Young Adults

Even though I was just in Berlin two Sundays ago (at this moment I’d probably be having a beer in a British chain sports bar attached to a hostel so James could try and catch part of a Redskins game—it’s ok to do stuff like that on your last day of vacation; it was tempered by fondue afterward and a stop at the massive Etsy-fied Holy.Shit.Shopping market beforehand) it already feels hazy, in the distant past.

The whole week was hazy, though, and feverish, a downer even though I had fun too.  Maybe I was severely Seasonal Affective Disordered; I felt Portland and zombified. . I’m feeling much more normal now that I’m back in Brooklyn (despite the borough often being anger-and-frustration-inducing, I wouldn’t call it a depressing place). No matter what, I couldn’t get up before noon (or fall asleep before 4am) and by the time I was up and out of the hotel, freezing, rain-soaked, the daylight was already fading and gone by 4pm. Maybe it was too much Nazi and East/West history, exhausting and introspection-inducing. The overheated hotel (we kept turning off the heat and it would come back on sweat-making as ever) led to restless sleep, earaches, scratchy throats (that was probably the rampant cigarette smoking by myself and everyone else, though) and wacked-out dreams (though not scary ones—I woke up convinced that my sister was genuinely dating Gabe from The Office, though he was just a person and not Gabe from The Office) so that I’d wake up tired and panicked. I’ve never felt so convinced of a chemical imbalance, like something in my rational brain broke in Berlin. The heights while winding up the spiral Reichstag ramp threw me so off balance I had to turn around one-third of the way up and was scared the whole rail-clutching way back down. Wobbly, I just stuck to the open outdoor space, watching the city expand from each four sides of the building. I began tearing up, not because it was particularly moving or meaningful. Maybe I shouldn’t have seen Melancholia.

I always dread coming home after a vacation; I hate the last night and put off going to bed as long as possible (much like a regular Sunday night, though this drama has been reduced now that I can work from home most Mondays and most of the week if I feel like it). I was trying to squeeze in five good hours of sleep before we had to be up and out to catch a 10am flight. The movie James was watching in the living room wasn’t helping, something Spanish-language about hunting humans that threw me off even muffled with the door shut. It sounded distressing even though I couldn’t make out words.

My brain raced despite efforts to calm and go zen. Maybe I should learn mediation? A woman I once knew with the last name L’Orange (I won’t use her full name, but if you Google it, she doesn’t come up at all, just hits for a coffee liqueur-based drink of the same name) popped into my head. Why, then, why at all? She briefly managed the movie theater attached to the museum and art school my freshman year. She was a recent grad, tall, short-haired, makeup-less, bespectacled, and plainer than her name suggested (I expected someone exotic or at least French). She painted horses, in an artsy serious way opposed to the other woman who worked in the box office who did horse screen prints. She probably wasn’t more than 25, though she seemed like a grown-up; I liked being around art students in their later 20s because they seemed more stable and you didn’t have to impress them. I answered an ad for a part-time work study job selling tickets and ushering. It seemed more fun than working in the library, the work study job I was already doing. It was easy. We’d smoke at the counter, hang out, watch the movies, and occasionally this woman would buy Chinese food from the hole in the wall next to the Safeway across the street using skimmed funds (the next manager kept up this tradition and I would occasionally partake, just enough for a pack of cigarettes or a few after-work drinks—you make different types of decisions when you’re a young adult earning $4.75/hour, ten hours per week). In particular, though, I was thinking about a Thanksgiving I spent at her house, with her boyfriend who she fought with (I don’t remember why, possibly because he was slacky and underachieving though they were both stoners) and a few others (even when I lived in the same city, I didn’t feel strongly about family holidays, particularly in the early ‘90s). I can’t recall a single detail about the event, just sitting on a futon, there being two floors to the apartment around Morrison St. and 12th Ave., and being asked to bring a can of pumpkin puree, which doesn’t make sense because wouldn’t you have wanted to have pies already baked before guests arrived?

Then I bolted awake, more awake, sweating, realizing that Thanksgiving was more or less 20 years ago. Another lifetime nearly; I’m hardly like the 20-year-old me at all. I have a tendency to remember ancient events as if they were just the other day, and that’s kind of dangerous and false. On the surface, that right now 60 is the same distance as 20 is unfathomable. Rationally, that’s a long ways off and I will be totally different then too. As far as medians go, ok, I guess I am nearly middle-aged and it’s not offensive or upsetting it’s just the middle of being younger and older. Instead of half-dead (though I would hope to live past 60) it also means doubly smart. Forty-year-olds are so much more together than 20-year-olds; the trick is being able to harness the benefits of self-awareness before tumbling down the other side. At that moment, I thought I had an epiphany and would return to NYC with renewed vigor after a German week in a cold, dark place.

Now I’m not so sure. Theoretically, I don’t have a problem with being middle-aged—I just like being melodramatic—the anxiety stems from a shift from thinking of all the things you can do and are still ahead of you to thinking of all the things you haven’t done and probably never will. And I don’t even mean being an astronaut or president, or a princess (or getting married, having children, or owning a home, which aren’t my goals either).

Somewhere in my 20s I realized I was better with words than images, but I’m not magazine or other big name publication good (though I would argue connections have more to do with anything than skills, and being anti-social doesn’t get anyone anywhere). I now write for a living and am finally in a solid financial position (this took 20 years! Not so for others) but I didn’t imagine I would be writing about digital marketing. I did not move from Portland to NYC to write about e-commerce, and yet I do. I wouldn’t go so far as saying this is a disappointment; it’s the result of a security-driven path, knowing there’s no fallback or cushion and now being too old and with higher expectations to be poor and living piecemeal from low-paying, fun topics freelance work or just being flat-out lucky and/or driven and/or talented with the charisma to win the fun topics/good pay/prestige trifecta.

In the latest issue of Bon Appetit, writer Adam Sachs throws a party for 55 friends where he turns 20 ducks into prosciutto and rillettes (among other dishes) for his 40th birthday. I’m not sure that I have five friends who would show up, my last birthday wasn’t even celebrated, but moreover what path did you take that you end up with a fabulous party that you document in your Bon Appetit column (you’ve also been a GQ staff writer and literally traveled around the world for Conde Nast Traveler have been sent to eat a $750 lunch in Berlin with your girlfriend) Not a passive one. Someone raised with high expectations.

Ok, Adam Sachs is a completely random example. I don’t want to be him or someone like him or a female version, I just happened to be reading Bon Appetit and wondered how one becomes this type of person. Someone who hasn’t had to buy shampoo in over a decade? Technically, I do know. You get a food gig at a smaller publication like Time Out or Village Voice in your 20s (I mean for someone who is 40 now—with so many pro food blogs and sites, the current pool of late 20s/early 30s food writers is much more vast and they can’t possibly all win increasingly rare prestige, mostly print, jobs when they are ten years older) and make a name for yourself and meet the right people. Enough about that.

So, I can’t tell—is Young Adult a good or annoying movie? I’ll probably see it anyway.

Have you been reading the Life Report series? Regina Titus’ is a stand-out.

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