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Somewhere, Rip van Winkle is Laughing at Me

March 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Earlier this week, I got a note from an old friend of mine.  I've known Bob for nigh on 25 years (!!!) and though we don't see each other very often, we keep in somewhat sporadic contact with each other.  So I've been able to keep track of Bob and his wife as they've moved to all manner of exotic locations around the world.

So anyway, he told me our high school graduating class is having a reunion this summer.  And I thought, "Wait... that reunion?  Are you sure?  That isn't possible."

How in the world did so much time pass?  What have I been doing all these years?

I don't particularly miss high school.  I'm not nostalgic about it.  But I do have a tendency toward sentimentality. 

I know in my head, with the cold and unflinching certainty only math can provide, that the time has indeed passed.  I can read a calendar as well as the next guy.  But in my heart, I look at where I was then, where I am now, and wonder how it took so many years to get here.  It's like reviewing a road trip from Minnesota to New Mexico and discovering the route took you to Venus and the Lesser Magellanic Cloud along the way.

My life as an adult is so much more than I'd envisioned it would be back when I was a high school senior.  And I'm grateful for that.  Damn grateful.  So it's not like I don't feel as though I've come a long way, a very long way, and in (more or less) the right direction. The person I am now is, I like to believe, almost unrecognizable from the person I was back then.  Not because I was a terrible person at the end of high school, but because I wasn't quite 18 years old.   The world has this weird tendency of changing a person.   And in ways no 17 year old can quite anticipate.

But it's very, very difficult to understand where those years went.  Even when I count them off.  They're there, they're present in the roll call of my life.  They're just so... numerous. 

I'm not old.  I'm certainly not decrepit.  By the standards of the world around me I'm still young.  But I am... contemplative.

It feels as though it took longer to get here than it ought.  I started some endeavors much later than I should have, taken far too long on others, and completely missed the boat on other things that should be well-established parts of my life by now. 

When I was a student—in high school, college, grad school—time passed according to the rhythm of the academic year.  It unfurled at a stately pace, metered by all the rituals and processes and rites of passage marking the path to the finish line.  But once I finished that long journey, I lost the ability to demarcate portions of my life into easily comprehensible chunks.  The seas are wider and wilder here; the lighthouses fewer and dimmer.

Time gets away from me.  It slips through my fingers.

But it always does that.  Even I know that.  So why has this put me in a thoughtful mood?  Was I thunderstruck by the incontrovertible evidence that time has been slipping away all along?  I don't think so.  I've always been aware of it.  Or so I think.  As I say, I'm a sentimental person.  I spend more time contemplating the course of my life than perhaps I should.

Time gets away from us.  It slips through our fingers.

I mentioned Bob, whom I've known since the mid-80s.    At least I see him once in a great while.  (Why, he and his wife took a vacation to New Mexico just recently.  It was only, what, five or six years ago?)  My friend Sara, whom I've known since 1990 or so, is somebody I've seen once in the past 17 or 18 years.  (But we saw each other quite recently.  Just three and a half years ago, I think.  Hardly the blink of an eye compared to the languorous pace of my life.)

How odd that precious life should be punctuated with such long periods of quiescence and dormancy.  Adulthood as a John Cage composition.

I don't know if I'll attend the reunion or not. Do I want to be reminded of who I was then?  Is it worth the effort to try to convey, in one evening, to a bunch of strangers, who I am and how I got from there to here?  While they struggle to do the same with me?  Not sure.  But there's a strange time-warpy feeling to the fact it's even an issue.  I remember how at the end of high school we made jokes about what we might see at reunions in the seemingly impossibly distant future.

(The funny thing about all this is that Bob's email was prompted by a list from the reunion committee.  Apparently I'm one of those classmates deemed MIA/hard to find.  Because I'm not on Facebook, apparently.  I guess nobody considered Googling my highly unique name?)


Scott Denning March 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm
"It feels as though it took longer to get here than it ought. I started some endeavors much later than I should have, taken far too long on others, and completely missed the boat on other things that should be well-established parts of my life by now." That is the best-phrased succinct expression I have encountered for the feeling I have had for a while. Thank you for sharing your introspection, and putting mine in perspective. I think writers are particularly susceptible to curiosity about people once known. (Speaking honestly) it is not even necessary to have *liked* a person to be curious as to how they've arced -- it is a character study, and writers like to know where characters end up and how they got there. BTW - The phrase above: "When I was in a student time passed according to the rhythm of the academic year." Freudian Typo? Orgiastic School Days? Or, proof of Ianic Possession? ;)>
Ian March 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm
Yarks. Definitely a typo. Hell, I had to read your comment twice just to catch the oddity in the phrasing. Sigh... I just can't see typographical errors rendered on a screen. I need physical paper and a red pen in my hands. I think writers are particularly susceptible to curiosity about people once known. (Speaking honestly) it is not even necessary to have *liked* a person to be curious as to how they've arced -- it is a character study, and writers like to know where characters end up and how they got there. Good point. My question, in that case, is how often do people surprise you?
Adrienne March 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm
I was recently invited to my high school reunion; my immediate, unwaveringly negative RSVP did not garner any affection for me. I don't mind, though, because I'm the Charlie Sheen of hermitude. (#WINNING!!*) The interesting thing about it is that I am on Facebook, and I think because of that people already know more about me than I'd reveal in a two-hour party at the old cafeteria (where once we had dances and cliques, sigh). Also, I don't like people. So it's best this way. *You probably don't understand this, because you aren't on Twitter and Charlie Sheen is. That's fine; I don't understand plasma physics.
Ian March 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm
Charlie Sheen is an actor, right? That's exactly why I'm not on Facebook. Seriously-- that's the perfect summary of why the concept of Facebook makes me want to hunch my shoulders and slink back to my cave where the Yellowface won't burn us, precious. I actually considered looking into becoming an honest-to-goodness hermit at one point. But I'm not particularly religious, and it turns out that if you're not then you can't be a hermit. The proper term in that situation is "creepy misanthrope". And here I am today!
Sara G. March 4, 2011 at 9:34 pm
It was (only?!?) 2 and 1/2 years ago but you're right it seems both a long AND a short time. It's the once in 17/18 years part that I find preposterous. I scoff at your reunion committee's amateur efforts. I can personally attest to the effective Google-ability of your unique name. And now that you're a published author? C'mon reunion committee, where's your hustle? As for facebook, I will say this in its defense as a once contemptuous holdout, now converted appreciator of its service- when you live far from home, as I currently do, it provides quick access to digestible chunks of information about what's happening while I'm away- pictures of my godson in MN, complaints about the weathering of blizzards in Chicago (which I read with shameful glee from a hammock in Costa Rica), videos of my young friend Griffin taking his first leap from a teeterboard (circus families- ridiculous). And once I come back to Chicago, or wherever I end up after this, fb is what will let me stay in touch with my hundred-odd new friends from around the world whose paths may well never again cross w/mine geographically. I still think its probably the Devil in a not-so-convincing disguise and I'm just trusting my ability to hang on to my soul when it counts.
Ian March 5, 2011 at 9:13 am
I stand corrected! 2 1/2 years isn't even a blink of an eye compared to our 17-18 year stretch. Which is itself quite preposterous, as you point out. The non-Googling thing amuses me to no end. I envision people typing my name into Google, landing at the website for some guy who writes books, and deciding that this can't possibly be the person they knew in high school. It's the only logical explanation I can produce that's halfway charitable. There are many folks with whom I'd like to have more regular contact, and that I suppose is the slippery slope upon which FB was built. Either way, I have no worries you'll hold your soul throughout your life.
Melinda March 5, 2011 at 10:58 am
This is a wonderful post. It made me think of those days right after the first cold snap when suddenly the leaves on the trees have turned colors overnight. When I was a kid the time between Christmases seemed endless. Now it goes by in an instant and I feel like I'm clutching at my life as it rushes past. On a more prosaic note. I skipped my 10 year reunion. Even thinking about it made my face break out. But I went to my 20 year with vengeance in my heart. I had been the brainy geek that always got dissed (I hated high school), and I went back to rub their noses in my success. I was a lawyer turned screenwriter/novelist working on Star Trek:TNG. I wore a black leather mini skirt and super high heels -- Because I was slim and fit and - I could!- Alla the cheerleaders and football stars had gone to pot. It was lovely. And that shows you what an unworthy person I am. :)
Melinda March 5, 2011 at 11:13 am
I second Sara's thought about Facebook. I find it far easier than my blog, less time consuming, and it seems to generate far more interest and activity then my poor benighted blog. And if I mention a new blog post on Facebook I actually get a few people stopping by. Len and Chris forcibly set me up a Twitter account, but I really don't like it so I almost never tweet. (And that alone is such a preposterous statement that it sums up why I don't like twitter.)
Ian March 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm
I skipped my 10 year reunion, too. I hadn't finished graduate school yet (I got my degree the following summer) and didn't want to show up and have people wondering how stupid I was because I was still in school 10 years later. I went to the 5 year, because it wasn't that far out of high school and I still knew most of these people. As far as I'm aware, there was no 15 year reunion. Or I wasn't invited... If I do go this time, I'll feel like I've actually done a few things with my life since high school. And I'm not obese and bald as was the prediction way back when.
Adrienne March 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm
I think Charlie Sheen is less an actor and more like just a punchline these days. Also, I'd like to amend my previous statement, as I'm worse than "not particularly religious," probably bordering on "militantly areligious." Therefore, I am the Charlie Sheen of creepy misanthropy. (Which is actually much funnier. So, thanks! I'll work that into the forty-seventh installment of Vlad Jetpack, that series I did not steal from you.)
Ian March 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm
Old joke: A man walks in to the doctor. Doctor says, "You've got two weeks to live." Man says, "I want a second opinion." Doctor says, "CHARLIE SHEEN." As soon as they start going up on Goodreads I am SO going to flood you with negative reviews of the Vlad Jetpack books that you totally didn't steal from me. Because I am a rocked out winning event and you can't even comprehend me with a normal brain.
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