Looking back over the 5 years since college, and the difference between being 23 and 28, the biggest change, beyond any of the things I’ve accomplished that I’m proud of or directions I’ve gone in, is my first experience of what feels like genuine despair.
I know that worse is in store and that, in the scheme of a full life, 28 is still extremely young, and I know I haven’t experienced debilitating loss or overwhelming physical pain or reached a point where I truly couldn’t carry on, but I nevertheless have had a handful of nights and days where I’ve felt completely crushed and stranded and desperate for life to be over, in a way that I never did during adolescence or college, when my sense of the value of what I was doing was absolute. I’ve always known that the path of art is difficult and that there will be inevitable setbacks and day jobs, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve experienced the feeling of mind-numbing futility — a sense either that I’ll never accomplish what I’ve set out to accomplish, or, worse, that even if I did accomplish it and was recognized for it, that I wouldn’t feel any different than I do now.
This feeling, most palpable over the course of long nights spent awake, shivering, fearing my parents’ deaths, the dissolution of my childhood home, the collapse of defining friendships and the failure to forge new ones, the falling apart of all my notes, ideas, sketches, reams of unrealized work, the impossibility of ever making money doing something I care about, global warming and overpopulation and the explosion of the sun, is like tar or oil seeping into my muscles, thickening me, making me sludgy.
It’s a feeling of doom that, in the morning, I’ve tried to pick myself up from, no matter how tired I was, and go about the day, even though the feeling most often lingered, sometimes throughout entire weeks. But I think this feeling is crucial for crossing the line from late adolescence into genuine early adulthood; it’s the feeling not just that time is limited and dreams are only as valuable as the actions they compel, but that everything, no matter how transcendent it seems, remains fraught with this black tar of doom … the adult body oozes it.
It’s this tar that causes the body to die, but also to overcome the pleasure of nursing figments and enter the real world, straining to reach its potential. If one never experienced these dark nights of the soul, as I never had at 23, I think the body would remain immortal, but also impotent, stuck in a holding pattern of ideation, dreaming about itself without quite deigning to exist. Doing anything, artistic or otherwise, requires dredging up this black tar and using it as a kind of fuel, accelerating your own death in the attempt to make your life worthwhile.
People near 30 still think of themselves as near 20 until they meet people who are actually near 20, and then the size of the gulf is astonishing. The meat of 20-year-olds is still raw. After enough nights of shivering and sweating and praying for redemption or oblivion, I now feel my meat is cooked and that the time to eat it, and serve it to others, has come.