Journal: At the End of Experience

I remember looking out the window of my dad’s apartment on the tenth floor, where I was going to stay for a few months while I looked for a job and an apartment in the city. This was back in 2005 and I would have been 21.

I watched Amelie that first night. Something different, for me, having fled a double-wide trailer life out in Chilliwack—a town known primarily for its corn, but equally a leader in alcoholism. I couldn’t sleep, so I flipped through the channels and stopped on this quirky French chick in a diner. She had cute hair. As I watched I thought about filmmaking, and how foreign-language films actually help the viewer suspend disbelief and more easily buy into a fantasy. I don’t know how Parisians are supposed to behave, so it might as well be just exactly like this.

When the credits rolled I looked out the window and wondered who was out there. It was late, but lots of people were still up, and there were a number of high-rises around me. My dad had a handy set of binoculars by the window because he was a creep. And I guess so am I.

I remember watching a girl in her mid-20s and a man probably twice her age. I tried to determine if they were a couple or a father and daughter, but I couldn’t decide. I watched as the man cooked a box of macaroni and cheese. He drained the noodles and left them in the colander, putting the pot back on the stove, then he mixed the butter, cheese powder and milk into a sauce in the warm pot, before adding the noodles back. This just absolutely blew my mind. I had never thought to do it that way. I always just chucked everything on top of the noodles and violently pummeled it into submission, like a normal person. This dude’s way seemed so strangely meticulous and loving, especially given what it was, though I have tried doing it that way in the years since and it just doesn’t taste right.

I watched a bunch of small moments in a bunch of small lives until dawn. All of it was pretty innocuous and unremarkable, but for me still spiritually fulfilling. And as the sun came up I stood on the balcony with a cigarette stuck to my lip and looked out over my new city. It took no longer than that for me to embrace a whole new life.

For a while I told stories about that place. I would descend into the world and play whatever character was available, meeting new people every day and hopefully enriching as many lives as I wrecked. If there’s a difference. But for me they’re all just stories, and I still draw from them and use them in my work in my more reflective and quiet phases. I seem to thrive on cycles of experiencing and creating. One year spent living in the world, then two years to parse the information and make things out of it. This is probably the most important part of the kind of person that I am.

But experience can be hard to come by, and increasingly so with age. There came a moment recently when I was struck by the thought that maybe there are no flavors left. I seem to have tasted just about everything.

Of course, there are tons of things I’ve never tried. I just don’t actually think that matters as much as it feels like it should, on paper. I’ve never had shaved truffle over fresh, buttery pasta. I’ve never had truffles at all. But I get the feeling that if I did grate one of them fuckers over my farfalle, it would taste like a mushroom with some herbs. Big whoop.

Years ago I got wicked drunk and ordered a BBQ Chicken Pizza for myself from this shitty chain called Megabite. I want to feel bad about it, but this is precisely what pizza is for and I’m willing to bet I’ve ordered more pizzas drunk than sober. Anyway, this thing broke the definition of a pizza for me, with barbecue sauce drizzled over grilled chicken in a zigzag pattern. I ate it alone and in shame and it was goddamn motherfucking delicious. I remember thinking: this is revelatory. That must have been about 2012.

A few years later, in 2017, I remember finding a pack of fresh ghost peppers in the produce section at a grocery store. I had to buy them, right? I didn’t have a plan for what to do with them, exactly, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. A couple hours later I was in the shower trying to comfort myself down from the panic attack that ensued from trying to eat one. Good grief.

And that’s it, I think. Those are the only truly novel experiences I’ve had with food in over a decade, which is a little strange to think about. And the same is mostly true for movies and music, and sex, and the fucking weather. Nothing is particularly interesting to me anymore.

I probably sound depressed, but I’m just not. These thoughts are rational.

Increasingly, I find myself nostalgic. The most powerful experiences for me these days are the moments I rediscover something I used to know, but had forgotten. For just a moment I remember what it was like to be alive in a world where everything felt interesting and important.

The first time I tried to learn to play the guitar it was an electric—probably a Squier—plugged into an old amp that smelled like burning hair when it was turned on. But it worked. It was super overdriven and distorted, to the point that basically anything I did was going to sound kind of good. At least to me. I just moved my hand up and down the fretboard and punched the strings with my knuckles like Billy Joe Armstrong. You know, just a couple weeks ago I listened to Dookie all the way through for the first time since I was a kid, and when this one song came on—Welcome to Paradise—it occurred to me I hadn’t heard it since probably 1994. But I could still play it on my (now air-based) guitar as if I had never left my old bedroom.

Nostalgia is dangerous. You don’t want to spend too much time there, at the risk of becoming trapped and waking up at 64 with perhaps a valentine and a bottle of wine, but without having created any new memories at all. Besides, if you aren’t making new memories, nostalgia is not a renewable resource, so you’re fucked anyway.

But the conclusion I’m coming to is that the experiential part of my life is largely over, and actually has been for a while. There will be more surprises, sure, but they’re likely to be fewer and further between, and I’ll have to find something else to do with all that empty fucking space. And since I thrive on cycles of experiencing and creating, you know, right now that cycle is kind of broken.

Maybe this post is about the decision to father a child. Not to have a baby, but—hear me out—to father the fucking thing, right and proper. To use the experiences of the first half of my life to guide me in showing the world to somebody who has never seen it before. With the probably wonderful side effect of getting to experience life over again, through their eyes, from day one.

That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, now, does it? And you thought I was depressed.

But it doesn’t really matter what I do next. It’s just probably important to identify where I am in the story of my life. Whether I choose to embrace that or fight against it, it’s good information to have.

If I were a rich man I would probably buy a boat and set off in search of adventure. I could extend the experiential phase of life by quite a bit, buying novel experiences at market value and sailing defiantly against the wind. But I didn’t do well enough with my first forty years to have options like that, so. Rats.

However, knowing my limitations and deficits I can at least try to do a little better, and maybe say yes to small experiences I’ve managed to say no to up to this point. There are a lot of those, we hope.

Even still, at least for me, the best way to enjoy the flavor of life from here on will probably be to share my favorite experiential dishes with you. Or maybe my daughter, or just anyone who will listen. I’ve told a lot of my stories before, but not everyone has necessarily heard them.

You know, writing often feels purposeless for me now when I do it for myself. But when I tell myself I’m doing it for you, paradoxically, it feels 1) vital and 2) mostly for me.

Irreversible Mistakes