And the countdown begins. I am now a mere thirty days away from turning thirty. It's your last chance to have sex with me while I'm in my twenties. Get it in while you can. It's my last chance to have sex with myself while I'm in my twenties. Getting it in while I can. It's not like the world is going to suddenly come crashing to a halt thirty days from now, or that I will wake up and discover gray hair (the first couple already appeared a couple months ago). It does not signal the end of youth, certainly will not signal the end of waking up too hungover and perhaps regretting things I did or said the night before.
It does, however, cast about in my mind not only various thoughts on aging, which are one thing, but also on mortality, which are a far more scary thing to contemplate. That this body and this mind will one day no longer be interacting with this often beautiful world really makes my stomach drop out from inside me on to the floor, makes me want to still have a close relationship with my mom for her to give me a hug or tell me otherwise, and for things to somehow last forever. They don't; they won't. Thirty days from now I'll hit a new milestone age-wise, a big signifier of a number, signifying that I should be an adult, should be headed down whatever adult road it is my career takes me down.
What bothers me when I give it too much thought is that I am not headed down that road, that rather I pulled over quite a while ago at some rest stop and have been tapping my foot at the bathroom stall next to me ever since. I don't know where time has gone and also do know, have it all here on record, this online diary project started ten years ago at the end of this month, a long document of my twenties. I will celebrate their end and the beginning of something else in Fire Island for a weekend with my boyfriend and a couple friends. I cannot wait.
And so maybe I am not this or maybe I am not that, not where I wanted to be necessarily when I hit this benchmark, but in other ways am where I wanted to be. I am living in New York Fucking City, which let me tell you, kids, isn't the easiest thing, and I have lasted. I have seen others burn out, fade away, end up having to move back to the sticks. And I am living in this city with a boyfriend that I love a great deal and who I stare at every morning as he is still sleeping before I head off to work, thinking how adorable he is. And maybe I am not going to make it with every brain cell that I should be making it with, but I will be making it nonetheless. There are friends I love. We are in the month of May and the weather is gorgeous. There are books to read that still have the ability to move me, to make me turn back the corners of pages, thinking how good particular passages are.
The book right now doing so is Sam Lipsyte's Home Land. I really wish someone would have pushed this book into my hands a few years ago when it was getting so much good press and I saw so many straphangers reading it. Or maybe I am glad no one did, that I instead encountered it at this particular moment in my life when I am approaching thirty and not feeling too successful and really eating up the musings and digressions of this book's slacker narrator. A couple of weeks ago, I read Lipsyte's "Deniers" in the New Yorker, which absolutely blew me away with how well-written and funny and brutal the story was and which made me seek out this book by him. The story is still online right now and I highly encourage you to read it you haven't and you are interested in good writing. I was hooked from the first paragraph:
"Trauma this, atrocity that, people ought to keep their traps shut,” Mandy’s father said. American traps tended to hang open. Pure crap poured out. What he and the others had gone through shouldn’t have a name, he told her friend Tovah, all those years later in the nursing home. People gave names to things so they could tell stories about them, goddam fairy tales about children who got out alive.
"American traps tended to hang open." What a line! Lipsyte throws off these brutal one-liners throughout his fiction, often said deadpan. If I had had a pen with me during my reading of Home Land, a good half of it would be starred; instead, a good half the pages now have their corners folded in, reminders to myself of really good lines or passages. Among them:
My father, he's still my deep commander which is odd because he'd tell you himself his life has been a sham, and not just the sneaking around, the nookie-hunts. All he'd ever wanted was to play his horn in a cool jazz quintet. He could wail, too, had been offered a spot with some West Coast white boys on the brink of glorious elevator music. My father demurred, begged off, wasted his shot. Yes, those jazzbos spiraled into smack hells of their own devising, but not before slapping down some landmark lite wax.
"Failure of nerve," my father had once said, the words hard, soothing candy in his mouth.
"That's a good phrase for it," I said.
"I didn't make it up."
"No, but it's still good. I usually just tell myself I'm a pussy."
"Me, too," said Daddy Miner.
I knew I was in the vicinity of a serious lesson, if not about how to live life, then at least how to put some poetry into your craven retreat from it.
I'm like most of the men in my family, I thought now, or think I thought then, mopping up egg yolk with toast crust, which I've read is a sign of bad breeding. We'll chance anything to destroy ourselves, but we're such chickenshits when it comes to happiness. (43-44)
This is such an amazing passage with real teeth to it. Yes, yes, yes, I said when I first read this, thinking how true it was, and thinking about my own life, about all the mistakes I have gleefully jumped into and how we (myself most certainly included) are such chickenshits when it comes to the matter of our own happiness.
Catamounts, I wish I could say that was the end of that, but I guess I was still dreaming of our future together, our basil, our mint. Maybe I was my mother's son, living in the fog of tomorrows, shutting my eyes for the retinal burn of snapshots never snapped. Why couldn't Gwendolyn just settle for me? Don't we all settle, Valley Cats? Haven't you all settled, weighed the trade-offs, shaved down your desires for what was there, what worked, what wasn't actively bent on your destruction? Resigned yourself to the ear hair, the nipple hair, the watery farts, the fat behind the knees? The shoes in the doorway, the dishes in the sink? Isn't that what love is all about? Don't the experts tell us so? Don't the people on the street corner concur? Don't we all settle, barter our fevers for a partner, a mutual fondler, a talking animal companion? Catamounts, why couldn't she settle for me? (116-117)
I took her in my arms and we rocked softly to the soft rock for a while. (117)
My God, Gwendolyn was right, I must have been insane. Part of me, anyway. The part I should have kept cuffed to the bedroom radiator, begging for another moldy crust of pumpernickel. (121)
I thumb down pages and I think yes, brilliant. I laugh for a moment before the moment and the feeling transition to something else, before the brutality hits and I think yes, brilliant, and then stew about my own life choices and the trajectory of my own narrative.