Giving Away My Time

Photo on 1-29-15 at 10.12 PM

I’m just getting in for the night. We went to two screenings today at Sundance. I declined an offer of a free ticket to see a third tonight because I wanted to get home and visit with you. I did three screenings yesterday along with hearing Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor speak. Six screenings in two days is pushing it, even for me. I was so very glad I got to hear the Justice speak though. She’s a very interesting woman, born in poverty in the Bronx, a true success story of someone who excelled beyond what she ever thought possible for herself.

I also spoke today at the University of Utah (to a somewhat smaller audience). Nevertheless I was very grateful for the opportunity. I spoke to the Writing About War class. There were several veterans in the room— many from current conflicts and two Vietnam veterans. I’m always so happy when I get to be of service in this way. I hope that I was able to inspire them if only a little to tell their own stories. Telling mine saved my ass when I got back from Iraq.

I was very moved by one film in particular today at Sundance, I Smile Back, from filmmaker Adam Salky. Sara Silverman turns in a devastating and brilliant performance as New York housewife and mother who suffers terribly from depression. I hesitate to write such a trite little blurb to describe the film. Blurbs about brilliant films never do them justice. Just don’t miss the opportunity to see it when you’re able. I have no doubt they’ll get distribution and you’ll have the chance see these great performances. There wasn’t a week link in the chain.  The supporting cast is strong and the deft sensibilities of the director are evident in this seamless film. Go see it.

On the list of “Symptoms of Underearning” that my friend sent me, symptom number 6 is:

Giving Away Our Time. We compulsively volunteer for various causes, or give away our services without charge, when there is not clear benefit. 

Of all the symptoms I’ve listed so far, this one probably hits home the most. If I could have addressed this one thing five years ago, I wouldn’t be in the financial shape I’m in now. I’m still doing it too. I wasn’t paid to speak at the U today. There wasn’t budget to pay me. Actually, I don’t know that. I never asked. I care about this particular professor and what he’s up to— I know he cares about the veterans and I know that my speaking to his class is meaningful and helpful to them. (I took the class myself when I was at the U and I’ve spoken to other groups of student taking the class in the intervening years). I had hoped to get the talk filmed as that is something that people often ask for when I try to book myself as a speaker professionally or get an agent who will book me as a speaker— but apparently the filming thing fell through so even that didn’t happen. That was how I was rationalizing it— I’m trying to stay in recovery from underearning. This was the way I was convincing myself I was “getting paid.” But I’m the kind of guy who had rather help for free than to not help. I won’t pretend to know the solution. I don’t. I’m trying. I’m only a newcomer to recovery from underearning. More shall be revealed.

When I got back from Iraq I showed up for one cause after the other, always for the price of a plane ticket, a place to stay and maybe a “free” meal. I stayed on the road for most of seven years but never made a real living doing it. I was always barely getting by or going deeper in debt. Again, all because I cared so deeply about the causes. I have been so very bad at asking for money in my life. That’s why I find myself where I am.

All that I did in support of Adam becoming a doctor I did mostly because I loved him. But there was a piece of it that was working toward a common financial goal so that I could one day continue to do what I love and be able to eat and have a place to live. His promise to me was that if I would help him get through med school, he would “take care of me” and I could write. Supporting someone else’s dream is not a sound financial plan. And if you are doing something similar where someone has made a promise to you like that, get it in writing. Take it from me— get it in writing. In essence, all that I did for Adam was another way I exemplified underearning. I gave away my time and energy to him, just like I’ve given away my time and energy to so many other people and causes simply because they needed the help and I was able to give it. I have to address this or I am going to die. A person just can’t giving and giving without looking to meet his or her own needs. It doesn’t matter that it comes from a generous place or if it was given in love, if I don’t house and feed myself— wait a minute! What about all that “his eye is on the sparrow” shit? I’ve worked hard and served others and still gone into debt to do it. What’s up with that? Yes, it’s true I’ve had food to eat and a place to sleep. Maybe his eye is on the sparrow but the sparrow’s just going to end up with a shitty credit score.

Okay, I’m going to leave it at that. I do want to keep a positive attitude as I’m moving forward and I think going down that path of citing examples of how I’ve exemplified this symptom would only lead me into darkness. I’m going to keep taking small steps, remaining teachable, and believe that I can recover from underearning.

See y’all tomorrow.

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