take five years off from dating (“decided” is a relative term, no one was knocking my door down to change my decision!). For reference, it’s kind of a similar approach that counsellors advise when people are going through rehab — if you’re not already in a relationship, don’t start one until you’ve been clean for a year. Otherwise, you’re anchoring the “old you”, not anchoring the “new you” that you’ll be. Five years in which I stripped my psyche bare. Ask friends Aliza and Sebastien — they were my default psychotherapy advisors during the time, with many long long long (did I mention long?) conversations where I would be focused heavily on some aspect of my personality or someone else’s. So much so that when it was someone else’s, say a female friend, people thought I wanted to date them. Except I didn’t. What I was doing was saying, “Hey, there’s a great person, what makes them emotionally, intellectually attractive?” and then trying to figure out what I liked about them that I would perhaps one day want to see in someone else. I didn’t have the vocabulary or distance to explain it, but it was never about those other people. It was about what “qualities” they had that I liked, and then figuring out whether I was liking that quality because I actually liked it, or was just following some old script in my head. I probably could have done the same work, or maybe even better, in about a year of working with a competent therapist, but I wasn’t ready or able to do that. So I did it myself. A brutal process, something Aliza (I think?) once described as resembling more self-mutilation than self-reflection.
Four years went by. Lots of good work that I’m proud that I did. Work that I needed to do to become the “new” me. The “me” that actually knew what he was doing, what he wanted, where he was going. Without delving too deep into the phrase, a “me” that I actually really liked. So in my fifth year, I dipped my toe back into the dating waters. At the time, it seemed like an unmitigated disaster. I didn’t really know how to “date”. I was still an extreme introvert, even more so after a couple of serious relationships under my belt and five years of introspection. I still don’t do well at casual friendships. The year was like a freaking pinball machine. Or a roller-coaster, take your pick of metaphors. Looking back, I know most of it was “no harm, no foul”, and it ended relatively well with the first “healthy adult relationship” of my life (age 32!), but the cost was high — an ill-conceived relationship ended a close friendship of 7 years.
I had a big piece of the puzzle figured out — me. What I didn’t know was whether that person could live alone anymore. I knew I wanted a wife, the family, house, car, etc., the whole nine yards. And I couldn’t do it “alone”. But I was also okay if it didn’t happen. I wrestled with this notion for the first six months of 2002. To use another cliché, I was trying to decide if I should go “all in” for finding that other person, or just to live my life and if I found the other person along the way, great. If not, also great. I made my decision on June 14th, 2002, the day before my 33rd birthday. I decided to go with the “live and be open” option rather than “having to find someone”. I’m not explaining the “dilemma” very well, will probably do so later in the year in more detail, but what is important is the decision and the date. Why? Because three days later I had my first date with the woman who eventually agreed to be my wife. It sounds like a cliché, but I do believe that I spent that time creating the me that was ready to meet her.
That version of me that made the decision in June 2002 is still somewhat intact. The core of who I am hasn’t changed from that five years of work. I still have insights into my psyche. I can usually tell what’s going on inside my head, what my squirrels are doing from time to time and how to avoid them in advance or let them run their course if released. The last thirteen years with Andrea has also forced me to grow, as every good relationship should. They say patience is a virtue, but no one has ever said patience was my virtue. Yet I have had to learn patience too. Most friends know that I was ready to get married much earlier than Andrea, a reflection in part of her being eight years younger than me, and both more prudent and cautious when it comes to matters of the heart. Six years ago, we married in a style that doesn’t match anyone’s but our own, and I loved the uniqueness of a wedding in a theatre and a reception on a boat.
And we were incredibly blessed to have a “honeymoon baby”. We got pregnant right away. At 26 weeks, we had a partial rupture of the membrane — a fancy way to say her water broke, but not completely. Ten weeks of bed rest, and she was ready to deliver. Complications, difficulties, tears, smiles, a roller coaster of experience both before and after the birth (I’ll post on this too during the year). Five years later I have a beautiful little boy, whip-smart, loves to read. And write. He fills my bucket every day.
So it sounds like I have it all figured out, right? A job I love. The woman I love. A son I love. House, car, cable. Decent smartphone. Heck, I even have my computer mostly organized the way I want it.
But I don’t have it figured out. Some key pieces, sure, but I’ve been drifting of late. Maybe it’s the realization that I’m officially an orphan, with the estate stuff for my mom all wrapped up, and as I said in the eulogy for her two years ago, we’re the oldest generation now. I felt it at Christmas this year more than the last two, but honestly, I’ve been in drift mode for almost 3 years now. I know how I feel at my core, but sometimes the manifestations of my core seem like the impossible journey. I’m not me. I’m some pale imitation of me, some impostor who has been inhabiting my skin, coasting along in cruise mode, no drive, no engine, no growth.
A local therapist helped me deal with the grief last year, but it wasn’t enough. I need to become something else, something better. I need to become PolyWogg 4.0.
So, with that goal in mind:
2015 is the year I commit to the quest.
I’m not starting from scratch, obviously. The 1700 words above to get to this point are just a sample of the core. I’m also not going into self-reflection mode for 5 years. I did it in just over six weeks, ever since I saw the phrase “Commit to the Quest” in a backpacking magazine (no, I’m not going off to find myself either).
I’m not without inspiration swirling around. Here are some examples:
- Andrea and Jacob inspire me every day, between Andrea’s roles as co-breadwinner, mother, wife, student, food consultant, all-around star, and someone who puts up with me (which alone qualifies for sainthood) and Jacob’s embracing of all the things that make him my awesome possum;
- Dan, who rode his bike all over the province this summer for charity before rappelling down Toronto City Hall;
- Katherine, who underwent a huge career change 3 years ago to successfully run for City Council;
- Stephan, who is pursuing his dream of building an astronomy park in the Pontiac region, and who infected me with the astronomy bug;
- Kristine, who on the days when I feel no connection to the writing universe, continues to chug along;
- Jennifer, Kerridwen, Corinne, Liam and Nicole who have all decided to make giant changes in their lives in recent years to get something they wanted more, even though it meant leaving Ottawa to pursue their dreams;
- Melissa who posts amazing images of her makeup art;
- Sebastien and Alexandre (and Liam and Andrea too) who have a 1000 reasons not to complete their graduate degrees and do it anyway;
- Pam who has long since passed her teen years but still found whimsy (commitment?) enough for a full-back tattoo (and gave me the idea for the vaguebooking countdown);
- Tara who opened her heart and her mind to her friends on FB with the 100-day gratitude challenge; and,
- Linda who runs her Epicure business like she tries to live her life, with love and passion.
I could list dozens more, but I see what these people are doing and I’m inspired by it. Some of it will show up in my commitments, and I’ll do a shout-out when it does. Yes, commitments is plural. And so far, I’ve prattled on for 2000 words and all you’ve got so far is a general commitment to be a “new me”.
You want to see the commitment?
You want to see what has been scaring me?
Do you want to see me go all-in to justify you reading this stupid blog?
Okay, here it is.
I commit to being a writer.
I know what you’re thinking, “Umm, that’s it?”. No that’s not it. That’s the commitment. The heading. Not to “become” or “be” a writer in the future but to being one now.
Writers differ in many things, but they all have one thing in common. Writers write.
And I haven’t been consistently doing that. I got a good jump on my HR guide (an old inspiration from Vivian) in my November “creativity challenge”, and I’m pretty glad about that. But that’s a drop in the bucket. I got my website up and running the way I want it to too this past year, but it’s not enough.
To be a writer isn’t simply about dabbling. It’s a commitment to produce.
This blog (PolyWogg) has 55K words in it from previous posts and pages. My other site, ThePolyBlog, has 148K words. Let’s call it 200K, spread out over about 10 years of time although about 4 years of sporadic effort. 50K per year. Cute.
Between January 1st, 2015 and December 31st, I’m going to write 500,000 words. A half-million words worth of commitment. Including finishing my HR guide by the end of March. Ten times my previous average.
Yep, that number scares the crap out of me. But if writers write, I have to commit to the quest or accept the old me. Not happening.
2015 is not only the year I commit to the quest.
2015 is not only the year I become the fourth incarnation of PolyWogg.
2015 is the year I become prolific.
Now you know what vague book commitment #2 was all about — Two important but contextless numbers (4.0 and 500,000).
Stay tuned, and I’ll explain the rest. Those ones won’t take 2500 words though, I promise.