Birthday Retrospective


This guy knows how to party.

Wednesday, July 15, was my birthday. I’m 19 years old!


So I’m actually 24. It’s a sturdy number, lots behind it, lots ahead of it, but enough bulwark to stand on its own. There are 24 hours in the day. Game Of Thrones just received 24 Emmy Award nominations. Twenty-four is a semiperfect number (^_^), since adding up all the proper divisors except 4 and 8 gives 24. Twenty-four is the atomic number of chromium. A tesseract has 24 two-dimensional faces. The Book of Revelation sums up the tribes of Israel and the apostolic churches as 24 factions. We’re dealing with a very special number here.

July 15, 1991, was an atypically hot and muggy day. My elder brother was infected with the flu and puking a storm. My grandparents moved into their new house. My uncle was hospitalized.

In 1099, during the First Crusade, Christian soldiers captured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after a grueling siege.

In 1799, the Rosetta Stone was found in an Egyptian village during Napolean’s Egyptian campaign. Later, in 1815, Napolean surrendered abord HMS Bellerophon.

In 1834, after 356 years, the Spanish Inquisition was officially disbanded.

In 2006, Twitter was launched.

People typically dread aging. There was a time I believed that every year that ticked by further invalidated my identity of coming out as an author — most great writers prove their merit at a very young age (Terry Pratchett published his first short story when he was 15, Peter Beagle when he was 19). Now I relish every day tacked onto my life. Each one brings with it wisdom, and that improves my writing, or at least makes life more bearable. Hopefully.

It’s time for the obligatory “birthday list” popular among bloggers, a retrospective glance at everything this past year has taught me. Or should have taught me.

  1. How to make spaghetti.
  1. How to be alone.
  1. That I am never alone. Not really, truly alone. Not alone as the old woman upstairs living on social security, who I’ve never actually seen come outside.
  1. To press my limits. Write when I don’t “feel” like it, read when I don’t “feel” like it. The reptilian portion of the human brain is drawn to the comfort of routine, the drooling trance of non-thought, the warm bath of mediocrity. Fighting it each day. Shake myself out of it, get back to work.
  1. I am the pilot of my happiness. When one is an “adult,” living on alone, almost financially independent, the constant choice of what to do with every hour becomes much more clear and demanding than it was when I was in college, or high school, a time of life when the system is always giving you something to do, grooving a path to flow through, pointing to the next phase. I could wallow in suffering by contemplating the futility of all endeavors now that nobody indulges my efforts with grades and praises, or I could discover my own purpose and reap simple, human satisfaction from that activity.
  1. Optimism. The real world does one of two things to a cynic — it turns him into an optimist, or it kills him. The attitude must adapt, or it will perish, like psychological natural selection. I cannot retain the same beliefs I did before when I was sheltered by college and parents (no afterlife, no truth, no certainty, the recursive futility of life) or focus on the same troubles (overwhelming literary competition, hopeless odds, unanswerable existential dilemmas) or else I would lose my will to live. Because, outside those faiths, the grown man has nothing else but himself.
  1. How to boil an egg.
  1. How to procrastinate. (Civilization, The Legend of Zelda, indie horror games, Lost, online dating, staring at the ceiling).
  1. How to embrace uncertainty. Getting better.
  1. Memorize Wal-Mart.
  1. How to use a laundromat.
  1. How to clean up cat vomit. Carpet and bleach do not go together nicely.
  1. The lifespan of a cooked bowl of rice. It isn’t very long. Yeah…
  1. When to move on. The first several months after I moved from home, I tried bringing my earlier life back — I played videogames of my childhood, read old books, hung around old friends, wandered aimlessly around the college campus, went back home a lot. Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with that, and I still do it, but there comes a point when you just have to stop “trying” to relive memories and let them just be memories. Or else you will always be disappointed.
  1. How to destroy four players in one turn when playing Risk.
  1. How to make new memories. Happiness is only remembered. People usually forget how muddy and miserable that hike really was, or how hungry they actually were when they got lost on that road trip to Florida. You’ll never see the true brightness of a summer day, or taste the true sweetness of a chocolate bar, but you can always experience a piece of it. We idealize the past. It’s rare in the present to experience the full capacity of an emotion. Except Christmas.
  1. How to find a good-paying, flexible, yet lousy and humiliating job. Long bike rides through town. Newspaper classifieds. Your mom’s friends.
  1. How to deal with said good-paying, flexible, yet lousy and humiliating job. See #6.
  1. How to navigate. Since working for newspapers, I’ve traveled this county from border-to-border — Fredonia, Westfield, Jamestown, Ripley, Mayville, Falconer, and Allegheny. There’s a world class traveler in the making here.
  1. How to know when you love someone. Or don’t.
  1. How to know when someone loves you. Usually they don’t.
  1. How to clean a toilet. Rubber gloves are for wussies.
  1. How to write about public school beauty pageants and children’s pet shows while retaining my dignity. I have yet to master this secret.
  1. How to enjoy life. Because some/most/very-nearly-all of the time, you won’t. You will forget the good things. You will fail to manage the bad. But if you’re not a legless orphan living in a dumpster, or something equally miserable, there’s damn well enough of the good to sift through the dirt and find it.

I’ve never been so introspective on my birthday. I wonder what my 25-year list will look like. You know what I want — more published short stories, maybe a novel, and graduate school? Children do that: wonder who “they” will be when they grow up. But if I don’t take that grown-up me, and make it today’s me, I will always be my own myth, consigned to a world of wishes and delusion.

In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


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