We all have those stories—the ones we go back to again and again. The ones that help us to form the narrative arch that will eventually become our life’s story (narrative is a word I’m currently obsessed with, in keeping with the zeitgeist, which is to say: in keeping with the Forever 35
I’ve told you guys a lot of stories over the past five years
of this newsletter, but I don’t think I’ve hit this one yet. It falls into the rotation of a dozen-odd tales that weave their way into my first date “getting to know you” bit, so if you’re reading this and are one of those individuals: Hi, hello! I hope you are well.
For me, one year in high school passed like a lifetime in itself. I was one person junior year, and another completely by senior year. No single plot device performed this passing of time quite like Myspace Dot Com.
When I was 15 I was quite literally, “too cool for school” (blech) and made a lot of my best friends in another town over. There I met the crew who would introduce me to Myspace. I was not a punk or a musician but I hung out with punks and musicians, which in retrospect probably made me a poseur. And a nerd. Nerdy enough to enjoy building Sim mansions and coding some basic stuff on my Deadjournal but not quite nerdy enough to hack into people’s email accounts or build my own AIM bot which is why I’m now a poor social media manager and not a rich programmer. I was also an optimist, as evidenced by my inclination to over-saturate every photo I downloaded from my Canon point-and-shoot camera. Yes, I really was that tan, yes everyone really was that skinny, yes, the sky was really that blue. At 15, I wanted to believe in the good of the Internet, that intimacy and anonymity could exist together. I wanted to pour my heart and soul into my diary entries and know that they were personal to me, but also feel the dint of validation and connection when a stranger commented on them. In short, it was an entirely unfamiliar dynamic that I truly can't relate to at all these days.
Among my various online journals, I created a Myspace profile, like perhaps some of you guys did. And I agonized over the Top 8. Who would be in my Top 8? What did these people “say” about me? Was I in their Top 8? There is a quote that goes, “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.” And I don’t know if this quote had anything to do with Tom’s inspiration to create the “Top 8,” but I appreciate the notion. Your Top 8 selections said something
about you. I introduced this platform to my friends at school, and it sort of spread from there until mostly everyone had one.
Time went on, and eventually, some bad shit started to come out about MySpace. Kids were getting bullied, people were getting stalked, and it started to catch a bad reputation. In keeping with my journalistic tendencies, I produced a news special on this. It opened with the musical backdrop of Technologic by Daft Punk, which despite the scripting, interviews and hours of video editing that went into this 12-minute program, felt like the actual piece de resistance
of the whole thing. I felt really cool for listening to Daft Punk.
Once the program went live, I realized I had created a predicament for myself. In the passing of junior into senior year, I no longer used Myspace (it was now all Facebook, duh‚ we were adults going to college) but my profile was still active and there was no way to delete your profile. What a hypocrite I would be if I was out there on television (local access network) slamming this website where I myself was an active member. So, I impersonated an angry parent in a message to the support email line, and finally they removed it. I was off the hook. I could be an upstanding journalist in peace—ready to conquer the world in Washington, D.C.
Or so I thought. Because a few months later, when those yearbooks came out, my senior prophecy read: “Will get the entire world to join Myspace.” I couldn’t escape this blip in my story-line, it was etched in ink now. In my 18-year-old mind this felt like such a misplaced assessment of my skills and passions. I simmered with the final proof that I would never, could never, be understood. People would think
they knew me, but they didn’t know me. I was complex. I was un-knowable.
Hopefully, my words have communicated the irony of all this (it’s a literary device I’m still working to master because metaphors will only get me so far). The truth is: those classmates of mine called my future career—albeit not in exact language—before it was even a career. Really all they did was take a thing I did and hyperbolize it, it just so happens I’ve been somewhat predictable.
A part of me feels embarrassed for talking about high school when I just turned 31. I imagine people I went to school with reading this and thinking, Wow, grow up
. But at this age, approaching the mid-way point of my life, or maybe the first third if I’m lucky, I suppose it’s only natural to reflect. We want to form our narrative and with that comes the full arch of it.
What I’m learning is that it’s only possible for me to do this if I hold onto the following statement:
What you are doing right now has consequence for what lies ahead;
it also has nothing to do with it whatsoever
Both of those truths have to exist together which is quite annoying. We’ll never develop our character if we don’t believe the former, but we’ll be super miserable and forever feel stuck if we don’t remember the latter. As a teenager, I was inclined to tinker on the internet, evangelize things, and get information out there—I just did those things because it was fun for me. Now it’s a job, I have a 401k and write stories for one of the world’s most prestigious media outlets—who knew?
And still, I feel ashamed in my weak moments because I don’t have the house, the six-figure salary, the doting husband who takes fancy pictures of me in a bikini on vacation, and all the other plot devices I’d like to shoehorn into my own narrative. (PS, none of this would surprise the Shame Expert herself, Brene Brown, whose Netflix special
you absolutely need to watch.)
In closing, here’s a letter I wrote to myself on my thirty-first birthday
, which I would also extend to you, my wonderful newsletter reader: