Blog post about how stuff feels different and relationships change over the course of a life on the left
Hola, amigos. How you been? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya. Mostly been the same old same old over here - aging and raging, fretting and regretting, aching and mistaking, though I hit a PR on bench press recently so that's a highlight.
Anyhow, the other day my usual preoccupation with my own decay and decrepitude spun out into thinking about how changes in the course of my life have changed other things in my life, and I feel like there's some connection here with lefty stuff. I used to be into music as my main thing, listening to it and playing it. I fell out of that for a while, music became background noise to make dishwashing pass faster, and the music I’d put on was entirely drawn from my existing collection, or at best I’d fill out what I’d heard by existing artists I already knew. About three years ago I got back into new music a little. More recently I’ve been making an effort to deliberately seek out new music that I might like. I used to do this all the time when I was young, and it didn’t feel like work and it didn’t feel like it was in competition with other demands on my time. Now it does feel a bit like work and (or maybe because) it is now in competition with other demands in my life. It’s a bit like going to the gym - I like it and I feel good when I do it regularly but it takes discipline, rather than being something I do with complete ease and that feels natural. I mentioned this to a friend, shorthanding it as ‘I’m trying to listen to music again like I did when I was young.’ I meant the above stuff that I said but I didn’t explain that. My friend said ‘you can’t really hear music again like when you were young, you can’t feel things with that same intensity.’ Also true. And generalizable. Early experiences are earth-shaking. Later ones are merely really nice.
I had similar experiences in the brief times I played in bands. It felt amazing to play and there was a sense of profound connection with the people I was in bands with. Later, I became less interested in what we were playing and wanted to do other stuff. That was unexpected for me, and for the people I was in bands with, and I/we didn’t handle it particularly gracefully. I think this is probably a pattern in a lot of areas of life for a lot of people - have intense new experiences with people, feel deeply connected to them, be surprised when the experiences and their intensity turn out to be temporary, be surprised as well when newly differing from people with whom one has felt deeply connected, experience the possible endings there (perhaps this project is over, or is shifting directions, or one’s enthusiasm has declined, or shifted to something else less shared) as well as the new differences with people as unpleasant and, well, just like really loud in emotional volume, and find all of it hard to manage gracefully. I think this is part of why I know a lot of people who fight the hardest with their family and with the people in their lives who feel like family.
I’ve had similar experiences in left politics. (At this point I am inactive. My values haven’t changed and my politics haven’t changed, at least not much (not in the fundamentals), I’m just busy with rest of life stuff, mostly my kids. This is a life-stage-related change in my activity, just like my changed relationships with music, and is part of why this all is on my mind, why I’m writing this out.) I’m not alone in this experience on the left.
Personally, I’ve often felt a bit like a latch-key kid on the left, mostly raising myself, or my friends and I raising each other, rather than having much in the way of older mentors. I’ve not felt as much like this as a parent, I’ve gotten more advice or information to help me understand what’s gone on in my life as a parent - mostly people saying ‘yep, been there, that’s normal when your kid is that age.’ I’ve often wished for similar as a leftist whose life is changing. ‘Yep, that’s typical at 25 in your first really intense experiences of... Yep, I remember being 35 and feeling like...’ I’ve also thought it might be nice if someone wrote a book for leftists sort of like those books for kids about to go through puberty or whose parents are expecting a new baby -- ‘here are some of the changes that people experience, here are some ways people respond.’ I think there are limits to how much anyone can prepare for those changes. Reading about swimming and actually swimming are quite different experiences. But I think some of the value in that kind of innoculation is that it helps people know what’s basically normal in their situation - others have been through this hard experience before and survived it, the unpleasantness will pass, and so on.
If someone asked me what I would say to younger people that they should expect in their life on the left, based on my own experiences on the left, I would say 'shit, I dunno.' If pressed, I would say 'ask my friends Heather and Morgan.' If pressed further, however, I would say 'hey look over there!' and turn and run.
If chased down and cornered and told I better answer or they would hurt my children, I would say, while sobbing, "the following is likely: You will feel competition between left stuff/relationships on the left and other life/relationship priorities. You will begin to feel less enthusiastic about some things you currently care a ton about. You will remain deeply enthusiastic about some things while other people you currently care a ton about begin to lose that enthusiasm. People will move away or drop out of the circles you’re in together and you will feel sad or angry about it. You will disagree seriously with people you don’t want to disagree with. You will sometimes wonder why you’ve spent all this time on this stuff. You will sometimes not feel like doing things you know are important. You will sometimes suspect that things you spent a lot of time aren’t that important, or are less important than what you gave up. You will sometimes have trouble explaining this lefty stuff to other people in your life who aren’t on the left, and that may intensify some of the above. You will sometimes struggle to find new roles that fit for you. You will change your mind on some things and you may find that embarrassing. You will sometimes be hungry to contribute and to connect and yet feel you have nothing meaningful to contribute, or feel you have no way to contribute that doesn’t involve sacrificing something you care about. In general there will be times when you feel comfortable, everything in your political life basically fits and works, and times when you don’t.
All of this is okay. It all changes. That’s probably all platitudes. It’s all I’ve got to say on this. I don’t think I’m any kind of expert on this, that was just my crack at it. I don’t feel like I know how to successfully and happily lead a life as part of the left (parenting has been like that for me as well), and I think that people committed to left politics and values should be willing to do the work anyway even if they’re not entirely sure how to do it successfully (again parenting is like this for me and for a lot of people - we do the best we can while aware of our limits, that is, while aware that OUR best isn’t THE best, and while knowing that the degree to which we know what we’re doing is quite low.) I would be very interested in what others have to say along these lines - what to expect over the course of a life on the left. It’s a weird thing in some ways, doing lefty stuff over the course of one’s life, and maybe it’d go better if we occasionally talked a bit more what it’s like to do this weird thing."
And then I would say "please let me go now and please don't hurt my children."