Truck Stops on the Road to Success

I awoke this morning groggy and unexpectedly downbeat. Last night, an event series I started called Lucid NYC, was a raging success. We had around 200 people (a lot relative to earlier incarnations), made a couple bucks, had great speakers and a happy crowd. I should have been ecstatic. In fact, even last night I wasn’t all that ebullient. I wondered why.
Then it occurred to me: I’d “succeeded.” I had reached a benchmark I’d set out for myself of getting over 150 people. And as much as I try to divorce myself from such thinking, I’d probably had some sort of expectation around this arbitrary number. “When I hit this benchmark, I will be…happy…fulfilled…connected…whatever.” It’s all part of the same mythology—the idea that a self-determined objective will create a psychic cataclysm; the idea that success is a particular destination, a fixed point in space; the idea that success is a particle not a wave.
The event, which brings together three speakers from broad topics—most of whom are people I search out based on my intellectual and political leanings—was my response to what I see as a world pervaded by banality and spectatorship, i.e. watching others do interesting things while the great masses cheer them on. While there is a spectator aspect to the event, it’s also meant as a disabler of barriers, where audiences connect with performers and the separation becomes more and more diffuse. I love doing it. I love the people I’ve met while doing it. Since I’ve made virtually no money off of it, it is a labor of love. And maybe it’s just a human tendency to create benchmarks to signify growth, but I still can get bogged down in episodic ideas of success; in other words, that my success will be embodied more by an episode like getting 200 people than it will by a process like savoring the moments spent planning and communicating and learning to bring people into my world.
I was thinking about what makes me happy and all I could really point to was loving: sharing the full expression of my acceptance and gratitude for another. I can’t even point to being loved, because often that act is impeded by my own ability to let the love in. So I’ll I can do is love to ensure my happiness. No amount of praise or registered guests or any other external signpost will do it for me. It’s up to me and me alone to facilitate my happiness.
There was a time not that long ago when I had one of my Lucid events. I had it in this gallery in the Flower District of Manhattan. It was in this messy loft space. I lugged three cases of wine there and some food. The space had flimsy plastic folding chairs, poor air conditioning and unflattering bright lights. The speakers I had were hit and miss. I was expecting around 100 people; 40 showed up.
At the end of the night, I helped clean up and because the crowd was so thin and the weather so warm, no one drank much. At around midnight, I had to lug almost more than two cases of wine—not to mention several other items—two avenues over to the subway, through the turnstiles and back to my apartment. I got a rash from the strap of the bag digging into my shoulder.
I was tired and dispirited because no one was giving me any recognition. I had lost money and there was zero indication that anyone gave a shit about what I had done. And yet, out of all this I realized something: I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t care. My vanity is not that hearty; it would have given up. But my love was that strong. It was able to look past the trivial failings and perpetuate itself because it needed to express itself regardless of perceived negative or indifferent feedback. Fortunately, I persisted. I even got a partner or two to help bear the load. And with greater crowds and quality, I’ve developed greater expectations. But perhaps it’d do me well to look back at where I came from—to that dispirited guy with the huge duffel bag full of cheap wine; sweaty and irritated, but driven by a higher calling; driven to express his love for humanity—not as a fixed point, but as part of a continuum (a wave if you will), something going on indefinitely, expanding imperceptibly until it becomes an emotional appendage I can’t live without.

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