A Few Words About a Decade
When the clock struck midnight, we threw the breaker.
We had planned it for hours. A group of us were stationed in the basement ready to flip the switch as soon as the rest had finished counting down. While we were a group of intelligent kids with liberal ideals, and while we were all about 95% sure that the Y2K bug had been both debunked and figured out, that didn’t stop us from thinking … you know. That other 5%.
- “Exactly Where I’m At” — Ween
- “Window Shop” — KNOWER
- “Catch a Bad One” — Del the Funky Homosapien
- “Avantcore” — Busdriver
- “Bottom of the River” — Delta Rae
- “Postcard” — Balance and Composure
- “Happiness is a Warm Gun” — The Breeders
- “Field Day for the Sundays” — Wire
- “Riot Rhythm” — Sleigh Bells
- “Your Hands (Together)” — The New Pornographers
- “The Sound” (live) — Carly Rae Jepsen
- “Goodness Pt. 1” — The Hotelier
- “Never Talking to You Again” — Hüsker Dü
- “Call On Me” — Pete Miser
- “Harrison Bergeron” — Snapcase
- “Oh, Angelina” — The Impossibles
- “Steppin’ it Up” — A Tribe Called Quest (w/ Busta Rhymes & Redman)
- “Chain Link Fence” — The Go! Team
- “Gardenia” — Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
- “Auld Lang Syne” (live) — Old Crow Medicine Show
So when the lights went out, some of us snickered. The rest … just kind of looked around. What’s for sure is that no one believed it for a second, not when a quick glance at the still bright street lights betrayed our trick.
And as 1999 ended, and 2000 began, we stumbled around in the dark for a bit.
The lights came back on, and we went back to our business.
The next day, reeking of the last decade’s excess and privilege, casting off ten years of being a kid and turning instead to the reality of a quickly approaching adulthood, I left work early.
I had to. I’d have thrown up if I hadn’t.
Actually, no. I wasn’t thinking about adulthood, or reality, or my past. I was still a freewheeling video game clerk midway through a college degree in biology education, and the future was there for me to shape. I wasn’t preparing for the inevitable march of time. I wasn’t worried about kids or careers or anything really.
I was definitely sick, though. Not with anxiety, but with a hangover. To be fair, I probably did throw up. I can still smell the swig of blueberry Schnapps I took close to midnight.
I’ve never forgotten it. And now, 20 years later, I don’t even drink at all anymore.
Anyway. Where was I?
It’s the end of a decade, which means we’re all busy telling each other what we liked about the last decade. And as much as we’re already tiring of this decade’s retrospectives, of its lists and its click grabs, of its exhaustive navel gazing and, I dunno, TikTok?, I have to admit there was a lot to like.
We got new Star Wars movies and some great music and seven years of pretty good leadership. We’ve seen a lot of late-coming but still welcome progress on social issues, on gender identity, on basic freedoms. We’ve seen the rise of some amazing voices, both in my industry and in the world at large. None of it’s been perfect — not even the Star Wars movies — but it’s also not all bad.
This is why I read all of those decade-ending lists. To remind myself that it’s not all bad. That a lot can change, even when it feels like nothing ever will.
Ten years ago, I still thought I was a kid. I had just turned 31, and I had two kids of my own, but I still felt like I’d never fully grown up. Like I’d been thrashing around so long trying to save myself from drowning that I hadn’t realized the race had already started. I’d see contemporaries starting businesses and pushing change and then I’d see myself: bored copywriter in search of something else.
I was happy. I’ve always been happy. I’ve had a perfect partner for the entire lot of it, and I’ve lived a life of relative ease. But I was also anxious. I’ve always been anxious.
Yet, in this last ten years, something snapped into place. I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I worked pretty hard to create something out of nothing — out of a chance, I helped build a practice — and I found that to be very fulfilling. I figured out how to work. How to care about the things I worked for. About the people I work with and the people I worked for and the people I encountered at conferences and in real life and on the internet.
An identify formed, and a willing audience of early adopters was there to help me with it. They offered thoughts and ideals, they offered direction, and they offered guidance. I borrowed a little from each, tried to give back what I could, and mixed it all into … whatever this is.
A professional, finally. An adult. A father. Or as much of this as ten simple years can do. Which is to say, it’s been a pretty good ten years, all things considered, if you don’t think about how fast it went.
Ten years from now, there’s a very good chance that neither of my kids will still live with me.
I struggle to see ten years as a long time. It doesn’t feel like a lot has changed in a decade — it can’t have been ten full years, after all. But then I look at old pictures. I look at the birth announcement for Isaac — a chalk drawing of his name, his sister standing over it in total excitement, a set of lines drug across the cement as a representation of our new baby. Lines full of promise; pastel guides to what we’d hoped he’d become.
Right now, he’s upstairs. He’s helped around the house with chores. He has real opinions, feelings. He struggles with the same anxieties. He compares himself to others, and he beats himself up over imperfections, and he takes everything very personally, and he’s so much like me that sometimes it hurts. Ten years ago he was just coming into focus. Ten years ago, Sierra was just two. Ten years ago everything seemed busy, but simple.
Ten years ago, I hadn’t figured out the best way to raise them, and every day of the past ten years has been spent trying to balance their self-expression with my need to protect them. To save them from being picked on, from making bad decisions, as if I hadn’t made bad decisions. As if they didn’t shape me. As if they didn’t lead to me, right now, right here, ten years later.
In the past ten years my kids grew from toddlers to pre-teens. They learned to communicate, to develop their own tastes, and to rib me about mine. They discovered traditions and cried when they went away, and they helped create new ones. Some will hold. Some won’t. That’s how traditions work, and they’re learning that too.
Over the past ten years, we’ve encountered a lot of small disasters. Like a shot of Schnapps, each threw everything into a blur, leaving us sick and tired and wishing it was over, the hangover of trauma throbbing in our heads. The tongue lacerations, the basement floods, the sleepless nights, the tornadoes. There was a bear in my car just this summer, for god’s sake. We’ve moved in and out of our basement a half-dozen times for various things, and been to a handful of funerals.
But over the past ten years, I’m happy that, no matter what, I always found my line again. As much as I could; I’d find that line, and I’d walk it. Sometimes the lines would converge with others, or loop around. Sometimes I’d step off for a bit; I’d lose track, or find it wiped away. I’d look around, see the world start to burn, and do what I could to make it through.
I had help. And I wish I’d have done more to help others.
My first decade was spent learning how to live. My second was tied to fighting through bullying and finding a new identity. And my third was making up for lost time.
In this, in my fourth, from the years of 31 to 41, I feel like I was finally focused on being the person I should be. To live kindness as an example, to struggle together around the dinner table, to hold hands and allow forgiveness, to buck the things that might undo me and recognize the points along that line that I could skip. That I could change.
I am still happy. I am still anxious. But now I admit both, and that’s what I can do to keep exploring this line, a piece of chalk in my hand, making new paths whenever I can, reconnecting and learning and staying strong even when my hand wavers. Just as it’s wavered in the past.
I’ll do better next year, and then the ten years after. We all will.
Happy new year.