Doing What You Love, Doing What You Must

Johnny From Asbury ParkThe world is filled with phrases like, “Do what you love and the money will come.”
Maybe that works for some people. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, and a large number of people I know do what they love, but they also do what they must.

The world we live in is one where the majority of people do what they must. That person behind the cash register at that fast food place? I’d bet that they’d be willing to do something else that they loved more, if they could only get paid for it. And that person bagging your groceries? That’s not something many people aspire to, but they do it. Passionate trash collectors do exist, but they’re rare. That plumber that has to clear that toilet for you probably wishes that they were out fishing for fish instead.

Telling people to do what they love is irresponsible in this way. You have to do what you must.

Back in the 1990s, I was restarting my career as a software engineer after the Navy – I got a great job. I also wrote, and I read my own poetry at a few places – good places. I was encouraged, which is healthy – but one man, a jaded boxer of a man, pulled me aside and told me that I couldn’t do both… that I couldn’t be both a software engineer and a writer, that both would consume me. He wasn’t wrong.

But with bills and responsibilities that, in retrospect, weren’t really mine but were labors of love – I had to choose to do what I had to do. I chose to do what I must. Were it just me, I probably would have focused solely on writing, a passion of mine that I would willingly have sacrificed myself for – but not others. Every time I turned around, someone else’s bill needed to be paid, someone needed a car, someone needed help with college, someone… and so, it wasn’t just me. So I did what I had to do, and stayed on the software engineering side of things, making the money while I could, writing as I could.

In all, I ended up doing a lot of things I didn’t like over the years. I don’t know anyone who has lived a full life who hasn’t had to do things that outright sucked. I don’t know anyone of worth that did what they loved alone.

No, everyone does as they must… until the day they can afford to do what they love.

Do what you must. Do what you love as you can.


A Parting in the SeamI know we all die.

That jarring reality came early in life. The world, the cultures, everything is designed so that you aren’t supposed to think about it, but if you manage to fit into one of those cracks – the widening cracks – you realize the finality of mortality. Poets, authors… have written so much about it. Religions offer sanctuary from it. Maybe you’ll come back, maybe you’ll go to a better place.

But isn’t there always a better place? Someone always trying to sell you real estate of some form or another? Cash is easy, tears are real.

I’m intelligent. I’m not supposed to be confused. I’m the one people come to when they are confused. I have no faith that reaches further than the tips of my fingers, my toes, and where my mind can go.

I’m confused. The anger has come and went, as it’s supposed to. But it’s not so much ‘went’. There’s a surprising amount of anger there below acceptance.

One woman loved me more than I was comfortable with, and she’s gone. Another woman fought with me because… she loved me more than I was comfortable with. And she, too, is gone.

There is a rhythm there. A pulse, a silent rage that thwacks at reality now and then despite my best efforts. It’s cynical. It’s sarcastic. It seems to feel no pain, and yet it cannot exist without it.

I know we all die.

I plan for it – the unmentionables that people do not discuss. I planned for it years ago, and I may end up planning it years into the future.

But I did not plan for them to die. I should have, I suppose, since I know we all die.

Yet I failed to plan for them to die. One even told me, told me how, and I nodded my head quietly, thinking she was venting. Hoping she was venting.

She wasn’t venting. I failed. It haunts me.

Another died of the flu. How? Had I been there would something else have happened?

There is no solace here. But there is a silent rage at the world, at myself, and those who take it for granted.


I remember you

Baby Blue DatsunYou used to
Warm my hands in water
Rub them for me when I
walked home from that
Convenience store
On Country Club Lane…

I used to dance with a mop,
Waiting to get home to you
And when everything was
Stocked, floors mopped
I would call…
We would talk.

You used to read my poems
I used to let you
You used to smile
Tell me they were good
And kiss me, or look
To my heart through eyes.

Driving around, we would
Hold hands, kiss at lights
And couldn’t wait to get
Home, to our home
To our room
Where we would warm.

Winter was never the same
I remember you
The cold became colder
I remember you
The wind cut deeper
I remember you.

And when that song plays…
I can’t forget you.
I don’t want to
It will never be again
But in the end

And Where Are You Now?

Packing your things, taking
All that I had held dear,
You, only you –
Not the couch,
Not the broken bed
Not the dirty coffee maker
Not the plate we broke
The first time we kissed.
No, you, only you –
All I could see was
That sooner or later
We all learn to live

You gave me that gift
At first I resisted, looking
For a rainbow at the edge
Of the thunderclouds…
Then I came to understand
I was alone before you
I was alone again
You were not
You never were
Where are you now?
Clinging to another heart
Using another body
You cannot exist alone.

Written in the 1980s.