May 6, 2011

Reflections on completing my twenty-fifth year on earth

I turn twenty-five today. I join the set of people who’ve seen a quarter century of life on this big ol’ blue-green space-ball. My twenty-fifth has been an important year, I think, and I’d like to remember it. This was the year I started giving a shit.

It started after–and its tone was set by–the breakup of my first attempt at a mature relationship, the collapse of which I attribute to my ignorance of two important things: what I wanted, and what I had. It didn’t take me long to realize the latter, but by the time I wanted her back, she’d chosen someone else. Although that was probably for the best, since I still wasn’t sure what I wanted. So I went east across two rivers.

Brooklyn, from the Manhattan Bridge.

A few weeks after turning twenty-four, I packed up my tropical fish and my ten-speed and I moved into a three-month sublet on Vernon Ave in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, a 15-minute jog due east from Fort Greene Park. I ran and cycled a lot. I was like an addict with new streets: there is something about being in unfamiliar places that makes me feel especially alive. I saw some great New York friends, but for lack of trying I did not make new ones. I read a lot with the windows open and the sounds of kids playing in the streets (and that bastard ice cream truck) floating up through the second-floor window.

This was the also year I started dressing like a grownup. The decision came out of something my ex told me, that she wished I cared more about how I looked when we went out. I had always thought dressing well was an unnecessary and selfish affectation. Turns out I was wrong, and that dressing thoughtfully is about showing respect for those around you. It wasn’t hard to learn the basics without breaking the bank thanks to blogs like Put This On and Dapper Demeanor. I also started going to a barbershop near my office. Avi at Manhattan Barbershop cuts my hair. He’s a fascinating guy who emigrated with his family from Russia to the U.S. and just got his citizenship this year. Barbershop banter was, of course, something I missed out on when I used to cut my own hair. So was, well, having a decent haircut.

At An Event Apart, I learned that, despite the name, typographic maturity is about more than just avoiding glyphs that look like private parts.

In November, I took my first business trip, to the acclaimed conference An Event Apart “for people who make websites.” It was my first trip to California, too, and I kicked it with the pandas at the San Diego Zoo the day I flew in, then spent two days learning about new technologies and best practices in the web world. The weather was uncomfortably perfect. I met at least one internet millionaire younger than I am, and came to the troubling but important realization that there are people out there who want the things I want but are trying harder to get them.

Ultimately, it took a woman choosing someone over me, and meeting people younger and astronomically more successful than I am, for me to have my first encounter with real desire. With longing. With ache. And while it’s painful, it’s also invigorating. It got me to stop playing video games, which have always been a kind of obsession of mine.1 Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but once I came to realize that there are things that I want and that playing video games wasn’t bringing me any closer to them, my obsession dissolved. I started working out because I don’t want my body to fall apart, and I want to look good for the woman who falls in love with me (and want to be able to defend my loved ones from the zombie onslaught.) After years of maybes and half-assed attempts, I finally gave this website my earnest effort because I want the things I do and find interesting not to be secrets. I started writing summaries and thoughts about every worthwhile book I read because I want not to forget these things. I began keeping a journal because I want to get better, and I’ll need some record for comparison. I got a financial life, got Dad to help me start investing, and applied for a credit card to start building credit, because I want one day to start a family.

I used to think–I actually have this written down in a journal somewhere–that desire was the yoke the world uses to harness you. That if I could just want as little as possible, it would make me more free.2 And yet, looking back over the past year, it’s been the recognition of what I want that has been my strength and inspiration, and that has freed me from distractions. Maybe I’ll come around to the Buddhist tenet that desire is the root of all suffering, but until then, here’s to figuring out what you want and giving it to yourself.

  1. And not in a small way. I'd spend somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a week in their thrall.
  2. Desires are, in a way, responsibilities to ourselves, and maybe I was just afraid of that.