Quarterlife

(Not the show, just to get that out of the way, though it’s worth your time)

This is going to be a somewhat longish and relatively rambling post (as are most, no?). I’m 27 on the day I’m writing this, so “quarterlife” for me would extend to 108 — which I doubt I’ll get to and am not really sure I would even want to. But “quarterlife” generally includes pretty much the entire time between about 24 and the day you turn 30. As well, pretty much the point in an educated, privileged, ambitious, lonely and relatively young existence that those are the years you figure out what you want to do with yourself — because there’s so much you want to do, and so many people you want to become. So you try on identities and roles, work jobs you’re — on paper, at least — overqualified for, fuck as often as possible and with whomever’s willing. You move back home if that’s where quarterlife takes you, hit your parents up for money, wake up with extreme guilt, and then forget it happened: until next month, at least.

Now just as an aside, I do have to mention that I’ve grown up and become an adult in the confines of a very middle-class family. I consider myself privileged for the facts of having had hard-working and loving parents who (irrationally in my mind, but we’ll get to that) support me in a variety of ways even when I’m a complete wreck (and those who know me well know that said situation is not an infrequent scenario). My father got his B.A. when he was 37. My mother has been a nurse for decades, even as nursing has gone from a respected profession to merely the ground crew of corporate healthcare. I received grants to attend the wonderful college I attended, and couldn’t have done so without those grants. And yeah, I’ve been paying loans since they began coming due and likely will for quite some time. “Privilege” means having had the chance to earn those opportunities, not being given them. And if that smells bitter, let me just say that I have nothing against anyone who grew up in a household where that sort of progression was assumed and paid for. Not at all. You can’t control the circumstances into which you were brought up, just what you do given them.

With regard to the above, the point is that you become who you are by having a foundation and finding your personal direction.

Maybe if you’re like me, quarterlife insidiously helps you develop the will to do the sorts of things you never had the courage to do before. In my case, the above have so far included piercings, tattoos, coming to terms with my bisexuality, moving from a rebellious atheism to a more considered and more serious and defensible (though still in flux) sense of spirituality, and developing the sort of “fuck it” attitude I always admired when I was younger, but never had the confidence to adapt. Maybe that’s quarterlife or just me; I can’t speak for anyone else, and I’ve always lacked in confidence. I’ve been bulimic since I was 14 and a quasi-functioning alcoholic since about 20, though overcoming both for a while now with all I can muster.

I fell in love (many times) then transitioned to believing that love wasn’t meant for me. Not quite falling out of love, but just losing the belief that anyone could love me — that there was something fundamental about me that disqualified me from that part of human experience. I still am unsure of this particular bit. I like to think there’s a boy or a girl out there for me, but don’t know, and for the purposes of this post, am okay with that lack of knowledge.

The attitude is something I believe I’ve come to belatedly. I don’t mind being a late-bloomer, so to speak, though I’ve yet to really bloom even. There was a time when I would have minded that, would have cared what people thought about me coming to realizations that most people go through in their teens or college years, but that I’ve waited until my mid-to-late-20s to work on. But whatever. The past few years of my life have been pretty shitty. I tried to kill myself with all intent twice and spent time on a psych ward for each attempt. I lost my one-time fiancée and best friend from my own stupidity and reprehensible behavior (the guilt I bear in that regard I will carry to my grave). I had to move home from Boston to dear old Rockford, Illinois just to stay alive. That might sound dramatic, but really, that’s kind of where things were at the time. And yet, even though that sort of interruption was nothing I’d planned on as a callow collegiate, I’m grateful for it. I’m a better person now for having been a bad person and a broken person then. Not where I want to be yet, but I’ve been to the deep and dark places, and I survived.

Quarterlife does something else. It forces you to critically assess what you believe. That may sound banal, but really it’s a big fucking deal. I studied intellectual history and philosophy in college, and spent a year after graduating mostly drinking South African pinotage [at €2.99, who could argue? and playing World of Warcraft (which wasn’t the complete time sink of which one might accuse me with a great deal of justification; I met several friends whose friendship I value highly and with whom I am still in touch. This might come across as a means of self-justification, but as I said, our new world functions in pretty weird ways)] in Frankfurt am Main. But also studying philosophy, working through a crisis with my then-girlfriend and meditating, often along the bike/walking/running path on the Main River and trying to assess those questions. As an undergraduate, I had always assumed I would go to law school, make some bank, and move toward a career in politics. Naturally, like many quarterlifers, I realized after taking the LSAT and starting applications that it wasn’t for me. I had to do something in which I could work, work hard, and come home at the end of the day and not have lingering qualms about what exactly I had done that day. Some days I would run along the Main, on nice days I’d grab a baguette at the nearest Bäckerei and just stare out at the water, thinking about Adorno or the Stockhausen my American friend there had just introduced me to, or missing the girl, or just fate, existence, or what exactly the fuck I’m doing looking at a river and thinking these things. Law may still be in my future — I think I’d be good at it, and no, I don’t really know what that means. We shall see.

Quarterlife is by its very nature a time of transition, one that doesn’t necessarily fit within age brackets, and one for which the very designation (though I think it fairly accurate and almost cliché) can apply equally to anyone trying to figure out who the hell they are. I’m always a bit suspicious of folks who don’t doubt, and ones who know with certainty who they want to be at 22 or 25 come across as particularly suspect. I think — and I imagine most would agree — that when you’re my age you really don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about, and if you say you do regardless, you’re full of shit. Of course, it used to be different back in the day, and I imagine (without researching) that there’s a practical army of sociologists who could tell you exactly why that is. But whatever. We live here and now today, in a world shaped by our forebears who couldn’t tweet a picture of whatever they’re eating at that moment on their iPhone.

Quarterlife is a process, I’m coming to find. One that’s often no fun, no matter how many hookups or summer evenings passing a J and leaning back in awe of strewn stars. It’s hard work, yo. Maybe I’m just late to the game, or don’t really know what I’m headed for, what to do tomorrow, that kind of thing. Yet I find quarterlife as exhilarating as it is frustrating and incomprehensible. All of the anger, pain, confusion, rage, desire, desperation seem to point toward some sort of image of yourself as that person you’d like to be, even — and especially if — that image remains blurry. Quarterlife means learning things about yourself you hadn’t known, reading books you hadn’t heard of until today, seeing films and shows you might not have seen, exploring a faith you didn’t know you had. Quarterlife presents you with the courage to open up your door and go for a run in November, to open up that Word file and start writing, to open up a business, to run for office. Quarterlife presents the possibility of impacting in new ways the lives of those about whom you care.

So it’s exciting. I’m at a sort of transition, I guess. To come back to this part of my own story, in 2009 I attempted with all seriousness suicide. I don’t have a problem admitting that — I think an honesty about mental illness and suicidal thoughts can only help prevent that outcome and encourage those suffering from depression to seek help. I know I’m grateful that my ex-girlfriend found me in time and called 911. She and I aren’t exactly in contact anymore, but she saved my life. At the time I didn’t really give much of a shit if I lived or died — and that itself is a difficult thing to explain to someone who has had the fortune of not finding her/himself in that position. It’s a shitty thing to write, but I found myself disappointed to come to in the hospital. Shitty, not out of guilt or out of the horrific experience of drinking activated charcoal (which tastes something like an unholy admixture of Pepto-Bismol and gasoline — not that I’ve consumed gasoline, but the smell of gasoline was unmistakable in the taste of charcoal).

It wasn’t really a part of my life of which I’m proud. I did some pretty unforgivable things that, as I mentioned, I’ll probably have in mind on my deathbed, whenever that happens. I won’t go into details, but I bring it up to say that I’m learning it’s harder to forgive yourself than it is almost anyone else. This is part of quarterlife too, I think. Arriving at the mental and emotional stage where you can look back at stupid shit you’ve done, bad things, even crimes and come to the point where you can truly believe that you’re judged for your actions, but that all you have today is today, that yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow’s a new day. I think that’s the kind of thing that quarterlife brings into sharper resolution.

Now, I find myself here at 2:20 a.m. CST on my 27th birthday, looking out my window and seeing a nearly full moon sliding through drifting clouds. When I was a teenager, I used to go for walks in the middle of the night, just for the pleasure of being alone, the moon and me. I’m a night person; anyone who knows me even marginally knows that, even if from just looking at the timestamps of my Facebook comments or tweets. I’ve always wanted to be a morning person, and I still do. There was a period encompassing my sophomore year of high school and about the first half of my junior year when I’d wake up between four and 4:30 just to sit in a dilapidated armchair and read Will Durant, Emerson, and Kant. Yet what the night offers is the sort of complete solitude the day doesn’t. No birds chirping, coffee beans to grind, cat yelling at you, just you, the moon, a good glass of whiskey, and a blank page with a blinking cursor staring at you.

To that end, quarterlife is possibilities. There have been so many times I’ve traded glares with that fucking cursor, not even to mention the paper clip that managed to insult a paper clip (a feat I had previously thought impossible), but didn’t have the courage to type out a single word. Or, if I did, I wouldn’t save it. Quarterlife has brought me to a place where frankly, I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to sit in my uncomfortable desk chair, throw on some CSS, and just let it go. It’s likely horrifically bad. I’ll probably not disseminate any of it, but quarterlife has brought me to a place where I don’t give a shit frankly, and I’m going to write even if it’s terribad. (On the off-, off-chance it isn’t). I couldn’t do that when I was 21 or even 24. I watch these YouTube clips of 11-year olds stunning an audience mostly out of awe. There’s no way in hell I could have done that at their age I think, followed immediately by Shit there’s no way in hell I could do that now. But now at quarterlife? I don’t give a shit.

Our generation (which large and corporately-funded media organizations have preciously dubbed “Millennials”) often gets painted in hugely optimistic terms as far as our savvy with technology, our entrepreneurist tendencies, our ability to “network” and effectively utilize social media platforms —to paraphrase some of the stock lines of the global companies seeking to hire we shiny avatars of clean living — makes us ideal candidates for a lifetime of ladder-climbing. This is hardly new. It was referred to as “the rat race” as early as the late 1970s. Yet the paradigm is similar in many ways to the preceding decade, the ’60s. This, of course, is borne out each Sunday night on AMC’s Mad Men, which as we all know by now, traces the lives of various folks of various ages and backgrounds during the heyday of Madison Avenue, and whose lives are all in various forms of turmoil, likely gin-related. The comparison to the ’60s is apt, though, for both the separation between those with their eyes set on Madison Avenue or that sort of track and the rest as well as the simmering but hardly-discussed undercurrent of dissatisfaction and loneliness among those of us dubbed the “most-connected.”

I’m a socialist, have no problem saying that, but I’m not antithetical to entrepreneurship or capitalism in general, and I think there are some encouraging trends in business — fueled largely by quarterlifers —leading to greater attention on individual employees and the social impact of the business. That dissatisfaction and loneliness I believe hiding in the background for so many of my fellow quarterlifers is effecting positive change in many organizations, and that’s a good thing. But there’s still the feeling of alienation that our iPhones and twitter accounts can’t bridge. It’s not the kind of thing we can talk about really, though it’s my belief that it’s pretty much universal. Quarterlife presents one forwardly with that question: do you confront your demons, your existential angst, and surpass them, or do you let them take charge?

In all, quarterlife is a tremendously confusing experience, and one for which I was not ready and didn’t even realize I was embarking on until I was well on the way. Yet, it’s also been the most richly rewarding time of my young life, not always happy (rarely, even) and full to the brim with mistakes, bad decisions, weaknesses, flaws, et al; but I’ve learned every (mis-)step of the way, and hope I can take that knowledge forward for whatever and wherever awaits me. So ¡Viva Quarterlife!

Note: I began drafting this on 08 April, which was the birthday alluded to; just finished it today and elected not to change that initial reference. So please no birthday wishes until April 2013 if you so choose =D

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~ by Benji on 27 May 2012.

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