Do you feel like an angst-ridden teenager at 28? Which no confirmation of true age, when confronted with an ever-more aging face staring back at you from every reflection, can eradicate? With the ever-mounting pressure to remain young, to be hip, adventurous and to be eternally striving to advance oneself and be ‘living’ the high times, that is mediated to us by young-looking role models (whether they are actually young or incredibly well photo-shopped), the effects of alienation and discontent that traditionally by-and-large affect teenagers, now affect people further and further into their adult lives. The size 30 waistline is truly strangling us right into our 30’s. Yet there’s never any talk of this – alienating those caught in this existential no-man’s-land furthermore.
Doing my artwork from home, and having a job (when I have one at all) that gives me days off in the middle of the week (which no friends usually have free also), a much needed escape from my cul-de-sacked-residence is usually destined to be relatively solitary one, estranged from the friends who I don’t have the confidence to call until the time of day when English towns have become alcohol-gated communities. I’ve got into an early-afternoon habit, once my hands can’t take any more biro-gripping and key typing, of heading to towns/cities within the 20 mile affordable-to-travel-to radius. But once I get there I am suddenly confronted by an attack from conventional reasoning as to why I am in this place. Amidst the races of individuals trying to get places from the station terminus, I begin to stall, getting in peoples’ way. They seem to have purpose; a life which they are in such a rush to resume. I don’t. Just what am I doing here?
I start to feel a sense of not belonging, an estrangement, and an eagerness to find a place. An uneasiness I expected to be way beyond by now. My mind starts repeating “I’m 28 for god’s sake!”, desperately trying to make it feel true in the physical world. But no matter how I try to rush off’ trains when I’m meeting a friend, or arranging a van to pick my artworks up from an exhibition, my life seems to stay put. Nothing has really changed since I was the shy 16 year old school leaver who would avoid people he went to school with in the street, rather than have to walk past them, in fear of being ignored by them all together.
Many thougths and sights gather and congeal during the course of day that make me look back from these ‘post-Fordist’ times to the lives of my ‘Fordist’predecessors (the previous generations) in shame and embarrassment. Families, homes, ‘proper’ jobs in their 20’s. These societal changes don’t seem to register on the tips of most tongues, and whether possible to do so or not, there is boding expectation to make your way through the world, which hangs heavier around ones neck every time their age hits a higher twenty-something. But what’s there to be made, doesn’t make for this, and what lies in wait just perpetuates your past doings.
If we stick to the core meaning of alienation – to feel that you don’t belong; to feel not at home in your own surroundings – then this alienation may be behind why, after getting off the train, I then make my way to sit in the very chain cafes that I am often critical of for driving small businesses out of existence. In towns/cities which aren’t ‘my home town’, where I am at for no real reason, I feel out of context with the surroundings, with an imaginary person whispering “you don’t belong here” in my ear. And these coffee shops are out of context because they are everywhere and are thus nowhere; a place alienated from its surroundings for an individual who feels alienated (which in no way exempts me from the guilt of frequenting such places). And after that where? For, when I’ve done sitting in the cafe, I don’t really allow for anything much to ‘happen’, because I’m too eager for the feeling of at-least going somewhere, which the train back home-wards provides, and is this the underlying spur for the endeavour.
Regarding those who meander in solitude up and down streets, cultural discourse would have it that it’s a 15-19 age thing, circumventing the age of The Catcher In The Rye’s socially lost protagonist Holden Caulfield. And this holds true for musical tastes also; where bands dealing with discontent and alienation (a prime example being Nirvana, but I also the likes of Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, The The, Joy Division) are neatly categorised as “angry young man music/the sort of music I listened to in my teen angst days” (yes, I have actually heard these said), as a call to get rid of these feelings of not fitting into society, as if it’s an ‘age thing’, to find your seat within the big arena, something many seem depressingly able to do without any noticeable painful transition.
Well, the said bands are still some of my closest audio companions, and I first read the Catcher In The Rye when I was 25 years old, yet felt utterly in tune with this teenage protagonists aimless journeys to places in a city, that he realised he had no reason for being at once he’d arrived. Consequently I feel offended by the usual back-cover reviews describing the book as ‘the quintessential book about teenage-angst ‘, to paraphrase the many.
What does this mean? Does it mean completely shelving everything I have just said just in order for it to be fitting to say “you need to move on (grow up)”? Well, if that is so, please fucking show me how to! Please show me how to move on from this junction-less ring road. If my brain was made of nuts and bolts rather than organic tissue I’d gladly let you tinker around with a screwdriver if there was any hope of lifting the veil of grey mist blocking sight of progression into an ‘acceptable’ place to be for an adult. But it wouldn’t work. Plans are being made now, but if you see me still looking vacantly at train departure electronic boards in 1 year’s time, don’t be surprised.
Weekends seem to actually induce mini-crisis points, from where I wish I’d never asked my boss for them off, because it seems so much easier to be working. At least on weekdays I can at least be functional in my usual doings, and not feel bowled-over by omnipresent ‘evidence’ to a uncertain self of people having purpose to their weekly working as they are meeting up during their shared time off with friends for a much earned rest.
At least on weekdays, I see others as being in the same boat as me, as equally struggling to deal with the cultural norms subjected onto them. And I see other reasons for the causation of alienation. Looking at every lone person on a bus, every lone person with time on their hands, I’m seeing others who are alienated and needing a place also. Everyone’s looking for contact via their mobile phones. Perhaps it isn’t just directly the propagation of youthful imagery that perpetuates the teen alienation into adulthood, but the rapidity of the amount of electrical communication?
When others contact you it makes you feel wanted, but not merely wanted in the ‘desired’ sense but wanted in existence. Someone of strong enough self certainty to avoid irrational anxieties, may not need to needed/wanted by others in order to make their existence seem of worth, but for others, lost in the blur of a fast-paced life, lack of contact with others, when all you see around you in the street is others texting/talking on phones, can make you feel anxious about your own worthiness of existence upon this planet. Thus you begin rapidly texting people, and the desire to get (back) onto social networking sites, such as Facebook, hangs like big tangled branches from every inhalation and exhalation. I tend to text with more ferocity the more I feel like the spectrum of life is passing be by, and also when I’m places where I feel like I don’t belong, and regardless of what they text says, the real message is ‘Hey, I’m here! Don’t forget me”. And of course it is for everybody else.
The link between why we are a society both equally hooked to high-tech forms of communication and the pummeling from youth-obsessed imagery, is what I’d argue is also the link between my inability to move past my alienation and the social system we live under. We never feel complete, thus we never feel like we belong.