28 before 29, #12: Russ

Dear followers of the Saturn Returns interview series,

I bet you started to think I only know women, huh? After that 11-interview streak, I began to wonder myself. Lest you think this interview is only exciting ’cause Russ doesn’t have ovaries, you should know that he was also the first person who took me up on the offer to conduct the interview via video chat instead of in writing. This had the potential to be awkward because we hadn’t really talked in years and I had no idea what ground we might cover. I also showed up late. Then, to top it all off, he began the conversation with “I hate reflection. I’d rather just DO.”

Yikes. Here’s this person I respect a lot but don’t know well, who has patiently waited for me to call, and he’s not really feeling the premise of the whole series? But then he immediately launched into the following. I transcribed furiously. We barely edited what follows. 

I don’t know Russ very well, but I’m pretty sure that’s him in a nutshell.

I was 28 in 1996. I don’t know what happened that year, so I looked up the books and music and all that crap. It was the Jerry Maguire year. And I had finished grad school in ’95, so that was a huge period in terms of changes for me.

I had my first job where there wasn’t an absolute next step before me, aka college or graduate school. I was throwing myself completely into the start up of Idealist.org working with Ami [Dar, the founder and executive director]. We just didn’t and couldn’t know if it was going to go anywhere, but we seemed to feed off of each other’s capacity to work ridiculously long hours to create this thing that we still weren’t quite sure what it was to become. I had this great feeling each day that I had worked hard and that we shared a common goal. That was very powerful for me.

And I also was just starting to look at the whole dating thing. I remember, so, I am…I’m a very strange mix of things. And one of them is “a very judgmental prude.” I would not ever do the one night stand thing. I never drank. I mean, I would go to bars and be one of those people who was sober and would not sleep with someone. Which puts you in a very tiny subsection of the crowd. I had this notion early on about how people get screwed up by sleeping around. I had these odd, strange notions about romance, how you meet the right person. Around this age is when I started to think, “Huh, is this realistic?” Living in New York, you begin to wonder if it’s possible to have a relationship with someone that’s meaningful. So I think I was really beginning to process the challenge of that.

I was also in a weird living situation, in an apartment on Columbus in the 80s, with this old woman in a rent controlled four bedroom apartment. She would rent out rooms to people and make a bunch of money that way. When I moved in I wasn’t supposed to talk to anybody, I couldn’t let them know where I was going – I had to pretend I was visiting someone in the building. Like, the day I moved in I had to bring my stuff in through the garage and then ride the elevator up with her so people wouldn’t know. I remember she was trying to pressure me to do drugs. Constantly! She’d say, “You need to loosen up.”

Do you ever listen to the Paul Simon song “Train in the Distance?” I love this song. When I’m feeling my most perplexed, it’s what I listen to, because to me, it essentially sums up the human condition, and the reasons why I find reflection challenging or infuriating. The general metaphor is that people love the sound of a train in the distance, because it feels like it’s filled with possibilities. This is the line that I love, that I share with people, and then they look at me like “…”:

What is the point of this story
What information pertains
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly
Into our hearts
And our brains

That, for me, in my personal arc of life, is it: there was always this notion that things have to get better than they are now. Maybe when I was at that age I was starting to wonder: I’d finished grad school, I was doing the startup thing, and maybe I was beginning to wonder, “is this as good as it’s gonna get?” And what I love about these lyrics is this concept that what motivates us in essence is that life could be better, and what fucks us up is the notion that life could be better. We’re seeking something more. What I don’t know yet is whether I will be happier when I don’t press to know that answer OR if that wanting of better is what lets us know that we still care.

Who here thinks Russ and I should get together and “just do” some more of his hated activity again soon? ::raises hand::

Any other reflection-haters out there reading this and want to get in on the project before 8/29? Email or leave a comment and let me know if you’re willing to indulge me like Russ did.

Previous “28 in 29″ posts: Intro; Hannah, #1Kara, #2Saya, #3Cathy (aka Mom), #4Rachel, #5Jen, #6Cathy W., #7Celeste, #8Deanna, #9Kyra, #10; Aditi, #11.

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