The Trials of 29

~ for my friend, MB

It’s been a few months since I’ve turned 30 and, so far, no magical Maturity Fairy has descended to drop some serious knowledge on my ass. It’s not much different from when I turned 18 and the Adult Wisdom Fairy failed to put in an appearance. It seems only fitting that 30 is as equally anti-climactic as legal adulthood, what with the current cultural trend of “30 is the new 18.”

In this youth-obsessed culture, more and more of us are rapidly regressing towards our teen years. Everyone I know, including people younger than me to people 65+ years of age, have feelings that aren’t that far removed from high school. There’s something about 29 – that onus of being on the cusp of something potentially bigger, brighter, and perhaps more solemn – that makes that second wind of adolescence all the more poignant.

It’s not much different than the feeling you get when you’re (to cop a phrase from The Sound of Music) “17 going on 18.” You believe you’re going to set the world on fire and break free from the tyrannical rule of your teachers, principals, and parents once that status of legal adulthood is granted. At 30, it’s a different sort of tyranny you find yourself railing against, still wanting to make your mark. Compared to the world of responsibilities that come with “adulthood” such as jobs and “serious” relationships, life at home with Mom and Dad seems like an unappreciated sanctuary you wish you could crawl back to.

Considering the economic climate of the times, that feeling is only exacerbated. That love/hate relationship with your oppressive employer in the downright shitty job market is further complicated. Greener pastures are ready to be sought, but they’re nowhere in sight. At the same time, you find yourself thinking, “Shit, I’m lucky just to have a job,” while still hoping you can someday live out your dreams as your 401K goes to shit and the prospect of cat food becoming a large part of your “Golden Years” looms ever-closer.

When you’re 29 going on 30, that three-decade milestone makes you wonder why you’re not where you envisioned yourself being at 30 when you were 17. It seemed so simple with no roadblocks on that map to success. But now… The clock is ticking. The race is on to make your mark and achieve the elusive happy ending. And sometimes, except for the lucky few, those things are harder and slower to come by than you would have ever dreamed.

Contrary to what you were fed in high school and/or college, it’s a much bleaker picture. In this day and age of bicycle crash helmets, pet therapists, and all manner of molly-coddling, the harsh truth isn’t discovered until you’re out there shopping resumés, manuscripts, or even your telephone number at a club during last call to anyone who may seem even remotely interested. That, my friend, is the much-vaunted “pursuit of happiness.”

I’m sure everyone has, had, or will have their own take on 29, but as for me, I found it to come with euphoric highs and bottom-scraping lows. That whole thing about reverting to a teenage state of mind? It came back in spades during my Trials of 29.

For instance, I found myself searching for deeper meaning in some seriously weird shit…like the sound a computer makes as its shutting down. I wondered if Bill Gates purposefully commissioned that tinkling, four-note synth/piano soundbyte that rings out as you power down. There’s something final, yet open-ended about it. A little sweet, yet a little sad. Like Windows knows you’ll eventually log on again, and that this is just a temporary goodbye for now. I found myself wishing that humans could have a little noise like that to signal to everyone around them that they’re (physically and emotionally) shutting down, too.

Still in keeping with technology-inspired personal breakthroughs, I found myself embracing the social bookmarking trend favored by tweens, teens and 20-somethings –immersing myself in MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter culture. In doing so, I came to the revelation that many of my MySpace default photos showed me flipping the bird at the camera, which is always a hallmark of wisdom. I’ve also taken great pride in the fact that I inform those on my friends lists of exactly how I’m feeling. Whether I had taken a good, hearty shit or found myself constipated, “the truth was out there.”

Sometimes you have to take a step back and give yourself a smirking pat on the back for shrugging off so-called “maturity” and diving into the void of voyeurism and self-superstardom on social media. Then again, why is it “immature” to dismiss passive-aggressive, “I’m smiling on the outside but crying on the inside” conventions? What’s wrong with acknowledging that your Facebook photo can silently say what you can’t, bearing in mind that things like eating and maintaining a roof over your head are something of a priority and might be jeopardized by expressing this to your employer in a face-to-face setting. There were days, however, where this sentiment carried over into “real life,” finding myself going so far as scrawling a prison-like “Fuck This” across my knuckles with a ballpoint pen during particularly frustrating days at work.

Damn right, I'm feellin' it.

Damn right, I’m feellin’ it.

Another staple of my youth that I reverted to was drinking.

Heavily.

I found myself engaging in the sort of binge drinking I hadn’t done since I was in high school, when suckin’ back on the sauce was legally verboten and every drop of booze was a precious commodity. However, at 29, I drank with friends, and (like George Thorogood) I drank alone. I hid bottles in my closet from my tee-totaling boyfriend who would simultaneously offer me the Devil’s Advocate treatment after I had a hard day at work before turning on a dime and chastising me for wanting to imbibe from the Fount of Artificial Means of Mellowing Out.

Since I was well over the legal drinking age, I found myself becoming increasingly more innovative with my alcohol-related activities, going so far as to lay down a “Three Drink Minimum” for myself when drinking with friends and then devising the “One Hour Pub Crawl,” which involved drinking one beverage per bar and seeing how many bars it was possible to hit in an hour.

Then, in what may have been the pinnacle of alternating fits of clean living and self-destruction, I found myself downing my very first Irish Car Bomb (a shot each of Bailey’s and Jameson dropped into a pint of Guinness) moments before engaging in a hardcore upper body workout and military pressing 60 lbs. above my head. It doesn’t get much more stupid and reckless than that.

It didn’t really prove anything (except that drinking can sometimes enhance a workout), yet it was something I felt compelled to do, if only to say that I had done it. There’s something oddly exhilarating about taking a mundane activity to the extreme, elevating it to a level of functional and reasonably acceptable debauchery.

Then there were the really simple pleasures. Rite Aid became my particular homebase for a variety of strange doings, perhaps the tamest of which was launching into an impromptu dance set to the in-store radio’s selection of Enrique Iglesias’ “Escape” in the feminine hygiene products aisle. It was at Rite Aid where I pondered the mystery of why there are no greeting cards for those weird in-between relationships like frenemies, friends with benefits, or those friends that make you wonder if you’re in the friend zone or something else. And it was Rite Aid where I amassed an assemblage of items that proclaimed to the world (or, at least the cashier) that I was someone who favored homeopathic cures for yeast infections, relied upon Ramen and Oreos as comfort food, and read tabloid smut in the crapper while meticulously moisturizing in an attempt to stave off the aging process as early as possible.

Beyond these self-revelations, I’ve found myself using the latest technology to continue a favorite pastime of my teen years. Blogging has replaced the volumes of bad poetry I had scribbled in spiral-bound notebooks and frequent mood status updates have become the “professional” equivalent of passing notes in school. Additionally, the “playlist” feature on my iPod makes it so much easier to create a queue of songs to compliment my myriad of mood swings. Whereas, back in high school, I would have to manually cue up the tape deck to play Air Supply’s “Makin’ Love Out of Nothing At All” as the backdrop to a sad, self-performed sock puppet re-enactment of my latest love life drama, I now have a playlist chock full of Manson n’ Morrissey at the ready to brawl or bawl to! Outstanding! All my old favorites are still on my iPod along with newer discoveries.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I turned 29 that I realized just how many songs feature lyrics about being 29 or are just devoted to that bizarre year of life. While I was in high school, I’d always looked to music for cathartic solace. Over a decade later, that hasn’t changed. In fact, I realize a lot of song writers find 29 as trying a time, if not moreso, than their high school years. Proof of this sentiment can be found in the Gin Blossoms’ “29″ and in The National’s “29 Years” and “Slow Show,” which features a line that sums up the 29 milestone perfectly: “I leaned on the wall / The wall leaned away.”

Is it any wonder that even Shakespeare may have been onto something when he created one of his most conflicted and soliloquy-spouting characters, Hamlet? Many scholars debate that Hamlet was 29 or 30 when the major events of the Bard’s tragedy occur. Coupled with the fact that he’s a university student, initially, it would seem that Hamlet’s mood swings are typical of an overly emotional teen or young adult. Taking a step back, it makes perfect sense that Hamlet is 29 or 30. He exhibits the sense of wherewithal to not display all his cards on the table, although he still carries with him lofty ideals as it pertains to moral realms concerning family and politics. On the flipside, in spite of his reflective nature, he reacts impulsively, often with destructive and self-destructive consequences.

In a nutshell, that describes being 29. Deep thoughts and world-weary observations meet up against the borders of doing completely stupid shit just for the sake of doing it. An impending sense of mortality creeps up, and essentially, it is the death of your 20s. You’re forced to call into question where you are and where you’re going. It’s a repeat of turning 18 and graduating high school all over again. This time, the stakes are higher and you’ve gotten more of a taste of the alternating fits of disappointment and hopefulness that life has to offer.

It’s a year full of highs and lows. Looking back, I remember that for one solid month during my tenure at 29, I felt really and truly happy – so happy, in fact, that when catching up with an old friend in a group setting, one friend remarked, “Yeah, you missed it.  She was happy for a whole month.” The operative words in that sentence being “missed it”… As in, “blink and you.” Conversely, there was an entire month that I was pretty damn depressing to be around. It happens. It just so happens that 29 is the age that brings about a hyper-awareness of these things.

While 30 hasn’t brought about an epiphany, to a degree, I’m glad to be out of that awkward year known as 29. I don’t feel any wiser and don’t feel any closer to unlocking deeper truths within myself and the universe. Unless you count the minor epiphany of realizing that, when you’re drunk, it’s much better to show your friends embarrassing pictures someone else sent to you instead of taking embarrassing pictures of yourself and sending them to someone else.

It’s not much, but at least it’s a small shred of wisdom to cling to and carry into the next decade and beyond.

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