Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's a Blast from the Past

Photo: ~MVI~ (surviving on globe tattoo), Flickr Creative Commons (Black-fleshed breed of chicken found in Asia)

My wife has spent part of the last three days dragging stuff out of our storage rooms on the outside of our house and I've had to go through some boxes of my old stuff to see what I wanted to throw away and what I wanted to keep. Most of it I've been willing to trash or pack up for donations to the mission store. I've moved a few items, like the old grenades (hollowed out) and the knight's helmet into my office for decoration, but I'm actually less sentimental than my wife so I've been willing to chunk more of it than she would actually let me get rid of. One of the few things that I do have a little sentimentality about are my old notebooks. They're full of poems, journals, and fiction that I wrote between 6th-grade and the end of high school. The poetry is shit. It's mopey and cloying and probably not even that well written. The personal essays are much more interesting. In one of these notebooks I found an obituary I wrote for myself, probably sometime during the middle of my high school years. I thought I'd type it up and share it.
A prominent American writer, thinker and teacher died last week at the age of 86 eighty-six. Jacob [redacted] passed away on his two hundred acre western Montana ranch from what has been described by authorities only as respiratory arrest. Dr. [redacted] was best known for his bestselling novels and movies, but won many awards for his poetry, social commentary and teaching, both domestically and abroad. Dr. [redacted] had retired from commercial writing and his teaching position at a major university over a decade ago but stayed in the spotlight with occasional literary works up until his death. At the time of his demise, [redacted] kept himself busy by running his ranch and teaching classes at a local community college. Dr. Jacob [redacted] is survived by his 2 children and younger sister.

The first thing that strikes my eye more than 15 years later is my distinct lack of understanding about agriculture out west. Two hundred acres would be a ridiculously small ranch in Montana. The arid land just can't support ruminants in large numbers. Sure, you can maintain a sizable herd on that much land here in the East, but out there I'd have needed more like 2,000 acres for even a hobby ranch. It's also funny that I mention the two kids but fail to even mention a wife. I know the reason for that. I never considered family in my future back then. I didn't really even think of my future as involving anyone but myself until I met my wife back in college. The kids were mentioned, I think, more because it was just assumed that I'd have kids than any real desire for them. After all, everyone has kids as adults. It was never something I actually wanted.

It's also interesting to see how little I've really changed. If I were to write my ideal obituary today, very little of this would need to be rewritten. Instead of the ranch out in Montana, I'd have a dairy farm and creamery outside of Portland, Oregon, based largely on the farming practices of Polyface Farms in Virginia. My wife would feature prominently in the obituary and there'd only be a single offspring. The rest I think I'd leave the same.

Of course now I've lived long enough to realize that none of this will ever happen. Sure, maybe one day I'll stop being so lazy and actually write something and then get lucky enough to have it published, but I'm long past the point of believing that anything can happen. I know there are limits to my future and I never really could have been whatever I wanted to be.

I know that makes me sound more miserable than I actually am. Sure, I was a bit down for a bit after reading this and being reminded just how far off the mark my life has gone despite still wanting the same things I wanted almost two decades ago, but I really can't complain too much. I love my wife, she's devoted to me, and my son isn't too horrible. Still, it would be kind of awesome to have lived that life I dreamed up back then.


Julie said...

That would be interesting to see. I didn't journal much so I doubt I'll have the joy of seeing how young Julie imagined old Julie dying. Hopefully, I'll get around (one day) to scanning in all my old negatives. That's the closest I'll come.

Sid said...

Oh. You've changed your blog template. I only ever read your blog through greader.

Anyway, LOVED this blog post.

You were an amazingly skilled writer at 15. Really? You wanted a farm? I can't quite remember what I wanted to do with my life at 15. Guess I just assumed I'd wear a suit to work and have a house filled with kids.

And you're right ... as you grow older you do stop believing that anything is possible. And it really isn't such a bad realisation. It's just something you accept.

And yeah, I kinda still hold onto the dream that one day, some day I'll write something.

Jacob said...

My 15-year-old self thanks you for the compliment. And I wanted farm, but for animals, not plants. Row crops have never interested me, but I've always loved anything that could move. Also, I wanted to do it more as a hobby than a profession. That's why it was my retirement job and not what I was known for during my working years. If I'd known about the Polyface Farm system, I would have loved it because I could have had chickens and turkeys and cattle, and hogs all in one seamless system.

Also, I only changed my blog template about two posts ago, so you're not even that late in noticing. I like it too. I'm going to try to find out if I can change the background photo (which I really like) to something from one of my hikes instead of just a generic hiking trail, but I'm really liking the new look.

Courtney said...

Nice post. Journal Jacob sounds like he had a pretty good life, except for his unmentioned wife dying. Or maybe he was a love-em-and-leave-em kind of guy and ended up with a couple kids in the process.

I also am depressed sometimes when I think about who I wanted to become at a young age vs. what I am now. At least I still write for a living, which is always what I've wanted to do. Plus, it's a comfort when you realize a lot of great writers (and luminaries in other professions) didn't even get started in their fields until later in life. We still have time.

Jacob said...

Like David Sedaris. It sounds like he wasted most of his life before finally because a successful writer.

Oh, and thanks for making it worse as I no longer get paid to write on a regular basis. I'm not sure I should even consider my limited beer writing. I couldn't make a living on what I make for that if I wanted to.

Chris said...

Like Julie, I don't think I have any worthwhile journal entries to look back on. I do remember that enjoyed and got complimented on my writing as far back as seventh grade. The writing that I do now is not at all what I had in mind for a career, but I try to remind myself that I could be driving a truck 12 hours a day or doing something equally miserable rather than being a reporter.

Also, by the way, the text of your obituary pretty much ruins the anonymity / non-Googlability of this blog, if you're still going for that.

Jacob said...

Chris, thanks for pointing that out. I've corrected it.

But I actually think I'd like being a long-haul truck driver. I've got too much of my granddaddy in me. He drove Jacksonville to Detroit every week and then would take off for a road trip to Mexico or California in his time off. I could easily live that way. My wife, unfortunately, couldn't.

Chris said...

My current job already involves way too much sitting down. I cannot imagine sitting in the cab of truck for hours upon hours every day.

I can also relate to giving up on "the impossible dream" and such bullshit. I'm still fighting it, but I look forward to a day when I can be content with the good life I have and not feel so restless all the time.

Mickey said...

Yeah, I'm taking comfort from David Sedaris's example as well.

And while you're certainly not living out your obituary-dream to the letter, you do live amidst farmland, you do write a lot, and you have spent an enormous amount of time around universities. So not that far off the mark, really.

Rassles said...

I like this template a lot, man. And I used to want a Montana Ranch too when I was little. Crazy. But I wanted to raise horses. I think I just watched too much Hey Dude. and then after working at a barn for awhile, much like yourself, I learned that I had no idea what everything entailed.