Some of the context surrounding the 1st time I dropped out of college And thus set myself up for over a decade of poverty (Saturday, August 8th, 2020)

Money and self-esteem often work in tandem in my case with the exception being that reaching for a most basic and general self-esteem is typically much easier for me than thinking about and discussing money.

Having dropped out of college when I was 19, after two semesters of failing classes, certainly didn’t set me up on a wise financial trajectory.

It is not as if I dropped out of college because some incredible or lucrative opportunity presented itself to me. Of course at the time I didn’t see it that way. There were 3 key factors that led me to drop out all of which also have implications pertaining to my subsequent financial fate. (In the summer of 2014 I first began examining my troubled relationship with money and wrote a 20 page essay about it—some of my thoughts now may arise from taking a peek at it. I don’t think I’ve looked at it since maybe…2016 or 2017? When I shared it with a friend of mine.); 1- When I began college back in 2004 I wasn’t enthusiastic about it and did not have any clear sense of purpose or exactly what I could get out of college;  2- Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, along with foundational works by the other two kings of the Beat Movement, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs as well as the work of Charles Bukowski and some of the 1960s hippie-ish musical artists; 3-a complete psychological breakdown which in great part was precipitated by adverse reactions to marijuana.

Even more fundamentally I would argue that an early and long lasting struggle to discover even a rudimentary way to think critically is to blame. But what do I mean by this? It would not be quite accurate to say I lacked a basic intelligence growing up. A better way of putting it is to say that my early passion for the arts, especially writing, acting, and film were too myopic.

I was extremely passionate about acting, writing, and film but a terrible student

That is the irony of the context. The myopia I mean. As my mother used to say, if only I’d applied to my school work as I did to my film, acting, and writing projects…I’d have been a straight A student, not because of intelligence but because one gift I do have is passion. One major perk of having intense passion is that you don’t have to be good at anything you want to learn because by virtue of being passionate you’ll simply do a thing or absorb knowledge of a thing with such an intensity…obsessive maybe… that one just can’t help but fill up one’s mind with the relevant information and become if not excellent at least sufficient. Most of my early mental failures in youth can very easily and simply be attributed to not paying ample attention to things, giving them time. School work for example, I “struggled” with mostly because I just didn’t care and didn’t put any effort into it. I preferred to watch a movie or listen to a song. So the real shame is that I couldn’t some how experience any concrete earning of praise, a good grade, money, et cetera for all the passion I channeled into my artistic self. Who knows. Maybe there was even a way but I can be SO myopic with my creative acts that even attention that could be spent on finding a way to earn something of significance for the given creative act was spent on just that creative act. By that I mean, for example, why try finding a place to get my writing published when I can just keep honing my writing?

 So, if you asked me a question about John Travolta or the Academy Awards or movies from the late 1960s up to the mid to late 1990s and you might have been impressed. Having discovered John Travolta and a passion for acting in late 1995, the next year I became a practical scholar of Travolta’s career, having seen nearly every movie he’d made at least once but often many times. *[1]I’ve probably seen Saturday Night Fever more times than any other movie…though it’s been a long time since I last watched it

At school, when teachers taught, I day dreamed intensely, wishing I was acting in movies. To possess the sort of desire I felt in those days for something so unattainable—what was I supposed to do with a desire to be a movie actor when I was 11? My days were spent, technically, in school, not auditioning for roles in movies. I could have begged my parents to help me get an agent but didn’t have that sort of confidence. To be fair to my parents, my mother did sign me up for acting classes, a Performing Arts high school – when I reached that age—and a performing arts summer camp. She also once took me to an audition for a part in the McCarter Theater (of Princeton) production of A Christmas Carol. I won a call-back for that by the way! But then I didn’t ultimately get the part. That was the only major audition I ever pursued. My father, who was an amateur photographer, once took my headshots and I think we mailed a few out to a few agencies –?—or did something with them but not to any avail.

The good news is that I took my acting ambitions into my own hands immediately. I began using my father’s camcorder to make solo movies—some improvised, some written. My two best friends at the time also took interest in film—one wished most of all to be a director and occasional writer and another had some interest in writing screenplays—so the three of us took on a string of projects for a handful of years. We took turns writing, directing, filming, and starring in the movies and I usually edited them since I was the one with the camcorder.

In those days nothing was more sacred to me than the camcorder. I didn’t have a beautiful web of deep thoughts regarding what the camcorder meant to me but I was attached to using one and as I began reading newspaper ads and coupons and discovering that camcorders were growing more sophisticated than my father’s I began begging him to get me a camcorder for Christmas. On year he obliged. I forget when unfortunately. Really, most of my youth is blocked out and I’m generally fine with that because I don’t associate childhood with many significantly nice feelings. I didn’t “have it bad” growing up but I did have a brutal, untreated, and mostly unacknowledged depression so that regardless of what life could have been interpreted to be like was almost always biased by my depression—the exceptions being my love for movies and writing, and my love for the beach, especially the tropics.

my complex AESTHETICS grew increasingly anti-academic

Even though I fell out of love with film and in love with literature and saw some justification for attending college there was such an immense discord between MY OWN intellectual explorations and the STRUCTURE that conventional public university curricula required that I failed to muster any DESIRE to progress through college, only to satisfy my parents whose approval (especially my mother’s) I so deeply sought.

The nature of the aforementioned discord in combination with my myopic fixation on my writing and that inability to think critically created a bad intellectual reaction. Enter the Beat and Hippie Movements and Charles Bukowkski.

(It’s interesting to me how unchronological even chronological thought can be. The role Charles Bukowksi’s poetry played on my thinking escaped my memory as I began writing about that time of my life.)

So…it’s freshmen year, the fall of 2004, and I’m an English major at Kean University. The game plan is that I will perhaps be an English professor as a safety job if writing in itself does not pull through. The defining and most prominent aspect of my intellectual cultivation at this time is my passion for learning from Charles Bukowski.

Actually, one could argue that even my passion for keeping this diary is influenced by the intellectual and aesthetic sparks that fireworked through my soul upon the discovery of Charles Bukowski.

the influence of J. D. Salinger

But before I get to Bukowski I have to touch on J.D Sallinger and Catcher in The Rye. That requires a brief flash back to when I was roughly 16. Reading Sallinger was the first time READING had resonated with me as fully as breathing and eating and drinking since I was a kid reading horror novels. ((This is its own story which speaks more fundamentally to my becoming a writer. What is significant about the horror story period is that it was all I would read other than screenplays. This had all started when in third grade Mrs. Soffel, during free time, read ghost stories to the class…often ghost stories which were alleged to be “true.” When people speak of how certain capacities seem practically inherent such as say Arnold Schwarzenegger and body building, President Barack Obama and politics, Meryl Streep and acting, Bob Dylan in song writing, and so on, or when people speak of how something “just happens”—such is the case with my writing in reaction to being read ghost stories. I do not recall any explicit thought process speaking to the rationale behind my initial decision to just start writing. I just started doing it. Writing my own ghost stories, which evolved into writing screenplays, poetry, et cetera and so on…)

What set Salinger apart from anything else in life I had ever read was how I felt that I was being spoken to as opposed to spoken at— there was a non-pretentiousness about it. The narrator of the story was just trying to communicate some thoughts. (I don’t mean to suggest that any other writer is pretentious or that a tone distinctly different than Salinger’s is not amazing. I just mean that reading and writing for the first time appeared to me so clearly purposeful. I so loved this that this writing as if talking approach has, for the most part, ever since, been fundamental to my writing aesthetics.)

the Charles Bukowksi factor

So then we have Charles Bukowski. Very similar to Salinger, Bukowski (ignoring for the time being the actual content and substance of his writing) wrote as if just to talk. He was unpretentious. And he went a step further for me than Salinger. Bukowski didn’t merely compress his writing into written talk but also compressed his written talk into a sort of here-and-now thinking sort of written talk. What he wrote seemed to be what he thought. That is to say, he did not seem to craftily and cleverly clothe his writing with complex aesthetic theory. He simply wrote what he thought, which often, if I remember correctly, was about wherever he was in life.

How many instances were there of his descriptions of his current drinking and other activities and surroundings? Bukowski’s poetry has a diaristic tone and voice to it for me.

I discovered Bukowski on my own as opposed to at school. It was actually my prom night but I didn’t want to go to my prom so I asked a friend of mine if she’d accompany me to the book store. There we hung out at the poetry section and perused the authors. That was when I stumbled upon a Bukowski book. I began reading and it was like an “oh my God!, this is it!” reaction. It was as if I was reading in concrete form how I wished I could write or what I wished poetry could be like. I very quickly grew intensely obsessed with Bukowski. That summer I must have read if not all at least most of whatever he had published thus far. (Several posthumous volumes would continually end up on the bookshelves…) And I began emulating him.

Exactly how Bukowski led me to John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and the Beatniks I can’t for the life of me recall. But with John Lennon at an appeal I picked up on quickly was his atheism. The same was the case with Allen Ginsberg. I was an atheist then and reading poetry by atheists (Percy Shelley would thus be added to the equation that year) was a source of comfort as I was still considered in many groups an oddball for my atheism.

That Ginsberg resembled Bukowski in style at least in the sense of writing how he thought and talked plus that he was an atheist made him for at least the next year and a half or so the most important of writers for me. Ginsberg, with the exception of his drug use and homosexuality, could have been me in a previous life, it sometimes seemed.     

I wanted to be on the road like the beatniks not twiddling my thumb in college

And Ginsberg was associated with the Beats, especially Burroughs and Kerouac. And…I had heard of Kerouac and it had been suggested to me by a high school teacher a year or two earlier that I give Kerouac a read. I had ignored that advice until I saw the Ginsberg link and read On the Road. In the midst of reading On the Road I fell in love with the fantasy of being somewhat like the protagonist of that novel, hitchhiking across America. Essentially, I was doing all of this independent reading and writing and thinking which was aiming me towards a path away from college and thus away from a conventional approach to cultivating a financially stable career…i.e., a degree. The good news is that Kerouac et al did not directly compel me to drop out and thus complicate what may have been a more straight forward path to at least a middle class financial life. They just led me to WANT to. It is actually the psychological breakdown that took place in gradual fashion a year later that not only propelled me away from college and into poverty but into an even worse psychological position….

Those of you who have read my writings over the years or who have watched my videos perhaps know the story all too well by now as I’ve written and talked about this a lot but I would like to…I think… put more time into specifically how this fall from college and a good path towards a middle-class salary has shaped some of my financial and career related thinking.

References

1 I’ve probably seen Saturday Night Fever more times than any other movie…though it’s been a long time since I last watched it

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