swimmerguy's picture

I put this on facebook, but was actually pretty impressed with it. So here goes:

"When I was a younger kid than I am now, I always wondered why adults seemed content to walk all over the place. I wanted to run. Running was faster. Why not?
But then again, as a kid, there was a lot I didn't understand. There always seemed to be those secrets kept from me: drinking, sex, all those phrases and words I couldn't understand. Adults always seemed to be keeping almost everything from me. They were, and much of it for good reasons.
Yet the worst, the most tragic and horrible secret of all, I was never told, I've simply been left like almost everyone else to figure it out: life gets harder and harder and it's never again as fun as it is in childhood.

Obviously, there's a lot of upsides to getting older. Not least of which, of course, is those other secrets, drinking, sex, those dirty words I couldn't understand, etc.
Greatest of all, however, and sucking up all those others, is the sense of independence you start to achieve, when you're no longer totally dependent on your parents. Because that's probably the thing we never forgive our parents for: being there when we were weak and vulnerable.

Getting the first phone, the first license to drive, the first job, technically becoming an adult, then moving out. And you're well on your way to becoming your parents again.

But hey, about that FIRST JOB, so you make a piddle of money, what then? At my first job, sign shaking at Value Village, I got used to dreading my job every day. It'd be school, then straight off to work for 4, 5 hours, back home at 7 or 8, dinner, homework and bed. Several times a week.
I had to have inflicted upon my brain the horrifying logic buried in the human resources booklet: describing the rewards for employees who have been with Value Village 5, 10, and 20 years.
I was only there temporarily, and I knew that, and I knew what I was going to be doing afterwards. That wasn't the case for the majority of my coworkers.

Working at Garlic Jim's, like I do now, I find myself in a similar situation. The work is certainly much easier and much better, in its way, than sign shaking. But it's not exactly life-work.

Either way, however, the work must get done, and that means that certain people have to work 5, 6 days a week at it, again and again and again, into the future until something else awaits them.

Life is hard. It's a constant struggle with no end in sight. There's a reason people embrace such pathetic phrases as Thank God It's Friday.
What that phrase means is that you hate what you have done and continue to do with your life most of the time, so much, that the prospect of getting a break, any break, no matter what it is, from that horrible thing that is your LIFE, seems like an enticing idea.

That's everyone who gets that TGIF bumper sticker or shirt, or says it on a regular basis: people who have been crushed by how unexcited they are by their own life, but who don't have the courage to end it or remake it.
We find stories of great kindness inspiring, because life is so hard. Most of us are simply flattened and absorbed by it, so we admire those who have the strength not only to make their own difficult way through life but to help others as well.

There is a certain measure of relief to be found. The path I'm currently on is one long advocated for and, luckily, much smoothed by my parents: I'm going to college.
There, in theory, I'll learn some craft that interests me, and then if I'm lucky in the future I'll get some job in the sector of our economy that actually makes decisions rather than simply produce like a machine.
That doesn't change the fact that I'll still get tired of that job eventually, a career as it's called (because even when you have a job that's not rote, it's still the same over long periods of time), that I'll still breathe a sigh of relief when I leave on Friday afternoon. But the distractions, that distract me from how unsatisfying my life are, will be all the more sumptuous.
Even better, I have something to look forward to in the future: a retirement at a goodly age, where I'll be able enjoy those same distractions from my life, but without the work that long ago sapped the vitality out of it.

That's the dark side to the independence that seems so refreshing now: in the future, I'll really be independent. The novelty will have worn off, but the work never ends, because life never does. Until it does.

If that sounds depressing, I also wonder if it isn't over-simplified.
Long generations of struggling workers just as I've described have built a new society. We're capable now of wealth past societies couldn't even dream of. And yet, the struggle never stops, because the wealth keeps whizzing up and up.
Perhaps, if one is willing to go through the discomfort of diminished wealth, this cycle can be stopped.

Because that's the beautiful, dazzling glacier of POSSIBILITY, thrumming with life and infinite joy, sparking with divinity, that is also implied by coming of age, into independence:
I've begun to discover who I am, and what I love.
Who we are is subtle. We may like cake, but we don't LOVE cake, most of us, cake is not a part of who we are, no matter how much it might seem like it in youth.
Things I used to hate, it turns out I've come to love.
As I type this I listen to
As a kid, I hated the symphony! Who knew I'd come to love Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, when I'd started actually listening to my music. Because I've always loved them, I only recently discovered that part of me.

And one of these stands out above the others: adventure.
I've found I love adventure, especially of the outdoor sort, the mountain sort.
Again, as a kid, I hated hiking. First, it was hard, and second, the destinations we walked to honestly weren't that exciting, lakes and waterfalls.
But that didn't change that I do and always have loved the outdoors. When I turned 10, I had the courage to find that though hiking was difficult, it was easier than it had been now that I was stronger physically and mentally, and to savor the thinking time to be had while walking, and the peace to be had in the woods. And I saw the possibility for more.
It was 10 when I initiated that we should climb Mount Adams, a slogging, 2-day, 12 mile, 7000 vertical feet hike up through the snowfields of that great volcano.
We did, and I saw possibility in the distance.

Now, at 18, my skills, mental, physical and emotional, are much greater than they were at 10. And I no longer sit back and let my love find myself, I actively search it out.

But, surely, my love will be a side spout of my main life? It doesn't have to be. One of my favorite things about the outdoors and the mountains are the people these things attract. I can't find this online, so I'll have to retype it. But, here's a passage in the most recent issue of Mountaineer Magazine, by Craig Romano:
All my life I have struggled with restless soul syndrome. At a young age, I wasn't as interested in pursuing a career and acquiring material wealth as I was in seeing the world-- particularly the natural world; I sought to experience life, and find the true meaning in life. I knew I wouldn't find my answers in the urban world or by following a path I was expected to follow. I would have to blaze my own trail and appease my soul by exploring the world-- both the human and the natural-- by challenging my physical and psychological limits."
He went on to explain his multiple bike rides around the country for years after he graduated high school, and how he eventually discovered hiking and climbing as his true loves.

Here, similarly, is the same thought more glibly put, at the beginning of the thru-hikers'(spending 6 months to hike trails thousands of miles long) Bible, the Pacific Crest Trail Handbook:
"Non-trail people will never understand WHY we want to thru-hike. I think it's because the idea is so far removed from EVERYTHING we are taught as we're growing up: go to college, get a good job, get married, have kids, and then wait until you retire or die. You want to have fun? You can do that two weeks per year on your vacation. Don't be irresponsible and take six months off work to hike. Are you crazy?"

These are the people already in the business. People like elite woman climber Lynn Hill gave up everything, living off of other people's trash, to climb. Elite hiker Scott Williamson spends some months working odd jobs, then spends 6 months hiking, because he loves it. Badass insane man climber Alex Honnold lives in a van.
And simple college graduate Chris McCandless lived 2 years of adventure in the wilds of America before his grisly end, as immortalized in Into the Wild.

Yes, I know. I was talking to my brother about future life plans at the dinner table, before his graduation last Friday, when I said "I won't really care about having a lot of money".
"Well, you say that now..." my mom chimed in.
Yes, it's true. I say it now. And I totally expect my mom would say something like that. So we understand each other.
And I can see where she's coming from: I'm young, and young people are supposed to have these fuzzy ideas. As well, I've never put these fuzzy ideas into practice.

Here's where I take heart: World War 1 is perhaps one of the most fascinating historical events there has ever been, because it's the place where the young men of Europe, told of the glories of Europe's rationality, civility, and technology, were sent to irrationally kill the other young men of Europe in the name of civility with that selfsame technology.
"For us in old Europe, everything has died that was good and unique to us. Our admirable rationality has become madness, our gold is paper, our machines can only shoot and explode, our art is suicide; we are going under, friends.” - Thomas Mann, novelist

World War 1, and its extension into World War 2, were when it became plain for everyone to see, that this same culture, these same people who had conquered the world and all other peoples, couldn't help from using this newfound power for irrational, senseless, purposeless slaughter. Their culture was great. But it was sick. World War 1 put Old Europe, already sick, into its very public deathbed, and the throes of its final struggles would occupy the rest of the 20th century.

Here's the important bit: I've found that older people have an instinct to rag on any strong opinions the young might have. The older people, of course, understand everything, and the young simply haven't found the beauty in what the older people have to say yet.
But is growing older maybe not learning the "truth" but whatever mutant twin passes for the "truth" in that day and age? What youth then could doubt that his parents were full of shit! The same "morality" and "honor" and "rationality" and everything else that youth's Old Europe parents espoused led to the wholesale slaughter of 40 million of Europe's young, with no one gaining anything, and them all losing all the more in World War 2 later.

Those parents thought they knew truth, but all they knew was the ideology and culture of Old monarchical Europe, whose repugnant flaws threw those youth into the sausage machine.

Yes, perhaps young McCandless, who cruelly abandoned his parents, only revealing himself to them by dying 2 years later, who pushed everyone away and died alone, didn't have the truth. But that doesn't mean his consumerist parents did either.

So maybe I'm spinning shit now. But does that mean I should relent and become my parents and their society? The society where cute videos make it onto the "news"? Where the people in the same country who dominates the world can't be bothered to learn about it? Where people drink pure sugar and alcohol and watch visual sugar in an effort to distract themselves from the true horror of what they are and what their lives have become?


This society is sick, and me learning its "truth" would only set me up to join in its fall. Perhaps its fall will come with climate change, when despite the fact the science is clear cut, people still refuse to believe it because it means they have to stop consuming as much as they're used to.
No thank you.

Maybe I won't always hold the exact views on truth I hold now. Maybe I'll care about money a bit more than whatever gets me by to climb mountains. But I can feel fairly safe in saying that, though older people love to claim the advantage by virtue of being older, I've seen their creed and their society, and been disgusted by it.

This is as it says in my favorite book in this world, Independent People. Bjartur, the man who farms sheep in Iceland in the years before WW1, struggled for decades to buy his freedom and his farm from the man who's servitude he was born into.
But even after his frightening, and yet inspiring and heroic, inability to compromise on his creed of independence, he still finds after his many struggles, at the end of the long book, that his farm has been repossessed by the rich man who owned him in the beginning.

The book is an indictment of capitalism and its ability to deal with the problem we all face: that life sucks and it never ends.

Luckily, through the courage and hard work of men like Bjartur, the society I live in now is wealthy enough I could live off its scraps while I find my dreams in the mountains. Nevertheless, capitalism continues on as its productive self, its defenders not only defending it by saying that the productive must be rewarded richly, but seeming to take glee in this proposition not as a sad necessity but a noble pursuit.
Someday capitalism will stand able to let the poorest with the shittiest jobs stop working, and eventually everyone. Many will want to struggle on in the absurd struggle, getting a better phone next year.
Someday I hope people will give up that struggle and struggle for life instead.

As for me, I refuse to be the Last Man. The wold I live in, though still dominated by miserable rich people and built on the bones of miserable poor people, nonetheless gives me the capacity to cast off the absurd and horrible struggle of working for life, to cast off the cloaks and find the person I am and that I love, and to say
"I will."


elph's picture

This is who you are! Or... a tad more?

An idealized portrayal of how you wish to be seen at this imminent hiatus midway between adolescence and adulthood?

I hope the metamorphosis continues with few impediments… and at your chosen pace (not too rapid… please).

My wishes for an exciting and rewarding post-high school future (albeit with multiple challenges) will undoubtedly be matched by many of your fellow Oasies™ (regrettably… most have now drifted away)… but none can exceed those of mine!


Btw… Am I not correct, that ™ is rightfully yours?

Uncertain's picture

My thoughts

Having read this, and being egged on by elph to write a response (as I tend to just read journals and not comment these days), I would like to offer some of my thoughts.

One quote comes to mind half way through your journal, I didn't have the exact quote so I took the liberty to find its entirety on the internet. It goes: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

I felt like the quote was relevant because you talked about building a progressive society yet in our lifetimes there is the apparent contradiction it seemed to have with older conservatism. Reserving my other thoughts on the quote itself, I thought the quote highlights the (dis)connection quite well. Without sounding too alienating, I may suggest you read some of Hannah Arendt's work on 'labour', 'work' and 'action'. In crude terms, it talks about the relationship between the different things we do in life and their significance. Some actions might not have direct market value or contribute to the preservation of life yet they are communicative and genuine interactions and (supposedly) true manifestations of what it is to be human - but they are only possible because some other necessary conditions of perhaps 'less meaningful' acts have made it possible. It might not so much be a binary of one type of activity having primacy over another.

Now onto some of my own experiences. Disclaimer that these are merely experiences which might inform your understanding of the issue, but it is not intended to be patronising; if you would let me rant on about myself for a bit.

I was a self-identified socialist in high school. My friend who drove me to school everyday and I used to chat about how we would run our country (New Zealand) if we were its Prime Minister one day (we go to different universities now but we are still friends and see each other due to international debating). For example, we would make tertiary education free. When I applied for college I was accepted into two programmes, one would lead into medicine, the other would lead into law. Medicine would have been a stable career, but instead I chose law not solely because I wanted something that was more "dynamic", but because I was largely driven by my conviction to serve the public good. To put this in context, this is after receiving scholarships in the subjects of physics, biology, chemistry, calculus and statistics in high school from the New Zealand government - I gave up the sciences to pursue the arts.

Now fast forward five years, I am in the final year of my law degree. Many of my friends have graduated, and soon I will be too. I am a lot more cynical about what I can do, because like you said, the need for a job is around the corner. I am not a top student in law, and a deep part of me regrets not pursuing a degree in something such as engineering. To some extent, I realised that it would be a false dichotomy to segregate the sciences into 'work' and law/arts into 'passion'. You are quite right when you pursue something, it can become a bore, and you want change. I sought that change by getting involved in debating and student associations in college, and those were big highlights of my time at university. Maybe I would have hated engineering if I pursued it? Who knows?

On the question of money, I would say money can't do everything, but without money there is very little you can do. Yes, you can point to examples of very austere lifestyles but I want to be realistic here. Money is very important. Also, if you are pursuing a "profession" and have successful friends, money does play a part into how you feel about yourself i.e. happiness, and at a point you will compare yourself to them. I don't mean this in a crude way of X earns more than you. I mean this in the sense that even if you go down the route of public service and the "arts", there will be people getting ahead of you because they were more pragmatic about their life decisions. This is an inescapable reality.

So what is my advice? It sounds almost paradoxical, but I would say, don't let idealism get in the way of you and your potential. I have seen too many privileged and smart people fall short of what they could actually achieve because they made big life decisions based on ideals.

elph's picture

What a great response!

Thank you!

And… your thoughts and experiences: so well organized! I think this expertise must be a product of your many years active in formal debate…

I can readily "see" swimmerguy excelling in similar extra-curricular activities in his forthcoming university years.


I hope your advice --- especially the focus on the role of money in achieving an "ideal" future --- will not go unheeded.

jeff's picture

One error...

"I've found that older people have an instinct to rag on any strong opinions the young might have. The older people, of course, understand everything, and the young simply haven't found the beauty in what the older people have to say yet."

I said this on another journal recently, I think, but people with dreams and ideals are also shot down on some level for another important reason.

People need to reinforce the purity of the path they have chosen, and that path is largely the standard one. The bad job, the relationship, the house, the 2.1 kids, annual vacation, etc.

Nearly all of those people dreamed of something better, unique, passionate, and personally fulfilling. And then, slowly, they just joined the system. So, you are not unique to want what you want, and say what you say. That part is normal.

When you will get the most pushback is if you actually do it. The happy path without the stability, benefits, 401K, etc.

And that pushback isn't to discourage you, but to reinforce that their choice to not pursue these things was valid and right. On some level, you can't do these things and be happy and not care about the important things... because they took the standard path and need to believe it was the only real option.

Everyone with a dream and a back-up plan is starting from a point of concession and, honestly, a path. Their back up plan will become their life, and their dream will be reduced to an adolescent folly. And they will be able to tell all of their friends that they wanted to do XX and YY when they were young, but then, you know, life happens.

So, the convictions that you have are fine. But also the easy part.

The more you persist on your path, the more pushback you will get from the others. And, they will also determine your success (or try to). If you want to write a novel, and the book doesn't sell, they may see that as another opportunity to be like, "C**d, you followed your dream, and it didn't work out. That's great. I have a friend who might be able to get you an interview in our marketing department."

There will also potentially be disregard for your measure of success. Like, finishing and publishing a book may be all you need to feel like you achieved your goal. But few will agree, since they don't see it on the bestseller list, etc.

Uncertain isn't wrong, though. Bills will need to be paid, and money does play a role. But there are tons of ways to get it, and some of them will line up with, and not compromise, your goals and dreams. I have actor friends who go through long bouts of unemployment, but all have some odd side pursuit that supports them, whether it is giving classes on auditioning, or something else related.

In my own case, I pursued journalism as a back-up plan to be a creative writer, so I become a journalist who wanted to write novels. The back-up plan never removed the goal and that led to trying to turn the boat around in mid-life, which is less easy, since you get used to money, a certain lifestyle, and you also lost crucial time developing the skills that would help you achieve your goals. Right now, I'm in an odd limbo where I do enough work to pay the bills, but not really have a career, while I work to finish two novels this year. I'm editing my first one, and plan to start writing the second this summer, which I'm already researching. And, the sad reality is, I'll likely make more money doing the work I hate than writing the novels, since it is working for software companies with piles of money and having a resume that lets be charge a decent hourly rate.

Had I pursued creative writing from the start, it is impossible to know what my life would be now. Except to know it would be nothing like what it is now. Journalism took me to San Francisco for 16 years, would I have ever gone otherwise?! Who knows? My whole life could have been monumentally worse... or infinitely better. Or somewhat the same, just different.

I also think a path is less important than the tribe on that path. The friends you make, the times you share, the people you love, those are what are really going to matter, either way. An isolated dreamer may be worse off in some ways than a socially-adept, loved conformist. So, remember, there are just as many ways to measure the choices you make as there are choices to make.

So, in some ways, I'm saying to follow your dreams and ideals, and keep them at the center of the path, but not to fixate on it above all else. There are many dreamers who chose to focus instead on a powerful love or a wonderful relationship, and many successful people who realized their dreams and are alone and unhappy.

There is no right path except the one with the least number of regrets. And until you know what decisions face you, you'll always be slightly in the dark.

To tie this up with what will be likely be a wildly inaccurate hiking analogy, you may know you want to hike to the top of a specific mountain. And you may have a mental plan as to how you are going to get there... until you actually set out to do it, and then there are obstacles, impasses, diversions, breaks, and everything else.

You will probably get to your goal if it is clearly defined, but the actual path you take to get there will only be something you will be able to truly know in hindsight.

"You don't know you're beautiful." - Harry Styles