Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Plan II

I stopped taking piano lessons, and even my creative energies lay dormant. Eventually I came out of the depression and was back to normal, and spent that summer working hard at my pizza delivery job, and having just been accepted to a university in another city, was excited about the upcoming fall.

Going away to school for three years was like a fresh start for me, such a fresh start, in fact, that I had forgotten about piano and songwriting entirely. I had no specific plans or goals. Much like with my piano lessons, I struggled to stay focused on my classes and studying. Women were constantly distracting me. There were just so many of them, and they were everywhere I looked and everywhere I went. There were also lots of interesting people in general, guys and girls.

My curiosity would soon lead me to discover my incredible social abilities. Immediately after moving into my dorm that first fall, I felt compelled to explore humanity, to meet people, and have experiences. I didn’t know anyone except for my roommate, but that wouldn’t last long.

My first Friday night in this new town, I drove in my car up the hill from my dorm to an apartment complex that I had heard was good for parties. No one had invited me over there. I invited myself. I remember parking my car, getting out, and walking around looking for any kind of party or social gathering of people. I noticed a few small parties carrying on, and I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting to happen, as I stood there looking around. I spent that night walking around the massive grassy interior of the apartments, observing, before driving back to my dorm.

Sometimes you have to get your feet wet before you jump in the water. After that first night, it was easy. I simply carried the frame of reality that I was the most important guy in town, and I was welcome anywhere and everywhere, and that it was mandatory for everyone to meet me, so if there was a party, then I was supposed to be there. If you’re reality is strong enough, people will accept it.

When I returned to the apartments the following weekend, there was a bit more excitement and I decided to attempt my first party. It was easy. I walked by and started talking to a couple guys drinking on their patio on the ground floor, and soon they invited me in, where I was able to meet everyone else. Once everyone got comfortable with me, I just made myself at home. The place was so nice and clean! It felt oddly normal to be in a home with strangers. Well, normal until I got too relaxed and zoned out, while the conversations in the room became inside conversations for the people who knew each other. I had good social intuition, so I knew when it was time to leave before anything got awkward.

I walked to another apartment building, and this time just started talking to a couple girls on their second floor patio. Without even asking about the party or even introducing myself, I started walking toward the staircase as if I was already a guest and was just returning. There was a small cluster of people around the bottom of the staircase, and also at the top around the front door. I just started talking to people, gravitating to those who were the most social or the most comfortable, as they were the key to getting in. I avoided talking about myself or the party. I just started talking as if I had known them for years, and, once again, I got invited in. It felt just like the other party. I didn’t ask any questions or make reference to myself. I made myself at home, and some girls began to entertain me with questions, not because they were suspicious of me, but because they were just interested in the new shiny object in the room.

I decided that party crashing was a finesse art, and the smaller the party, the more difficult it was to crash, with the exception of fraternity parties. Most guys would knock on doors and try to make up names of people they knew, or if they did manage to sneak in, would immediately rush to the beer keg and think they had conquered the party. I always felt that to be rude and disrespectful. I wouldn’t take any food or drinks from a party unless it was either offered to me, or until my presence was accepted, and I felt I was part of the group and could pour myself a cup. During my first couple of years in town, I saw plenty of guys get turned away from parties at the door, but it never happened to me, because I was a social warrior. I never once got turned away or asked to leave. I’m not sure what motivated me to explore humanity in this way. Was I just after girls? Was I looking to make friends? Was I trying to take small risks? Was I trying to hone my social skills by throwing myself right into social gatherings? Did I just enjoy seeing where the night would take me after I maneuvered my way into a party? Who knew, maybe it was a little of all those things.

After a while, as I began to meet more and more interesting people around town, I would either get invited to a party directly or just hear someone talk about or mention one coming up that night or that weekend. For some reason, those tended to be large parties at some old house somewhere in town with a single blob of people congregating around a trashcan with a keg in it.
During the fall of my last year before graduating, I took a voice class in the music building. There were all these little practice rooms with pianos in them! How great it felt to have access to a piano! All this time exploring college life I had forgotten about my greatest passion and the album I had composed. I took time either before or after class to mess around on the pianos in the practice rooms, and I even wrote a few new songs! I graduated college in the spring of 2004 with my major in English and minor in Communications.

I must have been ready for a change, because my parents wanted to move me back to Houston literally the day after my graduation ceremony, and I had no objection to it. The college life was over. So now what?

My life was up in the air. It could have gone in a number of directions at that point. I kept busy and focused that first week after moving back in with my family. I decided I wanted to continue my education with some kind of graduate program at University of Houston, where both of my parents went. I visited the campus one day and looked into several programs. I also searched for jobs online and came across a telephone interviewing position, which was something I had recently done in my summers at college, so I was looking for that kind of work specifically. I applied for the job and within a couple weeks, I was working part time. I also chose a graduate program, applied for it, and was accepted for that fall. I chose Public Administration (MPA) for no other reason than because I felt like it would lead to high paying jobs and because fewer people study it than, say, business administration.

My parents were no longer paying for my schooling, so financially, I was on my own with this. With a new job and graduate school in the fall, I was feeling very comfortable. The feeling didn’t last for too long. After a couple semesters of graduate school, my interest in the program dwindled, and I kept going only because of my natural determination to finish things I start. I wasn’t putting my whole effort and focus into school.

All I really cared about was going out at night to bars and clubs. It was something I enjoyed and always will enjoy. It’s who I am. I’m a social warrior. I love public gatherings, meeting people, being around strangers, and seeing where the night takes me.

One night in 2005, I was visiting a bar with live music, and I stopped to talk to a girl sitting with her friends on the patio. She asked me what I did, and I told her that I was a student in a graduate program studying public administration. I must have not sounded too enthusiastic about it, because she told me that I seemed to be afraid to just jump in the water and go after what I want in life. I’ll never forget what she said. It really got me thinking.

I continued with my graduate program, and I honestly enjoyed the classes, but I didn’t seem to have the focus I had when I started, and I didn’t have a clear direction or idea of what I wanted out of this degree. I was sick of living at home with my parents. Saving money to pay for school is nice, but I was in my mid twenties and didn’t know how much longer I could tolerate this living situation. I’m very close with my family and love them all very much, but living with them at this age was starting to get to me. I remember when I was 20 and going through the depression right before moving away to college. I was feeling miserable living at home even back then. I don’t why I thought living there for three years after college would be any different. Both my work and classes were in the evenings, so during the day, I didn’t do much but sleep in and waste time. I sat around and watched television, while my mother would have friends and neighbors come by to visit during the early afternoon. I felt uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed. They probably thought I was a loser or something.

One day I thought to myself, what am I doing here? What am I doing with my life? The only thing that stayed consistently pleasant was my interviewing job. I enjoyed going to work, and liked what I did and the people I worked with. I’m a people person, after all.

So I’m spending my mid-twenties pursuing this intangible thing with no ambition carrying it. Living at home is starting to become unbearable. What began as a focused post-college plan was now turning into a pretty boring life. I just wanted to go out and interact with people at bars and other social gatherings.

My grades in school began to reflect my evaporating passion for this graduate program. Nonetheless, six semesters into it, I stuck with it, only because I’m a finisher, and I’m always determined to finish what I start. I guess I thought that I could coast through the program, because I was hit with a rude awakening when I found out that because of the school’s grade policy, I could no longer register for classes. You are only allowed so many grades below a “B”. I was so close to finishing! When I thought about quitting the program, it gave me an enormous sense of relief and happiness.

I didn’t get the same feeling after being notified that I was blocked from further registration. I wanted it to be on my terms, not theirs. I petitioned the department to let me back in, and when that didn’t work out, I went through a grievance process, which took a good number of months and quite a few trips to campus to meet with people and discuss my case. I spent a lot of time putting together a case with written documents and coursework evidence for why I felt like I was put in an unfair position. I tried to present the best case I possibly could, but in the back of my mind I had doubts about getting back in. At this point, I didn’t even care about having the degree. I just wanted to finish what I put so much time and money into. After the school’s decision was upheld at every stage all the way to the highest level of my grievance procedure, I had to accept reality. There was nothing left that I could do. My strong will and determination can be either a strength or weakness, and in this case, I felt like it caused me to waste too much time with the grievance when I could have just moved on with my life.

I remember what the girl at the bar told me about being afraid to jump into life. She could see in me that there was no passion for this graduate program. Maybe it was a good thing that this experience didn’t culminate in a master’s degree. Maybe I didn’t deserve it. Maybe it would have lead to a career where my greatest gifts, passions, and talents wouldn’t be able to shine. So this was not failure, but a learning experience. And I received some valuable education along the way. I’m proficient in SPSS statistics and Excel spreadsheet software, and maybe I can still use this practical knowledge at some point. If only it hadn’t taken me so long to see the positive side to all this.

if you’re reality is strong enough, people will accept it.

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