I began my freshman year at a medium-size high school in Maine in 1988. That was 21 years ago, if math isn’t your thing (and back then, it most certainly wasn’t mine). I had perhaps too much fun during those years, which, at the time, seemed infinite. (All of this is surely cataloged in a Springsteen song or three.)
My second adolescence, re: the terrible 20s, took place in Burlington, VT — I’ll save the weepy account of that era for another post. I bring it up only because that’s when I attempted to distance myself from place and pedigree. It worked. If I had a nickel for every person who, like John Cusack‘s personal assistant in Grosse Pointe Blank, told me, “I have a hard time believing you came from anywhere,” I’d be more comfortable in this economic downturn.
As I clawed my way from punk to quasi-professional, those misty Maine years became submerged in the basement of my subconscious, surfacing in half-remembered flashes of romantic (and chemical) indulgence. Since I rarely return to the scene of the crime(s), it wasn’t difficult to keep the memories — good, bad or otherwise — at bay.
Now, technology is bringing them all back in glorious technicolor (and sometimes Poloroid.)
Facebook — the ubiquitous social tether that replaced clunkier and sleazier predecessors like Friendster and MySpace (don’t tell Rupert Murdoch he bought a dud) — has made it ridiculously easy for your rapidly-aging group of peers to post photos of your shared past for the world to see. My problem with this, if I have one at all, is not the embarrassment that comes with having one’s awkward years let loose in the digital commons, but rather the unexpected wave of nostalgia it engenders.
Nostalgia is, for me, an enemy, one that compromises my ability to reinvent myself. Besides, I don’t need to be reminded of the intellectual roadblocks in my old hometown, or my lack academic accomplishment — I live in a city of valedictorians and Ivy Leaguers. That I’ve managed to breathe the same rarefied air is a minor miracle; I don’t want to jinx it by looking back.
Yet I find myself doing just that. Seemingly every day, an old classmate or long-lost friend posts something to Facebook that puts me squarely back in those black sheep years, when I nursed a bruised ego with girls, drugs and budding musical ability. For someone who to this day feels like he doesn’t fit in anywhere, I didn’t have it so bad.
But how the hell did I get so old? Why is everyone around me so young and accomplished? When did I stop caring about being an art star? Why did I recently want to borrow my colleague’s Cato Institute policy paper on “Net Neutrality Without Regulation,” to see how the “enemy” thinks? How is it that instead of being in a hot corpse in a cold grave, I’m a balding git with a mortgage?
The other thing that gets me is the kids. Everybody seems to have at least a couple. My wife and I have batted the idea around, but between the sour economy and our professional lives, it just doesn’t seem to be the right time. But looking at all the thirtysomethings in my network, I feel a kind of peer pressure to breed. Plus, everyone seems so satisfied. Are we missing out?
Old girlfriends, rivals, good-time buddies, intellectual sparring partners — they’re coming out of the woodwork, dislodging my meticulously buried memories. For better or worse, I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I did, indeed, “come from somewhere.” There’s a sense of comfort in that. But I’m hardly prepared for the feeling of wanting to go back, to do things differently, or to savor the best moments a bit more fully. It’s the dull ache of nostalgia I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid. I thought I was above all this. Apparently not.
To everyone I’ve loved or loathed, I miss you, and I hope you’re doing well.