It is a strange thing done largely in darkness and without a map

spiderman shrugs

Blog post about how stuff feels different and relationships change over the course of a life on the left

Hola, amigos. How you been? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya. Mostly been the same old same old over here - aging and raging, fretting and regretting, aching and mistaking, though I hit a PR on bench press recently so that's a highlight.

Anyhow, the other day my usual preoccupation with my own decay and decrepitude spun out into thinking about how changes in the course of my life have changed other things in my life, and I feel like there's some connection here with lefty stuff. I used to be into music as my main thing, listening to it and playing it. I fell out of that for a while, music became background noise to make dishwashing pass faster, and the music I’d put on was entirely drawn from my existing collection, or at best I’d fill out what I’d heard by existing artists I already knew. About three years ago I got back into new music a little. More recently I’ve been making an effort to deliberately seek out new music that I might like. I used to do this all the time when I was young, and it didn’t feel like work and it didn’t feel like it was in competition with other demands on my time. Now it does feel a bit like work and (or maybe because) it is now in competition with other demands in my life. It’s a bit like going to the gym - I like it and I feel good when I do it regularly but it takes discipline, rather than being something I do with complete ease and that feels natural. I mentioned this to a friend, shorthanding it as ‘I’m trying to listen to music again like I did when I was young.’ I meant the above stuff that I said but I didn’t explain that. My friend said ‘you can’t really hear music again like when you were young, you can’t feel things with that same intensity.’ Also true. And generalizable. Early experiences are earth-shaking. Later ones are merely really nice.

I had similar experiences in the brief times I played in bands. It felt amazing to play and there was a sense of profound connection with the people I was in bands with. Later, I became less interested in what we were playing and wanted to do other stuff. That was unexpected for me, and for the people I was in bands with, and I/we didn’t handle it particularly gracefully. I think this is probably a pattern in a lot of areas of life for a lot of people - have intense new experiences with people, feel deeply connected to them, be surprised when the experiences and their intensity turn out to be temporary, be surprised as well when newly differing from people with whom one has felt deeply connected, experience the possible endings there (perhaps this project is over, or is shifting directions, or one’s enthusiasm has declined, or shifted to something else less shared) as well as the new differences with people as unpleasant and, well, just like really loud in emotional volume, and find all of it hard to manage gracefully. I think this is part of why I know a lot of people who fight the hardest with their family and with the people in their lives who feel like family.

I’ve had similar experiences in left politics. (At this point I am inactive. My values haven’t changed and my politics haven’t changed, at least not much (not in the fundamentals), I’m just busy with rest of life stuff, mostly my kids. This is a life-stage-related change in my activity, just like my changed relationships with music, and is part of why this all is on my mind, why I’m writing this out.) I’m not alone in this experience on the left.

Personally, I’ve often felt a bit like a latch-key kid on the left, mostly raising myself, or my friends and I raising each other, rather than having much in the way of older mentors. I’ve not felt as much like this as a parent, I’ve gotten more advice or information to help me understand what’s gone on in my life as a parent - mostly people saying ‘yep, been there, that’s normal when your kid is that age.’ I’ve often wished for similar as a leftist whose life is changing. ‘Yep, that’s typical at 25 in your first really intense experiences of... Yep, I remember being 35 and feeling like...’ I’ve also thought it might be nice if someone wrote a book for leftists sort of like those books for kids about to go through puberty or whose parents are expecting a new baby -- ‘here are some of the changes that people experience, here are some ways people respond.’ I think there are limits to how much anyone can prepare for those changes. Reading about swimming and actually swimming are quite different experiences. But I think some of the value in that kind of innoculation is that it helps people know what’s basically normal in their situation - others have been through this hard experience before and survived it, the unpleasantness will pass, and so on.

If someone asked me what I would say to younger people that they should expect in their life on the left, based on my own experiences on the left, I would say 'shit, I dunno.' If pressed, I would say 'ask my friends Heather and Morgan.' If pressed further, however, I would say 'hey look over there!' and turn and run.

If chased down and cornered and told I better answer or they would hurt my children, I would say, while sobbing, "the following is likely: You will feel competition between left stuff/relationships on the left and other life/relationship priorities. You will begin to feel less enthusiastic about some things you currently care a ton about. You will remain deeply enthusiastic about some things while other people you currently care a ton about begin to lose that enthusiasm. People will move away or drop out of the circles you’re in together and you will feel sad or angry about it. You will disagree seriously with people you don’t want to disagree with. You will sometimes wonder why you’ve spent all this time on this stuff. You will sometimes not feel like doing things you know are important. You will sometimes suspect that things you spent a lot of time aren’t that important, or are less important than what you gave up. You will sometimes have trouble explaining this lefty stuff to other people in your life who aren’t on the left, and that may intensify some of the above. You will sometimes struggle to find new roles that fit for you. You will change your mind on some things and you may find that embarrassing. You will sometimes be hungry to contribute and to connect and yet feel you have nothing meaningful to contribute, or feel you have no way to contribute that doesn’t involve sacrificing something you care about. In general there will be times when you feel comfortable, everything in your political life basically fits and works, and times when you don’t.

All of this is okay. It all changes. That’s probably all platitudes. It’s all I’ve got to say on this. I don’t think I’m any kind of expert on this, that was just my crack at it. I don’t feel like I know how to successfully and happily lead a life as part of the left (parenting has been like that for me as well), and I think that people committed to left politics and values should be willing to do the work anyway even if they’re not entirely sure how to do it successfully (again parenting is like this for me and for a lot of people - we do the best we can while aware of our limits, that is, while aware that OUR best isn’t THE best, and while knowing that the degree to which we know what we’re doing is quite low.) I would be very interested in what others have to say along these lines - what to expect over the course of a life on the left. It’s a weird thing in some ways, doing lefty stuff over the course of one’s life, and maybe it’d go better if we occasionally talked a bit more what it’s like to do this weird thing."

And then I would say "please let me go now and please don't hurt my children."


Mar 25 2017 19:22

Great blog, thanks for writing/posting.

I feel the same about music. Even if I do find new stuff I just don't feel so strongly as I did about it 10 years ago, so the effort is kind of not worth the reward. I wasn't sure if that was a "universal" thing or just me, I hadn't really thought about it

Mar 25 2017 20:23

Thanks for that post Nate. I've been going through some similar the last 3-4 years, though not because of kids but more to do with the generic "growing up" (which never seems to actually happen), and study/work stuff, and on top of that not really being comfortable with the leftist activist scene where I live (a scene that mostly seem to do shit on Facebook these days). I sort of feel lost as an "older" leftist now and don't know what to do and if I know that, how to do it. I still don't know why I have this feeling of displacement or whatever (coz like you, I've not really changed my views at all), but I think it may just be due to age.

One thing I remember from being a younger activist that used to make me really pissed off with older ones: them telling me (or us) how great it was that a younger generation has taken up the struggle. I always thought it was so condescending. But thinking back on it from my point of view of today, I think they were genuine: the most exciting activisty stuff I've done the last 4 years or so have been with young folks (teenagers/early 20s; so half my age) and many of them were completely new to the scene. That was exciting and I kid you not how many times I wanted to say "it's so great to see a younger generation take up the struggle"! I never did say that to anyone, but felt like doing it so many times.

Edit to add: I am in general just so jaded about everything. Hardly anything excites me anymore. When I was a young one, I would be excited months ahead of a concert I was going to. I am not even sure what excites me these days.

Mar 26 2017 00:57

Man, this is so spot on!

As for the music thing, it used to be a passion but now it's just background noise. In fact there's a lot of things I used to be really into that now I just feel a general sense of ennui about but at the same time I'm not really bothered about it, I just think I've moved on with my life and I can't imagine being the same person or liking the same things as I did years ago.

As for the politics, I'm not really involved in anything much, apart from a couple of little things which quite frankly don't involve a lot of effort. I remember my younger activisty days as being exhausting and now I'm torn between feeling guilty about not being involved these days, now that I'm not totally wound up with raising a bunch of kids, and feeling reluctant to get back into something which so energy consuming and prone to burn out. I don't think my politics have changed all that much, they've been refined a bit but tbh I don't think I've got much to offer or to be of any use to anything really.

As for younger people, I'm so often blown away by how smart this younger generation is. A lot of them seem to have hit the ground running and worked stuff out that it took my generation years to realise.

I like Nate's idea of a manual for young politicals. On the other hand, it would be written by us oldies and I never liked being told anything much by anyone over thirty and I don't suppose that has changed very much smile

Mar 26 2017 04:51

I feel like my diminished interest in music is partly due to getting older and partly that popular music like the rest of popular culture is pretty shit right now.

In short, sucked in kids, things were much better in our day.

jef costello
Mar 26 2017 13:35

I read a "signs you're getting old" article a while back and one of them was about how music is no longer as important. It doesn't represent a huge chunk of your time emotions and identity. I think I realised a few years ago that I'd pretty much stopped listening to music and new stuff would be things I searched after hearing them on tv shows or even adverts. I think downloading also has an effect, you end up with dozens of albums that you haven't even listened to. At least when you had to buy CDs you were obligated to give them a few listen. I'm not sure I'll ever love films as much as the few films on video that I watched with my siblings or my mates when I was younger.

I am in general just so jaded about everything. Hardly anything excites me anymore. When I was a young one, I would be excited months ahead of a concert I was going to. I am not even sure what excites me these days.

I know this feeling. I think having to work every day just to stand still can take some of the fun out of life.

Mar 26 2017 16:30
jef costello wrote:
At least when you had to buy CDs

the old days grin

Serge Forward
Mar 26 2017 19:20

Jef, surely that's more to do with modern technology, in this case downloading non-tangible choons off t'internet, which has cheapened the whole musical experience. I find technology does that to most things, electronic books I can't be arsed to read but will avidly scour a beaten up dog-eared paperback; other cheapened communications, so called Internet "friends" or online "relationships" and worthless political discourse that has no reality beyond it's online existence. Everything's rubbish these days. Or am I just being a bloody curmudgeon?

Mar 26 2017 19:36
Everything's rubbish these days. Or am I just being a bloody curmudgeon?

False dichotomy: it's both.

Noa Rodman
Mar 26 2017 19:47
Nate wrote:
I would be very interested in what others have to say along these lines - what to expect over the course of a life on the left.


Mar 26 2017 20:39

Great blog post, it resonates with me a lot.

Even the markers of what else changes - TBH I think maintaining an enthusiasm for the new in music over a lifetime is very very difficult. Once you find what you like, you tend to stick with it and just explore the nooks and crannies. I had a big rupture with the music of my youth - well, really I look back on it and rationalise it as "I was working in the music biz, it's hyper-alienated stuff if you don't get to be creative, so I went and got a job instead". My route back into music was through styles that were different to my youth.

But, but ... all the rest. Kids made a big difference. My politics are basically the same as when I was 19. I'm just a bit more jaded and don't expect change as easily, but I still believe in working class self organisation and that political parties and representative structures can't fix the fundamental problems of capitalism, only a social revolution can do that. But I have a lot less energy (which is down to age) and am bogged down with motivation. And at times, I don't have the mental strength to carry on.

My current rationalisation for my largely inactive self still identifying as an anarchist is that I hold with the magnificent anarchist-inspired slogan of the First International: From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.
My abilities are limited, through other pressures. The class struggle(s) will still be there when I do have the energy or time. And even where I've not felt I had the energy, I've still achieved things. And given that there is a massive system dedicated to stopping working class people achieving anything, it is a small victory just to still be here.

Mar 27 2017 02:55

Thanks all.

Mar 28 2017 14:55

Well-said. Nothing has had a more profound impact on my life than raising kids. Essentially, it was the main and most important thing I had to attend to for more than a decade. My views on things didn't fundamentally change (and if anything became more radical) but I was cut off from engaging politically with any intensity. It didn't feel like a sacrifice, it was simply a matter of necessity and the shift in priorities that happens when you're suddenly responsible for keeping a couple of small, defenseless people alive and safe. Today they're grown up and I can reapportion my emotional, intellectual, and physical energy in other ways. Many of my comrades never had kids and never experienced "the lost decade"and there are times that I envy the experiences they've had at the prime of their lives - they formed valuable connections and were present for exciting events and learned things I missed out on. But I try to keep in mind that I was learning too - just in a different setting, and about different aspects of life, though just as valuable.