Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Quiet Birthday

It was my birthday yesterday, and I turned 26 like someone slipping out of a party through the back door to have a cigarette alone on the back porch. That's not supposed to stir idle tales of melancholy. The person on the porch isn't leaving the party. He's just taking a break. And he's drunk as shit. And he's probably gotten all loud and handsy. And he's probably laughed his throat sore. But now he just needs a lone cigarette under the hailing light of a western moon to quietly reflect on the past and consider the future.

But it's not some big change coming. He doesn't need to strike up the band for a new anthem. Maybe he only needs them to alter a few notes. In his head, it could just be "get Del Taco on the way home" or "call the doctor tomorrow." It becomes a laundry list of the little things as the big picture's still in focus and coming to the good part.

Many asked me what I had planned for my birthday this year and, after several inviting suggestions and a few suggestive invitations, I decided to just stay in. I worked from home and a few things came up that I didn't expect. My mom bought me a bagel and hot chocolate from The Coffee Grove, Rex took me to lunch and Jeff, Rex and Greg took me out for a few calm and collected hours of good beer and delightful conversation (and, the night before, Non and Jessica had me over for a lovely birthday dinner). At night, my parents made French onion soup, croque-monsieur and cheesecake, and we played Settlers of Catan.

And that's all, and actually more than, I wanted for my birthday.

Initially, I had planned to work from home, take myself out for breakfast and lunch, spend the late afternoon reading or playing video games and then eat dinner with the family. It didn't change that much, but I was excited for the day and thrilled with the small additions. I've seen a declining interest in my birthday celebration over the years, though I've also noticed the way I celebrate my birthday is somewhat reflective of what brought me the most happiness that year.

When I was 25, I celebrated by playing a gigantic game of basketball. I felt that I got the most from being healthy that year.

When I was 24, I went to dinner and a movie with my girlfriend. I felt I got the most out of a committed relationship that year.

When I was 23, I had a pool party and we ended up sitting around the jacuzzi talking the afternoon away. I felt I got the most from my friends that year.

When I was 22, I threw a house party in my first rented place and a whole lot of people came. I felt I got the most from freedom that year.

When I was 21, I celebrated my birthday for six days and called it Jake-A-Palooza. I felt I got the most from ego that year.

By the way, "family" doesn't make the list of what I get the most out of every year, as my family has been an unsaid first since I was born.

Beyond that year of legal drinking, I don't remember what I did for my birthday. I believe all the drinking on my 21st birthday destroyed part of my memory. All the whiskey and all the beer set fire to my warehouse of teenage boxes. It was an electrical fire when the synapses of my brain began popping and sparking, laying waste what came before.

I just know that, on my 20th birthday, my father told me, "In ten years, you'll have a career. In five years, you might have a wife." He patted me on the back, smiled and exited my room. I stared at the empty doorway for a moment and then spent the rest of the night on the floor listening to Bruce Springsteen records, trying to calm myself down.

No matter how inviting the future is, the present is always much more comfortable. I like what came, what's come and what's coming. And, in my 26 years on this earth, I can say that I lost my head for a few of them, but I've done well for the most part. I can site moments of mania and days of bad decisions, but, if I had to chalk everything up to one of two columns, I think I'd be pretty excited about the score.

And I've had plenty of time to realize this, as I've been granted two and a half decades on this planet to figure it all out. Obviously, I've spent a very small fraction on actually concentrating on figuring it all out, but nearly effort in a person's outrageously fragile existence is subtle attempts to figure it out. Every friend you make as a kid, every shitty poem you write as a teenager, every day job you interview for as an adult are all part of figuring it out, though most of us make it look easy. It's easy to figure yourself out and you don't have to spend a lifetime building the goddamn machine. Instead, just oil it here and there and add some cogs when you feel it's necessary. It's not a matter of having the biggest machine, but it's about the owning up to the one that runs the most efficiently.

In case you're wondering, I gave myself a fuck-ton of analogies for my birthday and I'm using them now. Woo!

This past year, I feel as though I've gotten the most out of staying in, sometimes with my family and sometimes alone. I've read more than I ever have, I've watched more movies than I ever have and I've become cleaner and more organized with my life. This is not to imply that I haven't gone out. I mean, shit, this past year included Cowboy Spirit and whatever the hell this recent "spring anarchy" counts as.

I've had a tremendous amount of fun in the last 365 days, but when I honestly consider what has helped me the most evolve as a person, it was making the most of staying in. And it wasn't really about figuring it out. I'm figuring it out all the time. I'm like the Sherlock Holmes of my own life (birthday analogy!). As I've stayed in, I'm improved as a writer more than I ever have in a year and I've more or less come to understand the general pace of adult life. I've worked on social nuances and improved my rhythm of being a healthy human being.

Among the very small number of people I celebrated my birthday with between the very few moments of my birthday celebration (a total of two dinners, a lunch and a late afternoon fit of drinking), I came to absolutely no outstanding conclusion whatsoever. I'm not searching for a great answer, I'm not waiting for the great reply and it felt great for my birthday to come and be unsure if I'm where I think I should be or that I just don't care.

That is my great revelation, and it was a great birthday.


Celeste Hoang said...

this post makes my heart feel so nice and warm.

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