There’s a moment in everyone’s life when they stop looking around them and seeing incredible things and start realizing that colored Christmas tree lights can look tacky and that the movie you loved as a kid really wasn’t all that great. The moment when when the world stops being somewhere that’s magical and becomes somewhere that you live. This is a subject I have talked about extensively, mostly with the same person, but not exclusively. I asked once, flat out and the response was a very clinical sounding precise answer. Of course, I couldn’t remember this clinical sounding precise answer, so I had to ask again. So; “Fifth grade. Hormones.”
The question, the first time around, had pretty much been rhetorical and the precision of the answer seemed a bit odd, but it made sense. Said person was once a teacher of around that age group and probably witnessed this over and over, and besides precision was pretty much in character.
On the other hand, my experience with this same age group is vastly different, because it comes from camp. Camp, strictly speaking, does not exist within the real world. If there is anywhere on this planet that still feels magical, even to an adult, then it’s camp. Oh, I don’t mean literal magic. There’s probably no fairies in Fairy Land and I am not sure anyone ever really believe, save one, that they danced in the Dining Hall. We are not masquerading as a summer camp to throw off Muggles… though that would be awesome. I mean the sort of magic where you look around and realize that the world is still a pretty special place if it can bring together people who would probably never be friends in the real world and ensure that they form lifelong friendships. Things are different there because they can be.
But we grow up, we stop believing in Santa Claus, in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We know that it’s just our parents pretending. Sometimes, like was the case for my sister, we pretend that we don’t. We tell ourselves we’re pretending for our parents, so they can still think of us as children, but it’s really for us. We want to believe in this sort of thing, that’s why we still love movies like Miracle on 34th Street. It’s probably because we are always in such a hurry to grow up until we’re already there. That Joni Mitchell song “Circle Game” is just what I mean, about a child who’s excited about the world, who then grows into an adolescent who is continually look towards the future, then a teenager who’s absorbed with things and what he will accomplish, and then finally the twenty-something who has learned to settle.
And perhaps that’s the crux of it. Settling. When I was graduating from high school and applying for colleges I didn’t want to stay in Ohio. Ohio was boring, I wanted to be in a big city. I wanted a change of pace. I wanted to be able to walk anywhere I wanted to go. It was pretty much the only thing I wanted. So I applied in New York, Chicago, Boston, and then Ohio schools as safeties. I didn’t want to accept them, though, I didn’t want to go to a school in state because I knew that it would be the first thing I settled for. But, as it goes, it was the first thing I settled for. I went to Ohio State. Honestly, to this day, I am not sure it was the right place for me. It was too big, too overwhelming and I got lost in the crowd. And, believe me, I blame my own shyness far more than anything else, but I really didn’t succeed. And I settled for more things, as everyone does.
This is something I was sort of talking about with my best friend while discussing the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I am a fan and I will not discuss the reasons why or why not. I was watching it last week and became increasingly aware of the fact that this show has sort of grown up with me. When it first started it wasn’t uncommon for the characters to stay up all night, go home with strangers, dance for hours in loud clubs… the sort of things I used to do all the time. Okay, maybe not the going home with strangers bit, but you know what I mean. They were old enough to have jobs and lives but not old enough to be stuck anywhere. Yet, as the show has progressed one character has given up her dream of being an artist and accepted life as a kindergarten teacher, another has given up his dream of making a difference and taken a job as a corporate lawyer, another is a news anchor on a show at the atrocious hour of four o’clock in the morning when her friends can’t even stay awake long enough to watch, and the main character has accepted that he’ll never make it as an architect and become a teacher. Really, only Barney seems to be on track, and really… does anyone know what Barney does?
There have been other shows about characters who aren’t in their dream profession, of course, after all Rachel was a waitress for a first few seasons of Friends, but they always manage to get something fabulous in the end, something glamorous. Life just doesn’t happen that way. And, while I would never say How I Met Your Mother is the epitome of realism, it has that mentality down pat. It also emphasizes another truth; all that stuff doesn’t matter. There are people, of course, great people who do things that other can’t, but they are few and far between. The rest of us make due with what we have to make due with so that we can live the rest. And the rest is life. How much of HIMYM takes place within the confines of the workplace? Not really a whole hell of a lot.
It’s hard, when you feel like you’ve been working too hard for too little pay, too little acknowledgment, and with too little respect, to remember those things. For a long time this year I let myself forget. I felt like the hours I was at The Job everyday were my day, and then I would go home and stew in the fact that my life was so unfulfilling, that nothing ever went right for me. And yeah, 2009 was a tough year. I moved home to live with my mother in summer of 2008, and once 2009 hit the novelty of getting a square meal cooked for me once a day had worn off. I had too little space, hardly anything to call my own, my mother never cared if I was going out but needing to tell someone, feeling like I couldn’t leave whenever started to grate. The idea that I had to interrupt whatever I was doing and go eat that one square meal became annoying over anything else. Then my car started having problems. It started shaking when I drove too fast, I had to forgo freeways, it started overheating until it couldn’t be driven at all anymore. I had to accept that I wasn’t going anywhere, that the money I had saved to go to Europe had all been spent while I was looking for a job. I got a job I really didn’t like but couldn’t find anything else. And then, to top it all off, two of my teeth died and had to be extracted. The last may seem like a small thing, but to me it was just another thing wrong with my appearance. Everything looked very very black, and I didn’t even have anyone there. My best friend was in school, another still lived in Columbus. Everyone seemed to have someone else except for me and I felt so completely alone. I was dark and unhappy and probably very hard to get along with.
I resolved to get better, but all the resolutions in the world failed to bring me out of this hole I had dug in my imagination. And then, finally, someone said something. It took prodding and it took questions but I finally got the answer I realized later I was waiting for. That I was being a really huge fucking drag and that the person in question wasn’t even sure he wanted to talk to me anymore. And the first thing that I thought of was that I didn’t blame him.
After a full day of crying in the fetal position, I started realizing that sadness cost too much. I could continue the way I was polarizing everything and everyone or I could reassess. I could do more in my spare time, I could think of all the ways my life was good as opposed to bad. I could start trying to salvage what was left and shape it into something better. And that’s what I have been doing. For weeks I have felt better, more alive, more me. I’ve started remembering that I am really good. I am smart, and I am funny, and everyone, not just me, could be a little better. I’ve started living my life for the bits I have and telling myself that the parts I don’t like… I can change.
I’ve always been everyone else’s cheerleader, because I believe they can move mountains. Now, I am learning that I can be my own as well. And that there is nothing self-indulgent about that. Posting it on the internet… well, maybe that is a bit.