Bowie’s 1972 anthem has essentially become the soundtrack of my life. In the last decade, I’ve moved from LA to Berlin to Providence to New York to Frankfurt and back to New York again; I got engaged; I’ve had multiple meltdowns about whether or not I could carry on being an artist; friendships I could have sworn were forever are impossibly, devastatingly, no longer; I quit my day job without a backup plan and decided to pursue writing professionally, which incidentally, is the first time I realized I’d like to focus on something seriously apart from painting. Somehow in the process of all this, I have also managed to simultaneously acquire both acne and wrinkles. (Why? How?)
As of today I am 32 years old. That’s a whole two years older than 30! It may be ludicrous to insinuate that 32 is somehow categorically OLD, but I have found myself beginning to disassociate with my age in the manner of a flatlining ICU patient leaving her body to float blissfully around the hospital room. Perhaps this is in the hopes that if 32 becomes abstract enough, it will not turn into 33, then 34; that it will not have consequences on my body, lifestyle or relationships. That everything, including idyllic, languid, college-era potlucks and my legs in those denim cut-offs summer of ’05, will be cryogenically preserved, suspended in time like Sleeping Beauty in her high tower, pristine and untouched. But for better or worse, in the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the only constant in life is change. When measured against its somewhat more established older sister, the midlife crisis, or angsty younger sibling, the quarter life crisis, the one-third life crisis you are gifted with on your 30th birthday may ring a tad bit melodramatic.
But your thirties bring its own distinct challenges. Just like FOMO, the one-third life crisis is REAL.
It’s the first time I have realized many components of my youth are over. And I mean, really, irretrievably over.
I’m still mourning the death of that girl who indulged in fervent late-night pajama-clad chats with girlfriends over two buck chuck; the one that had the energy to buy tickets for, organize and actually go to Coachella. The one who didn’t know shit but sure knew how to have fun while making one cringe-worthy mistake (boys, jobs, drugs, finances, university major choices, pissing in that parking lot) after another. That girl believed in the power of the impromptu underwear party. Come nightfall, she felt the deep bass of the city’s pulsating beat vibrating in her chest, and danced wildly with the sheer exhilaration of a child discovering what it meant to be in the world.
I sorely miss the thrill of this excavation. This is college! This is what it feels like to be drunk! This is what it’s like to go to a house party, without parents, in a car, which I am driving all by myself! Depending on your coolness-level, that might sound exceptionally stupid. But for someone who grew up with a pathologically over-protective Korean mother in the ‘burbs and an unambiguously low score on the Coolness Scale, those moments were doubly delicious, vivid and intense. Recently, I’ve found myself looking (glaring) wistfully (jealously) on at groups of beaming, scantily-clad, early-twenties youths just hanging out. Thirty-somethings don’t hang, and certainly not in groups. The show Friends lied to us all.
They schedule. And then they re-schedule because both parties flake. Okay, look, maybe I’m over-romanticizing all of it. It’s not like I don’t know there are things about being 22 that are Grade-A shit. But despite the pitfalls, you can’t deny the sexy allure of nostalgia.
I can wax on and on about this first world problem but I have come to realize that there is a lovely, glowing silver lining that comes with grappling with a 30s crisis. Of course you already realize, dear reader age 29+, that there are some great things about being this age: Actually owning a piece of furniture that isn’t from Ikea; maybe even owning a home (not me). You know what you want and what you don’t want. Blah blah blah. You’ve most likely read those “Why it’s Great to Be 30” lists online. But personally, I’m most struck by the letting go that begins at this age.
Struggling with my current identity has helped me realize that the things I was so sure I had to fight for, to wrestle to the ground, were and are out of my control. That there really is a palpable flow in this Universe and that nothing can effectively be done by force, but rather by surrendering to it. There is an indescribable ecstasy in that release. As painful as shedding your old skin can be, it can be a time of reinvention, a time to be who you’ve always wanted to be. And by that I don’t mean achieving goals, although that’s always the cherry on top. I mean coming to the realization that it’s not really the achievement that brings the bliss you seek.
You can begin to consciously revel in the now, in the present moment, and find the deepest, most heart-breaking beauty in it.
It means learning how to just BE, how to receive inspiration and humble yourself to something greater. Without crisis, how can we expand and have new desires? And what’s better than wanting something more, something new?
So 30-somethings rejoice! It’s a great time to be alive.