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