I wouldn't call it a malaise. Nor would i categorize it as a depression. More accurately, it could be labeled a disconnection. I had allowed myself to step away from a hard-earned, annual tradition of complete self-involvement, only to fool myself to accept normal conventions as the way to connect and stay in contact with the world.
Some highfalutin' language that signifies nothing? Understood. Essentially what i'm trying to offer you, the reader, is that recently i endured an annual, somewhat taxing episode, but one that shouldn't ultimately have been so taxing.
I celebrated a birthday.
I turned another year older. I aged. I advanced my years on this rock. And before any of you think that it is the superficial click on the aging odometer that troubles me, i assure you the advancing years excites me. I look forward to the days i'm 80 and i have decades of experience and knowledge under my belt that i can wield, flaunt and offer to others. My conflict with the occasion of my birthday is an existential one that has been trotted out on these pages before.
I'm rabidly anti-materialistic. I'm so opposed to rampant, errant consumption just for the sole reason that one in the affluent Western world can, that sometimes i experience heavily crippling periods when the invitation/encouragement to massively inhale material goods falls specifically and festively on my chest. Such is the case with my birthday.
On this day, everyone conventionally wishes that you get spoiled on your happy, unique, special day (aka. rained upon by material excess) and that all your dreams and wishes are fulfilled (aka. you get every meaningless trinket you've been coveting over the last six months). These folks are not to blame, for in the Western world, this is how they've been taught to celebrate their birthdays from the earliest stages of their life. As fortunate inhabitants of the affluent hemispheres, we grow accustomed to having lavish parties tossed in commemoration of us having made it from the harrowing age of six to the exacting age of seven. During these parties, we are the center of attention, and not just the foci, but in fact the target of numerous piles of toys and presents as if to say "This is your reward - these plastic tchotkes - for enduring that difficult (yet sheltered) life of your childhood."
At a very early age, i realized that this mode of celebration didn't fit me at all. In fact, my entire relationship with my birthday caused a great deal of discombobulation with my social compatriots. As each year passed, i found myself wanting to conceal the actual day i was born from those i knew. I took great care in obscuring the date when it came up in conversation, because i truly didn't want the prescribed manner that one celebrates the day of their birth applied to mine. I wanted to be left alone. I didn't want to be spoiled, and i didn't want a bunch of semi-sincere well wishers patsying me with their aplomb.
What i wanted was to be alone. Here is the root of my life's philosophy. We ARE alone. All of us. This is not meant in a way to shock and stir the senses. It is merely my attempt to label the reality we all live. Being alone is neither good nor bad. It just...is. No matter how close i feel to anyone - my girl, my dearest friends, my family - my experiences and how i perceive the world is solely mine. I cannot know what an apple tastes like to you as you crunch your teeth into the chunky, juicy flesh, nor can you ever know how that same apple tastes like to me. All of this is my own provenance.
I realized this in my college years, and i was able to self-prescribe the proper medication to handle my birthdays: for 24 hours, i would vanish. I would disappear. Be nowhere near a phone, or a computer. I would only be with myself. The first year i followed through with this, i got on a bus, whose destination i didn't know, and 16 hours later found myself in another state with no idea how i'd get back. The next year, i spent the entire day in a bathtub in one of those pay-by-the-hour motels, occasionally adding hot water to the mix. The following year - easily my favorite - i walked 35 miles along a two lane country highway. There is nothing like being on a darkened road at 3AM, just walking, by yourself. I can still vividly remember my encounter with the amazing sensation of mist sizzling on the high-tension power lines overhead, stopping to look up at this sight, buzzed from the abstract reality of it all.
Somehow, in recent years, i got away from this practice. It's largely my girl's fault. She was the first person i'd ever met who i actually didn't mind spending time with on my birthday. The more of them we celebrated together, the further i moved away from this model of pure isolation. Unfortunately, this year it caught up with me. My psyche had grown thirsty, and needed severe re-hydration. Even the promise of our traditional administration of a number of strokes* across my girl's backside to correspond with the age i turned that year wasn't enough to keep at bay those severe anti-materialistic demons. Thankfully, i remembered how to get back to that place where it was just me, by myself, isolated, on my birthday.
I'm not normal, i understand that. Who has such a convoluted, existential struggle about something as simple as one's birthday? It's just one day out of the year, just go get some cake, blow out the candles, and open your presents. It doesn't need to be so difficult. I understand this perspective, and i have faced many perplexing questions all around the theme of "Why do you have to be so weird?", followed by my favorite "Why do you have to take things so seriously?".
The answer to both questions is the same: because that is who i am.
*Stay tuned for my post where i go into more details about that spanking my girl endured, and the unforeseen consequences...