Walking the Path, Part IV: What I’m Doing

24 Mar

Jay Walker, the first Isis Storm “Man We Love” blogger, is “reaching out to the world through his poetry, speaking on world issues and reflecting on all the aspects & events of his life and his art.”  His recently released book, “Where I’m Coming From is not a love letter to Rhode Island; it’s a declaration of the status of his emotional journey to the ultimate destination of peace, love & nakedness for all.”  Click here to read his previous blog entries.

Hi. My name’s Jay & I have a confession to make … well, my name’s actually Jason, but like most men named Jason, almost all of my friends & colleagues call me Jay; it’s shorter & easier to remember, especially when paired with my last name … but that’s not the confession. Here it is: I have no clue what I’m doing. I mean, so many of us say that about so many aspect of our lives at one time or another & some actually believe it, but for how many is this actually true? Let me explain.

My earliest memories are of sitting for family photos in Roger Williams Park, my dad behind the camera & my three older siblings at my side; I was 4, maybe 5. My second earliest are of days in kindergarten, when/where I was relentlessly teased to the point of tears almost every day. One of the few bright points of my childhood memories, though, was our school play, Hansel & Gretel. For some reason, they saw past skin color – which, while pretty light (even for an Afro-Portuguese Creole-descended boy like my Cape Verdean self), was still noticeably darker than almost all my classmates – and let me play the lead; this was the beginning of it all for me. For literally as long as I can remember, all I’ve ever wanted to be was an artist. I loved every genre, but especially the performing arts.

My father was the 1st non-white captain of the Cranston Fire Department & was told he’d have made deputy chief at 45, if he didn’t retire the prior year, but when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said an actor. At first, I was only interested in comedies, but a trip to Trinity Repertory Theatre changed all that for me during my junior high school years. I saw Peter Gerety in a production of Red Noses, a black comedy about a touring comedy troupe during the days of the Bubonic Plague, & I fell in love with all forms of theater.

During those rare moments when I would actually do my homework, I would love reading the works of Shakespeare, Frost, Poe, Hughes & others, dreaming of the day my own art would be seen by all the world. I started to write free-verse poetry & really liked what was coming out of me; looking back on it now, I had so far to go, but I still appreciate it as the beginnings of what I am now & I really feel like I keep writing my best stuff these last few years & counting. While in RI College, I was introduced to the Slam® movement, poetry of all genres (but mostly free-verse) performed as a theatrical production & scored Olympic-style; this was yet another instance of my calling. Being a theater major, I really identified with the performance aspect of poetry & the words really hit hard; I felt like I was watching the Dylan Thomases & other classics of my generation. I jumped at the chance to be in this scene, tried my best to get onto the Providence & Worcester Slam® teams & even volunteered during Providence’s year hosting the National Championships that summer in 2000 (at least, that’s the year, according to everyone else, even though all my notes say ’99). I even stepped up to host a long-running reading, when everyone thought it needed new blood but no one else was willing to take up the reins; of course, their ingratitude got me to leave & it fell apart shortly thereafter, but a new reading has taken its place & is doing very well. After a six-year hiatus, I published a book & returned to the local scene & have been trying to make a go of it again for a couple years now.

In all this time, I’ve lived many dreams: I’ve been on the air at a major local station (yes, I was “The Night Stalker” on Hot 106), on stage at Trinity Rep (in Robert Alexander’s A Preface to the Alien Garden … think Boyz n the Hood meets Shakespeare meets X Files), magazine columnist (Providence Monthly in 2001-02; my 1st article won them a Michael P. Metcalf Diversity in Media award from the National Conference for Community & Justice – RI Chapter), in major motion pictures (although just as a background actor, what most people call an “extra”) & great roles in independent projects; now I’ve achieved another dream: having dozens of my poems legitimately published. Sometimes, I just feel so close to reaching my lifelong goal of being a career artist. There’s just one thing that stops me from having everything I’ve ever wanted: income.

I don’t know how other people do it, manage to work some soul-sucking 9-to-5 or McJob, just to get by, & doing their art “on the side,” until it takes such a back seat that it may as well be in a trailer behind their “vehicle”; some people “drive buses”, to belabor the analogy, & carelessly toss their dreams into the luggage holds underneath. I’ve tried, especially for most of the years between Luke’s birth & my first book (what I’m calling my hiatus), but it always ends. Sometimes, I’m asked to leave, while I walk out on other positions, but the result is the same. I’ve had more employers than I’ve had years alive, never mind years eligible to work. There was one job I managed to keep for over 10 years, but I was forced to leave, because of lack of work; they were switching their focus away from the type of clients that paid my bills during the winter, while the clients who did so during the rest of the year seemed to be fewer & further between, especially with an influx of new employees. I switched to different companies in the same field, but the owners were rather rude to me; one even short-changed me on money a few times. It was after the last time that I decided that I didn’t want to go through that again, that I’d go into business for myself, be my own boss & finally make a real attempt at living off my arts. I started pushing the 1st book more & planning a 2nd one, getting equipment for making CDs & doing voice-over recordings & trying to get to all the open mics for performing & promoting myself. I’m getting a lot of attention but little to no money & it’s all very frustrating. I’m actually jealous of my Storm sista Kal “5th Elament” Champlain, for her ability to do the same thing, make the same effort & either see results or be able to wait between instances of results; at least, that’s how it seems to me.

I feel very pressured to be successful & to do it now. I’m pressured by those who help me through my hard times as a struggling artist, by those who help care for my son in the ways that my budget prevent me from doing, & by society telling me what I should have & should be doing. Rev. Run tells me to do what I love & the money will come, as does his brother Russell Simmons; they’re both rich, so one would think they would know about such things. The problem is that I don’t really have the time to wait, or at least, I don’t feel that way; I have dozens of bills to pay, including housing, transportation & food, plus a son to support (despite what some people think, my lack of results does not equal a lack of interest/effort in this matter). In this day & age, being self-sufficient also requires being connected to the rest of the world, but you need money to have a phone & access to the Internet (unless you bum around the free wi-fi available in some places). If I didn’t have to worry about such things, I’d be happy living in a van by the river in some warm, coastal southern or western town, selling my poetry & other art out of the back, but I do have to worry about such things & the people who help me now won’t be here forever, maybe not even for when my son reaches adulthood.

During my whole life, I know I’ve been battling clinical depression & anxiety, but I’ve only been officially diagnosed for most of my “adult” life; I know that my mental illness has put itself in the way of achieving my goals, especially in how I relate to people in general, the rude ones more specifically. I know I’ve lost a good portion of my jobs, because I either couldn’t deal with the rude people at work or allowed the rude people in the other areas of life to affect my work. I’ve even been hospitalized a couple times, when my thoughts turned so dark that I became a danger to myself, but both admissions were my decision, preventing any action I might have taken on those thoughts. I really feel as though it holds me back, especially during winter months, when it’s so cold & dark that I just want to hibernate, waking only for the sake of eating & cleaning; it’s hard to push through that, in order to do everything necessary for my arts business.

Lately, all this doubt is making me look back & wonder if I actually made the right choice, if being an artist was truly my calling from childhood. I mean, what really started my interest in the performing arts? It was one of the only times in my childhood when I was appreciated & given positive attention by family, schoolmates & teachers; that thought has been making me think I’m only in it to please others, to get outside approval, but society & psychologists all tell me that’s bad & wrong & unhealthy. Of course, society & their mouthpieces, like psychologists & media, can often be conflicting in their life advice. Then again, my own life experiences tell me the old adage is correct: you can’t please all the people all the time. So, where’s the line? How can I tell when my pursuits are healthy & when they’re just twisted attempts to be accepted? Without going into too much detail, there are other areas of my life that make me ask this question. Does that fact give my doubts more credence or less? I really don’t know.

The state of my chosen field doesn’t really make the decision any easier. I mean, the messages that mainstream media puts out aren’t always positive, plus they can often be inconsistent, even contradictory to other messages they put out. Furthermore, what they can do to a person is deplorable; they become monsters, punchlines, sellouts, shells of the people they were before fame finds them. Look at what happened to Robert Downey, Jr. & what’s still happening to Lindsay Lohan; look at the mess Mel Gibson has become; Flavor Flav has transformed from the court jester to the joke, with appearances on shows like The Surreal Life, Strange Love & Flavor of Love. The tagline for the blockbuster film “The Social Network” was “You don’t get to 500 Million friends without making a few enemies”; no truer words were ever spoken. Honestly, I think I’ve made more than my fair share, & I’m not even above 2,000 yet, at least on Facebook, anyway. It makes me almost as afraid of success as I am of failure. People can be so mean to others, even those they claim to idolize; it makes me wonder if the world is really worth the effort of saving. I’m not one of those people who thinks the world is really going to end at Winter Solstice 2012, but I’m also not one of those people who’ll be upset, if it does.

JRR Tolkien once said, “Not all who wander are lost”; I have said a few times, “Not all who are lost wander”. I’ve been in southeastern New England for my entire life, venturing out for only a week or two at a time & never leaving the east coast. I don’t think it’s possible for me to actually be lost in RI literally, but I’ve been feeling so lost in the figurative sense for quite some time. I guess that’s part of the reason why I’m planning on moving to California next year; I just feel that, between the attitudes & the weather of the region, New England just was never the right place for me, & it’s time for me to finally wander. I need more than a change of scenery; I need a vision quest, a walkabout or some sort of soul search in foreign territory. Sometimes, I really wonder if it’s worth all the trouble, if I shouldn’t just “try accounting”, as my friend & colleague Ryk McIntyre says. Still, I press on. I don’t know why, but I keep trying to push forward with my goals for a future in the arts.

Actually, I do know why: it’s because I don’t know how to do anything else. As I said, this is what I’ve wanted my entire life; the arts & media have been my only focus the whole time. Being an artist has become more than a vocation or avocation; it’s a part of my identity. I guess that’s how I know I’m on the right path; I guess I’m doing this for more than just pleasing others. I mean, I do want to please others; I’d love it, if the whole world could laugh & smile & sing & dance together, but my needs have become greater than making that happen for everyone else & than knowing that I am the cause. I have to express myself artistically, or I’d never be eligible for release from those hospitals; I’d go certifiably insane. If I get weighed down with the pressure of pleasing everyone all the time, which just isn’t possible, I’d lose sight of the whole freakin’ point. I can put forth a better image for the media to use & to put out to the people & just set forth the example, letting other people worry about what it means to them. I just have to live right & true for me & my son & no one else; those who will follow will follow; those who won’t won’t. That’s the real balance in the world.

Not everyone will get it, but that’s OK; sometimes, it’s easier to start defining what we are by first seeing the examples of what we aren’t. Sometimes, a bad example is equally as important as a good one; sometimes, a bad experience teaches us more than a good one ever could. Those who lack compassion help define compassion; those who lack vision & focus help define vision & focus. I just have to learn how to not be upset about it; it’s like I say about karma in my piece Education & Experience: I need to learn to make “cash payments” & accept all major “credit cards”, how to let others’ eventual payment plans be the Great Banker’s problem, not mine. I need to just be good, just be me, & not be upset about what others think about me or what they do themselves. I just have to rest assured that I am what I was meant to be in this moment, doing what I was meant to do in this moment, & trust in myself & the ways of the All that Is. It’s easy to say; let’s see how well I walk that path.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

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