Sunday, June 09, 2013

Can You Kon Tiki?

Fair warning: this may end up being one of my most depressing entries, but that's okay, because it's also honest.

I actually started writing this on New Year's Day, 2013, during a snowstorm which was threatening to knock out our power. It seemed a good enough time as any – as is any time (like today) – to take stock and prepare annual resolutions/aspirations. Something we all do and which I've done before:

Perspectives on Prospective Resolutions
Last Pre-Surgery Post
The Full Shawshank Experience

I've been putting off the completion of this year's mental masturbation due to the aforementioned downbeat tone and the vague notion that I should alternate the types of things I write if I want to maintain some kind of consistent readership. So thanks for reading this far, especially past the image of someone jerking off his brain (too much Louis CK, who I would love to have over for dinner, just to talk about masturbation).
I'd say my overall resolution/resignation for the year boils down to a continuation of past resolutions in my ongoing mid-life crisis (though at this point, referring to where I'm at as the middle of my life seems overly optimistic).
I started my mid-life crisis at 17 but managed (just barely) to survive beyond 34. At the time, I think I just liked melodramatically telling myself that I was suffering through such a crisis; but I had no idea what that actually meant.

There are crises to every phase of our lives. At 17 I'd say the crisis is in living up to the potential of living. I've stated my vastly oversimplified theories of age-based life perceptions below:

  • Youth: life can (and probably will) be any way you desire. (i.e. YOLO)
  • Mid-life: Life is as it is.YOL
  • later life: Life was as it was. YL

The crises come from the fact that every self we are at any given time still contains earlier selves locked inside, offering commentary and perspective on current states of affair (state of affairs?) ( attorneys general?) So the teenager struggling with who to ask to prom and where to go to college still has Snot-Nosed Kid who believes he is immortal stuck inside, shouting about all the great things he wants to do. I actually remember the first time I was given a, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" assignment in school – I'm guessing fourth or fifth grade. I said an astronomer, though I also recall that the picture I drew was of someone lying on his back in a field, staring up at the stars. So I obviously had no clue what an astronomer does, and what I really meant was that I wanted to be a poet-philosopher. Seeing as that's really just a state of mind anyway, I think I've achieved my goal. That said, it isn't as though we can or should rely upon the accuracy of our desires at any given time: yes, our 20-year-old selves may have had a vision of what 40 would look like; but 20-year old us couldn't possibly have known what would make 40-year-old us happy.

I don't know why midlife seems to be the time when people most struggle with the choices they've made (or which have been made for them) to arrive at that particular waypoint in their journey. I suppose to support my hypothesis, it's because they have more accumulated perspective piled upon potential disappointment that things didn't work out exactly as they'd dreamed.

Chronologically, I am now in midlife, though opting for a convertible head instead of a sports car has placed me spiritually in what I'm calling early-onset old age; conflicted between acceptance of life as it is and the youthful optimism (desperate expectancy) trapped inside, naively believing I still can mold my reality beyond the confines of my circumstances -- voluntary or otherwise.

I don't know why more older people don't seem to struggle just as much if not more than the middle-aged with where they find themselves. One of my roommates at the rehab – an elderly gentleman -- used to say he was luckier than me, because he had lived a "full life" before having his stroke. This is the same man whose wife knew something was wrong with him because he had stopped talking for a minute. Aside from immediate medical concerns and handing over his flooring business to his son, he was not in crisis.

Right, so I started writing this on New Year's Day -- the Vegas of holidays -- so I am forced to rehash old material as I gaze upon the blank slate ahead. What preceded this particular new year was a week of weather events (snow), sickness (cold/flu, Strep, ear infections), and quiet reflection. On our first day of being snowed in, we hunkered down in true over-privileged survivalist mode, making sure all our various screens were charged (lest the power went out -- it didn't). And we decided to watch a documentary on one of our instant streaming video devices (Roku). We chose the 1950 Academy Award winner Kon Tiki. It's the fascinating, yet self-congratulatory tale of what modern white men can do when they set their minds to a task, even if that task is a re-enactment of something prehistoric men may have already done. Who knew balsa wood was so hardy? Maybe my father and I should have put more effort into my Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car. We could have canoed to South America.

I've declared 2013 The Year of No Complaints in our house. That is meant to translate into no whining, no griping, no yelling. Not, no problems. There will be problems. And we can help each other solve those problems. But better to approach with solutions than problems. Complaints in and of themselves, while emotionally valid in the moment, hold no purpose other than to frustrate the bearer and those around him or her. If you have no solution, certainly seek advice to find one. If there is no solution, then maybe it wasn't a problem in the first place. If you think you see someone with a problem, ask if they need help; do not offer an unsolicited solution. If someone asks if you want help and you do not, thank them kindly and move on.

Needless to say, as resolutions go, The Year of No Complaints has been a miserable failure.

In addition to Kon Tiki, we also ventured into the worlds of:

the undercurrent of all these films, and what brings me back to my theme, is how I now react to images of unbridled adventure, romance, or even physical comedy. Given how far out of my reach and capabilities they seem, I'm left a little empty and longing to fill a void.

If ifs and buts were berries and nuts,oh what a cake I'd bake. It's a fruitless endeavor.

Back to resolutions, oh, great pinball-machine mind of mine:

Next Year I'll Be Perfect

My friend Laura recently published her first novel (linked above). She feared that as "chick lit," (a term which always reminds me of this Bill Cosby routine) the book would have a hard time engaging male readers. I for one am not a fan of gender stereotypes but am a fan of romantic comedies, which I would consider her work. And while I have issues with perfection and the belief it can be consciously defined and achieved, this time of year (January at the original time of writing; keep up, would ya) especially lends itself to consideration of what we want to get out of life -- whether they are things we've been taught we're supposed to want, things we once wanted and have convinced ourselves we still do, or things we truly want. Many of those things are universal; most are individual if we allow ourselves the latitude to truly self-reflect. Fortunately, there are characters in the book who balance out the protagonist's hubris that she needs (another of my least favorite words) to achieve a laundry list of accomplishments by age 30.

The joining thread between all these things is potential. While it goes against the very premise of my bestselling Get Everything You Want by Wanting What You Already Have, I think it's human nature to want more. Settling in to a routine can be quite nice and comfortable, but it doesn't necessarily feed our souls. Romance and folly and adventure and spontaneous, unexpected journeys do.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy the series Girls  is that it reminds me of the potential of youth (mind you,  a depiction of a brand of youth I never experienced).

Though I do have my own romantic youth to reflect on in this, my middle existence. I guess I'm defining "romance " here in a Robert Frost, road less traveled sort of way:

  • 1989-90: After my freshman year of college,  instead of starting my sophomore year of college, I spent six months in the Lake District of England,  giving guided tours of one of William Wordsworth's homes and falling in love with an older woman (I was 19, she was 24, oooooh, scandalous!).
  • 1990: Knowing I wouldn't be happy returning to college for the second half of the year , I returned to England for three more months; came back to the States -- girlfriend in tow --; and took an Eastern train trip to Niagara Falls; Williamsburg, Virginia; and West Palm Beach , Florida (what's more romantic than shuffleboard in Century Village, right?). We then took a drive to Amish country in Pennsylvania and New England.
  • 1993: After graduating from college, I spent six months in Alaska instead of getting a job or going to graduate school.
  • 1996: After working at my first "real" job in NYC for two years, I moved to Maine and telecommuted for seven years.
  • 1997: Deciding I wasn't taking full advantage of the telecommuting experience,  I took a cross-country train trip to North Carolina, Minnesota, Seattle, and San Francisco, visiting college friends and working from their apartments.
  • 2002: Got married on top of a hill, instead of someplace more formal.
  • 2004-5: After being "made redundant" from my job and knowing I wanted to try something new, I spent a year teaching computing in elementary school (K-2), instead of sticking with more lucrative pursuits in web development and/or database work.
  • 2005-7: After having my teaching position eliminated due to budget cuts, I stayed home with newly-born Wyatt, leaving it to Jamie to financially support the family. This experience afforded us the perfect summer of 2005 (during which Jamie was on maternity leave and our life consisted of blissfully taking strolls through the woods and sitting by or in the pond. It also gave me the opportunity to actively raise my baby in a way few men get.
  • 2010: Instead of freaking out about turning 40, I developed early-onset old age, got myself an aneurysm, had brain surgery, and suffered a stroke.
  • 2013: My one real, tangible resolution for this year is to turn this blog into something more (a book?), something that can hopefully help people struggling through similar challenges. So far, I've begun the process of querying literary agents and have registered my own domain name (the hyphen in has always bugged me, @semicolonblow is my Twitter user name, and I wanted to pay homage to Phil Hartman and the golden 80s of SNL. I've also found a number of other semicolon-themed blogs, ranging from suicide prevention (more metaphorical) to intestinal maladies (more literal). Semicolons are also getting popular, so I have to find a way to stand out.

Just to bring things somewhat full circle and, of course, back to something pop cultural that I like, we recently  saw a nice little film called Safety not Guaranteed. It's a thoughtful and heartfelt contemplation on the nature of life as time travel -- into the future (except that the present keeps getting in the way) or into the past (as an attempt to reclaim/relive/re-harness/pay penance). Happy New Year (I just added that now, in June; same difference)!

1 comment :

  1. Ken...I had no idea you'd had so many fantastic adventures...and lived in England! How did I no know that? Can't wait to buy your book. <3