I kept asking myself when I’d become such a cranky old fuck. All these smiling young people in their twenties, trying to live their lives and find their way to some semblance of happiness in spite of the nothingness that’s been left them. The chatter was mostly polite, good-natured. Everyone being so nice to everyone else — who knows whom you might end up with, following the after party. A hookup, a new friend, a new boss, even?
And there I stood, sneering internally. Snorting in my heart, if you will. Deeply annoyed by this mass gathering of earnest, nice young things. This is the point at which I began asking When did you become such a cranky old fuck? What is wrong with you? What’s wrong with these kids being nice kids?
It took about thirty minutes, but I did get to the bottom of it. That is, in fact, a weirdly long time for this kind of bitchy, surface-level soul searching, but I was simultaneously sleep-deprived and overloaded with useful information (the first time the latter has ever happened at an industry conference!). A full brain and a lack of rest, and I’m dangerously slow. Anyway, I remembered, is the point: I’ve been cranky since birth! I’ve always snorted at the sight of large groups of earnest people wanting to be seen as professional, smart, cool — anything, really. Crowds of clean-cut kids have always held this power over me.
Give me a group of surly, disaffected youth in black, in tattered denim, in too much eyeliner, with weird haircuts any day, I thought. Give me the kids who know shit is broken and are making art anyway. The ones who are forging their own paths out of necessity, and clinging to their weird-ass identities because it’s all they have, and they’re determined not to give up.
Give me a group of surly, disaffected adults who–no, wait. Wait wait wait, I said to myself, looking around at these kids, with their IPAs and their perfect hair and tasteful eyeliner, their industry buzzwords and so much goddamned hope.
Give me the adults who were those surly, disaffected kids, who had to grow up to learn how to let the world in because it’s not always going to rip you to shreds, and when it does, it’s okay, you give your heart time to heal and reassemble. Because it will. The adults who have learned that shutting down for survival is fine, but if and when you do survive, opening back up for life becomes a necessity. The adults who love and protect from behind the scenes, who look out for the kids who need a simple smile or a compliment, a little conversation to keep the black dogs at bay.
Let me be that adult, I thought.
I looked around again, the untz untz untz of the conference after-party unceasing, despite the lack of dancing — there was networking to be done, though soon it would no doubt spill out into the streets, into the bars and become something else altogether — and saw them with different, better eyes.
You kids are all right, I thought.
And it was all right.
It was all right.