Secret Pop

Oct 22, 2003

The Guilt of the Unaccomplished

I'm reading Dave Eggers at the moment. I'm reading about the early nineties and the start-up of Might and the edgy, pre-dotcom vibe of San Francisco. And I'm remembering being barely twenty and caught up in keeping a job and doing a little performance at the community college and waiting for college to come back around so I could catch it up on the next lap. I look back, and I'm ashamed. I wish that I had had the courage to be on fire about something. I wish that I had been confident enough to have wanted to try something. I wish that I had believed in the possibility of an unboring life, and I wish that I had sought it out relentlessly. I can only imagine what might be true of me today. And my imagination is generous and cruel.

I get the same droopy, desperate feeling when I listen to certain segments of This American Life. When I hear youthful voices, sometimes cynically assessing mundane worlds. Sometimes eagerly effervescing about magic that dances beyond the reach of the jaded. I feel that sense of self-imposed rejection and failure. "No one will ever ask me to do a segment like that," I might say. Or I will indict myself for having created a lifestyle that no longer affords me the freedom to try out stupid jobs or give my time away with abandon. When I was 19 and 20 and getting reasonably good jobs in offices, I was proud of myself. I was thrilled when a box of business cards with my name on them would appear in my mail slot. I was thrilled to have a mail slot. But I should have been slinging hash or working with the elderly or selling things I'd made on the beach boardwalk or something. Shouldn't I have? Instead, I was dressing too old for my age, preferring to wear stockings and not owning an adult-sized pair of jeans until I was 22 or 23. I latched onto an earlier-bestowed mantle of precociousness. A younger Mary scrambled to be deemed some sort of child prodigy, wanted to be the youngest to have done whatever it was, wanted people to stop aghast when they learned she was only six or eleven or the age she was that year. I hung onto that nonsense for too long, I think. I was never happy being the age I was. I wanted to be further along. I wanted to have done more. I wanted the trappings of experience. But I passed those years with my eyes closed. And I was never really living them. I was in a coma of apathy and fear. And it pains me to think of it.

There is also that secondary component: that I am never really pleased with anything I do. So maybe I would have started my own magazine or written a show or sold a painting. I'm sure I would have lived long enough to be sorry for it. It's the way of things. But at least then I would have something to show for it all. Something individual and mine. Maybe even a resume that indicated that I was more made of creative juices than of academics and industry. That might have helped.

I wonder what I really am made of. I wonder if it's anything worth stirring.

My dad bought a new car this week. A Honda Civic EX. I haven't seen it yet, but the idea of it -- the idea of my dad IN it -- is the most adorable thing ever.

My neck hurts like an announcement of the end of the world, and sometimes I wish I was French.

No comments: