Saturday, October 27, 2007

what it's like to be 30

No way can I actually give a satisfying description commensurate with the title (wouldn’t that be the subject of a novel?) Nor will I try to fully explain that I am aware how small and skewed is my perspective—how I do not understand the lives of most 30–year–olds, and I don’t think they would understand mine, and how my being 30 is in some ways like others’ being 25 or even others’ being 40. But recent days have led me to think much about where I am, to no particularly productive end, but I feel like writing anyway.

I feel like it would be nice to start all over again, to try out my life in a more focused and engaged way. To not worry so much about what people (particularly those in authority) think of me. To find something to be really passionate about. “If I had known then what I know now…” But, barring a real reincarnation, it might even be nice to start from here, and change everything. I’m thinking in particular of the opening lines from John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”:
He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin’ home to a place he’d never been before.
He left yesterday behind him; you might say he was born again,
You might say he found a key for every door.
I’m not quite sure what the fourth line means, but the first two deliberately use paradox in an attempt to describe discovering a fresh new life. The third line takes the familiar Christian image of rebirth and gives it a different flavor. The hero of the song seems to restart his life as a hermit: “they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun.” No search for success or fame (not that those have ever been my preoccupation), no indication that he’s fleeing some deeply troubled time (again, while I’ve had some setbacks, I haven’t gotten in serious trouble). Just a feeling, a thought that there’s peace to be found somewhere. And he finds it; it turns out to be a pretty good life for this guy, in relative solitude and communion with nature:
Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams,
Seeking grace in every step he takes;
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake.
I don’t think Denver’s singing about himself, but about some idealized mythical mountain man who represents all of the good things Denver had found in the majesty of the Rockies. And he certainly captures what one would hope to find in leaving yesterday behind.

I’m at a strange place. I’m very nearly halfway through my time of being 30. Many people my age have a closet full of suits to choose from and lots of nice shirts and shoes. I wear mostly jeans and t-shirts (with the weather getting colder, I get to wear sweaters, too, which I like) and have to make sure I do laundry every two weeks or so or I just run out of clothes. On the other hand, many people my age (sometimes the same people) have gotten stuck in jobs they hate, and in which they don’t get to interact with or touch people. I can’t say I really like grad school, but I enjoy the people in my office, and teaching is almost always a rewarding experience. (Friday I taught numerical integration methods, and that wasn’t so pleasant.)

When I was younger, I thought I was special. Not in the Harry Potter sense (a more apt analogy would be Garion from the Belgariad series, but I’m not sure how many people would know that means someone who’s grown up on a farm and suddenly learns he’s destined to become a great king; what better-known story captures this narrative?), but in the sense of being a good kid. Good = special, right? My teachers would say I could do anything I wanted, and I figured at some point I would be struck by what I wanted to do. No such luck. To continue the comparisons of the previous paragraph: I’ve done more than a lot of people with my life, I guess, but not as much as the ones who make real masterful creations. (John Denver, for example, released his first greatest hits album before he was thirty; this example is to show that I’m not just thinking about mathematics, infamously referred to as a “young man’s profession”.) Surely it’s not too late, however, right? I may not be on the ball with getting a nice household put together, but I still have talent and I’m still young and can achieve… something… of merit.

I feel like I need something to slap me and get me moving.

This evening I went to a concert by a folk singer who had been at St. Olaf at the same time I was. She’s a wonderful performer; I could tell several of her songs really touched some in the audience, and a slightly different set of songs resonated with me and some of the things I’m thinking (and trying to write) about. (Her name is Ellis, by the way.) The first was “Doin’ Fine”, talking about being on a long, late drive, acknowledging the challenges, and finding ways to enjoy the trip. Later she sang a new song, “Who Am I”, about doubt (”if it were water I would drown in it”) and fear (“if it were fire I would be ash”) and reflections on how really great we might end up being if we could remember who were are (she creates the image of a star that’s forgotten the sky, or a river who’s forgotten the sea, and speculates that that’s why we feel such awe and joy looking at them). Less seriously, she sang a love song to coffee (“I cool you down when it’s hot; I heat you up when it’s not. I’ll treat you right, oh, you know that you’re the one”). As the resident coffee snob in certain of my circle, although far from the only coffee lover, I felt obliged to lay hold of this song.

No conclusion here. I can’t even really vouch for coherence. Just thoughts, and the desire to be writing again. I should be writing more. I have several topics that have been playing in my head. For a while I’ve been thinking about essays on angels and faith. I still need to finish the narrative of our trip to the convent. A couple of stories I started and missed finishing were about picking strawberries over the summer and the death of another dear man just recently. There’s still more time to write. For now, time for bed.


Ray S. Fertig said...

"...I figured at some point I would be struck by what I wanted to do. No such luck."


Melanie said...

Yep, that's pretty much exactly what 30 is. (Unless you do EYH for long enough to gain an additional week's worth of t-shirts--then you can delay the laundry a bit longer.)