Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini the entire time I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four. – Nora Ephron
My friend Peter wrote a wonderful essay for CINEASTE magazine about Richard Linklater’s film Me and Orson Welles (it’s really good – check it out, here). He opens with a scene from another Linklater film, Before Sunset, in which Julie Delpy’s character is speaking to Ethan Hawke:
“I was having this awful nightmare that I was thirty-two. And then I woke up and I was twenty-three, so relieved. And then I woke up for real and I was thirty-two.”
It got me thinking about that twilight period in our very early twenties when we’re no longer children and not quite grown up, but life seems so full of possibility and the belief that things will be so much easier now that the drama of youth is over – only we haven’t yet realized that being an adult is just like high school with the added bonus of having to prepare our own taxes.
Now I don’t want to say that a decade later I’ve lost all that Auntie Mame-ish “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death” passion, but I think I’m a bit more pragmatic. (I hope pragmatic isn’t a nice way of saying jaded.)
But I do sometimes wonder what 20-year-old me would think if she could jump in Doc Brown’s Deloreon and crank it to 2011.
On the one hand, I think she (aka me in this weird third-person hypothetical) might be a bit disappointed – wasn’t I supposed to meet the man I’d marry in college and have a few Greenwich Village babies by now? Wasn’t I supposed to be writing novels, which began as short stories in The New Yorker, that I would now be adapting into screenplays?
At twenty, that all seemed completely reasonable and, with hard work, attainable.
Although younger me might have expected the path to go differently, I don’t think that I would totally embarrass her in the way adolescents are mortified by all they consider uncool. But I know she’d be totally pissed to learn that things don’t get simpler the further you move away from adolescence.
Look, I could easily sit down and write a list of everything I wish I could have accomplished over the last decade and hadn’t and throw quite the pity party. But I could tear out another piece of paper and make a list of all the things I have done, and realize I am pretty damn lucky. The New Yorker isn’t on that list, but I’m a working writer, and I have a life filled with some pretty incredible people. People I can call up at 4 a.m. if need be.
Life, people, humanity – it can be pretty disappointing sometimes. But it can also be awesome.
So, when you wake up and you’re thirty-two or forty-two, or maybe a relieved twenty-three, I guess it’s all really a matter of which list you choose to write. Which list you choose to live by.
Which one do you choose?