The books that I am not getting to read–that’s part of the problem. I am returning from the library with a new stack every time something in one of my classes prompts a greater interest in a specific subject or angle that is only tangentially related to what we’ve been assigned to read.
The books that sit on my shelf from the days before I got here–they, too, are calling to me, including the ones that my wife mostly calls her own. I try not to spend too much time in the school library because of the seduction that inevitably comes while browsing the stacks, and I have completely avoided the UT library, which I have access to with my seminary card, and have tried to keep myself away from Half Price Books and the Public Library for the most part.
The state of being able to freely read whatever I want vs. the class sessions of only having the time to read what I’m being told to read–you would think that someone would invent a way to strike up a happy medium. Maybe I spend the next ten years in grad school while working full-time and reading a lot of stuff on my own. Maybe I can convince someone to let me have a self-directed, independent study class during the summer. Then again, I am not really sure I will be on very good academic standing after this semester, given my strong inclination to find a regular old job and get back to being an office schmuck.
I suppose I could go online and scrounge up the syllabi of the various professors out there who are teaching classes I might be inclined to take and audit, and try to continue to give myself some semblance of a structured education. I don’t really think that my self-discipline is that strong, though. Once I am no longer having someone impose a “you must do this or else…” on me from the outside, I tend to languish and drift. But, right now, the very act of languishing and drifting into my old age sounds so utterly appealing. As long as I am putting on a show during the regular workday hours for a company/boss somewhere so that I can rake in enough savings to get my son through college and keep my wife and I out of the most despicable of nursing homes at the end, then I could probably be okay.
Part of me was turning my nose up at a high school friend on Facebook, back when I was on Facebook–he had become such the well-adjusted family man with a nice job that was mostly behind the scenes but still pretty cool for an organization that is a beloved one in KC. He posted lots of pictures of relaxing on a boat in while on vacation in a Southern Missouri lake with a beer–and I would think to myself, how generic and utterly conventional. Yet, as I grow into my full middle-age years with a young son, the concept does have its appeal. My bliss is probably never going to be a boat with a generic beer while I listen to NASCAR, but it might come fairly close to it. I suppose you could argue that he was being overly demonstrative of just how happy he was–but he was the kind of guy who would unironically wear one of those “Life’s Good” t-shirts or put a similar bumper sticker on the back of his car. His life probably is pretty good, and he has no real interest in making it exceptional.
Of course, the counter to this is poor BN from MCE days who seemed to be every bit this kind of dad back when I knew him. He had a happy little boy and he seemed to be the perfect suburban dad’s dad–a man destined to teach his kid about Star Wars and baseball and Jesus, and probably in that order, too. But, somewhere along the way, MCE fell apart (it was really falling apart ever since it began, but the GM somehow managed to keep the myth going that it wasn’t) and BN lost his job and couldn’t adjust to searching for a new job because it was the only job he’d had since college, and his wife was probably harping on him for not trying harder to find work, and life was just feeling a bit too much out of whack. He probably OD’ed on pain meds/muscle relaxers/sleeping aids/whatever after being prescribed them for a breathing condition, and it was really just a bad, emotional decision made after a few too many beers. I’ve been there. But, somehow, my body has always managed to reject my bad, emotional decisions and cause whomever I was living with to spend half the night with AJAX and a mop and bucket. But, not poor BN. With his consumption of the pills and his breathing issues, he didn’t wake up.
He’s probably the only person outside of family I have really truly missed when he died. I can’t explain why, since we weren’t especially close, except that I think we could have been a lot closer, and I think he’d tried to be my friend on a few occasions, and my socially stunted self just couldn’t pick up the cues. I can’t say if BN would still be alive if I’d reacted differently to the conversation we last had together, but I do know that you can start to think people are perfectly happy when they are pretty far from it.
The same sort of thing applies to SB from UW, though I knew her even less than BN, and her suicide was completely shrouded in mystery. I had to kind of piece it all together from reading various things online and following up on what happened to her husband after she died. SB from UW also seemed quite happy with the business she’d started with her husband after leaving UW. She’d seemed pretty happy when I first met her–she was pregnant and didn’t strike me as a person who got depressed–someone pretty close to my age who had her life together a helluva lot better than I did, that’s for sure. She was the leader of the women’s group at UW, and seemed destined to go on being a leader at various organizations in the community. I actually thought she was five-ten years older than me, based on how she carried herself, not necessarily on how old she looked–and was surprised to learn she was about a year younger than I am. But, people wrestle with all kinds of demons that you know nothing about. I don’t feel nearly as bad about her death, because she’d never made any great attempts to be my friend–it would have been too awkward, which is a damn shame in our society that men and women can’t be friends without it inevitably implying something else to others who look in on those friendships. Anyway, she was recently married with a child on the way, and even if I had tried harder to be friendlier to her, I doubt she would have expressed an interest due to her busy life.
People in their twenties and thirties are so caught up in their busy lives. They have no idea just how unhappy and unsatisfied most of that busy-ness will make them later, and they all believe that they are exceptional in their busy-ness and the payoff will be worth it. It probably is, sort of–several of them get to be directors, managers and the like when they enter their forties, but even then, it really doesn’t mean much or matter much. Then, most of us in middle age start demanding that life mean something more, when all the while we could have been spending more time making it mean something more instead of simply making life into a goddamn resume/LinkedIn profile or exceptional article in our alumni magazine. A huge chunk of the so-called satisfaction expressed by those who are convinced they have “made it” is nothing more than rationalization and self delusion to hide the chasm of utter bitterness and disappointment for all of the happiness and meaning and friendships that were sacrificed along the way for the sake of the payoff.
Incidentally, the person who replaced SB at UW was one such person in her mid-twenties who thought she knew everything and was dead set on going places and leaving us bass-ackward yokels behind. She could barely hold her contempt for me and my slowness the last few times I spoke with her. After scooting off to get her MBA and go work for some fancy firm in DC, she appears to be getting everything she wasn’t getting by hanging around a slower, less-driven bunch of people. However, I wonder if she is really happy, or if in about ten years she will be like so many of those career-driven people–seeking all of the same shallow New Agey help programs in search of “something more.”
Who knows? Even then, she’ll probably just snort and sniff and say–but look, look who I’ve become, and what have you done? As if that is the entire point to being here on this earth–becoming someone and doing much that can be accounted for on a piece of paper. And, there is really no convincing of someone otherwise, because it would be too traumatic for them, anyway. You would be removing such a giant shell of delusion to expose an utterly unexamined true self underneath–a vulnerable, pathetic self that wouldn’t even know where to begin without the cover of a well-received life story.
For those of us who would prefer to have jobs just be jobs, and make our lives be about living beyond the professional realm–whether we want to sit and read books or sit on a boat in Southern Missouri–we are destined to be despised by the people of the here and now, and beloved in our aged years for our great wisdom on what life is really about–but never really listened to and followed. Almost every person seems to be innately possessed with a surety that they will be the person who finally obtains a true kind of immortality of name–their name will be remembered by billions for thousands of generations, and remembered as more than simply, X wrote Y, or A did B. And yet, every single person dies destined to be forgotten by almost everyone except for a few family members or angry commuters who have to figure out on a map why this stretch of highway is named after some random schmuck who did god knows what–who cares–to get their name on a stretch of highway.