the chorister's c




31 December 1999

There was a television documentary series in the sixties called "The 21st Century," narrated by Walter Cronkite, and the idea was to extrapolate future technology from current trends. (Cronkite also did a current history series called "The 20th Century.") Some of the reporting was pretty good, and some was starry-eyed: I remember something about civilian rockets from New York to Tokyo. I don't recall anything about inter-networked computers in the home.

I watched the series, and I computed, "I will be 43, going on 44, when the new century begins." So here I am now, and in many ways my life is not at all what I expected as a grade-schooler.


To be sure, my profession is close to what I wanted to be when I grew up, "a scientist." Well, at least I do simple math and logic and sit at a desk all day. And I live on the East Coast, more or less where I thought I would be -- Princeton, New Jersey, I think. Financially, I am better off than my parents and grandparents, but not inordinately so. And my relationships with my family have remained cordial, neither cold nor warm, for years.

But so many things have changed. I left behind grade school friends that I never saw again; with one exception, I haven't seen anyone from high school in years, and he was someone who had vanished from all our lives. I have acquired two rewarding hobbies that never would have interested me as an adolescent:

  • When I watched mysterious swooping birds at twilight, I never imagined that I'd identify them as nighthawks almost 30 years later.
  • When I read Francis Flute (from A Mid-summer Night's Dream) in an eighth-grade assembly, I never dreamed that I'd reprise the role for a paying audience.

What else surprises me? I never thought:

  • That there would be a math problem that stumped me.
  • That my view of politics would become more conservative and more apathetic. (This happens to a lot of us, of course.)
  • That I would paint my living room mint green with jade green trim.
  • That success would come in a profession I hadn't trained for in school.
  • That the high-schooler who chided classmates about smoking would take up the nasty weed for 15 years.
  • That the career of my first sports hero, Pete Rose, would end in scandal.
  • That I'd come to love blueberries on my cereal.
  • That I would turn into my mother. (Another popular mis-prediction.)
  • That a trip by airplane would become routine, sometimes tedious. (And I am by no means a frequent flyer.)
  • That I would look forward to retirement.

I thought that my father would establish a relationship with me before he died. I am genuinely surprised that my habits and tastes have changed while an adult -- that I have taken up unpredicted activities like ice skating, and crafts, and real cooking, and then dropped them. I am astonished that tiny details swim up through the murk of recollection, like an episode of "The Avengers" that I haven't seen since 1967, or a smutty joke John Sheppard told me in high school that I didn't get. I thought I would understand the joke sometime: I never did.

I have yet to travel very extensively, certainly not anyplace particularly exotic. I have yet to publish anything creative -- articles for the student newspaper in business school are not the same thing. I have never learned to draw worth a damn. I have yet to ride a motorcycle.

I have learned that I can stay focused, concentrated, and effective, but only on one or two things at a time. I have learned that the arrow of progress has a lot of bends in it. I have learned that my life is pretty ordinary -- successful, by most yardsticks, but mediocre. I have learned how fast the years go by.


And yet, some things are constant. I believe that my personality is essentially the same, that my independence and need for solitude haven't changed. Along with my sometimes stubborn refusal to go out of my way to please others. Now, most of us feel that one's "self" is constant. So why do I read my diary entries from college and I don't recognize my own voice?

I have the same strained relationship with my body that I've always had. And now my body is beginning to show some early signs of wearing out. Even though my tastes have changed, I have the same affections for books and music. But I always thought that I would learn to play an instrument well.

Just like in high school, some days I do nothing much more than wait for the mail to arrive. And I still watch too much television.

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©1999 David L. Gorsline.
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