Thursday, December 31, 2009

Y2K to WTF: Ten Years of Twenties

I was going to make a list.

One of those wrapping up the decade kind of lists. Not Best Movies or Best Albums or any of those ubiquitous lists that are done better and more thoroughly by Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. No, at first I thought I'd maybe do a funny, kind of irreverent list, like my Jersey Shore/Christmas Gift post (Celebrities of the Aughts Who Most Resemble Potatoes? ...ahem, Mickey Rourke... Top Ten Now-Deceased Paris Hilton Pets?). Then I thought maybe I should do something relevant to the blog: Curmudgeons of the Decade! But that didn't really inspire me; it would've ended up just being a list of assholes ranging from the despicable (Dick Cheney) to the lovable (Barney Frank) to the sociopathic (Dr. House).

I was telling this to Jeff, reclining after a rib-sticking supper of potato leek soup, when he suggested I scrap the list idea. "Write about your decade," he said. "Your twenties." It was so obvious but so perfect. Of course. My twenties.

I was born in 1980, which means that the decades of my life are neatly packaged within actual decades. My childhood was the entirety of the 80s; my pre-teen and teenage years began and ended with the 90s. I turned 20 in April of the year 2000, and in fewer than four months I will turn 30. So my twenties and the 00s or the aughts or whatever these past ten years have been (this week's New Yorker has a fun little summation) perfectly parallel. This calls for some motherfucking reflection! Warning: this may be a pretty long post.

Before I get to my twenties I feel I should revisit the night, ten years ago today, when I watched the clock tick down to Y2K. Even writing Y2K is so 90s. It makes me think of people stockpiling flashlights and worrying that their giant iMacs would explode at midnight. But we did think that, didn't we? I spent New Year's Eve of 1999 at the upstate New York home of my friend Charlie's parents. They weren't there, and Charlie, our friend Greg and I had the house to ourselves. It was just the three of us, in a retirement community in Wappinger's Falls, with two spastic dogs, some crappy booze, and a bag of weed. It felt, fittingly, sort of post-apocalyptic.

We got stoned and just sort of sat around the living room, if I remember correctly, until about ten minutes to midnight when the paranoia kicked in. "Dude," Greg mused from his prone position on the floor. "What if the world does end?" Note to my future children: If there is even the slightest chance of the world ending in fire and brimstone, you do not want to be high for the countdown. It will freak you the fuck out, and while other people are blowing into noisemakers and popping champagne you will be frantically attempting to stuff yourself into a cabinet under the kitchen sink, which takes flexibility and dexterity under any circumstance but especially when carrying a plastic handle of vodka.

Luckily, the world did not end. Those flashlights and bomb shelters went unused, and everybody's giant iMacs still worked on January 1, 2000. I have no recollection of New Year's Day, as I assume I was rather massively hungover.

To recap my twenties, I'm going to start at the end, i.e. now. Back in September I was asked by a wonderful upstart theater company called Effable Arts to write a letter to twentysomethings that would be read aloud as a performance piece. I was supposed to channel all of my hard-earned wisdom into one page of writing. Here is what I submitted:

When I was 22, a 28 year-old friend of mine sat me down and gave it to me straight. “The next four to five years are going to suck,” she said. “But then it gets awesome.” I smiled and nodded and truly believed that life would not suck for me, because I was starry-eyed and ambitious and different, and she was fucking old anyway, so what did she know? She was right, of course. Being 22 through 27 just kind of blows. It’s not a constant state of blowing, though—it’s like a fine wine; the blow ripens over time until you get a nice, full-bodied suck. Here are ten tips to making it to the finish line without losing faith, prostituting yourself, or projectile vomiting:

1. If you are a woman living with a group of men, do not believe them when they say that one of the house rules is “If one roommate takes their shirt off, everyone has to.

2. Don’t worry about saving money right now. If you can pay your rent and feed yourself, you are fine. Suze Orman can go fuck herself and you can tell her I said so.

3. Your liver is too good for any liquor that comes in a plastic bottle.

4. If any of your friends have a lot of money, whether from a trust fund or a high-paying job, avoid them for the duration of this decade. Otherwise you will find yourself making $25,000 a year and eating cereal for dinner and hating their guts for inviting you to their birthday party at a bottle-service-only club that necessitates both an outfit and a cab you can't afford.

5. You haven’t lived very long and you don’t know very much. That’s not an insult; it’s the truth. Remember it, and it will take you far.

6. This makes me sound super old (which I am—right when your twenties stop sucking you get to a new stage which should be called Oh Christ I Am So Ancient That Naturalizer Shoes are Looking Kind of Comfortable and I Don’t Recognize Anyone on the Cover of Us Weekly Anymore. But I digress.) Anyway, at the risk of sounding like the Crypt Keeper, any photos of you drinking, smoking pot, or posing provocatively in your underwear do not belong on the Internet. Under any circumstances. (Obviously, mentions of you doing the above on your ridiculously oversharing blog are fine provided that you stress that these brief episodes of poor judgment are firmly in the past.)

7. We live in a society obsessed with youth, so it will seem like all you hear about on the news is some wunderkind who has hit it big at 23. Try to remember that these people are freaks of nature. Finding fantastic success in your twenties is highly unlikely. Colonel Sanders didn’t start KFC until he was in his sixties! Doesn’t that make you feel better?

8. Forgive yourself often. This is the decade for fuck-ups of all varieties. And they can pay off: I got fired from a job when I was 25 and working in documentary film, which is what I thought I wanted to do since that’s what I majored in (and addendum to this tip is that your college major has absolutely no relation to anything, unless it was in something like neuroscience). If I hadn’t lost that job, who knows if or when I would have started writing.

9. Do something you love doing, even if you do it after work and on weekends for no pay. It will sustain you through the shitty cubicle and/or table-waiting years.

10. Watch Reality Bites. A lot. No better twentysomething angst movie exists. But resist the urge to get your hair cut in a shag pixie like Winona’s—that doesn’t work on everyone. Trust me, I have pictures.


Obviously I do not have it all figured out as I write this. I'm sure that if you are over thirty (and certainly if you're over 40) you are shaking your head and kind of wanting to throttle me and cackling "Just you wait, princess. After the next ten years you will be begging for a Winona shag and some Dubra vodka. Begging." But I will say that I cannot imagine having another decade as schizophrenic as my twenties. Unless you have a particularly rough childhood, your twenties are your birth into the real world, by which I mean a world that doesn't involve trading "points" for meals or having a third party pay for your cell phone. They are painful and joyful, exciting and despondent, infantile and terribly grown up-seeming, drunken and sobering. Since writing about all of the formative experiences I had from 2000-2009 would make this insanely long missive even insanely longer, I'll summarize them in the list form I swore at the beginning of this post I would shun. Dammit.

Formative experiences, 2000-20009
In general, but not exactly chronological, order

-Lost virginity
-Purchased pair of faux-snakeskin pants (possibly as a result of newfound libido)
-Cut own ill-advised bangs
-Participated in overly dramatic college dance concerts set to the music of the Kronos Quartet
-Fell in love for the first time
-Watched the Twin Towers fall on TV, seeing my hometown crumble before my eyes
-Got my heart broken for the first time
-Took first international trip unchaperoned
-Buried brick of hash in jar of Nutella, possibly carried it across international borders
-Attempted to bleach hair while drunk
-Forged David Arquette's signature on a Bulgarian visa application
-Subsisted for entire days on nothing but scones
-Acquired first credit card
-Ran up impossible, shoot-yourself-in-the-face amounts of debt on said credit card
-Got first full-time, non-receptionist job
-Joined Friendster
-Lost first full-time, non-receptionist job
-Began seeing first therapist
-Moved into first home not owned by parents
-Discovered temporary Craigslist roommate was parole-violating thief
-Wore overalls unironically
-Broke up with first therapist
-Joined Myspace
-Began dating future husband
-Broke up with future husband
-Started dating future husband again
-Started blogging
-Hired for job I was wildly unqualified for and that paid me more than I deserved
-Fired from said job for no reason other than that I kind of sucked at it... and was unqualified
-Got first and only Brazilian bikini wax
-Began seeing second therapist
-Rented and moved into first and only solo apartment with a dishwasher and washer/dryer combo that still makes me tear up when I think about it. It had the holy trifecta of New York real estate. I should have made Jeff move in. So what if it was only two rooms? We could have managed!
-Broke up with second therapist
-Learned my parents were separating after 30 years of marriage
-Took horrible work-related two-week road trip to Virginia during which I went into a dark place, watched a lot of Entourage, and sent Jeff nudie pics in the mail
-Began seeing third therapist
-Went on anti-anxiety medication
-Discovered websites like Gawker and Jezebel on the magical Internet
-Developed Internet-specific ADD
-Moved in with future husband
-Got first freelance writing gig followed by first magazine job
-Went from being office manager to managing editor
-Got engaged to future husband
-Planned wedding
-Married husband
-Joined this thing called Facebook even though at the time I thought I was too old
-Got out of a bad job and into a better one, but still make less money than I did at 25
-Broke up with third therapist
-Sprouted first gray hairs (and not just on my head, which is so, so wrong)
-Got first pair of glasses
-Started blogging for the Huffington Post, which quickly devolved into recapping Project Runway for the Huffington Post
-Started Tweeting, even to my own chagrin
-Vomited into two purses, but not at the same time

So basically I joined a lot of masturbatory social networking sites and made a few really bad hair calls, aside from loving and losing and growing and changing and marrying and writing.

It's so bizarre to that I used to be this person:

Passport photo taken just weeks after my 20th birthday, just before the trip to Germany that involved the hash-burying and hair bleaching and dancing in a micromini at a gay bar called the Sudhaus (not formative enough to make the list, but worth mentioning)

... and now I am this person:

Self-portait with nerd glasses and Banana republic silk shell. (Not pictured: Graying hair, sensible flats)

Of course we are the same person, but we seem worlds--not just a decade--apart.*

I can't wait to see what the next ten years have in store.**

*Also--it must be said--I look way better now. Which is comforting. In the first picture my eyebrows look like little sperm swimming towards a head-on collision.
** What age-inappropriate websites will I join? What therapies will I try? What new body parts will sprout hair? Will I finally succumb and buy some Naturalizers and a subscription to People? The world is my oyster!

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23 comments :

  1. Love this post. The most amazing thing is how different you look now than you did ten years ago. I actually posted a photo of myself from ten years ago on my blog today - sort of a weird coincidence - but mine is way more embarrassing.

    Yay for the next decade!

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  2. Personally, I think you should return to the original eyebrow look for your thirties, but that's just me.

    Thank you so, so much for this post. It's exactly what I needed after a sleepless night reviewing the decade that spanned my late teens and early twenties. I expected to be so much farther than where I am at this point, but after reading your list, I feel like I'm right on track.

    Happy new decade!

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  3. This post is epic, and it's nice to read this because we're so close in age. The fact that you relate being in your 20's to Reality Bites makes me think we need to hang out, because clearly we are meant to be friends (I know every word to that movie).

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  4. Thanks, guys, I'm so glad you liked it.

    Also, after reading Kari's (very similar) decade recap post I can't BELIEVE I forgot to mention George Bush winning the 2000 and 2004 elections and Obama being elected in my formative moments. GAWD I am so navel-gazing sometimes.

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  5. I'm a new reader but am refreshed by your admission that being your 20's sucks! Nobody tells us that beforehand! It's glamorized and played up to be a decade during which we'll have perfect bodies, rise in our careers, have lots of fun and no real responsibilities. Parts of that are true - but they always forget to tell us that it sucks too.

    Thanks for the reality check! And cheers to being in your 30's!

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  6. Happy 30th early! Thanks for sharing your twenties - relieved at no reference to Turkish prison.

    I too have a divisible-by-ten birthday. I think when it rolls around in March I'll reflect on my 40's. I can't believe how young 50 feels.

    BTW, dear hubby gave me my own grey sweats for Christmas! It turns out he was hiding his from me. I still like his worn-in ones better.

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  7. Anonymous3:53 PM

    I'm glad I'm not the only one to have relinquished their early/mid twenties to suckdom. At 22.5 years old I graduated college and got a full-time job within a month and a half. Now I read blogs (no offense--you're fabulous) and go to bed at 10pm. Oh and I don't go out on Thursday nights thanks to nbc. I hope my thirties come 7 years early. Good luck with yours!

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  8. I just submitted my application for a new passport and had the same experience of looking at a photo of myself 10 years ago versus me at (almost) 30. I think it finally hit me that 10 years really had passed, and that I too look better than I used to. :)

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  9. Love this post! Can I repost what you submitted to Effable Arts? It's pretty genius. I'll totally give you credit, of course

    ReplyDelete
  10. love the post, excellent one..valuable post and contents. I love this blog.My vote for you and I recommend my friends also to vote for you( Eousou, Jannis voting 4 u). Hopes that you will grace me with your precious Vote in all categories. Just copy this Voting links in your browser window to Vote,
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    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you so much Chloe, joyful, Anonymous, Suzanne, Nikki, and Collegegirl. The twenties were so valuable but I'm looking forward to less choppy waters ahead...

    And Nikki, sure you can repost!

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  12. thanks for this, una!! loved it.

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  13. This post was very inspirational. I'm nearing the halfway point of my twenties (also in April) and it's good to hear that I may actually catch a glimpse of the figurative "light at the end of the tunnel" in the near future. It's also great to be reminded that many of the things that seem to matter so much now are actually insignificant, and that certain other things that are hard to tolerate presently are just rights of passage. (I tend to simply denounce these formative events as "things that suck and that I'd rather not deal with anymore"). Thanks for the wisdom, hope and humor!

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  14. Anonymous7:14 PM

    Okay, it says way too much about me and being born in the 1960's that the thing I was most impressed and shocked by was that you made it into your twenties before losing your virginity.

    Bad and good news ahead. Looks really went downhill at the beginning and middle of the 40's decade, but did a turn about in the last few years as I developed a cool Susan Sontag/Bride of Frankenstein white streak. Gray hair looks better when it has fully committed itself to a pattern, rather than just scattering randomly.

    I kinda liked my 20's decade, but I was on delayed adolescence by being in grad school for most of it. It was facing reality in the 30's that sucked.

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  15. i absolutely adored this post! the twenties truly are a bit of a wasteland. if only i were irresponsible enough to really enjoy them!

    i have to say though, that cutting my own bangs and rocking overalls like it was nothin' could be all i needed to accomplish this decade. only two more years to find out...

    thanks una!

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  16. Is it just me, or do you look like a brunette Scarlet Johansson in that old passport picture?

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  17. What a great post! Happy year of the 30's to you. I will be celebrating my 30th in 2010, and things can only get better from here! :)

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  18. I think the passport pic looks a bit like Katy Perry (the singer)!

    As a person about to turn 25 this post was very timely and helpful to me - I am about to leave a job that pays well that I hate for either a job that pays terribly or graduate school. I don't see myself "having it together" for at least 5 more years - it's nice to know I'm not alone there.

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  19. I'm so glad this spoke to people, and yes it IS amazing that I kept my V-card until I was 20 (but remember the unibrow).

    And to Adrianna and Meg C., really, you are too kind. I had black hair back then, and waxy-pale skin, and my dad once told me I looked like Michael Jackson.

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  20. Oh WRONG! My 20's were amazing, every fucking minute of them! Sure, they sucked so to speak, but you have to compare them to your 30's. N-E-way, this is your best post, so "atta-boy".

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  21. Anonymous3:56 AM

    I stumbled across your blog a few days ago and have been back-reading through your posts during my free time. I feel the need to comment on this one, because it literally brought a tear to my eye. In such a poignant (and funny!) way, you have given some sense of hope to me. I am almost 26, and sure enough, live has completely blown. But the things you said are terribly right, and I appreciate you putting them into words for me to read. It brought things home, and for that I thank you.

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