I was supposed to be a way bigger deal than I am and I am starting to be seriously stressed out about this for one reason: I’m thirty six years old.
It’s easy to forget when you don’t say it (though I begin a lot of sentences spoken to my Mom that way), but sometimes in the very end of the day when my eyelids are just beginning to stay closed, it hits me like this.
Oh my God. I’m thirty six.
And I gasp and open my eyes, of course.
It’s usually in a moment where I sleepily think about being thirty five because that was at least a less old age to get stuck on, and then I remember that very uneventful birthday I had in December (Sagittarius).
Holy shit, I’m thirty six! How the FUCK did that happen?
I’m aware of how relatively young thirty six is, except when you look at things like this:
“Girls”. I pretty much could have created that show, because I’ve been writing essays or short fiction based on my own life very similar to “Girls” since I was about twenty three, but, um, I didn’t have rich parents that financed a movie for me after college and then starred in it and let me film it in their Tribeca home, so, that kind of made “Girls” not happen for me. There was that. I mean, not that I asked. (Yup, I’m a “Marnie” according to a Buzzfeed quiz.)
GIF from http://www.nsmbl.com/the-best-quotes-from-hbos-girls-in-gifs/.
Lena Dunham is twenty seven, that magical age (at least until May 13, 2014). Not when a lot of famous people died, but the age when Keith and Mick were writing “Exile on Main Street”. Liz Phair released her supposed answer to the Stones, “Exile in Guyville”, around the same age in 1993. I then listened to this album every night while falling asleep from 1994 to 2004.
How was an album like “Exile on Main Street” even possible at age twenty seven? How can one have lived that much? Is it because things were different then and you weren’t necessarily required to go to college like all the privileged famous people in this country now? Were the Stones just more adult at twenty seven than I could ever be at thirty six? You have to admit, things were never the same after “Exile on Main Street”. It was, I daresay, the peak.
1971 Photo by Dominique Tarlé.
I am older than the characters on “Sex and the City” for almost every season (not Samantha, who was always the oldest but you never knew how old, but Carrie turned 35 in season 4!). I know, it’s a “Sex and the City” reference, but you can’t deny the influence of that program on women like me. I idolized those TV characters (well, not Miranda), and now, truly, I’ve become them, with a lot less money. I didn’t realize how real that show was.
Carrie alone at dinner on her 35th birthday, “Sex and the City”.
It was fucking real.
I’m also way older than most of or all of the cast of “Saturday Night Live”. I’ve used Wikipedia and I have proof:
Kate McKinnon – DOB 1/6/84
This is particularly meaningful for me because Kate MacKinnon was always the stage name I wanted to use if I became an actress; MacKinnon was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She happened to be singer in the big band era before she left it all behind to marry Grandpa Al.
Cecily Strong – 2/8/84
Vanessa Bayer – 11/14/82
Aidy Bryant – 5/7/87
Taran Killam – 4/1/82
Bobby Moynihan – 1/31/77 (Behold, the one cast member older than me! By a whopping 10 months!)
Nasim Pedrad – 11/18/81
Jay Pharaoh – 10/14/87
Keenan Thompson – 5/10/78 (Close… but I’m older.)
Brooks Wheelan – 8/2/86 Brooks is a featured player, but um, he’s my favorite. More on him later.
Please note the millennial nature of the names above. I’m more from the era of Tina and Kristen and Jimmy than Cecily and Brooks and Taran (Though I do have a cousin named Brooks, I’m pretty sure he’s a Millennial too). I’ve been obsessed with “Saturday Night Live” since I watched reruns of the original cast on local TV in suburban Boston. It’s just my thing, and now, I’m basically too old to ever dream of somehow ending up on that show because I’m that funny.
More things you can’t do anymore at my age:
– Be cast on “The Real World”. We all felt a pang when that ship sailed on our twenty fifth birthday (thanks to my friend Deb for reminding me).
“The Real World San Francisco” Original Cast from 1994.
– Donate your eggs. I’m not saying I would do this, but maybe I would have done this. 2008 was a tough year.
My feeling of missing my window corresponds to the nagging belief that I’m not living up to my full potential… and of course that I may have missed the ideal moment for achieving that potential. I’m not sure if being as much of a dilettante as I am is an achievement or a disadvantageous addiction to distraction. I’m not sure if my problem is not being good at so many things or being good at everything.
The trouble started in college. That was when I started to believe that I was special and was validated by my film school star’s status. It wasn’t like high school when I coasted relatively easily through all my classes (except for AP Calculus where I just slept and charmed the liberal teacher). I had some really hard classes in college, like Biopsychology and Astronomy and Statistics (okay I just slept in two of those, hence my grades). But then there were my production classes in which I was visibly better at making films than most of the other students. I mean, it just seemed like things could only go up from there.
So, I did, of course, what was always supposed to be my destiny and moved to New York where I could become one of those super cool people like the stars of “Girls” and “Sex and the City”, but when I got there that didn’t happen instantly. I didn’t really understand working for things then despite not being bankrolled by my parents. For example, I worked at a video store on Bleecker Street for three weeks. A documentary filmmaker who came in took a shine to me, set me up with an informational interview at Independent Pictures I absolutely bombed in (like, accidentally slagging off someone on a film they were financing bombed), and offered to pay me a hundred bucks to help paint his studio. “I like to have my weekends to myself,” I told him. I barely knew anyone so what I did on the weekends was ride the subway to all the places I wanted to spend my meager funds and try to buy cooler looking clothes. Then, on Sundays, I got drunk and fell asleep on the same subway, missing my stop on the way home at 4am. My NYC trajectory begs the question, do the really cool famous people even have experiences like that, or are they too busy working to fall asleep on the L train?
Prior to my L Train naps I was drinking at Manitoba’s, a bar in the East Village owned by Handsome Dick Manitoba himself (of the Dictators), where I befriended aging punks who’d reference Bad Brains shows they were all at in the 80s. I started listening to Cheap Trick, read “Please Kill Me”, and, weirdly, moved to L.A.
So you’re thinking, due to the SNL and “Girls” references, I moved to LA to be a comedian or like, create my own TV show and that’s what I wanted to do, right? Um… yeah, I mean, yes, definitely, now I think that. But I never did comedy or acting at all, I always thought I wasn’t pretty enough to be on TV. I didn’t have cable then so HBO was just something I saw on posters in the subway. And I was way more interested in directing movies, which I figured I’d achieve by age twenty seven (magic age) or go to grad school. My first goal in L.A .was to get a job in development (difficult), and later was to meet/date Alex Greenwald from Phantom Planet (I actually came extremely close to that one… I mean to meeting him.).
Worthy pursuit circa 2000.
I worked in the business in L.A. and at one point had a script optioned, but it was a handshake deal with an older gentleman I knew who had an agent. When I had a foothold working in production I realized it wasn’t the life I wanted and that it wasn’t anything like the feeling I had when my parents paid for me to be creative all day long in college. On the weekends I was competing with a woman who claimed four washing machines as her own at the laundramat even when she only had clothing in one. Essentially, I’d started my life as a day job person, and I continued that life in Detroit when I moved there almost exactly two years after I’d arrived in L.A.
So you’re thinking, okay… she must have really just wanted to play music because of that “Exile on Main Street” reference and the Handsome Dick Manitoba thing. I mean, yeah, but as a young person I lacked the confidence to sing and play music in front of anyone, and I set my sights more on being a groupie, which I didn’t even come close to achieving as an awkward teenager with acne. Music was a draw to Detroit, and I thought I’d finally get a job writing. I thought writing might be what I was good at, but I didn’t know if I wrote anything people would want to read. Music writing seemed like a journalistic compromise that provided a paycheck. “Please Kill Me” was the first in a string of influential rock bios/journalism. I also recommend “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung”, the collection of Lester Bangs’ work, if only for his super long narrative fictionalization of “Maggie May”.
I didn’t get that music writing job (turns out it’s extremely difficult to write well about music you don’t know or like), and other than trying to date musicians (again, bad at that), I took photos of them as another potential calling. I realized quickly how I’d never make money doing this, and eventually got back into my chosen field of production in Detroit, this time focused in advertising. My one attempt at starting a band with a friend didn’t work as I was annoyingly late to our two person practices due to my unpredictable day job hours, the same hours that made it hard to date the most enticing musicians.
Making money was consistently too important for me to be completely dedicated to an art form or an artist.
Here’s where it gets back to Brooks Wheelan. I googled him, and he actually went to engineering school, and worked as engineer, doing standup comedy all along in his spare time while he worked at his day job, that was not even a day job like most of mine have been, but specifically a not industry-related day job that he could make good money at and was less of a struggle to get into. Then, at twenty seven, he was cast on Saturday Night Live. Like, this guy made the ultimate sacrifice and had the ultimate backup plan and was dedicated to making it work – to have two plans going at once and the awesome one worked! I could cry with admiration.
Way cooler than he looks in this publicity photo, I’m praying this guy makes it to season 40.
In the process of being a day job person, I developed a feeling of being a failure as a famous person/artist that leaked into my non-famous life. I meet people ten years younger than me with so much esteem in their skills and it makes me depressed. They’re a bit like I was when I offended the head of production at Independent Pictures as a twenty two year old, I guess, except some of these people actually try a lot harder than I did. Some of those people start their own companies. With or without parental funding.
As I assume is true for most, I have way more confidence now than I did ten years ago, when I should have tried harder to do something major as failure became commonplace to me then and I was already poor. Unfortunately I cared way too much what people thought despite my moxie and I jumped jobs and states and boyfriends instead of settling into myself. Oh, the curse of the twenties. My biggest fear is that the older I get, the less people care to listen to me, the more I seem like a joke who didn’t succeed when she was supposed to.
As much as I envy the Rolling Stones and comedians of the world, I’m just not sure I could do one thing all the time. As much as I wonder “am I even good at this” about what I’m best at, I feel “don’t fence me in” about my entire life. I’ve never been able to be too focused on one thing for too long. I think that is why I love writing. I don’t have to pick one thing to write.
I get bored so easily. I don’t think I can ever stop being a dilettante.
I don’t want to be that person in her thirties and forties (and fifties?) trying to reinvent herself… hoping to start a band with her other forty five year old divorced girlfriends. When I date men who make six figures and secretly want to be video producers (ahem… what I do), I always groan inside. It’s so embarrassing when old people who aren’t good at art want to be artists.
But look at me: I’m the narcissistic cliché of a professionally employed thirtysomething blogger. Is it so wrong? I could always start a band ten years from now, right? Maybe it’s not that bad. Maya Rudolph started a Prince cover band. I mean, she’s famous, so she can kind of do whatever she wants, but I can sing too.
There’s no time like the present, of course, and I should hurry up and achieve my idea of fame… my ever-changing idea. I am plagued with self doubt like anyone with passion. Experience notwithstanding and priorities changing, I’m as hungry as I was at twenty two. I want to be this way when I’m eighty. I want to be one of those cool old people like Joan Rivers and Betty White. Whatever I’m doing, I just want to keep doing it until I’m really too old to do it. Like, really, really old.
If I look at it that way, I have plenty of time.