Dave's Mental Meanderings
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2004-12-11 17:13:04 (UTC)

Gracefully Surrendering the Things of Youth

When it comes to music, I’m a rock ‘n’ roller at heart. A
quick glance through my CD collection will reveal no fewer
than 15 Bob Dylan albums, the complete album-by-album studio
recordings of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and more than
40 Grateful Dead concert recordings in their entirety. The
last require an entire CD binder by themselves to house
their magnificence. At three to four CD’s per show, 40
shows is no small collection. Yes sir, I pride myself on my
extensive library of rock music, supplemented here and there
by odd selections revealing the eclectic and often baffling
outliers of my musical spectrum; Charlie Parker, Men Without
Hats, and G-Love and Special Sauce share the ranks of rock
giants such as the Rolling Stones, Credence Clearwater
Revival, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
And if you look hard enough in my largest and most
illustrious CD binder, if you are steadfast and determined
enough to make the grueling alphabetical trudge from AC/DC
to ZZ Top, and if you are not deterred by the two empty
pages that follow, you will find something that will shock
you. I’m not talking about “Ozzy Osbourne biting the head
off a live dove” kind of shock, or “Hendrix burning a guitar
onstage at Woodstock” shock. Not even “Elvis shimmying and
crooning ladies’ panties to the floor on the Ed Sullivan
show” shock. We’re talking “The Beatles breaking up”
shock. That’s right, it is every bit that shocking. In the
depths of what appears at first glance to be a pure and
sacred shrine to all that is rock and roll, you will find
approximately 40 albums of pure gangster rap. Not the lame
bling-bling MTV horseshit that passes for rap these days,
but real rap. Ice Cube. EPMD. Jay-Z. Westside
Connection. Wu Tang. 2-Pac. And yes, the godfather of all
gangster rap albums, NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” resides
there as well.

To move on with the story, it was from these pages and not
their more abundant and more frequently selected rock ‘n’
roll counterparts that I chose my CD for the drive from
Kroger back to my apartment the other day. It’s only a 5-
or 10-minute drive, which contributed to my selecting a rap
CD. I have a great appreciation and respect for talented
rappers, but I can’t listen to it for more than 20 or 30
minutes at a time. In other words, you won’t hear me
bumping any Method Man on a 500-mile road trip. But for the
hop down Prices Fork Road back to my swingin’ bachelor pad a
few nights ago, I had a hankering for some crucial beats and
crazy-ass flows. I selected Dr. Dre’s 1999 quintessential
comeback album “Chronic 2001.” I skipped the intro and
started up track 2, “The Watcher.” I’ve always considered
it a strong opening to a great album and perhaps the most
underappreciated track on the CD, but those opening lines
never quite jumped out at me before like they did that night.

“Things just ain’t the same for ganstas,
Times is changin’, young niggas is agin’”

Yes, yes they are. The times, they are a changin’, as the
fella once said. And more poignantly, at least as far as my
own individual scope of the world goes, young niggas is
agin’. Allow me to put it in context. I’m currently a
college senior, although it’s my 5th year since I took a few
semesters off to work full-time along the way. Most of the
people I came into college with and most of the good friends
I made in the dorm that first year graduated last May.
Among those folks are my long-time best friend and roommate
for all four years of his college career, Nick Barta. A
mutual roommate of ours named Ryan King is another, and a
great friend whose wedding I attended not 30 days ago, Joe
Yavelak, is yet another. It seems like just yesterday we
were all such young niggas (metaphorically speaking, of
course… no racial disrespect intended.) Now most of my
friends have graduated, some are getting married, and all
are out working in the daunting Real World. I myself will
join them shortly; I recently accepted a handsome job offer
with one of the world’s leading chemical companies. Then
what? Odds are I won’t be anywhere near most or even any of
my good friends when I take this job, so it’s off to meet
new people, see new places, and find new pool halls to waste
all my time and money at. But it will never be like it was.
My future coworkers won’t drive 600 miles to Memphis for
Elvis week with me on a whim. In my future town of
residence I won’t quickly develop a vast repertoire of all
the greatest spots in the city to blaze a joint at. I won’t
find another pool hall that becomes such a central part of
my life that I can’t think about my best friends without
picturing them sloshing around pitchers of beer over a
half-forgotten pool table there. There’s a reason people
get affectionate about their best friends from college whom
they may not have laid eyes upon in decades. At that age
and in those surroundings, we’re all champs. I worked at
fucking McDonald’s at 5:00 A.M. every weekend during my
freshman year at college, but I was still a champ. My good
friend Ryan King pisses on himself in his sleep after a
night of hard drinking, but he’s still a champ.

For the past four years I’ve bought very heavily into the
idea that I’m not only invincible, but will be forever. Now
I’m beginning to show my first signs of age, mentally and
emotionally if not physically. I’m a little more cynical
and a little less excitable. I’m a little more
intellectually arrogant and a little less open-minded. It’s
the aging hipster syndrome, and I’ve got all the classic
early warning signs. I’ve always prided myself on being an
individual and not buying into prescribed notions of style
and behavior, but I scoff when I see my collegiate peers
popping the collars on their polo shirts and wearing
pre-faded jeans. Sure, we all agree that those are two
seriously asinine fashion trends, but why should I care?
Why can’t I just let them be? Why do I feel the need to
cast a scornful eye at these over privileged sons of
bitches? See, I’m doing it right now.

The aging hipster syndrome is nothing new. Jack Kerouac
drew himself into seclusion when a generation of young
Americans started emulating his style of dress and his
outlook on life. Bob Dylan carried an air of disapproval
regarding the hippie generation that he in no small part
helped create. Sure, trends always veer off their original
course and often drift sharply astray from the intentions of
the initial trendsetter. Even so, it is all too often the
case that with age comes a sense of superiority over modern
movements. This idea constantly manifests itself in
parents’ and teachers’ admonishing their students, using the
classic opening line of, “When I was your age…” I can see
how it’s difficult to let go the notion that progress and
trends should stop where one leaves them upon bidding
farewell to one’s own youth. But just as I’m glad new
trends kept right on coming to replace disco music,
snot-green appliances, and brown cars, so too will future
generations give thanks that they never coexisted with the
likes of Billy Idol and Super Nintendo. As I watch
powerlessly as pre-fading eclipses pre-ripping as the jean
pretreatment of choice, Blink 182 passes for a rock band
while Guns ‘n’ Roses is all but forgotten, and rappers like
Ice Cube give way to fairies like Ludacris, I have no choice
but to bite my tongue and recall a couple lines from a poem
that was first introduced to me by my beloved 8th grade
science teacher, Mr. Bell. Of course I had no idea at the
tender age of 13 that I’d think of this line time and time
again throughout my life, or that it would seem to spawn new
meaning each time it found its way into my subconscious.
Much like the previous quote, this one is also borrowed from
a renowned wordsmith. Furthermore, both excerpts deal with
young niggas aging, so to speak. But this one was written
not by Dr. Dre in 1999 like the previous, but by Max Ehrmann
in his poem entitled “Desiderata,” first published in 1927.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

That second line is the one that always pops into my head.
“Gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” What does it
mean? I’ve asked myself that question many times, and come
up with just as many different answers. When I was 15, it
meant finally getting rid of my Lego collection, composed of
the fruits of a dozen Christmases and birthdays, thousands
of hours of yard work, and twice as many hours of
incessantly pestering my parents to take me to Toys R Us.
When I was 17, it meant making the decision once and for all
that I would no longer care about other people’s personal
opinions of me, that I would no longer strive to conform to
teenage social norms, that I would not value or devalue my
own character based on a set of ideals to which I did not
subscribe. When I was 19 it meant coming to the conclusion
that, after binge drinking far more weekends than not for my
first year and a half of college, the novelty had worn off
and I had a lot more fun hanging out with a few close
friends and just drinking a couple beers, smoking a joint,
listening to music, and talking about things that really
interested us. Now I’m 22, I graduate college in less than
6 months and begin a full-time career only a couple months
later. I’ve given up the Legos, the desire for popularity,
and the binge drinking. I guess you could say I’ve
gracefully surrendered the things of youth reasonably well
so far. But what do I surrender next? Something obviously
has to go sooner or later… and this is what brings me back
to my discussion of aging hipster syndrome. Read on…

I’m beginning to feel like I have no place where once I fit
right in. I don’t mean that friends or social cliques have
rejected me, just that I feel less and less like I belong in
the youth culture as a whole. This shouldn’t be confused
with any kind of gap between the fashion trends or music
tastes of today’s youth and my own. Hell, in that
department I fit in with my parents’ generation more than my
own. What I mean is that I feel less and less like part of
the youth culture in a more broad sense. I no longer feel
like an idealistic, rebellious kid with a chip on my
shoulder and something to prove to everybody. And I
certainly don’t want to go back to feeling that way. It’s
an interesting phase that all young people go through,
driven by hormones and ignorance, and characterized by
misdirected aggression. They project the evils and
inequities of the world onto the adult population as a whole
and perceive some kind of holy struggle between the youth
and the ‘establishment.’ They feel that their voices should
be heard and that the adult world with all its outdated
norms and prejudices is stifling them and preventing their
idealistic notions from becoming reality. Don’t get me
wrong, there’s a degree of truth to that mindset. It is,
however, a grossly misinformed oversimplification fueled by
a complete lack of life experience. The adults of this
world are not bound together as a single unit whose sole
purpose is to oppress the youth and perpetuate the ills of
modern society. As people grow up, they don’t necessarily
lose their ideals or their sense of what’s right and wrong
as many young people think. Sure, many adults do lose
touch, but not all of them. They just grow more realistic,
focused, and perhaps cynical about the world around us.
Although there’s something to be said for a person who wants
to turn the world upside down on the basis of his ideals,
this desire in the heads of inexperienced youth usually just
leads to misinformed rebellion and bad melodramatic poetry.
There are plenty of idealistic adults out there, they’re
just not dressed like Goths and boycotting Biology class.

Now that you’ve read the words of a 22-year-old who has yet
to dive head-first into the proverbial Real World but who
still feels justified in explaining the faults in the
mindset of rebellious youth, you might wonder what gives me
the right to talk like I’m Yoda criticizing young Luke
Skywalker for his childish faults. Although I lack
significant life experience to separate myself from the
‘youth’ category in the eyes of anyone who’s got even 5
years on me, I can say without a doubt that I no longer
identify with the non-directional sense of idealism that was
a large part of my outlook on life 2 or 3 years ago. So
what has changed about me? I haven’t sacrificed my personal
integrity, my sense of morality, or my ideals. But the
little bit of experience I’ve gleaned, especially in the
past couple years, has taught me that general anger at some
preconceived notion of ‘the establishment’ won’t get me
anywhere. I’ve learned that you’ve got to choose your
battles wisely. I’ve learned that unfocused aggression is
quite possibly the worst way to go about addressing your
concerns. I’ve learned that if you’re going to take a stand
against something, you’d better make damn sure you really
know exactly what it is you’re standing up for.

Now, where was I going with all this? Oh, right. I was
thinking that I must give something up to complete the
transition that is already underway, whether I like it or
not. What part of myself must I shed in order to continue
growing? What must I “gracefully surrender,” to use the
words of Max Ehrmann? I think I’ve got it figured out,
though attaching a name to it does nothing but help me to
recognize it. Letting it slip from my grasp, not wanting to
at the moment but knowing that it is in my best interest to
do so, will require more than giving it a name and writing a
4-page piece of rambling prose about it that nobody will read.

The answer, I believe, is that I must gracefully surrender
my innocence, as must all who plan to experience life at all.

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