2012: The year I grew up

Posted by in Personal Travails

That dot is me floating under the moon in a beautiful Quebec lake in 2011

Many cultures imbue numbers with great significance and others engage in the mass psychological delusion of New Years resolutions each January 1st. For my part, I don’t have irrational faith in the potential for numeric interventions in the chaotic unfolding of my destiny but I do quietly partake in the renewal ritual of cleaning up one’s messy metaphorical room at the turning of each new year. Having said that, 2012 is a nice even number that will hopefully mark some much-needed balance and focus in my life and in these first few days of January I have been consumed with thinking about what needs to be achieved and how to achieve it.

If 2011 was the year I intensely thought about getting older and reflected on the difficult project of “growing up,” 2012 should be the year I embrace grownupness – and indeed getting older as this reality comes on with a vengeance at the end of May when I turn that dreadful age of forty. I turned thirty in 2002, the year so many wished George W. Bush would keep eating pretzels (after choking on one), the year of the Enron backlash, the year the US invaded Afghanistan, the year the International Criminal Court was established, the year the African Union formed, the year the US Congress passed the Iraq War Resolution, the year of the first massive march against climate change (in London, UK), the year the Euro was officially adopted by the EU, the year of the tragic Chechen standoff in a theatre in Moscow, the year of the G8 summit in Canada where the world’s richest countries made promises to the poorer nations they did not keep, the year of the Prestige oil tanker disaster off the coast of Spain, the year Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, and the year I marked the end of my twenties.

The meaning of numbers is highly subjective and dependent on our willingness – as individuals and cultures – to load them with negatives, positives and all semantic variances between. For me I couldn’t wait to turn 30 – my twenties had been marked by slipshod proclivities: a lust for wandering, for impatient gratification, for arrogant and self-serving serial dating, for jumping into voids without the gear or tools to climb out. I had done many wonderful things, like traveling and learning a trade and forging lasting relationships, but the overwhelming assessment as I approached 30 was that I had stumbled out of my mixed-bag teens into unadulterated adulthood without a map and compass, a purpose or a vision. I therefore designated my 30th year a crossroads – a transitionary moment that wouldn’t just denote the passing of another year of my life, but would signify the beginning of a new era of constructive and healthy focus where my actions would be decisively responsible, thoughtful, and long term-minded.

I achieved some semblance of these goals over the last nine-and-a-half years, but now, as 2012 has arrived and the year 40 looms large on my horizon, I find myself once again taking stock and loading up numbers with meaning born out of some abstract cultural association with the movement from “younger” to “older.” Where thirty sounded enticingly grounded but still youthful, forty seems like a creaking-down stage where the lines in my face are finally showing themselves and the poor decisions I make bite back harder than in previous years. It’s an overbearing negative feeling I have for forty, one I’m sure my older friends will either laugh off, associate with, and/or reply to, as one friend has, with “you can’t complain up the food chain.”

We live in a culture obsessed with youth and in terms of mainstream and corporate culture, I’d estimate the very best, most sought-after and glorified age would be between the years 20 and 35 or earlier. The forties conjur sagging, wrinkles, balding, fatigue, children, three day hangovers, going to bed early, bad backs, increasingly cranky moods, detachment and confusion with youth culture and/or mainstream culture in general, confounding experiential knowledge not yet articulated into celebrated wisdom (that comes in the fifties and sixties if at all), and general out-of-placeness.

But this, of course, is all bullshit.

I know this, I’m very aware of how consumer, corporate and celebrity culture functions – the way elite media and finance lever-pullers shape our imaginaries and social realities. It’s not a forced coup d’esprit, but certainly an activated hegemony. And yes, I have agency to fight back, to create, to build, to deny the empire of signs its manifest destiny in my mind and body. But there’s that strange face staring back at me in the mirror…undeniably not a thirty-year-old and undeniably looking less and less like one that has recently jumped irresponsibly into an uncertain void.

So I’ve designated the year I turn forty, the year of 2012, as another transitional year, complete with voids, but the outcome of jumping shaped by more certainty. Where turning thirty for me marked the real beginning of some kind of imagined adulthood, turning forty will mark the acceptance of adulthood as a positive, productive, purposefully gratifying and socially enriched stage in my time on this glorious and troubled planet.

2012 transitioned a little awkwardly, with some jerk stealing my warm winter coat, phone, wallet with ID, my keys, and a sentimental token kept in my right-hand jacket pocket on New Years Eve. It put me in a bit of rage/depression funk for the first few days but I’m past that now – some concentrated negativity is now giving way to protracted positive thinking (that’s the agenda at least).

2012 is the year I intend to concentrate on less retreating and more reflecting, less consuming and more creating, less commitment to abstract notions of community and more engagement with tangible aspects of community, less intellectual and time-wandering and more focus, less reliance on escape and more on constructing a strong self with strong relationships, and finally, less insecurity/fretting and more confidence/doing.

This last “goal” applies to the albatross hanging over my shoulders that has been keeping me up at night – the dissertation that I keep avoiding, that I keep convincing myself I can’t do, that I keep battling as an opponent who eludes me, that I keep thinking past instead of before. This PhD dissertation will get written and defended in 2012.

In my thirties I have become a journeyman carpenter, earned a BA, an MA, and almost a PhD. I’ve traveled, started a non-profit and a political art blog (with Svetla and Rob, respectively), got married to the bodacious Bulgarian Svetla (and thus became Svetzra), had writing published and co-edited a 700-page book. I found a home in Montreal – a beautifully cozy, sunny apartment in a great neighbourhood. I feel fortunate for the things I have in my life and the things I have been able to do. The vast majority of the world’s population cannot aspire to 1/100th of these things due predominently to the massive inequity between rich and poor, exacerbated as it is by racism, colonization and globalization.

I have these wonderful aspects of my life under my 39-year-old belt and I cherish them and carry them with pride. But hard work needs vision and focus, and 2012 is the year I intend to work on these qualities, applying them to school, love, family, social justice and community.

I’m readying myself to confront that negatively-charged 40 and load it with a positive force that will put my 30th year to shame.

2012 bring it on!