Monday, November 24, 2008
It’s been a while since I’ve put up a full, non-poetry entry, and a lot has happened in the time since then.
The last thing even resembling a normal post was the one I wrote about the election nearly a month ago, and the last piece I published that followed what my readers have come to expect as the customary format of my articles was “As We Head Into Fall,” penned, if my memory serves me well, in late October.
Many of you, of course, will be aware of the circumstances that have prevented me from writing more regularly and more extensively; midterms, papers, and concert reports have abounded, very effectively monopolizing my time.
Now that the semester is winding down and the only thing I need to worry about is final exams and selecting my classes for the spring (which is a mercifully-long two months away), I’m enjoying some well-earned rest time, during which my attendance at school is cursory, my studying scarce, and my time at home extensive on these cold Fall days.
I am genuinely proud of the work I’ve put in this semester. During my Freshman and Sophomore Years, I allowed depression on the one hand and shameful laziness on the other to intervene and rob me of both the high marks and self-efficacy that should have been mine. I knew I was intelligent, had always been hailed in high school and before by my teachers as very bright, but never put forth the effort in college required to really excel.
It was almost as if I was afraid to expend the necessary energy, as if in engaging in honest academic labor I’d somehow be losing something. I think that, in truth, I was somewhat fearful that my best might not be good enough. I worried that I’d put forth the greatest effort I could, still fall short, and discover in fact that the intellectual persona I’d built for myself was but a thin layer atop a mediocre inner being, barely hidden by elitism and arrogance.
This, of course, is not the case, and my actions during the first two years of college were irrational, at least discounting the effects of clinical depression.
All traces of that terrible time are nearly gone now, something that amazes and very happily surprises me. Two years ago I was an absolute basket case, thinking of nothing but our family’s Thanksgiving trip to Deep South State and after that of my month-long Christmas vacation to get me through the dark storm of the Fall semester. My every waking moment was spent counting down to the next release, the next escape, the next temporary alleviation of my fears and anxieties.
Last year was much better; paired with different people in a different dorm, I initially struggled but was eventually able to find companionship, make a set of unusual friends who, though varying greatly in manner and interests from me, I still like to keep in contact with. That year, I looked forward to the holidays, but as a pleasant period of relaxation, not as my salvation from a miserable existence.
The demons came back this summer, true, but there is no question that last school year was far superior to my Freshman Year.
All of this reflection, by the way, makes me aware of how profoundly old I am becoming. To almost all of you, this will seem ridiculous, but to the few readers my age and younger, it should make perfect sense. I am twenty years old now, and my twenty-first birthday will come in April. The stage at which I’ve always considered other people to be adults, the twenties, arrived for me seven months ago, and now in five months' time I’ll be legally able to drink.
I just can’t believe how fast time has gone. It feels like yesterday that I was a Freshman in college, uncertain, afraid, and convinced I would never find my way, longing for the visit home and the extended holidays that would save me. Yet that was two entire years ago, and at that time I was eighteen years old. Eighteen! Today I can’t even imagine being that young.
At least in my life, the two years between eighteen and twenty were vast, and the separate individuals on either end of that time-span are enormously different people. I have learned, because of the traumas I went through, a great deal that only two years ago I had no inkling of. I wonder if other people at twenty feel this way as well.
Between sixteen and eighteen I changed very little, physically or emotionally, but between eighteen and twenty my personality underwent a total realignment.
The craziest part of this is that in two years, when I’m twenty-two (I can’t even fathom being so old), I’ll probably look back on 2008 in the same way that I now look back on 2006 and marvel at how little I knew and how naïve I was. I'm sure of it because I’ve always done this; in 2003, on the eve of my fifteenth birthday, I had a minor panic attack contemplating my advanced age and how sophisticated it seemed that people with so many years should be.
Now, of course, fifteen is incredible to me, yet my eighteen and fifteen-year-old selves had much more in common with each other than either has with me today.
The key difference, amplified as I’ve gotten older, is this: youth does not last forever. At fifteen, I knew that five years in the future I’d be twenty, still a kid. Now, I have the deeply-terrifying knowledge that in five years I will be twenty-five, in no way a kid. Twenty-five-year-olds marry and have children. That really is quite frightening.
I consider someone to be very young up to the age of twenty-three. Once you reach twenty-four, though, you’re in your mid-twenties, and then it’s only a matter of time before the thirties roll around and official oldness begins.
If any of my readers are insulted by my blatant attack on the ancientness of thirty-year-olds and the implied swipe at the inconceivable timelessness of those past thirty, please bear in mind my perspective: I’m a twenty-year-old man who has been slowly realizing that actual adulthood, not the pseudo-adulthood of a college kid but the real thing, will begin within the next decade.
It’s a bit scary.
I really should not worry about this. Twenty is still very young, and there is still a good deal of time left. I mean, I still have to shave only every three or four days and there is a very good chance that my voice isn’t entirely done changing yet (Anne explains that Scandinavians are “late bloomers”).
My preoccupation, though, is with time itself. There is only so much, and the fear that I will misspend what of it I have is a great burden on me. At twenty years old, I’ve never had sex, never played dirty, never even had a relationship that lasted longer than a couple of months. The most I’ve ever done is kissed, and all of that with a single girl (the relationship mentioned just now).
There’s nothing wrong with this at all, but I’m getting on a bit and feel I should probably have done more by this point. Thank God for the years ahead.
A friend of mine from class, Persian Boy, with whom I stayed after school to have dinner one night last week, has kissed a girl but never actually had a girlfriend. He is a Christian and so at least has an excuse, but even he said, albeit while laughing, “I feel like such a loser! Time’s running out!”
“Oh,” I objected, ignoring the glut of mashed potatoes stuffed between my cheeks as I opened my mouth. “Don’t say that!”
“No, not ‘time,’” he clarified. “Time in college.”
I suppose that’s somewhat better, though it brings up a whole set of related issues.
Where will I be two years from now? Assuming that my current academic patterns hold up and my lackluster first two years aren't enough to offset the recent gains I've made, I will have graduated by then and could very possibly be in Swamp State with Teach for America.
Persian Boy knows he’ll be at least a semester behind, along with many other people, and that I don’t think I’d mind terribly. I believe I could tolerate one year extra (and, given the current economic situation, it might actually be smart to stay put), graduating with the class of 2011, but anything more than that would be too much. I’d go to summer school and do whatever I had to, but I will not become one of those people who stays in college for ten years. They go to class after class after class, hang out in dorms with people half a decade younger than they, and never actually live. That will not happen to me, because I will not let it.
Speaking of academics, I should probably return to why I’m rather pleased with my performance this semester. Admittedly, I did not attend class as often as I should have, but this has not been my way since the beginning of my university career. Making a 10:30a.m. Anthropology lecture when you live an hour and a half away from campus is not something that will always happen. What I did do, though, was go to class when it was crucial, diligently study the course materials, and take pains to ensure that all assignments and papers were turned in on time, or, if slightly late, were accompanied by legitimate and understandable reasons for the lateness. Those tasks that I could not physically hand in at due date were, with the exception of a single Sociology essay, e-mailed to my professors. The result of this has been A’s on the overwhelming majority of my tests and exams, and very satisfactory marks on my papers. If I do well on my final exams, I can expect to receive nearly all A’s on this semester’s report card.
That, therefore, is very good.
The end-of-semester preparations are being accompanied by Christmas vacation preparations, as during that time I will be visiting family, having my wisdom teeth taken out, working, and participating in an internship with the Western City Newspaper.
Recent events at work have caused me concern, though I think some of it may be undue.
We recently got a new manager, the aptly-named New Manager, from Decaying State. This twenty-eight-year-old has brought with him a companion of similar age, Huge Man, who is replacing Odd Boy as the assistant manager (our division manager, Fat Man, was evidently dissatisfied with Odd Boy’s performance in that position).
New Manager appears innocuous at first, but elements of his personality have emerged that I find distasteful and in fact repulsive. I don’t know him well enough to pronounce judgement on his character, but some of his values certainly conflict with mine. He suffered an accident while four-wheeling several years ago that has left his back severely weakened, but is full of stories from before that incident of his great physical prowess and insurmountable skill as a fighter. Huge Man, an individual of few words who strikes me as basically kind, has quietly attested to the numerous losses he's suffered at New Manager’s hands and to the truth behind claims that he and New Manager once “curb-stomped” an opponent who was allegedly ruining a friend’s life.
New Manager was trained from an early age by a father and godfather, and from the latter he twice suffered a broken nose, injuries sustained at the ages of four and five, respectively. He firmly believes that he was raised correctly by his father, an influential man in New Manager’s Decaying State hometown who pulled strings to get his son out of trouble on several occasions.
All of this goes strongly against my own beliefs, but until recently I was not forced to interact with it.
Over the last week or so, New Manager has taken to organizing wrestling matches among staff members, matches entered into enthusiastically by most of the male employees. When first informed that I would be participating (for my permission was never sought out), I was very reluctant and remonstrated strongly.
I am by far the lightest young man in my age group (I weigh 130lbs), outweighed by at least thirty pounds by all except Short Italian Boy, who is only sixteen years old. After repeated assurances there would be nothing but grappling (I was particularly preoccupied with the idea that someone might sit on me), I hesitantly acquiesced to the “mandatory” fighting.
I will admit that this was somewhat fun. I fought Tough Boy, 165lbs, and lost after a mighty struggle, even managing once to shake him off from atop my body after he’d pinned me.
My fight against Hulking Boy, a seventeen-year-old addition to the staff who stands at 6’3” and weighs nearly 300lbs, was far more one-sided. I did alright at first, dodging his attempts to grab me and making several lunges of my own, none of which touched him. Then, though, he seized me around my waist and lifted me into the air as if I were no heavier than a child’s toy.
“Ah! Oh, my God!” I yelled from my suspended position above his head. “Okay, you win!”
He dropped me over his back, causing me to scream quite like a little girl, caught me in one hand, and daintily placed me back on my feet.
Before going up against Huge Man, I clarified several things.
“You are not to sit on me under any circumstances,” I laid out. “And do not, DO NOT, pick me up.”
I tried my best. I nearly knocked him over at one point. Before long, though, I was on the floor, kicking and rocking as hard as I could as both of my shoulders touched the ground and I was declared pinned.
I concede that this was enjoyable in a way, and that watching some of my larger co-workers face off against each other was entertaining. I hadn’t really wanted to do it, though, and that’s what I take issue with; I felt coerced into a situation.
On Saturday night, New Manager finally crossed the line.
During a second round of fights, New Manager wanted to “show me a move.” Upon announcing this, he took my wrist in his hand and applied so much pressure that I fell to my knees. After I’d told him to let go, he still held on for several seconds. This was too much.
Afterward, I went to his office and told him that he’d had no right to do such a thing. He finally admitted that he’d been wrong and apologized. During this conversation, he and several others, including Odd Boy and Tough Boy, informed me that they were getting together to train and said I should come along. I really did not like this idea, but felt pressured when others, including Tough Boy, repeatedly posed the question, “Don’t you want to be able to defend yourself?”
Tonight, I called New Manager and told him that, after thinking it over, I’d decided not to take part.
“I hope you don’t think any less of me,” I said. “But it’s just not my thing.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t think any less of you. I understand.”
“I felt kind of guilty, because all the other guys are doing it,” I replied.
“No,” he said. “Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel guilty. It’s your decision.”
“Yeah,” I continued. “I just don’t want to. And about the wrestling—”
“You can still wrestle,” he said. “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t think I do,” I answered. “And I don’t want you to ever do anything like what you did again.”
“I won’t,” he said. “You have my word on that.”
I’m the kind of person who detests being forced into anything, so will if approached in the wrong way refuse to participate in something I would ordinarily have enthusiastically embraced. Had my agreement been solicited in a different manner, I very probably would have found the idea very appealing. As it was, though, the feeling of being cornered combined with the sheer weirdness of it made me unwilling to go along.
This is difficult for me, because I am insecure and seek to fit in as much as possible. The conclusion I have reached is this: if people like Tough Boy and Odd Boy view me any differently because of my forbearance, then they’re not real friends.
On the domestic front, my mother took it upon herself this Saturday to put up the Christmas decorations. Her decision on the matter very nearly led me to entitle this post “What the Hell is Wrong With My Mother?” due to how early in the season it is.
We typically hang the Christmas things up the day after Thanksgiving, but she reasoned that because none of us will actually be here for the upcoming holiday she should get it out of the way.
“You could have waited until we got back,” I said.
She just shrugged.
So now, two days before Thanksgiving, our Christmas tree is up, stockings hang over the fireplace, wreathes adorn the doors, and lights are festooned on banisters and across countertops.
It does make the house very cheery, especially given the unseasonably cold weather we’ve been having lately; it is not unusual here to have temperatures in the 80’s well into October, but since September it’s been very chilly, since October quite cold, and since the start of November downright freezing.
I read a story in the New York Times recently concerning a group of German scientists who believe that we are currently entering a period of global cooling slated to last for a good part of the 21st Century’s first half. It is theorized that this natural phenomenon will temporarily offset the manmade temperature increases of global warming and return weather patterns for a time to what they were before climate change had such a dramatic impact on the environment.
My father, who grew up in Native City, remembers years during his childhood when snow fell by Halloween in large enough amounts to accumulate. Such a thing has been unthinkable in Native State or here for years, but it may now be returning. I would welcome that trend.
The reason for the early decoration, as mentioned earlier, is that all members of my family will be gone for Thanksgiving. My parents, Thomas, and Pie are going to Humid State to stay with my Aunt Ostentatious and her family, while Powell and I will be driving up to Anne’s Town and spending the holiday with her. We’ve never actually had a major holiday with our birth-mother, and she is very excited to host us.
“I’m going to make pies, and turkey, and mashed potatoes and all kinds of stuff,” she told me over the phone today.
“You should make pumpkin pie,” I prodded.
“Oh, I will,” she reassured me.
“I love pumpkin pie,” I said.
“Me, too,” she replied.
The promise of a large meal is no idle bluff; Anne, for never having had a family to feed, is a weirdly-talented cook whose dishes are delicious. I’m quite excited to be going with her, and will be sure to document mine and Powell’s journey to the North. We may even stop at a Certain Line as we exit Dixie to photographically memorialize our transition through regions.
It is bound to be even colder in Decaying State, though, so we’ll have to pack accordingly. Of course, I doubt that even subzero temperatures would persuade Powell to take pants; he’s known for sporting shorts all year round, regardless of weather.
“Don’t let Powell bring shorts,” Anne petitioned me as we discussed the trip tonight. “It’s so cold.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I promised, knowing all the while that nothing I could possibly say would dissuade my brother from clothing himself in a way that is potentially hazardous to his health. He simply doesn’t care.
Because we will be in separate states in different parts of the country two days from now, our family sat down on Monday night for an early Thanksgiving dinner. It was very nice, the kind of calm, peaceful, loving, and happy event that makes me thankful I still live here even with all of our problems. We aren’t a perfect family, but we do love each other. Our gathering Monday was punctuated by jokes, teasing, and the tender words of people who’ve lived together for over a decade and intimately know each other. Regardless of the many issues, my parents are my parents, love me and have cared for me, and my siblings, particularly Powell, have been lifelong companions and have deeper knowledge of who I am than anyone else.
In addition to Thanksgiving dinner, my parents completed Monday work on my sister’s playroom. Now, what two weeks ago was an unfinished storage area in our basement is an impressive and stylish repository of toys where Pie, and, to a lesser extent, Thomas, can throw balls around and play class using the chalkboard that’s embedded into the wall.
Well, I think I’ve gone on enough for tonight. I almost feel guilty for forcing all of you to read so much.
I’ll be sure to post from Anne’s Town and let you know what we’re up to.