MY EXISTENTIAL DOCTOR, HERB: PART 13
TURNING 40: ALL AGED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO
By Brian Polk
Published Issue 080, August 2020
For the first time since we began our sessions, I am meeting with my existential doctor Herb virtually. Generally, I don’t really go in for these computer-based meetings, but this is how everything seems to be happening these days. (Plus it’s not like I’m leaving the house if I don’t have to.) And besides, I have been in a weird mood lately. I’m sure it has something to do with the state of the world — what with everything turning into a big shit burger and all. But it could also have to do with … Actually, why am I telling this to you? I should be saving it for the professional who’s taking my money.
“Hello,” I tell Herb, who promptly tells me to unmute myself, which I do. “Is that better?” He gives me a thumbs up, so I launch into it. “Okay, so I have been in a weird mood lately. I’m sure it has something to do with the state of the world …”
He nods as though this sentiment has been expressed by other patients of his. Then he mumbles something that I can’t hear from the other side of his mask. I ask him to speak up, and he says, “It’s understandable.”
“Thank you,” I say. “But there’s something else — another reason that my mood has been, I guess, strange.” I reflect for a few moments in order to summon the right words. “So here’s the deal, I’m pretty nihilistic when it comes to my outlook, which is a defense mechanism for sure. I tend to see things as half-empty, so that way, if I encounter a half-full situation, then I am pleasantly surprised.”
“You’ve mentioned that before,” says Herb.
“Have I?” I ask. “That makes sense. Every person I’ve been romantically involved with has told me the same thing. ‘You always tell that story,’ they say. ‘Only this time, it was different from the last time you told it.’ And then they see what a phony I am because when I tell stories, I tend to throw in details that I made up in order to suit my audience. And it’s not even like I’m deliberately trying to lie to people. These fake details just find their way into the dialogue for a reason that I’m not sure I’m ready or even willing to explore …”
Herb clears his throat.
“Oh right,” I continue. “That’s not what I’m here for, now is it?” I furrow my brow. “Where was I?” Herb jogs my memory with his masked mumbles. “Oh right, my weird mood. I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago.”
“You did?” he asks. “Damn, I owe Augustus $50.”
I laugh and wonder how many others have lost money on account of my survival. “Right, sorry about that,” I say. “Congratulate your brother for me, will you?”
At that point he laughs and removes his mask. I asked him why he needed a mask in the first place, and he doesn’t respond immediately, so for several moments we sit in silence. Then I swear I hear a door close. I want to ask him who was in the room, but I think better of it. Even though this virtual meeting doesn’t seem like a real session, he’s sure as hell charging me real money and I should probably get down to brass tacks.
“So I’m 40,” I say again. “And I have realized a few things: one, I am not growing up any time soon. And two, I don’t need to apologize to anyone for the life that I chose to live.”
“Isn’t that something you already knew?” he says.
“Yes, but since I turned 40, I have reflected a bit on my life up to now. And of course, I thought about what my life would be like when I was a kid. For example, if you would have told me at 16 that I would still be playing in bands and hanging out with my friends all of the time, there’s no way I would have believed you. Worse, my younger self would have thought that I was some kind of loser, because 40-year-olds shouldn’t be playing in punk bands. They should be having kids and working on their golf game. But my older self looks at all the people I know who had kids and work on their golf game and I’m simply horrified by that lifestyle. I mean, good for them, and everything. If they’re happy, then I am glad for them. But I don’t want any part of that. My musicianship has been improving by leaps and bounds and it keeps me so excited about life. I am happy to be alive because of it. But if all I had to look forward to is waking up early on Sunday so that I could play golf, I think I would be miserable. What would be the point of that?”
“Do you think that maybe the reason your younger self would have thought of your current self as some kind of failure is because you didn’t have any role models for how to be an eccentric adult, for lack of a better term? Because there are plenty of people who take different paths.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I was raised in the suburbs where everyone conformed to the belief that having a family and accumulating status symbols was the only way to measure success in life. If you didn’t do both of those things, you were a total loser.” I shake my head at the thought. “But now that I’m 40, I don’t have to think that anymore. I’m not apologizing to anyone. It’s like Fugazi said, ‘We owe you nothing. You have no control.’” I laugh. “You know, that’s the first time I had thought about those lyrics in a long time. They’re definitely going to take on a new meaning for me.”
“So what are you going to do with this newfound freedom?” asks Herb.
I had never thought to refer to it as “freedom,” and I smile at the thought. “It is freeing,” I say as I contemplate the significance of that statement. “I don’t know what I’m going to do … Maybe get a drink and think about what I’m going to do with this song I’m working on.”
“And not care what anyone else thinks about your life decisions?”
“Yeah,” I say as my brow furrows. “But isn’t it amazing how many times I’ve had to remind myself of that? I feel like I can spend the rest of my life relearning, like, three lessons over and over again.”
“That’s how I earn a paycheck,” Herb says. “Oh, and times up.”
Brian Polk is a Denver-based writer, publisher of The Yellow Rake, and drummer for Joy Subtraction and Simulators. He’s the author of Placement of Character and Turning Failure into Ideology. He likes writing, muck raking, yellow journalism, zines not blogs, cheap booze and punk rock.
Jack Estenssoro is a native Denver, Colorado based artist. Born in 1990, Estenssoro has experimented with art since his adolescence. Starting in 2015 oil painting became his primary medium of choice. Jack Estenssoro is a self proclaimed Neo-Sureal-Realist. Estenssoro’s work deals with the complexity of ordinary, contemporary life that may be overlooked because of a sense of banality. Estenssoro instead finds great inspiration in such topics and explores why such themes are of great importance to the zeitgeist.