At some point during the writing of this entry, assuming I put my usual care and time into writing a novella of an entry, the clock will strike midnight. While I wasn’t technically born until sometime around 7:00, nonetheless the new day will be the beginning of a new year for me.

I’ve never really cared much for my birthday. Everybody has one, so why make a big deal of it? It’s not like we all go around celebrating our belly buttons. But this year it feels a bit different. Sure I’ve been making my usual joke about this being my Sixth Annual 29th Birthday. And yes, to an extent I will be celebrating. My friend Sarah got me tickets to see Yeasayaer at The Orange Peel, and beforehand we’re gonna go out to dinner. A few other friends will probably tag along for food, although I doubt anyone will stay for the concert. In a lot of ways it’s just like any other birthday – I don’t feel any older, but people feel the need to remind me that I am.

This past year has been a wild one for me. In November my grandmother died. Less than three months later my grandfather on the other side of the family died. A month or so ago my remaining grandmother had a stroke and has been in the hospital ever since. I’ve seen a lot of my favorite celebrities pass on as well. I don’t typically think about my own mortality, and I’m not now, except as much as to write this. But something just feels weird. So many have left, and I’m still here.

In the past year I’ve had a few relationships end badly, or if not end, then forever change substance. In that time I’ve also had a lot of new people enter my life. I got a new roommate, and I’m about to get another. I got a new job, and I’m now on the threshold of breaking into the local art scene and starting an actual “career,” whatever that means.

And just like that, it happened. It’s now a new day. Forgive the interruption. Now where was I…

In one of the last conversations I had with Hannah, I told her that my goal was to get something going in the art world by my birthday. I talked about how I had gotten some pieces scanned and was getting others photographed, how I would set up a website, get business cards, and whore myself out to anyone who was willing to listen. My websites have been live for several months now, I’ve had business cards for over a month, and a few weeks ago I was offered my first solo art exhibition in Asheville. By all means, I’m ahead of schedule.

Everyone grows up with dreams. Some are the things of childhood fantasy, and they fade as you move on to the next big thing. Others go deeper, and people always tell you to follow them. As you get older you lose that innocence, that sense of wonder and amazement, and the world beats your dreams out of you. You settle for the routine, you become a part of the system, you fall into line. And that’s how you stay, until one day something awakens you, and you realize you haven’t done anything with your life. It’s hard to say if I’ve done anything. It’s hard to quantify the things that really matter, and so easy to file away all the things that don’t. Have I made a lot of money? No. Have I met the girl of my dreams and started a family? No. Have I traveled the world and seen all the beauty there is? No.

What have I done? I’ve lived. I’ve loved and been loved. I’ve hurt and been hurt. In some way I’ve touched the lives of others, and had others impact my life. While I’m not a fool enough to think my paintings are masterpieces or my songs are all-time classics, I like to think that in my own small way, I’ve made the world a more beautiful place. I’ve now lived thirty-four years on this planet, and each one had its ups and downs. Have I learned anything? It’s hard to say. I feel I’ve gained some knowledge about life, but then sometimes life likes to come and beat the shit out of me and remind me of how little I really know.

What does it all mean? It’s just a day. It’s just a year. It’s just life. Right?

My roommate gave me his bookshelf – one less piece of big bulky furniture he has to find a new home for when he leaves. To make it fit in my room I had to do a lot of reorganizing. While I was at it, I dug around in my closet, in bags and suitcases, in drawers and on shelves. I flipped through things that I have, and quite often asked myself why I have them.

I think it’s probably a good idea to have a lot of things that you don’t need. Every so often, dig through them. Think about why you have them. Examine any memories or attachments you have to them. Then throw them away. Immediately begin the process of getting new things that you don’t need.

I’m in no way advocating the consumerist lifestyle, with its wastefulness clogging our landfills. I’m talking about life. It might just be a receipt, or a flyer, or a letter, or a Christmas card, or a toy you found on the ground. There’s a memory attached to it. It has a story. But you don’t need that story anymore. It can be tossed into the recycling, to be made into something else that someone else will somehow acquire. I’m being literal and metaphorical here. There are actual things. There are people. There are places. There are thoughts and emotions. There are even the memories themselves. Some of them you just don’t need, but you have them anyway. Dig through them, examine them, evaluate them, and dream a little. Then let them go. Tomorrow is a new day, which will be filled with new things, new people, new places, new thoughts, emotions, and memories.

That’s what life is. That’s what getting older is. Your body continuously sheds skin and hair. The air in your lungs is constantly exchanged for new, fresh air. Cells die and new cells take their place. Your body and mind are constantly being destroyed and remade. So is the world around you. So are the people, places, animals, whatever, in your life. It’s good to acknowledge this fact, to examine what you have, what you’ve lost, what you can get rid of, and what you might get in the near future. This high level of cognition is what separates us from the animals. Sure, the bear hibernates in expectation of the thaw, and the ant stores up food in expectation of the long winter. But as far as science has been able to tell us, they don’t actually think about what they’re doing and why. They just do it. If they ever stopped doing it they would die. There’s not a lot that we do out of necessity or to preserve our species. But this sort of reflection, examination, sorting, whatever you’d like to call it, this is necessary. We won’t physically die without it, but we will slip into a life that really isn’t worth living.

Old phone charger, I don’t really miss you. Stacks of unpaid medical bills, I’m more than happy to let you go. Pay stubs, why, I hardly even knew you. Fayetteville, Pembroke, Hobbsville, Morocco, West Asheville, University Place, and everywhere else, our separation is a bittersweet one. Nanny, Grandpa, I miss you both more than I can express. Grandma, I hope I won’t have to miss you anytime soon. Hannah, I’m sorry and I hope everything bad that went down between us can stay in the past. April, David, and all the others I’ve lived with, I wish these sort of things didn’t have to end. God, religion, the church, I’m not sure if I miss you, or miss the concept of you and the surrogate family that came with it. All of the people who have cycled in and out of my life, our season has passed and I wish you well.

Thirty-three, you taught me much. You confused me and humbled me. You broke my heart. You touched me and filled me with love.

Thirty-four, you have much to teach me. New people will come into my life. New opportunities, new chances, new risks. New love. New hurt. New experiences. You’re just a year. But that’s the beauty of it all. I don’t know what this year will hold. I don’t even know what this day will hold. But I look back at where I’ve been, what I’ve done, the people and places and things that have filled my life. I examine them all, get rid of some, and make room for whatever may come. I’m not comfortable – financially things are still a mess, I’m fed up with the world of retail, I’m lonely and in need of companionship, I could go on and on. But for once in my life, I’m ready for whatever comes next. I might not expect it, but I’m ready for it. I might bitch and moan when it comes, but I’m ready for it. I guess that’s a sort of maturity, a wisdom that I’ve gained along the way. Or maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just another day.