on erratic & maverick

I went to the Cal library today to get some books for a class I’m teaching. Along the way, for the first time, ever I think, I really felt like a professor. (Which is a little weird since I’ve been teaching now for almost two years.) I’m thinking it had something to do with the students. I kept thinking about how much separated me from them, and how that rift is growing, steadily, by the day.

It’s a gulf defined in years, obviously. I’m turning thirty-five next month which means that most of these students are fourteen to seventeen years younger than me. But it’s not just the years. It’s all the ineffable things — the extra fifteen years of experience and the accompanying maturity; the trade off between acting like I know who I am and actually knowing who I am; the quantity and quality of knowledge I’ve accumulated this past decade-and-a-half.

Later, at home, I started thinking about those questions “old-guys” like me are often asked — would you give up what you have now for what you had then; what would you do differently, if you could go back, knowing then what you know now? Those sorts of things.

Nope. No no no. Wouldn’t change a thing.

It occurred to me that when I was eighteen or nineteen or even twenty-two or -three, I had what must have looked like confidence. It must’ve looked like confidence because I would rush headlong into things without any thought to the consequences. And not just things or events — the stupid tattoo I got, the drugs I did, that sort of thing — but ideas and relationships and fashion trends and styles, too. Flirting with punk and metal and being a hippie and swearing off pop and then embracing it depending on who I was hanging out with that month. Diving into existentialism, literary criticism, Taoism, cognitive science, whatever, and acting like an expert on each after reading but one article. I know that I spent a lot of time back then acting like I knew what the hell I was talking about when sitting around with my friends talking about philosophy and religion and politics and music.

I didn’t know shit. Let’s be honest.

I think that, as a young man, whatever I rushed headlong into I rushed into out of a mixture of naiveté and fear. I didn’t know any better. I was totally unable to appreciate the consequences of my actions, or, worse, didn’t even think about the consequences; and I was desperately afraid of embarrassing myself in front of my friends and so I would change ideas, clothes, musical tastes, whatever, depending on which way the wind was blowing in my social circles that week.

Getting older, I find myself more thoughtful. I find myself thinking of the consequences of my actions more. I find myself weighing options and listening to other people. And I find myself more secure in my choices and tastes saying, hey, you might think I look like a tool in a tie, but I’m wearing one anyway. You might think it’s weird to go from Stevie Wonder to Sufjan Stevens in one playlist, but I don’t. Suck it up.

And I sure as hell don’t regret all of those stupid, fearful and naive things I did as a kid because, well, it’s what helped me become the more confident, informed, intelligent, rational person I am. And I know my limits. I know there’s things I don’t know, but I’m okay with that. I’ll learn them, or other things, over time.

I look at these kids, eighteen, nineteen years old, still fumbling around in the dark, trying to find themselves, figure out who they are, who their real friends are. And I have hope that they’ll figure it out. They’ve got time, after all, time to try on different identities to find the one that fits. Like I did. Like I think most of us do. We grow up, we get a little more mature, we feel comfortable in our skins. We become grown ups.

I expect eighteen year olds to be flighty, to oscillate wildly from day to day. Frankly, I expect better of seventy-year-old Senators.

But maybe that’s just me.