Standing On the Verge of Getting Old
’m sitting at home tonight all moon-eyed that Grey’s Anatomy is in re-runs. I turn thirty on Saturday. I can’t say for certain, but I’m increasingly inclined to think this is no coincidence.
Typically, I don’t put much stock in numbers. Well, at least as far as ages; I do know how many CDs I own to the digit, and no, I’m not sharing that information. But, for the last several years, for some reason thirty has seemed the black filament on the horizon. Now that it’s no longer a razorline and more a dense block covering my weekend, it’s hard to say exactly what I fear about this milestone.
It’s nothing as timeless and Salingerian as the hazard of youth gone mild. I have a few grey hairs; I have to change the prescription in my glasses every few years. I no longer think of Ponce De Leon. Well, I never did, but if there was a time when I should have, perhaps this is it. In a way, I wish it were so easy to distill into ageless themes, into an arch bildungsroman that summarizes something other than these single-bodied twenty-nine years. I could play that role; I’m a character. But, thirty for me is more a time I’ve hollowed out for acting maudlin and believing I can get away with it. Hell, I like music for depressives. In fact, I’d say that’s my most cherished genre! This could work. If not now, when?
And, of course, really, there’s no storyline to what I want to say. I live in Minneapolis. I work here. That’s nothing. This essay isn’t about filling in the spaces of the last eight years—26, 27, 28, what do you know, bastard’s 30 now. It’s not an autobiography of chronology. I married too early and divorced too late. Right now, looking at this turn, so what. These are simply flickers of a not-so-strange past, one I try to make boldface through writing, but they aren’t what has me here.
I always believed it would be easy to overcome the sedentary marks of adulthood. I thought of them as something you could consciously sidestep, the way you avoid placing all your weight on ice on the sidewalk. You saw them coming: pale socks with dress shoes, white-washed jeans too high on the waist (otherwise known as the Al Gore look), or, shit, really, jeans at all, set dinner night-out with the fam, chronic heartburn, a taste for fish now gone full diet-staple, the dietetic obstinacy of broccoli, the importance of an occasional hot bath. You remembered the way you used to gawk at these oddities in others, and that memory was enough to ensure your successful skirting of these awkward time-stamps. But I’ve discovered some of these are in our collective DNA. You don’t notice them ‘til you hear some part of yourself snickering. And then you see it. That’s the fourth fucking night in a row you’ve been at home, reading, listening to music at a pleasant, bass-free volume, and feeling 11:30 come at you like the warmth of hot tea, an hour for the end to today, so welcome now.
Of course, I’m dramatizing. I don’t really wear white-washed jeans yet, though I do own an unusual number of sportcoats. But I’m kind of freaking out so allow me a little melodrama. There are other deteriorations. Hangovers come brutal, like a yard-glass to the brow. No more brief morning-afters. I remember when a two PM sleep and a few glasses of water the night before were the stuff of panacea. Now, either sleep the entire day and greet night like morning, or give your waking hours to sipping water, tonguing aspirin, and watching whatever you can find on cable television--cause even the dull tremors of music or the sound of a turning page—let alone actually turning the page—is too much to bear. And, most importantly, forget working the next day. Even eight hours of sleep ain’t sufficient to cover up a weeknight’s froth. You used to work fine hungover; it was almost enjoyable, an alien, sugarsunk kind of energy. But now you stare at the computer screen with dry eyes, allergic with loss of sleep and strain; your head pulses to the second. Tasks and thoughts get snuffed out before they really flame, and all the small, detailed duties of the day bleed together, making it impossible to take a single on apart. So fucking much to do.
At twenty-nine, the body gives its own signals of distress. But now, you can’t just put your fingers in your ears and turn away. I moved recently. I don’t own a house’s worth of furniture. A couple couches, some chairs, perhaps too-heavy a set of speakers, but a pretty routine selection of bachelor’s toys overall. It took us about four hours all-told. I awoke the next day almost paraplegic. Every muscle in my legs and back, a dense pulp of meat afire. I wanted a cane, but I’m really to vain for all of that. I settled with a stiff, knock-kneed shuffle the entire day at work. This lasted four fucking days. Likewise, after taking several months off of jogging for a slight dent in health, I started again one bruised winter’s day a few weeks ago. Within two days of slowly starting to work back into running shape, I knew this was a very different body I was forcing into regiment. When I first began to jog at twenty-four, I could go almost every day, and though I gradually increased the time and mileage covered, it was more getting my lungs used to this strange new cauldron at work within. Now, it was an entire body in dim agony—and this after just two days.
But, as my body gives out to gray and groan, I stop and look at my musical tastes and I notice it’s the one sphere of my life marked by a willful but unconscious effort to youthanize (pardon the bad pun). Perhaps, tellingly, it’s also the area I spend the most time within and without, summarizing, scorning, and simply adoring. I listen to more music demented by beat and dance than I did at twenty-two. I jog to hip-hop and techno exclusively, two genres I ignored through most of the last decade. I used to read to the torn bleatings of Neil Young; now it’s the slathered, digital glow of My My or Pantha du Prince’s pearl-eyed anthems. I save a space for pop albums by Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, or Lily Allen, a place that ever-active critical (scornful?) beast of my youth can’t find—I can silence the music snob now for a simple need to relent and enjoy music more sing-along than analyze. I adore the near gothic emo of the Twilight Sad and Stellastarr* for the calm comforts of their absurdity; seriously, NOBODY can be that sanguine without making the leap. And that hyperbole makes the ordinary curves and lines of my own life seem insignificant. Maybe it’s just that when I hear myself speak, I don’t resound in Glaswegian iceforms. But that’s enough. The TV On the Radios of my CD collection are no longer the only hallowed finds; I look forward to that next Robyn listen just as much. Sure, there’s a wider mark of our cultural concentration guiding my tastes. Maybe I’m just a vessel. But I prefer to think this is my way of striking out against the surly wires of body hair to come or the day when I’ll forego socks for that beachside docksider look.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I don’t really know what it is I worry about at 30. It’s round, marked by ten, and it’s coming. I won’t ever be twenty again. Twenty, such a time, frivolity and petit largesse. But what the fuck did I do in my twenties? Eighteen novels I wanted to write. I had great opening sentences that never bore a second. I tried to combine them, all those glorious lightning strikes, and, what do you know, they didn’t meld. They came from different days and states that shared no bloodline. How to parse those places together and come to story? And that’s basically what I’ve realized during these last few weeks. If I’m so removed in a matter of days from what I wanted to write that I can’t find any link to mash into one narrative, how can I expect to look back across a decade and find distinction? This essay is simply another night-trip of mine with no compass, much as I think Nick Southall originally designed the Soulseeking column. The writing is it, alone. If you don’t already, someday you’ll understand this need to blather on about yourself at a crossroads, and hope somebody’s willing to make you an offer: to listen simply, quietly, without comment. When you get there, we’ll sit and chat, so much nothing at a proper age about to become improper. We’ll enjoy a few beers over how little shifted when that single day closed. Well, actually, we better only have one beer. I’ve gotta get up in the morning.