Belated Meditation on Turning 33
A few weeks ago I finished reading Jennifer Egan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad" on the plane, coming back from a visit to New York. It was sort of the perfect book for the moment, an innovative interlevening of lives over time, a meditation on meaning and culture and music.
This is what it prompted me to write.
I just turned 33. My last night in NYC I managed to orchestrate a dinner with some of my old roommates from Greenpoint. It was awesome. We recalled the days and nights we burned brightly there at the farthest northern extreme of Brooklyn; our zingy early adulthood. The brief story: in 2001 we gradually overtook a row house on Meeker Avenue facing the Brooklyn/Queens expressway, renting up all the units within our group and making it one big house. We performed joyful acts of honest gentrification, cleaning up the backyard and barbequing, frequenting the overly ambitious neighborhood bar, mixing it up with kids from college and the neighborhood alike. Alex has all these amazing pictures on his phone. Such a wonderful time in life.
On my way to dinner, walking through Williamsburg, I felt highly charged being back on streets where I was once unquestionably and desperately young. The neighborhood has changed a lot, but not so much it doesn't bring back the old energy, especially in the golden smokey light of sunset.
Nostalgia is a risky business. Time's arrow moves one direction in a world goverened by physics — the "real world" universe we share — but the personal inner world of our consciousness permits all manner of tricks. There's gold in memories, rich veins of potential, maybe even wisdom, but mining them can be treacherous. You don't want to get trapped, end up one of those people the Boss talks about in "Glory Days."
We're adults now, no "young" prefix. Straight up grown-ass people. Most of us are married; some even have kids. The rest are thinking about it one way or another. We self-describe our lives as "no longer very exciting" with a mixture of wry irony and heartfelt confession.
This worries me. I have no desire to return to living hand-to-mouth, drunken sloppy one night stands, struggling to make it against what seems to be the tide. I've mined enough wisdom from my nostalgia not to fall for that romantic illusion. But the way things have inverted stresses me out, my growing bourgoise softness, the slow decline of sexual potency, the emptiness that accompanies a life absent struggle.
Being on a plane often puts me in this liminal state, outside my life looking in, looking back, looking ahead.
I fear the nothing, the specter of a bland, pleasant, "comfortable" life. I'm not cut out for that kind of thing; I'd wind up frustrated and sour. Maybe that's a flaw in me, but I know it in my core to be true.
It's strange to look back over ten years, the various ways I've discovered (sometimes invented) struggles to fill this void. This is the way with ambition, I think. Big dreams demand Drama in the classical sense. Where will this come from in the years ahead?