Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Curse of 27

A month and a half ago, I turned 27.

I turned 26 in a sleep-deprived, elated state whilst performing as part of a Future Cinema event at a party in Cannes.  It was at once the most exhilarating and confusing time of my life to that point.  The intervening year has brought huge changes -- the end of a relationship, a period of couchsurfing, settling into a new home and a new city, finding a job and more jobs, committing myself to my artistic pursuits -- many of which were precipitated by that fateful birthday night on the dance floor of the Stella Artois tent on the Mediterranean coast of France.

I sometimes look back at the previous year of my life and think, 'Shit, some amazing things happened, but I am so glad to be through that.'  I could look at turning 27 simply as a fresh start, another chance to recommit to myself and embrace all of the positive aspects of ageing and getting to know oneself better; but I also get it.  I get why 27 is the year of the curse.  I get why there is a '27 Club'.

Let me just preface the rest of this piece by saying that I am not suicidal, and that I do very much wish to reach my 28th birthday, and many more birthdays to come.  I am a mostly well-adjusted individual who is somewhat blindly groping her way towards the next big changes in her ever-evolving life, and I am scared shitless.

As a child, I imagined my 20s would be full of grown-up life.  I was convinced that 6th-graders were on the verge of adulthood, so imagining a person in his or her 20s as anything other than accomplished and omniscient was beyond my grasp.  Twenty-seven was grown-up, and grown-ups wore suits and and had families and took their kids with them to work so that they could see what they, too, would someday become.  Never mind that my parents were in their late-30s/early-40s when I was tagging along to the classroom and office to learn about their working lives, because to me, 25 and 45 were pretty much the same thing.

Thanks mostly to my (wonderfully supportive, non-granchildren-demanding) mother's insight, I also grew up thinking that 28 was the perfect age to start having kids.  The reasonable aspects of that deadline have begun to fade in the past few years as I realised that traveling the world, postponing career aspirations, and following the wrong men around are all valuable, life-lesson–rich pursuits, but they do not lead to financial stability, personal contentment, strong partnerships, or any of the other prerequisites (of which I was entirely unaware as a child) to starting one's own family.

Twenty-seven is an age where reality comes to a head with expectations.  I suddenly find myself closer to 30 than 20, but only marginally closer to mapping a route to my artistic career goals.  I get it, 27 is scary, even for those 27-clubbers who died in the throes of success and acclaim.  Even when you start to get what you want, knowing how to cope with that reality adjustment is scary.  A taste of success can be thrilling, but it can also spin back into self-doubt.  After all, a one-time success can be just that, and who's to say that the next thing you come up with will be any good?

The pressure of financial independence and worth begins to set in.  At 23 or 24, the temping and food service jobs seem, well, temporary.  At 27, I still have never had a job (that wasn't temporary) with any kind of financial security, let alone benefits.  I have scraped by, borrowed money, and moved to a country where at least access to health care is free and universal.

Instead of a blossoming career that unfolds seamlessly before me, I have the fruits of my own labour.  I suddenly find myself living by clichés and mantras.  'By doing things, things get done'; 'You get out what you put in'; 'Making things happen makes more things happen'. (Okay, that last, less eloquent one is my own, but it's true!)  The walls of my room are plastered with affirmations and reminders: 'Take yourself SERIOUSLY'; 'Stop being so CAREFUL'; 'LOVE and NURTURE yourself'; 'TRUST YOUR TALENT'.  I feel like a nut sometimes, and when I bring a guy home for the first time, I often wonder if I should quickly hide them away and pretend to be more normal and sane and together, but I'm not.  I am 27.  This is what I need right now.

What I have gained at 27 that I lacked at 23 is personal insight and the increasing strength to listen to my own desires.  I was always mistaken for someone older, a fact which led me to believe that I was mature and worldly beyond my years.  In reality, I was just desperate to grow up, to get to that place where I imagined I'd have it all together.  I was mature, but without the life experience to back my old soul.  As I grow older and begin to know more about myself, I only learn how much more I have to learn.  See the way I'm embracing cliché?