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I Wonder How Tomorrow Could Ever Follow Today
A meandering reflection on being an aging millennial
Birthdays are strange in that they’re widely universal and yet deeply personal. Like love and dreams and other such things, everyone has them but few things compel us to hear about someone else’s.
Perhaps that’s just my inner critic wondering why anyone would want to read my reflections on turning 37.
At least I think I’m turning 37. I recall that I started saying I was 37 about six months ago and now I can’t remember if I’m already 37 or if I just wanted to get a head start so that I’d be used to the idea of entering my late-30s by the time I got here.
The Lockdown Years didn’t help my disoriented time-keeping. When I turned 35 I thought: surely a year experienced more like one month and one decade simultaneously and spent sequestered alone with my own shadow as the world upheaves doesn’t count the same as all the rest... right?
I told my mother a few weeks ago that I “wish I had more to show for my life at my age,” but I was going through a depressive episode at the time so that’s probably not true.
By comparison to myself and no one else, I think I’m in quite good shape. For a few years at the end of my 20s, I made a habit of watching Toy Story and drinking a lot of wine the night before my birthday. Displeased with how my life was trending, I answered the call to regress and live vicariously through little Andy, who eventually got everything he wanted for his birthday.
Now I don’t drink and can no longer find my Toy Story DVDbut it wouldn’t be my go-to anymore anyway. And that’s #growth.
While escaping the lackluster present is no longer needed, what does persist is my desire for some birthday eve ritual; celebrating the end of the year I just lived moreso than the year I’m about to begin.
Taking stock of the gifts of 36 (I’m pretty sure) is easy. It was my first full year as my own boss — and my job is fascinating. I live in a city just as fascinating, however obscenely expensive, and reached the decade milestone on my time here which means I no longer have to keep track. I lived an expansive and meaningful year with my favorite person on the planet who just happens to love me right back.
It’s been a good year.
I started doing pottery, began writing again, and dove deeper into photography and painting. I get to create every day, revolve my life around the emotions of being human, and share it all with a partner who sees me, respects me, and stretches me to a version of myself I can be proud of.
My relationship has also done the unthinkable; dislodge my bolts of perfectionism in exchange for messiness, honesty, and security despite it all. But I suppose that’s all better saved for a piece in which I can dive more deeply into the rich light and shadow of intimacy.
Needless to say, I’m grateful.
I’m also losing my damn mind
Recently I decided to target my therapy practice toward millennials because, as I shared with a therapist friend of the same age, “millennials have a special kind of fucked up that other generations simply don’t.”
I’d soften that with platitudes of compassion, but millennials are likely to understand what I mean and how I mean it.
That’s not to say other generations had or have it easy, only that millennials have a specific brand of chaos coursing through our nervous systems that, thanks to AOL Instant Messenger and frequent pre-adolescent existential crises, made us ambassadors for depression and anxiety.
It also made us great scapegoats for problems that started before we got here. We’re the Thanks, Obama of generations.
While we confronted national tragedies alongside puberty, and economic collapses alongside newly-minted college degrees, we were solving our own problems and creating new ones unsupervised on the internet.
Truly, do you remember when there were no parents on here?
As I more and more definitively age out of my youth, it remains far too easy for me to identify with the cynicism of my generation. And the way I see it, that’s a gift. It’s helpful armor in times like these when entire volumes of history books endlessly play out all at once.
(Pandemic babies, when you’re old enough to read this, there will probably already be a special subset of therapy for you, too. Don’t worry.)
It’s hard to know where my mental health stands when global mental health seems to be waning faster each moment than 3 decades of my personal darkest moments put together. At 37 I can say I’ve got a better handle on my depression and anxiety, especially now that I know they’re actually PMDD and ADHD respectively.
And when depression and anxiety are rather appropriate responses to current events, which indicate either an entirely hopeless or an entirely unprecedented future, you can’t help but feel a little validated.
Feeding the feminine may be rough sometimes, but I’d rather feel these feelings than obscure my own vision with deadening metrics. That declaration used to be more of a question, but it gets stronger and more sure every year.
And, with a twisted millennial optimism in tow, too, I have no doubt this slow-burn apocalypse we find ourselves in will show us the way.
And then there’s the morbid
Infamous is the 27 Club, the robust collection of artists who died 3 years shy of 30: Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, Cobain, Winehouse, Johnson, Pigpen, and so many more it hardly makes sense.
This oversaturated list of wildly talented people leaves an eerie trace; we’ll never know if any of them had yet to hit their prime before life overtook them. I have a common intrusive thought, of sorts, about what Otis Redding, who died a year shy of 27 Club membership, would have created if he only had time to age.
The Club is a strange piece of our cultural mythology but I suppose I’m not here to talk about that.
Less startlingly dense a list is the one of artists who died at 37.
This was something I felt compelled to Google one night while listening to a live 1975 recording of Robert Plant singing “Going to California” and wondering if his poetry got less mystical with his years. He was 22 when he co-wrote the song with Jimmy Page and 37 when he released Shaken ‘N’ Stirred. It’s an album he admits was inspired by the Talking Heads but it’s no Led Zeppelin IV.
Robert Plant, of course, still alive. Even if his 30s were less soulful than his 20s, we could just blame the hit-or-miss of the 1980s and call it a day.
But after recently going through a late-onset Alanis Morrissette phase (Jagged Little Pill era, of course), I’ve had a hard time shaking the feeling that some of us do, in fact, hit our creative prime before we have enough actual life experience to create from.
As I honed in on my Google search, I learned that Vincent Gogh died at 37 and when I read that, I wondered why I started down this rabbit hole in the first place. Did I think it would render good feelings?
Even though Van Gogh died nearly 100 years before I was born, it disillusioned me to think he crafted all his works before ever seeing 38. Maybe what I said to my mother was true. I’m certainly not Van Gogh-level talented, but I’d like to leave something compelling behind. I have always been a late bloomer but what if it’s too late for me to make anything of worth?
Cue the midlife crisis.
Actually, I always wondered about the phenomenon of the midlife crisis. Are there any boomers or gen Xers who could answer this for me: was midlife your first time having an existential breakdown? I never feared this initiation because I felt practiced. I was still in high school when, like John Mayer, I started thinking: it might be a quarter-life crisis, or just a stirring in my soul.
Speaking of initiations
Thirty-six was another year of close calls with parental health. My Christmas trip home to New York included a visit to the hospital to see my father. That’s where my boyfriend met him for the first time.
My dad will hate that I’m writing about him, and I’ll be careful not to turn his ordeal into a tale about my woes. Yet with his health problems stemming back to the time I was 17, I keep being surprised that I’m not better at handling these moments.
It seems I still fear enrollment into the phase of life where you lose a parent. Maybe that’s never something you’re able to brace for. So I panic each time it threatens, this recent one being no different.
My dad’s okay now. But the overwhelming drive on New Jersey’s I-80 to visit him in the hospital the day before my fight back to LA, wondering if it could be the last time I’d see him, is etched in my nervous system as a reminder to not take time for granted.
Having lost my dear friend and mentor, Bruce, to prostate cancer just two weeks after that drive holds the same reminder.
Scarce or just precious
When I think about Bruce and Otis Redding and Van Gogh, I wonder if I’ve already wasted too much time. When I think of my dad, I wonder how not to waste more.
That’s the thing about birthdays, and perhaps why people stop wanting to celebrate them the older they get. They just become a reminder of what’s lost, not what there still is to be had; an episode of grief more than celebration.
I’m not there yet. I still find hope in the present and know that the outcome of time doesn’t need to be everything I imagine it should. I can take more conscious efforts to put my energy where it counts, but I can’t manifest fantasy or defer real life any faster than that.
And so perhaps that’s the spirit to take into this new year. Perhaps all of it is. Love, gratitude, cynicism, hope, morbid curiosity, and intention. Initiations will be had whether I’m prepared for them or not. But if this past year is any indication, I can manage and make meaning just fine, and that meaning is what I ultimately value most.
If you’re a Gen Zer and reading this for some reason, hello! A DVD is a “digital video disc” and it’s another pre-streaming relic from a time when the internet was still in the process of becoming infinite.
I was 7 when my parents divorced and my attachment wounds truly began fermenting, so 3 whole decades of dark moments actually doesn’t feel like hyperbole.