I was 126 pounds with bones sticking out of my face when I was removed from society in 2005. Barely a man, a broken pitiful thing, enslaved by addiction, financially destitute, I would’ve been homeless if I didn’t have such a sweet momma. As the saying goes, I didn’t get arrested… I got rescued. It took a minute to get the crack smoke from between my ears. There might still be a little swirling around in there to be honest. Lord knows I’ve made my share of questionable decisions over these last seventeen years. Many of you who have done time with me can attest to this. But if you know me, then you also know how focused I am on change. On maximizing my ability and efficiency… as a man, as a writer, as an inhabitant of Planet Earth.
The late great Bo Lozoff once observed that major life changes generally happen in the form of wide round curves as opposed to sharp turns. That has definitely been my experience. Change is a gradual thing. Still, there have been moments of truth along the journey, individual decision points that have contributed to the metamorphosis.
Quitting smoking in 2009 was massive for me. All my life I’ve been taught I was powerless over addiction. In juvenile programs, in twelve step meetings, by my father who was battling demons of his own. Cigarettes had me by the balls since elementary school. Kicking nicotine at age 35 made me realize that, contrary to popular belief, I was not powerless, I was powerful. After that, I started kicking all kinds of bad habits. Just because I could.
Another element is the workout. Will is definitely a muscle. I don’t know about you but if I don’t work mine, it’ll get soft and flabby. Just like a neglected bicep. Nobody grabs a pullup bar and automatically levitates. We have to tell our muscles “perform this task.” For most of us, it takes a while. But if we stick with it, and keep showing up, one rep becomes two, two become five, and five become ten. This process doesn’t just build muscle, it builds grit… and, inevitably, will.
Then there’s this writing thing which has taught me discipline and structure and how to delay gratification. Believe me: there is nothing instantly gratifying about the lonely journey of hammering out a novel. You spend years writing longhand on your bunk, pouring everything into your work—all your love, all your pain, all your hopes and fears and life experience, only to have it earn an Amazon ranking of 2,000,000 and go largely ignored by the literary world. Then you do it again. And again. Not because you’re a pain freak but because you believe in yourself and the importance of the stories you tell. Because you have a vision and refuse to give up. This has been both game-changer and soul-shaper for me.
Another milestone occurred when I realized that I had to be my own father. My dad was a good man who loved good music, good food, and a fat joint. He was a blast to be around. But he was never a father in the conventional sense. And he never got around to teaching me how to be a man. In many ways he was a child himself till the day he died. Twenty years after his death, it dawned on me that there was a little kid inside of me who never learned impulse control or what it meant to live honorably. That young man is now my responsibility. It may be a bit late, but I’m raising his little bad ass right.
Finally, there’s the books. Not my books. We’ve covered that already. I’m talking The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Focus by Daniel Goleman… Books by masters on the pursuit of self-mastery. Seekers, Philosophers, Holy men, Gurus, PhDs. In 2019, my friend Shonda and I began reading this select genre of books together from 2000 miles apart and messaging about their impact on our daily lives. A convict and a work-from-home mom. A year later we began calling ourselves the Astral Pipeline Book Club. This year we’re inviting our friends to read along. If you’re passionate about getting the most out of your time and energy, your relationships, your body, your brain, then look no further… You’ve found your people.
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Your comment about becoming your own dad resonated with me. Even though my dad was in many ways very different from yours. Lost his dad when he was just a lad of 5 years of age. Grew up dirt poor in the outskirts of the thriving metropolis that was and is, São Paulo. Sold candy at the local movie theater, then became a shoe-shine boy, just to help bring some food money for the family, as did his brothers. He learned about Jesus at 16, and happened to be baptized the same day as a sweet and cute blondie (Loira in Portuguese) by the name of Lydia Conrado, 3 years younger—he gave her a term of endearment—Loirinha (in Portuguese the diminutive for house or ‘casa,’ is ‘casinha;’ Which also denotes a treasured home, thus a term of endearment).
Those two remained sweet on each other, until their wedding 7 years later. In the meantime he felt a calling to become a pastor. But no means to pay for college. Until this somewhat older lady decided to get rid of her jewelry—received a good amount of money. She felt impressed to speak with her pastor, saying she’d love to sponsor a preacher through school. That pastor put her in touch with my dad. My dad was humbled and flabbergasted by what he perceived as God’s opening the way for his training, and humbled by this lady’s generosity. And he studied his heart out as a way of showing his gratitude—straight ‘A’ student.
In those days Theology students preparing for pastoral ministry were encouraged to sell the Bible and Christian themed books during summer break, to get exposure to interacting with the public, and provide uplifting, often life-changing literature, while earning, possibly, the equivalent of a scholarship for their schooling. My dad could sell snow to Eskimos!! So before his 2nd year in Theology and Pastoral training, he went back to his generous sponsor, explaining how he had earned enough to pay his way. And he’d be honored if she would help another young man, which she did. And each summer my dad would secure funds for his schooling as a ‘Literature Evangelist.’ (Unbeknownst to him, his future father-in-law had done the same work full-time throughout south Brazil, even becoming a leader of such workers for the same church my dad would end up serving his whole life).
Sounds all so positive and wonderful. Except that by the time I came around (I’m the baby in my family with three older sisters) he no longer was a local church pastor. Instead his ‘success’ led him into leadership/administrative positions. ‘Conference President,’ usually supervising and leading the work of pastors and teachers over an area covering a whole state or two. His longest post was as an ‘Union Conference Youth Leader & Education Superintendent,’ covering all of South Brazil.
Which meant my dad was usually traveling all week long, then home on weekends. When he tended to upset the carefully tended by my ‘weekdays single mom’ apple cart by his boisterous, demanding, nay, exacting parenting style. We did not connect. None of us did.
Being somewhat of a loner in my growing up years, his style plus long absences ‘doing splendid, powerful work’ on behalf of young people throughout South Brazil, didn’t work for me. Oh, he was an amazing leader, initiating a series of programs and ministries still operational today. But he and I didn’t connect. I missed out on experiencing his leadership in my life. Like him, I too grew up effectively without a dad.
As I said. Your comment regarding having to become your own parent resonates with me. So again, Sir Malcolm, my friend, you bless my life. Thank you!!