Lately on Go Ask, I've been talking about the mechanics of how Ends of Eras affect us. This is the second installment in my little series, you can find the introduction post here and my post about teenagehood here.
"Go shawty, it's your birthday. We gonna party like it's your birthday."
-50 Cent, "In Da Club"
i. My Birthday
In re: my recent-ish 20th birthday, I will straight-up confess that I loathe all birthdays, mine especially. It's partly because I feel the same way about birthdays that I feel about Valentine's Day: it's an unremarkable day of the year where people are coerced into treating you better just for the sake of the date. But another part of my birthday complex is about how birthdays make the passage and permanence of time really noticeable. I mean, every day is a day that you're never going to be able to live again, but it's a lot more conspicuous every year on your birthday when you transition from one age to the next. I will simply never be 19-years-old ever again. Birthdays are a forceful and indestructible End of an Era; there's no option to linger in 19, there's no way to postpone growing up. I don't want to be 20, I don't want to leave the blinding, gorgeous, rainbow-hurricane blood bath of teenagehood and move smoothly into the slow, pale death of adulthood. I want beauty and youth forever, I want laziness and irresponsibility and havoc, I want hormones and heartache and brilliance, I want immortality. That's not an option.
Every year I inevitably do these big ~birthday~ journal entries in which I sort of review the past year of my life and figure out what has changed and what I accomplished and what went wrong and right. It's always hard not to end up dwelling on failures and losses because they seem like such big gaping holes of regret and disappointment and sadness. But maybe that's a good thing about Ends of Eras: you can kind of look at them as a way to seal off past badness and move on cleanly. The past year---especially the recent months leading up to right now---has officially been the hardest one of my life. I've had to let go of so much, say goodbye to so many people I loved, I got my heart all twisted and chewed up, I lost important friends, and I've been very, very, very, very, very, very sad.
I've been thinking a lot about what validates this past year. Did the successes count more or the failures? The heartache or the happy times? What happened that made the last year of my life matter?
Most of my time is spent on things that aren't Big Milestones; most days blend together in a kind of faceless sprawl of "work" and "naps" and "church" and "re-reading High Fidelity on the quad" and "eating cold pizza." Honestly, I can't even really remember what happened last Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday), only that nothing remarkable happened. It sometimes feels like all the motions I'm going through are pointless, and that's why I'm trying to figure out what makes my life meaningful.
But maybe life doesn't have to be Nonstop Action for it to still carry weight. I think going to work and reading High Fidelity and eating pizza actually are part of what gives my life significance, in their own small and peculiar ways. Nothing subtracts meaning from the experience of living a unique and individual life, despite sometimes feeling like you're just operating on autopilot. I mean, even this blog post is a way of expressing and tracking meaning.
Whoever you are, reader, you are in some way validating my experience as a Living Human Person just by reading this and interacting with me facelessly and silently from wherever you are in the world, and I am validating and interacting right back at you. THIS is some kind of life-touch between two people, and it is its own tiny Era in and of itself. An Era of me writing, and you reading, and us sort of feeling each other; and each of those Eras will end very soon, unceremoniously, and we'll just keep living normally and we'll forget about the time we spent here on this blog, me: 20-years-old, long-haired, tired from a sleepless night and bored in a cold office at BYU, and you: whoever/wherever you are, reading. The moment is already gone, you know?
It's been about a year and one hundred twenty nine days since I was 18. In one more year, I'll be 21 and the Era of 20 will be over, and who knows what will have happened. Hopefully all the gross heartbreak and depression stuff will be long gone, hopefully this day and yesterday and all the bad days that came before it in ~this Era~ will be long-forgotten and even laughable. One year---the space between two birthdays---is a paradoxically long and short Era, but one that will inevitably end.
ii. Your Birthday
Birthdays are funny: they're one random day out of the entire year, and they wreck you. Between 11:59 PM on March 23rd and 12:00 AM on March 24th, my teenage era was brought to an abrupt and jarring end. Why do birthdays matter so much? Why do people (including me) always end up getting sentimental and crying? Is it because they emphasize the passage of time so acutely? Is it because they make us remember things we've lost?
If you're reading this and I love you enough, I've probably spent at least one of your birthdays attempting badly to explain how I love you and why, but it never comes out right.
iii. Milestone Birthdays
The "BIG" birthdays, you know? 16, 18, 20, 30, 50, etc? The birthdays where things are supposed to happened and you're supposed to act differently and feel differently. They're Era-Ending birthdays. But do they really matter? What makes 30 so different from 29? Why is there a big surprise party on 50 but 51 passes quietly with a homemade cake and a few candles? I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that some Ends of Eras are kind of fabricated and a little bit silly. It's like, something (society?) tells us: "THIS IS THE END OF AN IMPORTANT ERA SO FREAK OUT" so we end up making waaaaay too big of a deal over something like turning 30. Remember the episode of Friends about everyone's 30th birthdays, and Rachel has a big meltdown about her life not being on track and Joey is in denial and cries a lot and it's all a big fiasco?
I guess this sort of proves that even the biggest, most devastating Ends of Eras are sometimes purely psychological. Maybe our sentimentality is a little bit unwarranted. But thinking about it like that sort of makes me panicky, too. If these big, emotional, life-altering Ends of Eras are generally meaningless: does anything mean anything? Do Ends of Eras create meaning? Is the process of change the only thing that produces significance in life? I guess if there weren't Ends of Eras in life, we'd all be stuck in some kind of Twilight Zone limbo, and that's even worse. Maybe my problem here is that I wish I could decide which Eras have to end and which ones don't.
As above, so below. As within, so without.