Life is in the details.

Oooh, Troy Dyer. As a teenager, I was madly in love with Ethan Hawke’s character in the film Reality Bites. Brooding, anti-establishment, literary, and elusive, Troy was the quintessential 1990s heartthrob. In college, I dated my own version of Troy Dyer: a smart-as-a-whip skateboarder novelist with a tough but tender demeanor who dressed in Seattle’s trademark flannels and Carhartts. My Troy Dyer harbored a deep-seated distrust of “the man” and swore he’d never become a corporate drone like his father.

Well, my Troy Dyer and I broke up years ago and have long since lost touch. Last I heard, he got married and became a corporate attorney. I suppose that’s what happens to many of the world’s 20-something renegade dime-store philosopher-poets: they grow up and replace their flannels with staid business attire. They trade in their Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer for an austere Chassagne-Montrachet. They replace their skateboards with BMWs. Sometimes I wonder how he’s doing. I hope he’s happy.

Anyway, when I want a good dose of 1990s nostalgia, I pop in my Reality Bites DVD and am transported to an era in which Winona Ryder was the high priestess of Gen-X angst and Ethan Hawke’s greasy slacker was the epitome of cool. I remember being in my early 20s and feeling awestruck but undaunted by life’s big decisions and impenetrable mysteries.

My 30s, on the other hand, seem to be ushering in an era of increased self-acceptance and peace. Sure, there’s work to be done, choices to be made, and obstacles to be overcome, but these days it’s life’s wondrous unfolding that proves compelling. I am no longer governed by the quixotic impulse of my 20s to arm-wrestle life into making sense. Much to my surprise (and occasional horror), I seem to have grown up a bit.

In 1994, when Reality Bites was released, I felt a kinship with the film’s angst-ridden 20-something protagonists. Watching the movie now, though, I don’t relate to the characters so much as I feel for them. I want to tell them that life won’t feel this chaotic forever, and that the soul-searching they’re doing is just as valuable as the answers they’ll eventually find.

Then again, I think they’d probably tell me to lighten up, for Chrissake. Go easy on the heavy-handed philosophy. After all, according to the preternaturally wise Troy Dyer,

There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a…a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know…a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter becomes a cackle…

Troy had a good point. This Thanksgiving, why not raise a glass and give thanks for the little things, the mundane details that shape our lives? Personally, I’m thankful to be out of my 20s. But I hope I never get too old to tie one on with my friends and dance for no reason at all.

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6 thoughts on “Life is in the details.

  1. “We’re going to eat gas.” One of my favorite quotable movies. Did we ever discover this about each other? Maybe not. You and Rich were kept very busy with Guffman. “Are you retarded?”” No, I’m rhyming. It’s not easy. Sure I make it look easy..” Ahhhhh….college.

  2. Filling up on the details, it seems, is one way to wall up the unresolved questions. I don’t believe the 20’s quixotism you describe is something one should grow out of, especially in place of systemically sublimated regret.

    • I don’t believe in blocking out or walling up the unresolved questions. I believe very strongly in living with the unresolved questions. But with a little more age and life experience I have come to believe that the point is not to find definitive answers to all those unresolved questions–in fact, I don’t believe there are definitive answers to many of life’s biggest quandaries–but rather to enjoy the small things that make life worth living. I certainly don’t advocate “systemically sublimated regret,” but nor do I believe that I have to brute-force clarity in my own life in order to enjoy life’s myriad small, mundane moments of beauty.

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