The 28 Conundrum

Last week, I found out what date this summer my ten-year high school reunion will happen. This has been the catalyst to something of a mini crisis. I’ve found myself asking in the last couple of days how I ended up on the path I did, and why it feels so far away from everyone else. A couple of my high school friends I’m still in touch with told me that the Facebook page dedicated to my reunion features photos people are posting of their families. I currently live in a shitty apartment in Brooklyn that recently endured a bed bug apocalypse.

If I walked into my high school reunion right now, I might sound fancy talking about working as a publicist at a Manhattan publishing house, but the day-to-day realities of living here are so far away from the glossy idea people have of New York. When you grow up in a small town and you leave it, you can’t help but wonder what made you so different from those who stayed. Nobody is better than the other, but something different inside you made you choose the path that stretched far and wide in another direction.

This week I also turn 28, an unremarkable year in this muddied second half of my twenties. It’s not 30 or 25 of even 21, so many ages in this time of my life that hold significance to so many people. It’s another year ticked away, no better or worse than 27 or 29. About a year-and-a-half back, as I pondered moving across country to New York and my good friend considered applying to MFA programs, we made a joke deal with each other that we would give up this writing life if nothing happened by 30. We weren’t serious–we’ve been in love with language and storytelling since we were in elementary school–but there was a painful undercurrent of uncertainty running through our laughter as we compared ourselves to musicians/bartenders who never realize when to retire the band.

At what age do we stop?

Literary magazine staff. I'm the second from the left in the front row.
High school literary magazine staff. I’m the second from the left in the front row.

Should I be farther along or is there even a standard by which to judge myself? As a writer, I ask myself this a lot, as I imagine artists of any kind do who attempt to make a career out of their art. Sometimes I wish someone would answer these questions for me, tell me to give up and grow up or else sacrifice everything and entirely pursue my dream. I’m not sure what the in-between is or whether it’s possible.

“We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are — as far as we know — the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.”–Mark Strand

Poet Mark Strand’s words resonate with me this week. Even as I feel lost in a confusing time, I’m reminded that as I bear witness to everything around me–from hot, steamed-up subways congested with people in heavy winter coats to the neighbor across the hall who smokes cigarettes in the tiny space between our front doors–I want to respond to it. I want to tell these stories. I don’t know where this storytelling will get me or how it will compare to my former classmates’ spouses and babies, but I do know it’s what fulfills me. I wish I had a few more answers than questions, or that by 28 all will be revealed.

Today, I had a phone call with one of my best friends from college where I talked about these same issues that trouble me. He told me I should turn this time into something I can laugh about. He also told me I should consider getting a therapist. It looks like I’ve got two new goals for 28.

  1. The clue is not to stop. Keep plugging away and realise writing is something you will be doing until you can’t do it any more. Observe, write and learn. That’s it I’m afraid. Forget the rest and enjoy:)

    1. Thanks! It’s funny how even when I feel absolutely downtrodden about writing, I still want to write. Writing is a fickle lover.

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