Today I turn 34.

Halve that and I’m still using a fake ID to buy cigarettes. Double it and we’ll have finally paid off the mortgage to our house.

I was thinking of titling this post with roman numerals for 34, but XXXIV conjured an image of a porn star on hospice care.

When I turned 33, I had a poem come to me for the occasion. I was motivated to make it the year of getting things done. And I did.

I got a lot done, all right. I got so much done, I forgot to make a plan for what 34 should bring.
A poem came to me in haiku. It just didn’t provide any direction:

Now I am thirty
four, wishing I could erase
the last two lines here.

I kid.

I am one of those lame people who enjoys getting old. Ever since recovery began my life’s work of self-reflection and spiritual progress, I find more enjoyment as I grow.

If my four-year-old had one wish it would to be a grown up.

Just the other day, after a fight over toys with his sister, he told us that he wants to have the house all to himself.

“Oh yeah?” my wife said. “What would you do to eat?”

“I’d go to the store.”

“And what would you buy?”

“Frozen pizza.”

“How would you even get there?”

“My truck, of course.” He is referring here to his toy truck that his grandparents got him.

My wife and I were cracking up, imagining him rolling out of the Safeway with frozen pizzas in the plastic bed of his mock Chevy, pushing his electric motor to its five-mile-an-hour top speed.

Young people remind me how cool it is grow up. It helps me stay grateful that I still have some growing up to do.


I made 33, the Jesus year, the year of doing.

And I’m exhausted. Yes, I got a lot done, but I’m ready to move on from 33. I want to make 34 the year of being.

It feels like in all I got done, I drew one singular meaningful conclusion: I am a writer. It took about a half a million words, but I got there. Proving I am a writer requires a lot of effort. And then that effort requires feedback and recognition, which is even more exhausting than the work I put in to get recognized in the first place.
In fact, when I am trapped in doing all the things I think I should and expecting recognition for it, I care more about the recognition than the work itself. Take the recognition away and the work becomes a joyless chore.

Being a writer is different than proving I am one. In recovery terms, it is doing my best and leaving the results up to God. It is focusing on my side of the street, not letting the possibility of what other people might be thinking affect my thought and action. It is a much less anxious state of existence. And, in that Zen, less-is-more fashion, focusing on being rather than doing will allow me to do a lot more.

Like, if I had a nickel for every time I doubted this blog, or writing publicly about mental health, or worrying about who was reading my innermost thoughts, I’d have enough money to finally take the bait and do some Facebook advertising.

Yet every time I come across a new stranger or old friend who acknowledges what I’m doing, I get filled with joy and satisfaction.

The equation does not come to balance.

If I enjoy people—new and old, strangers and friends—reading what I write, why worry at all about who is visiting? Why not just write my absolute best and leave the rest up to fate? Why not submit all these stories I’m stockpiling and detach from the result?

Being beats doing because being is doing without having to do anything at all.
I’ve felt proof in the power of being in other areas in my life.

Sometimes the best thing I can do as a teacher is not teach. What I mean is teaching isn’t about providing the best information, leave that to Google. Teaching is about asking a good question and not leaving the room—bolting it shut if you have to—until the students find an answer. It involves more presence than action. It doesn’t require me to do much but sit there with that teacher look, like I smell something and I’m waiting to see who else can smell it. I’m learning that good teaching requires more restraint than action.

If you’re in recovery, it’s likely you know what I’m talking about. There’s no sense in me trying to quit a substance by using will power, grit, and determination. My addict pulls those strings. To stay clean and sober, I need to disable the puppet master. I flick it to the Off position by becoming better aware of what controls me.

Being is how we surrender and win. In becoming and embracing the thing we struggle against, we are able to cease struggling against it. If alcohol abuse is an allergic reaction, we eliminate the allergen to avoid the reaction. I’ve found more strength in identifying as an alcoholic and addict, than I have in any course of action I’ve ever taken. In the flow chart of my 33 years of accomplishment, embracing my alcoholism is at the start.

For you, it may be mastering yoga, cooking, crocheting—it doesn’t matter. What matters is embracing your being.
I am a writer. Writers don’t wait for inspiration. They are the story. They put the words down whether they feel like it or not, because if they don’t, they are not being a writer.

When I turn 35, God willing, this little experiment in existence will be over. My hope is that being a writer—which can be loosely translated as just fucking writing already—will prove more productive than doing all the other crap that I think a writer should be doing and expecting the results that writers get.

There is no try, there is only do.

There is no should be, there only is.

33 Responses to “34

  • 34?… 34?… nope can’t remember that far back – you’re lucky you whippersnapper to have so much more time in recovery than old fools like me.

    I laughed at the Roman Numeral thing. So the band Asia, one of my favourites from back in the day, the 80s that is… ask you Mum!, anyway for their 30th anniversary they announced an album entitled XXX.

    I forgot the release date… so stupidly googled. “Asia XXX” … DON’T DO IT!

    • Haha! The search you made! Right, that wouldn’t turn up too many musical numbers, would it?

      I feel fortunate to be 34 and sober. Although, at 24, the disease had me dead. It was bad. But you know how it goes! And you know about the solution! Keep strummin, man!

      Thanks for the note.

  • Well written, we are human beings not human doings after all ! Happy birthday bro

  • Happy, happy, happy, birthday! ?????? Another great post, and you certainly are a good writer! And yes, you are a Whippersnapper!! I hit the age of Medicare in another month. Quite a weird sensation!

  • Happy birthday my sweet friend! You know, you have always been a writer. Always always always. It’s inside of you whether you are writing or not, whether people are reading or not, you are a writer! Yes, just “being” is a wonderful place to live in. I love that place when I can let things unfold rather than be in the middle directing and managing. It’s a place of acceptance. I needed to read that today. Thank you Mark for being here and for sharing your heart with us. It is a treasure. Again, happiest of birthdays!

    • Thanks Annette!

      And thanks, as always for the encouragement. I wish I could always see myself the way you comment about me. It’s always so uplifting to see you’ve left a word here. Thank you, again.

  • First, Happy Birthday. Second, you really need to read this book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

    Dig this quote:

    It’s hard to exaggerate how much the “like” button changed the psychology of Facebook use. What had begun as a passive way to track your friends’ lives was now deeply interactive, and with exactly the sort of unpredictable feedback that motivated Zeiler’s pigeons. Users were gambling every time they shared a photo, web link, or status update. A post with zero likes wasn’t just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation: either you didn’t have enough online friends, or, worse still, your online friends weren’t impressed. Like pigeons, we’re more driven to seek feedback when it isn’t guaranteed. Facebook was the first major social networking force to introduce the like button, but others now have similar functions. You can like and repost tweets on Twitter, pictures on Instagram, posts on Google+, columns on LinkedIn, and videos on YouTube.

    Alter, Adam. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (p. 128). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    • Wow, dude, I’m on it!

      I really am hearing you on this one. I know right where the book is too. It’s part of our “faculty library” series in the lounge. I will get on it, I promise. Eager too.

      Will be nice to place it next to The Circle. I’m sure they compliment each other nicely. I can tell that just from the quote you offered.

      Thanks for the call as well! I’ll call you back so we can get us a get together on the books here sometime. Ev learned how to ride a bike! Much to catch up on.

  • Happy birthday! Love what you said about writing and the photo of the little truck and driver. May your year ahead be bright and rewarding.

    • Thank you so much Kristen!

      A brief note on that picture. We were driving to the park. Well, we were walking alongside his cruising. Without us saying anything, he pulled into that spot in a perfect parallel. It was uncanny! He is super good at make believe.

  • Happy birthday Mark, and happy being.

  • I hope your Birthday is absolutely wonderful!! 🙂

  • Saoirsek
    5 months ago

    Happy happy birthday ?

  • To a real champion, who possesses the spirit of a writer, the heart of a father, and the inspiration and zeal of a true believer: happy birthday, bro. Thankful to have you on this journey. Your stuff never gets old, even when I’m in a hurry.

    Thirty-four will be the year you came to Be; and, it will be a pleasure being able to witness the development. You’re on a roll! Love you man, Tater

    • Thanks for that Tate! I hope you’re right. I do have a good feeling about the year. And I’ll definitely keep you updated. If you need anything, let me know! We’ve got each other’s backs in this thing, as you know.

  • Happy, happy birthday Mark. Enjoy the youth of your children, your wife, your siblings and yourself. Your parents are still relatively young. You are at a time that I can only have in my dreams. Embrace and enjoy!

    • Thanks so much Julie!

      Great having the week to spend with you guys this summer. See you again soon!

      Your comment reminds me of your loss, and I’m so sorry for that. Love to see Mir’s tattoo. It makes me happy. She’s more a part of our house now.

  • Great post, as always! I scared the dog by laughing out loud after reading “a porn star on hospice care.” But in the way God seems to direct, your post was exactly what I needed to read, as I’m about to go to my office to try to crank out a book in two months, give or take a few days. I can especially relate to the part about being so self-conscious about who might read it. I’m still anonymous blog-wise, so have not “come out” even that far. That could about to change, big time.

    But all I need to do is be. I’ll do what I can, and just put it out there.
    Perfect advice. ?

    • I’m so glad the post had what you needed to hear and when you needed to hear it!

      The outing of the blog stuff ain’t easy that’s for sure. But I’ve found the hardest thing to do is just getting it over with already. After that, it ceases to be a big deal. I’ve also done a lot of research into the anonymity of certain 12 step programs. If you’re ever looking for that sort of advice. We should talk!

      Thank you for your kind words and well wishes. I deeply appreciate them.

  • Great post Mark and I really identify with your doubts about publishing such personal stuff. Keep doing it!

  • Happy Birthday, Mark!!!
    You are so right! There is no try, just do!
    Keep writing your beautiful stories, poems, and messages for all of us!

  • Human BEINGS! Yes! Finally got to reading this. Sorry for the delay, man. Boy, was it worth it! Thank you! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (Belated) – Danno

  • Happy birthday, Mark. Get those stories and poems out there. I’ve found that even though I track my submission with Duotrope, I quickly forget what I’ve submitted. I’m still thrilled when I get a piece accepted and a little bummed out when I receive a rejection, but if you have enough work out in the market, you have the luxury of 1) knowing you did your part in writing, editing and submitting and 2) freeing yourself up to continue work on other stories and poems. Repeat the cycle enough and eventually you’ll land publications. My acceptance rate for the past year-and-a-half is only five percent, but that five percent is amazing to me. Keep up the writing, my friend. I know it’s tough to do while teaching, but it’s worth it.

    • Thanks Robert.

      This puts to words my appreciation for rejections. That is exactly how I feel about them. It’s the chopping of wood for the fire. Writing is throwing the logs on and watching them burn. But submitting (no matter who is rejecting me) is what is required of me to keep the fire going.

      I really appreciate you dropping a note on your experience with it. I’m trying to wrestle my acceptance percentage out of the 0 category. For print that is. Several fine online journals and magazines have accepted my stuff, mainly non-fiction. Now I’m trying to get my words in a print edition. Trying to, also, get a novel published, or a short story collection, or a collection of poems. I don’t care which. They’re all in my hardrive, waiting for the percentage to change.

  • Dude – you’re a writer.
    A lot of folks have said great things here, but all I can offer up here is that you’re a damn good writer. I envy your conviction in that. Not in a comparing way, but in a way that speaks to your authentication to yourself. That’s not easy. It took me a long time to even admit to myself that I was a runner. Silly, eh? I run, hence I’m a runner. But all the self-doubt and impostor syndrome and all that negative talk told me I wasn’t. I ran a marathon and I still had a hard time calling myself a marathoner because I have only run one.

    You get the picture.

    So if I can complicate something as simple as that, can you imagine how I complicate things that have a touch of grey to them? Oh Dios Mio. Anyway, my point is that the fact that you can put that flag into the ground and have the calm conviction to do so is impressive.

    Great post, my friend.

    • Thanks Dan! I think we have similar commitment standards to things. Like, I get that you could still doubt yourself a runner after a marathon. My hamster runs itself through a similar wheel in my thinking. Rarely is enough enough! We have to keep probing and doubting in order to feel adequate. It can’t be all bad, though. Like, although annoying, it is a reason to get up in the morning and push forward, right?

      I loved reading your latest post. Seeing how signals are steering your internal journey. It’s pretty cool that we provide each other direction on that path. You’re there for me and I’m there for you in this really crazy way. Thanks my friend, for lighting my way.

  • john spence
    4 months ago

    you fucking rock mark! I know, I swear a lot, lowering the tone, well I’m not well and not a fecking writer!! but mark, I understand you and we’re the same age.. going on 21 in the head! well I try to be. you continue to teach me so much mate, I really am thankful for our friendship and that we met the way we did, I tell the story every chance I get! love you bud, heres to you, a damn fine writer. my mate, and often backstop

    • Johnny! Thanks for leaving that note for me. It made my morning as I hunch over these keys here and try to get to everything I couldn’t last week. I think of you often, my friend, and I hope your living situation improves. Stay in touch, keep me updated on what is new! I’m so appreciative when I see that you’ve dropped me a line. Stop on by anytime. I’ll leave the light on for you.

  • Happy birthday friend. Realized you have the same birthday as my father – except that he is much older than you! Hope your 34th year exceeded expectations! 🙂

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