Today is my 31st birthday. This means that I have been a member of the “3-0 Club” for one full year now. Reflecting back on my state of mind and how I’m not sure it has changed much, I decided to look up my old Myspace blogs from that time-period. And I stumbled upon my 7/9/07 review of a book that I had appropriately located that summer, entitled Turning Thirty. Because the book was written by a black Englishman, I entitled the original blog “Turns Out I’m a Black Englishman”, as I had more in common with Mike Gayle’s character Matt Beckford than I have with any other character in a very long time.
Reading through the thoughts that permeated a then-29 year-old’s mind, I have to say that not much has changed. I still feel the same way about the topics adressed in the book. And I still recommend the book to anyone who is about to make the transition to the next decade. So without any futher ado………
“Turns Out I’m a Black Englishman”
I came across Mike Gayle’s novel purely by accident as I was browsing the used bookshelves at Barnes and Noble. I think I was actually doing a search for some familiar titles by favorites such as Kava, Vonnegut, Fitzgerald, etc. But then my eye was drawn to the title like a moth to the flame because it summed up my current state of being: Turning Thirty.
The actual purchase was made a couple of months ago in the middle of a “summer-reading buying-binge”. I placed it on the designated bookshelf downstairs, not intending to read it until I was much closer to the impending date.
So, last week, with exactly two weeks left until my big day, I decided to give it a go. The first two pages in the first chapter made me simultaneously laugh and cry.
Here’s the thing: for a long time I, Matt Beckford, had been looking forward to turning thirty. I’d been looking forward to the day when, by the power of thirty, I’d own a wine rack that actually contained wine. Not much of an ambition you might think and you’d probably be right, but then again you’re not me. You see, in my world, when a bottle of wine enters it’s usually consumed in its entirety in anything from twenty minutes (on a rough day) to twenty-four hours (on a not-so-rough day). This is not because I’m an alcoholic (not quite yet) but is simply due to a liking for wine combined with the fact that I have no self-control whatsoever. So what’s my point? Well, the point is this (stay with it): wine racks by their very nature are designed to hold more than one bottle of wine. Some can hold six. Some can hold twelve. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter are the big questions raised by the existence and desire for ownership of wine racks:
1)Who can actually afford to buy twelve bottles of wine in one go?
2)Who (assuming that they can afford it) would have twelve bottles of wine in the house, come in from a hard day at work and resist the temptation to consume the lot?
3) Who thinks that wine racks are a good idea anyway?
The answer to 3 – and, for that matter, 2 and 1 – is, of course, thirty-people (as my girlfriend Elaine called them): the thirty-something; the thirty-nothing; the people who used to be twenty and are now . . . well, not so twenty. People like me. We who have scrimped, struggled and saved our way through our twenties precisely because one day in the future we wanted to be able to afford to buy multiple bottles of wine, store them in posh wine racks in our posh kitchens and . . . not drink them. Well, not all at once. We want to be able to how off the fact that finally, after all these years, we have self-control, a taste for finer things in life, maturity even.
I wanted in. I was ready for it. Ready to embrace this brave new world! I had it all planned out. Right down to the last detail. That’s the thing about turning thirty (other than wine racks): before you even get there you already think you know exactly what it will be like. Because it’s the big milestone you’ve been looking forward to all your life that means you’ve arrived at adulthood. No other birthday has that same power. Thirteen? Pah! Acne and angst. Sixteen? More acne, more angst. Eighteen? Acne plus angst plus really horrible dress sense. Twenty-one? Acne, angst, plus a marginally improved dress sense. But thirty? Thirty really is the big one. Somewhere in your parents’ house there is a list (or maybe just some random jottings) that you scribbled down when you were, oh . . . say, thirteen, about that near mythical date in the future when you would be turning thirty. In your own inimitable scrawl will be written things like: ‘By the time I ‘m thirty . . . I want to be a (insert name of flash job here) and I’d like to be married to (insert name of whichever person you were obsessed with at the time).’ What’s clear from this exercise book is that even at the tender age of thirteen you’ve realised, like Freud once said, that when it comes to life, ‘All that matters is love and work,’ a statement that, if you’re only thirteen, leads you to ponder two major questions:
1) What am I going to do with my life?
2) Will I ever get a girlfriend?[pgs 1-3]
Well, here goes . . .
Part One: The Wine Rack
First of all, I do actually have a wine rack. It is a part of a baker’s rack given to me by my parents after their Kmart’s going-out-of-business sale five years ago. The whole thing is full: my huge pothos plant, canisters with dog treats, empty canisters, a pseudo-Japanese tea set, the still-unused crock pot that was also purchased at the aforementioned sale. There’s even all kinds of other junk on it, including an empty Bacardi Vanilla bottle, precariously perched in a port for wine. What it is lacking is any bottle of wine. I think the last time it actually had a bona fide bottle of wine in it was two years ago, when my sister and I still lived together, and once we bought a case of wine. I think I have a cheap (yet tasty) bottle of Chardonnay chilling in the fridge, waiting for a special occasion. But fear not, I have fulfilled the quiet dream of the never-ending cold beer supply in the fridge.
Part Two, Question One: The Job
Just like Matt Beckford, the hero of this story, I had pretty much figured out what I was going to do with my life by the time I was thirteen. I knew I would somehow be involved in education; I was just unsure as to the specific details. Would it be elementary or high school? Possibly at the college level? Would I pursue Montessori training? Obviously, I have figured out all of that for now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tweak some of the finer points later.
Part Two, Question Two: The Relationship
Obviously, despite having attended the university whose initials affectionately later stood for Bi Gay Straight Undecided and having played several drunken, “anything-goes” rounds of Spin-the-Bottle, I can emphatically answer no to the question of whether or not I’ll ever have a girlfriend. As for boyfriends, I’ve had several of those. I’ve even come very close to marrying two of them. But alas, I will enter the age of thirty-dom a single woman.
When I was thirteen, though, I was convinced that I would meet my husband either in my senior year of high school or during my years at an Ivy League university. ha ha ha I’ll save the full details as to what really happened for a different time.
Part Three: Mutual and Mature Endings to Relationships
On the form of previous break-ups I expected a good deal more grieving, if for no other reason than politeness. Our calm and collected so-long-and-thanks-for-the-nice-time attitude troubled me. I wondered whether this was one of the curious by-products of the turning-thirty process. I’d been twenty-nine for just over six months and had long been expecting some sort of change to come upon me now that thirty was just around the corner – the ability to grow a full beard without bald patches, my elusive wine rack, a partner for life, even – but nothing had happened. Maybe this is it, I told myself. This is my thirty-power: the ability to take the end of a relationship on the chin, like a real man.
When I was twenty-seven this sort of thing would have upset me….When I was twenty-two this would have had me scurrying to bed with heart failure….But this numbness . . . this ridiculous passivity was new. But at least, if it was the gift of turning thirty, I had an excuse. [pgs 18-19]
The thing that sucks the most about being single at this age is that most of the guys you meet are either in a very serious relationship, divorced with extra baggage, or gay. The last really serious relationship that I had was when I was twenty-five. And I was devastated when it finally crumbled. The last any-kind of relationship I had was when I was twenty-seven, though that was more of a “We’re good friends who fool around after drunken nights out after work” kind of a thing that only went on for about four or five months. I was upset when he ended it because he was the first cute and highly intelligent straight man I had met in New York and because I’d been a sort of rebound and was left for a girl who was eight years younger than us. It really bothered me when I was drunk, but mostly I ended up okay with it. I now bounce back quickly from failed attempts, despite my humorous fantasies about the “Hottie Down the Street”. In my infinite aging wisdom I have realized that if it is meant to be, it will work out despite the issues and it will feel right. There’s no sense wasting time on the wrong guys anymore.
Part Four: You are who you will become
It was as if from the day I turned nineteen I’d been filling in a mammoth opinion survey on life and sometime after my twenty-seventh birthday the results came in. Suddenly everything fell into place and life wasn’t so complicated any more. Finally I understood what I liked and didn’t like and I stuck by it rigidly….I knew myself, I knew exactly what I wanted from life and I was happy.
This didn’t mean that I didn’t like anything new. I did. What it did mean was that the new things I let into my life were mostly variations on the old things that were already in my life – variations on a very strict theme….the point of life is to learn from your mistakes and not to go out and see if you can make some new ones….
I wanted one like I’d already had in the past but without the annoying bits.
I wanted someone I already knew – but who didn’t know me so well that my imperfections would put her off. I wanted someone with whom I could just be me.
But….the girlfriend in my head wasn’t available and that alone made me feel like giving up on shopping for ever. [pgs 77-78]
Fortunately, (or maybe unfortunately, depending no your point-of-view,) I was one of those rare individuals who pretty much had herself figured out by the age of sixteen. I have only fine-tuned myself since then. I found it amusing, yet complimentary, when at my high school reunion two years ago, many people told me that I hadn’t changed one bit. I have maintained the long brown hair. I’m still passionate about Pearl Jam and other musical artists. I dress in my own comfortable style. I’m a voracious reader. I still have a weakness for the dark-haired guitar-playing type.
And I am fiercely determined to stay true to myself, so whomever I am destined to be with has to embrace me for all that I am. And I, like Matt, question the existence of that person.
Part Five: You can’t party like you used to
It was ten to eleven and, as if by instinct, the majority of the table….begin to pull on their coats and jackets ready to go home.
‘Right, then,’ slurred Gershwin….’Who fancies going to a club?’
A collective look of horror had swept across all their faces – the look that crosses the majority of late-twenties/thirty-people couples when anyone suggests having a proper late night during the week. I could see their minds flashing forward to whatever hour they had to get up at for work. I could see them imagining going in feeling knackered, working all day feeling knackered and coming home feeling knackered. The very thought of being that knackered made them feel ill. I knew this look because I’d worn it myself regularly when….suggested such midweek mayhem. [pg. 110]
Even a couple of years ago when I first moved here to New York and was working three jobs, I didn’t flinch when the Outback gang suggested going out after work, even if it was a school night. I lived for Monday Night Football, not for the games, but for drinking beer with my boys until after midnight. I’d wake up hungover, go teach, work at a part-time job, then go right back out again. I’d “catch-up” on Saturdays. Very quickly, though, times have been a-changing.
A little over a year ago, I drove out to Cleveland for a Pearl Jam show. We were convinced that we’d head out somewhere local with Jeff after the show and drink for a few hours. Instead, Amy collapsed on the floor and I on the couch, too exhausted from the show to go out. Of course I tried using the excuse that I had worked at a charity event that morning, then had driven four and-a-half hours to Amy’s house. Truth was, even if I’d come out the night before, it still would have been the same.
Last week on July 3rd, it was a hot, sunny day, though not as hot as today. I was so lazy that I spent the entire afternoon on my neighbor’s porch, just b-sing. Around 5ish I came home to take a quick shower, then at 6 a few of us walked down to Merchants for a bite. After that we headed over to Johnny’s for more drinking, and what ended up to be a fabulous band and a hot, flirty bartender. We left around midnight.
So, over the course of about six hours, I consumed only about six or seven beers, with a couple of waters thrown in. I finally fell asleep somewhere between 1 and 2 am.
July 4th I was so “knackered” that I could hardly move. I watched six movies.
I laughed the other day when I got the e-mail with the specifics for the “college reunion” we’re doing this weekend. We’re meeting at 6:30. I find this amusing because we used to convene at 10 or 11. How may of us will be getting tired and ready to go home around then, instead?
Part Six: Where am I going? How did I get here?
‘I think my brain’s gearing up for my birthday. I get the feeling that I’m going to be one of those where-am-I-going-how-did-I-get-here? turning-thirty types. It’s a bit crap that, especially as I was hoping to do the whole thing gracefully. Instead it looks as though I’m going to abandon all dignity and go kicking and screaming all the way. And I’m pretty sure I’m not making any sense, but seeing…people I’ve known for years – has kind of helped me put things into some kind of context….That’s why I’m thinking about getting in touch with the others….It’s just an idea I had. I’d like to see them all just once, you know, to see if they’re the same people’ [pgs 145-146]
I don’t really know if it’s because we’re all turning thirty this year or if it’s because after eight to ten years we’ve all found each other again on Myspace or a combination thereof. But this upcoming weekend has been dubbed as the weekend for the BG IRC reunion, which is essentially the Pirate House reunion. Basically, it’s a group of people who met in college via a campus chat-room back in 1995-1996. We all became good friends, met new people, formed bands, made out or slept with each other on the weekends. And lots and lots of drinking. Some of us even got married and divorced. So we’re all going to get back together for one night of debauchery to reminisce about how we “became adults” together. We will remember those experiences that have shaped who we are today and some of us may remember why we lost touch over the years.
It will be interesting to see if any old flames are rekindled, if new alliances are formed, if old grudges are still held. No matter how hard we try, I think we will all evaluate our lives as we dissect the lives of each other. To “put it all in context”.
Part Seven: Wanting what you can’t have
I suddenly felt guilty….This disappointed me because, at the age of nearly thirty, I was hoping that I’d somehow gained control of my ‘dark’ side, and the thought of being obsessed with another man’s girlfriend depressed me. [pg. 183]
At least I have graduated from wanting all attractive men to just obsessing over the one. But I think it’s just boredom that keeps me lusting over the “Hottie Down the Street”. I’m not doing anything that will help me to meet any other men, at least not single ones. Well, I guess I’ve met a few, but obviously they either have issues or a girlfriend/wife, so they’re off-limits. And for so long I thought that the “H.D.T.S.” was single, and I’ve been drooling over him for several months now.
To add insult to injury today, as I was writing an earlier segment, the girlfriend walked past. I knew it was her because I recognized the dog (as in the canine variety). The girlfriend, of course, is beautiful. Scary thing is, she resembles the “H.D.T.S.” enough with their dark features that they could probably pass as siblings. This means that they also look good together, which is also depressing.
“Someday my prince will come” blah blah blah.
Final thoughts one year later….
Turning 30 has actually been quite a lovely experience. I have deepened my sense of self, matured, and become more comfortable in my own skin. So many people I know freak out at the dawning of a new decade. They radically change their hairstyle, try to quickly lose 20 lbs, and just try to become a new person. My advice is to, instead, embrace who you are, no matter how old you are. Get to know that person within. You will be amazed at who you find inside.