[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
I give up. I quit. No more. Not one bit more. I will admit defeat and let my ego take the blows. It’s okay, alright? It’s okay. I’m not quitting anything major or walking away from something that could have ever been great. I’m admitting it has all been done before. Everything.
I used to imagine myself in a great big white room, staring at the possibility of painting words across the whiteness, filling in something new, and having limitless possibility. You reach a certain point in life when you realise it has already been done. The whiteness that covers the walls is not there due to absence, but abundance. Every possible thing of all shapes and colours already exists. I’m not the first one to note this. Of course, not. I’m also not the first to declare that because everything has already been done all we can do is try and do it better or differently. I’m not so clever. I have heard that in movies. I have seen that in television. I have read that in books. A professor at graduate school told me that about what was required for our academic research. It had to be original. In that case original meant doing something better or differently. Newness is something we all would aspire to, but it does not just appear. For all our aching as a society about forgetting the past, we never seem to forget the content of the past. Music gets repeated. Words get repeated. Some of the great minds in art and science were also the biggest thieves, sometimes knowingly.
I’m not here to steal. I’m not here to pilfer turns of phrase or bon mots from the great authors that came before. I would be lying, however, if I tried to tell you my ideas were new, that the thoughts behind them were created in a vacuum. That would be disingenuous and I think you would know better. Instead, I will stick to the great instruction: write what you know. Even if it has been done before.
So, let us start with the basics. An introduction is usually needed get the audience to buy in that this is their heroic protagonist.
Sitting at the computer desk, hunched over with poor posture, and typing in awkward form is Jonathan Jones. He’s twenty-five years old, has poor eyesight and is beginning to bald. He’s the kind of self-deprecating man that can joke about his flaws in order to win over the comfort of strangers.
You probably all know men like Jonathan Jones. As I have mentioned, nothing is new, everything has been done. Jonathan would describe himself as being a pretty good-looking guy. Varying degrees of handsomeness have been used by women he’s dated to describe him. He has heard gorgeous and a few other words, but he likes to remember gorgeous. He would never describe himself that way. That would be vain. Jonathan is not a narcissist. He is a novelist. There is a huge difference.
Jonathan is typing feverishly away at his laptop, attempting to write a comedy. His first novel was a drama, which he heard a few good words about. However, most of those good words were about the few comedic bits.
-Give the people what they want.
Jonathan likes to mutter away at nothing. Don’t be offended, readers. He is not a misanthrope. I wouldn’t do that to you. It would be rude. He is just a frustrated writer who has not made any money with his writing. It’s what the rest of the world like to call waiters, students, bankers, accountants, landscapers, bartenders, analysts, mechanics, doctors, and, of course, professional writers. These are people who just have stories to tell and want you to pay to hear them. You wouldn’t pay to listen to your friend’s vacation stories, but why not read their travel novel? Absolutely brilliant.
He was not writing a travel novel, though he had travelled a bit. Jonathan had no advice on where to eat in Marrakech or Madrid.
-You will find that fast food remarkably tastes the same everywhere.
Indeed. No, Jonathan was trying to write a comedy about the wild crazy adventures that university students find themselves in. It was really original. Seriously, he believed that at the start. Yes, I know. We all have flaws. At the very least, we can admire that Jonathan’s flaw was ambitious.
In an attempt to make this task easier on himself, and following the instruction to write what you know, Jonathan had decided to draw on his own experiences and the experiences of his close friends. He had some concern about what they might think to read their stories in print, but this weighed less important to Jonathan than actually writing a novel. He is not a jerk. He is a novelist. There is a difference. In an effort to help avoid the embarrassment his friends might have when they read their stories in print, Jonathan was kind enough to use fake names.
-An alias is really all that separates non fiction from fiction.
Quiet, Jonathan. That is our secret. Invention is a beautiful thing. We invent stories. Really, we do. Believe me. Just like the Mona Lisa was an invented face. Da Vinci did not need any model to sit for him. Really.
Jonathan, for whatever your thoughts are, dear reader, thought to himself that he had at the very least a code to respect the anonymity of his friends. In the introduction to his book he included a short passage to assure his readers.
I will not name names and I will not confirm or deny the actuality of the following events. Some are real, some imagined. Some misremembered, some mistold. I will just say there is a truth buried in these pages. It’s the story of our youth.
The chewed nails of his fingers click clacked the keyboard, creating tone-deaf music for the eyes. Jonathan enjoyed the look of his words as they began to sprawl across the screen. There is something amazing and powerful about creating life.
-It’s also fun to destroy words with the click of a mouse.
Agreed. But, one must always remember that with the power to create comes the responsibility to create wisely. We have numerous examples: gunpowder, the atomic bomb, Milli Vanilli. Jonathan typed away, bringing life to his creation. He began to introduce thinly veiled versions of people he knew.
Nick was a tall, broad shouldered Nova Scotian, with a great appetite for beer and poor taste in fashion.
Nick was not named Nick, but everyone who knew both Jonathan and Nick would almost immediately realise who Jonathan wrote about. If they did not then, they would when the story progressed, even if the story was real, imagined, misremembered, or mistold. That was the trouble with writing fiction. Whenever you write about something real, it becomes hard to mask. Likewise, whenever something that is actually pure invention is written, everyone assumes it happened. No, I can assure you, with almost certainty, Ursula Le Guin has never lived on an anarchistic utopian moon colony.
John le Carré actually did have some sort of spy career with MI5 and MI6, but was allowed and encouraged to write by his boss, on the condition he use a pseudonym. I have to say that I have seen several spy movies and rarely does the protagonist have the time to hunker down in front of a typewriter for months on end, working on his “masterpiece”, without some baddie trying to kill him. The fact that le Carré was allowed to leave MI6 with his writing success tells us two things: he probably wasn’t the second coming of James Bond as a spy and they really wouldn’t miss him, or, he is still secretly one of the deadliest spies in the world, cunningly doubling as an elderly best selling author of spy novels (“The Perfect Cover” – raves the New York Times). Either way, he was probably a difficult and moody guy to have working for you (“Are we done yet with this interrogation? I have got to get home and type my daily 2,000. Also, do you mind if I write about this? Screw it; I will do it, anyways. I’m John le Carré.”).
Jonathan is not John le Carré. There is nothing exciting about his day job to write about. He has one of those non descript bureaucratic jobs that spies in John le Carré novels get to use as a cover for their adventures (“I’m sorry, honey, I have got to go to a sudden conference in Akron, Ohio. I will be back on Sunday. Please ignore the bullet wound in my shoulder.”) – but it’s actually his job. There is nothing in his daily life that he considers worthy of putting to paper. Sure, there are the occasionally interesting interactions with his friends and co-workers, but they are hardly anecdotal, more descriptions of banal events. They would bore you at a cocktail party, let alone placed in the only book you brought on vacation.
It was wild, when, by mistake, I got sent an email by mistake. They wanted Julie Jones! And, I’m all like, I’m Jonathan Jones. Oh, I tell you, we had a great big laugh about that one, then and there. True story, I kid you not.
So, like all men of a certain age (any), Jonathan is filled with nostalgic thoughts of a bygone era when things were better and he wants to write about them. I should clarify that; these are nostalgic thoughts of a bygone era when things were remembered better and it’s that misremembering that Jonathan will write. It was a horrible habit that Jonathan has developed, though he comes by it honestly. I would argue that a large number of people like to think that there was a time when things were better. It should come as no surprise when the world is filled with people like that. American conservatives cannot agree at what exact point America was better (“Who wants to say British rule? Put your hands down!”), but they will throw out confusing and anachronistic references to the infallible Constitution, the Second Amendment, small government, and Reagan, trying to weave them in to the belief that they all coexisted simultaneously. At least with the Amish, they are very precise as to when time found its Goldilocks era (“Not too many bright colours, nor too few horse buggies”). They believe things were just fine up until electricity. That is where they draw the line. We can all agree that the Amish aren’t destructive jerks about modern progress. Luckily, for both the Luddites and us, history has left them in the past. Now those guys were jerks. Can I get applause from all the exploitative Dickensian industrialists? You guys know what is up.
Like Chuck Dickens and the social inequity of the Industrial Revolution, Jonathan was inspired to write about his own formative experiences. It just happened to rest in his mind as being positive (“Come on Dickens, I know you keep mentioning the slums, but have you seen these ridiculously cheap pantaloons we can now buy?”). That is what happens when dwelling in the minutiae of the present: we romanticise the minutiae of the past. So, Jonathan typed away, imagining a grand vision that all the exploits of his youth held eternal truth to the many men like himself that now found themselves dead at twenty-five.
Funeral for the Young
A novel by Jonathan Jones
He sat on the edge of the mattress, letting his back arch lazily forward. A few more hours of sleep would be welcome in his body; a few more hours that is all he felt he really needed. It was not an option. Leaning forward, further still, he saw the old hardwood floors beneath his feet. They were cold and they were soft. One hundred years of wear and tear had created deep grooves between the bed and the door. Lesser grooves led between the bed and the window. Jonathan smiled as he looked at the window. A brilliant whiteness beamed through the thin curtains. Mornings like this should be enjoyed, he thought. Sentiment began to knock thoughts in to his head. He couldn’t help it; today was a day prone to sentiments and nostalgic memories. There were days before that he wished he had stayed in bed. Regrets find strange homes in the mind, always wedged between memories. They force themselves to be remembered, to always lurk behind ostensibly positive thoughts. There were mornings, beautiful mornings, when staying in bed provided the adventures the outside world could never afford to let him enjoy. For every day like that, there were a thousand that Jon got out of bed. He knew it, sitting up on the mattress, half committed to leaving, that today would add to the thousands. A cosmic abacus slid even more pieces towards that unfortunate tally as he stood up. Lifting up his towel and the jeans he had left on the rocking chair, Jon opened the door and walked down the corridor to use the common bathroom of the bed and breakfast.
Hot water pressed against his back and he woke up. The daze that lingered around his mind dissipated in the shower’s steam. He loved this part of the day with a bittersweet affection. Every morning, half formed thoughts danced awkwardly around his brain. They became formed in full, as the heat of the shower hits. Sometimes those half thoughts were revealed to be brilliant ideas and they could excite and charge through the day. Other times, the sharpness of the thoughts in the shower revealed their folly. Jonathan did not like it when that happened. It was always better, in his mind, to dream. If dreams still held the promise of fulfilment, they were magic. To be ruined by imposed external realities was hardly fair. In Jon’s mind reality did not have editorial power. Ideas were free to run their course and to discover their potential. The fantastic feeling of what if drove his mind. Everyday he could see a beautiful woman and let the mind wander – what if?
Dried off and dressed in denim jeans and t-shirt, Jon joined his family in the dining room. The owners of the bed and breakfast had made croissants and were serving them with cereal and fruit. Jonathan’s father was eating a grapefruit, cut in half. The sight was so familiar Jon had to confirm with his eyes that they were indeed guests. His mother was engaged in a discussion with his grandparents about how good the homemade croissants were. The discussion was running to its close with the conclusion that they fell in between the categories of really good and really, really good. The owners expressed their gratitude for the compliments in the down to earth folksy way small town proprietors do. A kind of aw shucks reaction that seems genuine despite the fact that you know they hear this every day.
“Are you excited, Jon?”
“I guess, I don’t know. It’s just a ceremony.”
“It’s a pretty big deal. I don’t think you realise that.”
“Sure, I don’t know.”
“I can’t remember the last one I went to. It might have been one of our nieces. We are just so proud of you Jonathan. Grandma is very proud of you. I hope you know that.”
“We all are.”
They were all proud; Jon knew that. Doubt sat in his mind, not due to a lack of support or pride from his family, but of his own thoughts. It always came back to that one big question that every man has asked throughout the ages: but what does it all mean? Or, to put it more bluntly: so what?
“Do you know how long the ceremony will be?”
“A couple hours, I think.”
“Hopefully they will have air conditioning.”
“It’s in a gymnasium, I don’t think they will be able to effectively air condition it with a thousand people jammed in there.”
“They will likely have to open up the doors and windows.”
“Won’t that cancel out the effects of the air conditioning?”
“Yes, it would, but if they have one thousand people in a gym, it might be more effective to have the doors open and let a breeze in.”
“Why wouldn’t they have it outside?”
“Yes, why wouldn’t they have it outside?”
“It’s beautiful today.”
“Today is beautiful.”
“It’s supposed to be absolutely beautiful this afternoon.”
“Why wouldn’t they have it outside when it’s so beautiful?”
“It rained last year.”
“Oh, it rained last year. That makes sense. We wouldn’t want rain on a day like today.”
“Rain on a day like today wouldn’t be very enjoyable, I can tell you.”
“It’s a good thing they moved it inside this year, I would hate to be outside in the rain.”
“To think of those poor parents and grandparents, forced to sit in the rain and the mud, for hours. I wouldn’t like that.”
“Oh, the mud, that would be awful.”
“They were smart to put it inside this year. There will not be any mud inside. Nor rain, if it did happen.”
“You don’t think it will rain this year, do you?”
“It shouldn’t. Today is supposed to be beautiful.”
“Yes, certainly beautiful. Rain would ruin that. Oh, and all that mud, too.”
“Good thing we will be inside.”
“It’s going to be hot inside that gym, though. It’s going to be hard to keep it cool.”
After agreeing that today would be beautiful, the gym would be hot, rain would be awful, and mud is generally a bad idea, Jon’s family set a time for departure. The drive through the countryside was beautiful in June, something that Jon had never seen before. Every summer he had returned home to find work.
“Today is just beautiful.”
Every detail of beauty was on full display, as if Creation had spared no expense. It all seemed fleeting, though.
“You picked a pretty great place to go to university, Jon. It’s gorgeous here.”
“You should see it in February.”
Cold thoughts of disappointment flurried through his head, knocking over all the warmth thrown at him in abundance that day. He felt like an inmate on death row, having a laundry list of things to do before he graduated and no opportunity to check them off. It would all be over so soon. He looked around the car of adults and grimaced with the thought that by this evening he would be one of them. Of all the courses he took, none could prepare him for that reality. There was a switch that would be flicked that afternoon that Jon wasn’t certain he was ready for. Did anyone else feel that way?
They arrived at the university campus and were greeted with a smiling parking attendant who quickly told Jon’s father, in English and French, that they were free to park in the lot next to the football stadium. Jon’s grandfather giggled at the bilingualism.
“You don’t hear that out West.”
They walked in to the sports centre and followed the directions of the signs, and the people standing in front of the signs repeating what the signs said, to get to the gymnasium where the ceremony would be held. Jon made sure that his family all knew where to be and then left them to join the other graduates.
It felt unnatural to see his classmates in suits and dresses. Four years of becoming familiar had created an environment of casual acquaintanceship, where everyone knew everyone, or at the very least felt as though they could know anyone. Who were all these suits, though? They were unapproachable robots sent to replace the young vibrant students Jonathan had known.
“Hey Jon. Are you excited?”
“Oh, hey Jerry, I guess, I don’t know. It’s time to leave, right?”
“Yeah, for sure. I think we’ve seen too much of some of these professors. It was getting awkward running in to them at the SAQ.”
“I don’t know what’s more embarrassing, them seeing you or you seeing them?”
“Probably the frequency that we were seeing each other there.”
“This town can do that.”
“Yeah, I think my liver might appreciate me moving on.”
“It’s been good, though.”
“It really has. If I didn’t feel so old I would stick around for a victory lap.”
“It hasn’t been that good.”
For every milestone they had experienced that had chiselled them in to what they were, it had also left scars.
“So, what’s next, Jerry?”
“I got a job.”
“Just going to become another jobber.”
“Yeah, it looks that way.”
They stood and laughed awkwardly about some of their favourite moments in class. Jerry had spent the majority of his degree taking the same courses and that familiarity left Jon with melancholy. Was Jerry feeling the same doubts? He had no idea about the rest of these suits, but was it possible Jerry also felt like he was being led to the gallows?
Jonathan looked around for other familiar faces. For one reason or another he knew he wouldn’t see his former roommates. Charlie and Drew had one more year left, Gio was off on basic training with the military and due to splitting the graduating class in to two ceremonies, the person he wanted to see most, Nick, was scheduled for a different time. With the exception of Jerry, Jon felt like he was going to experience this alone. For the ceremony seating, they arranged the graduates in a line alphabetically by surname and then Jerry was gone, too. Surrounded by the husks of people he once knew, Jon was alone. Welcome to the real world.
The line of convocating students were led around the back of the sports centre and told to wait. In their gowns, caps and hoods they echoed the academic traditions of medieval Europe. Jon could only think of the plague. It festered in his mind and took over his imagination. Instead of scholarly rites and the colleges of Oxford, he saw the dark mounds of corpses lining the narrow streets of London town. Barrows being pushed door to door to gather the deceased and to inform the diseased when the next trip round would be. His professors stood off to the side, wearing the finest regalia, befitting for the solemn occasion. He thought of the hangman and wondered what they drank to calm their nerves before performing an execution. He wanted to ask Jerry what some of their professors’ favourite tipples were, but he was too far away. Jon imagined something like sherry or brandy in the old dead men’s hands when they wanted to pause for reflection. Even morbid subjects like mortality deserved some thought. For the reluctant hangmen he imagined a harsh, quick drink of rum or rye, anything to give a spirited response to numb the mind. These were the ones who would lead the youth down the path to death. They didn’t have the benefit of the hangman’s cloak, anonymity during the gruesome action, but ensemble, as they marched in unison ahead of the students procession, they blurred together until it didn’t matter. Like the unknown hangman, they might have executed the damned, but it was society as a whole who condemned them and came to watch the spectacle. All were responsible.
Jon obediently walked in the line, letting his eyes focus only on the hood resting on the back of the person in front of him. At this point he had forgotten even their gender, let alone their name. The cohort of graduates entered the gymnasium to the rapturous applause of the crowd. Jon was sure that nervous smiles crossed the faces of all his classmates, but he knew not what kind of nervousness. There likely were many who were excited for the next stage in their lives to come, beginning today. Jon wondered how many others might be nervous like him that this was the end and not the beginning. For every student that thought the crowds cheered for their accomplishment, was there another who felt that the crowds cheered as Romans feeding those upstart Christians to the lions? Was his generation here to be slaughtered for sport? In Jon’s mind, there was a sneaking suspicion that their irreverence was to be punished. After opening their minds during the past four years it was unfair to close them up again.
There was a knowingness about the way his parents and grandparents spoke about life that Jon never wanted to be in on. Threats that he would one day get it and understand, he always hoped to be baseless and empty. Their exasperated faces sought an unknowing acknowledgement from him at the time. They wanted to be understood. Why? Why would they want to bring upon that pain in to his life? Was this the moment that it would become clear? Jon wanted ignorant bliss, but that cursed reality reared its head. It wouldn’t go away.
The principal or chancellor stood up to the lectern. Jon could never tell one from the other. You find that old dead men look the same after time. All the distinguishing features tend to rot away in to the soil. Whichever skeleton it was began with a solemn speech, hidden beneath empty platitudes. He said meaningless words about the uniqueness of this crowd, about all their future accomplishments to come. He never mentioned the assembly line. Jonathan had a hard time understanding the entranced look upon the faces of everyone around him. Did they really hear meaning in the ramblings of a ghost inviting them to join him for tea in his grave? It was mad, why would we all consent to this? When was the waiver form signed? Jonathan worried that he had missed the fine print one too many times. Or was it every time? He hadn’t paid special attention as the text scrolled across the bottom of his television. Did every commercial, whether for erectile dysfunction or automobiles, subtly place a disclaimer that at the most inopportune and unexpected time his independence would be lost? He was a part of the machine now and it was dust and cobweb covered, creaking its way to extinction. Was he the only one noticing this?
After the chancellor’s ghost finished its speech, it invited to the stage another ghoul. The second old dead man was feted with a degree that carried the same honours as a mercenary’s paycheque. For the next thirty minutes the imprisoned audience was subject to the tangential advice of someone of supposedly great accomplishments. Public speaking, apparently, was not among them. Jonathan couldn’t focus at all on the words of the bought man. More empty platitudes spewed from his gob. Regardless of the intent, there was nothing inspirational about repetitious clichés. The graduates would have been better served by a proper eulogy.
‘“Looking around, I can tell you I see a lot of excited faces. They should be excited; we are told this is the first day of the rest of our lives. It’s an entirely optimistic sounding phrase that they throw out at us to fill our cups with hope on a sticky humid summer day when we are all almost certain to succumb to heatstroke or gas. Gas, oh what a time to have it! Mentally I think it’s at the back of most people’s minds: don’t pass wind on the stage. Today is supposed to be a mistake free day. Hear your name. Walk across the stage. Shake the hands. Miniature wave to friends and family. Walk off the stage. Walk down the aisle. Sit down. Shut up. All without passing gas. Or having your name mispronounced. Or tripping on a step. Or having a sweaty palm. Or a beet red face. Or waving in the wrong direction as you obliviously walk past all your friends and family, with the camera rolling and not a single chance for a second shot. This is the only take we get. I used to think these moments were supposed to be special, almost religious rites, but now after having been to a few I can tell you that they are just community theatre of the lowest calibre. The acting is wooden, the script worse. I have never seen one thousand people more relieved to go home at the end of a Gilbert and Sullivan production by accountants. I don’t know who to blame for adding all the pomp and circumstance, but it certainly does not help when they actually play Pomp and Circumstance at the ceremony. Between that and the medieval gowns, caps and capes I think we find ourselves taking this far more serious than it ought to. The beginning of the rest of our lives. Scary thought, no? Whatever they want to call today: graduation, convocation, commencement, firing squad, it does not matter. The result, I think you will find is the same. Today is not only the beginning of the rest of our lives; it’s the end of what came first. Our youth is being sent to the slaughterhouse today and it’s high time we accept it. The world will change around us today without any real choice. Like Dylan Thomas I want to rage against the dying of the light, but times are hard and I need to move on. I can’t afford another semester of tuition. Besides, nobody wants to be that creepy old guy sticking around for the most ironically titled term ever, the Victory Lap. And with those thoughts, whether it’s fear of being awkwardly on the outside looking in, or sticking around being the awkward insider far too long at the party, youth just passes you by. So why not go out with a bang? Fine, if only it were so easy. Most of these celebrations are actually affirmation for parents and grandparents to attend and see that their progeny haven’t entirely messed up the past four years away. Let them attend, I suppose. They deserve a front row seat as we become them. Don’t deny it. It only takes one handshake and a piece of paper and you, sir, have become an adult. It will no longer seem right to ever, under most circumstances, purchase alcohol in bulk again. But we never did that, did we? Give us a nice wink then.
No, we will never really get the chance to celebrate an end to hi-jinks and possible misdemeanours. It’s all really anti-climactic. Working backwards, we get our final hurrah today in June and it’s actually already too late. This is a wake. We haven’t seen each other for six weeks, when exams ended and we all skipped town. And even those last few weeks were not really as exciting as we had hoped. It’s hard to have wild, unencumbered antics when at the back of your mind you know you still have to write four papers, five exams and when you get a chance, you need to tidy up the apartment, including possible renovations, in order to get back your deposit. No, it all becomes a bit half hearted. And then it’s June, and we stand around today asking those stupid questions; when did it all happen? My how time flies when you are having fun. What a stupid phrase that one is. Time does not fly faster when you are having fun. You get to immerse yourself in it. You are drawn in to the moment and it’s as if time has nearly stopped and it’s perfect. That’s the thing. Time becomes meaningless because you get to live in the moment and aren’t stuck having to recollect the whole damn time later. A night at the bar with friends could seem like months because of all the things we experienced. It’s actually the opposite that they don’t want to admit. Time flies when you are out in the real world. It churns along at the same pace in actuality, but they say the older you get the faster it seems to move along. It’s all relative. According to a high school dropout, Albert Einstein, that means there is going to be less and less time for slow deliberation and reflection, kids. We are about to enter a world where things move at a steady clip and we just become passengers, like riding a conveyor belt to the grave. I had just begun to understand what it meant to be a conductor, finally in control of my life and I’m being told I’m just a passenger? That worry will pass the moment I realize that whether you are a passenger or a conductor, we are all sitting on a goddamned train the tracks decide where we go, and every little town we pass by is not worth getting off for.
There are a lot of nervous faces here, and I suppose it has more to do with looking down that track than it does worrying about whether they are going to pass gas on the stage. It’s a perfectly reasonable feeling, I guess, nervousness. I’m terrified of my future. It will not matter whether I get to decide one thing or a thousand, the rules of the world are out there and all my decisions will have to be within them. How much autonomy will I get out of that? That worry will pass, too. The thing is that for four years we got a taste of something sweet. When we wanted to challenge ourselves mentally, there was always something. When we wanted to indulge ourselves physically, there was always someone. The only limits that we knew were word counts and if someone felt so inclined they could blow past a maximum count without any likely consequence. These are guidelines, man, guidelines. Fuelled by alcohol, drugs, sex, rock and roll, and philosophy, four years can be pretty amazing. And then, an end.
I will not get to give a commencement speech today. Don’t be worried, it was not something given to me and then taken away due to some last minute antic of desperation or rebellion. I was never considered for the honour and I don’t blame anyone for it. For all the exceptional things I have experienced, I’d never call myself exceptional and I have a lingering suspicion no one else would, either. I can’t say that I would even enjoy it. I do, however, look around at all these nervously excited people and think they deserve a proper burial. Enough of my rambling, with this period of our life about to be officially culled, let me finally get to that eulogy.
Dearly beloved, wretched acquaintances, heartbroken ex lovers, indifferent administrators, bigoted professors, ignorant relatives, we are gathered here today to say goodbye to those we loved. They came in to this world, this beautifully flawed world, alone and they exit as one. At times like these numerous platitudes are often thrown out in to the air as if their meaning will fill hearts and minds with encouragement and affirmation. I promise you none of that. Our departed are not off to a better place. That I cannot say with any confidence. To be honest, some may go on to accomplish great things, others may wallow in mediocrity, which if I may add, is still slightly above what most deserve. A few will surely disappear in to obscurity, others will discover demons that pull them straight through the bottom and further down than imagined. Within this group today, lie some of the leaders of tomorrow, they will be responsible for making decisions that have a huge impact on the rest of us. Try to act surprised when you recognise them twenty years from now in the papers and on television. We all know which ones these will be. We knew it during frosh week and nothing has changed since. Say goodbye to ninety-nine percent of your favourite athletes. They were great, once, and now they will join the rest of the world. They might end up playing on intramural teams, or even some semi-serious adult leagues, but for the most part their athletic dreams are over. The other one percent will be seen on television warming the benches of our beloved national football league, you know, the one with eight teams. Congratulations to you, oh one percent, we are so very proud to see that the dream stays alive in you. We will make sure to mention that in the winter months when you come by to repair our furnace. I don’t mean to be mean, but I must be realistic. When we are told we can accomplish anything, I believe it was said with an invisible asterisk. They never mentioned the fine print, but that’s okay, when they do we usually ignore it, anyways. When you leave here today, your youth stays. You will return to a world you thought you knew, but will only become apparent to you now. Things are not as they always seem. Everything sweet has a darkness behind it. When you were really young you would be oblivious. As you came in to your own, here, you learned about the darkness and you rallied and signed petitions. You wrote papers that exposed the darkness and made decisions not to endorse it. When you leave here today you will continue to fight the darkness. For a while. You won’t know it, but one day you will find that you are co-opted by things that you don’t agree with. But it will be too late. Look at the nervous faces on everyone older than you here. They know it. But as much as you won’t agree with it, as much as you will want to rage against it, the darkness pays your bills. You will have credit card debt, mortgages, groceries, insurance, and regularly occurring unexpected expenses that will make you compromise your beliefs. The frightening thing is that you are not alone. Take that with you. You are not alone. As much as everyone admires rebels, we are not forming a rebellion. Try to imagine your inner Holden Caulfield, take that thought and that spirit, and now try to imagine him middle-aged and working in middle management. Eventually it all dies out and we are all phonies. But hey, sorry, I didn’t mean to put a damper on the party. Let’s celebrate today the past and we will do it for the rest of our lives. We will have reunions and local chapter meetings. We will donate money to keep memories alive. They say you can’t buy happiness, but I suspect many of you would like to differ. At the very least, you will try. For health, good cheer, and to remember our youth, I say we raise a toast.”’
Jonathan finished typing his first chapter and smiled admirably at the matte screen of his laptop. He felt as though he had accomplished something.
-This could be something really good.
The first chapter is possibly the easiest one to write. It starts out with promise. You have ideas running through your mind. There are notebooks lined with amazing phrases that had jumped out at you at the most random times: on the bus, in the shower, making love, whenever. With the first chapter you literally have carte blanche to use anything and everything at your disposal. Characters haven’t been entirely defined and plot is something you worry about afterwards. It always feels good to get the first chapter out.