Register Tuesday | January 21 | 2020

The Need for Brakes

Knots in my back.

Every year or so, the excruciating knots in my back become so unbearable that I finally succumb to the need for a professional massage. My doctor once explained to me that the knots are the result of shallow breathing, which in turn is the result of stress. It’s deep, healthy breathing that makes the muscles in your back contract and expand fully, and when they aren’t given a chance to do so, you get… knots.

The cause of my stress is most likely the fact that my bank account is dwindling and I only have enough money to last me for the next month, maybe two. Of course, there is always a chance of work coming up along the way, but for now the summer appears to be a vast and expensive void in which I will finish my short film and complete another screenplay but hardly make a dollar. Since I’m not at all a “consumer,” last year I figured out that I require about two thousand dollars a month to live. That pays rent and food and bills and the occasional dinner out. The script I wrote for hire in January, along with some temp work, has sustained me thus far, but the end is fast approaching.

But that’s not the big worry. The BIG WORRY, also known as the big picture, is that I really have absolutely no idea how I’m going to sustain several decades of my life in this expensive world. Not to mention the prospects of providing for others, like a wife and children, both of which I do actually want to have one day. This overwhelming thought, which usually remains stashed in a box in the back of my mind that I dare not open, struck me as I was getting a haircut the other day. My barber, Steve, was explaining how he had been cutting hair for thirty years and was paying four hundred dollars a month in health insurance. By my math that means the proceeds of twenty five of the haircuts he does in a month go to some HMO. He pointed out that he has always valued his freedom as a barber to make his own hours, to go surfing, and live a life where he doesn’t have to answer to The Man, but that freedom comes at a cost. No health care, no pension, etc. And it struck me that I’m in a similar boat or worse. A vessel with holes in it. Because at least Steve has a real job!

I took the metaphor further a day later as I was riding my bike through Venice. I realized that the current state of my life is like riding a one speed bike with no brakes. It can be a wonderful, easy ride as long as the road stays flat. But what happens when I encounter a hill. It will take a lot of work to pedal over it, whereas some corporate guy has a lightweight fifteen speed Cannondale and can cruise up the incline without missing a beat. And what if I find myself on a road that starts to turn downhill and I’m going too fast and can’t stop because I don’t have any brakes? Then what?

So I have knots in my back. Until I get a few breaks. Or brakes.