18 June 2009

f(x), Where x = 30

When you're young, each age milestone is a stopping point marking your ascent to adulthood. Remember the fuss over turning five? Ten? How about thirteen, when you officially became a teenager? Then it was sixteen, eighteen, twenty one; driving, voting and drinking, respectively. After twenty one came twenty five, because that's a nice, round number. Somewhere along the line, someone told you to fear or resent turning thirty, that it's a negative experience. Ridiculous, you say. Every milestone so far has been great. Besides, even if turning thirty lacks the sense of celebration that its predecessors have brought, surely it's just a number, right?

There is something palpable about turning 30 that has not set well with me. I was born in December, and because of the birth month cut-off plan of schools, I was a bit older than most of my classmates. Several of them are just now turning 30, or approaching it, and their anxiety comes at a time when I have been grappling for half a year over what this age means for me. I still don't know, honestly, other than to confess that I have found it emotionally disturbing.

Surely, it's all in my head, though? I'd like to say it is, that I'll just get over this when I turn 31, but I don't think so. I have remarked in a previous post about how turning 30 has excluded me from participating in very many online surveys. I've moved out of the meaningful age demographic, and every time my surveys end right after admitting my age I am reminded that I am no longer a young guy. If society expects me to have a different perspective and different lifestyle, then shouldn't I? And what does it say about me that I don't?

I find this time of year particularly trying, with Father's Day approaching. I have never had a particularly great relationship with my own dad, so I've never really enjoyed being surrounded by all the cards and banners everywhere I go. It seems even more aggressive this year, though it may easily be I'm just more sensitive to it. In 2005, we lost twins to a miscarriage and that was, without doubt, the single most painful experience of my life to date. Even now, four years later, I can scarcely discuss the subject and only even type this because I don't know that I'll even publish this blog. Seeing Up vividly brought back to mind every excruciating moment of that anguish, and maybe that's why I'm so resentful this year. Turning 30 and having no children is a reminder that I have, through no fault of my own, zigged when society expected me to zag.

So, if I'm not nearly-middle-aged dad by now, what am I? I'm apparently the same person I was in my 20s. Isn't that good enough? Shouldn't it be? I don't know. We're supposed to keep growing as people, progressing toward a point of achievement that will mark our legacy when we're gone. Maybe that's why turning 30 bothers me so much, and why Father's Day is so discouraging this year; I have no sense of what my legacy would be, should I die today. I can point to nothing in which anyone would, or should, take any sense of pride or accomplishment. Of course, family and friends would argue that I've left each of them with something and maybe that should be good enough but for some reason it just isn't. It seems hollow to think that the only thing left behind would be fond memories left in the fading recesses of the minds of a handful of people.

Reading Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan has simultaneously exacerbated and abated my anxiety. Morgan describes Boone's two year exploration of Kentucky as his moment of destiny, believing that Boone must have felt and comprehended how special was his undertaking. Boone by this time had a family and was in his 30s; ergo, even having that which I lack was insufficient to fulfill the pioneer. And yet, I cannot help but wonder what should, or will, be my Kentucky? Have I already missed that opportunity, squandered like all the rest? Perhaps I should be contented to view the future as a wide open frontier, waiting to be explored and settled. And maybe when I turn 31, that's how I'll view it. For now, though, I suppose I'm trapped in my own 29 year old mind of the past.

10 comments:

  1. I do understand that 30 is scary. Sometimes I'm pissed that I screwed up my early 20's and "wasted time" when I should have been getting closer to having kids. I remember when I wanted to have all the kids I was going to have by the time I was 30. This way, I feel I might still be young after they move out and I can see the world. But I screwed that up, and I'm sure there's some reason for it. I'm sure I wouldn't be as happy if I could go back and change things, I think it all had to happen for things to be the way they are.

    Forget what society says you should do or be. Just be you, and be happy.

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  2. "Forget what society says you should do or be. Just be you, and be happy."

    Not only do I second this notion, but I third it, fourth it, and fifth it as well. I might sixth it if I had the time, but I don't so lets get rolling here.

    No doubt there's a large pile of crap that has been heaped upon your life. It sucks. I know. There's a pretty big heap of it over here on my life too. Sadly, we cannot boast as to the size of the piles of crap on our lives, because we know (you especially being a history major) that there are many who've gone before us (and many who will follow suit) that have had super-huge ginormous piles of crap hefted upon their lives that cause our piles of crap to appear as only a few granules of fertilizer.

    Does this make us feel any better immediately about the sorry state of things? The crap that we've already had to deal with? Shoveling it out of the way as if it were a driveway being cleared in the winter time in the middle of a blizzard? No. It doesn't. But I am a sentient being (as are you) and while things may spiral far beyond my realm of control, my sentience allows me the ability to decide to not care (as it does you). So stop caring about what the stupid surveys say, stop caring about father's day which is really just a big commercialized piece of crap holiday anyway (but props to all the pops out there), stop caring about a number which really means you've just made thirty trips around the sun, and if the Earth moved any slower, you'd only be on trip number 25, 21, or even 18 (and how god-awful would it be to be 18 again). No matter how fast the Earth might rotate around the sun, we fixate on the number 30, because for some reason our society has deemed that that is when we exit our youth and enter into a boring adulthood free from fun or excitement, destined to man the helm of a desk somewhere. Well sir, if you ask me, that is purely a matter for ME to decide, not society. I will decide if I have fun, I will decide if I have a boring job, I will decide the things that are within my power to decide, and whatever is beyond that reach I simply will not give a (enter choice expletive here).

    Now that I've said all of that, I'll step off that soap box and onto this other one over here. What about the things that you have in your life that actually mean something to you? Is there really nothing in your life that you can honestly say outweighs the crap that you have to deal with. Just video games alone (which are one of my few passions) are enough to get me out my doldrums at least temporarily, and they are truly the LEAST of the things that I love most in this life. Travis, I know that you hold many passions near to your heart, so cling to those when things seem to spiral out of your control. When things get bad, go play the Tick on SNES and feel the utter jubilation of knowing that you will NEVER beat that game. When things seem painful or difficult, break out some old comic books and get lost in the nostalgia. When things seem uncontrollable, read a favorite book, where only your imagination can limit you. Screw "age", screw "society", screw "surveys", and screw self-pity.

    What society thinks or makes me feel? Well, Phuket is not just a city in Thailand.

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  3. Both of the respondents thus far are people I dearly care for and value, and their often adamant optimism is one of the characteristics about them that endears them to me. However, I feel that your prompt is one that it takes a different pedigree of experience to fully respond to. Because despite the criticism that I may receive for saying it outright, you and I both know that the memories we leave with others may not be sufficient enough to satisfy the longing we feel in our lives or miraculously save us from our times of sorrow.

    We all face depressions and many of us regain our buoyancy and resurface for long stretches of time before the undertow grabs hold again. The way we survive is really a feat of mental mathematics; it's all a ratio of how long we are buoyant versus how long we are submerged and under the extremes of pressure that come with the depth to which we sink. Or at least, that's how most people cope and they do it as a force of habit rather than having to really analyze the methods by which they cope. It's a rather simplistic formula as our suffering is often brief and the times in which we are happy or at least content are usually expansive.

    However, the methods that work for most everyone are fallible as just that they work for most everyone. When you deal with long bouts of depression and are burdened further by the chemical inbalances in your brain that attempt to pre-select your course of thought, the tried and true adages of "Think about your friends and family" and "Don't worry about the perceived expectations of society, just be yourself" really come off as trite. It's like being allowed to only eat one type of cereal, Rice Krispies, every morning. You may really like Rice Krispies but after a time you look at the pantry and there's room next to the Rice Krispies for other boxes of cereal and you feel that said options should be in place. You think "wasn't there some other kind of cereal once, something with a captain on the box that cut up the roof off your mouth but that only allowed the sugar to enter your bloodstream faster making the cereal even more delicious? Isn't that out there somewhere?" You know that the answers that people give you for your soul-searching questions are actually right because they do endow the proper end result, but the course doesn't feel right for you personally. You realize that the majority of people recover from depressions via little more than the inertia of life and without a great deal of contemplation. You want another answer because the ones everyone feeds you are stale from repetition and because beneath it all we rarely actually lose the last burning embers of our optimism. We want to believe that we still live in a world of possibility.

    So how do we move beyond the seemingly banal retorts we receive for our woes? And keep in mind that as I ask that, I use the word 'retort' very intentionally. I know it can be done, because I myself have done it. We've discussed in the past the depths of mental despair which I have plumbed and the near outcome of that descent. After coming through such a dark period, the first major epiphany I had post-surfacing was that I couldn't retrace my thought processes over the past two years, at least not in regard to how they directed me upon the course I had just taken. This was extremely hard for me to accept, being highly introspective and regarding myself as an intelligent person. Why couldn't I look over everything in retrospect and see the exact path of the road behind me as I had been able to do in most every other situation since my brain had matured? I could label incidents like landmarks that had been catalysts to my direction, but then a landmark is only such and we can go in many directions upon encountering each one. So landmarking still provided only the most minor clues to my query.

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  4. The answer that I would find was personal choice, and it came with no drum roll, no dramatic reveal. Behind the curtain, there was just a man. Another shopworn saying, but that one really kicks you in the ass when you're in the moment and find out it's true. I couldn't recreate my thought processes because they were the thoughts of a person I could no longer relate to. That doesn't mean I couldn't or can't relate to those who suffer such hardship, but that I couldn't and to this day cannot relate to the individual that I was in those times. Looking back, it almost seems that my mind was diseased and thus so acutely divorced from my primary character and consciousness as to be a foreign entity entirely. And from the point that I came to that realization, a coping strategy took effect that was akin to the steps we take to accept any difference in society. Tolerance leading to acceptance, acceptance opening the door to learning and understanding, eventually hopefully leading to the celebration of difference in the world. I am at the point now where I know that I can never relate to the Chad of then, but I also know that because of him, there is the Chad of now who takes a lot more pleasure from life on a daily basis and doesn't get tripped up by even too many major stress factors. So, though I will never truly understand him and that leaves a strange empty feeling in your mind to know that, I celebrate that he was there and went through what he did because the pleasures I experience and the ease at which I conduct my life now regardless of obstacle more than compensate for knowing there's a gap in my mind where there is knowledge to access but no bridge to access it.

    I'm sure this has seemed tangential, as though I diverged from offering aid to offering a personal story that, while filled with reflections which one might apply to their own life to offer perspective during troubled times, still presently seems only mildly distinguished from a hackneyed "Cheer up, and think about the people who love you!" if only by the greater count of words I used to construct a similar conclusion; that there will be an end. But my story and my reflections are meant to implore your credence of my opinion on these matters, since much like you, the cliches really didn't soothe my demons. And once you accept that perhaps I have more to offer than the seemingly uninspired answers people offer with commonplace certainty of which I'm sure you are equally exhausted of hearing as I am of providing to people I've known who respond with lesser intense critique than you, I believe my tale will increase in relevance.

    So, how do you move forward? We accept that I can't offer an answer that will adequately solve the problem because the problem is individual in nature. I can relate and I can offer insight but there will be no answer guide in the back of the text, because you and every individual who is captivated by similar questions will find an individual correct answer that will not seem stale when you discover it, even though you may have heard it one-hundred times a piece from one-hundred different people. No one could tell me what I was told a hundred times. The answer is only the right answer when it feels right, no matter how available that answer was. I had to discover it and upon discovery I didn't feel stupid for not having listened or that my pursuit had wasted too much time.

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  5. Time is key to this entire process. What in particular is exacerbating these concerns of yours right now, admitted by the very title of your post? Time. Aging, mortality, and the perceptions thereof are intrinsicly linked to time. You are a unique individual, which I suspect you are aware of and sometimes even conciously make decisions to remain so rather than just hopping onto the bandwagon of opinion. Therefore, you seemed to enjoy and appreciate when once upon a time I made the decision to no longer think of a birthday as an annual recollection of my birth but rather revolve the idea of New Year's around myself instead of the accepted Gregorian calendar, because I had come to the realization that I had no particular relationship with the idea of January 1st as New Year's other than one hewn from adherence to social dogma. The result was making my life more about me than me within a predetermined or socially acknowledged framework. Can you honestly claim, and not that you've tried to, that you've never placed yourself this far out of typical socially constructed context just for the sake of doing things the way you feel you should do them?

    Do you love your wife any less or find yourself less attracted to her because she appears different than the women in the movies or on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine? I doubt it. But is this not the social framework for what we as a society deem desirable for a woman to look like and how they should behave? Why apply yourself to the expectations of a society that does not reflect your values? A man in a suit somewhere has decreed that the meaningful demographic is aged just below you, and he must have supporting evidence to confirm this so what is his motive for the decision? Money. I don't have to tell you that surveys are studied by anthropologists and sociologists and they exist solely to provide data on people's thought processes and decisions. And someone pays money for that data because they know they can make more money by understanding it. Money is spent more frivolously by people younger than you because you know the value of it having had enough life experience to have made difficult decisions with it. Thus, you are only no longer a part of the target audience because they are assuming that either you can no longer be so easily swindled or you are too pre-occupied with being swindled by the bigger doctorfish and lawyerfish and loan officerfish to pay much mind to whatever it is that the smaller fish are trying to sell you. In understanding the motives of the surveys and their financiers, the idea develops that perhaps your opinion is better marketed elsewhere to people whose motives are not solely financial. This is just my answer though, you'll find your own as we all explore and define the word 'meaningful' individually.

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  6. The other night I was at Slugger Field with a small group of friend (note:singular) and acquaintances, sitting in Row K behind 3rd base. There was a man in Row C or so, I would guess he was in his mid to late 20's by appearance, who had earned some degree of recognition by the time I arrived. I joined my group during the second game of a double header, so they had been in this man's company for several hours prior. The young man could not seem to be contented with one seat, as he continuously moved across the aisle again and again to converse with different sets of people immediately surrounding him, usually just imitating and exaggerating a good home team play for a younger fan, but more than anything he was notable for his clapping. He varied between a tripolet clap, the shortening interval crescendo clap, and sometimes just a metronomic clap, but of greater emphasis was that he clapped nearly continuously. He would occasionally stand, look off in the distance among the crowd, raise his arms in a taunting and disappointed "Really? That's all you've got?!" gesture and then attempt to incite greater clapping support for the home team. For this stream of behavior, he had earned the ridicule of not only some slovenly redneck women and their disgustingly snobbish children, a few slacker-yet-sporty styled teens, but the ridicule of my own companions, all of whom were educated at the very same university as myself. As I deconstructed the situation, I was asked to take a photograph of the young man with the intent of posting it on the internet under the suggested headings "Gayest" or "Most Retarded Bats Fan Ever." With only a split-second of thought, I immediately refused. I left the field that night, haunted by the knowledge that that young man was the fan who was supposed to be there and it was those "fans" all about me who were the outsiders. Only the outsiders were so comforted by their numbers that they felt secure enough to ostracize the native. Walking alone in the dark toward my car, I couldn't help but to ponder the accepted definitions of words like 'meaningful,' 'pride' and 'expectation.'

    When I read your words and when we have spoken of the topics of your posting, I often feel as though there are phantoms drifting through the room and hiding between keystrokes. Mentions of, or allusions to, judgmental 'others' without names. What is the young man at the ball park proud of? Simply to be a fan of a mediocre minor league baseball team, or a resident of a city with just enough support to sponsor such a team? Does it matter what our interpretations of his values are? It might seem to matter more that those values inspire enough genuine passion for him to be the sort of fan that a great American sport should still warrant, regardless of the ill favor it earns him with the reserved masses. The empty criticism certainly gave no degree of credit to his pride or reason. I'm sure that were any of the hecklers to be asked, they would have rashly attested that he had nothing to be proud of, no worthwhile meaning to his actions that necessitated their persistance. Their expectations would be the very antithesis of his own, his passion for and support of the home team. Thinking in retrospect, one might have more questions for them regarding why they even bothered to attend.

    If these voices are phantoms, nameless 'others,' or the 'popular' opinion, one could construct a case that their motives, rather than our own, are due greater scrutiny. If they expect all women to resemble the cover-girl ideal, should not those who do not be appropriately and acceptably shunned? If they expect that when an individual reaches a certain age or life circumstance, they should zig, should we all not demand that there be synchronized zigging?

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  7. We don’t all progress in a manner comparable to Daniel Boone. We don’t all move from triumph to triumph (another word worth considering the definition of in regards to how perhaps the native Americans of what is now Kentucky viewed and likely still view Boone) nor do we all marry 17 year old girls at age 22 during a time when women were less involved in their choice of mates than their parents were, as I’m sure she was thrilled at the prospect of Boone’s adventuring. But women then were more supportive by nature of the oppressive society they inhabited. However, in regards to his own perspective I am certain that he felt that he achieved quite a lot in his lifetime. I would agree that he accomplished a great deal, but just as our society was more oppressive then, our world was a lot more open as well. America was an undiscovered country rather than a series of asphalt paths connecting dry goods outlets. Thus the known base point of our definition of accomplishment has been forced to change and in comparison we feel very lazy. In truth we are lazy but that is not to say that a balance cannot be struck between progress and relaxation.

    We only progress when we allow ourselves to and in our own perceptions of accomplishment and time, which are ever-evolving. The two years I spent feeling as though I made no life progress were in fact extremely progressive because of the formation of the modern self. Without realizing it, I laid some of the groundwork that I would later analyze and interpret to move in a direction whereby I found my answers to your questions. I found a way to fall forward instead of back. I found a new vigor for even the most Spartan existence. Of course, that all seems self-important doesn’t it? That’s just me telling a story, just more words casually heaved out upon the information super-highway. Because your interpretation is just as important as mine. Because I can’t give you answers and neither can anyone else because your answers belong to you. Hopefully, at some point this response (not retort) will serve to at least aid in the direction of your search. If I can offer anything as a true suggestion, remember that the pursuit is not all there is. We the viewer know that perhaps Wile E. Coyote may have benefited from some time off between attempts to snare his prey, that he may have enjoyed a fuller life and that the object of his pursuit may have slowed in his absence, secure in its safety, only to become an easier prey. Good luck, my brother.

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  8. Time, like word definitions and even moreso, word meanings, are processed individually from a known base point. Thus the individual must interpret zigging or zagging and assert control over that which seems beyond control. Stimulus is landmark, and our reactions are the measure of our commitment to a given course. Should a woman's body not be able to carry a child to term (zig or zag) then perhaps there is a less fortunate child in the world who could use a pair of parents who are deeply in love and ready to share that with another (zig or zag depending on your interpretation of the options and meanings).

    Who determines your values, your pride, your schedule and plans? Who regards your accomplishments as such rather than just the consequences of decisions and efforts? What does it say about you to who and do they even have a meaningful place in your account of self? And why?

    Perception of time and legacy are relative to motive. When the motive is asserted, the time to craft a legacy becomes more apparent in much the way that parents who accidentally have children before their ready often nobly find a way to make time for raising them and loving them. Despite what Nancy Grace might have us believe, there’s more good in the world than bad. Even though I may presently feel a lack of motive I live day to day feeling as though when I am committed to motive, I will be committed to the time to leave a legacy that is not simply in memory. As an aside, I will take offense to your assertion that my memory of you would be “hollow,” as who are you to presume that on my behalf? I recall an entire day spent at the basement in my younger years, continuously making plans for what to do with the remainder of my day and then continuously adapting them to account for each hour that ticked away during which I had not left the basement. You and I wound up grilling our dinner that night, myself never having left, and my final acknowledgment to that memory is that all the myriad possibilities I was mapping for that day paled in comparison to simply spending time in the company of my friend. That memory or any other is not for you to regard as hollow.

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  9. I blog for two reasons: First, I'm enough of a narcissist that I must express my every thought (although I like to think I have retained enough humility not to expect an audience). Second, I write and share my experiences in the hopes that someone might find something useful in them; ideally, a discourse might be constructed in which the dynamics of a given situation are explored.

    To that end, I believe that Chad's thoughtful response dwarfs even my original post in substance, in detail, in every conceivable aspect. I appreciate the warm thoughts directed at me specifically, but the more general analysis of forming a perspective on one's own life--to say nothing of the very frank and honest personal insights freely shared as supporting evidence of them--could well be a chart for these rough waters.

    I know me, and no sooner will I absolve to quit caring about this issue than I'll have discovered something else that deflates me; that's simply how I'm wired, it seems.
    I suppose, if pressed, I would say that my only objective from this post was to offer a sort of Peter Abelard-esque comfort to my friends and peers also intimidated by their 30th birthdays.

    I have always been something of a contradiction--on one hand, blatantly independent-minded; the other, nearly crippled by self-consciousness.

    It was kind of my friends to offer words of encouragement, but as Chad so ably demonstrated, I knew I would not find my answers in such remarks. Since I posted my thoughts on having turned 30, I have begun writing again (which, really, you should know since I've made a big deal about it in this very blog) and that has proved therapeutic so far. We'll see what comes of it.

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  10. I blog for two reasons: First, I'm enough of a narcissist that I must express my every thought (although I like to think I have retained enough humility not to expect an audience). Second, I write and share my experiences in the hopes that someone might find something useful in them; ideally, a discourse might be constructed in which the dynamics of a given situation are explored.

    To that end, I believe that Chad's thoughtful response dwarfs even my original post in substance, in detail, in every conceivable aspect. I appreciate the warm thoughts directed at me specifically, but the more general analysis of forming a perspective on one's own life--to say nothing of the very frank and honest personal insights freely shared as supporting evidence of them--could well be a chart for these rough waters.

    I know me, and no sooner will I absolve to quit caring about this issue than I'll have discovered something else that deflates me; that's simply how I'm wired, it seems.
    I suppose, if pressed, I would say that my only objective from this post was to offer a sort of Peter Abelard-esque comfort to my friends and peers also intimidated by their 30th birthdays.

    I have always been something of a contradiction--on one hand, blatantly independent-minded; the other, nearly crippled by self-consciousness.

    It was kind of my friends to offer words of encouragement, but as Chad so ably demonstrated, I knew I would not find my answers in such remarks. Since I posted my thoughts on having turned 30, I have begun writing again (which, really, you should know since I've made a big deal about it in this very blog) and that has proved therapeutic so far. We'll see what comes of it.

    ReplyDelete