But whereas Strauss is interested in swinging his flashlight beam into the dark corners of our souls, Josh is not. Despite his keen observances, he also prides himself on knowing just enough to get by when it comes to many subjects and situations. The wrong kind of details muck up the smooth clockwork of life. This philosophy serves him well in sales but proves disastrous when it comes to his wife, whose dissatisfaction with their marriage plays out in very disturbing but covert ways.
Josh’s story is one of belated loss of innocence, which is, I think, the story of being in one’s thirties (this post being yet another chapter in my ongoing and surprising discovery that adulthood is not a big party at the finish line of youth). There are the universal losses of innocence that are well documented in fiction: loss of virginity, first broken heart, etc. But fiction would have you believe all those boxes get checked off by age 22.
So imagine my and Josh’s surprise to discover that the battle of early middle age seems to be how to maintain hope without nurturing false hope. Once you know how much the world can suck—when it’s clear that you’re probably not going to become a rock star with eternally low cholesterol and a devoted model for a spouse and 2.5 adorable, well behaved children who don’t get in the way of your rock star career in any way—how do you still live in it and love it? (And I ask this realizing that I’m still innocent when it comes to the direct effects of war and poverty—the really big stuff.)
The other night my sister was expressing some exhaustion with the dating pool, and I thought about how it’s something different for everyone. I could have given the same jaded speech but substituted “publishing” for “men.” It scared me a little because my sister is not a person I consider bitter or jaded at all. I know she’ll brush herself off in the same way I’ll brush myself off. But can you just do that endlessly?
Being a starving artist or a dreamy-eyed romantic when you’re 22 is charming. When you’re 33, it seems deluded. I’ve seen people my age with these attitudes and they weird me out a little. But who wants to be the chain-smoking hag at the end of the bar raining on everyone’s parade either? Sometimes the only appealing alternative seems to be being fabulously successful in everything you try. But that’s A) not possible and B) would make you kind of out of touch and insufferable in your own way.
So I’m trying to negotiate a fourth territory. I think maybe David Foster Wallace already did it with that one commencement speech, which I should probably reread every week. Of course, it’s hard not to be like, Yeah, but he killed himself, so his answer, which seemed to be the only answer, was not an answer at all for him, was it? I’m against reading too much into the suicide of a person I never met, but I do think a lifelong struggle with depression probably encouraged him to think about the question of how to have faith without innocence more than the average person.
Friday night AK and I saw Robbie Q. Telfer perform at Oxy. I wasn’t familiar with his work, but it gave me lots of hope. It was this fusion of poetry, spoken word and stand-up comedy that took all kinds of twists and turns. A piece would start out hilariously funny and turn dark and poignant without the record ever scratching. Then the end would tie it all together, not so much a neat package as a letter bomb (see his “Douche Bag” piece, and the way it weaves between the literal and the metaphorical like a stunt car on a closed course). Some of the college kids in the cafeteria auditorium finished their pizza and wandered out mid-performance, but Robbie Q. maintained his dignity. He’s only like 28 or 29, I think, so maybe he wasn’t thinking, Ignorant brats. Or maybe he was, a little, and just brushed himself off for now.