Life In The Real World, Day Three: “Grown Up Problems”

Nearing the end of my first week of work (thank you, Labor Day), it’s finally hitting me that my life has contours which mimic that of a “real” adult, or at least what I’ve always thought a real adult’s life was like. There’s already a pattern developing: I wake up at an ungodly hour, sit in traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway so I can be at my cubicle on time, put my head down for eight hours or so, sit in traffic on the way home so I can run some errands, go for a run, cook dinner, and mess around for a bit before trying to get to bed early.

If that seems like a run-on sentence to you, you can imagine how it feels to the guy on the subject end of that mess. I never imagined being a “commuter” in the truest sense of the word, driving from Philadelphia to King of Prussia and back every day so I could grind out a rent and wait for the weekend. I always saw myself more as a “bike across the bridge to work” kind of guy, getting things done in a timely fashion without having to punch a clock.

To be fair, I’m not so unhappy about how things are going. The money’s good, the people are nice, the food in the company cafeteria is a whole lot better and cheaper than what they sold at Penn. I finally have uninterrupted time to jam out to music with my windows down, something I haven’t done regularly since high school. And yeah, it’s day three of my first post-collegiate job. I’m not supposed to be content.

But still, there’s something (forgive me the melodrama) soul-deadening about having conversations about traffic patterns and the different kinds of free coffee at the office water cooler. I used to joke with my friends about “grown up problems”–having to carry an umbrella when it rains so your clothes don’t get messed up, finding a decent parking spot so you can make it out in the morning, getting to bed at a reasonable hour. They aren’t hashtags anymore. I’ve got to spend a significant portion of my free time buying dishwasher detergent and wondering what to cook for dinner.

I try to keep David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College [full text available here], “This Is Water”, in my head as I drive down I-76 in the morning. It’s about a lot of things, but I like most that there’s this underlying current of empathy that he touches on near the end of his speech. He talks about recognizing our natural state of selfishness and trying to expand from it. (Think about how every experience you have ever had literally revolved around you: your experience of the movie, or watching the Super Bowl, or tripping over a tree root. To each of us, everyone else is like a cast member in the show of our lives, but we’re all playing a role for someone else, too.) Thinking about things like that helps me feel like I’m not just another member of the rat race, that I’m actually doing some good for myself and for other people as I blare Big Sean at 6:15 in the morning. For now, we’ll see how tomorrow goes. I heard they’ve got baked ziti for lunch in the cafeteria.

P.S. I’m not exaggerating about that David Foster Wallace speech. Here’s a link to the audio again. I watch “This Is Water” every few months or so, and if you’ve got 23 minutes to listen I guarantee it’s worth your time.

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