On turning 30
19 September 2004
My friend Izida and I were born 20 days apart on opposite sides of the world. She in Riga and I in Toronto. The circumstances of time have given her dual citizenship in three countries, one of which no longer exists. In January we’ll both be turning 30, and over the past month, as our friendship cemented itself outside of the vagueness of merely being acquainted, we’ve often described our ages to one another as being 30 although we are 29, and talked about what this means to us, how this chronological fact is modifying our perceptions of ourselves, how it is changing our lives.
We’ve been breathing air on our own for 29 years, but it is not entirely inaccurate to call ourselves 30 since three decades ago we were floating in our mother’s amniotic fluid, experiencing in an unconscious way this thing we later learned to call a body, or in Izida’s case, ??. Izida tells me she doesn’t remember Russia, from which she immigrated in 1980 at age 5. Her earliest recollections are of kindergarten in a synagogue basement in Winnipeg, sitting on the floor listening to people speak a language she didn’t understand and picking sparkles out of shag carpeting. These sparkles were her first Canadian treasures. She would bring them home, wet from the sweat in her hand, and hide them in her bedroom. My earliest memories go back to 1976, when my mother was pregnant for my sister. In 1981, I moved from Toronto’s west end borough Etobicoke to Clare, an area of Nova Scotia where my forefathers had lived since the late 18th Century.
A memory that works well means you begin to be dumbfounded one day, once those memories begin to pile up. Things that happened ten years ago can seem like something that happened last month. But this also confirms what adults tell you as you’re growing, that although their chronological age may be one thing, they feel like they’re another, an age quite young. My mother tells me she feels 19 although she is in fact 61. I escape this by being clever; I say that I’ve continued to grow and mature as I learn and experience new things, so I don’t feel like I did a year before and so on. But this is merely qualifying the fact that I recognize myself as an approximation of the person I was at 17, only with the issues that plagued me then resolved and new issues developing as I approach this 3rd decade.
It would be a fantasy if I tried to ignore the fact that I’ve grown up in a world enthralled by it’s extended nervous system, as McLuhan called our media technology. Approaching 30 means that I’ve become an adult without pretense toward being one, as one can be accused at 20. When I was growing up in the 1980s, there was a popular TV show called Thirty-Something. It was popular because it offered those boomers born in the 1950s a theatre by which they could explore the meanings and responsibilities of that age. They could articulate their anxieties and deal with their issues, issues of having survived the 1960s and 1970s, and the threat of the Cold War which caused them to question their future and perhaps encouraged their “live for today” irresponsibility and selfishness. Not that I ever watched it, after all, it was for ‘grown-ups’ and I was much more interested at that point in the new Star Trek show, but this is the understanding I bring to it today, being aware through osmosis of its popularity. I was perhaps a bit more aware of it than I would have been because it had more resonance on me, since one of the characters was played by an actor who shared my name, Timothy Busfield. Born in 1957 he is now approaching 50. (Some Google-fact checking reveals to me that this show ran from 1987-1991, although I would have guessed before that it had ran around 1983/84. While memory may contextualize one’s life, how often are those memories inaccurate?)
So what being 30 means to me is that I am now the subject of “grown-up” shows. And this is something which is a bit hard to accept about oneself in our culture as youth-obsessed as it is. It is so difficult to conceptualize that one feels the need to type out thoughts about it. What it means is that after spending three decades experiencing the world for the first time in a variety of ways, one has never been taken seriously by older folk. “Oh you’re just a kid” is heard over and over again. I am not expected to contribute anything significant – which is precisely why youthful stars and those called genius are considered so remarkable. I feel like many of my peers have never had the opportunity to experience themselves as anything other than someone youthful and not to be taken seriously and so they embrace that, feeling adulthood to be boring and limiting to their sense of fun, a sense which can make them as devilishly selfish as those boomers who have earned our loathing for leaving us a legacy of improvishment.
There is something else happening to us though, those of us 30-something both present and new. It is the fact that many of us feel that our age expectancy is not the official 70 something years, but having witnessed our grandparents live into their 80s and 90s, and those many that have lived past 100 have given us the idea that we too shall probably live at least as long. I myself think I’ll have an 80th birthday one day, and hope for the 100th as well. But perhaps we’re the first generation that will make living past 110 normal, in which case, being 30 means we are still as young and adolescent as many of us feel. An example I once came across illustrates this: if the age span was extended toward 250 years, meaning one at 247 was biologically equivalent to a contemporary 97 year old, then it would follow logically that for a given individual, puberty would only occur in their 30s. They wouldn’t reach their adult equivalent of our present 30 until their mid 70s. Over and over again in my journals, throughout my 20s, I’ve hoped that I’ll have a life span that makes my present concerns and problems as irrelevant to who I will be in old age as the misery of needing to have my diaper changed is to me now – a problem I’m sure I experienced but have no memory of and completely irrelevant to my problems today.
Turning 30 means that as an adult, I can no longer expect the sympathy bestowed on the naive. I am expected to be worldly and knowledgeable; to have confidence and not have to rely on others. The fact that my bank account is perpetually empty and I currently live on credit cards, dependent on my parents for meals and a roof, is not evidence of some youthful misadventure and indiscretion. It only reflects that I made a bad choice when figuring out a career – I decided to be an artist, a field which expects much without offering a guaranteed salary. I find myself in the ironic position of being extremely well educated and intelligent, believing that knowledge and powers of mind to be a form of wealth in which I am well stocked yet I have been unable to find a market of exchange where I can trade portions of this commodity for cash, to be able to become financially independent and secure. My issues today centre on trying to become concsious of whatever unconscious behavior I engage in which allows me to be free to read and work on my art projects while beating myself up for not having a regular 9-5 job which would provide for a healthy bank account and the sense of financial freedom while killing my soul by not allowing me to flower in the particular sunlight I need, that of learning and expression. My issues today centre on acquiring the independence expected of my age.
My peers, bruised by their experiences of family, do not understand how I can still live at home with my increasingly aging parents, nor can they understand why my sister would chose this as well. The sad truth is that so many of us, children of the 1970s, have found themselves in situations where it is difficult for them to get a foothold in the job-place and to be paid a salary sufficient for them to lead independent lives. This is true throughout the Western world. The issues that hovered over my psychology as a man in his early 20s have been replaced by “when can I move out? When can I get a full time job?” to say nothing of what I’m supposed to feel as a graduate of an art school: “when to I get that big solo show?” which I’ve come to see as not worth desiring anymore. Art has proven itself a mistress and now it’s time to find a wife.
One wants to contribute to society in a way that allows at least a salary, and at most, a contribution to the betterment of the planet. The world as it is in 2004, when I find myself less than 6 months from my 30th birthday, is so fucked up. However, that has been true for generations of 29 year olds. A Frenchmen born in 1759 would have written the same thing as someone from Massachusetts born in 1746, to say nothing of those who were born in 1910. The revolutions of history have given us a perpetual beta world in which change is commonplace and the displeased seek to rectify out of boredom and anger with their circumstance.
I for one am confident that the problems of the world today are constructed out of the idiocy of gray men with gray ideas. The War on Terror is as artificial as the War on Drugs and will not be won by a generation who’s mindset was formed during the Cold War; Israel and the conflicts of the Middle East will not be pacified by a government born in the 1920s, nor a generation who considers democracy optional. A generation which came of age at a time when the introduction of environmental legislation was considered controversial is not equipped to deal with the issues of global warming.
The habit of declaring “War” on our societal inconveniences and problems which have everything to do with a economic inequality and insufficient education will not solve these perpetuated problems which have nothing to do with simply being criminal behavior. A generation of men who have done a bad job of integrating women’s perspectives and who find glory in combative approaches are doomed to be the thought of as pathetic leaders for the rest of time, enshrined in the embarrassed conversations that will go like this: “How could they?” “I know I know…”. We are left waiting for them to remove themselves from the scene so that we can begin to clean up their mess.
Television and print news perpetuate certain world problems as being relevant, while doing a bad job of informing us on other more devastating conditions (such as the economic development of the Third World, or Africa’s devastating plague which represents an cruel economic inhumanity on the part of the west) means that yes, today’s “problems” are solvable because they are artificially important. The biggest problems, such as the economic inequalities which have led to the chaos of Africa and the Middle East, require new paradigms and perspectives that at this point can only be offered by the young. The future belongs to those of us for whom women in the workplace, environmental concern, and social critique are ambient and as such we have never known a world without them. Those of us who are presently 30 something, will be leaders and mentors to the true inheritors of the future, that mass of young people outnumbering 30 and 40 something Gen X and known as Generation Y, who I am told, are confident of their ability to change the world for the better.
- Sept 2004: Published on my blog
- Aug 2015: this version produced