Even in the grand scheme of all that’s happened over the last year, today is a rather big day for me: from this day forward, I will have to begrudgingly admit to anyone who pesters me enough that I am, indeed, 30 years old. This is a concept that’s given me no small amount of apprehension over the last few weeks, to be sure, but also one I’m having a hard time reconciling with my current lifestyle.
See, these days I find myself in an odd sort of age limbo. I get daily emails from my friends back home, the titles “Senior Vice President” or “Esq.” imprinted under the names of these people I used to go to school and yoga classes and Sunday brunch with. My closest college friends are adopting dogs and talking about babies and real estate and soliciting opinions on Save the Date cards for their weddings. Meanwhile, I spend my days and nights in Queenstown in the kinds of work environments that smack of high school and college summers coasted through on minimum responsibility and minimum wage. I drink and dance and discuss my free time away with people far younger than I. Last week, I met a coworker and her friends out at a bar, and when the band launched into a half-hearted rendition of “Can’t Touch This,” I threw up my arms and boasted, “I bought MC Hammer’s album on cassette when it first came out!” My companions for the evening returned my excitement with blank stares; I quickly realized they were all young enough that they’d probably never heard of MC Hammer; never held an actual cassette tape in their hands and spooled its over-used, slackened contents gently back into place with their pinky fingers. I’ve always felt a bit older, a bit more practical, a bit more concerned about hangovers and skin moisturizers and eating my vegetables than most of the youngsters surrounding me, but I can’t say I’d fit in back home these days, either. I often feel too young to be my own age, yet too old to be any other.
Last night, I can admit, my panic levels started rising as the hours left before midnight waned. I couldn’t stop thinking about the van ride to the canyon swing a few weeks ago: the building anxiety of knowing I was on an unstoppable trajectory towards a place where I wasn’t sure I wanted to be. The looking out over a terrifying edge. The knowledge that I couldn’t bargain or plead my way out of this one: I’d eventually be dropped or shoved over, like it or not, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Once the first few minutes of October 22nd had come and gone, though, I immediately realized it hadn’t been such a big deal after all. I’d been placing too much emphasis on a number, of course, and not enough on what I’d been doing with my ever-accumulating time on this Earth. And I honestly think I have traveling to thank for that realization. If nothing else, this blog is evidence for posterity that I once lived the hell out of 29, that it was a year I’ll always remember fondly but should have no shame in retiring. I’m starting 30 in a city I didn’t know existed at this same time last year, slowly but surely plotting future discoveries of distant places, gathering the the experiences and familiarity with myself and the rest of the world that I know will shape whatever “settled down” life I choose — or don’t choose — back home one day.
There’s this essay, “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion, that I read at least a few times every year. It’s all about New York, the way the city seduces the very young, the way it hardens those same people just a few years further down the line. But it’s also about youth and the way we use it, how we let its soft lens filter our days and our actions and our attitudes and our beliefs until we look back one day onto a fuzzy but honey-hued collection of years.
“There was a song in the jukeboxes on the Upper East Side that went ‘but where is that schoolgirl who used to be me,’ and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that,” Didion writes. “I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.”
And that’s where I now know I’m lucky to be 30 and traveling in the land of 20-somethings. I can still have that conviction sometimes, that feeling that what I’m doing is so out of the ordinary and unimaginable to most of my peers and my family and my friends that, in a way, I am seeing and experiencing and thinking in a way that few people I meet will ever have a chance to. When, somewhere down the line, I look back at this past year, I know it will take on golden tones and undergo fancy-free retellings that will gloss over the long hours at bad jobs, the freezing nights in a caravan, the frequent torment of not being really sure where my life was going. But being a bit older, I’ll still know exactly how lucky I was — how lucky I am — to be in this position.