January 21, 2014

Self-Evaluation is for Losers

by Bryan Johnston in Happiness, Life, Writing0 Comments

Minute Read

I Am A C-Plus

I should probably have to turn in my blogging card. Hang my head in despair, and perform a solitary walk of shame away from the brotherhood of bloggers. Exiled. Ostracized. Why? Because I didn’t write a “New Year’s Resolution” post in early January.

I thought about it. Even penciled out a rough sketch. But it felt hollow for me. Something I’ve done probably about 25 times in my life. Instead, I’m going to perform a laid-bare self-evaluation of where I am right now…not where I want to be (Thinner! Lighter! Funnier! Drinking more green tea!).

And what, if anything, does this have to do with writing? Likely not much, although it does have a great deal to do with me, and since I’m the writer (see the title of this blog), that will have to do.

There are four areas that occupy my thoughts. Sometimes in a light and jaunty manner, and sometimes in a curled-up-in-the-fetal-position-oh-god-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life kind of way. Let’s say it’s a 50-50 split for the sake of argument.

My writing.

My marriage.

My relationships.

My opinion of myself.

These are the four pillars of me. The four corners of my mind. The four directions that I am pulled and moved (sometimes like a champion geocacher using maps and GPS to skillfully navigate over terrain, and like a convicted criminal being drawn and quartered by four Clydesdale horses at other times).

2013 was the year that I decided to make some changes. The year that saw me leave my chosen profession to start over again at 37 years old (which is old enough to have some wisdom and hindsight, but young enough to make a serious go of it…or so I like to tell myself). So, how’s that working out? Where am I?

My Writing

The notion of making my living with words has tugged at me for years. Starting with adolescent poetry, moving into short stories in high school, evolving into playwrighting in university, and eventually on to a bit of everything, my love of words and language is boundless and integral to who I am and want to be. When I finally collected enough courage in my bucket, I decided it was time. There are things about teaching that I loved and dearly miss, but over time I found myself frustrated and worn-down by the politics and bureaucracy that go with it. Being in the classroom, working with students, is noble and life-changing…for teacher and students alike. And if it was just that, I would likely still be teaching (or if I could resolve the two aspects for myself…I couldn’t). So, it was with excitement and paralyzing fear that I pulled the trigger and shot into the air…hoping the bullet wouldn’t fall straight back down and kill me.

I set up this blog in June of 2012, and wrote sporadically. I did manage to gain some momentum in the last four months of 2013, and that felt good. “Snow Day” good. I launched my copywriting business – Copy That – and set up a website. Wrote all my own copy and content. Even made a little introduction video. Again…good.

2013 culminated with my participation in National Novel Writing Month. I successfully completed a 50,000+ word novel by the end of November, and the ecstasy of that accomplishment still lingers. I felt vindicated in my decisions. I felt that it confirmed my belief that I am a writer. I did it. That was the high point.

The low point, and if I am being honest, where I currently reside, is the “now what?” phase. Company established. Personal blog out there for the world. First novel done and waiting to be revised. Trying to get my foot in about three or four different doors. And that’s hard. I only have two feet.

I am a cliche. Driven and ambitious, but terrified of starting. What if I fail? What if I succeed? No resolution here. Just an observation.

My Marriage

Those of you who know me already know that I’m a single dad, and that’s a role that I wouldn’t trade for all the frankincense in Oman (which is a lot…look it up).

What you might not know is that, despite nearly five years of separation, I am still married. My wife and I have never made any step towards getting divorced. We are, in every sense of the word, in limbo.

I can’t speak for my wife, but I am still married because I like being married. The very idea of it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, even if the reality is less than idyllic. Simply put, we do not work as a married couple. We don’t hate each other (it would be infinitely easier if we did), one partner did not cheat on the other, and we don’t have fundamental differences in ideology that make it impossible. It just doesn’t…work.

I am still married because I still care, and I don’t want to. I want to feel it’s okay to end the marriage, but that thought still keeps me awake at night from time to time. And it shouldn’t. Ending the marriage is not ending the relationship with my wife. She is still a friend, the mother of my son, and she will always be a part of my life. But I am simply not ready to no longer be married to her. Strange, isn’t it? When we’re not together, we both romanticize our partnership, and so we miss each other. A lot. And when we do get together for a visit, within days we’re driving each other crazy. Everything about the other person grates on our nerves. It’s exhausting, this cycle of missing and then irritated to no end by the same person.

It’s like a hockey stick to the head (or cricket bat, baseball bat…whatever sort of blunt instrument you prefer). We just don’t work as a married couple. And that’s okay. I couldn’t really identify the why of it. But neither am I ready to end it.

My Relationships

Moving back to Canada last summer was a big decision. It meant straining some relationships, and improving others. I was fortunate to live in Dubai for five years, just down the street from my sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces. And that, to put it lightly, was divine. Outstanding. It felt like home…and was the reason why leaving was so damn hard. My son considers his two cousins to be sisters (even if he would never admit that…you know boys). My sister is more than an aunt to him. She’s like a second mother. And I loved knowing that they were there, for Thursday night dinners at the golf club, for Friday pizza nights at their villa, for desert camping on the weekend. For everything. Not having them down the street is the biggest adjustment. One I’m still struggling with.

The decision to separate myself and my son from the four of them was agonizing.

As for my own personal relationships, well, that’s a work in progress. I’ve been reconnecting with family since being back in Canada full-time, including my own sister-cousins.

One of the downsides to a decade plus spent living overseas is that my own friendships suffer. Friends from Canada before I left have, for the most part, drifted away (but not all, thankfully). Friends from overseas have a horrible habit of either staying overseas, returning to their home countries, and/or heading off to new locales every few years. It’s hard to build and maintain those relationships. Not impossible, but not easy.

I found myself back in Canada with very few friends nearby, so I turned to internet dating (don’t judge me…it might be a cliche, but it was worth a shot, right? Right?).

My experience with it has been illuminating, and in the interest of this New Year’s Evaluation, I’ve realized two things about myself. 1) I’m afraid of being alone, and 2) I’m even more afraid of finding someone. What? Huh? Yeah, I thought the same thing. Another cliche, perhaps, but one I can’t ignore. Over the past six months I have connected with about 12-15 women on the dating site. They have all been outgoing, attractive, intelligent, and interesting people, with more than a little in common with me. But eventually I let fear get in the way with each one of them. I have met exactly zero in real life. After the first couple of messages, I start thinking about all the reasons the potential relationship is doomed to fail AND the reasons why it might actually work out. And both terrify me.

I should be gung-ho. I should be out there whenever I get the chance, meeting new people and looking for the one. And there’s been no shortage of potential suitors (did that come across a bit too colonial? Victorian?). After all, I am quite the catch…single dad, still married, no steady income (at the moment), drives a Honda Civic, and currently living with his mother. Where do you line up, right ladies?

Truth be told, I love my Civic. I love living with my mom after so many years of seeing her so sporadically. The money will eventually come. And I will someday be ready to not be married, and maybe then get married again.

My Opinion of Myself

And now we come to the fun part. It all reads so depressing. Maybe this self-evaluation thing wasn’t such a good idea. And yet…

I feel good. I trust the decisions I’ve made up to this point. There are things that were difficult to leave. My students. My sister and her family. The lifestyle overseas and security that came with the job. And yet…

This is where I am supposed to be for now. Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan, but really, when does it ever? My son is happy. I know he misses his aunt, and uncle, and sister-cousins, but I also know that he adores being home. He is a Canadian finally living in Canada. The public school. The cold and snow. The hockey 24/7. His extended family. For so long, I used him as an excuse for not starting. For keeping the status quo. It wouldn’t be fair to him, I reasoned. I couldn’t do that to him. And yet…

He has shown himself resilient, and courageous, and fearless in a way that I can only admire. It was only me holding back, my own fears and hangups weighing me down. So I made the leap.

And here we are. My opinion so far? Cautious optimism. I’m far from perfect, at anything, and I’ve stalled and balked at too many things in the first six months of my post-teaching existence. I am the little boy trying to be the hero of my own story. Will I make it? I’d have to give myself a C+, maybe a B-, although the whole plus and minus thing is meaningless. Arbitrarily made up by teachers in their spare time (you knew that right? Now that I’m out, I can slowly reveal all the secrets…).

What I do know is that I made the right decision. I have no doubt. I may second-guess all the time, about everything from leaving teaching, my separation, my writing, leaving Dubai, and dating, but I recognize that I did the right thing. Eventually.

Dylan’s relationship with his family here in Canada will only get stronger and better, as will his relationship with his sister-cousins, aunt, and uncle. Being physically away from them doesn’t lessen their closeness. If anything, it paradoxically pulls them closer and more appreciative of each other when they do see one another (I could have gone with “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, but I figure I’ve used enough cliches already). Ditto for me. It might be hard to see that right now, but I do believe it.

My writing is for me right now, with an eye on developing an audience as I go along. When I manage to pin my fear under my knee, leaning on it while I frantically type away in the few precious moments before it breaks free again, I am an eagle. My kung fu is strong. My relationship with my wife is complicated, but will settle in to some sort of comfortable existence as something other than husband and wife. And I will very likely (probably? maybe?) find my way back to dating, too.

It’s 2014. A new year, but I have no resolutions to abandon by mid-February. What I do have is an honest, self-evaluation of where I am right at this moment, in all its perfect ugliness. Like me.

But, if you insist, I resolve to drink more green tea.


Bryan Johnston

Former high school English lit & drama teacher. Current writer, stand-up comedian, & improv performer. A big switch? You betcha.

International expat for 12+ years with stops in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, & Guangzhou. Dad to a university sophomore, an eleven-month old charmer, & the two best doggos. Lover of funny things & people. Oh, and craft beer.

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