Thursday, July 31, 2014

end of an era, part ii: birthdays


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.
-Avery Jalaine

Monday, July 14, 2014

end of an era, part i: teenagehood


Last week I introduced my End of an Era series: here. Mostly what I'll be talking about is how everything ends and it's sort of the worst and sort of the best, and Part I is all about teenagehood.


"I'm seventeen and I'm crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. When people ask your age, he said, always say seventeen and insane."
-Clarisse, Fahrenheit 451

i. Transience

My birthday was about 4 months ago, and suddenly I'm 20-years-old which means that after seven years of idealism and romanticism and recklessness and danger, I've finally run out of teenagerism.

The world is super obsessed with teenagers and I think it's because we recognize that teenagers are sort of half-fey magical creatures of evil and beauty, and that their wonder and alien-ness and lightning-fast metabolisms are all bound to wilt and fade with age until they become ~regular adult humans~, which is boring and highly non-magical.

Part of the beauty of teenagehood is that it's so ugly. It's all zitty and noisy and sticky and painful, everything is unmanageable and hormonal and overwhelming. It's so full of everything. And it's impossible to replicate or to preserve. That's important. Teenagehood exists for a few glorious, too-bright years, but then it's gone. Transience is a really seductive thing. 

Another part of teenagerism that's really infatuating is the in-between-ness of it all. You're old enough to do grown up things like get a part-time job or read Proust or borrow the Honda on the weekend, but you're still young enough that nobody really holds you accountable for anything. You're allowed to be both a child and an adult at once; t
he teenage years are so paradoxical and I love it. That said, I certainly don't believe that my years as a teenager were the "best years of my life" by any means---it terrifies me when people say things like that---but being a teenager was really important to me. Teenagers can get away with anything---violence, stupidity, lust, depression, laziness, love, cruelty---because they're young and hormonal and passionate. Nobody expects teenagers to be level-headed and diplomatic and smart. Mostly teenagers are expected to be slobby and pervy and bitchy, and everyone is kind of fine with it.

Furthermore, teenagers are given everything. Teens are supposed to be "finding themselves," so they kind of have free rein of the world: the arts are at their disposal and they're encouraged to create, they're encouraged to experiment and find what they love to do, they go to school to learn about whatever they want, there are clubs and committees and organizations filled with empowered youth, they're taking dance classes and guitar lessons and playing tennis, they're arguing about politics and religion and fair-trade coffee, they're blogging about fashion and poetry, they're in boy bands, they're Tweeting, they're Instagramming, they're going to the mall and reading both Sarah Dessen and William Faulkner and they're learning about meiosis and drinking Mountain Dew and putting on lipgloss and staying up all night, they have strong, limber, velvet-skinned bodies to run and dance and have sex with. IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL. YOU GUYS, IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL.

I'm so afraid to "grow up" because adults really aren't allowed to be reckless and dangerous and romantic. You grow up, and suddenly creativity is childish, it's a waste of time, it's a hindrance. Growing up in 2014 America is all about Success! and Power! and Money! and Starting a Family! and Taxes! and Dieting! and Wearing Sensible Shoes! Even though I don't feel like I'm getting any older, numbers matter in the world and the distance between 19 and 20 is a chasm.

ii. High School

I was never really the quintessential teenager from Disney Channel movies and YA novels: I didn't go to many football games or school dances, I wasn't on student council or debate team or the cheerleading squad, I didn't have a high school boyfriend or an eating disorder, I didn't really rebel against my parents or get a bellybutton ring or a tattoo. Instead, I chain-read Wasteland comics and Tom Robbins novels on the stairs during lunch, I went to Postmodernist feminist colloquiums and argued with my health teacher about contraceptives in high school, I walked around the forest at night looking for ghosts and werewolves with Katie and Zack, I wrote little cartoons about cyborg ninja grrrrls and viking biker gangs, I told the girls next door that I was a mermaid looking for a boyfriend to take back to Atlantis with me, I wore silver lipstick, I Googled fire ants endlessly, I went to the library on the weekend and checked out guides on lucid dreaming, I avoided everybody. 

On the other hand, I was 100% pure Teen Grrrl: I painted my fingernails with purple glitter, I went out for burritos and crinkle-cut fries at 2 AM with my friends, I watched Gossip Girl and argued with my mom and had crushes on boys and went to concerts in the park and got A's on essays and took Tylenol for cramps. 

I was owlish and standoffish and cynical, obsessed with teenage culture but uninterested in actively participating in it. I could never really figure out how to identify with average teens, I had such a hard time talking to people my own age because I was so nauseated by small talk, but we never wanted to really talk about any of the same things. I could never figure out what everyone else cared about (it sure wasn't Sailor Moon or Alphonse Mucha or the hibernation habits of bears), so I was a talented observer but never really an insider. Still, high school was where I met some of my best friends and did some of my best work and formed important opinions that I still have. High school graduation freaked me out because it wasn't just high school itself that was ending, it was the person I'd gotten used to being in high school, it was all my habits and rituals and routines---putting on makeup in the girl's bathroom because I always woke up late, doing Creative Writing assignments on Sunday nights, passing out newspapers to the art hall with Kaitlyn, trying to distract Mr. Vawdrey with Portal or Zelda in AP Stats, going late to French class and being lectured about taking off my earphones, drawing comics about the Periodic Table in Chemistry, writing in the Boy Book on the bleachers with Kait, walking home from the bus stop with the elementary school kids and getting their advice about boys---it was familiarity and comfort that I was losing. That was hard.

On the last day of high school, Kaitlyn and I walked around touching the lockers and sitting on the steps in front of the auditorium and saying embarrassing things like, "This is the last time I'll ever sit on these steps as a high schooler" or "this is the last time I'll ever drink boxed chocolate milk as a high schooler." We could feel the End of our high school Era happening, and even though we certainly didn't want to stay at Lone Peak High School for another second, it had been this big factor in determining our lives for three years and suddenly it was about to be taken from us and the high school Era would be over. It was sad. Ends of Eras, even when they're good, are sometimes sad.

iii. Peter Pan Syndrome

I'm a little bit worried that I'll be stunted as a teenager forever because my whole entire personality is based on the hallmark teenage characteristics: I'm hyperemotional and vaguely misanthropic, I'm irresponsible, lazy, obsessive and self-obsessed, sarcastic, gossipy, pouty, antagonistic, self-righteous. As a teenager, my big, messy personality was sort of permitted by the laws of hormones and the movie Clueless. So I'm worried for what will happen when I'm still naive and starry-eyed as a 20-year-old, or as a 30-year-old, or as a 65-year-old. Will I actually grow out of my PMS-iness and somehow become level-headed and docile and calm and easygoing? That seems unrealistic, and moreover, depressing. I may be furious and devastated and morose 90% of the time, but the brief rays of psycho-joyfulness and euphoria seem worth it. I'm not interested in apathy. I'm not interested in composure. I want GLITTER and I want FASCINATION and I want LOVE and I want DEVASTATION and I want GORE and I want MAGIC. 

"Something's bubblin' up inside your holy head."
-Avery Jalaine

Monday, July 7, 2014

end of an era: intro


Lately I've been thinking a lot about Ends of Eras in my life and in the world, about how human lives are sort of divided and subdivided by milestones and tragedies and the aftermaths of both of these things. When something BIG happens in life---whether it be a good thing or a bad thing---it throws a wrench into the way life currently exists and creates a new reality in its place. A new era. 

Ends of Eras are both necessary and unavoidable: they happen with the passage of time, when somebody dies, when you fall in love, when you move from one place to another, when you get your heart broken, when you lose a job or get a new one, when babies are born, when you graduate, when you lose old friends or get new ones, when the seasons change, etc. etc. Technically, every day is kind of the End of an Era because it's another day that has passed that we'll never experience again, but we only notice big changes.

When I started brainstorming this post (like 4 months ago), I made a cluster diagram to try to figure out where I wanted to go with it, but it ended up getting a little bit out of control wild style:

The problem is: I have too much to say! EVERYTHING ENDS, GUYS. That's kind of the point of this post, it's just an introduction to the next 4 or 5 posts in which I'm going to try to organize the bloodbath of everything that I've been thinking about in a way that's hopefully a little bit more eloquent than bubbles on a chart. I want to talk categorically about all the stuff that's been bothering me about feeling nostalgic and leaving teenagehood behind forever and how birthdays are weird and sad and generally pointless even though *time* isn't.

Everything in my little End of Eras series circles back to the theme of the passage of time, because that's the nature and cause of Eras in general, and certainly of the Ends of them. 

In the amazing The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe articulates something important: 

"You can’t go any faster than that. You can’t through sheer speed overcome the lag. We are all of us doomed to spend our lives watching a movie of our lives — we are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past, and we will never be able to control the present through ordinary means."
This is something that used to haunt me late at night: you can never live in the present. Everything we do is "past," everything is already over, our very lives. It's deceptively depressing when you think about it at first, but it's actually sort of the most empowering thing in the world. It took me the better part of twenty years to realize that things that are past are actually PAST because I've always spent so much time dwelling on stuff that has already happened when I could've embraced the past as a comfort: knowing that it was done and over, I could move on and literally do/be whatever I wanted. So that's what I'm trying to do now: not dwell so much.

Stay tuned for End of an Era: Part 1, sometime later this week. And thanks for reading, as always.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

-Avery Jalain