Greater Awakenings

by Christopher DeFilippis

DeFlip Side, Vol. 1, No. 12
(First Appeared: January, 2000; First Light E-zine, Issue #88)

The millennium has come. There’s been no Y2K disaster. Nuclear missiles didn’t spring out of their silos to usher in the holocaust. Gabriel’s trumpet didn’t sound the Rapture to call the saved to bliss and leave the rest of us here to suffer. In short, the world didn’t end.

Just my luck.

The secondhand, smug little bastard that it is, continues to march inexorably forward, carelessly trampling on the precious moments I have left before reaching one of life’s less seemly milestones.

By the time you read this, I may have already turned thirty. God, how depressing. Many people I know have told me that life after thirty is wonderful. You finally start making some money, your lifestyle improves, you begin to get the respect and jobs you clamored for in your 20s. Blah, blah, blah. The way I look at it, they have to say those things. After all, they’re in their 30s. They need to cling to whatever comforts they can think up to distract them from that awful reality. And soon I will join their ranks. Funny, only one thought seems to be occurring to me at the moment: I’m substantially closer to the day they cut off my head and put it in cryogenic freeze.

Chattering toward the future!

Oh, didn’t I tell you? Like Riker said to Picard in Generations, I plan to live forever. And I’m not talking about a Dick Clark plastic surgery regimen. The only lasting thing about that solution to the aging problem is all the scar tissue that bunches up behind your ears. No, I’ll stick with diet, exercise and blind optimism in whatever radical advances science brings my way.

Gene therapy? Over here please. Cybernetic implants? I’ll take two if you have them handy. Far out concepts? Crazy ideas? I don’t mind. The more the better. A lifelong devotion to the whims and fancies of Science Fiction has primed my pump of acceptance to the point where just about anything you can come up with seems normal and logical. Ethics shmethics. Clone me a new liver and step lively my man! Because if you think I’m missing one iota of what the future has in store, then the joke is on you.

After all, the future owes me. Scientifically, the year 2000 is a major letdown compared to the visions we’ve been collectively weaned on—no flying cars, no space stations, no sleeper ships headed toward distant stars, no monoliths, no robot servants, no alien invasions. We don’t even have lousy videophones! The best we’ve come up with is the Internet, and all that means is that the porn industry can look ahead to a long and prosperous tomorrow.

Where do we go from here? The traditional vision of a future filled with gizmos and gadgetry to enhance our lives has taken on the shape of every day reality and, consequently, lost all its glamour. So what does this have to do with me turning thirty?

Well, if my expectations for my life turn out like everyone’s expectations for the future—dull, featureless, utilitarian—what hope does that leave me? Will I, as I vowed at age twenty-five, be a millionaire by age thirty-five? Will I be pumping out bestsellers? Will I have the house in the country and the apartment in the city, both of which I never see because I’m too busy globe-trotting with my wife ala F. Scott and Zelda? Or, as Jackson Browne says, are these only the fitful dreams of some greater awakening?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Jackson Browne reference, it’s from his (IMHO) best song, “The Pretender.” If you haven’t heard it, I recommend you find a copy and give it a listen. You can even dig up the lyrics online.

The song tells the story of a man who’s lost his dreams and aspirations somewhere among the mundane concerns of daily life. It wasn’t a conscious or deliberate parting. They just took a back seat until they slipped away completely.

In the top of the final stanza he declares: “I’m going to be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender.” In other words, the grind becomes the dream.

It’s amazing how easily we neglect or discard our passions, how hard we’ll work for others and give away little pieces of ourselves until life becomes nothing more than a compromise we don’t even remember making. And when realization hits, how do we recoup? Do we fervently go after those greater awakenings, nurture them back to health and let them grow once again?

Most times, no. We wallow in regret, gorge ourselves on pity and lament what might have been. We lose ourselves in the passive numbness of television. And if you’re saying, “Yeah well, not me,” try something.

Next time you’re in front of the tube, take some mental notes: How much of what you’re watching are you genuinely enjoying? How much rote channel surfing do you do? How much of the crap have you seen before? Your answers will most likely be not much, too much and most of it (respectively). Now take it a step further. Turn the television off. After about a half-hour of puttering, you won’t know what to do with yourself. Soon you’ll be going stir crazy. Time, which was so fleeting just yesterday, will suddenly seem endless.

Time is funny that way. Einstein was right; it’s all relative. And we tend to imbue it with false significance. Let’s face it. So far, this millennium doesn’t feel any different than the last one. Likewise, age twenty-nine feels no different than twenty-eight–or nineteen for that matter.

Armed with this realization, why am I still having so much trouble with the onset of my third decade? Again, it boils down to my greater awakenings, or lack thereof. For most of you, January 16 will likely mean that you’ll finally get to see a new episode of The Sopranos. But for me it will be a nice round reminder of the things I’ve yet to do.

To be sure, I’ve accomplished things both expected and radically unexpected at this stage in my life: earn a degree, fall madly in love and get happily married, have a book published, have my own column, work in radio, television and print, bake a mean apple pie, own a brand new car, become an uncle and godfather, seen a ghost (I think), jump out of a plane, make a sauce almost as good as my mom’s, climb to the top of a volcano (so it was dormant—big deal), among others. I’ll let you guess which were expected and which weren’t.

One of my more modest ambitions.

Yet as good as all that’s been, I can only seem to focus on the stuff I still need to do: publish more books, have a kid or two, get a house (complete with study, games room, gourmet kitchen and mahogany paneled library), drive cross-country to Alaska to go salmon fishing, play the piano, travel in time, take up treasure hunting, ghost hunting and manuscript hunting, have the gaudiest house on the block at Christmas, learn to fly, make a mint, have lucid dreams, start a literacy foundation, see the world, take more chances, earn a black-belt, have an on-again/off-again fling with Tyra Banks, become less of a control freak, stop the aging process, become multi-lingual, be a fun dad, travel to space, find a 1946 Fada “Bullet” tabletop Catalin radio, work harder, read more, do better, be better, and on and on and on…

So I pose the question again: Are these only fitful dreams of some greater awakening?

Perhaps. But then again, there’s nothing wrong with that. The world around us has been shaped by such dreams. More than anything else, I think, they are the special purview of humanity—the chief catalyst for our individual and collective advancement.

Some months ago, I did a column that posed a simple question: Why Sci-Fi? Why, out of all the countless books available for my review, do I choose to explore the world and ideas through the lens of Science Fiction? I think I might finally have my answer.

Collectively, all of Science Fiction is nothing more than a compendium of our greater awakenings. Through this medium, we are able to hold up and inspect others’ visions of how they think the world ought to be. The genre fuels the future, and becomes its own self-fulfilling prophesy. And by exploring it, we find inspiration—and motivation—to preserve and expand our own dreams. Thanks to this compendium, we forget to give up.

Don’t get me wrong. Turning thirty still majorly sucks. But, thankfully, I am able to look upon it with something more than happy idiocy.

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