And the years that I spent lost in the mystery
Fall away leaving only the sound of the drum
Like a part of me
It speaks to the heart of me
Forget what life used to be
You are what you choose to be
It’s whatever it is you see
That life will become
–Jackson Browne, The Fuse
The big events of life––like getting engaged and married, having kids––and then some––all wait patiently outside the door of youth. Whether that youth is well spent or misspent, it’s all the same. You turn the corner toward adulthood when––as we read in the Bible–– the mind awakens to a different reality. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
I know that’s a passage with far more theological purpose than my employment of it here. But it still applies. You can’t know what the future’s like until you’re experiencing it in the present. As Jackson Browne accurately captured in his song “The Fuse,” it’s both easy and hard to “forget what life used to be” when you start to realize “you are what you choose to be.”
The gritty path of that transition from youth to adulthood finally hit me in late January, 1985. “Hello, little journal,” I wrote. “I feel as if I have now purified you. No more running data lining up your pages. Just pure sad and happy thoughts crossing your pages. Perhaps these will no more give direction, really, the way that things are done.”
Then I wrote, “Listening to “The Fuse” again by Jackson Browne. Hard to go back to that unadulterated time. Alive in eternity––that nothing can fill. I am free now to hurtle headlong toward death, and soon with a mate. Oh, what arguments and changes we will see. What money we’ll spend. Then we’ll die. Just like all of humanity. Just like all the carefully rendered faces in the art museum. Just like mom and dad. and too soon, Oh, too soon. I will miss them. I am living in their house. I am lusting nights and wasting days. I am so human it hurts like a stab in the dark. So sudden a pain I have to jump to skirt the reality. Running like my car with its vital vents open. I stick fingers up my orifices and in my mouth, prodding my humanity and probing its aches and rhythms. I’m at once gay and hetero, never confirming one. I don’t think I’d like to.”
Never one for literal definitions be they social or theological, my sense of direction was both sound and undefined. I felt good for the decisions we’d finally made. But I also knew myself, even then. I understood that somewhere inside of me there was still unreconciled anger and anxiety. All that running I’d done was a psychological salve. It helped me cope, but it was not a cure. There were still issues of usefulness and meaning to find and confront.
In the year 2022, I took an Enneagram online test that would have been enormously helpful to read in the year 1985. Back then, it could have absolved me of some angst about who I was, where I’d been thus far in life, and even where I was going. To some extent, it might also have shown how long it would take to get there. On the subject of self-image, it read:
“You are very aware of what people think of you, and you cultivate your image with care. This means that you often make choices that others admire, and are often well-liked. However, it can also lead you to be overly concerned with appearances over substance—in the worst-case scenario, leading a life that looks good from the outside but isn’t fulfilling. Worse yet, your concern for image sometimes backfires, causing you to come off as inauthentic and creating distance in your relationships. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be admired, as long as you keep a sense of balance. Sometimes the right choice isn’t the one that wins you the most acclaim, and sometimes you have to be willing to ruffle a few feathers as you pursue what’s right for you.”
Some of that insight explained things that I did not yet understand. Yet some of it illuminates things I was already engaged in. “Willing to ruffle a few feathers as you pursue what’s right for you.”
That’s what I’d been doing between the years of 1982-1985. I was willing to ruffle a few feathers to pursue some tangible goals that proved to myself that I could set them up and achieve them. It did not matter whether I’d become world-class as a runner or not. I set a course and made it happen, learning plenty of lessons along the way, like the fact that letting nerves get the best of me is my worst enemy.
The Enneagram continues with observations about the razor’s edge of fault versus joy: “You feel separate from other people, and tend to think that others can’t truly understand you. Most likely, you grew up around people—either family or social groups—who made you feel like an outsider. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating yourself as a unique person, but everyone needs a sense of belonging. You’ll live a fuller life if you put some time and energy into creating a network of kindred spirits. Somewhere out there are people who are just as offbeat as you are, and who will make you feel like you’re finally understood.”
Those were my running buddies, the offbeat people I needed along the way. Runners were surely the foundation of my friend network. As much as we competed with each other, and competed for each other’s attention, we also supported each other.
Another Enneagram bit of wisdom: “You are a grounded sort of person, tuned into what’s happening now. You don’t spend much time thinking about the future or imagining what might come next. You’re way ahead of those multitasking folks who struggle to “stay present,” but you can also be a bit blindsided by life. Without a vision for the future, your path through life can be haphazard, and you may make decisions based on circumstance rather than a cohesive plan for what you want. Although nobody can predict the future, that doesn’t make thinking ahead a waste of time. Making a point to think about how you’d like your life to go will make it more likely that you get what you want.”
Oh God, I wish someone had pulled me aside and shared those words at that point in life. That would have been so, so helpful.
And more about my Enneagram “number”, the Eights: “When Eights are psychologically unhealthy, they are some of the most aggressive and domineering of all the types. Since their core fear is that others will seek to control them, they go all out to let people know who is in charge. At this level of health, the Eight can retreat to a dog-eat-dog world where everything is about bullying and challenging others to get their own way; a true contest of wills.”
There is evidence of an at-times abusive father in that information. And my response is predictable from understanding the past:
“At some point in their childhood, Eights have convinced themselves that only the strong can survive and be loved. It’s hard for Eights to believe that anyone could accept them for their weaknesses and so they hide their vulnerabilities. Young Eights may show an inner strength and a fighting spirit that adults may mistake for a self- confidence that does not exist. Even in childhood, Eights are fiercely independent. Many seem older than their years.”
I was told that last part many times. And my writing and art were beyond my years.
“Seizing control so they cannot be controlled is the major driver for Eights, and this manifests as an aggressive child who has a tendency to exert their will over every situation. Eights stand up for themselves and, at this level of immaturity, may attack physically or verbally when provoked. They are the type most likely to get into playground fights, although some will step up and take charge of situations because they perceive themselves as the strongest person in the room.”
I had those playground fights. Some of that drive came from sibling rivalry and aggression.
“For many Eights, then, their childhood is marred by power struggles. Perhaps they had a domineering parent, or perhaps the parent was intolerant of the child’s forceful nature. Either way, an Eight raised in a battlefield of clashing agendas and explosive arguments is likely to entrench and become even more persistent in getting their own way. This attitude carries through into adulthood, and the Eight may keep their defenses up and deny their own fears and vulnerabilities to maintain the upper hand.”
But by my mid-20s, the growth process was occurring. I was growing up.
“At average levels of psychological health, Eights are stimulated by conflict. They like to provoke reactions to enhance the intensity of a situation and they don’t beat around the bush, pushing boundaries and delivering ultimatums to see how far others will let them go. They seek to show that they are tough to stop others from taking advantage. Balanced Eights will do anything to stay in control may resort to competition, boasting and intimidation to impress others and show their strength.”
I also realized that every relationship is a power struggle. Some of that never changes. The last lines I wrote in that running journal covering the years from 1982-1985 were both harsh and honest. “But the battle with this woman’s crotch will be a long one. Long as I live I’ll yearn for another and it will yearn against my brevity. I want to go back to the womb, rocking slowly asleep with th eneck of my phallic being resting against her hood, and she covers me.”
After that, the pages go blank in that composition book I transformed into a record of my early 20s. I have no regrets about anything I said or did during those years. No guilt over the dalliances or the pursuit of sex. No remorse over the anger I felt at the injustices by employers or manipulative associates. I was an Eight for sure, aggressive at heart yet fearful at times, in the soul.
But my goddamn fuse burned brightly.
Though the years give way to uncertainty
And the fear of living for nothing strangles the will
There’s a part of me
That speaks to the heart of me
Though sometimes it’s hard to see
It’s never far from me
Alive in eternity
That nothing can kill