Is it just me, or does everything nowadays kind of suck? I’m not entirely certain, but I think what I’m feeling has to do with turning 30.
I spent most of the first 13 years of my life in the same small town in South Dakota. It was the kind of town where everybody knew everybody, and everybody knew — or at least thought they knew — what everybody else was up to. Gossipping about your neighbors’ infidelities was practically the unofficial pass-time. There’s a certain degree of smalltalk about sports and world politics, but those conversations generally never went too far because anything outside of the town’s borders might as well have been happening on Mars for how far removed it all was. Getting out of there was the best thing that ever happened to me.
A couple years ago I went back for my first visit in about another 10 years. A few businesses had changed, but there weren’t many businesses there in the first place. The only change that really stood out was how most of the stores’ hand-painted signs now also featured hand-painted URLs advertising their homes on the world wide web. I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head at the quaintness of it. URLs on hand-painted signs for shops that serve the local community. Why? Because ‘why not?’ I guess.
I didn’t have anyone to see there, really. Of my group of friends from elementary school, all had either moved away, died young, or were living lives better left alone. But my sister had agreed to meet up with an old friend for breakfast at one of the two or three diners in the town, to catch up on the local gossip and I went with. During the two hours of talk, the topics of conversation never strayed outside the borders of that little South Dakota town. Who was fucking who. Who’s underage niece was spotted in a bar the night before. Who’s cousin who’s a cop covered for her. Blah blah blah. Every sentenced colored by sour notes of contempt, but delivered in such a way that each word seemed to have been sucked and savored for all its saltiness. These women revelled in trash-talking their neighbors in a town so small you can’t help but shit in your own kitchen. I waited for one of them to mention something, anything that they were excited about — anything at all that they might have a positive opinion of. That moment never came.
The previous night I had gone with my sisters to one of the town’s bars where I ran into some people whose names and faces I vaguely recalled from childhood. “I know! I remember you when you were just this big!” They’d say, making a gesture to communicate that children are, in fact, shorter than adults. So much time had passed that I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by the familiarity. Here were all these people claiming to know me, but they really didn’t know anything about me. I could feel the alienation visibly creep over my face, and see it reflecting back at me in their own faces. They asked what I’d been up to, out of polite obligation, and I think I said something about writing. In truth I was very proud of everything I had accomplished up to that point, but I didn’t know where to begin. Conveying to them the pride and enthusiasm I had for my work in a way that wouldn’t seem like bragging seemed like an exercise in futility. As quickly as I had been addressed and recalled I was excused from conversation as the locals got back to spitting local gossip at each other while I sipped my drink and kept the wall from falling.
The lesson I took with me from that trip was to never lose my enthusiasm. If I ever found myself incapable of being excited, proud, hopeful, or intrigued about a subject then I’d need to seriously re-evaluate my life choices. I had escaped a life in a small town in South Dakota where all anyone does is talk trash about their friends and family all day. I was doing something with myself.
But now a few more years have passed, and things are different again. I’ve been in New York for a few years, and I’ve seen large scale cultural trends shift in ways I hadn’t predicted. I was embedded in an emerging cultural space, one that has since become so deeply integrated into the world of larger pop culture that I find it annoying, disgusting, and generally a drag. And outside of that, I’m annoyed by plenty of other factors of pop culture that I’m left wondering what I even like anymore. I hardly like any music I hear anymore. All my favorite TV shows have been or will soon be cancelled. Do I even like anything?
I like my girlfriend. I like the orchid I bought my girlfriend for our anniversary. I like my dog. I like corned beef sandwiches with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. I like the feeling of having all the household chores done. I like the feeling of pride and accomplishment I get from seeing the dog well-behaved, well-exercised, and well-rested. I like the pride I get from knowing that the living creature that depends on me is happy and healthy. So this makes me think that this must be roughly congruent with the experiences a lot of people have as they transition from young adulthood to proper adulthood. The importance one places on things like entertainment media or whatever your hobby/career/focus is gives way to domesticity. People have kids, work a boring day job to support those kids, generally have less time for entertainment, and then, if following the traditional lifestyle trajectory, you have an affair in another 10 years, get a divorce, and continue living life one crisis after another.
Oh yeah. Then there are people who’re into fashion. I just.. don’t even know what that’s about. So here I am trash-talking all the things I don’t like, just like those people from the small town in South Dakota that I’m supposedly so much better than. And I have to wonder what it is that I’m up to that’s so much better. Is my dog so much better than their dogs? Is my girlfriend so much better- well yeah, that goes without saying. But is my sandwich so much better than theirs? I think so, but I don’t really know.
Maybe a new comedy will come on that will restore my faith in NBC. Maybe I’ll need to leave my reverence for NBC’s Thursday night comedy block in the past. Maybe I’ll find a new style of music that finally strikes me as more substantial than refined sugar. Or maybe I’m destined to continue following this trajectory toward curmudgeonhood. Jesus shit is that a word?! I like the sound of that, actually. Curmudgeonhood. It’s got a nice mouthfeel. I am already a ridiculously privileged white man getting paid to write about being a white man who gets paid to write. Might as well embrace it.