The Doors of (Self-)Perception: Closing One to Open Another

I’ve opened and closed a lot of doors in my life.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be an artist. A comic book artist, specifically. I spent hours copying the covers of my favorite Batman issues and selling my renditions to family and friends for a couple of quarters, sometimes a buck. I went on to excel in my high school art classes, and participated in numerous gallery exhibits in malls across Hudson County. I even outshone my fellow students in drafting class, which incorporated math into the equation (fractions and geometry, of all things!)

When I got to college, however, I took my first real art class, which ate up four hours of my Friday mornings. That’s when I realized I didn’t love drawing and drafting all that much and shut the door on the path to Picasso.

While in high school, I started playing the guitar, and with the help of my friend Marc Tolliver, I learned everything from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Bush’s “Glycerine.” I ultimately hooked up with a drummer named Ralph, my good friend Rob Sandman, who’d just started learning the bass guitar, and a strange fellow named Sal, and together we formed my first metal band, VexXxed, and jammed out in Ralph’s basement for three years before our first (and only) actual gig.

My first and only performance with VexXxed, and yeah, that’s me in all black with Ozzy shades and my Cobalt blue Jackson!)

I wanted to be a rock star, so I invested thousands of dollars in electric guitars, a dozen or so effects pedals, top notch amps, and vocal equipment, as well. I even started playing briefly with a more alternative band called As I Am, and memorized their entire 20-song repertoire in six hours the night before my “audition.” After that, I was gigging with them, too.

But venue after venue, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my time lugging around this heavy equipment and practicing four nights a week just for a six-song set at Love Sexy, a tiny little club in Hoboken that featured bands that played original music. The fact that I also needed money to pay my rent after my Dad died was also impetus for me to sell off all my equipment at Crazy Eddie prices. The metaphorical guitar lay smashed on the path I’d hoped would lead to Pearl Jam.

And at New Jersey City University, after I ditched the art major and was easing myself out of the music scene, I signed on for the journalism program and learned all about writing news stories, features, and op-ed pieces. And despite giving me one of the greatest gifts ever –– getting to know my Dad more intimately than I had as a child by writing a feature on him for my final exam –– I saw that I wasn’t very interested in news to actually make a living writing about it. I wanted to do more creative kinds of writing. Luckily, the year I decided that the Hunter S. Thompson path wasn’t made for the soles of my Dr. Martens to tread on, the English Department launched its creative writing program. Another door closed, but another door opened.

This sort of thing happens to all of us. A great example is Jim Morrison, who was studying to become a filmmaker before he became lead singer of The Doors. Sometimes we have to close some doors so we can open others that might possibly lead us to bigger and better things. Sometimes this means shutting them forever; other times, it’s only temporary. The doors that constantly lead us to the same places in a loop of the same old stuff, for instance. These doors are not necessarily roads to nowhere. They may just need a little drop of oil on the hinges so it doesn’t make the same old squeak each time you open it.

I never liked The Doors’ music until I read Jim Morrison’s poetry. Thankfully, he opened both of those doors into himself for us to enjoy.

It’s all about growth in the end, both as an artist and more importantly as an individual. Everything I’ve done, every door I’ve opened and eventually shut tight behind me has helped edge me up to this point in time. One change, and now would have turned out differently, much like in Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder,” in which one simple act –– stepping on a prehistoric butterfly –– ripples through time and effects the world from which the time travelers have trekked. If we are not changing, if we take a step backwards instead of forwards, if we’re staying the same and not getting any better at whatever it is we’re doing, we owe it to ourselves to close that door that leads us around in circles and open up a new one.

I still strum my Takemine guitar once a day; I still practice my art skills on storyboards for my films or just to better be able to write out a story more visually; and now, twelve years later, I actively use the skills I learned during my brief stint as a journalism major at NJCU. Shutting yesterday’s doors and opening tomorrow’s doesn’t mean we should forget what we’ve done before. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever go back and pay a visit, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should ever regret anything. It just means that it’s time to try something new on for size, because, like the size sixes we wore as children, things won’t fit forever.

The threshold awaits…

A new door is simply a new gateway to the grander story of you. Go on. Open it. And when you return, you might just be able to add a little oil to the hinges of all the others, and open them as if they were brand new.

* * *

What doors have YOU shut in the past in order to open other ones? Share below –– I’d love to read your thoughts.

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10 thoughts on “The Doors of (Self-)Perception: Closing One to Open Another

  1. I love that question! And thank you for asking it. It’s exactly what I needed to answer toady. I am a song writer. I have been since the third grade when I won 2nd place in a reflections contest for a song I wrote on my Viola called “walking down the path”, Pretty deep for a 3rd grader. I learned to play the piano at age 5, then the Viola and learned to play the guitar at age 18 when I was pregnant with my first daughter and had nothing else to do. It’s hard to be a pregnant teenager and guitar gave me peace. I recorded an album when I was pregnant with my 3rd daughter. My ex- husband and I had a recording studio. Now I’m about to be 36 and my oldest daughter can drive and I realize that I have shut the door on my musical talents to be a Mom. I am remarried and my youngest daughter is now 11 and I think it’s time to open up the music within me. I have no regrets about closing that door to raise my children and I have passed music on to them. My oldest plays the sax and the bass guitar, my 13 year old is a drummer and my 11 year old plays the piano and I am grateful I took the time to build their talents instead of mine. So in closing my door I opened up theirs.

    • Trigonis says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, but more importantly for sharing such a heartfelt story with my readers and I. It’s really wonderful that your gift for playing music seems to have been passed down to your children, and you owe yourself a great deal for instilling in them an appreciation for music and the ability to play it, as well. There’s always some good to be gained by closing one door to open another, even when the doors we open aren’t directly for us (my favorite part of your comment.) Thanks again for sharing your story!

  2. Trigonis says:

    Glad to have helped along some tears of joy to rain down happy!

  3. Alexis Fair says:

    I was a jack of all trades from a young age, decently good at most of what I did. I was in gymnastics for a while and excelled at that, I was good at karate, and bowling. In high school they made me a varsity bowler when I was a freshmen (usually if you’re a sophmore, junior or senior you’re on varsity) and I even won a trophy, and some plaques! I actually wanted to be a professional bowler I loved it so much lol. I loved music and art most of my life though, especially through childhood I learned to play the flute when I was 7 and piano when I was 9, I tried guitar later on but it wasn’t for me. I was also in different choirs and bands. I did some theater as well, LOVED that and I went to tons of plays and musicals. I was also into art at a very young age, drawing,coloring, and painting. I was in a gifted art program in grammar school and junior high, and took every art class I could in high school (Ceramics, sculpture, painting) (I went to a school rooted in math and science. lol) I also got the chance to travel to Europe which strengthened my feelings about art. Also in high school I did a Civil Engineering summer program where I won an award for best Structural Design on a project I did. All that art and design interest led me to architecture and interior design. I was so sure interior design was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I got to college I realized I really wasn’t into all that was involved with it, and the set up of the class structure at the school I went to wasn’t very inviting. I got little personal time with my professors to discuss my feelings and concerns, so I was left to make a really hard decision to leave interior design. It was very heartbreaking since I had wanted it for so long, I remember how much I cried feeling like something had died inside of me. Then I studied art history and photography, also did some book making, film, film history and a couple music classes in college. Now I have a B.F.A in art history with lots of photo experience. I will never regret my decision to study art history and criticism and learning photography along with all my other interests. I still feel very passionate about all of these fields, but especially art history and photography. I found towards the end of college though that I’m completely passionate about DJing and being a music producer. But even now I feel more doors closing and wondering which others will open as I move on to different avenues in the music field. I was just a DJ for 4 years until this year I’ve started to produce my own music. I still use my design skills in promoting myself as a DJ/Producer. It’s a very scary feeling doing something artistic everything is so open ended, the jobs are so limited and there’s so much competition. I still don’t know what my true path is I feel as if it may change again for some reason.

    • Trigonis says:

      Wow, Lex! Thanks for sharing such an in-depth story. The way I’ve learned to see it is that we can never really be certain of our true path. Perhaps something simply guides us along to various things, and we can either fight it or embrace it. I’ve found it’s much easier to embrace, so long as it’s in your best interest at the time, of course. Every bit of learning we do, whether in college and spending loads of money doing it, or outside of institutional schooling, we take with us. It’s ours, and each bit, like a grain of sand, helps put together a more vast beach of oneself. No matter what we do, we should allow that to happen, so that whether or not we do the things we want to do, we at least lay down before others a pathway of inspiration for them to follow.

      Thanks again for sharing, Lex!

  4. Besides the fact that I came upon this and learning you graduated from New Jersey City University which I currently attend for creative writing, the main idea of this post is something I can easily relate to. I originally meant to comment on this post yesterday but it became too long and so I decided to just make it into a regular blog entry. The laconic version is basically that in high school basically everyone assumed that I was going to become a writer but I pushed myself to get into Bloomfield College as it was the only nearby area to have game development as a major. Ever since I was around four I wanted to be a game designer but then in my graphics design class I admitted I wasn’t an artist which was necessary for my goal and I wanted to write for video games anyways. There was a key to the door I opened with me all this time that I neglected as I went for the door I didn’t have the key to enter. The door I’ve forgotten about has slowly cracked throughout my high school experience and at my darkest hour very early in my college experience. It got to the point that I’ve abandoned the door I did not have the key to. As I opened the door with the key, I realized writing was ny true passion. Granted I was unhappy about changing to a major I thought was useless. I obtained much value thought this door to the point I felt liberation from my delusion. That’s what I suppose happens when writing is the only thing I’m really useful for. I no longer seek the impossible and try to open that door I wanted to open for the longest time. I am simply baffled by how strongly an aspiring poet and screenwriter such as myself kind of went through the same trouble you did. It is rather scary how small this world can be. I’ve come to embrace the stronger, literary side of me than the side of me obsessed with gaming to the point that I am enjoying New Jersey City University far more than Bloomfield College where I was an outcast and had only the friends I mention in my post. I haven’t made a name for myself at my current college yet but this year I will make the effort to do so. Please forgive me if I have gone on for a long time with my comment.

    • Trigonis says:

      No forgiveness necessary, Rudolph. Thanks for sharing such a detailed comment and story. It is pretty scary how familiar it all sounds, it’s true, but sometimes the keys we think fit those doors just don’t fit. And other times we have to learn to make our own keys for those doors we want to open, and that takes time to cultivate the skills necessary to cut the key into the correct shape to fit the locks. That’s where I’m at now, just now accepting that I’m no longer a poet or fledgling screenwriter, DIY filmmaker, but a writer and storyteller, two things that in today’s world can lead one to success, and it’s been that door to success I’ve kept covered all these years, afraid to fail, perhaps, afraid that the key I spent all that time carving might now fit the lock, so I never tried until now. Until I felt I was ready. NJCU definitely helped me refine those skills, and I’m certain it will continue in that tradition and refine yours. Thanks again for adding to the discussion!

  5. Erica Rasmussen says:

    Hi John,

    I had fallen upon your post and it’s left an itch in me I dared not to scratch until this moment. It is wonderful to read of the many doors you’ve walked through. From the very glimpse I caught you from outside the classroom I’ve admired the life you’ve chosen to live.

    You have such discipline, dedication, and resemble the never-ending chase of dreams. You are constantly in motion from one project to the next, hardly ever over-sleeping, missing a beat, or taking the vacations that might have sent you back. Not a head in the clouds, but in the very concrete reality you’ve created for yourself for every fresh venture of an artist.

    It makes me reflect upon my past with dreadful eyes for it is a place I do not visit often. I once shared a life quite similar to yours in my youth, but as the world grew heavy on me I began to wear down. As an emotionally unstable child I had great difficulty enduring pain. There was a terrible point, in which I had shut down entirely and though I numbed myself with the intention to protect myself, criticism, insecurity, and a brutal self-loathing took its place. I quit drawing, painting, coloring, sculpting, playing piano, and most of all writing. For ten years that door was closed, until recently of course.

    It may take great strength and sometimes, even a crow-bar to open this damned door, but if I can make it, I will dash and gallop on the grounds, waving my fingers through the air as if I can catch the moments of inspiration, and translate them to paper, but oh, does it fade fast. It burns under my feet, like stepping on hot coal; the crude remarks of my subconscious steep up, screening the exit. A bit of theoretical nonsense, like the devil and angel upon my shoulders persuading me in contradictory directions.

    Yes, it’s a bit obvious that I over-think things…

    I’ve realized the interest in my work with the mentally ill, has heavily lied on the countless experiences I’ve had with artists, musicians, and writers. I simply enjoyed their company. As their sanity was evaluated; we shared tea, music, drawings, and words. They had felt safe to express themselves with me, without judgment, for I understood the creative mind.

    I felt an urgency to inspire them, to restore their passion for living. At times I was successful and at others, I was not. Still, I would leave something behind. The flowers I had given were nestled tightly into the arms of a patient as she slept, and I felt as though I could sleep soundly that night.

    To empathize in some way, I would attempt to go where they had gone, and the pain often drowned me, even afterwards. There were times like those, when I knew this wasn’t for me.

    And yet here I am now with an over-due research paper standing between graduation and I.

    I’ve uncovered the darkest secrets through the past two years of psycho-analysis, played a guineau pig among the various psychological pharmaceuticals, discovered logic and my love for science in the rebellious disbelief of the art in myself. I’ve become newly sober for nearly four months, re-connected with my father from the same ten-year break, learned to be vulnerable in front of others, composed multiple pieces of music, and have begun truly writing again since the start of your class.

    And the edge I feel is like a break in my bones, a shock up my spine, the physiological adjustments my body makes in the absence of alcohol sends my nerves in jumbles and spirals of shudders and chills. Yet this mere state of being, which may be unbearable at times, has motivated me in tremendous ways to express myself. I’ve started to unpack my art supplies, the expensive brushes from Belgium, the charcoal, pen, and ink, and my sketches from the past.

    I am alive.

    I’ve opened the door to life.

    • Trigonis says:

      Well, first let me say a quick thank you for reading and being so inspired as to comment on it, Erica. I’ve been enjoying the dialogues that have been popping up now and again because of this post, and yours is certainly no exception. It takes a great amount of courage to open up like this, and that shows a great drive to burst open the door to life and make of it what was meant to be made of it. So yes, break out those brushes and sketches and start unpacking everything from the inside out.

      I was reading my poetry last week in a colleague’s classroom reading (of all the honors in the world, he teaches my work amidst the greats like Plath and (gulp!) Whitman!) and some questions arose from the class about judgment, and if I cared what people thought about my poem. I take for granted the fact that I do and don’t care about what people think of my poems, let alone myself; I hope they like the work, but if they don’t, the poem is still out there, in their minds. So whether they enjoyed it is almost irrelevant to me. Whether they’ve “got it” is what matters, and as soon as I recite it, they’ve “got it.”

      I was also at another reading in which this other poet (though he doesn’t call himself a poet) took me aside and basically, but not in so many words, told me I was a “phoning it in,” that there more to me than the set I’d just shared. Looking at him –– and he certainly reminded me of myself about ten years ago –– I can say he was right. But I’ve exorcised the demons in my various closets, I’ve spilled out all of my Pandora’s secrets, so now I’m free to write what I truly want to write, and most of all, it’s my best work. Judgment itself is a door, and once you leave it open, everything that comes in is simply a cool breeze.

      Thanks again, Erica, for taking the time to write out your thoughts here on my blog. Keep the newfound pens and brushes of your yesterdays spreading your thoughts and art on the pages and canvases of tomorrow!

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