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Tuesday, June 29, 2004


RER's "Get to Know Your Otis" series continues today with a question from a long-time mentor and sense of direction.

If you were doing whatever you wanted, what would it be? --rj

So, here's an embarrassing admission.

I was 18, maybe 19 years old. I was deep in a conversation with my mom. She'd always been a good ear and rarely judged my mistakes or failures. Unless I had booze on my breath, just about anything was fair game.

That particular night, I found myself struggling with what would become a running theme in my life. I had no idea how I wanted to spend my remaining years. Pre-twenty offered endless possibilities. Dad still had the business and I still had the option of taking over when he decided to retire. My life had not yet taken on a ultra-rowdy craziness and I was still fit for government work. And then there was always that writing thing.

That running theme somehow took on a sprint that night. I was just beginning to understand what it felt like to be paralyzed by life's possibilities. Before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of a sobbing, crying fit that still embarrasses me to this day.

That was not the way our family operated. We did not refuse to act. We correctly believed that inaction was not, in fact, some sort of action. Somehow I had a hard time figuring that out.

More than a decade later, while a lot has changed, not a lot has changed. Now, instead of crying on my mom's shoulder, I sit in the garage and play guitar. Or I rest my elbows on the varnished Bait Shack bar and tell the bartender to keep'em coming. Or I stay up late and night, pretend to accidentally wake up my wife when I go to bed, then talk to her until she falls asleep.

The problem is not actually a problem at all. I am again paralyzed by possibility.

Let me lay it out for you.

I'm about six weeks away from being a father. I am being considered for jobs in my current hometown, and a few other towns along the Gulf Coast and in the American Southwest. Those jobs would either give me a great promotion in my current line of work or remove me completely from the profession in which I've spent eight years trying to build a reputation. What's more, I'm actually getting paid to write these days (not enough to make a living, but getting paid nonetheless).

That all sounds pretty good, right?


Every possibility gives me a similar feeling. To recreate it, go to your nearest vat of low-grade acid, spoon an ounce or two into your gullet, then eat a cheeseburger.

That's a long way of getting to an answer, I suppose.

If I were doing whatever I wanted, what would it be?

Simply put, I guess, I'd be doing the things that I enjoy and writing about them. I'd be spending time with the people I love and writing about that. I'd be going to see live music shows and writing about that. I'd be watching movies and writing about that. I'd be playing poker and writing about that. I'd be hiking the Appalachian Trail and be writing about that (wait, did Bill Bryson already do that?).

Yep, another admission.

I'd be writing.


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