Ceaselessly into the Future
“I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.”–Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby
Context is always important.
I’m turning 30 on Sunday. This has not worried, plagued, or stressed me out yet, but all year I’ve been aware of it. Aware of it like a date for surgery, like the wedding of a close friend. It’s well-known that for American men there are only two important birthdays…16 and 21. Though, of course, with the increase in baby-step driver’s license protocol spreading through the states, it’s more likely in this second decade of the 21st century that you’ll have a blowout boozer birthday before you get your full driver’s license. Which kind of eviscerates both the traditional 16th and 21st birthdays. What these milestones actually mark is the jubilation of being able to legally get away with what you’ve been doing for quite some time.
After that it’s 30 and 40, far less ebullient birthdays, and marked only because they are round multiples of ten that mean to stop fucking around. Hopefully by 30 you’re not driving like you were when you were 16 and by 40 you’re not drinking like you were when you were 21.
On a personal level, turning thirty has never been about being considered old, especially when 90% of the people I interact with on a daily basis would kill to be 40 again, and those who are young, senseless, and find it humorous that I’m turning 30 have severely crippling emotional problems and love to quote the same movies I did ten years ago. (That doesn’t say as much for me as it does for how crappy the past decade has been for young men with no one to look to as a quotable action hero.) For me it’s been about getting serious and manipulating my own life instead of being manipulated by external influences. My entire life up until I was about 25 was spent following guidelines, taking generic advice, blindly trusting systems, and assuming that things would work out as long as I latched on to other strong personalities.
After a certain hurricane and realizing that certain friends of mine weren’t big on taking chances, I started to buy up shares in my own stock, seeking to become, for once, a controlling partner. I didn’t like the shape I was in, I didn’t like my job, I didn’t like my city, and I didn’t like my social life. It was time to take matters into my own hands with the hopes that, by thirty, I’d be on my way towards a real life. It was never about a deadline, really, so much as a preparation for launch. I knew I was so far in the hole that I’d need to pull myself out of it first before I could even think about being able to move forward. It was never about being set at thirty–it was about being primed.
To that end I stopped eating crap, started working out, gave up on my home state for New Orleans, and found (though on accident) a job that gave me confidence, education, and a wide range of contacts all at the same time. I’m not buff, I’m not rich, and I’m not the toast of the town, but I’m a hell of a lot more of a man and in demand than I was five years ago.
So for me the semi-famous “a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm” passage from The Great Gatsby has transformed for me from elegant to inaccurate. I’m convinced the next decade will be portentous and set the stage for the rest of my life, but by no means menaced by it. What we should consider, always, is context. Carraway’s little indulgence in his age is balanced by the fact that he has forgotten it was even his birthday. He’s been so wrapped up in Gatsby and Daisy’s over-flowery summer romance and the drama of their lives that he’s forgotten his own goals. And on the back end, Nick has a distraction, a woman:
“As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.”
You can take any moral you want. I chose to take the one that says life is too crowded to focus on years, ages, tolls, and the fineness of the print. I am going to be thirty–but only for a year. I’m focused on attaining more tangible and infallible descriptors than age.