Subversively Sober

By Jared Mazzaschi 12/01/14

What does a rebel look like in his 40's?

Image: 
rebellious.jpg
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I was an angry kid.

Thankfully, I like to think, most of the time anyway, I’m a happy man.

Still, I don’t need to go far to access that same fount of anger that I drank from as a young person; it’s right there. What has changed is that I’ve developed techniques to live with the anger, gotten some perspective on it, and, at least partially, divert some of that energy to more positive outlets.

None of this is to say that anger is necessarily a bad thing. While maybe more often than not it is, it can also be a great motivator. Before I realized what I was doing, I would often use it in the form of self-loathing. I was my own worst-nightmare scenario taskmaster.

“You are a piece of shit unless you check off these three things on your to-do list.” 

It wasn’t a pleasant way to live.

Angry young men change the world, just not this angry young man.

As a kid, I glommed onto punk rock, a not uncommon thing for an angry young person of my generation and origin. It provided a tailor-made identity where anger was par for the course. Don a bad haircut and some Doc Marten’s and instantly you’re a rebel. Of course there was more to it than that, and there are a lot of things about my interpretation of punk rock that I still love and identify with (beyond the music that is), the self-righteous indignation, the idealism, and being a defender of anti-racist and feminist perspectives to name a few.

But what I didn’t do was truly consider what it meant to be a rebel. My take on rebellion was simple and unexamined; it meant aligning myself, my perspective in opposition to other people, institutions, and ideas. Which is fine as far as that goes, but at the end of the day doesn’t really add up to much. You are against shit. That’s great. Now what?  

No Future

There were some in my circle who tried to channel that anger and disdain toward positive outlets and change. I, however, was of a different bent. I was of the “No Future” mindset and cynically pooh-poohed their efforts. I thought that as a species, never mind a generation, we were doomed. So why bother? My answer was to take drugs. I thought taking drugs made me a nihilist. In my mind I was railing against the system. In reality I was railing against my body.

Fuck the Popular Kids. Sports. School. Racism. War. Capitalism. My parents. Getting a job. J Crew. Cup o’ Noodles. You name it and I’d say fuck it.

Somehow, despite my best efforts, I managed to live past 30. It was then that I discovered, lo and behold, the joke was on me. Rebellion, at least in the way I was practicing it, was pretty ineffective. One could even argue that it was counter-productive. I don’t ride myself too hard about it. If you are gonna do stupid shit, better do it when you are young, right? And besides it gives me something to write about.

Still Sick of it All

But as a man, more specifically a man interested in leaving the world better than the way I found it, nihilism doesn’t suit me. Good lord, my younger self’s toenails would curl if I had even tried to type the above sentence.

The nihilist, as a young man may look cool, smoke cigarettes and make great music, but when he gets older he starts to look pretty silly. I eventually left the drugs behind. I didn’t want to. I gave drugs my best. I really put in the time and effort, but they didn’t get me where I needed to go. I eventually had to let them go. That one was a big letdown, but what are you gonna do?

What am I left with? The anger, that’s what. The anger and the indignation are still there. I still have the urge to be a rebel, as silly as that might sound.

Rebel Rebel

But what does that even mean? What does a rebel look like when you are in your forties? My concept of the rebel is outdated. A quick definition of the word, “Rebellion is the process of resisting authority, control, or convention.” That’s an idea that strikes me as worthwhile, but what I find worthy of rebelling against these days isn’t as sexy as “Sick of it All” sounds. What bugs me these days are big, seemingly intractable problems; things like income inequality, corporate money in politics and institutionalized racism. I didn’t like those things as a young man either, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing anything about them. 

And I’m still not naïve enough to think I could solve big problems like those. But, I am okay with the idea of making a difference in a small, individual way. Maybe if I can make things a little better for one person, then some effort might be worthwhile. I’m okay with starting there. That kind of small ambition wouldn’t suit my younger self. I would have been interested in fixing everything in one fell swoop – rewriting the rules - and basking in the subsequent glory of the act. Short of that, screw it, why bother?

I guess that line of thinking might be part and parcel of becoming an adult. Maybe I’m just a little slow in picking up on the basics, but that’s where I’m at and it took me a long time just to get here.

So I try to do a number of different things to help rather than hinder. 

I vote, despite my innate cynicism and absolute conviction that I’ve already been bought and paid for.

I devote money to charity. 

Next Generation Rebel

But the most personal thing I do is mentor a disadvantaged kid. I love it and hate it. Sometimes, it feels like a complete waste of time. The kid often won’t listen to me and doesn’t seem to care that I’m making the time. I fear he sees me as a walking piggy bank. At times, it feels like the furthest thing from rebellion I could possibly do. But here’s the irony. The 9-year-old boy I meet with every other weekend is as indignant as I can imagine a 9-year-old boy being. He’s asked me questions like “Why are so many black men homeless?” and “Why do people use guns even though all they do is hurt people?” and “Why is it that only white people live near the ocean?” You can see the gears turning. He’s disgusted by the injustice of it all. Occasionally, he will scream and stamp his foot and say, “No!” and “Why not?” and “I want it!”

I love hearing him scream shit like that. But I’m also torn. My instinct is to egg him on. “Yes, little man! The world is fucked and you should go down fighting because you are right! The game is fixed!” But I know I have to toe the line, at least to an extent. It’s my duty to encourage him to stay within the lines. But I also make sure to applaud and encourage his curiosity and his, at times, malcontent natural instincts. I love the idea of this little guy becoming a leader that fights injustice. Maybe one day he’ll blossom into a true ass-kicking rebel. What a cool end to the story that would be.

Jared Mazzaschi is a Los Angeles-based writer. He last wrote about the cliches of recovery.

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