Dead End vs. Not A Through Street
The couch in our living room looks out a picture window onto a dead end street. At night the street light on the corner flickers out with an unwieldy randomness. It blinks out or just goes dark like power was cut and then twinkles back into orange glow on its own specific timetable. Sometimes when it starts to relight it suddenly quacks out mid resurrection. The light shutting down always catches the corner of my eye and turns my attention street ward. Other lights at night do this. Headlights of cars coming unexpectedly to the end of our short street, most figure out the terminalness of our road, still others drive all the way down and turn around in our driveway. The sign on the corner below the streetlight reads “Not A Through Street”
My brother lives on a dead-end, my sister and the two of us grew up on a dead-end street. We know what dead-end means. Everyone knows what dead-end means. It means “Not a through street.” It does not mean all the old people will die here someday and we don’t want to offend them by calling their street dead anything. But I think we can all agree Dead End gets the point across way better than “Not a through street” or even No Outlet. Its language, and the words we choose to use to communicate information can be strikingly important.
The light goes out and I know I will see headlights, this is the cause and effect of my street now. I remember the cause and effect of growing up on a dead-end street, I remember the cause and effect of being a kid who walked to school out a dead-end street. I was proud to walk, proud to not be on a bus. I believe I felt a freedom in walking. I still do. We build our identities on thousands of little things and few very big ideas of self. Identity becomes all of those thoughts you have of yourself when you look in the mirror or into a menu. Who am I, and what do I present, and what do I absorb?
I drink Bushmills whiskey when given the choice. I have my reasons and I don’t know that anyone really counts that in the evaluation of me as a person. But many people know the whiskey I prefer and consider it when inviting me out or over. As in, will this bar have something he likes to drink? That’s maybe a standard more than a data point on an identity chart of Patrick Melroy, but still I add it to my perception of self because I like it, I like thinking I have a level of consistency. I admire consistency. I rightly or wrongly associate consistency with durability and success. Strange than that I prefer the dynamic flexibility of walking over the rigid consistent bus schedule. I am also devoutly lazy, which results in underachievement and rationalizing. When I was young people would identify my potential, use it like a big old birthday hat at the chain restaurant that you wear while the waiters all sing to you and you try to pretend like this is somehow endearing instead just frightfully painfully to your ego. That’s how I always felt when someone would say, “You have so much potential.” Now at thirty-six it seems sad when someone tells me about my potential. I probably don’t have to explain that. But it feels like the egg timer on using that potential is running low or maybe dinged while I was in the shower.
Potential always felt like a dirty word, like a most improved award, something I received when I was eighteen from the Society of American Magicians #59. No one ever offered to help me with turning potential into achievement, that would be an excellent recipe card to pass out by the way. Its not enough to look at someone who impresses you and tell them they have potential. Push past that, give them more than just the compliment which they will add to their identity. Encouragement is lovely but guidance is gold. But the truth seems to be most of the time people who tell you about your potential have no ideas on how to activate it, otherwise they would say, “You have a lot of potential, I could use a person like you.”
We are ourselves. The idea we hold onto about who we are is very different from the ideas everyone else has about us. We strive to align our self-beliefs with the beliefs of people we meet and interact with have of us. We of course always expect their perception of us to bend to align with our identity, rather than our perceptions to be bent by how others see us. This comes into conflict when they tell us how they see us. Language again. We are bound by how we interpret statements and non-statements and we apply all of our CSI slash Law & Order SVU powers of conclusion to squeeze out ah-hah moments of smarter than thou. We have very big brains and we add conclusions and determinations to everything, we treat every new experience like a clue which will unlock the puzzle of self. Who do you think you are? I’m a kid from a dead-end, and the great thing about a dead-end street is whenever you leave home you at least know which way to head first.
We are specific people, we determine our own identity. We are stuck with genetics on many topics, hair, eyes, disposition toward pie, but we are distinctly available to controlling what we think about our hair or our pie. Like it or love it, you got what you got. I chose a dead-end street as an adult because among other reasons, it felt like the place I live. I enjoy the streetlight’s winking, it could send me into a diatribe about the lazy city but instead it makes my street specific and I like it.
I’ve chosen to abandon my potential, I am happy to hand off the title to some other clever apprentice. Mastery of one thing would seem enough, but how do you pick that one thing to master? In a world of infinite choices… well not infinite, I’m not a very good musician, minor case of the tone def. It’s not really important, just pick something for now and we can change it later. Just don’t let the world do the picking.
We will wake up tomorrow, we will continue this thing we started. I remember being younger and I know I will remember being the person I am now. I hope no-one tells me when I am seventy that I have a lot of potential. I hope that when I am seventy I am still interesting. I hope that I am interesting right now, because I have met a lot of boring people. I used to think it was just me not being able to access the particular side of them that makes them interesting. I imagined that everyone plays the starring role in their own individual film, their own private narrative where they fight all the battles and the camera is always turned on them. The people coming and going from their lives are characters with roles they play and catch phrases. Each person is the star of the story of themselves.
However I think I might have been giving a little more to their individual self reflection than they were. I worry that many people might not know they have access to their script, to their novel, to their plot line, to their story arc, they do, you do even. You can turn your street into an epic location. Just under the street lamp, as it flickers out you have the briefest amount of darkness to get that shopping cart into the back of your truck so you can take it to your studio and use it for moving tools around… but that’s probably just me trying to write your narrative rather than mine or vice versa. It’s the lazy side of me wanting to live as you rather than the effort it would take to be me. It’s why people are always giving you advice, it’s easier to give advice than just enjoying being the star of your own life. Which brings me to the end of this batch of useless advice.
I picked artist, it’s working out fine thanks.