Mental floss on a cold Tuesday night

There must be something in the water. It always ends up being the water. That has to be the reason why nearly every single person I know these days is either teetering on the edge of some earthshattering life moment (birthing cathartis like watermelons shooting out of a garden hose), or deep in the cups of “but, what will I DO with my life?” Welcome to the gloriously dirty thirties.

[A caveat: I’m going to talk about the state of being a certain age, and some of the luggage that I, and/or some people I know have accumulated because of being that particular age. If you could give a flying Swedish karate kick about any of this, feel free to head off and try to find something more exciting to read.

Really, it’s okay.] 

Sure, many of my friends aren’t quite in their 30’s, and some, like I, have already flopped past 30 and are screaming towards 40. But they’re almost there, or still watching it receed in the rear-view mirror, and that’s what counts. Something not completely expected happened after we came wheeeeeee! - zipping down the fireman’s pole of our mid-twenties, and it’s digging into our backs like we’re backing into a gigantic knitting needle. Call it… the ghost of our grade two expectation.

image of JacqueI don’t know about you, but when I was in grade two, my life at thirty was a far off, completely unimaginable fantasy. I was obsessed with Jacque Cousteau and wanted to be a marine biologist, so I could gargle up some salty French curses while barrelling down the nape of a gigantic wave in the Indian Ocean. Or be like the man my parents named me after (Neil Armstrong: long story), and go into astronomy and space exploration, if only so I could get my face on the front cover of the Winnipeg Tribune. Or be the Chinese Glenn Gould! The list goes on and on.

Of course, one’s expectation of their life at seven years old is never fully reconcilable with who they end up becoming. That is, unless your parents were the live-vicariously-through-their-children types and forced you to do that one thing they never got to do - ballet, hockey, horseshoes, curling, figure skating, violin, butchery… over and over and over again so that they could have the satisfaction of seeing you succeed where they failed, and that’s what you’re doing to this day. But that’s a whole completely different trajectory and not in the scope of this rambling post.

Still, if the me-now went back and told the me-then that I’d be a Web designer-type guy, neither of us would have believed it. (Ignoring for a moment that the closest thing we had to home computers in 1977 were IIs and TRS-80s). I think that’s the sharpened stick many of my friends are finding themselves inadvertently backing into: The realization that, while 30 doesn’t mean a rat’s ass in the whole undulating wave that is our lives, it’s still a significant signpost that many of us consciously (or not so consciously) pegged as the finish line: “I’m gonna be that when I’m thirty! But that’ll never come because that’s SO OLD.

Comparing that ideal to where they are right at that moment is where the moment potentially gets uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but somehow everything I’ve accomplished in my short life could never live up to my dreams as a kid. I sure didn’t end up being a high-wire walking, piano-playing, aqualung-wearing, pop-hit-writing brain surgeon.

People deal with this seemingly seismic event differently. Some act as if the moment didn’t happen at all and burrow deeper into their present lifestyle. It’s as if they’re still 23, except the hangovers last a little bit longer in the morning, and they sure start looking funny hanging out at the old punk rock club, now filled with, well, 23-year-olds. Others run off and get married and retreat to the suburbs and live the great Norman Rockwell dream. And for some, turning thirty is gigantic, extistential heartburn, which is the experience most of my friends are going through. Well, or some combination of the three, with more pathos or weirdness thrown in for seasoning. But I still love ‘em to bits, anyway.

I don’t know what the purpose of this post was, but I’ve been thinking about change, and about who we are and what we’ve become a lot these days. And even though I never ended up discovering a new breed of mullosk, or went over Niagara Falls in a flaming barrel, or played Glastonbury as a hugely successful rock-type guy, or saved the life of someone who went on to cure Aids and stuttering and menstrual cramps… I look around at everything that I have, and the beautiful friendships I’ve made, and the hard decisions I’ve made, and the people I’ve said goodbye to too early and too soon, and the cats quietly sleeping together on the couch, and it’s all okay. We’re all going to turn out just fine.

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