I painted my room this weekend. I covered up the electric blue walls of my bedroom with variations of beige. I cleared my room out of all the things I’d collected over the years—clothes, shoes, books to make the blue paint I had picked ten years ago disappear. Some of the things I moved out, I moved out permanently. Like my desk that was as old as the paint on my walls, and the shag carpet left in my closet floor from the previous owners. Replaced with a new desk, laminate flooring, and a futon, I changed the bedroom that hadn’t seen such an interior transformation since I was 13. And it made sense; only a 13-year-old would pick out the ugly shade of blue that I chose for my bedroom.
I want to be clear right now, this is something I really wanted to do. I didn’t feel any obligation from my parents or pressure from my sister to change anything. I did it because the blue didn’t feel right anymore. Neither did the battered old desk and the lack of a dresser—my clothes being kept on a wire shelf for the last decade. I’m getting older. And if my more youthful self would have objected, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
When I think about the biggest ways I’ve changed since I was 18, the most noticeable difference comes from how I expected to see myself at this point in my life, and what actually happened. When I was 18, I expected that by the time I turned 23, I’d have an apartment in Boston or New York, working for a film studio or Rolling Stone. I would be in my first professional year after graduating from Emerson College, where I earned a degree in Film & Television, and I’d know all the local artists and all the important players in the film industry. I’d be one of the winners. And all I can say is, thank God that stopped being my standard, because imagine how fucking boring all of that would have been.
Think about the sort of people who immerse themselves in the entertainment industry. They’re needy, manipulative, and if the last five years has shown us anything, it’s that most of them are sexual predators. But before I knew any of that, I wanted it for one reason, and I’m pretty sure I even knew it when I was 18. The word vanity explains all of it: the desire to be accepted and wanted by people who I thought were impressive. I wanted to be famous, and I wanted to be wealthy. I wanted this to show all of my classmates in high school that I wasn’t a burnout like they thought, that I had something to offer.
Photo by Dani Danis
I still think I have something I can offer to people. But what I think I’m capable of giving hasn’t just become more grounded in reality, it’s become more meaningful. I can offer love, friendship, and sincere advice to my loved ones who need it. I can offer myself. Over these years, I’ve learned that career- focused standards for ourselves take us away from what really matters. My work does not define me. The amount of money in my bank account does not define me. The way I treat people defines me. And to have a meaningful life, I’ve learned that if I truly want to impact the ones around me and do something worthwhile, it’s going to come from the way I care for the people I love.
I think a lot about being a father now. I used to distance myself from the idea when I was younger, and think to myself, “I’d never have kids, they’d get in the way of my success.” I settled for imagining myself as being the cool uncle, shifting all the responsibility of having kids to my sister, so I could be the motivated and successful one. But as I’ve been getting closer and closer to graduating, and I’ve been forced to think about what success in my life would really look like, I can’t think of any greater success than being a good parent. I’m not exaggerating; I’m not trying to come off as sentimental. I have a deep and profound desire to raise my own kids, to the extent that it matters more to me than pretty much any other facet of my future. I sometimes even think about myself as a parent with my children. I see kids at the grocery store I work at and imagine taking my own kids grocery shopping. My dad used to take me grocery shopping every Sunday, and before we’d go, we’d get breakfast together. I think about making breakfast for my kids on the weekends, stacks of pancakes and hash browns. I can see their faces and I know their names, even if I haven’t chosen them yet. I love my children and I haven’t even met them yet. That’s how committed I am to being a parent.
I still love all of the things I did when I was younger. I’m still obsessed with gangster films, The Beatles are my favorite band, and I can still crush a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in three minutes. But what getting older has done is made me able to put these things in perspective and hold new levels of appreciation for them. I’m much more deeply in tune to how art moves me beyond the aesthetic appeal of a gun shoot-out or a pretty melody. I can balance the things I enjoy without indulging to excess, and I can save my time for things that I truly care about.
So now I sit on my new sofa in my beige room, and I look at the things I kept. My bookshelf with a decades-worth of graffiti made by my friends that I didn’t paint over. My Kurt Cobain and T. Rex poster that I bought when I was fourteen, and my collection of guitars that extend as far back as age nine. The things worth keeping, I’ve kept. The things worth tossing have been successfully tossed. I’m still getting used to throwing out unnecessaries—I’m not perfect at it. But if I’ve learned anything from the last five years, it’s not only important to let go and change. It’s imperative. I like the color beige, and it doesn’t mean I’ve become boring.