Sunday, January 27, 2013

Late Sunday Evening Drives

A golden moon and the two headlights from my truck my only guiding lights, a Seger song humming from the radio, a tin of chewing tobacco my only companion in the passenger seat, a country road winding through the Michigan woods or alongside some creek bed or past some small town farms - cows asleep in the barns, and preferably some low-hanging fog: that's a portrait of my ideal Sunday evening late night drive.

On the lonely country roads, it's easy to feel like you can drive past the petty stresses of daily life or whatever is troubling your soul at that particular point of your life. And the calm of the lazy Sunday night provides the perfect atmosphere from some in-depth thought, introspection about your past or about your future or just about whatever girl has hold of your imagination at the time.

Sometimes I'll drive past those places that occupy a special spot in my past. Through Ann Arbor, gazing at the collegiate streets sprinkled with students and the crows perched above on telephone wires. Past the old college house, wondering where the years have went. Or past some of your watering holes, wondering about whatever sadness has brought those souls to the bar on a Sunday evening. Or past the parks where you had Little League games some years ago, imagining simpler times.

But sometimes it's best to think about nothing at all. To just breathe the night air and let your mind rest for a half an hour or an hour. To let the worry of the preceding week and another fast-approaching week dissolve into the night sky, let the tobacco buzz sink in, and simply feel alive in the present night.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Simple Pleasures of This Suburban Life

"I think about that moment whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation. Because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with it's dodge parked out front and it's white bread on the table and it's TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter. And there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder."
                                                                   - The Wonder Years

When I lived in Chicago, I detested the city life, or so I thought. Hearing the incessant sirens on the streets below my loft apartment building, sitting amongst the filth of the subway trains and watching the rats that scurried along the tracks in between train arrivals, breathing the smog-infested air, searching in vain for any rustic enclave to escape to, missing my friends, girlfriend, and most of all my Wolverines - it all seemed to me then that it was the Windy City's fault.

Yet when I moved back to the Michigan suburbs, I found myself missing Chicago. I missed the camaraderie of sharing that confined little loft space that looked out over the Sears Tower and the rest of that lively city with Lake Michigan in the distance, I missed the bustle of people - always full of life and caffeinated energy - on the sidewalks during rush hour, I missed the limitless night scene that never left you lacking for weekend plans, and - most shockingly to me - I missed Chicago sports and the Wrigley summer nights and random Blackhawk games during the winter and all the awesome sports bars in between. I was very lost at that point of my life, and there probably wasn't a setting in America that I couldn't find myself unhappy in.

I've discovered that a lot of those rather pessimistic feelings were largely driven by my own latent depression. I wish I could go back and experience Chicago depression-free - or at least with an open-mind - and I wish I could take back the last year or so of my life in Michigan and re-live it without the depression and the otherwise emotionless version of me, but I can't. Those years will always be a part of me, and I'm alright with that, because it's contributed to where I stand today. What I can do is learn from the mistakes I made in not appreciating either of those periods of my life. The little things in life are oftentimes the best in life after all. Perhaps the greatest truth I've learned over these past years is that your surroundings do not define your outlook, but rather that you define your own outlook.

Life in the suburbs may not be an ideal living situation for me at this point of my life, but I'm learning that making the best of it is important. Living in the present is, after all, what all those Romantic-era poets that I read in college were writing about.

I've found a lot of solace in running these past couple months. It's not just the running that has given me some peace, but it's the sights and sounds and smells I've experienced on those runs that have provided me a comfort that I thought I had lost along with childhood. The simple things about my surroundings, the simple pleasures of this suburban life:

  • The stars in a midnight blue sky - not clouded by the smog of city life, but framed by a silhouette of treetops instead.
  • The aroma of the spaghetti's and charcoal-cooked burgers and Hamburger Helper's wafting from houses passing by.
  • The simple thought that someone would spend hours carefully crafting each of hundreds of Christmas lights and chimney-top Santa figurines - a testimony to the purity and simplicity and also the slow clock of life in suburbia.
  • Running through the same circular neighborhoods,  past each of those identical cookie-cutter boxes, yet thinking about how each one of those monotonous houses holds some story that means a lifetime to someone. 
  • The pleasant perfume puffs of laundry sheets blowing through those little laundry rooms vents to the cold weather, and somehow each one of them with it's own unique smell.
  • Knowing the exact houses you will smell the distinct scent of marijuana from on Friday's and Saturday's.
  • Running through my cousin Frank's old neighborhood and thinking about how awesome those childhood years for us were: the summer days that held no limits, the baseball games in Frank's backyard and Uncle Frank's hot dogs in between games, winter nights sledding down the banks of the river in those woods, wondering if all of our grade school crushes names were still written in those attic walls we used to hang out in - it all comes back to me each night as I run by, bringing back a sense of calm that can only be associated with innocence.
  • Best of all, it's the simple conversations about the nothingness of your daily routine. For me, those conversations are with a guy I grew up with and one of my best friends, Bryan. Though it might not seem like we have much to talk about with all the monotony of our daily lives (it usually goes: sports, fantasy sports, how shitty was your day?, weekend plans, sports), I'm certain it's something we'll look back on someday as something that represented how close we were during these difficult, yet determinant days of our lives.
It may not seem like much, but even a nightlight can seem very bright when you're emerging from a very dark room.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Perils of this Twentysomething Life

Over-educated, underemployed, isolated by our own internet-dependent generation, and staring down a real world fraught with more instability than ever, it's no easy task to be a twentysomething-year-old these days.

We were reared in sheltered suburban  homes where we were encouraged that we could be 'whatever we wanted' when we grew up, only to find our first dreams dashed along the way. We grew up spoiled by the prosperous nineties never knowing what a recession was, yet we emerged from college to face exactly that. We were educated in elementary schools that hammered home the notion that each one of us was a special flower, only to find an adult world where flowers went to die. We participated in sports leagues and after school activities that handed us a trophy just for signing up, only to realize that the corporate world doesn't give out participation points. We over-payed for a college education in which we were educated as much in barroom etiquette and keg-tapping as any job skills or real-world strategies, left to find ourselves ill-equipped and ill-prepared for post-grad realities upon the tragedy of graduation day.

And we inherited a world in which oftentimes the candlelight of hope seems to grow dimmer by the day. We inherited the internet age, in which we have no trouble conversing with strangers on message boards yet we don't even offer one another a smile on the subway. We inherited the era of social media, in which we exercise our 'special flower' muscles in the mistaken notion that the outside world cares about the minute details of our everyday lives. We inherited an environmental crisis and a lifetime of governmental debt, feeling passionate about changing the world but distraught with the realization that even a presidential campaign founded on the concept of "Change" won't change much. We inherited a mental health crisis, in which no one blinks twice anymore at the newest school shooting on the news. We inherited an America where traditional family values struggle to survive, and we face the depressing reality that even love might not save us - as just as many marriages fail as succeed these days.

Worse yet, we don't even have a landmark event to define our generation's turbulent plight. It's not that the troubles of young adulthood are unique to my generation. The opening page of Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises contains the inscription, "you are all a lost generation"; the novel was a response to the cavernous void his young generation was left in after a world war devastated not only countries but the human spirit.  Perhaps even more extreme, the baby-boomer generation largely dropped out entirely during the revolutionary sixties that would be defined by society-changing events such as Vietnam, Woodstock and the 1969 Democratic National Convention. My generation of young people suffers from the same afflictions those previous generations did, but without any real triggering event to explain any of it. Even our voids are void of meaning.

We Generation Y'ers are facing unprecedented instability in our mid twenties. With the average age of marriage ever-increasing - and Ted Mosby as our heroic example of that phenomenon - we are left in limbo for an increasing period of time; more and more of us are exploring the adult world as lonesome travelers or serial daters through our twenties whereas our parents already had kids and houses by this time in their own lives. And with the recession hitting our generation the hardest, many of us are working at jobs we're vastly overqualified for or worse, the increasingly common and equally frustrating unpaid internship.The insufficiency of the job market, coupled with our student loans, create a world of financial instability as well. And alas, College friends you swore you'd never lose touch with get lost along the way. Instability abound, it can be a tough time indeed.

The grand irony of it all is that we will one day look back and miss these very days. Until then, I'm learning its best to soak it all up. Cling to your friends. Take steps to better yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Spend money on things that make you happy. Travel when you can. Take a backroad instead of the main highway. Learn from your past but live in the present. Start being the person you want to be in the future.

We just might emerge on the other side better off than when we started.