The Genteel
April 22, 2021



For the first time in as long as I've been able to identify my own emotions, I've been celebrating the beautiful things in life rather than damning everything. My friends are showing signs of growing into the them-they-hope-to-be, with cohabitations, babies and mortgages. While we were once just kids, our paths have revealed themselves and we're all actually running the race, not just training for it. But with fresh starts - if that is indeed the idiom for growing up and adulthood - come new choices that will classify us indefinitely. Some will win, others will lose; the race we're on now will end sooner for some, and the rest of us might be stuck in the so-called quarterlife crisis well into middle age. And so I've been thinking a lot about death, birth and the cycles that connect us all together.

When I went to hear writer Joan Didion speak a month or so ago about her new memoir on aging, life and loss, she said something like, "Why waste time thinking about getting old?" Yet, that's all I've been doing since then. More precisely, I've been wrapped up in my own mortality for as long as I can remember, which is probably a by-product of my father passing away when I was a child. I'm constantly counting down and racing to outsmart time because, even if I had a thousand years, I wouldn't be ready or done or willing to go anywhere else other than right here, right now.

Although we are "born to die," maybe it is about finding those moments and emotions in the "meantimes" of life. Is that the sanest thing we could do in a world like this?

In October, New York magazine ran a cover story about "my generation." The author dissects, pontificates and muses on what it's like to be in the middle of a young adult life while still feeling - and, in some cases, being - not very "grown up" at all. Despite degrees and education and, for even the luckiest, the opportunities that come on different types of platters, uncertainty still plagues us: careers, Fox News, money, recession, war. And that's not even including all that "personal stuff" going on inside our heads, the stuff that not many people care or get to talk enough about: isolation and loneliness, the meaning of life, even something as fundamentally important as a person's right to marry.

If it's not one thing wrong with the current generation of future adults, it's another person in another publication telling the world how awful the "quarterlife crisis" is and how we're actually living out that nightmare. I hoped that both ideas would cancel each other out. (And yes, everyone is telling you that you're in the midst of one crisis or another can make you a little paranoid and frantic). In May, for example, an article in The Guardian examined research by British psychologists who revealed that "educated twenty and thirty-somethings [are] most likely to be hit by pre-midlife blues." This uncertainty and looming distress doesn't affect just those with "lost years" after post-secondary anymore. For most of us, it will continue for a while. The Guardian piece continues to point out that we're "young, insecure, and depressed." If we use what I'm feeling here as a barometer, British researchers would place me somewhere between phases three and four: rebuilding a new life and catering to the new interests and commitments within it. It's just ... I think we should be allowed to be in the middle of our own lives, not phases, away from social microscopes. To me, the recurrent theme of hopelessness is the most depressing thing of all. Sure, the kids may sort of be all right according to the New York piece, but that's just it - we're all right. What will future generations have to look forward to if we drain all the misery from being young and free? I think people are beginning to under-value how wonderful it is to let yourself grow up on your own terms, not on a quasi-schedule. (No one rushed Dorian Gray.) More importantly, why are we all growing up so fast then, anyway?

My oldest friend is expecting her first child in two months, and last weekend we showered her with gifts and tiny socks and love. It was surreal seeing someone I've known since the sixth grade preparing for the next journey in her life, well within her rights to occupy this apparent crisis zone, but seemingly so far ahead of me. Another friend of mine, the best, is in what appears to be some sort of quarterlife domestic bliss, a state-of-being that is equally foreign to me. But because there is no curve in adult life, it's all immeasurable and almost incomparable in any real way. If there's anything to worry about, it's that feeling of watching beautiful things happen to the people you love, and wondering how much further away it may take them from you.

Last week, I also saw indie music star Lana Del Rey perform her first sold-out show in Canada. The title track from her debut album Born To Die in many ways captures the limbo-like reality that houses a lot of "my generation"-types, at least the ones I can identify with: "Don't make me sad, don't make me cry/Sometimes love's not enough when the road gets tough, I don't know why/Keep making me laugh, let's go get high/Road's long, we carry on, try to have fun in the meantime." The Greeks have a word for someone like me, and like Lana - it's derived from thanatos, the mythological personification of death. In English, you'd call it "thanatophobia." I mean, I wouldn't say that thanatophobia affects my daily life in major ways, but I am aware of its fire under my carpe diem aspirations. Isn't that what it's going to be like as we age? Although we are "born to die," maybe it is about finding those moments and emotions in the "meantimes" of life. Is that the sanest thing we could do in a world like this?



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