How do you measure a year in the life?

Last Sunday (8/26) I managed to roll out of my bed after a lazy afternoon, lace up my shoes, and despite a dull throb in my head that screamed to me: ‘don’t do it,’ I set off on Starkweather St and began running. For me in any given run, the first mile is always the hardest to predict. It can be the mile that makes or breaks my attitude and spirit. Some days the first mile is a simple task and before I know it I’m on mile 2, and yet on other days my beleagured breath can leave my heart beating fast, throat aching and sweat dripping from my forehead. Sunday’s first mile felt like the latter of these, and by the end of mile two I wasn’t faring much bettering.

I had initially planned to run 3 or 4 miles depending on how I felt at the halfway point. My apartment is situated in such a location that I can always turn back at mile 2, take a brief shortcut, and end up at just over 5k total. But on Sunday I hit 2 miles and I had resolved that I should at least do 3 out and 3 back. By the time I reached 3 out I had resolved to do 3.5, and by 3.5 the target was 4. It went like this for 6 miles, at which point I had realized I could loop around Ann Arbor Rd. and end up with an even 10 miles, and from there the logical leap to 13.1 miles wasn’t very far.

So why is this significant? In and of itself it is not a remarkable feat (I’ve run over 13 miles in my life probably 15 times). What is significant is that on Sunday I ran for about 2 hours 20 minutes and it gave me a lot of time to reflect.

The week of August 26th will always be a significant and life-changing week for me… For it was on August 26th, 2008 that I spent my last day in the United States before I traveled to Japan for a year abroad. It was on August 23rd, 2010 that I arrived in Henan, China. And it was on August 26th, 2011 that I received a job offer from NCI Mfg. Inc. to join as an Industrial Sales Representative.

Today, Tuesday, September 4th, is my one year anniversary of reporting for work as a full-time, salaried employee. So how do we measure a year, really?

Recently, one of my favorite radio personalities and sharp-witted humorists passed away. For the better part of my life, I’ve listened to David Rakoff on This American Life as he narrated clever rhymes, gave life-changing insight into the nature of humanity, and occasionally offered scathing criticisms of ‘popular’ culture. David Rakoff didn’t always have the best sense of what would be popular, and he often made himself the alien in our modern culture. Upon his passing, This American Life did a brief retrospective of David and took the time to play a piece I hadn’t heard before– David’s take on the hit Broadway musical “Rent.” Here is his take, in full:

David Rakoff

There are 525,600 minutes in a year.

I learned that from watching Rent.

From watching Rent, I also learned that the best way to mark the passing of these 525,600 minutes would be to measure them out into something Jonathan Larson, the writer of the musical, called seasons of love. What does that even mean, seasons of love? In Rent, the characters live out their seasons of love in huge lofts. Some of them have AIDS, which is, coincidentally, also the name of the dreaded global pandemic that is still raging and has killed millions of people worldwide. In Rent, however, AIDS seems to be a disease that renders one cuter and cuter.

The characters are artists, creative types. They have tattered a million clothes. Some of them are homosexual, and the ones who aren’t homosexual don’t even seem to mind. They screen their calls, and when it is their parents, they roll their eyes. They hate their parents. They’re never going back to Larchmont, no way. They will stay here, living in their 2,000 square feet of picturesque poverty, being sexually free and creative.

Here’s some ways to broadcast creativity in a movie. Start plinking out a tune on a piano, scratch a few notes on some music paper, plink some more, suddenly crash both hands down on the keyboard then bring them quickly up to your head and grab the hair at your temples, screaming, “It won’t work!” Or sit at a typewriter, reading the page you’ve just written, realize that it’s shit, and tear it from the platen and toss it behind you. Cut to waste paper basket overflowing with crumpled paper.

Here’s what they do in Rent to show that they are creative– nothing! They do nothing!

They hang out. And hanging out can be marvelous, but hanging out does not make you an artist. A secondhand wardrobe does not make you an artist. Neither do a hair trigger temper, melancholic nature, propensity for tears, hating your parents, nor even HIV. I hate to say it. None of these can make you an artist. They can help. But just as being gay does not make one witty, you can suck a mile of cock– it does not make you Oscar Wilde. Believe me, I know.

I’ve tried.

The only thing that makes you an artist is making art, and that takes the opposite of hanging out. So when they sing the anthem of the show, that’s a lie, really. Every song in the show is an anthem delivered with adolescent earnestness. It’s like being trapped in the pages of a teenager’s diary. So when they think the title anthem of the show, “We’re Not Going to Pay This Year’s Rent,” followed by a kind of barked cheer of “rent, rent, rent, rent, rent, rent, rent,” my only question is, well, why aren’t you going to pay this year’s rent?

It seems that they’re not going to pay this year’s rent, because rent is for losers and non-creative types. Rent is for suits. By contrast, they are the last bastion of artistic purity. They have not sold out. And yet their brilliance goes unacknowledged, so fuck you, yuppie scum.

I know what it’s like to feel angry and ignored. I lived in Brooklyn a long time ago about a block away from a prison. During the day, the neighborhood bustled with lawyers, judges, criminals, bail bondsman, private detectives. I lived on a block in a little two-story building that once been a couch house in the 19th century. And the basement had a red dirt floor. On the ground floor below me was an office that did– what, exactly, resumes? I can’t remember.

What I do remember is the man whose office it was. Raul was knee-bucklingly handsome. If my life had been different, like– I don’t know– if I were a hot girl with a driver’s license, I could have put on a tube top and gone outside to wash my car in slow motion or something. But, alas.

Once during the day– it must’ve been the weekend, because I was at home– I could hear Raul having sex in the office downstairs. I skittered around my apartment like a cockroach on a frying pan trying not to make any noise while desperately looking for a knot hole in the crappy floorboards. Eventually, I just lay down flat against the tile of the kitchen floor, listening.

Lying flat against the tile of my kitchen floor, listening to someone else have sex is essentially my 20s in a nutshell. I was robbed in that neighborhood twice. And there were days when it hardly seemed worth it to live in a horrible part of town just so that I could go daily to a stupid, soul-crushing, low-paying job, especially since, as deeply as I yearned to be creative, for years and years I was too scared to even try. So I did nothing. But here’s something that I did do. I paid my fucking rent.

Anyway, how do you measure a year?… Well, here are a few metrics to consider:

  • Minutes: 525,600
  • Hours Worked: ~2100
  • Flight Miles: 45,000 miles (95% since January 1)
  • Amount Expensed to Company: $20,700
  • Miles Run: 250 (averaging more than 1 mile/day!)
  • Miles Biked: 80
  • Number of First Dates: ~35-40 (Estimate)
  • Number of Dates that Progressed to Relationships: 1
  • Locations Lived: 3
  • Number of Roommates: 6
  • Rent Paid: $5340
  • Student Loans Paid Off: 2 (of 2)
  • New Credit Cards: 2
  • New (used) Cars: 1
  • Visits to Ohio: 8
  • Visits to Japan: 1
  • Visits to China: 0 (Thank the FSM!)
  • Kaifeng Reunions: 3 (including at least myself and one other foreign teacher)

So are these metrics very useful? Maybe not. What I know is that right now I’m on top of the world. Things aren’t the most secure that they’ve ever been, but currently I’ve got the best relationship I’ve had at any point in the past 5 years, I’m in the best financial situation I could’ve hoped for, I’m in the best shape of my adult life, and I have a more positive outlook than I’ve possibly ever had about my future.

When I think back to the decision I made a year ago, I still question if it was right or wrong. I’m a year older, a little grayer, and probably loads less wise…

But I guess if I had to do it all again I would.

In a heartbeat.

And mostly for one reason: That decision has lead me to be the person I am today– and it’s a person I like.

(As a final note, this is my favorite (stereotypical) Robert Frost poem. Perhaps it is inappropriate because maybe I didn’t take the actual One Less Traveled– in fact, maybe I took the easier route. This is an argument I’ve had with myself time and time again, but ultimately in my mind (and in conjunction with my moral preconceptions of the affair) I certainly feel I chose the One Less Traveled. And that has made all the difference)

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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