Escaping the Straightjacket

One of my favorite mediums is spoken word. Recently I saw Noah St. John on NPR’s Snap Judgment and if you have an extra six minutes, please click that link and watch the video. It makes me get all warm and emotional, like caramel brownies fresh out the oven. When I was in college I read my poetry at open mic nights, but never did I venture into spoken word, yet it was something that always fascinated me. It was something I knew I could do, but was too afraid to commit to. What if I wasn’t as good as I thought I’d be? What if I’m laughed at? Or worse, what if I’m just mediocre? And then I see people like Noah, who just stand up and do it, and I’m very jealous and even angry at myself for not trying.

Since turning thirty, I’ve come to realize that my body is getting older. This is really the first time I’ve grasped that I can’t live how I used to. I can’t stay up late at night, get a few hours of sleep, and expect to function normally the next day. I can’t eat whatever I want whenever I want. Nor can I stay out all night drinking, in insouciant defiance of my liver. And what’s really gotten to me is this whole heartburn thing. What the hell is that all about? If I wanna eat the spiciest Korean food Busan can throw at me, I don’t want to have to take Tums afterward.

All this is to say, the weight of age and my non-permanence is closing in around me, like a straightjacket. During my college years, I pictured myself being a published author and poet by now. I saw myself on an acreage, sitting peacefully with a cup of coffee, gazing out my window and ruminating life and love the powers that seek to disrupt it. The floorboards creak and settle. I put on a fire. The roof is slanted because my study is in the attic and from my perspective, I can see mountains and trees.

I can’t recall where I read this, so forgive me for not providing a source, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt once explained how his brother loved the book Green Eggs and Ham. He said that it represented trying new things and not being afraid to live your life. That was the attitude he embraced, and that’s one that I have to push myself to embrace. My wife often politely reminds me that I’m not going to get published or be a spoken word artist or achieve any of my goals, if I don’t put myself out there and try. And that’s what makes people like Noah St. John different. Sure, they may have grown up in an area more conducive to the arts or perhaps he had better connections, but either way, he put himself out there. He did it. And if that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.
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