Earlier this year, back when I was still 29, I chatted with my editor in the office about ways to encourage a new writer who had a lot of potential, and who also happened to be 29.
My editor, forty years older, squinted at me as if what I was saying didn’t quite make sense. Then he began to sing.
“You are sixteen, going on seventeen…”
I guess if you want to measure the value of a person’s professional perspective by her age, breaking into a song from a 1965 movie musical is as good a way as any.
Still, it was one of the more surreal moments of my burgeoning career.
As I returned silently to my desk, I realized that my own age-related impasse wasn’t nearly as bad as my boss’s. Nobody likes seeing her advice die in someone else’s mental wastebasket because of her age, especially when offering that advice was part of the original job description. But I solved that problem as soon as I left that job.
On the other hand, my former editor seems to be in a pickle that’s much worse. Does he watch the field of viable ideas shrink every year, as the world spawns more and more upstart writers who are younger than he is?
I have a good friend who’s about to turn 60, and she explained her personal rule to me. Women don’t have to hide their age from everyone: just the people who look younger than they are.
I thought about it yesterday while I wrote some articles, took a walk, cooked a chicken dinner, did the dishes and brushed my teeth. All the ordinary things. But it was my last day in my twenties. Would everything feel different tomorrow? Would I have something to hide from my twenty-something colleagues?
A middle-aged woman spoke to me yesterday on the train platform as I was writing an e-mail to my brother on my smartphone. She asked me if I thought she should get one, or if it was ok to keep the older cell phone she already has, which she uses to text her kids.
“Nobody has ever seen so much change in the world as we have,” she said. Is she right?
My ninety-two year-old Aunt Doreen, who died a few years ago, waited for her brothers’ letters while they fought in WWII. At the end of her life, when she was too weak to go to church, all she had to do was ride her scooter into the dining room for a live-streamed cathedral service. She watched nature documentaries on my iPad, which she called “that magic box of yours.”
With just thirty years to my name, I’ve watched a Blockbuster full of thick, rattling VHS tapes disappear into a flat black six-inch box that sits under my TV. Twenty years ago, parents were the telephone gatekeepers who shouted my friends’ names into the house while I waited, twisting the cord around my finger. Now 461 friends ride in my pocket. And the cargo pants that puddled around our sneakers in the late nineties give way, naturally, to denim Saran-wrap.
Riding in the car recently with my fifteen-year-old cousin, I tried to gauge just how old I really am.
“Do you like listening to Bush or Beck or the Red Hot Chili Peppers?” I asked.
“Who are they?” she answered.
So it’s official. I’m older than the Grand Canyon—the geologists’ one, not the Creationists’. On the other hand, how old does that make my 53-year-old mother?
And why bother thinking about it?
In the last few years, my friendships with people ten, twenty, thirty or forty years older than I am have been the best possible antidote to any anxiety about turning thirty. We mentor each other: they share decades of experience negotiating contracts and I teach them how to start a blog. They’ve seen divorce and death, failure and success and typewriters; they’ve mourned their parents and held their grandchildren; they worked in the office back before sexual harassment was a thing. And we snorted over our sushi as I told them about my singing boss.
To celebrate thirty years, I went out for lunch with five other women. The youngest, in painted-on jeans and pointy yellow flats, talked about the camping trip she’ll take this weekend; the oldest is recovering from cataract surgery and loves babysitting her grandchildren. There were forty years between them.
Over crepes with chevre and honeyed walnuts, the middle-aged woman across the table handed me a soft gold-wrapped package; my sixty-year-old pal on the right insisted on squeezing it to see if she could guess what it was.
It’s a tea towel that says, “Laissez les bons temps roulez!”
Now you can catch the HuffPost Live chat that was inspired by this essay.
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