A lot of these blog posts stem from articles I’ve seen on the web or they are commentary on the ideas and work of other people, people far more talented and advanced in their craft than I am. Sometimes, though, I come up with a concept I want to speak on that stems from my own head! As this blog started with a personal rumination, I figured I’d return briefly to the medium.
In my own writing, I find that a thought worth expounding on often starts with a conversation. It’s why I think I love conversation so very much (and why I love blogging, as it’s a digital conversation). Anyhow, about two weeks ago I had a booze-drenched tete-a-tete with a friend about many things, including music. Late in the night we somehow reached a point where we began to compare knowledge of early Cure records—in particular the so-called Goth trilogy of the early 80s (Pornography, Faith, and Seventeen Seconds). Vodka threw my sense of politeness to the wind and so, in the midst of arguing about what album “A Forest” is on, I asked bluntly” Why do you love this music so much? What does it mean to you?”
I know why I loved this gloomy atmospheric pop rock, music written just from the edge of sanity (or at least music that tried to make you think it was). One word sums it up: angst. Or maybe a few more words… how about self doubt? It was certainly in reaction to my fear of the outside world, of the distress and disaster on the news, and the overarching bleakness of a planet that often looked like it would either blow up or boil up. Not to mention my fear of eating in a high school cafeteria.
I realized that I was actually defensive of my love of those early Cure albums and protective of what I once thought was an oh-so-special experience with them. They gave me haven from the above-mentioned grief. But why be defensive now, at my age, a good ten years away from the experience? Pretty dumb, especially considering I actually find those albums to be almost un-listenable now.
Since I left adolescence, I’ve learned I was not so alone in my angst. It always surprises me that while I was dramatic in expressing my difficult adolescence, the “normal” kids around me were just as traumatized by high school as I was. They just wore smiles and sneakers. Or they got so high they couldn’t smile or frown. Or they stayed home with their homework and have gone on to receive rich, rewarding, and often scholarship-funded higher educations because of it. When I run into people I knew in high school, often people who I thought were so together, they sometimes confess to me that they were just as fucking miserable and insecure as I was. I guess because I was some sort of symbol of adolescent misery, now, as we are all adults, they want me to know they felt it too! Going to the hometown bar during holidays often results in some kind of “You know, I was unhappy too? I just couldn’t show it like you did.”
I did wear my angst on my sleeve and it was a badge. It wasn’t just the aesthetic of defiance and doom (my personal style was a blend of Siouxsie Sioux, thrift store findings, some post riot grrl messiness, and a lot of red lipstick); it was also an attitude. It could easily be summed up by most of the lyrics on the Smiths’ first record or by the aforementioned caterwauling of Mr. Robert Smith. Or certainly by J.D. Salinger, a Robert Smith for an earlier generation. Or by Rimbaud, or even Sartre, at least what little I could understand of what I was reading.
“On a high building there is so much to do.” So sang Mr. Smith on Pornography, an album I would sit and “study” alone in my room in the dark while chain-smoking, often with a single candle lit to keep me company. But what happens when you choose to stop thinking about hanging out on high buildings, when you move on from contemplating the bottom? I guess you go to college, you experiment, and you experience all new kinds of unhappiness (including the Junior year “what the fuck will I do with my life?” crisis). You fall in love, you fall out of love, and you keep moving through phases. You change apartments and dorms, again and again. Your twin comforter gets threadbare. You graduate. Maybe you go on to travel to Brazil for a year, or you work in a clothing store before you head off for an MBA. Maybe you go to grad school for language arts. Maybe you get a real job—oh what a plethora of post-teen angst options there are! But where does the angst really go? Does it disappear?
I looked at my friend during this conversation about the Cure and I realized that we are both adults talking about a ridiculous subject. And I’m not the same person I was who listened to that death rock over and over again and I thank the gods for having been able to grow and move past that. However, I’ve still got angst DAMNIT! But I’ve also got a job; I’ve got bills; I’ve got an apartment to clean and a roommate to respect. I’ve got to think about not scaring away potential mates but instead finding some respectable guy to bring to a Christmas party. I can’t yell at my parents anymore because they are old. And they put me through college. And, most of all, because I respect them as adults. I no longer see them as tyrants, but as friends who continue to support me emotionally (and occasionally nag).
I am writing this because I don’t think it’s uncommon. I think all kinds of people my age have this internal experience, even if they weren’t sad little Goths like me at 15. Whether it is the state of the world, our dire government, the state of your body, the stability of your friendships, general fear of your future, hatred of your daily routine–those anxieties still exist within you. As a younger, more vulnerable person they may have caused you to immerse yourself in soccer, or caused you to be antisocial and/or counter cultural (like me); maybe they directed you to be radically political. Perhaps they drove you to smoke pot everyday before school. Or maybe they sent you hanging over greasy boys at the local gas station?
Right now you’re probably at work and have nothing to do with such habits anymore. You probably drink too much sometimes at parties. You might have some credit debt. You might look at your friends getting engaged and think, “am I next?” You might be engaged—and you’re freaked. Or right now you might be contemplating leaving your lover to go to another city. You might be secretly smoking cigarettes when everyone else is asleep. You might hate your job but not know how to get out of it. You are probably paying back college loans. You might have had to go to your first funeral recently.
Are these scenarios indicative of the 25-35-year-old person new angst? I certainly know they are the topics of many of my conversations with my peers/friends.
In conclusion, I am still grappling with this—so there are no answers, really. Now that I must deal with the realities of adulthood and with the new anxieties of that adulthood, there isn’t really even that much time to deal with older insecurities that never completely vanished with my early youth.
However, I’m not on a high building with something to do. I’ve actually got quite a lot to do on the ground. You probably do too.