Last night, 11:45pm on a Saturday, tidying my condo with Bluetooth earbuds in, I discovered a pen. It had been hiding in the corner of one closet or another for more than a decade now, or so the inscription implied.
University of Washington Department of Communication, the pen read, its gel grip covered in dust. I received it in June 2004, at the departmental commencement ceremony, and I don’t know that I ever used it once. Much like the degree it came with.
This weekend, I had a conversation on OkCupid about the media landscape with a gal who’s barely scraping by as a local journalist. In fact, her most recent message came in as I was cleaning and listening to Strand of Oaks, so I abandoned sorting through the past in favor of trying to forge some sort of future. She asked about my book, the longtime work-in-progress, and my response led to the usual semi-cryptic toss-off sentence about my indefinite financial stability. I guess I’m lucky in that regard, because between the journalism degree and the memoir, I sure am good at futilely trying to get into industries everyone else is fleeing.
For the last month, a post about what it’s like having money, how it’s simultaneously better and worse than people imagine, and therefore neither, has been bouncing around in my head. I worry that it’ll just sound like bragging and bitching.
The easiest summary is that I’ve lived alone for over ten years, in every since of the phrase “lived alone.” And, to quote today’s Sunday Song:
“I hate talking about money
I don’t wanna take about luck
I hate thinking I’m not the same as I was
I lose my faith in people
Why even take the time
You’ve got your problems
I’ve got mine”
Earlier yesterday, I had decided to write today’s post about my other favorite Strand of Oaks song, “Goshen ’97”. In the car, driving home from running errands, while looking for something to listen to, I overshot Sleater-Kinney on my car’s stereo and wound up listening to Heal for the first time in a while. Stuck in Seattle’s trademark inexplicable traffic, I contemplated how strange it was that my generation had become the tastemakers, the curators. “Goshen ’97” features Timothy Showalter singing about an experience not that dissimilar from the my own that same year, both in flyover states that border Kentucky.
Last night, listening to the album again, something changed. And it was solidified today, when I called my mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, and discovered someone of my generation had become something else, too.
My mom told me she had been reading the obituaries—because I guess that’s the kind of thing you do after turning 60—and found a name that sounded familiar not from her childhood, but mine. Lydia Gipson, an elementary school classmate, and, towards the end of that era, one of my first platonic female friends, died last Sunday in Los Angeles. It’s strange to think of how long ago that was, how our mixed-gender friend group seemed scandalous when we dared to defy what had been, until then, strictly gender-separated lunchroom tables. Somehow, she came to mind recently, in one of those strange moments where you remember someone from ages past with no explanation, but the reality is, I hadn’t heard from her since middle school, when we ran into each other at a mutual family friend’s Christmas party.
It’s been a strange year to be someone in my orbit, which means it’s been a strange year for me. Murder, divorce, and now, apparently, a fluky death. I’m not sure what happened, but my mom pointed out that the obituary makes note of Lydia’s horse dying the next day, which led her to assume it was some sort of riding accident.
Am I really at that point already? I suppose I am. At my age, my mom was already had two kids, and I’m only 1,254 days from surpassing my father’s lifespan entirely. Tick, tock.
So, as long as I’m here, it’s all about what Showalter sang. “And we try, in our own way, to get better. Even if we’re alone.”