My 15-year-old son asked this morning whether my young self would have been surprised that today’s world is not more technologically advanced?
Still no flying cars, for instance.
My young self would have been astounded by iPhones. A device which serves as television, camera, phone, clock, stereo, map, flashlight, video recorder, calculator, credit card, radio, mail service, and so on … that would have seemed like pie-in-the-sky, Dick Tracy bullshit.
Today I see my two children grinding away at their high school studies.
At least 99% of the information I packed into my own teen brain has vanished. Oddly, the only pieces I do remember are philosophical observations which were telling me to chill the fuck out.
A passage at the end of Voltaire’s Candide said it was futile to rush around the world seeking the meaning of life or the secret to happiness. Better to stay home and work in the garden. I remember underlining that passage in 11th grade.
And then there was the Tao Te Ching by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. We read that during senior year. Lao Tzu suggested I might want to consider, I don’t know, maybe just … shutting the hell up for a minute? Since ‘those who know, do not speak?’
That wisdom, too, seems more and more true (even though I keep yapping away).
Lao Tzu said there was no point being anxious about anything, since we all just return to the same primordial nothingness from which we came.
My guess today is, yeah, that’s probably true.
Not that reading Lao Tzu at age 16 did anything to reduce my anxiety during the next 34 years. I still spent years grinding away at school and office jobs; scribbling newspaper articles; scribbling unpublished fiction; going back to school; becoming a lawyer; and on and on.
In hindsight … eh. What was the point?
Another line I remember from my early reading – and which I now use daily – is from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi: “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”
My children ask me stuff all the time, whether about French grammar, English punctuation rules, science, history, whatever. It’s both a sad reality, but also a liberating state of affairs, to be able to sing out reflexively, “Don’t know!”
Now at this point, readers may be thinking, Oh crap, it’s this poor asshole’s birthday. Is he … asking for a gift?
Already got my gift in June!
The Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. That was literally the only item on my bucket list.
For years, I had been prepared to request that my eventual pallbearers wear Capitals jerseys when they lowered me into the earth.
So that I could be “let down by the Caps one more time.”
But now I can return to the primordial nothingness without forcing friends to purchase a Caps jersey or carry a corpse. Cremation will be fine.
True, scientific research suggests that any event which we process as either great news or horrible news actually recedes quickly from our experience, and we return to just about the same level of happiness as before.
But for me, the Stanley Cup is an exception. The victory was months ago. But when a friend asked recently how I was doing, I said, “I’m walking on air!”
Absurd, I know, especially for an outcome I played no role in.
Absurd, but true. Like the iPhone.
Happy 50 to me!