Each year around my birthday I suffer a mini mid-life crisis. A day comes, that ostensibly makes me an older man but I’m only older in the sense that my attraction to Selena Gomez goes from “this dude’s creepy” to “let’s have the FBI seize his computer”. The arrival of the birthdate itself doesn’t automatically turn my maturity up a notch, like assigning attribute points to your created player on NHL ’11. But maybe it’s not a bad idea to force it consciously.
The first thing I think when some poor soul tells me “you’re only as old as you feel” is “I bet Rob Lowe wished he’d have used that as his statutory rape defence 20 years ago”. YOAYAYF is a patently ridiculous maxim but has nevertheless gained traction with my generation – a majority of whom would follow any adage so long as it pardons flights from responsibility as well as this one. I can only imagine how much more irresonsible and hedonistic the generation that follows ours will be but that’s a horror story for a different day. I wonder though, will the Gen Y version of our grandparents’ complaint of working in a coal mine at nine years old and chain-smoking Pall Malls in utero be “I was forced to cut my clubbing down from four to two days a week when I turned 36 and couldn’t recover from hangovers as easily”?
Unfortunately, I’ve been a party to the Cult of YOAYAYF without ever realizing it. But once I realized my follies and shined light on it, the roaches of this behaviour have scattered to hide in the darkness beneath the floorboards. After all, there must be a limit to this axiom’s applicability. Does feeling young at heart allow me to move into my mother’s basement to play NBA 2K5 on a Sega Dreamcast, watch NFL games from a beanbag chair and set off fireworks behind the liquor store with a group of disorderly high school freshmen? Someone please tell me it does. That chair was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever owned.
Does my puerility somehow erase the reality I’m turning 29 in a week with nothing to show but credit card debt, occupational misery and a rented basement suite in one of Calgary’s most Deliverance-inspired neighbourhoods? Because if there’s an easy way to square my aimless verve and professional and interpersonal insignificance to the expectations of my “feeling age” without, kind of sort of, starting to dislike myself, I’d like to know how.
I spent my 28th birthday in the hospital after I was hit with an unbearable wave of dizziness as I drove with my ex-girlfriend to the Nakoda Resort for the weekend. It was the third time a dizzy spell sent me to the hospital but the first time it was so bad I had to crawl into an ambulance to get there. It gave me time to think, laying there in Emergency next to the drunkest Francophone (yessssssh) in the history of Canadian inebriation. I tried to piece together the time and money I spent at nightclubs; the pain and betrayal I’d inflicted on my girlfriend who, back then, hung around against all reason; the time I spent in front of the TV or watching an NBA game in a bar instead of writing and had to stop thinking before I became depressed. I was determined – though I’m sure much of my hope owes its conception to the cocktail of intravenous goodness plugged into my arm – to become a new man. I wanted to settle down, to make something of myself, to make this woman my wife and provide for our future kids before it was too late. I thought it was something I was always capable of. All I needed to do was switch gears.
I guess the point of this scattered post is to understand how people rationalize the loss of their potentiality. We all aspire to greatness as children; in fact, we expect it. What happens to the adult once he understands the child was wrong? We were to be photographers, astronauts, singers, ball players, etc. Yet here we sit, punching a 40 hour clock for a salary and rules that are, usually, a grievous insult. I have to ask permission to leave my desk? To go eat? To go home when I’m sick? Please.
We’ve all been insulted, put down, hurt savagely by people we care about but in no other facet is your worth as a person put down in ink, in dollar and cents and deposited bi-weekly into your bank account.
Last year, as me and my ex left the hospital uncured, at around 2 am, the doctors quite bored with whatever had kicked my ass, to pick up my car from the Petro truck stop next to Calaway Park, I felt like a new man. I was 28, within smelling distance of 30, and I had everything I wanted in the passenger seat next to me and a muddled plan to escape the trap of wage slavery. By October, I’d botched everything with my girlfriend, had forgotten all about my intentions to become an entrepreneur and, by January, was back to partying four days a week like the 18-year-old I felt I was at heart.
When the clock hits midnight next Tuesday and I look down the barrel of another year on this earth, I know I’m going to tell myself I’ll change something. I just don’t know if I’ll believe it.