Sunday, March 02, 2008

On Turning 40


How it all looks to me now (can I trust my own memory, and what it makes of the past?)...
My early 20s were spent mostly strangled in confusion, not knowing what the hell to do with myself: frightened of women, terrified (until I dropped out) of how well I was playing what seemed largely like a bunch of bullshit games in academia, overly dependent on (but not at all respectful of) my parents, unable to imagine myself actually having a career or living on my own... Mostly, I was quite depressed. Cinema, Nietzsche, acidhead philosophy, and the society-blaming anger of punk rock (or, later, the chaos of free jazz) were my guiding points and cultural references, and while they perhaps kept me alive and inspired and usually well-entertained, they didn't do much to help me face the things I was eager to avoid, which is what I had to do in order to feel better about myself. I remember many evenings sitting alone on a pier at Pitt Lake, smoking cigarettes, feeling depressed and powerless and sorry for myself, wondering if I'd ever get up the courage to kill myself. I felt like my life was over, like there was no way into the world for me, and that I might as well just reconcile myself to it. I felt that way for a long time.
All that changed in my late 20s. I bottomed out: I remember one day where I'd overeaten too many pot cookies at a friend's house and was slumped against her chilly kitchen wall, a bowl of puke in my lap, immobile but able to hear background conversations that my friends were having, to the effect of, "It would be bad if he died." (I think I can safely say that remains my low point). I'd walk through the streets of the suburbs and feel like I was on an alien planet, each identical suburban dream-home seeming a lie built on a lie, promising cookie-cutter versions of freedom and independence and individuality, while looking more or less identical to the faux-dream-home nextdoor. Harsh words people had said - friends I'd walked away from, or who had walked away from me - would echo in my ears and I'd wonder if people were right about me. So much for early potential: death of a teacher's pet.
And then a series of things happened that helped me get my shit together. In short order, I lost my virginity (in a pathetic but now kind of amusing collision with someone I met on a dating line; it all left me uncomfortable enough with myself that it prompted changes); I met a remarkable and unique Native American guy who kicked my ass all over the place for my cowardice and laziness and pushed me to get stuff done; I met a girl who I thought for a long time I was in love with; and, having started to put my shit a little closer together, in nice little piles, I got my own apartment, went back to school, finished a degree - tailoring it for ESL, as the shortest route to a paying job. I reinforced it all with a therapeutic but haywire Life Skills Coaches' Training course in the now defunct Stellar College, and in 1999, at age 31, found myself in Japan, where I stayed, in my first sorta professional position, until 2002.
My 30s have been rather different. I've been busy -- relative to my 20's, anyhow, I've worked damned hard and had a relatively good time of things. I could issue a litany of whines if I wanted to: my sex life is sporadic at best; my academic career appears to be over; I've got mounds of debt (mostly from student loans); and my current job, while relatively entertaining and easy and definitely decent-paying, is a bit of a waste relative to what I could do. I have various disturbing health problems: I'm losing hearing in my left ear, I have sleep apnea, and I'm overweight, and wondering when the various ailments my parents have had will manifest in me. (Both my folks are still alive, but between them, they've had two different cancers, heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, epilepsy-like seizures, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye surgery, and a host of stomach and sleep problems). I could find stuff to bitch about if I wanted to: but mostly I'm just grateful that the awful feeling of complete powerlessness and alienation that dominated my 20's appears to have dissipated for good. I'm glad to have some feeling of independence, and to have repaired, to some extent, my troubled relationship with my parents; and I'm delighted, most of all, that I'm getting published. To date and more-or-less in order, I've appeared in Terminal City, Discorder, the Nerve Magazine, Razorcake, This Magazine, Trust Fanzine, Ox Fanzine, Skyscraper, Punk Planet, Xtra West, the Georgia Straight, Bixobal, CineAction, and... well, there's news about another publication I'm excited about being in, coming in May, but I don't want to mention it until it's actually out. I've gotten to talk to dozens of my heroes from my 20s - people whose art sustained me: John Lurie (a piece I still need to find a home for, if anyone is interested), Peter Stampfel, Eugene Chadbourne, Terry Riley, the Subhumans, DOA, the Pointed Sticks, Phil Minton, Efrim Menuck, Carla Bozulich, Nels Cline... it's too long a list for me to go into. And I've gotten to meet and talk with some great current bands - like Vancouver's The Rebel Spell, or the now relocated Winks - as well as various filmpeople (Reg Harkema, Charles Mudede, even Joe Dante, forgodsake). It's an exciting "hobby," if you want to call it that, and someday might lead me somewhere else. No doubt there's a book in it somewhere down the line. I've got it very, very good - better than I would have imagined, staring into the dark waters of Pitt Lake - and I'm grateful. Even if I still worry that I'm less than I could be or should be, I've got something like a life, and there's no argument about the fact that my 30's kick my 20's ass.
And now another counter is turning over, and we enter the middle-stretch of my life... I wonder what the next ten years are going to look like? (Probably not much like those of the exuberant, desparate men in Cassavetes' Husbands, pictured above, but what other image could better mark my entry into middle age?). I must say, I feel more anticipation than dread, overall: I seriously doubt that it can be worse than my past.
Anyone interested in joining me to cautiously celebrate (on March 15th, a week after my actual birthday) is invited to email me at ammacinn - at - telus - dot - n et, for an invite and details... it involves a film...

2 comments:

bengy said...

I hope you had a good birthday Alan. As a voice from your past and the one from Pitt Lake, ( I don't recall you smoking cigarettes?),people interpret what they will. As for what to do with your dead body comments, well, you weren't the first darling and I'm quite sure there has been some adventures since then that might have included paralyzing drugs. As my demonic son says, what doesn't kill you................
But I really do hope you're enjoying the beginning of middle life.I am slightly amused at the thought of you in a mid-life crisis...
Sorry to hear 'bout your parents health, but glad to know they're still around to cause you shame.

ammacinn said...

Well, THERE's a surprise... And you don't remember me smoking cigarettes? I think I can spur your memory: you and Steve would leave me downstairs with the tray of tobacco and rollies and I'd ROLL IT ALL and SMOKE IT ALL while you guys were sleeping, and you'd give me hell in the morning for not having left any for you. (And I'd end up apologizing and buying you a new pouch at Zellers on my credit card, more often than not).