I’m neither young nor old, but I feel like both. We always seem at war with the various things that make up the experience of life: we wrestle, sometimes wrongly, in the ring of how to define a right thing, we stubbornly straddle the divide between being able to run a mile and an ever-increasing unwillingness to accept the pain involved, we bounce and bob between the jostling shoulders of sadness and joy, melancholy and hope, exhaustion and vigor. We’d probably always choose to go out and play, dare a friend to eat mud and chase rabbits; but, truth is, the clock on the wall never gives us an alternative as to the unavoidable necessity of growing up, growing old, ever silvering into a state of spectating more than sporting. The walk into wisdom is over uneven ground, to be sure, and it’s tiresome. The rabbits were always faster than we were anyway.
Still, being forever young is a choice, isn’t it? At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with physical infirmity, shortness of breath, woundedness of faith or scars on the heart. Because it’s a deeply spiritual, emotionally renewing, look-up-not-down, dare-to-smile-in-the-face-of-Mister-Serious kinda thing. It’s about waking up undefeated, and coming back to bed with a still-firm grip on the hilt of our own happiness.
I can remember a handful of especially harrowing, hurtful moments when I was a kid; I came from no fairy tale childhood but it was rarely terrifying. I imagine this is true of most of us. Why, then, do so many of us, so often, daydream about returning there? The answers are likely as complex as we are internally, like a laundry basket full of loose and entangled coat hangers. Some among us will look at the basket and give it the extraordinarily annoying thirty minutes sadly necessary to restore order in that little corner of chaos. Others will come to peace with it, assigning a spot for it, sighingly accepting the basket as simply an imperfect place to store unused hangers, dislodging one or two at a time as they are needed. There are others still who would just as soon throw the entire torment of it in the garbage and go shopping to buy a hundred more neatly packaged new ones, starting the whole sordid affair over again. And, finally, there are a few, in the true spirit of feng shui, who would never allow such a basket of mayhem to materialize in the first place. I’ve been all of these personalities at various points in my life. And none of them represent an inherently incorrect approach to a problem, nor are they certain evidences of character weakness; they’re just proofs of how we cope, feel and deal our way through the deluge of daily life. Nothing more than growing pains and fast rabbits. But if I were to try to distill from this a single, elegant reason as to why we might long for childhood, it would be that we just wish for an empty basket, free from all our superfluous self-entanglements. For me, it’s not even the freeing idea of an empty basket, but forgetting altogether why I would need one in the first place. Some will say it’s about starting over; but don’t we already happen upon that chance every day? Besides, would it really be worth giving up all those scraped-knuckle treasures and time-tarnished tokens we’ve picked up along the trail to this point? No way, not for me. I’m keeping those in a secret box under the bed of my best dreams. Instead, I’m talking about setting ourselves free by getting reacquainted with our sense of wonder, our core good-heartedness, our potential for wingless flight, our unafraid and fun-loving impulse to jump into a body of water without a bottom we can see.
I was an 80s latch-key kid and, for the most part, thankful for it. My mom was a single parent and stayed that way, raising only me the best she knew how (which was often a broken endeavor). I can’t remember a time when she didn’t work two jobs, so I was the picture of free-range parenting and, sometimes, parent-parenting. I should’ve been run over and flattened on my Huffy a thousand times in an era when missing children were advertised on milk cartons. Nobody knew exactly what ‘cell’ meant with regard to the mythical brick-sized phones we heard of but never actually held. On any given night, I could watch three straight hours of MTV without ever seeing a commercial, play an hour of Defender on the Atari 2600, and still make the straight-A honor roll. Saturday morning cartoons were a weekly premeditated, butt-numbing, seven-bowls-of-cereal event. Nevertheless, the ways to get lost seemed harder to find back then. With vastly fewer distractions than my daughters have today, I had all the time in the world to take what I had on hand and make something of it.
Music has always been one of those things for me. The track above is one of maybe twelve or so songs I’ve put together over the last year. I made a final copy of Dublemma a few weekends ago after feeling mostly satisfied with it and just wanting to move on to something new. As background, I listen to all kinds of music. But I pay special attention to stuff that I can fall through into a well of thought or otherwise draw from emotionally. It might be the lyrics or the arrangement or how it meets my mood, but music is mending, meditative and transformative for me. For all of us, I think this is true on some level. Lately, I’ve spent a good deal of time with a genre somewhat loosely referred to as Chillstep (Blackmill, Faux Tales, Vexaic and countless others who tip-toe around the concept), a less edgy and more pensive branching from the larger genre of Dubstep in general. It’s typically melodic and instrumental, which stays out of the way of my words while I’m writing, but it’s energetic enough that I don’t short-out my keyboard in a pool of drowsy drool or vacantly stare a hole through my monitor with glassed-over zombie eyes. That said, Dublemma was born of those influences and inspirations. It starts with the basic beauty of the piano (an instrument central to some of the most formative periods of my life) and hangs on to that rope as the dynamic challenges of life additively cling to it. In that sense, it’s about keeping to the core of who we are, remembering the indomitable spirit of our youth and the freedoms found in those now dim simplicities, and being vigilant in the ever-returning fight to stay true to what matters. It’s about things getting complicated, and making them less so by approaching them head-on, then passing through them as we would the mirrored surface of a dark lake, with the fearlessness of a child who wants only to swim.
After all, it’s only a dilemma if you doubt or don’t know what to do.