Zerosomethings are adorable: angst-free, energetic, usually related to me. They will grab onto one my legs to get a free ride, and I will always give it to them.
Some people tell me how much they hate zerosomethings. I cannot relate to these people. I want to have zerosomethings of my own one day. Some people tell me how exhausting having zerosomethings can be. I believe these people but want zerosomethings anyway. I will teach mine stupid tricks, like running headfirst into doors. I will teach them how to swear. I will read them Finnegans Wake instead of nursery rhymes. This will make them want to practice piano, so I won’t ever have to worry about forcing them to do anything they don’t want to do just because it’s good for them. I am not emotionally prepared for parenthood.
Tensomethings are the worst. Being a tensomething I think was sort of like being Batman. Every time something made me realize that life sometimes is unfun the world would get dark, and I would get dark, a caped crusader against the world’s injustices. I never actually wore a cape because I thought it would make me look dorky. I was right; but what I didn’t realize was that the purpose of being a tensomething is just to generate stories for when you’re a proper adult. Tensomething is too young to worry about your peers. They are stupid and short and they can’t act, so even Hollywood doesn’t glamorize them.
What I hate about tensomethings is that they’ll hit on something good and briefly turn into beacons of light but they don’t even know it. Or they know but they don’t care. Tensomethings are always on the cusp of good things. The fuckers make you hope for them. Then they always turn you down.
If a tensomething says something half-wise, it’s hard to argue about them with it because they’re just bright enough to know the importance of their half that is wise. This becomes their justification for great stupidity. You want to blow them off but then they say the right thing again and you remember that you’re not one to judge other people for saying stupid things.
But the absolute worst part is the sadness. Tensomethings have every right to be sad because their lives are bad in every way that does not involve actual trauma. (And sometimes they have actual trauma to boot.) But their sadness is boring. They repeat their sadness every five minutes of every hour of every day of every week. They have a lot of sadness. It’s just hard to care about their sadness for that long. Then when you stop caring, you are one of the bad things about their life. It is hard to be a good person if you know tensomethings. I recommend skipping them entirely unless you enjoy guilt and self-hate. They were made for each other.
Tensomethings that hit on you are hilarious, though. Unless they start meaning their advances seriously. Then they turn annoying, or sometimes scary. The older ones who know exactly what age and in which states they turn legal are the worst (there are a lot of worsts about tensomethings) because they are studious and bright and clever and it is so easy to tell yourself that this makes them responsible. But they are not old enough to be responsible. They don’t know how much you would hurt them. You do, and you can try telling them, but they wouldn’t get it. Stick to people who know how to get hurt responsibly.
Twentysomethings are me now. I am twenty. Twentysomethings are almost the worst. Sometimes I feel that knowing I am almost the worst makes me better, but feeling that way is exactly why I am almost the worst.
The thing about twentysomethings is that sometimes we’re almost justified in our cockiness. Sometimes we’re almost as good as we think we are. Sometimes we are God. Many insufferable twentysomethings do incredible things despite a concentrated effort to be intolerable. I’d like to write myself and my peers off, but I’d be missing out on some great stuff.
I feel like the right approach to handling twentysomethings is to go along with them when it feels good, but to shut them off whenever you’d rather have some you time. Twentysomethings are all about them time. When as a twentysomething I have some me time I can’t help but let other people know about my me time. Sometimes I go all the way and conclude that other people are actually just me, but that’s kind of absurd.
I definitely worry that my recent discovery of how wonderful and amazing other people are is somehow just a discovery of how wonderful and amazing I think I am. I hope that it’s possible to both be obsessed with yourself and with other people, but sometimes it feels like I’m really only into myself. I tell other people that I’m trying hard to appreciate them. Then I tell them that I’m aware of how telling them this makes it about myself again.
Twentysomethings are so cool. We flaunt our coolness. We are capable of making the dumbest things cool. I think we’re actually deliberately trying to find new dumb things to turn cool. I wonder if we’d still do this if our culture wasn’t constantly telling us how cool we are. Maybe we’d do it but it would be less irritating. Maybe we’d do something responsible and quiet. I doubt it.
We miss the point, though. Every damn time. We do the right things for the wrong reasons. We are empty. Good with surfaces, bad with the insides. Simple and convinced that simple is good. Which is almost right, but not quite.
The cycle I go through with twentysomethings is this. First I love how colorful and loud they are. They make me feel good about being colorful and loud. But then I get tired of colorful loudness, and I start being quiet and muted instead. I tell myself that quiet and muted is the right way to be. Then a loud and colorful twentysomething will do something really neat, and I’ll envy them for a little while. Then I’ll feel dumb about envying and join in their loudness and their color. I have been a twentysomething for seven months and already this has happened at least fifty times. I think that either I’ll find an equilibrium or else I’ll just oscillate faster and faster, until finally I am ripped into bloody stitches.
Maybe that’s how I’ll get older. Maybe all I am right now is a cocoon and the real me is inside, ready to rip the me now apart. Maybe the reason I feel that we are so strong and so empty is that we really are just a shell, and there’s something better that’s just waiting for the right time. Maybe I won’t have to wait ten years for that to happen.
If you’re not a twentysomething (or even if you are) you’re probably reading this and irritably shaking your head. To you I say: Help me. Help me be better. To me you say: Stop talking, then. Stop going on about yourself for just a moment. But I have to say back: I can’t. I don’t know yet when it will get good. Maybe it’s this. Maybe the next thing. You’ve got to let me be the wrong thing. I am so sorry. I wish it could be another way.
I hope that when I stop being twentysomething I’m still okay with taking advantage of this bracket. I don’t want to start feeling sympathy, or pity. Twentysomethings I feel are the ones that ought to be abused.
Thirtysomethings right now are my favorite. I hope that when I’m a thirtysomething I’m as good at it as the thirtysomethings I know now. I get jealous of them sometimes. They do it so well.
Being thirtysomething means you’re finally starting to get a hang of things. You’re not so old that you never goof up, and maybe you still don’t know exactly who you are, but you’re starting to see the patterns and you’re starting to see yourself in them. It’s a nice blend of mischief and wisdom.
Probably it’s just that they’ve been here already, but I’m still amazed at how thirtysomethings know the answers to all my questions. I take the odd swing at my problems but thirtysomethings just knock them out of the park. I want thirtysomethings to write more books about how I ought to be doing things. I trust their take. I’m lazy. I don’t entirely know what sorts of new problems they have, or if there ever really are any new problems, but I wish they’d talk more about mine. Me me me.
When thirtysomethings get nostalgic about things they actually have a right to call it nostalgia. The things I’m nostalgic for are basically still around. The things they’re nostalgic for are dead or dying. If they don’t make an effort to preserve the things they love, there’s a definite risk of them being gone forever. Or at least relatively gone. Gone enough.
I hope that forgiveness and compassion are traits you get when you’re a thirtysomething, and not just traits of the present wave of thirtysomethings, because they’ve got more of it than we do and I’d hate to think we’ll never get that ourselves. Maybe the present twentysomethings will just never be nice people. Maybe the present thirtysomethings are just the best.
Fill me in, thirtysomethings. This is where I can’t speak honestly. I’m bullshitting even more here than when I was writing about myself.
Look, I just don’t get fortysomethings. They all seem either defeated and bitter, or proud about things that I just don’t value at all. I don’t know if the problem is me or them, and I suspect it’s me, but I’m going to blame them because that’s how it looks over here.
It’s not just that they’re old. There’s something else. Maybe it’s that they’re not old enough. They haven’t found that grace or serenity yet. Probably they’re scared. I bet I’ll be scared when I’m a fortysomething. Off the top of my head I don’t know what fortysomethings have ever accomplished. There’s Young accomplishment, which is vital and urgent, and there’s Old accomplishment, which is meditative and discerning, but I don’t know what’s right in between. Maybe you can do both at once. Maybe for a little while you can’t do either. I should research fortysomething accomplishments, but somehow that feels less honest than just making things up about them. It’s not like they care what I think. If anything I’m doing them a favor by giving them a reason to dismiss my generation. I don’t mind being dismissed. I pretty much deserve it.
Let’s say that fiftysomethings are pretty awesome. They are at peace with their multitudes. They have such a reserve of unspoken wisdom and knowledge that even the stupider among us young ones don’t even bother messing with them. We gather at their feet and they tell us things so wise that they make us feel like we are wise too.
James Joyce was a fiftysomething when he wrote Finnegans Wake. Ever since I read Finnegans Wake as a tensomething I’ve been in awe of that entire decade of existence. If I understand Finnegans Wake as a fiftysomething maybe it will bring me that serenity. If I find out that Finnegans Wake is unnecessary fingertwiddling maybe that’s what will bring me that serenity instead. I’ll pretend to figure out the answer before then, but I don’t consider any of my opinions to be right until I’m fiftysomething. You can’t rush it.
I don’t think I know any sixtysomethings so I’ll just assume this is the decade of fucking. This is where you finally get it all out of your system. Maybe one day when you’re sixtysomething you come and the thing that’s been making jizz inside you this whole time finally comes out, like a splinter you’ve been pushing and itching your whole life. Then your dick seals up like your urethra was just a longstanding wound, and you never even have to pee again, except for when you want to. Maybe the secret of the sixtysomethings is that they pee so much because it still feels really good and now you can do it all the time. I think that would be a great thing to find out.
I love every single seventysomething I know. They’re so playful. They seem to really enjoy themselves. Even when they complain I suspect that they really just enjoy complaining. Because who doesn’t enjoy complaining? I would complain a lot more if I was able to make my complaining fun. And seventysomethings are so good at complaining. I love hearing seventysomethings complain about their bodies. Not in a mean way; they’ve got legitimate reasons to complain that I don’t want to belittle. But by the time you’re seventysomething I imagine you’ve got a lot of practice making your gripes enjoyable. I certainly don’t mind listening to their gripes. Even their gripes are playful.
I don’t have a whole lot of concrete experience with eightysomethings and above, but what I feel from them is joy. Simple joy, quiet joy. When I think of eightysomethings the mental image is of a large, radiant smile, wrinkled and soft. A smile that’s had a lot of practice being a smile.
I know there are bitter eightysomethings, too, the grumps, but I feel like their grumps always revolve around how the past was rather than how the present is. Some of them surely have more than enough reason to be sad. Some people just have lived sad lives. But sometimes I feel it’s like one night fifty-three years ago their favorite band got rained out and since then they’ve just been reliving the disappointment they felt that Saturday night, lingering on how that made them feel. Some grumps just enjoy being grumps.
There’s a difference between being grumpy and being sad. Grumpy isn’t even necessarily unhappy, I don’t think. It’s just a sort of happiness that makes you frown and narrow your eyes.
But the joyful ones, the smiling ones, they’re the eightysomethings that make me think. What if their happiness is the same simple sort that you have when you’re a zerosomething? What if that’s the real wordless happiness? And all the decades in between, if you’re not lingering on what it was like to be young, you’re just trying to undo all the damage of your ten-and-twentysomething years? You’re just doing away with the Batman darkness of the world that you picked up in the decade that life really was as bad as all that?
Probably this is as stupid and wrong a theory as theories come, but that’s the point to being a twentysomething, after all. This is the decade that I say dumb things until I get tired of sounding dumb. And sometimes I’ll accidentally get lucky and something dumb that I say will actually be brilliant, but it was all just a series of lucky mistakes on my part. And it’s not like I know which parts are brilliant and which parts are stupid. I’m guessing at that too.
Anyway, I like my theory even if it’s shortsighted and wrong. Because my theory lets me make believe that sometimes eightysomethings will grab onto my leg and ask me to give them a ride. And I would give it to them, too. Always. Every time. I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy more than giving a ride to a leg-clinging eightysomething. In this moment I can’t imagine anybody ever wanting anything else.