I turn 24 next Thursday, and it’s giving me some major complexes.
Weirdly, today the sometimes-whiny-as-all-get-out-but-sometimes-genius Thought Catalog published this semi-gem (like all their stuff, it walks that fine Millennial line between hilarious self-awareness and sad-sack navel gazing) about things people should be able to do at age 23, but that most of us, sadly, can’t. Number one is parallel parking, which I all the way can’t do, but the list also contains such entries as “5. Make the connection between working out regularly (key: regularly) and not feeling like a bag of moldy asses.” That one, and so many of the others, rang so true for me, because I feel like my whole life as a 20-something has been a study in contrasts between the things I do on a regular basis and the things that make me feel actually good and complete and successful and even happy.
Twenty-four feels like a real age, a Person age. An age at which kindergartners think you’re an old lady and high schoolers think you’re out of touch (for the record, I have no idea what high schoolers are talking, or rather tweeting, about 90% of the time, so I guess they’re right). And while I know that in the grand scheme of things, in a (hopefully) long and happy life, I am impossibly young, the idea of my carefree 20s feels like a cruel joke because doesn’t that necessarily imply freedom from cares? And are any of us Millennials that way at all? I don’t think so.
I care about the fact that I don’t feel like I can do anything consistently, at all, even if I know for a fact that it will make me feel and look like and be a better and more centered human being. This week I ran two days in a row and that felt like a major accomplishment. I pat myself on the back for Laughing Alone With Salad when I manage to eat my veggies, but just as often, I eat quesadillas and feel like hell. I don’t write every day, and then I weep about the fact that I might never write a book. I don’t call or email my grandmothers enough. I need to mop. Like, badly.
I care about the fact that I can’t know everything about the world, which makes me feel ignorant and selfish. I want to simultaneously care really hard about Syria and South Sudan and climate change and children with AIDS and mass starvation and the national debt and who will be the president and violence against women and the still-deadly war in Afghanistan and all, all, all the rest of it, but I don’t know how people do that. Does all this horrible stuff really fit in people’s brains every day? How do they concentrate on small tasks like grocery shopping? How do they survive? I read the news and listen with all my might to NPR and try in small ways to do my part, but I feel like some people are so good at caring for the whole world and not just about lunch. Why am I not one of those people?
I care that my whole generation is judged for the above two reasons – childish inconsistency and self-centeredness – and that maybe the judges, the pundits and bloggers and mean commenters, are right about us. About me. I care all the time that I might not be living up to the impossible privilege of being comfortably American, and, hell, of being alive. I care that I am turning 24 and still have little to show for my life, just like those mean commenters say. I care but I also don’t spend every day trying, hardscrabble and dedicated, to make a different go of it, to craft a different life. I care what people say about me but apparently not enough to do anything real about it.
So, next week I will have officially been alive for another year. Does that mean anything real? No, probably not. Am I going to make pledges about “this year being different”? Yes, probably. But hopefully I will also live up to a few of those pledges. Take better care of myself, because my 30- and 40-something selves will thank me for not wrecking my body in my 20s. Seek creative outlets and commit to them, because it’s all I can imagine doing with the rest of my life, and I need to prove to myself and anyone else who might wonder (ahem, parents) that I do have the strength and stamina to make a go of this writer’s life. Reach out into the world with more compassion and more stamina, and make sure to turn the privileges I do have into a life lived generously, mindfully and for others as much as for myself. And for God’s sake, eat a salad and drink more water and wash my makeup off before I go to sleep and LEARN TO PARALLEL PARK.