The only thing that stays the same is change

Twenty seven years ago, one of my best friends and I drove my 79 Ford Fairmont up a mountain road and got all the way to the gate at the top of a mountain, with Wyoming and Colorado on either side of the ridge we were running. A four door sedan, a light blue juggernaut skimming along through the tundra until we hit snow. Upon turning around and heading back down the mountain, I came upon a decision: to either take the high road which was an ice shelf or hit a section of washed out road. I took the high road and my Ford slid down the ice and into the washed out portion of road. We were stuck for the next three hours with one wheel compressed into the wheelwell and another high in the air, just spinning helplessly.

After lots of digging, bridge building in freezing runoff, and loading the trunk with about 300 lbs of rocks so both back tires made contact with dirt, we got the car moving again, leaving behind a carniverous cloud of mosquitoes that had probably drained us of about eleven pints of blood. A few days ago, I drove my Jeep up into the mountains on Jackson County Rd 8A.

This might be one of the worse sections of “road” I’ve encountered. I suppose it isn’t difficult to imagine that a quarter of a century ago, the road was good enough for a sedan to navigate and now in four wheel drive, I nearly overheated on a couple sections and broke out a tail light backing out of another. It hasn’t been maintained, and year after year of snowmelt is taking its toll. I made it to the top, but it was a pyrrhic victory. By the time I made it home again, I was tired, pissed off for having taken damage to my car, and my dog wanted nothing to do with me after a drive like that.

Yes, my Ford got stuck, but it was a friggin’ sedan! They weren’t made for this! My Jeep just barely made it. So much had changed. It is being left to return to nature.

I’ve taken a lot of these kinds of drives to places I visited all the time when I was a kid. Sometimes I recognize landmarks or something just feels familiar. But more often than not, a place might as well be somewhere I’ve never been before. I don’t recognize it. The landscape has changed, or maybe it’s me that has changed. It is a strange detachment I am experiencing with a lot of things. Maybe it’s my age too.

There are a few things that are decidedly unchanged, like the smell of the post office. But many other things are different. That happened at my old job too. There were some days that I remembered the halls of that building with complete clarity, like I could have sworn for a moment I saw my old friends working in the computer lab just like they used to do. But the building was soon changed and the ICET lab was turned into two classrooms. Forgotten.

I’m working on this house lately. My grandparents’ and home to now six generations of my family. Every time I rip out a wall or ceiling, or update something, it removes that sense of familiarity. The sense of coldness that has hung over my family for generations. My son and I fill these spaces with laughter and when he isn’t with me, I make the place my own, with my office and bedroom, and setting rooms up in ways that would probably baffle my dead forebearers. A bedroom? Here?! *Scoffing sounds* It’s never been done like that before!

I’m not here to do things the way they’ve always been done. There is a bittersweetness to changing this place, and in doing so, fading out a memory of this place. Truth be told, I’ve got much better memories of places. It’s nice to do things differently sometimes. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the places I visit are no longer as I once knew them. And I’m no longer the same.

It isn’t necessarily good or bad. It simply is.

I look back to how my life was a year ago, as many of us are doing. At the time I was experiencing heartbreak I was almost positive I would never recover from. I didn’t care about masks or lockdowns or any of it. I was experiencing a different type of isolation. I felt my solitude was just lost in the mix with everyone else’s. It didn’t matter. And I couldn’t resort to my usual methods of distraction. Chasing. Living it up. I had to sit in my own feelings for a long time. Eventually the fog cleared. It took a long time. It took calls to my mom, or friends, or just feeling wrecked. The strange thing is that by just dealing with these emotions, over time I did feel better. I got to know myself again better. The hits that might have laid me low before were no longer as much of a problem. I got to figure out who was really there for me when the chips were down. I also got to meet myself again.

I was wrong back then. My life is different now, but in many ways better. I find more fulfillment now. I know myself better. I have better people in my life too. Or at least I allow them to be closer now.

I still make mistakes. I still get angry about things sometimes. Frustrated. Fearful. And yeah, maybe I beat myself up occasionally too. But a year ago, the landscape was a lot different than it is now. Familiar now, but my own.

How it should have been

There’s the opening monologue of the 1990s movie, Trainspotting which has been resonating a lot with me these days.

Choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose a family, choose a fucking big television…”

On this blog a lot of the time I talk about regrets. I talk a lot about healing. I am usually optimistic about where life is heading, however, since for the most part, life has usually been getting better.

A few weeks ago, my day job announced upcoming layoffs. This is the University where I have spent the last 18 years as an employee, and let’s face it, four years as a student, working in the same building that shares where I currently work, I haven’t moved very far. Physically or metaphorically when it comes to my career.

In 2001, I was working at a call center. I landed a job at a place that paid roughly twice per year what I was making, answering 50+ phone calls per day. It was never my intention to stay forever at this University. But with kids at home and a wife who refused to contribute to the family income, I was locked in to my job, with no ability to move out of this place.

I was stuck.

I’ve gone over a lot of this before, but I was having a conversation about the disillusionment of our generation. The GenXers got sandwiched between two of the most selfish generations ever. In a lot of ways, we were raised with the viewpoint of the Greatest Generation, or probably more like the Lost Generation. The period of time that brought us the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Frankenstein, Stein Cold Steve Austin, and many others. A generation of people who lived through the horrors of WW1 and said, “Well isn’t this just something?” while their children went off to fight the Germans again, and the Japanese, drinking Europe dry in the process.

I look at my parents generation as a lot of people who did what their parents told them to do, once they got back from VE, VJ, and VD Days. They went to school, then went to college or the workplace. Maybe they fought in Vietnam, maybe they bought a house, raised a family, did some recreational drugs, watched a crap-ton of television, moaned about being in their 30s in the 1980s. They brought us the Big Chill, and 30 Something, and they did everything they were supposed to do.

They worked hard. They paid into Social Security for 30-40 years in the hopes that when they retired, they would get back a fraction of what they paid into it. Because they were supposed to. In the early 2000s, a lot of the Boomer generation took a beating when a series of bad investment scams brought Wall Street to its knees. Entire retirement funds vaporized. So many Boomers were stuck with the prospect of living on the $1100 per month they get from the government or simply never retiring. At least the bastards who ran the economy into the dust in 1929 had the decency to jump out of windows. The ones who did it this go-around got a bailout.

An entire generation of men and women doing what they were supposed to do. School. Work hard. Kids. The American Dream. Retire. Die at some point. But so many of them are feeling robbed. That moment flashes on as to “Why did I work hard all my life to get this?” The system failed them. But as the subsequent generation, I had to say, I’m not sure why GenX is so dutiful in following our parents’ footsteps. We work hard at thankless jobs, a lot of the time because the Generation before us can’t, or won’t, retire to let us have advancement. Then we have the more Tech-Savvy Millennials, who swoop in with a lot of entitlement and a lot of participation awards to show for why their feelings are hurt easily and the only real competition they have is who has the newest phone and who can get the most offended.

In my situation, I hear a lot of “Well, you can’t do X because…” I’ve been told what I couldn’t do my whole life. I’ve been told what I should do as well, but looking back to the previous generation, what you should do hasn’t exactly worked out all that great for them either.

A lifetime wasted, making money for someone else, hoping one day to retire just to have enough money to sit around and wait to die.

That doesn’t sound like anything I want to be a part of, to be honest. I’d rather choose something else.

Giving someone advice in the hopes that they become just as miserable as you are one day isn’t good advice. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy.

I put in the time at my job, and one day, either this week or two months from now, they will finally let me know that I no longer have a job there. What I want to do with the rest of my life is all up to me.

This wasn’t’ the life I signed up for. Living hand to mouth. Paycheck to paycheck. A human piggy-bank for an ex-spouse who never had to work a full-time job for very long because her hand was always in someone else’s pocket. Soon, the piggy bank will be empty. All I will have to show for nearly an entire adulthood of a “career” is a whole lot of stories I have gleaned about people for the last 20 years that nobody would believe if I told anyway.

But the cake, my friends, is a lie. You aren’t guaranteed anything. Not a job after college. Not a happily ever after. Not safety and security. So quit living your life like any of that is even real. Take chances. Think outside the box. Fuck shit up. And wake up from this dream while you still can.