Lessons

Having turned thirty last April, that would seem like a logical good time to look back at my life in the past ten years. Instead, I’m glad I waited until the end of 2009, for there were still very important lessons to be learned in the last eight months of the decade.

The end of a decade

It’s a terrible cliché to say I’m not the same person I was ten years ago. In fact, I’m pretty much the same person, to an irritating degree. Self-improvement only takes you so far, and the quirks, habits and little vices are hard to get rid of. I may have become less and less and less naïve about things, more and more cynical. Considering the worldwide hopefulness of the end of the 1990s (technology will save us all! long live The New Economy!), it’s not hard to come to the conclusion weltschmerz played a role in my life in the 2000s. Not that I spent the decade watching far too much CNN or reading far too much about, say, peak oil (perhaps I did), but because of the everyday manifestation of said weltschmerz: precarity.

The 2000s were a time of disillusionment because a lot of people found out they had bought into a scam: the whole thing about finishing college, getting a decent job, marrying and having kids. Here in Portugal, what people got instead was a job market that treats creative experts as hands for hire, in which a salary is a luxury as many of your ex-classmates are willing to work for free in the vague hope of getting paid, someday. Most can’t wait for that someday. Of the twenty-something Film Studies colleagues I graduated with, only a handful got some degree of involvement with actual video production. All others had to find something else. Being a ‘veteran’ of the 2000 dotcom collapse, I couldn’t say I was surprised at my narrow prospects upon finishing my college degree. I was very lucky to get a teaching job, but my going back to Multimedia for my Master’s is my way of moving on in dire times.

At twenty, I would have never expected that ten years on I’d still be living with my mother or driving the same car. That’s what I can manage with a (low) fixed income for only a college semester out of every year. Many of my generation trick themselves into believing they’re adults via a parent-sponsored faux-independence, something I’m in no position to enjoy or have any desire to. Many others have had the good fortune of being able to move on. But many others still are caught in a jam, half-adult, half-adolescent, working on ways of getting Fortune to show herself, unable to pay rent every month until then.

My freelancing never quite taken off. Not in the years before college, not after. Despite holding myself to being good at what I do. Perhaps I’m not very good with people: something the 2000s made quite clear is that the medical/psychological community is set into diagnosing everyone with syndromes I may or may not have, as if there was this perfect and immaculate template of ‘normality’, with no room for differences among people, among personalities. Yes, I am too verbal-minded and sometimes oblivious to non-verbal cues. Also I didn’t look at people in the eye much, but when I realized this, I didn’t go after some pityable explanation and started taking some meds. Instead, I made an effort to look at you in the eye.

The decade also held a lot of lessons about friendship and behaviour. I discovered the most vague, meaningless and still dangerous word there is: ‘values’. It’s not exclusive of right-wing demagogues. It is, if not in the mouths, at least in the minds of people who are willing to meddle in the affairs of others, to judge others in a bad light. Friends don’t judge. Never ever. A friend is someone who’s There. Ten years later, many of my best friends, which I love, would be people with no values, as defined by ex-friends and enemies. I’ve learned to be intolerant of one thing and one thing only: people being inconsiderate.

Finally, here’s a lesson most people don’t take to heart, wonderfully metaphorized in that crazy May 26th 2004. Just minutes after FC Porto, the club I had supported since a kid, had won the most important trophy in club football, I attended the first ever proper screening of one of my films, a documentary called O Zero. That was a poignant reminder one shouldn’t live through the superficial, or worse, through the achievements of others. One only lives through oneself. I was proud that day. Prouder than most in the celebrating masses.