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The Karate Kid Quits Karate To be a Movie Star, etc… (Monday, July 20, 2020)

I hope with storming intensity, as if (well, in my perhaps at times playfully hyperbolic micro- daydreams)..as if it were the Earth’s introduction to water… (In the Scientific American article written by  “Everyday Einstein Sabrina Stierwalt” on October 6, 2019—“How Did Water Get on Earth?”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-did-water-get-on-earth

the theory explored is that an asteroid or comet, or both, brought water to the Earth. If so, maybe I hope with the cosmic passion and serendipity of that or those extra special comets or meteors?)… or less hyperbolically but still emotionally honest: my hope fills my mind, soul, and body as if I were an Olympic gold medalist visualizing meticulously how the play by play of my first place victory shall transpire… and this hope is for me to gain some credibility as a focused and productive, and successful writer…diarist!… not just among ya’ll, yee’, you folks, dear readers, but within myself likewise!

I don’t believe I’m entirely without some credibility in some respects. While I’ve chronically deviated from medium to medium and genre to genre, with very little exception, writing has played a large role in these attempts at intellectual and creative and often political productivity, expression, thought, and the sort. I’ve been writing more or less since I was nine when I started writing ghost stories and plays. (Interestingly I was much better at completing projects in my youth than in my later years.) That is to say, I’ve been devoted to the craft of writing in its wide variety of possible forms, for about 25 years now. Quarter of a century. Whoa. Trippy. And…one of the greatest privileges I’ve been so blessed with was the opportunity to work as an Opinion Page Editor and general reporter for the Mercer County Community College student paper—The VOICE

(https://www.mcccvoice.org/ ; I hope they will appreciate the “plug”)

a writing tutor at Mercer County and Raritan Valley Community Colleges, and offer writing assistance as a Learning Specialist at William Paterson University and I even reached a certain sort of mountain summit by mustering the good fortune to wedge my way somehow into a wonderful Creative Writing MFA/Graduate School Program at William Paterson University.

In other words, the great news is that my career does not start from scratch here at 34 years old even though I’ve failed to stick with a writing project or field (as in…creative? Prose or poetry? Fiction or non-fiction; or did I want to write more strictly academic material as a philosopher, political scientist, historian? Did I want to write for media?)… yes I’ve failed, alas, to stick with a project for long enough to finish something I could share with the world—or, if it was a struggle not so much to finish but to stick with…persist despite failing to perceive any sort of substantive success…  such as during my vlog and podcast phases or my runs for political office (writing was also conducive for that as I got to write speeches, letters to the editor, policy ideas, et cetera).

And what would success look like? First, greater commitment to a single creative writing project. The rest of the visualization I shall explore later.

But how did it get to this? I mean, some people know what they want to do with their lives when they’re very young, and by their early twenties they’ve already contributed incredible things to the culture and got the recognition and money for it. One of my favorite contemporary artists serves as an excellent example here: Bob Dylan.

At 22 years old Bob Dylan was not only recording his SECOND studio album, but in the process, already writing some of the greatest songs/poems ever and certainly thus, of the 20th century. (And by the way: how’s THIS for commitment? Bob Dylan is now 79 and just last month recorded another album—  Rough and Rowdy Ways

https://bobdylan.lnk.to/RARWAW

 an album, which in my opinion, is as golden as any of them. In fact, his longest song—16 minutes and 56 seconds!—is on this album. 1)And I thought “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” from the 1960s was epic!; I mean, not that length speaks at all to quality. But we are speaking to this topic now of COMMITMENT and here you have man who by the age of 22 had made music and literary history and just kept making it for half a century and… whatever we may deem them worth or not worth, he’s won a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize…and still…still…he writes as seemingly heartfelt as he ever is, he writes his longest song to date—while one can’t get into Dylan’s head and he probably wouldn’t want us to any way, by every key indication from how he presents himself, sticks to his craft, does it for more than money and fame, et cetera,  here you have what evidence suggests is a man who LOVES WHAT HE DOES and STICKS TO IT FOR OVER HALF A CENTURY.

 You know I keep the conversation also going about Neurologist Tara Swart—well, she talks about one visualization exercise where we pick someone we deeply admire and visualize being near them and even turning into them. As I do admire several many people I wasn’t sure who to pick and for what reasons, but indeed, one surely is the Great Bob Dylan! I don’t want to be a singer, songwriter, or I think even a poet 2)despite so many times thinking perhaps that I really did but I do possess extreme passion for writing despite my failure to keep at a genre… but where better to look for an example of commitment to a genre than Bob Dylan?

Oh, I know there are other examples, and not just of writers…we can think too of Picasso, the late congressman John Lewis—like Dylan, already making history in his early 20s in the early 1960s—the same year, 1963! And in fact, Representative Lewis only had one year on Dylan—Rep. Lewis has been a passionate Civil Rights and Political Activist with the same might and ferocity of passion as Bob Dylan.

What else exciting happened in 1963 I wonder? I’m going to jot that down in my small notebook as something to look into later because I find it fascinating what a clearly significant year 1963 was in U.S. history).

(If you’re curious about how I examined this topic just over a year ago and how it may compare and contrast with my approach this time around here’s an audio recording of what more or less I believe qualifies as a sort of experimental diary entry though at the time I was particularly focused on whether or not to be  a “vlogger” or a “podcaster” or both and what I must do to make a lot of money at it as fast as possible;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOEbvAP2W1M )

When did I first contemplate that huge question so many of us explore: “what do I want to be ‘when I grow up?’

My first memory in this realm of experiences dates back to roughly some time between 1992 and 1995—so sometime between the age of 6 and 9. A classmate was talking to me about Karate. I suppose I must have mentioned this to my mother with a significant enough interest to give it a try that she signed me up and paid for me to take Karate classes and at least in my own mind, for a time, a tiny little dream of possibly becoming some sort of martial artist was jumping about like a little Mexican Jumping Bean.

WHY did I take interest or think I took interest in karate? Well, I remember LOVING the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Leonardo most of all, I was him for Halloween one year)—both the cartoon and the movies– and “The Three Ninjas.” Sad to say actually, these programs romanticized fighting and I had a desire to fight someone somehow. Once, I told my grandparents that I wanted to beat up my father. Why? That I don’t remember. I only remember him hitting me once. (Interestingly enough, not the time he said “come here so I can hit you.” Perhaps THAT time my fear and anger was so channeled that he felt it and budged?) We were driving somewhere and I was being annoying I suppose for some reason and in some respect—maybe fighting with my former step sister?—and to stop me he took a flash light and hit it really hard on my knee.

At that young age I had no concept of “standing up for one’s self” or “Self confidence” or “self-esteem” or how you should or should not let others treat you or speak to you. So many other dramas were flying like shooting stars right and left in the midst of my family life that the psychological fortitude just might not have been there? By this time my mother had left my father, I’d been in the hospital for pneumonia, my mother was juggling work and raising two children on her own (oh dear mysterious creativity of the universe, bless my strong and amazing mother, one of my greatest sources of general inspiration for virtue), I suffered from a strange sort of… panic disorder. Instead of feeling constantly as if I were going to die, as later panic attacks would come to make me feel, I felt certain I was going to vomit. So, often we’d be driving here or there and I’d urge my mother or father to stop the car because I was going to get sick. Though I never did throw up when I felt so sure I would.

(In hindsight, should this not have been the first blatant indication that a child therapist would do me wonders? Though I don’t feel anger or quite condemnation for my father, in my opinion, the sense of neglect that arises in my speculations, I view it as his fault and not my mother’s. My mother was the one who worked to keep us afloat in our little apartment. My mother was the one who cooked our meals. My mother was the one who found us babysitters. My mother was the one who took us nearly anywhere we had to go. My mother was the one who fought with me to get my homework done. And my mother was much younger than my father and so still at an age of earlier adulthood when some of the more complex issues of psychological self-reevaluation may emerge. By that I mean…in contrast to our early 20s when perhaps we feel our first waves of resentment over the discovery that our parents are imperfect which we sometimes exaggerate into the hyperbolic caricature of “the bad guys” or some sort of belligerent force…one’s thirties (and my mom was in her early thirties by this time)… in one’s thirties, it is in many ways the first decade of REAL adulthood because in one’s twenties one is so lost in the novelty…you CAN drink how much you want whenever you want 3)but don’t drive so sometimes you drink too much, no one can have the same control over your sex life, your general philosophy and sense of aspirations, the emergence of a certain political awareness 4)if you’re not awfully oblivious and if you are either in college or just out… the world is being introduced to you in such new and sometimes life changing, view changing ways. But in your thirties, at least for me, it’s as if you are able to advance from a sort of imaginary dissertation on adulthood to now applying what you’ve learned to begin honing your perspective with more EXPERIENCE based thinking than more idealism and raw theory.

In other words, I’m saying that while my mother is captain of the ship with two young kids, perhaps lonely, financially anxious, all the while trying to integrate a sense of career and refined taste on the world… ; my mother is somewhere around 30 and 35 and my father is by THEN somewhere between 50 and 55. Moreover, with much more basic privilege than my mother. Not just basic age and experience. My father had already been married and divorced, already had two children, had a doctorate and wrote a dissertation, and had already for many years been a clinical psychotherapist. Yes, I do think, and I am sorry to have to acknowledge and experience this period of negativity in thought and emotion… but my father was like worse than basically negligent. He was nearer to an inexcusable turn of the eyes to the other direction while his offspring and the mother of his offspring are, figuratively speaking, treading water in the ocean with not much more than lifevests and maybe a lifeboat.

What am I getting at with this digression into my mother and father? I think it has to do with my speculation as to what may have motivated an initial interest in karate and a desire to fight and especially in the midst of lacking any instruction or guidance as to how one cultivates self esteem, standing up for one’s self, asserting one’s self cautiously towards “goals,” et cetera.

But before long at all, I’d fallen out of love with karate and in love with acting, writing, and movies.

But what was THAT ALL ABOUT? I’d achieved my “yellow belt” with maybe a few stripes and all of a sudden… I think my confidence had been shaken?

(Want some IRONY, BABY? If you explore the website of the martial arts school I attended—Everson’s Karate,

you’ll likely note that a major talking point is how part of the instruction is geared towards building self-esteem, especially for those struggling with it…and yet…likely one of my first major breakdowns of self-esteem came about in the context of having taken classes there. Not their fault, I’m just saying…oh the irony…that’s all)

As the martial arts grew more complex, as I grew more aware of the stretches in the warm up sessions and of my inability to keep up, maybe I “reasoned”—to the extent which a 9 or so year old can—that this was not for me? In any event… this was the my first major act of quitting something.)

And anyway, I was falling in love with acting. It was at least the fall of 1995 and I had been taking acting classes at McCarter Theater in Princeton (or in some way connected to or related to something about McCarter Theater) after school and I watched movies with such love…and especially focused on the acting and the dialogue. When I say I watched movies I mean that whenever I wasn’t instructed to clean, do homework, or do yard work, I was laying on the floor of the basement at my mom’s house watching Showtime, HBO, and Cinemax—movie after movie, noting who was in it, who directed it, who wrote it, what year it was made, how many stars it got (if that was available) and what it was rated. (By the time I was 11 rated R, NC17 and TVMA were like beautiful gleams of stars letting one know there may be a lot of sex! And if one was lucky the TV guide put “SS” next to a movie’s rating, and the movie channels always said what the movie contained when informing the viewers what movie was about to play—did it contain “nudity,” “brief nudity” or “graphic violence” or “adult language” or “strong sexual content” or…I forget what the phrasing was to depictions of drug abuse. And  John Travolta became my “idol” so I began very meticulously studying his acting career, watching nearly every movie he made and it seemed to me… blatantly obvious that I was to somehow and someway become a movie star just like John Travolta. And I wanted it SO BAD that ALL DAY, EVERY DAY while teachers taught, I kept imagining myself in the movies as both a genius actor, and a widely celebrated star. How did such an intense and fully immersive passion like that burn out? Something for me to contemplate…

References   [ + ]

1. And I thought “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” from the 1960s was epic!
2. despite so many times thinking perhaps that I really did
3. but don’t drive
4. if you’re not awfully oblivious

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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