THE BLOG

Get Paid, Get Plucked

06/20/2008 04:24 pm 16:24:16 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Lately, I've felt so plucked, I've felt like chicken feed.

OK, now that I've got your attention....

But, yes, sure...these are both exciting and stressful times for me. I'm going to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I teach at Rutgers University.

Oh, yes, I'm a married father of three.. I coach Little League...I serve on my college newspaper's board of trustees....I pull tractors with my teeth. (Quick quiz: which of the three is more stressful?)

And, despite having a workload that may send me to an early grave, everything was moving along fabulously for a while - that is, until I started screwing up (didn't Yogi Berra say that?).
Lately, I've been a little unprepared for things - on my teaching job, for example, I sometimes attract more laughs than listeners. That's what happens when you show up at 8:10 a.m. wearing the same smelly clothes you wore the night before, with a face showing overgrown whiskers and eyes as red as fire.

I've thought, geez, maybe I deserve some punishment way because I've taken on so much - especially for someone who has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders.

I deserve having a bunch of Little Leaguers snicker at me, and try to hide their giddiness as they watched me struggle to keep my eyes open while teaching them the importance of catching with two hands.

Over the past year, I've lost hours upon hours of sleep - and not just to get work done. Sometimes I spend hours just worrying and fussing about everything - not seeing my family, meeting deadlines, feeling the pressure of school.

I drive when I'm too tired. I stay up and watch T.V. when I should be working.

Sometimes I wish it were still the 1990s, when I accomplished very little of anything other than writing stories on council meetings for small, substandard suburban newspapers in New Jersey. If I wasn't doing that, then I was drinking shots of Goldschläger in some crumbling beach house in Belmar, N.J. with my friends.

Times like these remind me of what Malcolm X once said. Perhaps the chickens have come home to roost.

Yet, somehow, I manage to get through each crazy week, with my reputation seemingly in tact. Somehow, I manage to summon up the strength to get all my papers done, write all the stories for The Record I need to write by deadline and father three kids who don't appear to be on a track toward drugs and jail.

Over and over, I hear the same thing from people: "I don't know how you do it."

Well, the easy answer would be therapy. I've had a lot of that and, yes, it's helped. That, and willpower, determination - you know, the cliche stuff you hear about on T.V. or read on the back of a cereal box.

But, you know what's really helped? More than anything? More than anything you'll read in a book or seen in an informercial?

Fear.

Yes, fear.

Yes, the very thing that seminar talkers try to disassociate ourselves from. The very thing that FDR declared war on when he became president in 2003.

I fear the future. I fear that these could be the very last words I write. I fear my family growing up in a world where our leaders can't get along, can't keep us safe and can't balance a checkbook.
This fear doesn't cause me to run and hide to run and hide, however. In fact, I embrace this fear, and use it as a motivator.

Fear has kept me youthful and healthy. I live each day much like I did 10, 20 years ago. I run. I eat right. And I do as much as I possibly can to improve my standing in a world that's become so incredibly competitive - especially in age with a roller coaster economy and corporations downsizing by the thousands every month.

Perhaps this started with my mother, who suffered - as I have - from obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorders.

As I watched her struggle to survive before her death in 2003, I could see my own future. I saw the potential for failure that could haunt me once I reach the age of 65, when my brains, arms, legs and, in particular, stomach won't work as well as they did when I were 25.

After her death, I became a mental health journalist, writing a column that addresses the various issues facing people with schizophrenia, anxiety, OCD and other disorders.

I was also one of only six people to receive a Rosalynn Carter Mental Health fellowship in 2004, and I received $10,000 to travel the country and write about mental health treatment in the prison system.

The experience was therapeutic, too, because it taught more about what each mental illness means, and what kind of treatment options are available. It directed me toward the therapy I needed to keep myself sane and useful.

But it also told me that there is a world out there that's passing me by. I need to be involved in my children's future. I need to have control over my own future - whatever the cost.

This past spring, I buried myself in work - and went three to four days at a time without sleep - as I finished a final project at school, finished my teaching semester at work and worked my ass off as I met deadline after deadline at work.

I came to a point, in midst of all this, where I started to lose confidence and ask my wife, Is this all worth it?

That month, however, it was my youthful spirit that saved me. It came with with my appearance at the Metuchen Third and Fourth Grade Talent Show.

In the days leading up to it, my fear of failure hit an all-time high because I knew I would appear sleep-deprived, ego-blown and pale before 1,000 people. But, as it turned out, I determined it was one of those times when you gotta crawl out of your egg shell and find your inner kid.