aqua fortis

Monday, January 19, 2009


As I get closer to the 32 mark--a little over two months away--I've started thinking a little about what it's been like, being "in my thirties." (Actually, to be entirely truthful, this was more of an in-the-shower kind of musing than a profound and repetitive pondering.) It's something that seemed so far away for most of my life. Even when I was in my twenties, thirty sounded pretty old.

But there have been some pluses to being over thirty. Although I'm still sort of baffled whenever I get carded for buying alcohol--and this still happens more often than not--I DO find it incredibly amusing to see the look on people's faces after I whip out my ID and they look at my actual birthdate. Yes, that is a 7, as in the 1970s. Yes, I played with an Atari as a child, and not one of them fancy 2600 models, either. I played a text-based game called Zork on the Commodore 64 and distinctly recall wanting to throw it out the window. Yes, I remember who Oliver North is. I am Old Skool.

As I get a little further into my thirties, though, I'm also noticing a distinct feeling of...let's call it an underachievement complex. I wonder if this is something that affects people who were overachievers when they were younger. There are days when I feel like I'm wallowing in lost potential. I'm more likely, of course, to have one of those days if my dad happens to call to tell me So-and-So is going back to school to get a second master's degree (that actually happened--So-and-So, in this case, is already a medical doctor and is exactly my age). I know my dad does it to get my goat.

And believe me, my goat is well and truly gotten. I probably could have arrived there without his help. After all, I'm notoriously good at comparing myself unfavorably to other people. And it seems very easy for me to list all the accomplishments I've failed to check off, rather than the things I have done. The latter seem truly trivial; the former, staggering. I know it's a lost cause, a pointless mental quagmire, but I can't help it. I don't even feel like I've accomplished many of my personal life goals, but then those always seem to change in the face of reality.

Here's the thing, though: I don't think I truly regret anything I spent my time on, getting to this point. Sure, there are a few minor "whoops, shouldn't have done thats," but it seemed right to spend a year at art school, just as it seemed right to decide that I should work for a while afterward before deciding whether to return.

Yet I still have mixed feelings about where I am now. And I don't feel like I should be having mixed feelings. Which is the other thing I'm noticing about my thirties: I'm still too young to even take myself seriously, evidently, but I'm too old to be cool, too old to be a prodigy or a young overachiever, and too old to pretend I can go back to change anything.


One thing I can change, though, is my woefully imperfect novel manuscript, which I swear I am now about to continue doing.


Chris Cope said...

I know the feeling. Of my closest friends, only one has a master's degree. The rest have Ph.D.s or MDs. And I am only now earning a bachelor's. But thankfully I was never an overachiever when younger.

DaviMack said...

You must waste potential if you're to succeed at anything. I had / have the potential to be a concert violinist ... but don't have the time. My dad's always telling me I could have been a medical doctor ... but I just don't have the inclination.

Really - waste that potential by dedicating it to something else & you're good.

Happy 30's, by the by. ;)

Simon Dyda said...

I'm in the same situation and I'm 36. 'You are as old as you feel' they say, in which case I'm a rather weary 26. I don't get asked for my ID, I'm sad to say, although I'd be prepared to tip heavily any shopkeepers willing to do so.

a. fortis said...

I think being an overachiever is a real problem. You also never want to feel like your greatest achievements are behind you. But the cynic and pessimist in me like to whisper evil nothings in my ear on a regular basis...

Sometimes I feel like I'm too fickle to properly dedicate myself. I can't just be happy doing ONE thing and focusing on it enough to get somewhere.

I'm as old as I feel, eh? Hmm...that's actually a tough one. When I was younger, I felt a lot older. At times I feel very much my age, but at other times I still feel as lost, as searching, as I did in my teens and early 20s. I guess that's why I gravitate towards writing for a young adult audience.

Rohan said...

I believe it's the writer's lot to feel anxiety about whether or not we're realizing our full potential. Writing and publishing are so subjective, and there's the constant self-doubt. That's where our faith comes in. Every day without fail, at some point, I ask God/the universe to help and guide me, to show me the way. Am I making the best use of my life and potential? And every night I go to bed and think, well, I'm still a writer, not nearly as talented or successful as I'd like to be, but still here nonetheless, clacking away on my keyboard, and I tell myself: well, then, that's my answer, isn't it? I'm still a writer. And on and on it goes. Sure I could have taken so many other paths in life, and I could have "accomplished" so much, but I wouldn't have been doing what I was put here to do: write.
I just take it day by day and try not to stress about it all too much ...

DaviMack said...

You know ... that's the hard one, isn't it? Focusing on one thing. But you kind of have to cut things loose, if you're ever going to succeed. It's kind of like the idea of multi-tasking: it doesn't really work, because you spend too much time in transition between one thing and another.

Imagine those Chinese plate spinners. You know, the people who keep a dozen plates spinning on top of these poles? They're constantly running around between the poles, keeping things spinning, and it takes all of their time to just keep them going.

For me, do I knit any more? Do I bake, really? About the only thing other than school/work I do is take pictures, and that's usually in the odd moment in going somewhere. I don't really write emails, nor blog posts, nor anything else: it's all been pared down.

I'm not suggesting that's very balanced nor normal, but it's a way to get that focus.

Bridget Zinn said...

Great post. I love writing and wouldn't want to do anything else, but I do sometimes wonder why I've chosen a field where you work so hard and the results are SO SLOW.

a. fortis said...

Thanks, Bridget! I agree about writing--it's a long, slow slog. Unless, of course, you get lucky, I guess!