The Now What

I like to refer to the period of my life I’m currently stuck in as The Now What and, yes, I feel fully entitled to Zach Braff about it.  I say Zach Braff about it, of course, but I might mean Jesse Eisenberg about it.  I’m not sure who the celebrity poster boy for post-graduate lament is these days, but Braff has  a better ring because I can totally use the word “braff” as a verb whereas Eisenberg is a bit too bergy to stand on its lonesome.

See what I did that?  I braffed.  I braffed hard on a berg.

Now, I probably forfeit some right to raise my fist here because, in a lot of ways, I am fortunate.  I realize this.  Nobody wants to hear a 22-year-old middle-class white male who grew up in a suburban setting and got his bachelor’s bemoan all the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen his largely-sheltered, largely-secure life.  I’m not on a street corner.  I don’t have a radio voice.  My story won’t make the ten o’clock news until I draw my pistols and shoot at the moon (crater-faced bastard had it coming, though, if you ask me.)

Nobody wants to hear the same ol’ angst-laced diatribes about that transition between backpacks and business cards.  And really, I’m not here to do that.  That’s not my aim.  That’s not the focus of The Now What.

The Now What, instead, centers around a generation of self-entitlement.  I’ve been conditioned to think the same, so I hardly applaud my distance from the pack.  It seems that we were all raised to think we were special.  Spelling tests and geography bees, we were always the smartest.  Bright, so bright.  So much potential.  And they always told us all the same and we took it to heart: we were special.  All those a-pluses, all the papers returned with beaming comments and paintings displayed outside the cafeteria, we were all so special.

Until we weren’t.

I have this feeling, based on no substantive proof whatsoever, that the generation before us found compliments much harder to come by.  Asskickery was far more commonplace.  For that generation, everyone wasn’t special.  Most were completely average.  Mentors were less complimentary.  They were reserved in their praise, in their penchant to deem one as different from the rest, as trending toward greatness.

Now, a macaroni painting goes for six thousand self-esteem points on the open market and even the glue-eaters with their untied shoes and pennyrich nostrils find themselves showered with verbal sunshine.  Copper-mining has never been more glorified.

While this was happening, we were all informed that college would save us all.  Everything was toward college.  You had to pass all your fourth-grader recorder and kazoo tests to get into the gifted classes in middle school, which completely determined your high school curriculum, which could make or break your ability to get accepted into a good university.  You didn’t want to be a trashman after all.  Those little games we played, where the paper was folded in seemingly seven million pieces and each revealed a different fate?  Nobody ever wanted to be the trashman.

Somewhere along the line, we associated trade school with failure, with dropouts and delinquents, the kids who just didn’t care.  We said that building engines was for the dullards, we said that welding metal was for the weak, for those that never could quite navigate differential equations.  We spat on the blue collar because it conflicted with everything we were told: higher education would save us all, and anyone choosing to claim otherwise was doomed to drive a garbage truck.

But what happened?  We all went to school.  We were all special there too.  Professors couldn’t hand back papers fast enough, all boasting brilliance.

And then we graduated.

Hey, maybe we weren’t so special after all.

I really think that somewhere along this line of educational advancement, some sense of self-entitlement filtered through.  Like we were supposed to be better than because that’s what society told us.  And it’s obviously not the case for every one, but it’s a prevalent mentality, and an extremely damaging one at that.  Beyond the threat to the integrity of America’s infrastructure, which cannot be adequately maintained when blue collar jobs are denigrated in favor of promoting the bachelors-plus rat race, I fear there is bound to be some extreme damage to the psyche of the American post-grad, who believes employers should be bidding on his/her greatness upon exiting academia.

I can say, in my case, I wish I had done things differently.  I was never really the type to be able to afford an unpaid internship — always had to make money — but I wish I’d done one in retrospect because it would have really helped with my current pursuit.  I also wish I’d worked harder on a backup plan if my field failed me, because right now, with things less than rosy, it’s seriously all I can do to get out of bed and go to a job entirely unrelated to anything that captures my interest or inspires any sense of self-worth in my 9-to-5 being.  It keeps me up at night, the stress, the anxiety, the thoughts of going in tomorrow and tomorrow being the rest of my life, rational or not.  I toss and turn all night with these thoughts flooding my head.

And certainly the trashman laughs when he wakes me up the next morning.  Though I guess now, it’s the trash robot.

The Now What, for me, is more frustrating than I could have ever envisioned.  It’s supposed to be temporary but it feels like the only reality I’ll ever know.  It’s debilitating at times, which further frustrates me because I probably shouldn’t let it get to me as much as I do, shouldn’t let it decide whether I go out or not or allow myself to enjoy the little things in lieu of spending another second worrying about the wear of the waiting room.

Because personally, I want to be significant.  I want to contribute something that matters.  I want to do what I love.  And, hey, take a number.  Right.  I get it.  Hardly unique thoughts.  But still, it’s such a struggle to force my way through banal tasks thinking about all the ways in which I’m not contributing anything, in which I’m doing nothing for myself or anyone else.  Yet still, it feels like such a selfish thought process because there are far less fortunate out there and they would walk the wrong way down a four-lane highway to perform the same meaningless tasks in order to make a living.  Much as some might scoff at the image, I’d commend it.

It just seems a little more condemning to a 22-year-old with no real worldly sense or life direction thus far.  I’ve got a lot to learn and I always concede that.

I know that next stop is soon, and that’s what frustrates me the most, still being on this train.  All the flickering fluorescence and top 40 tunes escaping out of my seatmate’s headphones just remind me that I’m still on the train, still seated on that faded fabric.  It’s not that I’m above the commute, it’s just that my stop is next, you know?  And surely it’s around the next bend, the next switch junction or whatever.  I’ve seen the rats scampering along the side, minding the killer rail.  They’re running toward something, aren’t they?

I just feel like, when I’m out of The Now What, I’ll be so much more sure, or at least as sure as a stupid young person can be.  I’ll be sure of what I want in my life and who I want it with, and where I want it all to be.  Right now, there are all still masked by hypothetical-thick mist.  Like, counter-intuitive as it may be, I don’t want to try until I’m off the train and on a relatively-certain path.  I don’t want to express interest or invest energy at this stage of the ride.  And that’s really stupid sometimes and I need to be reminded of that.  Still, it’s true.  Right now, it just feels hard to commit to anything no matter where it falls on the scale of significance.

I hope, in retrospect, my $50,000 worth of college prepared me for something after The Now What and doesn’t simply prove to be an ego massage I’ll spend the next two decades paying off.  Muybridge, Aristotle, DuBois…where are you now?

Anyway, I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, but The Now What does suck and I feel completely entitled to write it.  Hopefully I find something soon, something that gives me more purpose, more confidence, more direction and generally just allows me to sleep well again.

Because right now, I’m totally braffing my life away.



Generation Y Did I Go To College

Generation Y Did I Go To College

(c) This IU Grad, 2010

CLICK TO MAKE BIG!  And funky, funky fresh.  But mostly big.

PROTIP: CTRL + – makes the image zoom out.  The initial resolution is way big so that the text is readable, but CTRL – that sucka until it’s formatted to fit your screen.  And then lament all the effort it took to do that just to see mediocre artwork and the soul-sucking reality of indentured clerkitude.

Yes, I realize my artistic skills were lacking, but this is what I spent 3am-530am doing, thank you very much. Too bad I don’t have a scanner.  This would have been a lot easier.  Who has a scanner?  People who scan things, that’s who.  I just have an Android.  Phone.  Not cybernetic organism.

Oh also, true story.  All of it.

So You Want To Have A Five-Year High School Reunion

Recently, I received an invitation to my five-year high school reunion.  Via Facebook.

This invitation has turned in a surprisingly entertaining, vicious, scathing flame-fest pitting the cool kids against the lame kids, the successful against the arguably-less-successful, the proud vs the pissed, the out-of-towners vs the bubble crowd, the self-conscious vs the oblivious, the snarky vs the self-righteous.

You know, kind of like high school.

My personal opinion of a five-year reunion?  No thanks.  Of course, it’s a personal opinion, and I don’t begrudge anyone who has circled their calendars.  But the absolute last thing I want to do is awkwardly converse with a collection of semi-strangers who remember things I can only politely smile at, all the while being hammered with some picture of a perfect life these folks have spent six months perfecting.  I also have no interest in finding out that people I never knew or never cared for in high school have a better life than I do.  Discovering that some jackass from Geometry has some dream career while I’m middling in post-grad, entry-level hell is existential waterboarding.  I fear my knowledge of avante-garde filmmaking, hegemonic rule and the categorical imperative will do little to stave off the accidentally-successful, the romantic comedy crowd that somehow tripped over the bar society set for their expectations and landed in a career typically reserved for those who aspire to more than an autographed copy of Microwave Cooking For One.

Seriously, this book is real.

In the same mode of cynicism, there is a lot of high school I just really have no desire to re-live.  Remember that time we totally got stuck in that snow drift, bro?  Well, yeah, I do.  And it was…you know, getting stuck in a snow drift.  Hardly haunts my dreams.

Honestly, half of high school was awesome and half of high school sucked.  For me.  Do some things stick with me?  I suppose.  But I went to college, and that became my reality, my reference point.  Not high school.  I met people there.  I made stories there.  I passed out on the grass in front of Assembly Hall pre-Bucket game and was forcefed sugar cookies and water there, not in high school.  And now that I’ve graduated college, even that seems like a reference point that distances with every student loan payment.

Do I still have high school friends?  Yes.  Some of my best friends are high school friends.  But there’s a reason I’ve kept in touch with them and not so much with the reunion crowd.  I know who I want to be in my life right now, I know who still deserves to be there.  I guess I just don’t see the point in wading back into the swamp of sophomore year to shake hands with someone I haven’t really thought of since I got my learner’s permit and won’t be any sort of factor in my life going forward.  Am I supposed to cherish that moment?  To share a laugh with an ex-classmate who reminded me of the time I convinced my 10th-grade Geography teacher that I was, at once, Muslim and Jewish?  Is that the inconsequential highlight of the evening?

Of course, I don’t mean to be entirely scathing.  A five-year high school reunion isn’t for me.  That’s not to say it’s not for others.  And who’s to say I don’t get the itch 20 years down the road?  But for now, I just can’t stomach the facade, the absurd presentation of hardly-historical self to an audience of blurred faces that half-know each other.  Five years, after all, is nothing.  Hardly worthy of some milestone event.  No one’s even really done anything worth writing about yet.  Get back to me in the future tense when a Mr. Royal contestant becomes a Mrs. Royal, or when a former cheerleader ends up on one of those obesity awareness change-or-die programs, and maybe the popcorn bucket will be full enough to pique my interest.

Until then, though, I’m cool hanging out with those high school friends I’ve kept in my life and leaving the rest back in 2006.

Now with my personal opinions stated, I’d be remiss if I didn’t keep checking this insanely-entertaining group which features some of the finest examples of grad class trolling the internet has ever seen.  I love that jokes I kind of remember from high school can still carry such toxicity.  I love everyone blunt enough to dodge the “hi how are ya” talk and press the red button.  I’ll never hate on anyone for being happy with what they’ve got, however that may come across, but this group is pretty much the digital id of high school.  All those things left unsaid, or otherwise said out the side of the mouth, are clearly past their statute of limitations and thus anyone is fair game.

I should also mention that the reunion is at a local duckpin bowling center.  Seriously.  The only thing I hate more than uncomfortable, forced conversation is bowling.  I can’t even imagine how that’s going to work.  Would I get to share a lane with that creepy trash ‘stache kid who didn’t learn to shave until his senior year?  Or maybe the guy who, in the heat of a bus route brawl, bit some underclassmen in the nipple.  If I’m lucky, maybe that girl in History that was hot six years ago but has since destroyed herself with some combination of children, chain smoking, tanning spray, commemorative tattoos and cheeseburgers.

You see where that’s going.  Gutter ball.

In summary, you’ll excuse my cynicism, my poisonous prose, but I will not be renting bowling shoes to afford myself the opportunity to re-live memories butchered by time.  Does that make me better than?  Naw.  Does that mean I’ll be doing anything more important.  Probably not.  But I’m just not interested, and I’m not going to lie and say I’ve conquered kingdoms and kicked ass since graduating, because I haven’t.  I was a balloon pilot.  And a lumberjack.  And now an unsatisfied collections agent, still seeking something in the written world.  I don’t want people to care about what I don’t, and I don’t want to care about the accomplishments of people who were three lockers down and never said a word then or since.  Just not my style.

But that’s just me.  A guy who does not want to have a five-year high school reunion.