Some Notes on Birthdays, Fall, and (Extremely Early!) Thirties Angst

“I think you’re accomplished!”

My friend K and I were sitting on the edge of a Kingfield tennis court, drenched and tomato-colored from fifteen minutes of volleys due to tropical evening humidity. She wanted to talk celebration plans for my upcoming birthday. I, for reasons I couldn’t summon, wanted to avoid the subject entirely.

“That’s not it,” I said.

I was grasping to explain why it is that (the anticipation of) this year’s birthday has felt especially rough.

Maybe, I said, it’s the fact that, despite feeling fairly settled here in Minneapolis, I’m still not completely sure to which state I ought to have mail sent come November.

Or maybe it’s the the fact of spending time with a boy who is a millennial and communicates in acronyms I am too old to comprehend.

Or, yeah, some spin on the “accomplishment” idea: that inevitable gap between what I hoped I’d have done by now (read: publish a book) and what I have.

Or, I said, grudgingly, it could be nothing more complicated than the whole, irritable, biological clock thing. (Can we delete that phrase from English now? Kthanksbye.)

We even discussed the impact of fall: the way it can prompt all of us to revisit “back to school” mode and consider what space in which we’re entering a new, annual cycle.

None of these ideas satisfied.

K wanted to talk backyard grilling. Fancy dinners. Cocktails. Official viewings of my favorite movies. (If you love me and you live here, get pumped for The Big Chill. It’s on.)

I wanted to sulk.

This is not normal.

Despite a breakdown on the actual day of my thirtieth birthday triggered by such non-threatening objects as an IKEA lamp, Lake Calhoun and a certain ex-boyfriend’s excitable mutt, I managed to slide through that, more major transition without a whole lot of drama. I’ve always been on the younger end of my grade and friend groups: by the time I turn whatever age, most people around me already have. It tends not to shock.

But something about this year feels different.

I’ve even joked about re-doing my thirtieth–as though I’m some middle-aged divorcee with bleached hair who shops for designer dresses and plastic surgeons and refuses to admit her actual age.

I mean, It’s silly.

As K put it, 31 does not represent a substantial or physical difference. As the millennial teased, fifty is the new thirty. (Making me, as he put it, about ten, and him about five — an extended analogy that may or may not have helped.) And as various older friends have repeatedly reminded, the thirties are often–emotionally, mentally–a vast improvement.

“Thirty one was better than thirty,” K said. “And thirty-two was even better. We’re moving up!”

I know this. I know that I feel as healthy and secure as I ever have, and plan to get stronger and smarter as years pass. I know there is nothing remotely useful or interesting about agonizing over something as intractable as age. I know that not one of the worries K and I discussed is solely responsible for activating a whole set of broader anxieties.

Rather, I know that birthdays are mere markers: moments that, whether we wish them to or not, inevitably trigger reflection. Self-evaluation. Sometimes, stress.

After tennis, a group of us went to dinner at a local, sustainable sushi restaurant. The owner, a coffee shop pal, brought us some new sake to try and a plate of steaming, crispy gyoza. We giggled about random family connections and favorite summer memories (topping the list: that time we all PONTOONED TO THE BAR) and ambitious meals we’d all like to cook. I paused for a moment to reflect that this is what matters: these precious, joyful moments of being with people I adore, enjoying food and each other.

I remembered another recent moment: sitting on my porch after reading and writing some poems, feeling, suddenly (and fleetingly) as though I don’t really care whether I publish or prosper from writing–that nothing external could be as meaningful as this,┬áthe concrete, internal pleasure of doing what I love.

Fuck birthdays.

It’s still frustrating that there’s nothing more tangible about what’s causing my burst of age-related angst–and that I doubt there’s anything more solid to remove the edge.

But it’s nothing from which I’m not willing to be distracted. So, today, I’m looking (still a month!) ahead to a night (or three! I mean, birthday is on a Monday…) of cocktail(s) and dinner(s) and movie(s) with dear ones. To all the fun afternoons and evenings and boat rides that may come after and before. To aggressively enjoying birthdays now and thirty years from now–because, what else is there?

Notes on Aging, Cont’d (Or: In Defense of Hermitude)

A couple Fridays ago, my friend A came over for a chill night in. We watched a movie, ate some snacks, contemplated a house party for about thirty seconds before deciding on bedtime instead.

The following day, Saturday, we traded texts:

Me: “Remember how I said yesterday that I might want to go out tonight? Now all I want to do is bake a cake. What is wrong with me!?”

A: “I know. The biggest decision in the past hour was to buy or not to buy lamb chops and a beautiful cookbook. Soon, cat people!”

As I wrote in my response, I have always taken minor solace, for this very reason, in the fact that I can’t stand cats.

Hours later, after drinking some wine and making banana bread with my friend C, I went to turn in. (Let us not discuss the hour.) For about ten minutes, I looked around my room–on and under the bed, in my dresser, on the chair/clothesrack beside my closet–in desperate search of my pajama pants.

It was only upon reflecting back on my day–yoga, writing, baking, etc–that it occurred to me to look down: I had never taken them off.

I have come up with a lot of explanations (read: excuses) for why I have become an almost-complete hermit lately: I need to be writing. I’m not looking for a boyfriend. Cake tastes good with earl gray tea and soy milk. It’s starting to get a tad bit chilly.

But I’ve avoided the one that A eluded to in her text: the one that involves realizing that I am getting, a little bit, kind of, maybe, you know, old.

I know: not really. As I told the man who I checked into yoga class last Sunday morning, who announced to me that he “is old” by way of requesting the senior discount: the word is relative, and kind of meaningless.

“Sometimes,” I told him, “even I feel a little old!”

And sure: it sounds funny, and absurd, in the company of a senior citizen. But in other contexts, not so much.

Such as the one in which: I found myself involved in a Facebook flirtation with a 23 year old I know from school, and ran into him at a coffee shop only to realize that we’d yet to actually flirt. You know, in person. (Welcome to the Millenials!)

Or the one in which: come the weekends, I have little desire to go out to bars, to go to parties, to do anything besides hang out with friends, in my house or theirs, drink a little wine, eat some food and watch some Netflix.

Or the one in which: walking home across campus the other day, I realized that I still think of myself as being in my “early” twenties, and have no recollection of turning that invisible corner that landed me at twenty eight.

Okay: so it isn’t just the millenials who are increasingly dependent on nonverbal communication–it’s all of us. And it probably is just a phase (also: winter) that I’m going through, and that I blame for making me more and more resistant to socializing. (Or, it’s just my nature: and I’m okay with that.)

And I’m not, technically, old. But I am older: not necessarily than I feel, but than I feel like I ought to be. I’m not that young anymore.

It isn’t that I want to still be in my early twenties: generally, as I’ve written (aging = more redundant?) I like to think that we improve with age. Get wiser, more confident, know more things. It’s just that it seems strange that I’m not.

So: what, exactly, am I trying to say? Time moves quickly? The years pass faster and faster, the older we get? I thought I’d have my shit together by now a lot more than I actually do?

You already know all that stuff. And so do I. Mostly, I just wanted to tell you the story about my pajama pants. And, to say, in case you’re feeling like you’re a little bit older than you think you should be: me, too.