This is a self-indulgent post. But it’s my birthday so y’all can just suck it!
Fifty is an annoying age to be. You’re not old enough to be considered wise but you’re old enough to be considered old. I’m too old to be a prodigy but too young to be venerable. Nobody cares what fifty year olds think.
I saw two Cadillac commercials during the Oscars — which I’m not even sure why I bothered watching — that offended me in different ways. One lauded the joys and wonders of copious materialism. That one got a lot of indignant press, which made even more people look at it and probably sold a few more Caddies. But it didn’t bother me very much because Cadillacs are made specifically for the kinds of douche-bags who go for conspicuous consumption. At least it was honest even if it was sickening.
The other bugged me more. It used Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio by The Ramones as its soundtrack. So now The Ramones are being used to sell Cadillacs. That’s what it’s come to. That one made me want to barf. But I suppose that’s what happens.
That song was the first track on the first Ramones album I ever bought, End of the Century. I bought that record without ever having heard anything by The Ramones. Radio in Northeast Ohio did not play The Ramones in them days. I must have read about them in Trouser Press magazine or something and liked the description. I loved the album and played it till the grooves were gone. It’s still my favorite Ramones record even though most fans rate it as one of their lesser efforts.
Maybe those ads bugged me because they’re distillations of what the powers-that-be in this country want people my age to think they should aspire to. And I don’t aspire to those things. I don’t want a Cadillac. I don’t want a swimming pool. I’m not the “crazy, driven, hard workin’ believer” the Cadillac commercial says I should be. I guess The Ramones are supposed to be the music of my generation. But that’s not how I remember things. I remember being just about the only one in my school who liked The Ramones and then watching with a kind of incredulous fascination as many years later the same weasels who made fun of people like me for liking The Ramones pretended they’d been into them all along. Uh huh.
Which is not to say I’m a Zen monk who only owns a robe and a bowl to beg for food. I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe slightly more toward the robe and begging bowl side than the Cadillac and pool side. I’ve never owned a house. I’ve never owned a car I couldn’t pay for outright. Which means all my cars have been kind of crummy. I do have a number of guitars because that’s what I buy whenever I come into any cash. And then when I’m strapped for cash I sell ‘em. I’ve gone through dozens that way. It’s fine.
Somehow, when I was young, I saw the folly of the things my peers believed were worth pursuing. The mass media was lying and that was plainly obvious. Whatever they said was valuable, I was sure was not. So I started looking for new kinds of value. I found it in meditation and in a philosophy that encouraged me to question deeply. I’m happy with that choice.
And I’ve never grown up. This annoys a lot of people I encounter. It’s one of the reasons most of my friends are 10, 20, sometimes even close to 30 years younger than me. People my age are often positively angry at me for not being an adult in the way they think I ought to. You can see a bit of this in the opening scenes in the documentary about me in which a fifty-something Zen master asks me, “Do you think that unresolved problems in your childhood might have something to do with your acting like a perpetual adolescent and refusing to become an adult?” I get emails all the time telling me, “You’re almost fifty” followed by a list of adult ways the writer thinks I should be behaving. Now they can remove the word “almost.” It still won’t work.
See, the fact is I’ve paid my own rent and my own taxes for thirty years. I’ve figured out how to travel around the world several times even though there is no way in holy heck I could afford it on the kind of money I make. I taught myself Japanese and managed to land a dream job in a company whose work I had admired since I was seven years old. I published five books and recorded five albums and I’ve been in a few movies. I even made a movie. I’ve done plenty to qualify as becoming an adult.
I’ve done most of the things I dreamed of doing when I was a kid. I am pleased as punch with the life I lead. Money is a problem and it probably always will be. But I look at that guy in the Cadillac commercial, who I assume represents our culture’s notion of the ideal fifty year old man, and he doesn’t seem to be living the kind of life that would make me very happy.
Since I write books about Zen, Zen has sort of become my thing. Which is weird. Because in my own impressions of what I am, Zen seems to be a small thing. It’s a practice I took up in my late teens because it felt good and because the philosophy associated with it made real sense. I stuck with it and ended up being ordained and becoming a teacher, not because I actually desired to ordain and become a teacher but because my teacher thought I should and I trusted him. But I don’t read a lot of Zen books. I don’t hang out with Zen people most of the time. I don’t self-identify as a “spiritual person” and consume the lifestyle enhancing products spiritual people are supposed to consume.
I teach this Zen stuff because it’s been the key to happiness for me. It has surpassed anything else I’ve ever tried. It has taught me how to enjoy life thoroughly. It’s given me the ability to see the negativity we all encounter in life for what it really is, which is nothing.
The powers-that-be want you to believe that you can’t do the things you want to in this life. They’re lying. All you have to do is step back out of what you think of as “yourself” enough to see what it is you actually want rather than believing in the crap they’re trying to tell you that you want, like Cadillacs and pools.
I guess I’m sounding like one of those jerks who believe in The Secret here. But that’s not quite it. The Secret encourages you to envision your ideal life and try to psychically attract it to you. What I’ve found is a bit different. It’s that the life you’re living right now is already your ideal. Which doesn’t mean you can’t improve it. It also doesn’t mean things are always good in the ways that we usually define as “good.” It just means our ideas about what’s ideal are wrong. They’re created for us by people who wouldn’t know what true good was if it came up and sat on ‘em.
I’m fifty and I’m fine. I’m moving to Philadelphia in two days to be with the love of my life. I’ve done stuff I was told never to believe I could do and I’m planning to spend the next fifty years continuing in the same vein.
Go ahead, punk. Tell me to act my age.
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My birthday is brought about through your kind donations. I cannot do it without you! Thank you!
Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014
The events page is now updated! Take a look at where I’m gonna be!
You can see the documentary about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings except the one in Ithaca):
• March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY
• March 15, 2014 Brooklyn, NY
• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA