The Struggle to Make More

It’s been far too long since I sat down to blog.

Honestly, it’s been far too long since I journaled regularly. Like, more than 10 years.

Some days I work hard, I do all my stuff, I see all my people, I put forth all my me, and I lay down at the end of the day and feel unsettled. I feel not-myself. I wonder who I became, how I became him, and what changed.

As the subject of blogging came across my e-mail feed, it resonated with me: I haven’t just written in what feels like forever.

I think, for so long, I was in a poor socio-economic way, and I let myself be consumed in entrepreneurship podcasts, books, e-mails, online trainings, etc. and I got so consumed with the idea of blogging as a way to build an audience and make some money from somewhere out there that I forgot about the pure form of it: just writing.

I’m on my way to deliver a coworker and his wife to the airport; they’re heading back to their home state to bury his father. We had a small miscommunication about the time I needed to pick them up (I was way early), so I decided to run to a coffee shop and be a stereotypical laptop-in-the-coffee-shop guy, and it hit me: I haven’t done this since college. 2009. When I was writing a lot and loved the ambiance of a warmly-lit cafe and the clatter of cups and silverware in the background. I was a writer. Heck, I was a published author (scholarly journal, but hey, it counts).

Then I traveled. I buried myself in music, lyrics, listening, performing, failing at relationships, starting new ones, getting married, losing a baby, having kids, being the husband, being the dad, being a good salesman, being a good worker, being a good worshipper… a good leader… a good man, right? I think? I lay in bed night after night wondering if I’ve ever made it, because something’s missing in me, and I can’t put a finger on it.

So I’m going to start writing again. For me. I don’t expect or necessarily want anyone to ever read these letters to myself and to God, but they need to be available. They need to be made. I need to make more, because there’s something in the process of creation that resonates with me. Words are not enough, but they’re the way there.

Father, humble me. Remind me of my first loves, the things that you brought life to that I have neglected. Make me new by making me old. Make me wise by making me new. Make me whole by emptying me. Make me Yours all over once more. I love You. Thank You. Amen.

“I Graduated Nine Years Late,” or “That Time I Sent One E-Mail and Got a College Degree”

High school was a whirling, frantic, fantastic, sober blur.

I add “sober” because when most people say that school was a blur, they’re referring to alcohol or drugs. Those aren’t really my style. I just kept busy: I worked part-time a few places, volunteered at my church, played soccer, and tried to make those years the best years of my life.

College, then, came quickly, and I was woefully unprepared. I had coasted on my smarts through high school. College required real note-taking. College required critical thinking “outside of the box,” and these were skills I learned about 2 years too late. I failed more classes than I’ll proudly admit. I thought I could keep working as much as I was working and be fine enough to focus on my studies. I was wrong.

I attended Fairmont State University for 5 years… and I still didn’t graduate. I was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, not because I wanted to write or work in a library but because I wanted the life perspective that only a few thousand years of literature can provide. Psychology has always fascinated me, so I minored in that, but I didn’t want that to be my focus. I wanted to read voraciously, so I did… I mean, in between work. And church. And girls. And friends. And… well, in short, I was a terrible student.

I was going to give it one more semester: I only needed two more classes to graduate. To this day, I am two classes shy of my degree in English Literature. Both classes, unfortunately, follow a standard college-life schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 10:00, or Tuesday, Thursday at 1:30. In other words, not conducive to the working adult’s schedule. I had basically given up on ever getting my degree, unless I transferred all my credits into an online university and switched to something generic like “Business.”

Then I was offered a job. The best job, actually: traveling the United States and playing guitar for a living. And it took me three years to look back and even consider regretting it. I lived what I loved and I loved incorrigibly. But I didn’t have a degree when everything fell apart, for the center could not hold, and mere anarchy was loosed upon my world (okay, okay, I’m done with the literary references, I swear).

So I dropped out of college. And I played. And I met a girl. And we got married. And the band got conned out of all our money, and to this day, who exactly conned us is up for debate. So I got a ‘real job,’ and I’ve gone from job to job in an effort to find the best way to support my family ever since.

I started working in Morgantown, WV; a popular hospital in the area had great healthcare benefits, so I went for it. I met a co-worker there who is about as ‘go-get-em’ as they come, and he’s not afraid to be blunt. He encouraged me to look into tuition reimbursement options through the hospital and to look into WVU’s RBA program.

“A… what program?” I distinctly remember asking.

The Regent’s Bachelor of Arts, or RBA for short, is a program designed for working adults. In short, I can combine my old college transcripts, any KLEP tests I’m willing to take, any online courses I’d like to take, and real-world life experience for college credit, and I can finally graduate. For example, I worked in a bank as a personal banker and small business specialist. I could argue that based on my job duties, it would be redundant for me to take three courses: BUSI 1104 and 1108, as well as ECON 1104. I would write papers explaining how I learned the materials taught in those courses, and a board would review them, and grant the college credit represented by that knowledge.

So I did some reading and research on what it takes to get into the WVU RBA program. And I thought to myself, “I wonder how many credits will transfer from FSU. Heck, I wish FSU had a RBA program. I mean, surely…”

The Google-fu is strong with this one.

I was at work one cold, early January morning when I found out about the program. I did not have my college transcript with me, and I wasn’t sure when I would have time to find it and compare classes to the class-requirement list. However, I saw an e-mail address. So I scribbled it down on a post-it note, and on my lunch break, I took a chance:

“Good day! My name is Joe Barnosky, and I am a former student at Fairmont State University… could someone, in their spare time, review my transcript and let me know what classes I would need to take in order to graduate with a RBA from FSU? Thank you for your time!”

A month went by; I heard nothing. I kept thinking to myself, “I probably just need to call them next week,” except next week kept turning into the next week, which turned into the next. Getting things done quickly is hard for me, particularly when there isn’t a deadline. I told you I was a terrible student.

I’d honestly given up on it, pushing it off to the nebulous future, when I get an e-mail back at the end of February:

“Mr. Barnosky, congratulations! You meet all of the requirements for a RBA… you can graduate in May.”

I can graduate in May.

No thought has made me this happy since either “it’s a girl” or “she said yes!”

I have known, deep down, that I went to college and became what I wanted to become: a more-open-minded individual, a quick-witted sounding board with a wide mental schema to share, an educated man. But I haven’t had the paper to prove it, and that has been unwittingly detrimental to me. It’s like I’ve been trying to convince myself of it. The change didn’t happen at an identity level, just an action level. It was my history, not my person. I was not a graduate. I was a quitter. I was a person who could get things started, but I couldn’t finish. I set a terrible pattern in my life, and I’ve spent far too long trying to prove to myself that I’m not what my lack of a degree showed.

I ‘walked’ on Saturday, May 12, 2018. I sat in a tiny chair accidentally rubbing legs with fellow graduates for a long time, waited for my name, and when it was called, I walked across the stage, shook a few hands, posed with my degree cover, and accepted a simulation of my diploma. I walked. I graduated college nine years late, having taken no more classes and having put forth no more effort. The hardest thing I did was send the e-mail and hope. The second hardest thing I did was climb the hill to the campus bookstore to purchase a cap and gown. The third hardest thing I did was stay awake during the ceremony.

In the month after that awesome-but-very-long Saturday, my life felt different. I did more. I felt all adulty. I coordinated with my dad and installed two gravel walkways around my house. We dug a water drain. I re-balanced our family budget. I arranged tax payments for county taxes. I re-vamped my Google Calendar to account for my crazy rotating work schedule… for all three jobs. I booked worship leaders to cover the weeks I can’t be at the church. I organized everything and did the things I organized, because that’s what graduates do, they ‘adult’ well.

It was an identity shift: not what I’d done or what I could do, but who I became.

I had been applying for worship leader jobs all over the country, though heavily focused in Florida, California, and Texas; I wanted to take my family somewhere warm and fun. 

In the year prior to graduating, I had applied to over 100 churches and had gotten back 7 possible chances, even making it to a Skype interview with one, but none of them panned out.

I updated my resumé; I’m now a college graduate. I started applying for more worship leader jobs, as a graduate. In three weeks, I’d sent 15 applications. I had 9 positive responses, 7 of which went to phone interview, 4 of which went to a second round.

I was away at church camp, on a solid break from applying and checking applications when I got a phone call from the man I would soon happily call my boss.

9 years. 1 e-mail. 1 degree. 1 job of a lifetime.

I am so happy to be here now.

I Solved a Problem

A friend of mine, a really great guy, is one of the best ‘sounding boards’ I’ve ever met. As much as I like to think out loud and theorize about possible business ideas, he’s gone out and actually tried a variety of business ideas. We work well together; my ideas can be tempered by his experience, and his ideas amazingly get tempered by my experience.

We’ve started joking that I should be called we should be called Reality Makers – a Reality Maker is someone who takes people’s ideas and shows them how to make it work. I seem to be good at putting traction to the wheels of people’s potential, turning dreams into possibilities. He seems to be good at spotting holes and flaws in plans, which is fine, because that gives me a new problem to solve. Within a few minutes, we can put together a pretty solid proposal for an idea. Last week we talked about a book series, a YouTube channel for elementary education, and a full-fledged entertainment service covering DJs, websites, and social media management. Those were the ideas that worked. There were twice as many that didn’t make the cut.

However, “Reality Maker” looks really, really close to the world “realty,” a real estate term. I don’t want to be mistaken for someone who sells houses. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not what I do. I turn possibilities into reality. I work with what could be possible with the right pieces in place. So I made a new job title for myself: I am the Possibilicist. I think that has a nice ring to it.

One of the fun things that makes him unique is that he’s married to a great Chinese woman. They maintain ties with her family and keep up-to-date on the politics going on over there. We’ve had many great conversations about the stereotypes, the realities, and the weird and unknown cultural truths of life in Chinese cities. Also, the Chinese news services are… interesting, so when something fun pops up, he likes to share it with me.

Apparently, a few months ago, one of the popular posts on Chinese social media was a question that a mathematician posed to some 5th graders. It apparently took a while to solve because it’s more of a “thinking outside the box” thing than a real math problem. Forget solving for X, let’s solve for life. In 5th grade.

My friend and I decided that I need to start putting myself out there as a general problem solver. I finally agreed. You can read more about the math problem (including the answer, you lazy Americans) over on the page I launched for my new business service: The Possibilicist.

Thanks for reading.

Audio Widget!

One of the biggest reasons I haven’t posted in a while is because I want my site to be the central hub for my music and other projects, and I haven’t found a way to upload music in a way that doesn’t look cheap or cheesy.

Today that changes.

WordPress now has an Audio Widget that lets me post audio files directly into the site for your listening enjoyment. See?

Now everything changes. Life is good.

Testing Social Awareness

I’ve been looking at my life a little differently lately. Mostly, I’m trying to see myself from an outside perspective. This is something I think, or at least have thought, everyone should do often; it would maybe make us aware that we’re jerks, or naive, or too kind, or a bit of a hot mess at times. I’ve thought of myself as fairly self-aware, but as humans are prone to do, I seem to have forgotten that self-awareness is a state-of-being, not an activity.

I’m questioning a lot of things right now. There are certainties, of course: I love my wife, I love my kid, I am happy with all of the members of my family, et cetera. But what about the rest of it?

How is my sleep quality affecting my wakeful hours and decision-making capabilities?

Am I doing my job because I love it or because it was available?

Who am I meant to be, and am I on a track that’s even in the right direction of that beautiful city or hamlet in which I am meant to dwell?

What’s the destination right now? And with that, what’s the journey, then? Or do I journey just for journey’s sake?

Why do I do what I do? How involved do I want to be in other areas of my life?

I should pause here and point out my atmosphere: darling, I am sitting at the Joe ‘n Throw in Fairmont, WV, and it’s the first time I’ve sat down in a coffee house in at least four years. Four years, and even that’s stretching. And I guess that’s not entirely truthful because I grabbed a latte at the Dirty Bean in Buckhannon a few years ago while I was waiting for my dad to finish up his haircut at the local barbershop. Other than that, though, there’s a little coffee house in Marlinsburg, WV where the band hung out before a performance that evening at the theatre house. And before that was the Book ‘n Bean in Clarksburg, which went out of business in 2006, I think. So this is my third coffee house in 10 years, which points out how rare this is for me.

I use the phrase coffee house deliberately, as well; there is a difference between a coffee shop and a coffee house, and the proliferation of java-touting mermaid symbols does not a ‘house’ inspire.

That being said, I spent a few formative high school years in the Book ‘n Bean. Some of my best friends (who were old enough to drive) would come pick me up and we’d take a guitar out on the porch, drinking our dirty chai lattes, and sing worship songs until the fireflies dotted the humid air over the empty street downtown. A solid coffee house is an atmosphere that’s hard to recreate, and it feels like home to me.

So this soulspring of questions regarding who I am and what I’m doing and where I’m going and why I’m bothering to do any of it at all are just resonating here, and I mean here, specifically. They rattle around in my head constantly anyway, anywhere, but here, it’s as natural as the imported beans and hand-crafted mugs we drink their roasted juice from.

I don’t mean to be flowery in my word choices, either, but here it just comes out. I apologize; it must be annoying, but to me it’s inspirational and this is my site so bug off if it’s not your thing today.

I took a test today to explore an opportunity. Maybe where I am isn’t where I should be. But is that even the right door for the next road? It’s a month of existential crisis, it seems. I don’t know the answers, and I don’t know what’s next…

…but this is a great place to dwell on questions, and for that, I am grateful.