In a few days I'll be sixty years old. I've never been shy about examining the inner stew that I am, but there's something about that milestone that seems to require not only a closer look, but also a categorizing of it. There's a bizarre necessity to write about it all as if it were something that can prepare others as they embark upon the same precipice, or maybe warn them that there be monsters beyond a certain age. So here's a few entertaining monsters I stumbled across in the last few months leading up to this point.
1. The past becomes endlessly more fascinating than when we lived it.
People I knew decades ago suddenly came back into my mental present time. It wasn't so much a desire to reconnect with them as it was curiousity. I wanted to know how closely or how far apart the different paths we took from the same point actually took us. So I used this internet tubes thing and googly googled a few of them. I didn't find the ones I was looking for (isn't that always the truth?), but I did stumble upon a few of them by accident while searching for something else.
For example, I found one of my old art professors while I was using an image search tool to find someone else's work. It was a brain cramp moment when I saw the similarities that probably neither of them would see because it's their art, after all, but I could see because I was the outside observer to both of them. So of course I wrote him an email and said hello.
The next one was even more bizarre. A friend who was going to visit the Los Angeles area wanted to find a Vegan restaurant to eat at while she was there. I offered to be the friendly neighborhood googler and come up with the perfect place. I found it, a few blocks from where her conference was going to be held and as I was reading the website, a very distinctive name leaped out at me. I had exactly three friends in High School and she was one of them. We weren't blood friends or even the kind of friends who swore to name each other's first born after them. But I was grateful to her, for the memory of her because I could say for the rest of my life that I knew three people in High School who didn't suck. That was worth at least an email.
2. Change is not always inevitable.
I also reconnected with a goodly amount of ghosts from the past who seemed happy to hear from me. We exchanged a few emails and then let the silence between us grow again as the same reasons we did so in the first place were still there.
The most disturbing in a holy calcification batman sort of way was someone I really admired when I was in my twenties. He was an amazing writer who seemed to have such a phenomenal and perceptive way of looking at and writing about life. He was easy to find as he had self-published enough books, pamphlets, treatises, and manuals to level a fairly large forest.
But in all that copious amount of self-flagellation there was barely anything new that reflected decades of life. He was writing about the same things, in the same language, with the same passion as he did forty years ago. It was as if nothing of life had touched him in any way. He was literally the same man he was then. I was sad for him.
And I knew I could write whatever I wanted to about him because he would never read this blog. He has a disdain for the internet, for the social aspect of it. He said it distracted him from real life and he only used it to take orders for his books and answer book related emails. It explained the time warp that claimed his soul in the late 70's and never gave it back.
But the saddest for me were some of the women. They're the kind of women who always bring me a sense of deep sorrow when I read their obituaries, the women who lived and died within a few miles of where they were born. The obituaries are always filled with the children they birthed, the gardens they grew, the things they did for others. And how they never left home, neither physically or metaphorically.
But for a few short years when we were in college together, they had dreams we shared over wine, weed, and eternal blooming hope. These same women were going to travel the world, they were going to write the great novel, paint the masterpiece, find the cure for cancer, become the first woman President. Instead, their obituaries will say they lived and died a few miles from where they were born, and will describe the children they birthed, the gardens they grew, the things they did for others. I wanted to ask them why they gave up so easily but I knew they would never see themselves as having given up so there was no point in asking, no point in trying to recreate a past that died the day they graduated and took the path right in front of them instead of venturing out a bit to see what else was out there.
In the end, all the searching and googling and writing ended up with the same result: the good people were still good, the bad people were still bad, the boring were still boring, and the interesting ones had all disappeared into a world where they couldn't be found so they could go on being interesting without others expectations of what interesting was supposed to mean.
3. Expectations are like assholes, no matter how much we deny it.
The most surprising thing I discovered was that some of the people I connected with had expectations I'd be a certain this or that and were disappointed that I went my own way. They weren't interested in what I had done with my life, in the new paths I had carved through resistant wildnernesses, in the way I had managed to live a life of honor, ethics, integrity and love, and still survive on my own terms, by my own wits, and with no one telling me what to do but me.
Yes, I'm surprised that I make my living with art created digitally with cameras, computers, and scanned hand-drawn and created images. Yes, I'm surprised that I make my living writing about what I do, that I've channeled my passion for words into something that gives me pleasure, that allows me to share some of what I believe and most of who I am with people all over the world. Yes, I'm surprised that I've sold things with my art in just about every country in the world, all the provinces in Canada, and every state in America. Yes, I'm surprised that I've written to and shared dreams, philosophies, world views, visions, hopes, despairs, sadness, joy, sorrow, and love with people all over the world.
So I'm surprised when people I connected with again always said they thought I'd be a writer or an artist or an activist, but they never thought I'd be doing what I'm doing. It makes me wonder why they expected me to limit myself to one thing when there were so many options. It makes me sad that they see me as unusual and different and an exception to how they thought I should live.
I want to say to them that all I really wanted was to make a difference. I didn't want to go through life without leaving my mark on it. I figured with so many options available to me that I had no choice but to exercise them all if I was truly going to make a difference by having lived. So far, I think I'm accomplishing what I set out to do.
4. Some wounds don't heal.
Of course there are people I think about, people I loved, people I trusted, people I let into my life too easily and by the time I noticed they were bad people it was too late to shut the door. They are me as much as any of my art or my words or my actions. But the deep wounds don't heal. I can still feel sad, angry, upset, afraid when I remember them. I can let myself love them even after they hurt me. But there are some paths you can't walk backwards on and the path of wounds is one of them. I leave them alone, let them remain as lessons, as reminders that no matter how many good and decent people you know in life and call friend, the biggest assholes will always be the ones whom you loved the most. Age and time doesn't seem to even that out any. I hoped it would, but it seems some wounds are timeless and are meant to be with us in that shape and form for life. Maybe in the next decade I'll figure that one out to where I can explain it better.