NPF: 31

I am now 31 years old. Feast on my Livejournal-style musings.

Thirty-one years is a long time; I am no longer a young person by any stretch of the imagination. Birthdays prompt an annual life review, and the results are not pretty. It is shocking how little I've accomplished with 31 years (namely nothing). And I think the key to maintaining sanity into adulthood is being able to understand and accept that your life is not what you hoped it would be when you were younger.

In the meaningless standardized test sense of intelligence I suppose I am not dumb, and possibly even a little bright. Add to that the fact that I tend to be a hard worker and I always expected that I might accomplish something. That brainpower and determination equal success (and the former, frankly, is optional) is deeply ingrained in American culture. Alas, there is more to it than that. It also takes talent, and having talent is like having a right arm. Either you have it or you don't. There's not really a gray area. Try as we might – and I spend a lot of mental energy on it these days – there's no way to circumvent that requirement.

The reason I'm a 31 year old academic temp is not that I'm dumb or lazy. It is because the job listings don't say "We want someone smart" or "We're looking for a hard worker." They want someone who is good at political science. That I am not. I can work harder and get better, but there is a fundamental limit to what I can accomplish. Loving and working hard at being an academic won't make me a good one any more than loving and working hard at basketball would make me an NBA player.

I think this blog is essentially the same story. I've been plugging away at this thing for six years. Six years! A thousand words per night, five nights per week, for six years. But aside from attracting some wonderful readers who I deeply appreciate, it hasn't really amounted to anything. Nobody higher up the food chain the world of political blogging knows this thing exists. The offers to take my non-talents to a more prominent forum have not exactly overwhelmed me. Yet such a thing happening was not beyond the realm of possibility, given the evidence from a natural experiment.

Some of you may recall that this used to be a two-man blog. The other guy (You remember, right? I don't think he wants his name appearing in such low-brow discourse anymore) decided to branch out. His blog basically did squat for a couple years because he wasn't taking it seriously. When he decided to put some effort into it and post regularly, six months later he's rubbing shoulders with people in the White House and writing for the Atlantic, not to mention getting exposed all over the interwebs. Why? It certainly isn't luck. And it is not necessarily that he is more diligent or intelligent, although it may very well be the case that he is both of those things. No, the difference is that he has real talent. He's good at this.

Why I have devoted the last six years of my life to two things for which I have no aptitude – academia and political commentary – is not entirely clear through the sharp lens of hindsight. "Do what you love" is common enough and valid enough advice, but I guess I have hit the point in my life at which that isn't enough. It would be nice to actually accomplish something rather than waking up every morning and doing these things solely for my own edification. Maybe in five or ten years I will evolve into a new life stage in which doing things for our own happiness is enough. Fingers crossed.

Until then, there is little else to do except keep plugging away in an effort to reach the goals I chose without considering the poor odds that I could attain them. Thanks for reading. I mean that in both the macro sense – i.e., thanks for reading all along – and in the micro sense of having been patient enough to slog through a Dear Diary post. Back to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday. Why? Because if doing what I enjoy and putting my best effort into it is the most I can accomplish in this world, that's what I'm going to do. Even if the bar is a low one I suppose there is something to be said for clearing it rather than walking away.

I don't think I like birthdays anymore.

31 year-old Ed

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70 Responses to “NPF: 31”

  1. Ecks Says:

    a) what people, especially Dork, said above

    b) I too am an academic wannabe who's a year or two ahead of you, and have had many of the same thoughts. I've had older and wiser heads tell me that when you watch people's careers, work ethic actually tends to end up predicting success a whole lot more than mental firepower. Didn't encourage me, but take it for what it's worth.

  2. Circle Says:

    More Gin less Tacos for Ed

  3. beau Says:

    @jazzbumpa – I was just kidding about the unnamed other blogger selling out.

    ed – I should have said before that you were always more entertaining than either of your ex-colleagues, AND you are much funnier now than when I first stumbled across this thing (circa mustache diaries). That's gotta be worth something.

    And I too was afraid you were quitting for the first 2/3 of this post. Don't. Ever.

  4. j Says:

    Happy birthday, kid! I hope right now your sorrows are all drowned away!

    Two notes on why (and how) you should be happy with what you do: 1) People are happiest if they only live in the present, like Salo in The Sirens of Titan. Don't worry about the future or the past.

    2) As a corollary to #1, read up on how Flow is a goal in and of itself, and you will not need any reason to rationalize why you write and teach.

    Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Csikszentmihaly

    By the way I very much enjoy this website. First check of the day.

  5. Prudence Says:

    Happy birthday, Ed. It's doubtful to be of help, but here's my two cents: I'm 35 and have probably had more than my share of "wait, what?" moments with regard to my professional advancement. In the beginning, I hopped on the rodent treadmill, made pots of cash and became astounding miserable in the process, so I hopped off and have been doing something I love for 10 years; and, despite the fact I am as poor as a church mouse who's just gotten a very large tax bill and whose wife has just legged it with all the cheese, I'm a happy camper. I'm also now in Cambodia, having gone overland from China thru Laos to get here, and heartily recommend a long trip to who-the-fuck-knows. You can do it on a few dollars a day and it frees the soul wonderfully. Just a thought.

    Lotsa love, P

  6. Prudence Says:

    PS– I patiently wait for the interminably sluggish internet to load your blog on every stop on my travels. Greater love hath no broke backpacker!

  7. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Thirty-one years is a long time; I am no longer a young person by any stretch of the imagination.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!! Oh, the folly of relative youth!!

    Wait'll you're fucking forty.

  8. waldo Says:

    Ha ha 30 and working on your mid-life crisis already. Happy birthday and many more so when you're sixty you can read this and laugh.

  9. Skepticat Says:

    Stretch your imagination, kid. I'm more than twice your age, and I know that birthdays are to be celebrated, if only in honor of the people who no longer get to have them.
    Also worthy of celebration is the fact that you're able to indulge yourself in this manner. Yes, keep plugging away. That's all any of us really can do.

  10. Chris Says:

    Happy Birthday Ed. I think my life really began at 30. It did not seem so at the time, but give it a few years and see what you think.

    The fact that you can do what you like _is_ success. There are a lot of people getting up at sunset, or before sunrise to go spend 12 hours doing stuff they hate, only to get up and do it again, and again, and again.

    Now, Happy Halloween!

  11. Peggy Says:

    Just in case I can reassure you where others have failed, I love this blog, frequently read it at 6 am when I get up to go teach, and have many times thought "I would use this with my AP class to teach [insert rhetorical device here], if it wasn't so hilariously offensive that the Jehovah's Witness kid would get me fired for it." Sigh.

    And anyway, they don't know anything about anything, so it probably wouldn't make sense to them. Sigh.

    But you beat out the shrill feminists AND the Project Rungay guys on my to-read list. Serious accomplishment, sir.

    I'm glad I set the bar real low by sending Liz her birthday card a month and a half late, so that hopefully you're ok with my late birthday wishes too (I wanted to read all of the comments before I commented, and they just kept getting longer… thus, 26 hours later, I finally respond).

    Don't quit. Your blog is still interesting every day! I've given up on so many others!

  12. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Says:


    This morning I came to work and confronted with the fact that somehow someone decided to let a nine twelve group show a movie here. I'm feeling really sick to my stomach because people actually showed up to watch it, and also b/c political groups aren't supposed to be able to meet here. Another day, another issue.
    Anyway, this brings me to:
    The world needs G&T. I need you to keep spewing out your horribly offensive sense, because there are a lot of crazy and insensible people, and right now they are gathering just down the hallway.

    Happy Birthday Ed. The older we get, the better we are…or something.

  13. judith weingarten Says:

    @ 31, from one so ancient it's almost impolite to mention it, Keep on blogging.

    As "Huh? Says" says, it can be richer than writing polysci papers for the select 30 readers (or, in my field of Aegean archaeology, restricted to the odd baker's dozen or so).

    So, I as "Who? Says" says, 'why can't we do both?

  14. Chris Says:

    A fellow Y318 student at IU introduced me to this blog a few years ago, and I have read it pretty much every day ever since. I thoroughly enjoy your humor, wit and observations, as do many others. I also think you are a damn good teacher. I don't know every criteria to being a good academic, but you have the teaching part down. Many others also loved your classes at IU. You've touched a lot of lives, which is truly exceptional.

    It seems like birthdays somehow turn into a yearly ritual where we point the microscope at ourselves and see how we measure up in life. I think the most important thing people need to realize and celebrate on their birthdays is that they are alive (which is what I try to do). Life is the most precious commodity. Life is fascinating, amazing, and it is truly amazing anybody is here. Ed, Happy 31 years of existance: Enjoy your life, be amazed, and sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

  15. Myconfidentz Says:

    I will defer to Mr. Shatner, from "You'll Have Time":

    Live life
    Live life like you're gonna die
    Because you're gonna
    I hate to be the bearer of bad news
    But you're gonna die

    Maybe not today or even next year
    But before you know it you'll be saying
    Is this all there was?
    What was all the fuss?
    Why did I bother?

    Now, maybe you won't suffer, maybe it's quick
    But you'll have time to think
    Why did I waste it?
    Why didn't I taste it?
    You'll have time
    Because you're gonna die.

    Yes it's gonna happen because it's happened to a lot of people I know
    My mother, my father, my loves
    The president, the kings, and the pope
    They all had hope

    And they muttered just before they went
    "Maybe, I won't go…"
    Live life like you're gonna die
    Because you are

    Maybe you won't suffer maybe it's quick
    But you'll have time to think
    Why did I waste it?
    Why didn't I taste it?
    You'll have time
    'Cause you're gonna die

    I tell you who else left us
    Passed on, gone to heaven, no longer with us
    Johnny Cash, JFK, that guy in the Stones
    Lou Gehrig, Einstein, and…Joey Ramone
    Have I convinced you?
    Do you read my lips?
    This may come as news but it's time
    You're gonna die
    You're gonna die

    By the time you hear this I may well be dead
    And you my friend might be next
    'Cause we're all gonna die

    Yeah, oh maybe you won't suffer and maybe it's quick
    But you'll have time to think
    Why did I waste it?
    Why didn't I taste it?
    You'll have time
    You'll have time cause you're gonna die
    Yes, you're gonna die
    You're gonna die, I tell you
    You're gonna die
    You are gonna die

    'Cause maybe you won't suffer maybe it's quick
    But you have time to think
    Why did I waste it?
    Why didn't I taste it?
    You'll have time 'cause you're gonna die

    Live Life
    Life life like you're gonna die
    Because you're going to
    Oh yes
    I hate to be the bearer of bad news
    But you're gonna die

    Maybe not today or even next year
    But before you know it you'll be saying
    Is this all there was?
    What was all the fuss?
    Why did I bother?
    Why did I waste it?
    Why didn't I taste it?
    You'll have time, baby
    You'll have time
    'Cause you're gonna die
    You are gonna die
    Oh yeah

  16. Samantha B. Says:

    I've been reading since way back when you used to have maybe two comments per post, one of which often being mine. I think the comments section on this post speaks to your talent.

    Keep keepin' on, Ed.

  17. Giri Says:

    Goddamit, if I read nothing else in a week, I read your fucking blog. Do NOT stop, you're doing something nobody else does, honestly. You don't fit into the firedoglake-rudepundit continuum. Maybe that is why you haven't had that magic phone call yet.

  18. tony Says:

    Love the site , you are actually a genius, talent oozes out of your ears , etc.,. etc.,.

    And since 40 is the new 30 you are now …wait for it…
    21 again!


  19. David Says:

    Ed, I have no clue what you want to accomplish in academia. But I will say you are an awesome teacher.

    I had you for the American Presidency class a few years ago (Y318 I believe). You were damn good and one of the best profs I had at IU. Aside from being comical, you just taught the stuff in a way that made it stick and was easily accessible.

    I get the feeling you're more interested in research and stuff like that, but you really were one hell of a good teacher.

  20. Dave Says:

    Grad school's whole schtick is to make grad students feel like failed shams of people. I suspect all your psychic problems (and all mine) would be instantly cured if you told your advisor to go fuck him- or herself and got on your way.

    Keep writing! I love g&t.