Milestones; or Reflection On A Happy Birthday To Me

by Michael  

 

 

 

Thirty-five. There was a time when I seriously didn’t think I’d make it to this age. Some of that was just being young and unimaginative, but there was one time, the first time I failed out of college, that I gave myself the unimaginable goal of being “known” the world over by the time I was 25, or I promised I would kill myself. Of course, the internet happened, I made friends as far away as New Zealand, and I was spared coming up with a ridiculous excuse for why I wouldn’t take what I considered the coward’s way out. The truth is, it was little more than a sad, depressed note I’d left myself somewhere, and I never would have committed suicide, but there it was. I’m a little ashamed that I ever even put that thought into the world.

 

When I was in high school, I wrote a screed about how we had three options in life. We could join the mindless, mind-numbing zombies of the MTV generation. We could give up, admit defeat and take ourselves out. Or we could wear what Grant Morrison called “The Blank Badge” in The Invisibles. The idea was that we could choose, for ourselves, who we were, or we could be the failures of conformity society wanted us to be. I went off in that handwritten manifesto about how those who committed suicide were selfish and worthless, and deserved none of the sympathy some might give them. I said that suicide was still the failure of conformity, because it meant that you admitted that you had settled for someone else’s standards instead of your own. Essentially, if you took your own life, you won nothing and deserved nothing. There’s a lot of me that still believes that. I might add, now that I’m older, exceptions for the terminally ill, but then again, why not fight to the bitter end? I think about mortality a lot. I fear death in many ways, but I fear not satisfying myself more than I do death itself. But I digress.

I have had two people I cared about, though from a distance because I’ve slowly become more and more agoraphobic as I’ve aged, commit suicide in recent years. I miss them, but I am not sad for them. If anything, I’m angry at them. Even more angry when I consider them amongst those I looked up to when I was 19 and telling myself I only had until I was 25 to make it in the world. I wish they were still around. I wish they hadn’t been selfish. I sometimes start thinking about what might have been if I’d gotten over my self-imposed hermitage and reached out, but I stop myself. They never reached out to me either, so it’s not my cross to bear. Sorry, guys. I love you, but fuck you.

 

Here I am, ten years past one milestone, and now facing a new one. I’m the age required by law to run for the office of President of the United States. I won’t, mind you, because I curse too much, do not suffer fools, and I’m an atheist who likes porn, smoking, and English Football more than the NFL. Still, if I wanted to, I could. I was thinking about the idea of milestones tonight and I realized a few things. First, after 35, the age milestones are silly. At 16 you can drive. At 18 you can vote. Then at 21 you can drink, and 25 your insurance rates go down. The one at 35 is kind of deflating. Next is 65 and Social Security eligibility? Yuck. Second, milestones are what we make of them. It goes back to that Blank Badge idea, and something one of my former professors asked me once.

 

We were studying Virginia Woolf and I asked him why we studied her instead of someone more popular like Agatha Christie. I admit, my prejudice against suicides may have had something to do with my bias And besides, I told him, Agatha Christie was clearly the more successful of the two women. Dr. Russell asked me, “By what standard of success are you measuring?” Yeah, threw me for a loop. Sure, people still made movies out of Christie’s work, and her books have been read by more people, but have her books had an impact on anyone anywhere near the level of Woolf? Most people don’t know it, but when they get excited to get a glimpse inside the head of their favorite character, when the author gives them the ability to understand where a character is psychologically, it’s because the ghost of Virginia Woolf haunts all writers today. We explore epiphany and inner motivations because Woolf is our DNA. She changed the game. She forced writers and readers to do something new. Woolf is a weird case for me. She clearly embraced The Blank Badge, and for that, bravo. Yet, she was also a suicide, and for that choice I can’t help but feel animosity toward her. My thoughts on the issue are more complex than I feel I can deal with here. Woolf had a lot of milestones in her career, and while I’m tempted to compare myself to her and other writers, I know, deep down, that I cannot.

 

Chuck Wendig gave me some advice the other day. He said, “You’ll come back to it.” You see, I finished my novel a couple months back, and I want to do one more draft of the damn thing. I feel like I am afraid to start this last draft though, thus Chuck’s advice. I want this to be the first of many books I write, and so I want it to be as good as I can get it on my own before I start shopping it around. In my mind, finishing the book was a bigger milestone than any birthday has been. I do not have to bind myself to any age. I can and should set my own goals. If I don’t, I’m not embracing The Blank Badge. So, here’s to another year on the planet, but what I’m looking forward to this year isn’t some silly celebration with cake, but writing more, editing more, and hopefully selling my first YA novel. Cheers!

 

 

 

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