In the lives of ambitious and creative people, the view is often forward. The view, in fact, is often tunnel-visioned in the sense of the next project, the next step in the process. What we forget is that the process is likely to only end when we do. So we need to remember to take a step back and celebrate our successes.
That tunnel vision is a part of the reason we find success in our endeavors. Without it, we might only dream of the next project, the next big thing. Yet, even as we succeed (because the process of our vision continues in a forward direction,) it can often feel like we’ve never reached success. This is because we fail to stop and celebrate our accomplishments.
One of the best ways I’ve found to remember to celebrate my success is to mark my milestones beforehand, and treat myself for reaching them. These treats accumulate over the life of a creative project, giving me a sense of success.
For example, I recently finished the first draft of a novel I’ve been working on for a number of years. I use a Kanban board to organize my milestones and to help me to remember to reward myself. A Kanban board might be a bit much for some people; a simple list of milestones and ways to celebrate them taped up on a wall underneath the old egress window or held fast on the mini-fridge with your favorite magnet—wherever you won’t forget it — will do just as well.
I remember finishing my draft — typing THE END. I watched the cursor blinking on-off-on-off. The file autosaved, which brought me back to the moment, the reality that I was actually done. I threw my mouse across the room, breaking it (this was fine, since over the years it had accumulated orange Cheeto dust and sticky amber syrup from splashes of Cocoa Cola). I don’t actually recommend destroying your stuff after completing something so momentous, mostly since the next thing I heard was, “What was that sound?”
I yelled,“I dropped something, Mom.”
She was at the top of the stairs, hollering down like she always does. “Are you okay, Randy? Do you need any help down there?”
“Jesus, Mom! I told you to stay out of the basement. I’m a grown man, and this is my space.”
“I know. I wasn't’ trying to invade your space even if you haven’t paid—”
“I will pay you the rent as soon as I get an advance. Okay?”
“I know. I know. Like you said, two years isn’t— ”
“I love you, Mom.”
“Love you too, Randy.”
A well-timed I love you will always shut her up. If you’re an ambitious creative or go-getting entrepreneur, I recommend an excess of filial love to keep the rent down, though it won’t keep Mom’s voice down permanently, that’s for sure.
So, anyway, I was too annoyed right then to go bragging to her about what I’d just accomplished. Besides, it would turn into a 50-question quiz full of What’s next? Is it ready to be published? How much money will you make? We creatives are already geared toward the future, and I needed to make a conscious effort to celebrate what I’d already completed. So I walked up to my Kanban board, wiped away a cobweb covered in brown dust, and scrutinized the handwriting. I moved the goal of WRITE NOVEL from the in-progress section to the finished section and then read the treat yourself command I had jotted at the bottom of the Post-it Note.
It read: Night out on the Town.
This is exactly the kind of thing we ambitious folk need. We are so laser-focused that we can fail to socialize or even shower sometimes. I hadn’t left the basement in four days, so had to go upstairs and give myself a good soak before heading out. I managed get out of the house without waking up my mom who’d fallen asleep on the sofa watching HGTV. Score, I thought, and then realized that, Yes, tonight I’m going to score.
I suggest that for smaller accomplishments — be they finishing writing a chapter or completing a step toward building your own business — you celebrate with a smaller treat: eat a donut, buy yourself a book, watch that girl doing squats for subs on Twitch. For the larger accomplishments (such as the book I finished) you can make it something BIG.
So I called my friend, Zephyr Jones. “Raaandy,” he answered the phone, “I was beginning to make you out for dead. Where ya been? What’s new? It’s 2019, why the fuck you calling instead of texting, you boomer?”
“You know I’ve just got this flip phone, and fat fingers.”
“Christ, ain’t you got your mom to fork out some cash for a real phone yet?”
“She can barely use her smartphone, and doesn’t see why I need one.”
“Then switch with her.”
“Just ’cause she’s dumb on the smartphone doesn’t mean she doesn’t use it to feed her Facebook addiction. Speaking of addiction, there’s a reason I called.”
“Yeah, Randy, what’s that?”
“I finished my novel, so I want to celebrate.”
“You fucking finished? Hell yeah, man. I’ll take ya out. Meet me at Pete’s at 7:30. It’s all on me tonight. The drinks. The food. The drugs. On me.”
Well, it was mostly on him. I’d already bought two beers and eaten a large order of cheese balls and (because I hadn’t had any veggies in my system for I don‘t know how many weeks) some onion rings when Zephyr strolled into Pete’s Bar at about 8:15, a lit cigarette in his hand which just made me wonder, Who’s the one that needs to be reminded it’s 2019?
“Hey, Zeph, put that shit out,” Huck, the bartender, called out to him.
“Hell,” Zephyr said, looking down at the smoke twisting up from his lit cig. He glanced around and ended up dropping it into an empty left on a table that had yet to be cleared.
“We’re celebrating tonight,” Zephyr called out to Huck.
“Randy didn’t tell you?”
“He finished his book.”
“Yes,” I said shyly.
“Well, where can I buy it?” Huck asked, as if he’d ever read a book in his life, and I sincerely doubt he was going to begin his literary awakening with mine.
“Nowhere yet,” I told him. “I need to edit it first, then get an agent who’ll then sell my book to a publisher.”
“Oh,” he said. “My niece’s brother-in-law’s stepson’s girlfriend just published a book. Did it all online through Amazon, and she’s only in high school.”
“Good for her,” I said, eyeing the dregs of my beer. “Hey, Zephyr, I could use something a little harder.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Great American Novelist. Sure fucking thing.”
You’ve launched your startup, you’ve written your book, you’ve finished painting a self-portrait, you’ve won a race — these and any great accomplishment should be celebrated, and not just celebrated, but given a reward commensurate to the effort. Commensuration is, of course, subjective, but I suggest you don’t hold back or hold out, and I recommend a little cocaine, which is why after a few more drinks at Pete’s, we hopped into Zephyr’s car — a 1986 black Mustang GT — to go score us some coke. He blasted Jimi Hendrix on cassette tape, once again proving to me he was the real boomer between the two of us.
Zephyr turned left on W. 12th, which wasn’t the right way. “Detour?” I shouted over the music.
“Oh yeah,” he said, rolling through a stop sign as he lit a fresh cigarette, elbows directing the wheel, “Carson got shut down.”
“Shut down by the po-po. You really need to surface more, Randy. So we’re going to Zhenbo’s place instead.”
“Zen what? You taking me to a Buddhist temple or something?”
“Zhenbo. Zhenbo Li. Great guy. He’s got the score, Randy. And I don’t ever want to go anywhere else. Totally safe.”
“Yeah, well, Carson’s was safe.”
Zephyr laughed, “Safe as a knife-throwing contest on speed. Carson was dumb. Zhenbo, he’s got the straight-laced look you always wanted from a dealer. Nobody thinks he’s anything but a lower-middleclass clerk. A regular Walter White. ”
“Who?” I asked.
“Oh, get a fucking TV already, Randy.”
“Not having a TV,” I declared, “or a TV addiction is what makes me decidedly not a boomer.”
“Okay, boomer. Don’t get too worked up over there ’cause I think you forgot to take your blood pressure meds this morning. Don’t want you to keel over on me before you’ve even snorted anything.” He was grinning ear to ear, always the one most pleased by his jokes.
We get to this Zhenbo place. It’s in a good location — edge of the city and sort of tucked away at the end of a street with lots of trees around it. There’s a driveway that goes around to the back, so the street wasn’t loaded with cars though the backyard was. We parked and got out. Zephyr just walked up, opened up the door and strolled into the guy’s kitchen.
“What’s cooking?” he asked some dude with a buzzcut standing at the sink. Buzzcut stared at us but didn’t reply, so Zephyr started wandering out into the dinning room.
“Hey,” Buzzcut decided to call after us, but Zephyr didn’t stop. I just followed into the living room, a little wary of the new surroundings.
The place reeked of pot. Several people lulled on the couch, belt and shoelace tourniquets tied on their upper arms. Zephyr looked around and asked, “Where’s Zehnbo?” but everyone in the room was beyond-verbal high. “Let’s go to the basement,” he told me.
We went back to the kitchen. Buzzcut was gone, which made me feel a little better. Zephyr opened what I thought at first was a pantry door, but it led to a set of narrow stairs. He stomped on down, and I followed carefully. The first room was empty—just what you’d expect from any unfinished, cement basement — but there was certainly some drug use going on. The smell of burning marijuana was even stronger down there. Then we opened a door to find a circle of people on folding chairs, passing a pipe around. The smoke hit me pretty hard, not that I got wrecked off a second-hand high or anything; rather, it irritated my asthma. I started to cough, and Zephyr started shouting, “Hey, Zheeeenbo!”
“Zephyr, my man! You all know Zephyr? We’re the double Z team. This. Guy. Is. Awesome!” They started to do an intricate high five that went on for at least three minutes.
Once they finished their bro choreography, Zephyr introduced me, “This is the next Steven King — nay! — the next J.K. Fucking Rawlings.”
I manage to cough out a “Hello” at Zhenbo, who took a cautious step back.
“It’s Rowling. No -s and with an -o.” Buzzcut was correcting Zephyr. The bastard had snuck up on us from behind.
“Never actually read them,” Zephyr chuckled and looked Buzzcut up and down. He didn’t bother to grab the dickhead’s name and instead turned back to Zhenbo and said, “Hey, my man here,” he looked over to where I had been, but I had pushed past Buzzcut, needing out of the room at all costs, “needs me to score him some of that sweet Bolivian shit I helped you pick up in Miami.”
“For my favorite half of our double Z team, anything. You two want a toke first?”
Zephyr peeked his head out the door to find me sitting on the floor, up against the wall just outside with my jacket off, wiping the perspiration on my forehead with its lining. Zephry clicked his tongue and said, “I think Randy will pass.”
“I’m fine,” I said.
Buzzcut chimed in with, “Big guy can’t stand for too long, huh?”
“You talking about my friend?”
I caught the warning note of anger in his voice. “Let it go, Zephyr,” I said.
“Hey, just a question.” Buzzcut acted all defensive before scooting past Zephyr and taking Zhenbo’s empty chair.
We went back upstairs. Zhenbo disappeared with Zephyr to the upper floors. I was left down in the living room, sitting on some vintage blue chair with fabric that smelled like it was stolen from a dorm-room by a frat house who years later left it on the curbside until this guy’s drug dispensary scooped it up for the clientele to enjoy his wares in-house.
When the two of them returned, they seemed to be arguing. Zephyr shook his head and came over to where I was sitting.
“Problem?” I asked.
“I got the stuff,” he said.
Zephyr dropped a baggie on the end table beside me.
“What’s that? A bump? A bump and a half?”
“Yeah, well, I guess team double Z don’t mean I get wholesale rates. Fuck Zhenbo, after what we went through — after what I did to get that coke safely to the city. Sure, he paid me for my services, but fuck. No charity? The amount he’s selling this stuff for . . .” Zephyr turned and spat on the floor. “You know, I have half a mind to throw it back at him and ask for a goddamn refund.”
“Let’s just do this and see if we can score cheaper elsewhere.”
“Yeah, I guess. Thing is, I know this shit’s cut clean. No amphetamines or nothing.”
“All right. We’ll split it, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Zephyr pulled a razor blade from an inside pocket of his leather jacket, ripped the baggie, and split the lines. “To the book,” he raised a rolled Benjamin in a mock toast and then lowered it in invitation for me to do the first line.
I admit it was good stuff, plus it’d been a while, but I needed more. Zephyr started mingling as people began strolling in from the street. I am more of a people observer — a trait that helps me with my writing — so that’s what I did while he hunted down some cheaper drugs. A portion of the crowd might have been from Carson’s, though I wasn’t sure; I’d been holed up for months in my basement, working on my masterpiece. And as I sat there, I tried to just focus on the now, remembering to enjoy the present moment and not let something like too little cocaine ruin my celebration.
Then Zephyr came back with Buzzcut in tow. Apparently everything was alright now—now that Buzzcut was claiming to have quality coke at a fraction of whatever Zhenbo was selling his for. Zephyr gave me a proper introduction, and while I caught his name, we’re just going to keep referring to him as Buzzcut in this article. The bastard gave a wide-mouthed smile. The closed-lip grin I returned wasn’t unfriendly.
“I’ll drive,” Buzzcut said.
Zephyr put his hand on Buzzcut’s shoulder and said, “No. I’m not leaving my Mustang.”
“Hmmm. I don’t wanna be like giving directions.”
“What, there’s no address? I”ll just GPS it.”
“Actually . . .”
“It’s for Randy — his celebration. We’ll let him pick. The Mustang or — what is it you drive?”
“A Bonneville? Which, Randy, would you prefer?”
“Seriously?” I said and walked toward Zephyr’s car.
Buzzcut sat in the back since I simply couldn’t fit there comfortably. He had to direct Zephyr by jamming his head forward between the bucket seats because he didn’t know the actual address to wherever he lived, which should have been a red flag. The man’s breath was atrocious, so I turned my head to the right and cracked the window down an inch, but I kept getting whiffs of rot anyway since he kept shouting his words to be heard over the The Eagles playing on the stereo.
“Where the fuck are you taking me, dude?” Zephyr was not impressed as we bumped over four sets of train tracks in a row, leaving all the road lights behind us.
“It’s just up a little further and then take a left,” Buzzcut told him.
We went left, which took us down an unofficial road that ran parallel to a railroad track before it veered right into an area that was more than industrial-remote —it was railway-owned land. The place he had us pull into was basically a circular dirt lot with railroad ties stacked high in a few spots, piles of rebar poles, and old boxcars. It was obviously a depot of sorts for work crews to swing by and grab things needed to maintain and repair the tracks, plus a place to dump old railroading stuff, most of which I could just make out against the dark of the trees beyond the dirt area.
“This is where you live?” Zephyr asked.
“Well, technically I live in my car. But that’s okay, man. I sometimes sleep in that box over there.” He pointed to the nearest one — a rusty beige boxcar, tucked halfway into the trees. “It’s still got a good door,” he said, “and some posters of some very nice pussy. You like pussy, big guy?”
“Sure,” I said.
“You a virgin?”
“Not really, I, uh—” I started stammering like an idiot.
“Either you really are or you really aren’t. Though I’ve wondered, how is a girl still a virgin if she puts a dildo in or — fuck — a tampon for that matter?”
“Yo,” Zephyr interrupted this erotological inquiry, “we’re here to buy, not talk anatomy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Buzzcut said. “So, uh, if you wouldn’t mind just turning around.”
“Turn around?” Zephyr scoffed.
“Yeah. I got the stuff hidden. So if you could just look at the railroad tracks.”
“You said this was going to be an easy score. Now you’re making me turn around?”
“Just, you know, I trust you — ”
“As you should.”
“ — but I don’t want anyone knowing where I stash the goods.”
“Hey, if Randy and I wanted to, we could come back here any day while you’re gone, and we’d find it. But we’re not going to do that because we’re trustworthy.”
At that point my phone started to ring. I fished it out of my pocket and answered, “Hello?” without even looking at the caller ID.
“Is that a fucking flip phone?” Buzzcut sounded legitimately astonished.
“I think my grandpa has one of those.” Buzzcut snorted as he laughed.
Zephyr mouthed Your fucking mom? to me. I turned around and started walking toward the car for some privacy. Buzzcut was on my heels, trying to listen in.
“What do you mean you can’t log into the computer?” I asked. “Why do you need in it anyway? Because a man called from Microsoft to let you know something is wrong with your internet? Mom. Mom, listen. He’s a scammer. Hey. I’ll log in and look at our computer tomor — ”
“Hey, boomer,” Buzzcut was suddenly right in my face with his noxious breath, “shouldn’t you be getting your grandson to fix your computer?”
And that’s when I just fucking slammed my goddamn flip phone against his fucking nose.
I am not a violent guy, but I am a big guy with big hands, and I heard a crack. Maybe it was his nose. Maybe it was my phone. Maybe it was both; I wasn’t sure. What I was sure about was that when he fell back, a blunt piece of rebar shot up right through his chest.
“Shit, Randy. Shit.” Zephyr ran over.
The man just looked up at us with this very shocked expression on his face and then his eyes glazed over and his head fell sideways in this totally unnatural way.
“Oh fuck,” Zephyr said and bent down.
“Don’t touch him,” I warned, fearing he’d leave fingerprints on Buzzcut’s flannel jacket. Then I ran away and vomited.
Zephyr waited for me to empty out my beer and the mostly digested onion rings and cheese balls. “Well,” he shrugged, “should we at least see if we can find his hiding spot?”
I shook my head in disbelief and looked at my phone. The top part was loose and the screen was black, but at least there wasn’t any blood on it that I could see. “I might need a new phone,” I mumbled.
“Hey,” Zephyr tried to sound cheerful, “think about it; we’ll have his whole stash and plenty of money for the clubs. Turn this night around free of charge.”
“Free? It cost this man’s life. I just murdered someone, Zephyr.”
Zephyr rolled his head from side to side. “But not on purpose. Come on.”
We tugged the boxcar door open, but there was nothing except some clothing and moldering pages from hardcore porn mags tacked up to the walls. I shook my head in disgust and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Zephyr didn’t want to go just yet. He began searching around the outside of the boxcar to see if he could locate the cocaine. I was getting nervous about being in the vicinity of Buzzcut’s body for so long. As unlikable as I found him, surely he had friends who knew where he lived? I walked back over to him again just to make sure he really wasn’t breathing.
“Motherfucker,” Zephyr said.
I turned my eyes away from Buzzcut and the rebar sticking up through the ground and through him. “What’s that?” I asked.
“A loaded gun is what this is. Goddamn. Goddamn. Do you think?”
“I need a drink.”
“Yeah, Randy. Let’s get back to the bars. I think I need one too.”
Zephyr lit a cigarette, took one last look at the dead bastard and shrugged. Then we drove off to continue the celebration for my newly completed book because we ambitious and driven creatives need to remember to celebrate our successes.
All images courtesy of Pixaby.