Monday, December 31, 2012

Rejoice! We're All Gonna Die And Most Of Us Won't Be Young Or Pretty

For the past two years or so I've been undergoing some morbid grappling with mortality.  Often I am observing a family with children in a restaurant and I will begin to see the children maturing and becoming adults and eventually old and dying after their parents have long since passed on.  Some of this could be triggered by my own identification with the children.  I have vivid memories of my parents taking me to great restaurants -- particularly in New Orleans, and I wonder if anyone then was observing me with the same realization that someday I'd be a man in my fifties rather than a child of five.

Thirty years ago on December 30th my father ceased to be.  It is really difficult to imagine 30 years passing so quickly given that it simply ticked away moment by moment in a steady clip as time always does consistently and without fail.  I think of everything I have done and experienced in that time and it is mind-boggling to me.  It is truly a lifetime ago.  Sometimes I look at life as being comprised of several lifetimes.

There's the lifetime as a baby and a toddler.  I was here and alive but there's nothing much about it I remember.  There was no concern for anything nor was there a concept of time ticking away.  Then as memories started to gel into strings of events another lifetime began.  From about 4 or 5 I became more aware of my environment, learning the meaning of more words, learning how not to choke on hard candy, realizing how much I really disliked church, always looking forward to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and a tooth falling out so I would be visited by the tooth fairy.

I don't remember my first day of kindergarten nor would my developing mind have understood the point of it.   I don't recall any sense of anxiety about the new experience or being separated from my parents for a few hours a day.  It was an important first step in learning how to behave and in the development of social skills (and look how THAT turned out!) I suppose.  It was mostly just fun although I have absolutely no recollection of any other children there on a personal friendship level.  It's almost as if they were abstractions.  I was more fascinated by the mentally-challenged woman who was charged with placing out cookies for us to eat.  I remember my towel I would roll out on the floor when it was quiet time and we were to stretch out and shut the fuck up for a few minutes.  I think I enjoyed that part.  Early developmental chillaxing.

The lifetime of being schooled was definitely a kicker.  It is hard for me to fathom how 11 years from first grade to being a high school senior could seem to take so long to pass.  Initially I wasn't even looking ahead to high school graduation.  That might as well have been a century in the future.  Starting out it was just one year at a time.  Getting on the school bus in the morning, writing out ABCs and learning to count and whatever the hell else we did in first grade (for me it was drawing pictures of body parts), and then back on the school bus to come home.  Get up the next morning and repeat.

By the time I was in third or fourth grade the reality was starting to settle in that this was going to be one slow slog getting finished with it.  I can imagine having asked my mother when will I no longer have to go to school.  If she had said after the 12th grade I at least had learned to count the different between 4th and 12th and it seemed like one hell of a duration.  The older I got the longer it seemed.

Finally 9th grade rolled around and this was the home stretch:  four to go.  How in the hell four years could seem to pass so slowly is beyond my comprehension.  (Contrast this with the last four which seem to have flown by in an instant.)  High school was like a lifetime within a lifetime.  

Somewhere in that mix was a realization that I was on the verge of becoming an adult.  Thoughts of leaving home and starting a new life were forming.  Choices of college and fields of study were contemplated as well as career options.

Packing most of my treasured belongings into a car and heading off to college was probably another lifetime.  Four years to be devoted to advanced study seemed as eternal as those four years of high school.  But there was a big difference:  I was now in control of the situation.  I could take those four years and stretch them out to eight if I wanted.  And apparently I wanted.

Fields of study were embarked upon and discarded, swapped out for something else, and discarded again.  But hey, if you stay at it long enough you'll eventually get a degree in something just by default.

I was only 22 years old on December 30, 1982 when I received the phone call from a nurse at the hospital informing me that I needed to come to the hospital.  It never crossed my mind to ask why.  I knew.  This was probably the first major lesson in life I would learn.  When I walked into the hospital room there was this moment of intense clarity that only one other living person was in the room.  That was my mother.  The pile of flesh on the bed was nothing but a corpse.  There was no life in it.  And I will never forget that odd vibe in the room.  The man who had been my father was no more.  That lifeless body was not him.  I didn't know where he was but he wasn't there.

It is startling to me to reflect back on that day as if it happened a month ago and realize just how much time has passed.   I had only recently become the owner of a SONY Betamax video player/recorder.  In order to use it I had to go to a store and buy or rent media.  It would never have occurred to me to take a picture of it to share with friends because that would involve sending off the film to be developed, and then sending photos through the mail to whomever I wanted to see it.  Yeah.

I was very much aware that the future held great promise and that technology would unfold in marvelous ways.  There was already talk about these things called compact discs which would replace vinyl platters and turntables.  (And much, much later there would be talk of replacing compact discs with vinyl records and turntables, but I digress.)

The year 2000 was something I pondered a lot ever since I was a child.  It was thrilling to fantasize about that futuristic world even though I was always aware that I would turn 40 that year.  That fact was disturbing.  It meant I'd be old, and probably too old to enjoy the marvels of the time. 

There was a lot going on with me in the decade of the 80s.  Even at 22 I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, what career I would pursue, whether or not I'd ever find love, or how I was going to cope with this persistent homosexuality lurking in my core.  The following summer after my father died I packed my bags and moved to London.  I never gave a thought to my widowed mother or whether she might need me.  I was being called to my next lifetime.

Living alone on another continent with an ocean between me and my past was exactly what I needed.  I came to terms with being gay.  I scored a lot of music on vinyl and compact disc.  I bought my first truly high-fidelity music system at the age of 24 and little did I know I would still find myself thrilled with it at the age of 52.

In 1985 I was back in the US and decided to wrap up this college education thing.  I was still clueless about what I would do with my life but I at least wanted to put a degree in my pocket.  I didn't care what degree it was.  Finally, in the summer of 1987,  I took my last college course in British history and made one of the very few A grades I'd ever earned.  I was done.   In January of 1988 I was handed a diploma.  On with life, whatever that meant.

That was just a bit over six years after my father's body had been placed in the cold ground on December 31, 1982.  That seemed like a lifetime and the future was as blurry as ever.  For the first time in my life there were no guideposts for me, no benchmarks I could reach for, nor were there any job prospects; there was just me and the wide open future.  Little did I know that another lifetime was right around the corner in less than two years.

I moved to Denver for a year and then moved to San Diego in 1990 where, within a few short weeks of my arrival, I'd meet a man and fall in love.  Then I'd move to Los Angeles in search of some kind of job.  That's where I landed in advertising at the ripe old age of thirty.

This is the point where my concept of time took a bizarre turn.  I no longer seemed to have one.  I felt stable with a secure job and a comfortable relationship.  Had I suddenly "arrived?"

Promotions and pay raises came quickly and I was totally focused on my career.  There were some good upheavals along the way:  buying our first home together, getting a cat, and then within a year or so, selling the house, packing everything up and moving to Austin after buying another house. 

All that dread I had about being 40 in the year 2000 suddenly and abruptly became a reality.  It was one thing being 25 and feeling old because I was at the quarter-century mark, and it was quite another being 40.  It was horrendous for me.  And thrown into that mix was a job layoff which would become a decade of instability.  Job number 2 became job number 3, and then numbers 4, 5 and 6.  And then it was 2010...another decade.  And 50.  50.  If there's anything that can make you feel a fondness for 40 it's 50.

And then came job #7 which wasn't an event out of my control.  It was a choice I made.  I'm not sure whether getting laid off from #7 in January 2012 contributed to my current mentality or whether it's just another element in a big pot of steaming soup called life.  And I suppose that 10 months of unemployment in 2012 probably did me a world of good on one level.  It was the longest break in employment I'd ever had since entering advertising in 1997.  It gave me time to think about life.

If my father dying when I was 22 and my realization that life can leave in an instant was a watershed moment for me, then my studies of Eastern philosophy this year were another.  In all my years of life I had never once stopped to think seriously about the source of life.  Where do babies come from?  Not from a stork, of course.   Men and women have sex and if everything is in good working order, a baby happens.  A spark of life came from somewhere...God, the cosmos, maybe life is just a continuous strand and doesn't really spark or emerge suddenly.  But what I had never contemplated before is that it comes from the earth.  What you eat and drink -- and both of those are pulled from the earth in some capacity -- contribute to forming sperm and eggs, just as they are instrumental in growing your bones, muscles, skin, teeth, and hair.  Something that was once alive, maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, went into the formation of sperm and eggs which then formed another life, and all of it pulled from this earth.

And this earth was pulled and formed in a similar manner (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it was considerably longer than 6,000 years ago) by whatever shit was out there drifting around the universe looking for a purpose.  Funny how that happens.

What I find so incredibly frustrating is how I have to stay focused on facts like these to keep from going totally insane about life and death and the crap in between.  I am bitterly angry (and somewhat confused) by how my life has evolved.   I'm not even sure I've been living between 1997 and now.  It just seems like a bunch of shit involving career obsession, what kind of cars to buy, or appliances, gadgets, phones, radios, TVs, pods, pads, computers, wireless mice, sofas, chairs, tables, plants, weather stations, backup drives, cameras, records, CDs, printers, batteries, books, curling stones, shiva lingams, and a fucking shitload of software.

I get frustrated sometimes just looking at people and how they have aged.  It almost seems like some cruel joke.  Sometimes I feel as if I have awakened from a long coma and I simultaneously marvel at the world and curse it. Sometimes it's not even a coma feeling.  I wake up from a nap and I'm not even sure who or where I am.  And then I hear Sheldon snoring in the other room and I'm not sure who he is either even though we have lived together for 20 years.  Is he the same person?  Am I?

 I see photos of people on Facebook -- people I went to school with, or people I've known since I was in my 20s, and I barely recognize them.  Everyone is getting older.  And the older we get the more crap will be thrown at us.  Older people you've known your entire life suddenly start dying off.  Then people your age start dying.  Even a few younger people start dying.  I don't have a clue how I got here or why this is happening.  And that bitter anger serves no purpose either.  I might as well bitch about the weather.  Same difference.

Sometimes I just want to give up.  Sometimes I want to try and recapture two decades which seem lost in a haze of work and devotion to career.  Of course, I can't recapture anything because it's gone.  What's left of it, or what's to come, depending on how you view it, is here.  This is it.  It should be beautiful and right now I harbor contempt for it.

Somewhere along the way I lost my awe of life.  I find myself increasingly disgusted by it.  I'm saddened that we can't stop all the senseless killing and take a break just long enough to come together and have a discussion about how magnificent our world could be if we could just work on our potential.

How, in a life so short, can people be so hung up on themselves, clinging to outdated beliefs, stockpiling weapons, being hell-bent against helping out anyone less fortunate, spending lavishly on shit they won't care about later, or eventually won't be alive to enjoy?

Most people act as if they have no clue how fleeting life is.  They are absorbed in power games and greed.  Are they really the ones in denial or is it just me who is fucked up?

For 2013 I need to figure some of this out and recapture the missing awe.  Because in the time it took me to get a college degree I'll be the same age my father was when he ceased aging.  I don't want to be bitter about it, and I sure as hell don't want to be looking back at 52 wishing I was here again.  That ain't happening.

I try really hard sometimes to be a good Buddhist and live in the moment and only in the moment.  I just can't sustain it for more than...a... moment.  It pisses me off knowing that I could lose track of time again and another 25 years will pass and I'll be 77, if I'm so lucky.

One of the things that grounds me is knowing that in 50 or 60 short years, everyone reading this will either be a dead and distant memory, or about to start banging on death's door.  The latter are the lucky ones who are 20 now and think they are immortal. 

Perhaps this is just a mid-life crisis.  I wouldn't know for sure because I've never had one.  If it is, why can't I be normal about it and just go buy a fucking Porsche?

OK, so who wants a cocktail?  Happy New Year!