My Struggles; youthful idealism

y'all really don't know my life
y'all really don't know my struggles
or how much liquor I guzzle
y'all really don't know my fears
and how many years to get here

Missy Elliott, My Struggles

I always wondered how the idealism of the '60's morphed into the greed and me-first attitudes of the Yuppies in the '80's. And for the same reasons why do so many people scoff at the "idealism of youth." But I am starting to understand the connection. It is the same reason that there is a saying about Quakers that says, "Quakers came to the new world to do good --instead they did well."

Recently, I have found myself putting income ahead of passion. I want to earn enough money to make rent and have an apartment to myself. However, things are never that simple. It's a selfish decision that will cost a lot even it it appears to be imbued with simplicity on the outside. I have debts. I don't have any furniture. And right now I don't have money for a deposit. Much less rent for this month. I don't want to live paycheck to paycheck anymore. I looking for work and if I resign myself to a boring bureaucratic life I can easily stop having to worry about finances within a year.

How nice it would be to not have to lie awake at night thinking about the shell game of my finances. The pages of lists and spread sheets of my personal budget are imprinted on my eyelids. Or having to open the file of my excel spread sheet budget "My Financial Goatfuck" every pay day and see my paycheck evaporate and only pay down the list of "I owe" by a hundred dollars, even though I paid much more than that--gotta love interest.

I have spent the last few months reading pulp sci-fi. It keeps me occupied enough to not be tempted to spend money. I go to work, come home sometimes have dinner and then read for 4 hours and go to bed. I have virtually stopped drinking and am toying with stopping smoking. At this rate I will be well prepared to become a cog in the bureaucratic machine and a cat lady. Ready to embrace my powerfully mundane existence. A deal with the devil, financial security is yours it will only cost you your personality and humanity.

I think I understand now what happened to the idealism of the '60's...and I am not happy about it.

To be continued...

1 comment:

RichardM said...

As someone who graduated from high school in the 60's maybe I can give a little insight into where some of that idealism went. (It's not all gone by the way.) Some lyrics from Paul Simon come to mind "There's many times I've been mistaken, and many time confused, yes and I've often felt forsaken and certainly misused." When I graduated from college I had student loans to pay off and my father had just died leaving my mother with just enough money to get by. I suddenly had no one to rely on but myself. I got a job working for the State of New Jersey as a tax examiner and could earn enough to pay down those loans. The narrowness of the job was maddening and I knew that it would not be good for my mental health to stay there very long. After about a year of this I went to grad school to pursue the dream. Several things happened to put dents in my idealism. I began to see the personal flaws of the great philosophical minds that I admired so much. And these personal flaws were far from trivial. Worse I saw to what extent these great minds were only concerned with personal success and were indifferent to the truth. They wrote what would get them published; not what they thought was really true. And then living with too little money grinds you down. My wife's battle with cancer left us with no cash, a barely functioning car and large debts. At that point I realized that my first priority would have to be to make enough money to support my family and that the pursuit of idealistic goals would have to come after I had tenure and the relative financial security that offered. Getting tenure turned out to be much longer and harder than expected. Skipping over the details it took many years more than it should and that long struggle wore down my idealism further. Life is often a struggle that wears you down. You win some, you lose some, and in the process you get tired. And when you lose you reassess and often you decide to aim at less lofty and more realistic goals. Some people do seem to give up on their ideals completely and lapse into cynicism. But others of us struggle on with reduced expectations but a steady refusal to surrender. We wouldn't have to lower our expectations as much if we had more friends and allies to offer support, but since they are rather few and far between compromise is inevitable. Late in life I have come to accept that compromise does not mean surrender.