When I turned 25, I was depressed for a while afterwards. I’d never really ascribed much significance to my birthdays before, and I was a little surprised at how big 25 loomed in my mind.
A Quarter of a Century … and what have you done with it?
And at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a good answer to that. What had I done, really? I’d gotten some fun degrees in college which I promptly went out into the world and didn’t use, and I’d lucked into a couple of geeky jobs because I was facile with technology and quick with my hands. I’d just that year gotten a raise which meant I was making more than either my mom or stepfather, who had decades-long careers in education, and that, particularly, felt like an injustice I could do nothing about. Who questions the rightness of their paycheck when they think it’s too much?
I had fallen in with a crew of people in Boston in whom I saw some kindred spirits and some novel ways of maneuvering in the world, along with some hefty doses of seriously overextended adolescence and self-excused obnoxiousness. (Some of these folks – note I’m not saying from which categories – are still my best friends today.) My girlfriend at the time liked some individuals but couldn’t abide the gestalt, and on Valentine’s Day, just two weeks before my 25th, we broke up.
Acquaintances from school were working professionally in theatre, which had been one of my degrees: I wasn’t doing that. Others were writing great American novels, or A Series Of Unfortunate Events. I wasn’t doing that, either. I was riding my motorcycle and connecting small companies to the Internet; I was reading David Foster Wallace on the subway and having dinner parties; I had my orange cat and my black cat and a landlord who couldn’t be counted on for anything useful, even when the porches off the back of our building were threatening to fall off.
So turning 25 delivered a referendum inside me: Resolved; that you have done what with your life thus far, exactly?
And at the time, I felt like my answers were smaller, shorter, of less consequence than they should be, and I didn’t know what to do to better them. I was just … comfortably coasting.
I turned 35 this week. When I turned 25, I hadn’t anticipated how it would hit me, but with my 35th, I thought I’d better brace myself in case it came by again. And then it didn’t. The day came and went with just a little fanfare and just a little tea-thermos, and that was good and enough. My week, as most recent weeks have been, featured a maelstrom of deadlines, and I dove back into them.
Here’s what I think is different, now: nearly six years ago, I met Kate. Nearly three years ago, we got married. Nearly two years ago, my lack of engagement with my job tipped some internal balance and got me thinking about what I actually wanted to be doing. I read Haas’s application to grad school and felt the seed of an idea take hold. Nearly a year ago, I was waiting for admittance letters from journalism schools. And then the beautiful hillsides and close-by neighbors and easy paychecks receded into the distance as we moved down here, to Gotham City, and began ten months of frenzy, which will be followed by who-knows-what. It’s a yawning unknown. The “Future Blob,” as a particular Saturday-morning animated PSA from my youth referred to it.
But here’s the thing. I’m not coasting anymore. I’ve got the best partner I could want. I’m no longer making more money than my parents, and won’t again for quite some time, if ever. I’ve made new friends and kept many more. I’m learning to make radio, and loving it. And while I’m still occasionally envious of people I know who got to this point in their twenties, I’m thoroughly grateful that I got to this point at all. So 35, while it does bring with it the question:
Halfway to Seventy … and what have you done with it?
It also gave me, this week, an opportunity to answer that question: I’m doing something with it. And that’s a decent start.