[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
-Hey Eliza, how’s it going?
-Pretty good. I was wondering if you wanted to go for coffee this week.
The ritual had to continue. Jonathan was not sure if he was really in the mood for it again. It was always the same thing. Everything had been done before. The ending never changed, either.
-What day were you thinking?
-Does Thursday work for you?
-I can’t do Thursday; I have got soccer that night.
-Oh, alright. What day are you free?
-Are you free a week from Wednesday?
Eliza paused before answering.
-I’m not sure. I will have to check.
-Okay, well let’s play it by ear. How about you email me if you are free that night and then we can figure out a time?
-Alright, I can do that.
-Cheers. Talk to you later.
Jonathan knew that they wouldn’t meet for coffee one week from Wednesday. He was not really in the mood and Eliza may have picked up on that. She might also have her own fatigue issues in meeting with him. Say what he might about her repetitive conversations surrounding her boyfriend(s), Jonathan had recently got in to the rut of repetitively talking about his disappointment and dissatisfaction with his career. Eliza and every other friend Jonathan spoke honestly with had been subject to the same things, time and again. Remember, sometimes half the problem is yourself. Jonathan’s disappointment came from his own expectations. He wanted everything and he wanted it all now. Patience was a virtue that the majority of the world had in spades in comparison.
It takes a while doesn’t it?
-It really does.
Jonathan remembered a discussion he had with a mentor like figure a few years before.
-Jon, you’ve got an expansive, amazingly brilliant mind.
-Thank you. I don’t know if I would say that.
-You do. I can tell. We were just talking right now and you started mentioning a seemingly unrelated thing. Your brain is operating at a very high level. You can draw those connections. But the thing I want to ask you, straight up, is what do you want?
-I don’t know exactly.
-Exactly. You could be particularly brilliant in any field or interest you apply yourself in.
-This is a pretty good job of filling up my ego.
-I’m not doing that. The thing is with you, Jonathan, is that while you are absolutely filled with the greatest potential I can see that you are your own greatest roadblock. What do you want? You can’t have and do everything all at once. Make some priorities. Set goals for yourself. Go and achieve.
It was still the case, Jonathan realised. He wanted to write a fun book about all the wild crazy university antics. He wanted to write a comedy, but every time he tried, his mind drew those seemingly unrelated connections. He wanted a partner to share his life with. Jens Lekman played on the stereo. Ray LaMontagne played on the stereo. Damien Rice played on the stereo. Glen Hansard played on the stereo. The songs just kept playing. Jonathan couldn’t let his mind completely disappear and it was driving him crazy. It was killing him from the inside. It was not cancer, but it might as well have been. Jonathan was twenty-five and dying alone.
Charlie was doing push ups on his bedroom floor when Jon came in.
“Hey Jon, just give me a sec.”
Charlie finished his set while Jonathan sat down on the end of Charlie’s weight bench. Nick’s old room felt strange without him. Instead, Jon was meeting with his replacement, both as a housemate, and as the closest thing to a confidant. The midnight meetings had continued in Nick’s absence, but had carried an altogether different air. Charlie had pushed himself past just talking about philosophy to actually adopting a way of life. He was trying his damnedest to emulate Nietzsche. If anyone was to become a superman it would be Charlie, the guy who ate cans of tuna with a fork for dinner.
“You gotta be disciplined.”
Charlie had nearly been a professional athlete straight out of high school, but instead walked away with the intention of getting a proper education. He set goals and he set limits. He kept both. Jonathan, who would readily admit to being a bit flighty on occasion, immensely respected the discipline that Charlie had. He had come from the same privileged background as their roommate Drew, the man who was given everything with a shrug. Instead of taking handouts, Charlie put himself to work. He drove his own truck, which he saved up for and paid in full. He came from a line of men who believed that if you can’t afford to buy something today, you probably don’t need it today. Jonathan came from a line of men who believed that if you can’t afford to buy something today, you can get it on credit because you might be able to afford it tomorrow, though you still probably don’t need it today. Jonathan was not a fool, though Charlie might have thought so.
“Hey, remember when you told me about the list?”
“I was thinking about doing something like that.”
“Cool, man. You totally should. It’s good to set goals.”
“Do you mind explaining the idea to me again?”
Charlie smiled his half smile and began.
“Back in high school, it was probably eleventh grade, I was told about the idea that you create a list of personal goals. Some could be really short-term things. Some could be things you want to do in the next fifty years. Doesn’t really matter. Anyways, you sit down and write the list. You keep it on you, and in your mind you are always, in some way, subconsciously thinking about those goals. Periodically, say every six months, you sit down and re-evaluate. Goals that have been accomplished get crossed off. Goals that you no longer want to do get erased. New goals that you want to do get added. Then you put the list away again and re-evaluate six months from then. You keep doing this until everything on your original list is gone, though the list will have grown and will continue to grow. But, by then you will have accomplished far more than if you just sat around saying I wish.”
“I like the idea, man.”
“Cool, so you going to try that?”
“Yeah, I’m going to go write the thing now and then put it in my wallet.”
“Good place not to lose it.”
Jonathan sat at his computer and realised as he typed this story that his original list was in his wallet. He opened his wallet and saw the small bulge sitting within a pocket. The folded looseleaf paper sat there taunting him almost as much as his credit cards. He unfolded the sheet and looked at the unattended list. He hadn’t done a periodic review ever. Not once every six months, not once a year, not ever. Almost four years after writing the list Jonathan hadn’t looked at it with any real intent. He had mentioned it to a couple people, who had liked Charlie’s idea. But other than that, Jonathan hadn’t seriously contemplated the list. It was not burning in to his sub consciousness the way that he knew Charlie’s list, fuelled by Nietzsche, was burning in to his. Jonathan looked at the list.
1. Write a novel.
Despite the lukewarm reception to his first book, Jonathan was pleased that he could cross off at least one thing as accomplished. The list had no space for grading, just a simple evaluation for completion.
2. Canoe trip in Yukon.
Jonathan was not too sure whether that was really a goal that needed to be done. It sounded cool so he felt comfortable leaving it on the list. Life is a long time. Maybe one day, or more likely one month, Jonathan would canoe in the Yukon Territory.
3. Live in the woods, off the woods.
Between this and the canoe trip, Jonathan wondered what sort of machismo discussion had spurred the list. Jonathan was looking for life accomplishments, but doubted that he needed to go and prove himself in nature. He liked camping a couple times a year. That was more his pace. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to erasing it. His mentor had been right; decision was tough.
4. Get an MA.
5. Get a PhD.
Maybe? Jonathan was kind of fatigued from all of his formal education as it were. He couldn’t rule that out, though.
6. Learn guitar.
Jonathan was slowly working at learning the acoustic guitar. He knew Am, C, D, E, and G chords. He was aware of F, though it was f-ing difficult for him to try.
7. Learn French.
Jonathan a commencé un cours français chaque mercredi après midi. Il a appris beaucoup.
-Oui, c’est ça.
8. Learn Italian.
9. Learn German.
10. Learn Swedish.
None of these things were going to happen anytime soon. Jonathan felt comfortable erasing them. If ever he wanted to begin learning one of them, perhaps once he had mastered his ability in French and Spanish, then he could always add them back to the list.
11. Read Joyce’s complete works.
Jonathan’s favourite book was Dubliners. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was the bane of his existence. Ignoring minor works, Jonathan knew he was halfway there with his favourite/least favourite author ever. Ulysses sat on his bookshelf with ominous weight.
12. Read Dostoevsky’s complete works.
13. Read Tolstoy’s complete works.
It was bound to happen, Jonathan felt. Crime and Punishment was fantastic. The Russians would get their due.
14. Travel through Latin America.
15. Travel through New Zealand/Australia/Fiji.
Those two ideas were still very much alive in Jonathan’s mind. Along with every other corner of the planet, including places he’d been three or four times.
Working at a summer camp had made Jonathan realise how terrible he was at water sports. However, in the end, much like skiing and snowboarding, Jonathan’s daily life hadn’t been too impacted by their absence.
18. Cross-country road trip in Winnebago.
Absolutely must still be done.
19. Start my own business.
Jonathan had no shortage of ideas and schemes sitting in notepads. This one might still happen at some point.
Done. Poorly, but done nonetheless.
Looking at his list, Jonathan could actually cross off a few items as fully accomplished. He had written a novel, received his Master of Arts degree, and painted. He felt that he could cross off learning guitar and French as in the process of accomplishing, though there may never be a point when he could definitively say he was done with them. The one time he got up on a wakeboard for seventeen seconds was also good enough to cross off. There were some things that he thought he might do without any issue, such as read Joyce, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. He would also likely travel to the South Pacific and Latin America over the course of his life. He felt pretty confident about that. Same with a cross-country recreational vehicle road trip (he was not tied to it being a brand name Winnebago). After that, everything else were just what ifs, that at the end of it all, didn’t matter too much to Jonathan if he never accomplished them. Those aren’t really goals, are they?
The one thing that was missing Jonathan spotted right away. It was the most important thing to him and somehow he had failed to place it on the list, let alone at the very top. Pulling out a pen, Jonathan began his new list.
1. Find the one.
That was it. To Jonathan nothing else was as important as finding that amazing person that he would want to spend the rest of his life with. There was no point to learning guitar if he couldn’t play his wife’s favourite song. There was no point to learning French if he had no one to say “Je t’aime” to. Who would want to travel the world alone?