Nonetheless, they insisted on holding the event, and I attended. I’ve always had a soft spot for reunions, not least because I’ve never really been the best at keeping in touch with people as time goes by (although Facebook does make that a lot easier these days), and organized reunions provide a great opportunity to “catch up.”
I hung out with a lot of old friends, new acquaintances, and a few professors, and generally had a terrific time. (The Saturday afternoon wine tasting, ironically one of the least expensive events, was particularly enjoyable.) Still, there was something of a wistful feeling to the whole endeavor that it wasn’t quite possible to shake.
Part of that may have to do with the fate of my old dorm, which is permanently closing to student use. The Shoreland was an historic luxury hotel, built in 1926, that the University of Chicago bought in the late ’70s and renovated for student housing. Spacious carpeted rooms, private baths, private kitchens, views of the lake… definitely not typical student housing. The place had character and bred a great sense of camaraderie, and I spent all four years there. However, the university sold it off to a developer a few years back, and has let it get considerably run down while they leased it back since then. The reunion organizers held a nice commemorative reception at which former residents got together to visit one final time and share their stories of the old days, and many of us agreed that we haven’t lived anywhere as nice in the years since. Whatever the developers ultimately do (presumably condos), it’s sad to see this distinctive little chunk of student life fall by the wayside.
A larger part of the mixed feelings, though, isn’t actually related to my fondness for nostalgia. It has more to do with the sense that those past twenty years have slipped by with too little progress made. Reunions typically involve a certain amount of jockeying for status, as people enjoy the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments in life. Granted, that sensibility was rather more subdued last weekend, as today’s economy has left so many people unemployed and many of the others somewhat insecure or self-conscious. (Heck, one old professor immediately followed his greeting, just as a matter of small talk, with the question “are you employed?”) Still… personally, it’s hard to avoid thinking that by this stage of the game, I really ought to have sorted out “what to do when I grow up” and made some real progress toward achieving it, rather than still having to work as hard as I do at figuring it out.
One might characterize it as a “midlife crisis” sensibility, except for the fact that I’ve felt this way more often than not throughout the past twenty years. It’s nothing new. The weekend just underscored it.
Make no mistake: I’ve not spent my life huddling in a corner bemoaning my fate! I’ve schussed down black diamond slopes in the Rockies, and jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, and climbed the pyramid at Chichén Itzá. I’ve marched in the streets, and worked in the halls and hearing rooms of Capitol Hill. I’ve studied within the medieval walls of Oxford, and strolled the historic byways of Prague and Budapest. I’ve helped write federal appellate briefs, and passed the bar exam on my first try. I’ve hobnobbed with national politicians, corporate high-rollers, and best-selling writers. I’ve rafted white-water rivers, and danced at black-tie balls. I’ve seen epic musicals from the West End to Broadway, watched improv comedy at Chicago’s best clubs, and seen Kenneth Branagh play Richard III. I’ve delivered pizzas, designed web sites, and drafted multi-million-dollar business plans. I’ve eaten in the best restaurants, and cooked my own favorite meals. I’ve read widely and written passionately. I’ve absorbed vast quantities of comic-book trivia, seen every Star Trek movie, and embraced my inner geek. I’ve learned a lot about a few things and a little about a lot of things. I’ve worn ponytails and buzzcuts. I’ve loved and lost, I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve debated and pondered, and I’ve never missed an election.
In short, I’ve tried to seize every available opportunity to do interesting things. Still… as eclectic as that list is, a great deal of it seems to amount more to distractions from life, rather than a direction for it. And one opportunity I haven’t yet found is one on which I can build an actual career worth being proud of, one that makes a mark in the world.
Almost everything I do these days, from job-hunting to this blog, is at some level measured against that standard: will it move my life forward? So far, nothing has managed to rise to the top with a resounding “yes.” And under those circumstances, while marking the passage of twenty years gives me a lot to look back on fondly, I’m still not quite sure what I have to look forward to.Tags: Chicago, college, Shoreland, unemployment, University of Chicago