At the end of this month, I'll be 30 years old. I'm not sure if I've been dreading or dreaming of this day, but I do know that it's been ever present in the back of my mind since right around my 25th birthday.
People have lots of things to say about turning 30.
I often read articles or hear people saying how wrong it is set deadlines for ourselves. They say it's not healthy to plan on having accomplished certain things by a certain age. After all, Vera Wang opened her first boutique at 40, Jon Hamm was cast in Mad Men at 35, and even Jesus didn't really get started until 30.
I've been given plenty of (unsolicited) advice to not be so hard on myself for not being where I wanted to be in the years leading up to age 30. I've rejected just about all of it.
I don't believe that it's somehow inappropriate to set goals for oneself, nor do I believe that there is anything inherently wrong with having a sense of urgency in pursuing whatever it is that you believe will make you happy.
I don't know why, but I've always been hyper-aware of the limited time that I have on this earth. Not necessarily grateful, or enthused - but aware. And because of this, I haven't always been the easiest person to get along with.
It's made me critical of my friends, and it's made me have perhaps unfairly high expectations of both my personal and professional relationships. I can admit to that, but I can't really apologize for it. After all - I just simply don't have the time.
Growing up can be defined in a number of ways.
I've felt for a while now that the most accurate definition of growing up was accepting the reality that your dreams aren't going to come true.
Of course, we all know that we are probably not in the .01 percent of people who actually become rock stars and astronauts. But for some reason the prospect of just coasting through one's life uneventfully until death doesn't feel real. We simply don't believe that such a thing could ever happen to us.
That is of course, until it does.
Out of the past decade, I would say that I probably enjoyed maybe six months of it. And that's cumulatively. Ten years of mild to moderate sadness and disappointment with a few cool weekends peppered in. Add them all up and maybe - six months.
And it sucks. It really does. I honestly wish I wasn't able to say that and mean that, but it's true and I do. For the most part my 20's were a nightmare that even if you told me I could go back and try them over again I probably wouldn't for fear that I'd have to experience all of that a second time.
I spent a giant chunk of it in a weird autopilot. I took jobs that made me cry in parking lots as an adult man, because I couldn't bear the thought of having to ask anyone for help. There was no way I was going to move in with any friends or family so I did what I had to do to prove to myself and the world that I could take care of myself. And I paid a gigantic price for it.
But maybe the most tragic part of all was the response I would get when I would express wanting to change my circumstances.
"Why can't you just be happy with yourself?"
The Pirkei Avos teaches that a wealthy man is one who is happy with one's lot in life.
While I recognize the wisdom in such a statement, I'm perhaps even more aware of the fact that my ancestors would also probably prefer that I stop eating shellfish - and rock arguably worst haircut invented by any culture, ever.
Anyway, it would seem that most of those around me have always been in agreement with at least the first sentiment. The general consensus was always that I was just a complainer. I was someone who could just never be pleased and was always looking for a way to run away from their problems.
I hate that expression.
I think that running away from one's problems is often unfairly used to describe the act of simply trying to be where you want to be in life.
I don't understand why we discourage each other from trying to escape a fate that for all intents and purposes - should be escaped. Moving to Japan was not the first time I expressed a desire to change to my circumstances. But it was met with the same response as any of the other ideas that I've had.
"Why can't you just accept things the way they are?"
"I don't understand what you think is out there."
and my personal favorite
"What's wrong with you?"
I don't know, if not wanting to turn 30 at the bar down the road from my high school is wrong, then maybe there's no hope for me after all. Here's what I do think.
I think that death actually occurs twice.
And I think that the people who discourage their friends from pursuits of happiness and fulfillment have already experienced the first death.
I don't believe in souls, but I do feel that there's something inside of us that drives us. We all have this thing that makes us want to go out and experience the parts of life that are worth living. Call it a fire, a light, call it whatever you want.
For many people, this dies long before the body does.
Some people are born with it already dead.
I've had near death experiences of both kinds. One time I fell in a pool when I was really little and my dad came and pulled me out. Another time I hit black ice and spun out on the freeway. More recently I was attacked from behind by a drug-addled man in New York and was being choked before strangers finally saw what was happening and intervened.
But none of these were as disturbing as confronting the other death.
A life completely and utterly devoid of joys and satisfactions - a living death.
Out of those six enjoyable months, probably two of them were spent re-watching The Sopranos alone in my room.
And out of the thousands of lines of brilliant writing by David Chase, perhaps nothing has ever haunted me more than a particular exchange between Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico towards the end of the first season.
Christopher is a young up-and-coming gangster in Tony Soprano's crew. Paulie is a seasoned veteran in the crime family, and while not quite a father figure to Christopher, is still there at times as a kind of an uncle, or big brother.
Christopher was on his way to making a pretty decent life for himself. He had a cool apartment, drove a Lexus, and even had a nice girlfriend. All he had to do was go to work and do his job. If he kept it up, eventually he'd get a promotion or two, and everything would be pretty much taken care of.
But this didn't make him happy. It actually depressed him to no end.
So one night when Paulie comes by to check up on him, Christopher opens up and does his best to explain what it feels like.
You ever feel like nothin’ good was ever gonna happen to you?
Yeah. And nothin’ did. So what? I’m alive. I’m survivin’.
That’s it. I don’t wanna just survive. Says in these movie writing books that every character has an arc. You understand? Like everybody starts out somewheres, and then they do somethin’ or somethin’ gets done to them, it changes their life. That’s called their arc. Where’s my arc? Take Richard Kimble, all right? No, that’s no good. His arc is run, run, jump off a dam- run. Uh– Keanu Reeves, Devil’s advocate. You see that?
Right. Keanu’s a lawyer. Gets all turned on by money, power and the devil. Then his wife says to him, “you’re not the man i married.” Leaves him. You see the arc? He starts down here. He ends up here. Where’s my arc, Paulie?
Kid, richard kimble, the devil’s whatever, those are all make believe. Hey, i got no arc either. I was born, grew up, spent a few years in the army, a few more in the can and here i am. A half a wise guy. So what?
I got no identity. I mean, even Brendan Filone’s got an identity. He’s dead.
Maybe Paulie was truly comfortable with the hand he'd been dealt. Or perhaps he simply preferred to keep a life of quiet desperation - quiet.
I can't say for sure.
I wont pretend that Japan is the final answer.
But I also won't discount the possibility that it might be.
It's been nearly 4 months now, and in this sort time I've felt more like my old self than I have in a very long time. As for the sustainability of it all, I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
As of the time of this writing I have no plans to leave.
For a long time I was worried that I would never be able to form friendships like I had with those who shared my experience of growing up in the place that I did.
But I'm learning that you don't have to share the same tragic history to feel close to someone. As it turns out, you barely even need to share each other's language.
Today there are several people in my life who were strangers 4 months ago, that I now can't imagine not having around. There's a place I walk to every morning that I can't imagine not working at. And of course, there is a seemingly endless supply of Japanese food and drink that I can't imagine going a day without.
Is this my arc? I don't know. But I do know that everything before this certainly wasn't. So I'm going to do my best to stick around and find out.
So for now, keep on keepin' on - or as I like to say these days , お疲れ様です.
See you when I'm 30.