Friday, April 17, 2009

Chasing Windmills (Revisited)

Recently, I have thought about an article I wrote 7 years ago. Not so much the article itself but larger issues it addressed. Inspired by a 1960's antiwar activist's charge of living one's life in a way that "does not make a mockery of one's values," I reflected on the prospects of continuing to lead a principled existence after college--in the compromising, shark-infested waters of the so-called "real world."

The article, first published in the student newspaper and then in Clamor, told the story of my interaction with an alumna of the college and her thesis which I discovered on the life of the legendary anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman. I contacted her through the alumni association and soon learned that she had become a high powered, corporate lawyer working in the Manhattan office of one the nation's largest firms. This experience forced me to address the privileges of my idealism and negotiate a sense of self-righteousness with the complex implications of my own post-collegiate future.

After turning 28 last week, I now find myself in that future moment that I pontificated about as a student. About as far away from being a corporate lawyer as one could possibly imagine, I think that 21 year-old me would be proud of my resiliency in avoiding compromise or "selling out" over the past 7 years. But there's nothing glorifying about being in denial of student loan debt that still looms over me or being uninsured and unemployed. Or is there?

The title of my article was appropriated from the project about Emma Goldman: Chasing Windmills. Just as Goldman quixotically pursued her anarchist ideal after being deported from the US because of her incendiary beliefs, I pledged to continue to live in accordance with my politics.

What actually evoked the 2002 article was learning that someone I grew up with also moved to Philadelphia recently and reflecting on the vastly different paths that led us both to this city. He moved here to begin a career upon completion of a PhD. I moved here for love and to simply start over. In true 21st Century fashion, I only know this through the Internet, where we are "friends" on a popular social networking website. My old little league teammate has proudly documented his new life here through photographs of his upscale apartment and backyard patio along with brief life updates such as the recent gourmet meal he consumed at a ristorante in his neighborhood.

There might be a river that seperates where we live here but perhaps the social and economic barriers that divide us are more artificial than my initial reaction would indicate. Maybe not. We have both been invited to attend our 10 year high school reunion next month, to reunite with people that neither of us have seen since then; who, unlike us, have not left since graduation. I think about getting in touch with him and catching up. It would be interesting to see where our experiences and aspirations overlap and where they diverge. If nothing else, I could ask him for a ride back home for the reunion.

-Matt Dineen


Honest Living said...

i definitely relate to this -- i find it easy to compare myself to friends from high school (often as a result of social networking sites, too!) and look at the "road not taken." Parker Palmer talks some about this in his book "let Your Life Speak" and talks about how the privilege of having options sometimes leads to pressure. have you read that?

matt dineen said...

Thanks for the comment Isabell. The pressure of options indeed! I haven't read Palmer's book but it sounds interesting.

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