Alumni Visitation/Career Day, Pace High School, Miami, FL
December 11th, 2006
Uh, hey kids.
How's it going?
My name's Chez, and for some reason I'll probably never figure out, your teachers have asked me to come back here to my alma mater -- or at least the place where I spent a good portion of my teenage years sleeping -- and talk to you guys about your futures. Understand that asking me for advice on how to achieve success in life is like asking Ken Lay the best way to avoid prison time, but I suppose that if I can help one child avoid making the mistakes that I've made -- well, then -- there will be, uh, one fewer child who'll make the mistakes that I've made.
Don't do drugs.
Okay, so -- where to begin?
As it turns out, you've caught me on a hell of a day. Today is my 37th birthday. I can start by telling you that nobody "celebrates" his or her 37th birthday. Jesus, I had a brain tumor removed earlier this year, and I'm still not really "celebrating" this birthday. Don't get me wrong, I'm lucky to be alive and glad that the operation was a success, despite the fact that it rendered me a hormonal wreck who barely even recognizes his own face anymore when he sees it in the mirror. If I were a better person -- or at the very least more generically optimistic -- I'd be bukakkeing everyone I meet with gratitude and a general "Up With People" vibe 24/7; unfortunately, that's just not who I am, so maybe lesson one for you today is obvious...
People Don't Change
Kids, in spite of what Hollywood endings have led you to believe, people generally are who they are. Events can temporarily bend them and certainly alter their ways of thinking slightly -- sometimes even adjusting their core beliefs. They can learn from their mistakes and become wiser. They can adapt to their surroundings. For the most part however, the person you become after your formative years is the person you're probably always going to be. Being an adult isn't about changing everything about yourself that you believe to be wrong; it's about changing the things you can and learning to live with the things you can't. Someday, you or the kid next to you will go through rehab and all of that will be pounded into your head until you want to scrawl it on the wall in your own blood. It'll be the one thing you'll learn in rehab however that'll be right -- no matter who you are.
Speaking of which...
Drugstm: Making Bad People Feel Good (and Good People Feel Bad) Since 1427
A wise man named Marilyn Manson once said, "I Don't Like the Drugs, but the Drugs Like Me." Truer words were never spoken. If you ever wanted to know what drugs make you feel like, I can answer that for you: they make you feel like doing more drugs.
Chances are you're inundated daily with anti-drug messages warning you of the dangers of even thinking about lighting up that bong hit. Not surprisingly, this is nonsense. I won't broach the difficult question of why anyone should be allowed to have a say in what you do or don't do to make yourself feel good in the comfort of your own home, but I will say this: drugs are like anything else -- they become very bad for you the moment you let them consume your life. I happen to believe that there's a very big difference between using drugs and abusing them. I've done both at various points throughout my life. Admittedly, you need to be aware that doing drugs indeed can be like playing Russian roulette. They're enticing as hell, and you can wake up one morning to find that -- without even knowing it -- you've crossed a very dark little Rubicon. You need to keep this in mind at all times should you decide to even experiment. Anything can kill you in this world -- drugs can do it very quickly.
They can also do something far worse: they can make you wish you were dead.
While we're on the subject of death...
Career Suicide is Painless
I fell into a very good job at 22, which is a pretty impressive achievement for somebody who dropped out of college to join a band and basically figured he'd be doomed to work at Taco Bell until retirement age if his plan for musical world-domination failed (which it did). By 24 I had a gorgeous apartment in Miami Lakes, a BMW, and the title of Executive Somethingorother. It was all pretty kick-ass, until about six or seven years later -- when I realized that I hated what I was doing. Now, don't get me wrong. I fully understand and appreciate the fact that you're not necessarily supposed to love your job; you're just supposed to shut up and do it, get the check, and use it to pay your bills and buy things you want. I've known a lot of people throughout my lifetime who are fine with this way of thinking -- they're damn happy realizing that the end justifies the means. You may wind up being one of those people for all I know. Unfortunately, I'm not. Maybe it's the addict in me always wanting MORE, but I'm dangerous if I'm not being challenged -- and when I say that I don't mean, "Hey, let's see if I can put together an hour-long television show in twenty minutes;" I mean that I've always felt as if I were meant to do something other than bring you extended coverage of John Mark Karr's plane ride, the Lindsay Lohan OD-watch, or answer the important sweeps-induced question of whether or not your sock drawer can kill you (details at 11!). This could be the reason why I've managed to burn at least a few bridges at a good percentage of the places that have been unlucky enough to be saddled with me for any length of time. I've sarcastically referred to my idiotic managers as "The Brain Trust;" I've threatened to quit as a show of solidarity with people who were being fired; I abused authority when I had it and despised authority when I didn't; I've been labeled "brilliant and creative, but impossible;" In short -- I've been a fuck-up.
The reason for this -- now, finally, at 37 -- I realize, is that I simply moved up the food chain of a career which initially awed me with the size of its paycheck, but has never actually fed my soul in any way.
The lesson: forgive the stupid cliche' but, life is short -- follow your dreams. You won't be truly happy or fulfilled otherwise.
R-E-G-R-E-T (Just a Little Bit)
Ignore what I just said. Life usually isn't short. On the contrary, as someone once put it so well -- life is very long, particularly when you've made mistakes. I've screwed up so many times in my life that if I started listing them today, you'd be out of here just after Christmas at the earliest. Whoever says that you should live your life never having any regrets is more deserving of being pounded into paste than the guy who invented Reggaeton. Misguided, idealistic crap like that is only proffered by early 20-somethings who are still using Dad's money to buy pot from their RA and whose biggest "mistake" up to that point involved a night in jail for drunk-and-disorderly or flashing a Girls Gone Wild camera at Mardi Gras. As you get older, the consequences of the mistakes you make grow exponentially. The pain lasts longer. More people are hurt. You yourself run the risk of never fully recovering.
Make no mistake: the unshakable belief that you are damaged beyond repair is the worst kind of life sentence.
For God's sake -- think.
Case in point...
Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman... and a Man and a Woman, and a Man and a Woman
Isn't love great?
You meet somebody and suddenly the world starts to look and feel like the first few minutes of that good mushroom peak, with everything turning all colorful and warm and fuzzy, and you just want to lie down in it and let it pour over you and drown you in its infinite, wonderful bliss.
Unfortunately, there's no way to convince you during this heady experience that it is, in fact, a hallucination -- and that it won't be long before you're coming down and trying to pick individual pieces of lint out of the carpet with your bare hands because, well, "everything just looks so fucking dirty." I have two ex-wives, both of whom can be thankful only for the fact that my name is so unusual that there's a good chance they'll never have to hear it uttered again as long as they live. One of them used to refer to this rapturous early-relationship phenomenon as the "Chemical Bath." We all take it. We all sit in it for as long as we can, because it feels so safe and warm -- but it doesn't last. The true test of love then becomes how well you and the person you've sworn to care about can deal with the banality of day-to-day existence.
Going back to what I was saying about regret, occasionally your mistakes will lead you someplace wonderful; they'll lead you right where you were supposed to be all along. There's no greater proof of this in my life than the fact that I'm now happily married to a woman whom I can truly refer to as my soul-mate. We've been through incredibly difficult times -- and incredibly wonderful times -- and we've never fully lost sight of each other. As much as I love her however -- and I do with all my heart -- I never forget that I got very, very lucky.
Unless of course you believe in fate.
And maybe that's the final lesson...
Yeah I know, I'm a cynical prick. I've been one since I was a kid -- one who insulted a teacher in front of his class then taunted him while he paddled me; one who was a nightmarish combination of smart and subversive. But Bill Hicks used to have a name for people like me I think; he called us "Idealistic Misanthropes." I've got plenty of issues with the stupidity that I see around me every day, but that's only because I believe that things can be better. I believe in silly concepts like a love that never dies (now with a tiny drop of realism!) and a comforting inner-peace and a kind of redemption that doesn't have to come from a 2,000-year-old book or its supposedly divine author.
I believe that there are things in this world worth believing in.
And that's what makes life worth living.
Well kids, that's it for me. I'm gonna go now and let the guy from the class of 1994 get up here and tell you all about the joys of delivering water for Zephyrhills every day. Just duck if you see him reach into his pocket for any reason.
Oh yeah, and regrets or not -- the one thing I can say for sure about never growing up?
You don't have to worry about that mid-life crisis.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Posted by Chez at 3:22 PM