It just hit me today: Next week I’m going to be thirty-six. Okay, my birthday isn’t a total surprise. I mean, I’ve been dropping hints for presents (a new clock radio for my ipod, the soundtrack to The Darjing Limited) I’m taking a week off work, I’m cleaning my house because a friend of mine is going to come to help me celebrate. Then it hit me: four years until I’m forty. Wow.
Here’s the deal. I don’t feel my age. I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything, but I look younger than I am. I always have. Years ago, I was crossing the street to my community college when I heard someone yell “Young lady!” I turned around and saw a chubby middle aged man with his stomach hanging out. “Did you just cross the street?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Where’s your hall pass?”
“Hall pass? I’m going to DVC. I’m twenty-two years old.”
He backed away quickly. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted or complimented.
This happens all the time. I was at a jewelry counter once and a woman came up to me, saying “Excuse me, you’re a teenager, I need to get something for my granddaughter. Do you think she’ll like this?” I was twenty-seven at the time.
I still get carded when I buy beer. They ask for my ID, then I show it to them, and they look at it, and then look surprised. “Oh my God, I am so sorry.”
“No worries,” I say. They’re just doing their job.
So although thanks to my genes, I’ll never figure out what pi means nor have super neat handwriting, but I’ll always look young. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Here’s the deal; I used to get scared of forty. Forty sounded so grown-up, so scary. I wasn’t thrilled about thirty, let me tell you. It just felt like nothing was working out. When I was twenty-eight, I wanted to get a book in a bookstore by the time I was thirty. I was working on a novel at the time that was starting to resemble the novel profiled in Wonder Boys, it had no end. It was about 768 pages when I realized that I had to pull the plug, shorten it, and save the rest of it for a sequel. Then I was unemployed at the time I was thirty. I had been looking for work, nothing was appearing. Then a person who I had unresolved issues with died. This was a person I had to cut completely out of my life, for this person hurt me and my family so much. There was not going to be any resolution, no Hollywood endings of forgiveness.
But on my thirtieth birthday, I felt this utter calmness that everything was going to turn out. As good old Emily Dickinson said, hope is the thing with feathers. It took a while, but things did turn out.
I used to think that if I didn’t have a novel out by thirty that it was over. I was toast. When I was a teenager the big thing was people writing novels in their twenties. People like Tama Janowitz, Jay McInnerney, and Bret Easton Ellis. I remember feeling so jealous when I read that Joyce Maynard published her memoirs at nineteen. Nineteen! Okay, she left a lot out about her dysfunctional family and she dropped out of Yale to live with J.D. Salinger, but nineteen! Wow!
Now of course I know it wouldn’t helped me at all if I got published back then. I used to hate it when people say “It will get easier when you get older.” I would look at them with a look thinking “Gee, thanks. I have to wait ten years before I can be happy?” But they were right, of course. In college when I saw women worrying about the little things like grades, men (or women) and life, I would think oh, thank God I don’t have to worry about that stuff again.
Joni Mitchell once had a song called “Happiness is the best facelift.” I still have days when nothing is going right, when there are problems at work or my writing isn’t flowing or money problems. But I am so grateful right now to be thirty-five almost thirty-six and not to be dopey and young anymore. To my twenty-something sisters out there, it will get better. I promise. Find some feathers. See the hope in them. Go on in your lives.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries