This is a philosophical piece on how freedom and fear are essentially opposing forces in the universe and within ourselves. The more I contemplate my new life with ALS, the more I am learning about philosophical things like freedom and fear. I may be a prisoner in my body to an extent I never imagined, but this has motivated me to free my own mind even more and to try and help others by freeing theirs a bit.
I can honestly say that I’ve had so many experiences for which I’m grateful largely because I haven’t been afraid to take risks, try new things, and meet people all over the various spectra of life. My default position for most things that aren’t inherently bad/evil is honestly: “Sure, WTF—Why the hell not!” For those of you who have already read some of my other stories, you might be thinking: “That guy is nuts—I would never be crazy enough (or dumb enough in some cases—Hahaha!) to take psychedelic drugs, smoke weed publicly in a foreign country (or in a US jail cell), go trail running alone in 112-degree heat, or drive around in a snowstorm illegally at age 14 (or hallucinating on LSD!) And you would certainly be right that this stuff would be classified as “risky behavior” by many people. (And I still have more “risky behavior” stories on the way!)
But the relationship between freedom and fear is more than that because I think many people let fear get in the way of doing things that are certainly physically and legally safe simply because of their own personal insecurities or “hangups” as the hippies used to call them back in the day (even a little before my time!). A simple example of this might be something I have always loved to do, and that’s dancing by myself in public to live music. Unlike many guys in particular (it’s certainly more socially acceptable for women in our culture), I’ve never hesitated to shake it by myself even when nobody else is out on the dance floor. I’ve had friends (though not close friends—they get me) and strangers give me the hairy eyeball as though there were something wrong with dancing if I didn’t have a female dance partner or wait until other people started dancing, etc.
Some thought I might be gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this was long before it was cool!) or that I was just some kind of weirdo who didn’t want to play by “the rules.” My attitude (often influenced by the 5 beers and other trendy chemical amusement aids) was always that “somebody’s gotta get this party started, and I’m your guy!” I truly loved the music I went out to hear over 1,000 times in my life. It made me want to move and I wasn’t about to let some imaginary fear of “everybody looking at me funny” to stop me from having a good time. And the irony is that a lot of the time, when others saw me out there by myself, they would join in.
Even better, I ended up dancing with and meeting a lot of fun, beautiful women by having the stones to get out there and be the first guy shaking it! I actually met Cindy and April, both of my serious girlfriends in my 20s, doing exactly that. April was someone who would dance alone too, and we would regularly cross paths on the dance floor of our favorite bands like The Effects, Walt Richardson, Small Paul, and others. We literally became friends for life by meeting on the dance floor repeatedly. At a different show, Cindy saw me dancing by myself to Big Pete Pearson and the Blues Connection, and it turned out that we both knew Bob Corritore (Big Pete’s harmonica player at the time and now owner of the famous Rhythm Room). She asked Bob if he knew me, bought me a beer on the break, and we were together for over two years after that. All because I got myself noticed on the dance floor… (And there is another story about Cindy and April on the way—Still love you both!)
The lack of fear influenced my career to a huge extent as well. My friend and former business partner Marc gave me another piece of advice I didn’t mention in my “Film and Photo Production–It Beats a ‘Real Job'” story. This advice was something along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing a bit here) “If someone on set asks you if you know how to do something you’ve never done before, just say “yes” and figure it out.” It was probably only my third or fourth job as a flunkie production assistant (PA), and Richard the producer (who quickly became a friend as well) asked me if I would go to Grand Travel and pick up the production motorhome and drive it for the next couple of days on the shoot. I had never driven one before, but I had seen plenty of geezers riding around town in those giant boats (this one was 34’ long), so I told Richard it was no problem and immediately called Marc to figure out what the hell to do! I told him I had said yes per his advice and he told me not to worry about a thing. “If the old geezers can drive those things, so can you!” was his argument, and I couldn’t argue with his logic.
Fortunately, Marc had driven them before, and he gave me a few handy tips and told me the rental place would give me a 90-minute crash course on how everything worked (electrical, plumbing, removing the bed from the bedroom to make room for the wardrobe department, etc.) and that I should take good notes since I was now officially the motorhome PA on the shoot! I did indeed rise to the challenge and the end result was that this new skill was the impetus for Marc and I buying our own production motorhome and starting a business called Cinemasters together. We had it for about 8 years, and it was instrumental in me getting a lot of the fashion photo production work I got in the first decade of my career as a producer and location scout. Simply saying “yes” instead of “no” or “er, ummmm…” literally advanced my career by leaps and bounds and made me a pretty good chunk of change in the years immediately following. Thanks again for the great advice Marc, and the answer is always “yes!”
I would have to say I took the same approach in terms of personal friendships as well. It seems that the goal of a lot of people is to find and choose friends who are mirror images of themselves or damned close to it. While I certainly agree that you need to have something in common for an initial attraction, the rest of your interests, personality traits, philosophical outlooks on life, etc. can be considerably different. I always enjoyed learning and discovering new interests and new ways of thinking from my friends. For example, on the political spectrum “Eric the libertarian” is a complete outlier in that probably only 1% of people share my almost anarchist philosophy. The fact that 99% of my friends disagree with me makes for a lot of really great fun in terms of kicking ideas around, debating, mocking each other in good fun, etc. And I equally enjoy both the mocking and being mocked! The only “risk” to being mocked is one’s potentially fragile ego, and you need to get over whiny shit by age 15 at the latest. As I recently discovered, taking yourself too seriously is a definite waste of the precious little time you really have in life, and you have no idea how much time that is actually going to be!
On the social side of things, I’ve got friends who range from traditional mainstream religious monogamists to atheist polyamorous swingers. (If you’re lucky, I might decide to tell you more about them–wink!) I’ve got friends whose main interests revolve around outdoor stuff like camping, fishing, and building stuff with their own two hands to others who can’t change a tire on their car but speak several languages and read as many weird books as I do. I’ve got friends who are as into musical diversity and esoteric shit in the extreme (love my ZappaHead friends!), while others listen to musical garbage on the radio that would put me to sleep. But I can assure you that I have other things I love about my musically clueless friends, and we focus on that stuff instead and I occasionally mock their lack of musical knowledge or taste. It is pretty safe to say that if you don’t have a sense of humor (no matter how weird), then I probably won’t be a good friend for you! At the end of the day, I urge everyone to take a chance, say “yes” to something new, and remember that you only have one life to live. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself, so get out and dance, dammit!!!
NO GUTS, NO GLORY!!!