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Worldwide Ace » Postcards From the Other Side

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Postcards From the Other Side

19 September, 2011 (10:17) | Growing Up, Social Commentary

A fuse bead reading, "I HATE FUSE BEADS!"
A fuse bead I made during art at the after-school program. I really do hate fuse beads.

“Kids waste a lot,” she remarks, sweeping errant beads, toy accessories and scraps of paper and crayon up with the dirt. It’s a veritable cornucopia of childhood and mess blended together as a perfect little ball of waste.

“Everyone wastes a lot,” I reply, thinking of the three layers of wrapping CDs and toys come in, of the inability to recycle greasy cardboard pizza boxes, of the masses of trash and consumer society I’m readily part of without reflection.

“Yeah, I guess that’s true.” She dumps the dustpan into the trash, marking our last duty for the day, the cascading waterfall of wax, plastic, crumbs and dust echoing gently off the blank cafeteria walls where the after school program we run resides. “It shouldn’t bother me. These are Boulder kids. They’ll all grow up to recycle anyway.”

I laugh at the thought, thousands of little fingers separating the tons of waste into piles of segregated components, each with its own bin, its own pile, its own little machine melting it down and reforming it into usefulness. “If only recycling were more efficient,” I say, the hope of the statement lost in my smirking chuckle.

She shocks me with her response: “What is it about men in their thirties that makes them so cynical?”

I’ve been thirty for barely two months, a new decade of life so poorly defined that I’ve barely noticed. I wish I could comment with authority on the sudden sense of mortality, the overwhelming sense of a ticking biological clock, the days it takes to heal from injuries stupidly incurred, the mature sense of responsibility that shivers up my spine. This is the mythology of aging, one targeted through advertising and media, one pushed through jokes and tales, one fostered by the collective fears of an entire generation.

Sadly, I not only have no expertise on being a thirty-something, I haven’t even begun to have the professed experience. The halcyon veneer that coated life faded long ago and the heartfelt idealism Winston Churchill warned would ebb was compromised years before. My collegiate bachelorhood is nowhere near its end, and career is simply a fabled word describing a mass hallucination propagated by previous generations.

And yet, somehow, I  have this aching urge to speak for men in the decade I’ve only just entered.

I want to claim with certainty that our sudden sense of mortality is envy, emphasized by sagging skin, growing aches, and the constant reminder that the young are still beautiful and enjoy a success we cannot. I want to tell people that our staunch cynicism is built on a decade of idealistic failure in the face of reality, on pillars of painful effort, where our hearts were on our sleeves and yet desire, hope and the unstoppable belief in our own greatness was crushed again and again by uncaring masses. I want to exclaim to the heavens that if only someone had made clear the time we were wasting in years prior, we would’ve done more, seen more, and made the differences we never truly had the chance to make.

But these are all my personal foibles. They may be universal or they may be solipsistic in their existence, but I simply am not equipped to confirm nor deny them as anything but assumptions and axioms.

“It’s weird,” she continues, ignoring my contemplative silence. “Men in their twenties think life is amazing, and when they hit forty it’s like everything is wonderful again, but every guy in their thirties I know is cynical.”

“Maybe it’s you,” I chide playfully.

“Maybe,” she laughs. “I’m just saying that it doesn’t seem to happen with women. Just men in their thirties.”

Perhaps appearances simply deceive.

I’m still staunchly in favor of the same ideals I argued for in my youth. I just feel as though I’m more pragmatic. Disillusionment with the American Dream can be wholly blamed on having to reconcile tales of success with the reality that making a large difference is both rare and difficult. Instead, I aim for small steps in the direction, knowing that the end I aim for will still be on the distant horizon the day I die.

I’m at one with the idea that no matter how much I do, it’ll never be enough. My hope for change paints me the butterfly, the hurricane on another continent a result eons away. I make small efforts, fighting the sense of futility, and argue with those younger than me to set their sights lower if only to know the joy of success. This is the cynicism I have adopted, one built of hope and idealism at its root. Those who are not cynical have either never had a dose of reality, spending their life in privilege, or have never thought to dream big.

As I climb aboard the two-wheel, leg-powered transportation device and roll through the parking lot homeward bound, thoughts of her hypothesis swirl in my head. I’m perturbed by her postulate and, more so, by my readiness to confirm it.

I see her steadily traverse the parking lot in front of me, heading for her fossil-fuel burning beast of burden, its imminent extinction ignored by a populace too focused on the now to think of the future. Briefly, I wonder if we are simply a black hole collapsing in on itself until destruction.

“See you tomorrow,” she calls with a smile, waking me from my reverie.

“You know, I’m not as cynical as I come across,” I reply as I coast past her.

“We’ll see,” she says.

I certainly hope so, I think.



  • Markrkrebs

    I hear you Ben.  I recall the phone call on the day, the carpet in the empty house, my ancient body (30 YEARS!) pouring ichor on my father, something about life being as good as over, not sure I could face that my youth was gone.

    A decade later I realized how childish it was of me, how cruel to him (54 at the time?) to have to console ME on my not quite perfect body, not quite perfect stamina. His support kept me from buckling under the weight or ennui.

    Still another decade later, the same speech (more eloquent) from you, and the same support (less supportive) from me. You can transcend my stupidity, see beyond my short sightedness, if you can imagine right now, or can maybe begin to at least, how sad I am for you (not in particular but all of you) that you cannot seem to see how warm it is to be in your skin right now.

  • I appreciate the kind words and empathy.

    Oddly enough, I feel like my life is constantly improving. Every year, I get better at not letting myself fuck things up and better still at appreciating what I have. I grow, learn, live and love all of it, and even my greatest complaint is but a spec on a virtually unblemished existence. By no means do I think that my 30s damn me to some purgatory.

    If anything, I think that’s the difference between cynicism and cynicism as pragmatism. I still hold out hope for the world and my cynicism is a means to that end. Whether it’s the right tactic is a completely separate question.

  • Anonymous

    I just heard a tribute to Steve Jobs of Apple Computer who died yesterday at the age of 56.  It included an excerpt from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.  The excerpt is worth quoting here:

              When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like:
    “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most
    certainly be right.”  It made an impression on me, and since
    then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every
    morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my
    life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And when
    ever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I
    know I need to change something.  Remembering that I’ll be
    dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to
    help me make the big choices in life.  Because almost everything
    — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment
    or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death,
    leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are
    going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking
    you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no
    reason not to follow your heart. 

              About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. … It turned
    out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable
    with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

              This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope
    it’s the closest I get for a few more decades.  Having lived
    through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than
    when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept: No one
    wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to
    die to get there.  And yet death is the destination we all share.  No
    one has ever escaped it.  And that is as it should be, because Death
    is very likely the single best invention of Life.  It is Life’s change
    agent.  It clears out the old to make way for the new.  Right now
    the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will
    gradually become the old and be cleared away.  Sorry to be so
    dramatic, but it is quite true.  Your time is limited, so don’t waste
    it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma — which
    is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the
    noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And
    most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  
    They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  
    Everything else is secondary.


    A video of Steve Jobs’ entire speech is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc