Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

An Examined Life

Dante Alighieri began writing his great work, The Divine Comedy, when he was thirty-five years old. It's a Biblically-significant age, a significance that is largely lost on modern readers. According the Bible, the allotted human lifespan is "threescore and ten"- seventy years. So Dante was writing at the midpoint of his life, a time to reflect upon his history, his accomplishments, and his future. Little wonder that he was spurred to write some great opus that would live on after him (and little wonder he took the time to skewer his earthly enemies, but that's a whole 'nother essay).

Yesterday I turned thirty-five. The midpoint of my life. And I am left to ponder my existence, to look back. To ponder decisions I have made. To ponder what remains to do in the years left to me.

When I look back on the last few years of my life, I'm filled with trepidation. It's been a very rough ride, full of disappointments, personal, professional, and artistic. I'm forced to come to a few realizations. First, that I'm not a young man any more. I've felt discontent brewing for a long time now. The feeling I should be somewhere else - someONE else - by this point in my life. I should be a professional something or other. I should have a career. I should have a job that I enjoy and am good at, that won't destroy me. I don't have that. I'm unemployed yet again, after a humiliating nine months flailing around at a position beyond me. I'm still trying to parse the experience, to figure out what went wrong. Why I couldn't make it work. I've always prided myself on being able to do ANYTHING. I guess I finally hit my ceiling. It's humbling, and it's sobering, and it makes me wonder if my powers are finally failing me. Not a pleasant feeling.

More than that is the feeling of being set back. I've lived in the same apartment for ten years now - soon to be eleven - and while I have no real complaints, I've wanted to move on for a while. I've watched my neighborhood change around me while I've stayed the same. It's not a place I feel I belong any more, and yet it's not a place I'm in a position to leave. I haven't been stable enough to seriously contemplate a relocation for a long time now. So I sit, and I wait, and I feel as though I've been left behind.

Lately I think about my father, and the kind of man he is, and the kind of man I am. My father is a MAN, in the true and proper sense of it. He's a good man, stable, hard-working, wise, generous. Everything a man should be. Once upon a time I flattered myself that I might end up like him. I don't think that's even possible anymore. I can't even get my own act together, let alone be the support for someone else. I don't know if I even want to be like him, to be honest. Because I've seen the dark side of being my father. Being the pillar of stability and sanity amidst a sea of chaos is not easy. I don't know how he does it. I don't know WHY he does it. Lately I've just taken to settling to not being a burden to my parents, to try to assure them not to worry about me. That seems to be about all I'm capable of at this point.

(I could, of course, take a moment to go off on tirade about my ne'er-do-well cousin, who hasn't worked in about twenty years, and is pretty much unhireable due to his short temper and possible undiagnosed mental illness...yet somehow or other always manages to find people willing to take care of him. Even my own mother, once a recipient of his misplaced aggression, welcomed him back into her house afterwards. I'll never understand it, and I've given up trying to.)

So then, what IS going right? I've started writing again. I'm updating my Blog and my review site a bit more frequently. Basically I'm trying to keep myself busy, lest I lose my mind. I gave up my PS3 for Lent, so I'm in serious Gamer Withdrawal, but I think in the long run it will be good for me. They tell you that all the time at the Career Center: get into a routine and stick to it. Don't give in to depression and wind up doing nothing. So I keep myself busy with various creative projects. As well as finally getting around to reading my backlog of history books. I guess it couldn't hurt. Though I find myself wondering at the point of it all. Will anyone ever read what I write? Will I be published at all? What will live on after me when I am dust? I really, REALLY hope it's just not this Blog.

Yeah, I've said before that I've pretty much lost my faith in the Internet. I entertain no delusions that my assorted ramblings here will be preserved for future generations to read and contemplate. Man, what a depressing thought. What if, centuries after some coming future dark age, the only records to survive are Blogs? And students of history will read our Blogs the way I read Plutarch or Bulfinch? Egads. Aristotle once famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I've gotten into ridiculous Internet arguments about that. Yes, someone actually took issue with self-appraisal. Something about being asked to examine their lives being judgmental and unfair. At first it made me wonder if perhaps I'd been wrong all my life. If my Classical Education simply was no longer relevant, and everything I thought about self-improvement and ethics and values was outdated and incorrect. Then I came to realize the sad truth: you can't have a reasonable discussion with people nursing grudges. And people who have discussions on the Internet often do. That's why they're having discussions on the Internet; they're too bitter to talk to anyone else.

It makes me consider discontinuing this Blog, frankly. I like being able to share my ideas with the world at large, but I don't know if that's enough any more. Like being a voice in the wilderness, shouting to anyone who can hear, never sure if anyone does - and never sure if those who do hear you will even understand what you meant. It gets tiresome. Especially if you have real-world things to do.

So I come back to my Dante moment. The time to examine my life, to ponder my next moves. I have an inkling of a plan, and I must dwell upon it. Perhaps there is one great opus in me that I might be able to leave behind me. Or perhaps I can simply live the next thirty-five years well and contented, and there's still time left to do it in. Either way, there is still much to do. And I need to get started.