By Tim Barlow
During the autumn of my discontent, around the same time I saw Garden State by myself in the theater (see here), that fall after I had graduated and moved back home instead of heading back to school for the first time in 16yrs, I decided to go and visit my alma mater. I drove up on a beautiful early September morning. The roads were clear, the sun was rising, and I was filled with the sense that in a few hours I would be back in a safe environment that made sense. The younger classman would recognize me from last year and think it was pretty cool that I came back to check in on them. Maybe the guys would give me a high five, while the women admitted their crushes – there’s nothing quite like a college campus on a beautiful fall morning. But my excitement faded as I walked around trying desperately to recapture it all, I realized this place didn’t know me anymore, I wasn’t welcome here. There was someone else sitting in my usual seat, and the worst part was not that they were there, but that they had no idea that I used to be. I had felt okay up until that point with my lack of a job or plan for the future because I thought I still had something better waiting for me here, but this campus had moved on.
I love the scene in Breaking Away, where Mike and friends have driven onto Indiana’s campus and are watching the football team practice; he laments:
Here I am, I gotta live in this stinkin’ town, and I gotta read in the papers about some hotshot kid, new star of the college team, and every year it’s gonna be a new one, and every year it’s never gonna be me. I’m just gonna be Mike, twenty year old, Mike, thirty year old, Mike, old mean old man, Mike. These college kids are never gonna get old, or outta shape, cause new ones come along every year.
Mike, Dave, Moocher, and Cyril, have graduated from high school but not gone on to college, opting instead (or feeling they didn’t have another choice) to stay in town. And now, as they sit and watch others who belong, those who are still on “the track”, they all begin to process their situation. You can fight it like Mike, you can escape (mentally) like Dave, you can basically just float on / give up like Cyril, or you can settle on moving forward with your new path like Moocher.
I admire Dave and his Italian infatuation, his ability to completely lose himself in the new and better world he’s creating around him. I admire Dave, but instead see a lot of Mike’s character in myself. Someone who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, into change. I recognized his frustration and doubling-down on the status quo, to think that everyone else is the one with the problem.
Since my little post-college, quarter-life crisis there have been new moments of wondering what’s next and feeling a little lost in the inbetween. Getting married, career changes, first homes, deciding whether to have children, life has continued to happen, and every time, my inner-Mike comes along to protest the change. The trick I’ve come to realize is to surround yourself with friends, family, a spouse who can be those other responses to change. My wife Ash is a little more like Dave, an idealist, a dreamer. She encourages me to break away from my status quo, to see that there is nothing to be afraid of, and to embrace change. I don’t always like this, but deep down, I know it’s good for me.
Breaking Away may be a lot of things including a sports movie and a coming of age story, but first and foremost, it’s a lesson on the true role and importance of your closest relationships.