On Birthdays, Aging, Life & Happiness: Some Thoughts & Musings
by Jake Kilroy
We're getting old. We know who they are now." - Shane, a coworker reflecting on celebrity deaths
"My biggest fear is that we'll just stop being rad all the time." - Jeff, considering the future of us as adults
"We're getting to that age where threesomes are more weird than cool." - James, explaining how he gauges aging
I observed these three quotes this week, and they made me consider aging. And I suppose my birthday did too. I turned 27 today, and I find that birthdays make me all...reflectiony.
This happens every year, just as I think it should. Birthdays, to me, are a time where you evaluate how things are going. Sure, people do this on New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day, but birthdays are this weird day where you're praised for not dying or killing yourself (Hey, you still exist! Woo!), so it's a pretty generous day.
I mean, at its core, birthdays are a day when everyone takes time to acknowledge that they really like having you around. Just as Valentine's Day is for showing your love, birthdays are for showing your appreciation and, well, all the other good vibe emotions too. You didn't do anything special to warrant all the good attention. You just lived your life according to you and everyone thinks you're doing a swell, bang-up job.
So, I try to take this day and do a life evaluation of sorts, just because who knows when I'll be subtly and indirectly told that I'm doing a swell, bang-up job?
And what's my verdict?
I'm wildly fucking happy.
And it's been a long time since I wasn't.
Sure, there's always more you can ask for (more riches, more babes, more sweater vests, a solid gold jacuzzi, etc), but I'm extraordinarily happy. In the last year, I moved into a wonderful house with wonderful people and scored somewhat of a dream job (also with wonderful people).
And, in the last year, I finished writing, editing and rewriting my 600-page novel, wrote a kids book and am currently 90% done with a feature-length screenplay. I continued writing poems and started sending them out again. I also submitted an essay/poetry/story/rant collection to about 75 literary agents. I went to Mexico, Big Sur and Joshua Tree a few times. I also saw the magnificent giant that is New York City for the first time and had one of the greatest experiences of my life off the Oregon Coast at some seaside mansion.
What I'm saying is, hey, I'm doing alright.
And I feel like this every year.
Since summer of 2009, I feel as though I've really got a solid grasp on adult happiness. So, naturally, this whole long whatever to come below will be self-indulgent and better suited for a diary. I mean, how much do I really have to muse on if I know I'm happy? Well, it's my birthday and I'm gonna muse some shit anyway. I can tell you now that it's going to be partial-educated-thoughtful-man and semi-dopey-gleeful-idiot.
I know how I sound. I once told a friend, "I sound like a cross between a grad student and Fry from Futurama." I know I don't blend it all that well sometimes. Catch me during the day and I could act like this is my first time ever trying to handle anything, but find me at night and I'd like to discuss the merits of humanity. I run a strange course.
The point is to be self-aware. A few things I do that are weird:
- I'm touchy-feely. Literally, not emotionally. I touch people's shoulders and faces as part of jokes, and that's a pretty serious invasion of space. And I do it to both dudes and dudettes. I go for a lot of high-fives, hugs and back rubs. I didn't use to do this. I swear I haven't always been this creepy. I honestly think it started happening after Bret explained that touch was one of the five love languages. It's not even mine. Words is my love language. But I started doing it for whatever reason and haven't stopped.
- I tell the same stories over and over. It was a lot easier to be track of things when I was younger. I had experienced less. But now I just ramble. It's like a disease. But, then again, being a writer has a few qualities of disease.
You need to know yourself and what you want from the world. For me, it was seeing it. Hell, you need to know where you've been. By this age, I figure I should've completed ten good, radical, life-changing, life-affirming trips.
10 Good Trips I've Taken:
- Europe, 2003
- Australia, 2005
- Arizona, 2005
- Northern California, 2005
- Tennessee, 2006
- Boston, 2007
- Europe/Africa, 2008
- Canada, 2008
- Oregon Coast, 2011
- New York City, 2011
And you need to be able to name an incredible moment from each of those trips:
- I was 18 years old, just starting out for the world, and I watched the sun set over Paris while on a boat ride down the Seine River, and, suddenly, the city of lights came to life. Also, my hand was up a girl's shirt moments before, if I recall correctly. But I watched the whole city glow in an instant, and it was the evening of summer solstice, so we all knew we had a long night of music ahead.
- After wanting to visit Sydney my whole life, my grandmother and I took in an opera at the Sydney Opera House, drank red wine and listened to the city cheer for nothing in particular. We took the long way home and the skyline was apparent from every angle. You could hear ships in the harbor and the laughter of drunkards. We were dressed up and the city overwhelmed me. It was so very much more than I had hoped for, and I hoped for a whole goddamn lot.
- Rex and I got to Arizona sometime around midnight and was handed two beers from the two women we were crashing with, and then we went swimming. It was the middle of June, it was hot as hell, and then the great sky cracked and poured. We swam around in the pouring rain with lightning and thunder rolling the world above us while we drank. The four of us stayed up until we simply couldn't stay awake any longer.
- Maybe the most I've ever reflected on myself, I spent two weeks with my family camping throughout Northern California. I don't know what the hell was happening then, but I thought I was seeing visions into the future and coming to terms with mortality. I remember Mendocino looking like a place I had in my dreams and I started trying to write my first novel. I was 20, and I had never felt so much like I was in some lucid dream. In particular, I remember playing a card game in a tent with my family one night. It was the only night I've ever seen my dad drunk. He had too much red wine to drink and I saw him as a friend of sorts instead of a father figure. We laughed for hours playing card games while the frogs croaked in the river behind us.
- After leaving Bonaroo early to take our adventure on the road, Grant and I barreled through Kentucky and Illinois sometime around 2 a.m. It was nothing but high trees on both sides and the sky was awash with stars. Due to some idiotic notion on my part, we headed onto another highway, very much out of our way in search of the fabled Eddysville. But what we found was a creepy church, a rainstorm and the empty plains bathed in harrowing moonlight where the town was supposed to be. Naturally, we got the fuck out of Dodge as quick as our rented car could take us. It was the most spooked I'd ever been.
- In what could easily be considered one of the the wildest 24 hours I've ever had, Ryan and I took a bus from the big city of Boston to the small town of Northampton. We were couch-surfing, so we stayed with a girl we hadn't met. The town was tiny and surrounded by deep woods and rivers. The girls all attended a barbecue without us and, for some reason, the girl was kind enough to just let us stay at her house unattended. We got drunk on her balcony, met the neighbor girl, went to the local Feist show and then ended up at a bar called World War II, where we proceeded to successfully pose as wayward weirdos born and raised in Boston, making friends with everyone in the bar. The story gets crazier from there, but not so much on my end. I was recently in love, so I went to sleep. But I lost Ryan to the night and a girl with a backpack. Ryan ended up sleeping on the balcony after getting lost in the woods looking for an abandoned asylum with a girl. We got on the bus and both started cackling.
- After months apart with my girlfriend at the time studying in Spain, my friends all chipped in some hundreds of dollars and sent me to Europe. I was beat down from the flight over, but she gave me a tour of Madrid around midnight. And everything seemed so old and dazzling. I had missed her and it was hard to grasp just what was happening. We walked for hours. The lights were beautiful, the cobblestones glowed in lamplight and it was a glorious spring. It was one of the best walks of my life.
- After stumbling out of a bar beneath our hostel, Ryan, Jeff, Chase, myself and the locals all caught up with each other. Drunk as hell on the streets of Vancouver after a few hours of slamming pints into each other, I decided we needed to move on. I had a lady back home, but I wanted to see what kind of wingman magic I could unravel. So, I started introducing myself to everyone, chatting up ladies and finding their interests, so I could bring them to my jolly friends. Once we were settled up, I rounded a dozen or so people and lead a growing army of drinkers. As we marched up the street, I talked up more people and had them join. We all ended up in a bar with a live ska band. We drank, danced and laughed until we ended up on the other side of town.
- I was on drugs and there was dancy indie pop music. It may have been the greatest night of my life. There were glowing plastic necklaces and bracelets on everyone. About a dozen of us, all people I adore, were staying at a seaside mansion. At some point, we danced around the kitchen island in a line screaming a Beatles song. Everyone was stoked on everything. There was food everywhere. I smoked enough cigarettes to last me a season. We stayed up until 4 or 5 a.m. And, all the while, we left the windows open so we could hear the ocean softly crash into the earth.
- I've wanted to see New York City my whole life, but, for whatever reason, I put it off. Maybe I was afraid how to feel once I did see it. Then James and I decided to go for it. I remember smoking a cigarette on the fire escape of Kristin's apartment. James was showering, I think, and Kristin was getting us our bedding for the living room. But I sat there and listened to the sounds of the city and thought, yep, this is what I was hoping for, big buildings with insomniacs that want to swallow as much culture as they can under a heavy moon.
But, when you're not traveling, be sure of things that can and will make you happy.
Random things I know are true about what I like:
- Favorite Song: "Tenderly" by Chet Baker
- Favorite Live Show: Against Me! at Chain Reaction, 2004
- Favorite Restaurant Meals: White Pizza at Cassano's, Fake Cashew Chicken at Wheel of Life, Crispy Rolls at Loving Hut
- Favorite Homecooked Meals: croque mousier, rolled pizza, taco salad
- Best Thing I've Ever Watched: Baseball by Ken Burns
Thinking about any of those things legitimately brings a smile to my face. There are people, places, music, movies, meals and whatever that I know for sure will make me happy, which I suppose isn't that difficult. I'm a happy dude, and I have been for years. But I cite my summer in Seattle three years ago as a real turning point because who/how I was in May wasn't who I was in August. And it was surely for the best.
Before I moved to Seattle, I was living in what felt like the ashy cinders of an era. My house was growing stale, my relationship was growing stale, my career was growing stale. I was unemployed, about to move back in with my parents and in the process of breaking up. I was also in terrible fucking shape. I was just eating Del Taco, candy and vermicelli bowls. I wasn't doing a goddamn thing to better myself, and it was pretty obvious. I had a gut, a beard and a sense of oblivion.
Thumbs up, me.
So, in Seattle, I reclaimed some weird second youth and spent the most enchanting summer since I was 15 done up as a 24-year-old in desperate need of a life makeover. I had nothing to do and nowhere to be for months. And neither did Chris, though he was establishing a life there and trying to find work. During the day, we'd go swimming or wandering around our new city. At night, we'd either go to a party or stay in to work on our screenplay, drunk on bloody marys and red wine.
I lost the beard, the gut and the terrible habits. I came home more about salads, sandwiches and a healthier outlook. In Seattle, I was removed from all that was familiar to me for the summer. And it wasn't even a whole summer. It was just less than two months of serious reinvention and one I haven't gone back on. I was a spiteful mess before Seattle, and, since then, I've been kind of the same shrugging stoked dude for the most part.
Naturally, I've had some eras throughout the/my ages:
- 1-3: Nonsensical Idiot
- 4-13: Spastic Jokester
- 14-17: Teenage Romantic
- 18-21: Social Philosopher
- 22-24: Reckless Cavalier
- 25-Present: Happy-Go-Lucky Dude
In my years, I haven't had many long-lasting moments of "ah, drag." I don't know what the hell it was, but, again, I went through some weird period of ferocious carelessness and overcompensating self-loathing in my early twenties. It was pretty stupid. No, actually, it was really stupid. I had moments of being irrational, bitter, condescending and spiteful. And, for whatever insane reason, I took pride in it. Maybe I thought it meant I had an edge? I don't know. I just think that, for two years, I acted like I wasn't getting enough sleep. And it may not have seemed that extreme to others, because I was still pretty stoked about everything, but I honestly look back at those years and just think, hey, what the fuck was that all about? And it wasn't about anything. It really wasn't. That's why it's so stupid. But, again, I was still pretty gosh darn excited about life. I just maybe wasn't the best participant all the time.
However, I consider junior high to be my actual low point, as I assume it to be the same for half of the American population. That was a semi-miserable two years of wondering if the world would chew me up or have the decency to just swallow me whole. But it was a tremendously exciting and fun time too. I wasn't really bullied. I was teased every once in a while by the shithead skater kids whose parents didn't love them. I know this because I went to elementary school with a few of them and their parents only loved cigarettes and television. Their teasing was so minimal, but, at that age, everyone has something to prove and you're unsure in your own skin.
Still, junior high held some radically great memories. I use the phrase "low point" very, very loosely, I suppose. I've been exceptionally blessed in my life, and this lucky realization came to me during an eighth grade slump. Something happened and I was in trouble with my parents. I think it was for grades, but I was probably already anxious because of some frantic crush or sexual feeling I couldn't explain.
Anyway, my father, rather tensely, told me that I was grounded and couldn't go out and have fun for a month.
In my barely-teenage lunacy, I scoffed and replied, "Yeah, if I haven't killed myself by then."
My father wisely took no sympathy upon me. He was pissed. He gritted his teeth and told me that what I said was appalling and shouldn't be tossed around so lightly, that it showed no respect to all that I had and to those who really did have something to be sad about. Then, still through gritted teeth, told me, "You don't get to use the computer."
To which, with tears forming (I was an emotional teenager, alright?), I complained about the unfairness of such a punishment and how he should be concerned about me and my problems. But, going to bed that evening (early, of course), I realized, "Wait a minute. I was ready to end my life, but not give up computer privileges? What the hell is that bullshit?" I later thanked my father. He had called my bluff. Anger is not always the proper way to react to your child's talk of suicide. However, my father could read me well, and he knew I was being melodramatic. It's a tough, tough call, I imagine. But it was one that my father made well.
And, I swear, since that day in eighth grade, I've tried to appreciate life and recognize the wonderful as wonderful and the terrible as passing. It's a goofy moment to deem a real turning point in one's life, but that's the last time I ever recall really feeling like life was dragging its bones. It was the first time I realized that I honestly had no desire to leave life until I was forced to, whether by bear, shark or poisoning.
So, to recap, I realized that life was worth living at 13, but it wasn't until I was 24 that I figured out how easy it is to find comfortable long-lasting happiness. I was happy as hell in my late-teens and early twenties, but there were sharp moments of angst in those too. Everything was a lot more confusing then. I was happy, but baffled, I guess.
But, again, I feel I must stress how particularly lucky I've been in my existence. I mean, I've been spectacularly, incredibly, amazingly lucky and blessed in almost every realm of life.
My parents have supported everything I've ever done (from turning our house into a restaurant in first grade to getting a print journalism degree in an era when everyone decided that newspapers should be used as kindling). My sister and brother are two of my best friends (and, yes, that cliche made my stomach turn too). I've had friend after friend blow me away by their intelligence, creativity, humor and excitement for adventure. And I've had woman after woman tolerate my slapstick way of loving and flat-out floor me with their ability to appreciate, give, surprise and explore.
As I write this, I realize how disgustingly happy I've been almost my whole life. At some point, all of my family, friends and ladyfolk have realized that I'm not just making small talk when I say, "Holy shit, what a beautiful day," or go on and on about how much I'm enjoying just sitting around a backyard drinking. Life as a middle-class American is fucking rad, especially if you consider the only other option, that tremendous black hole known as death.
My mother lost her brother when he was in his thirties. She had just turned forty. My uncle was a family man and an entrepreneur. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. My mom and her siblings were and are close. But, still, she once told me (after a tiff with a sibling), "You never want to go to bed angry with your family. They might not be there tomorrow."
I knew what she was saying, even as a dopey, spastic sixth grader who couldn't stop talking. It became a whisper in my heart that I always try to live by, though I haven't always done so. I've lucked out so far. Nobody I've been pissed at has died on me yet. Sometimes, people piss me off. But I think about what my mother says every time I get upset and I usually apologize or see that the situation settles (as, I'll be honest, I don't always feel it necessary to apologize). There were three straight years of my sister and I getting into intense arguments over board games on Christmas Day. It was always my father, my brother and her versus my mother and me, and, apparently, we don't take charades lightly.
But I always made sure we made up by December 26th.
And, to be fair, it usually wasn't me being the hero. By the end of Christmas Day, when neither of us had changed out of our pajamas, with nacho cheese and sour candy sugar dotting our robes, we'd both kind of nod or shrug or blink or wince, and somehow that meant that we were done with our bullshit.
My sister, my brother and I were both raised my parents that advocated joy and tolerance. In fact, my father's famous quote was that, one day, the three of us would be "strong, healthy, confident adults." He said those four words in that order all the time. I guess that's what I've always been shooting for, even as a kid.
I think the first time I caught myself rolling my head in the quiet moments of adult life was when I was 17. I finally had a license, so the world was now available to me. And I decide to spend a summer afternoon at the Orange Circle, eating Felix's rice and beans while drinking a hot chocolate. I was smoking a cigarette and doing a crossword puzzle. I had nothing on the agenda and no interest in doing anything else. The world came to me and unfolded itself.
What was the big secret?
Just do what makes you happy.
Now, that's an overreaching simplification of what it means to be happy. You need to make a living and go to events you don't want to. Do what makes you happy, but acknowledge that it won't be all the time.
But people don't know what to do with their free time, and they don't seem to appreciate it for what it is. They appreciate it for what it isn't.
"It's my day off, so the big plus is that I don't have to work," they may think.
It should be, "It's my day off, so the big plus is that I get to go buy used books and go swimming."
I had a long talk with Jason and Grant the other night. We discussed the act of creating and how much we value it, only to be baffled by those who don't. Some people just want to go home from a mediocre job and watch television. They have no interest in writing, painting or jamming.
At any age, even without creation hobbies, I feel like a person should have at least one activity that they can depend on for themselves. It shouldn't include anyone. For me, it's writing. But, take that way, I could still come up with things I like doing and bring about an absurd amount of happiness. When I was 17, it was smoking a cigarette and doing a crossword puzzle. When I was 20, it was going on a bike ride. Now, it's reading a book on my back porch. Sometimes, it's enough to just eat crispy rolls in bed with the window open.
It really doesn't take much to make me happy these days. I'm usually in a pretty good mood. And, if I'm not, just a song can turn me around for the better. Its not an act either. Even by myself, I remain generally stoked. Though my mother would ask it as, "So that stokes you?"
But, despite my jolly nature, I've notice a gargantuan shift in how deep my happiness goes. When I was, say, 20, all it took was a bike ride to put me at maximum happiness. But, back then, my scale was only 1-10. My scale now is 1-100. It's harder to reach the maximum happiness, but I can honestly say that the happiness runs deeper. Maybe a bike ride only puts me at a 70 now. Well, it's not the highest possible, but it's certainly a lot more than 10. When I'm happy now, I feel it in my bones. When I was 20, happiness was only skin-deep.
My happiness in the future is up for grabs, and I couldn't even begin to guess what it is. However, I will say that this past year was the first time that I could actually see myself married with kids in the near future. Also, when I say "near future," I just mean that I don't think I have to go through some insane transformation anymore. When I consider marriage and kids now, I no longer think, "Holy fuck, I need to get my shit together before that ever happens." I think I could make a good husband and father as this dude I am now.
I understand adulthood now. I get it. I value saving money and feel accomplished paying bills. It legitimately excites me to have good credit. I understand the difference between Del Taco and Mr. Stox, just as I understand why sometimes blue jeans aren't appropriate attire. I know what shitty beer and good beer both are, and I know when to drink them. You don't have to stop eating fast food, wearing blue jeans and drinking cheap beer. I just think you should know the difference.
And, no, adulthood is not a defeat. I don't know who's filling my friends' heads with bullshit, but a family doesn't kill the big stuff. Yes, over the years, we can most likely expect to stop falling asleep drunk in the same room together. Yes, at some point, we won't find much interest in sleeping past ten a.m. Yes, we'll have more obligations and obstacles. But that doesn't mean weekend getaways and afternoon barbecues have to stop forever. Don't we all want our kids to be raised together? Don't we all want our spouses to be friends with each other? Don't we all plan on having the coolest social network back-to-school night's ever seen?
Everything will get more difficult soon, but everything will also get much more rewarding. We'll start serving real purpose. Granted, I say this as someone who's not in a serious committed relationship and admit that the second word of the phrase "pregnancy scare" strikes up more feelings in me than the first. But family life seems good: Sunday brunches, school projects, dinner parties, etc. It all seems warm and enchanting.
However, I'm also the same guy who puked on his bedroom floor this year and has wandered his house naked in a drunken stupor on two occasions in the last six months. Yes, that's right: this year and two occasions.
I'd say that's about it. Life is good, and it isn't always that way. Right now, it is though. I have no big fears for the future and no huge regrets of the past. I like where I've been, I like where I am and I like where I'm going. And, as a middle class American suburban white twenty-something writer, I really couldn't ask for much more than that.
Here's five things I've learned and kept as a way of living:
- Remember that nothing is eternal.
- If it's good, you better appreciate the hell out of it before it's gone.
- If it's bad, don't worry, seeing as how it'll all be over soon.
- Make time for what keeps you sane.
- The fall semester of my last year in college, I was working 60 hours a week, going to school full-time and doing my uninformed best at keeping a long-distance relationship together. For three months, I really only saw Rex and it was because he was willing to play basketball with me at midnight in a park with the lights off.
- These days, I make sure to spend at least one afternoon or even writing. It's not much, but, holy shit, it keeps me sane.
- Stay in reasonable shape.
- You have to take care of yourself. It's unfair for women to demand their men look like Ryan Reynolds if they don't look like Mila Kunis, just as its unfair for men to demand their women look like Olivia Wilde if they don't look like Justin Timberlake. Just because you're in a relationship doesn't mean you get to grow fat with a beard. Trust me, I've been there. It was unfair to everyone involved.
- A lack of exercise will doom your brain tremendously. Stay physically fit, and you'll be more mentally and emotionally fit, suggesting that you'll ultimately be nicer to people, which brings me to my next point.
- Just be nice to people.
- Two religious women were making the rounds one afternoon, and I answered the door with Jason. They asked if I was interested in hearing about the word of God. I answer, "I'm going to respectfully pass, but I wish you two the best of luck today." The next day, Jason told me that he had never thought of answering religious people that way. It always felt like they were invading his space. I told him, "I figure they have the best intentions. I mean, they're spending their afternoon trying to keep me and my neighbors from the depths of Hell. The least I could do is be nice to them."
- I was hanging out with Chase once. We were either in a car or at a restaurant. A homeless man asked for some money to help his family. Without thinking, Chase gave the guy a few bucks. I thoughtlessly made a joke along the lines of, "And off he goes to procure some booze." Chase smiled and said to me, "Who knows? I mean, what the hell was I going to do with that money? Just buy cigarettes or booze myself anyway. That guy's going to help his family or buy some booze. Either way, he's begging for it, which means he probably needs it more than I do." Since that day, I always try give at least something if I have it on me.
- People working retail and other customer-engaging jobs have it hard. Why? Because they interact with everyday people and their everyday problems. Ask them how they're doing and be friendly. They won't always be nice back, but, hey, you tried. Also, hey, people working retail and other customer-engaging jobs, be nice to your customers. They're just everyday people with everyday problems. I was a waiter for five years. I know it's not that hard to be nice to your customers, even when you're busy and they aren't wildly friendly. Just be nice.
- Make life cinematic.
- Cool big gestures and thoughtful little presents aren't just for movies and television shows. People can do these things. This isn't even, like, hey, go base-jumping or start bar fights. I just mean that there are chances for you, your family and your friends to do really magnificent things for each other. I'm not going to go into detail about my life's cinematic moments, but I can recall them, from building a full restaurant in my backyard with friends as a college student in love to crashing a wedding in Mexico. There are just chances for you to think of life as a movie and really not settle for this lesser bullshit.
- One of my favorite television cute moments was my last birthday when my mom asked what I wanted. I told her I always wanted a dragon, but I'd settle for books and clothes. True to my mom's eternal thoughtful form, I unwrapped a present to find, low and behold, a stuffed dragon.
In every era of my life, I've thought, I wish this could last. I don't know why the coming years would be any different. Sure, I'll always want to revisit the days of my garage, Shirley's house, Julia's house, Wall's house, the Mira Mesa House, The Madison, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Daily Titan, WebVisible, Seattle and so on, but where would be the happiness? What good is the joke if you've already heard the punchline? Change isn't bad. I haven't hit a birthday where I've been disappointed in myself, my family, my friends and where we are as a collective. I like aging. I like the change of scenery. I like new opportunities to be happy. I like watching people close to me grow and develop. I like that people are getting married and having kids now, just as I liked those same people getting drunk and passing out face-down in the floor. People in my life have always been gracious, generous and goofy. As Batman would say, PEOPLE ARE GOOD. And how hard is it to be happy in a part of the world where a milkshake and and a beach is within bike-riding distance?
Sometimes, bro, life is so rad, man.