“There are things in my past that were too painful to contemplate, and to get them out of the way, I shut off the past. It didn’t keep the actual problems from leaking through, but it did succeed in cutting off large swathes of who I used to be – things that are, or should be, a very big part of who I am today. When they leaked through, it usually only served to trigger the wrong reaction. Memory and regret go together like Jack and Coke, and that’s not an idly chosen comparison.
The triumph of 2009 is that a lot of that past broke through in a big way this year, for a number of reasons, and for the most part not in a bad way. Call it the Lion King moment, if you like – “remember who you are.” I did. Those things that happened in 1989, or 1994, or 2000 are not things that happened to previous regenerations, played by different people in a different era – they happened to me, they made me what I am, and I still have a lot of those things going for me.
In 2010, I’m not going to be playing defense against my own past anymore. Which should free up a lot of time and energy for other things.”
-31 Dec 2009
It worked. For a while. Facebook turned into a rolling high school reunion, right up to my actual 20th reunion, which was a joy and a triumph. I finally went abroad again, saw Europe, even if I was dragging a couple people I’d rather not have been, but I thought maybe I was broadening their horizons. I had a new job, which was going well. I had hope for the future.
Then things turned sour back in Alabama, leading to estrangements that still persist to this day and made it difficult for me ever to go back. Vanderbilt was unearthed from the past and became a source of unexpected joy for three or four years, before just as suddenly becoming a source of unpleasantness. Work turned sour for several years, but I eventually got out of user-facing support and came to an arrangement: I would give up on bonuses, stock, profits and advancement in exchange for stability and security and enough vacation to live the life I wanted when I wasn’t in the office. And after three years, they tore up their half of the deal and outsourced all of us. I’m typing this from my desk at the office, where I am working because I don’t have the day off. Or any days off, really; you have to use PTO for holidays now.
And the wider world got worse. I sincerely thought after 2012 that maybe we broke the fever, that the Old Ones no longer had their hand on the tiller of American life. Instead, we went from stupid as a valid lifestyle choice to stupid as the sea we swim in. Seas rise, forests burn, and we still have to pretend that a crooked reality TV idiot is the best possible leader of the free world – and worse, that the people who believe that are somehow worth paying heed to, rather than chucking in a home and reading out of polite society. And the baby boomers won’t let go. It’s a crime that the top three candidates for the Democrats are all over seventy years old.
Speaking of, along the way, I turned 40 and pushed it close to 50. We all got ten years older, with all the slowing and deterioration that implies. The breath of the Reaper is closer and hotter than it’s been in years, and there’s no escaping being on the back side of life. We have reached the age where it’s no longer a matter of doors closing on what might be – this, as was famously said to Indiana Jones, is the age when life stops giving you things and starts taking them away instead. Hope for the future has basically been reduced to the dream of retirement – somehow, somewhere, someday – and the desire to just survive to the end of the week. Three hours, a pint or two, a book to read. A full half hour to cuddle in the morning before having to drag out of bed and go to work. The occasional pleasure of stopping in for a Guinness on the way home, or going out to an actual pub for an evening, or driving over the hill to see the closest of our friends who all moved away. Small things. Simple things. Things that can be replicated when needed, that don’t require elaborate planning and don’t come with the crushing disappointment of cancellation because you don’t know if or when you’ll get another chance.
I’ve had the life I wanted. Not all at once, and not as quickly or for as long as I might have liked, but I did experience most of the life I wanted out of the last twenty-five years. Now my focus is on living with the life I have – what Kanter and Ebb musically said, “you can like the life you’re living.” There’s a lot of mindfulness meditation. A lot of putting thoughts on a leaf and watching them drift away on the stream. A lot of trying to be grateful for a cup of coffee, a quiet seat in the back of the bus, wool socks in my Indy boots, candles on the coffee table watching Ken Burns’ Country Music for the forty-ninth time. What I want now is a cocoon, unplugged, quiet and coziness and a resting heart rate around 60, and curling up together under the covers while it’s still too dark to wake up.
You won’t get to live the life you like for very long or very often. You have to learn to like the life you’re living. Somehow. It’s time to find a future we can live with, wherever – and whatever – it may be.