I’m familiar with 26.
I’ve had older friends throughout my life. They’ve all been 26 at one time or another. I remember, on the cusp of my twenties, when one of them would tell me their age.
26, I’d think, that’s like a year older than 25, and four years away from 30. They must feel so old.
It didn’t help that many of those friends hadn’t accomplished much by that age. By my metrics anyway. They had jobs, one even had a family (which, looking back, I know that he loves dearly, and they’re truly all that matters to him). But they hadn’t, like, done anything. They hadn’t traveled anywhere super interesting, they didn’t have a cool job, or a ton of money. They didn’t have a story about finding themselves in Bali or whatever the fuck destination guys in bars use to hook up these days.
They also weren’t cynical.
I felt like I’d accomplished a lot at that stage. I had a girlfriend that I loved, and who loved me. I had a job that made enough money to allow for a swollen savings account, a couple ten G’s I wasn’t really qualified to have. I didn’t have my own place, but that’s just cause I wasn’t, like, ready to move out, man. I needed to hang out at home because my family needed me around. I was the rock of the family. That’s what I told myself. So I was still a young twenty-something. I thought I had everything figured out and they didn’t.
Spoiler alert. Cliche alert. Disclaimer. I didn’t know shit.
A couple things happened since then. The girlfriend and I didn’t love each other as much as we thought we did. I left the safe, paying job for a startup that never started. I invested heavily in a multi-level pyramid marketing scheme and never made a cent. I tried retail arbitrage until I figured out it bored me to tears. I bounced between jobs and tried to figure out what I was meant to do.
I also turned 26.
It’s significant to me because of the weight that number used to have, and it’s past the 25 mark. There’s this thing on my back that keeps telling me I should have my shit figured out by now, that I should be stable and have my own things. This isn’t the age when you start your life. You should already be running, trying to outpace the other runners. I’ve got friends like that, like anyone else. People who are married, who actually own the places they sleep in and are lining up those other milestones that have served as the barometer of a person’s success for decades. I love those people dearly. But I can’t imagine being like them.
The pressure of having things figured out has gnawed at me for the better part of the last decade. Yes, because I can measure my life in decades. Already. There’s still a bit of an ache when I say that I don’t live at my own place. But it pales in comparison to a satisfaction I’ve felt for the past year or so. I figured out my thing, the star that’ll guide everything I do until I’m just a pile of dust in the ground (or in a Disneyland, like I’m sure some guy has demanded in his will). It’s this thing that’s been hanging around with me most of my life. It’s part stowaway, part friend, part parasite. It’s this thing that’s given me an entirely different perspective on every single bit of life. It’s not depression, before anyone asks. It’s writing. Fiction, specifically. Making shit up as I go along, coming up with people to fit the voids in these stories I imagine. It’s not something I ever planned for. It took trying a ton of shit before I figured out it’s what I was going to do.
It’s important to repeat that I don’t know shit. I’m only more knowledgeable about how little I know. I guess that’s what aging is, and part of the reason it terrifies me so much. As I spend more and more time going around the sun, I know I’m going to realize that things I held as true and sure can be challenged. They’ll crumble like ancient stone, and leave me with these entirely new voids to fill. It’s why people get racist in their old age, or why they come down on people on benefits who get tattoos. It’s this fear that truth isn’t simple, and it doesn’t stand the test of time. It’ll come apart at the seams and shatter for all of us. Better fill it up with something.
I’m afraid that my conviction, my certainty regarding writing as my true calling, will shatter in the same way. I’m afraid because I can’t see the alternative. I’ve planned for it, but can’t see it. I call myself a writer and feel overjoyed, simply because it’s the one title that feels so true it reaches to the bone marrow. No other word has done the same. Man, son, brother, friend, wrestler, employee, they all have this hollow ring to them. These are things that feel as though they may pass, or become untrue after a single disastrous event. But writing? If it kept me from utter despair in high school, helped me tame demons of what-ifs, and keeps me going now, will it ever go away?
I know my perspective is skewed. “Life isn’t a support system for art, it’s the other way around.” as per Stephen King. I should probably get my life in order before I try to break through this membrane that keeps new writers away from the rewards of truly giving every bit of themselves to their passion. But I can’t imagine doing it the other way. I’ll write. The rest will have to sort itself out.
Welcome to 26, I guess.