The terrible 20s

Of all of our universal human traits, perhaps the most hidden, embarrassing and frustrating is the desire to achieve immortality. While many choose to believe in gods and immortal souls and other things, everyone believes in immortality through fame and artistic success (I assert that it is so, therefore, ’tis so). This is mostly because, unlike the former ways to immortality, this last one exists. Achieving status and respect is important, more so than acquiring wealth and, unlike baby making, not everyone can do it accidentally.

There is a time limit, however, to conquering eternal nothingness. Not always, but often enough, those who will, have done so by the age of 24. There are exceptions – van Gogh, for instance, didn’t begin painting until he was 27 – but they are rare enough to be disregarded and considered statistical anomalies for the sake of my argument.

Sheltered by 16 years of legally required schooling and an additional five socially required years finishing high school and college, through age 22 you couldn’t have achieved very much. According to a lifetime of television watching, by 22 you should have graduated college and, having learned so many useless things, embarked on your professional career or indie-rock/writing/filmmaking/etc. dreams.

You have one grace-year to achieve all of your goals.

Through age 22 you have unlimited potential. By 24, however, you are a failure until proven otherwise. Six years ago you were 18. In that time, most likely you’ve accomplished nothing. In six years you’ll be 30. Think about that: Based upon all available evidence you will, almost certainly, achieve nothing in that time, too. And so it will go throughout the years.

There is little in life worse than watching your friends succeed. Not quite as bad, but nearly, is watching others of the same age achieve immortality. By 24, if you haven’t made it, you probably never will. Every new, living person you admire or respect, from now on, will be younger than you.

Every musician, every actor, every athlete and just about everyone else will have succeeded at whatever they do. They will have nothing in their future but the respect of their peers, the admiration of many people they have never met before, and their nearly inevitable departure into semi-obscurity. Christina Ricci, for instance, and Wilmer Valderrama (Fez), Jason Schwartzman, Macaulay Culkin, Christina Aguilera, Jake Gyllenhaal, Yao Ming and sweet, sweet Conor Oberst, have all been famous for years and will all turn 26 this year.

Although many of them will almost certainly make that departure into semi-obscurity soon, they can take comfort in the fact that someone, somewhere, will remember them wherever they are, and that there is a cultural artifact (CD, DVD, book, etc.) to confirm their immortality.

Devendra Banhart, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, Elijah Wood and Jessica Alba all turn 25 this year, as will I. However, they, unlike myself, needn’t worry about being forgotten forever. One year younger than myself is Banhart’s friend Joanna Newsom and, soon enough there will be very many more.

Having realized that so many people you admire are your age or younger, you will also realize that so many of your all-time favorites were exactly your age when they “made it,” as it were.

At 24, Lou Reed was recording The Velvet Underground and Nico. Bob Dylan recorded Highway 61 Revisited and had already written “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had already written “Get Off of My Cloud,” “Paint it Black,” “Under My Thumb,” “She’s a Rainbow” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” and Jimi Hendrix had recorded Are You Experienced?.

And following this realization, you may choose to off yourself. If not, you may choose to live on in others, through your good works and good deeds. More likely, however, you will choose to join and embrace the mediocrity of the billions. This is the realization that you are the human equivalent of what New Yorkers, on their way to L.A. (and vice versa), call “flyover.”

Or perhaps you never really die. The universe is composed of finite amount of matter – you weren’t created out of nothing, after all. But then, by the same logic, you were never really born. And, by now, you’re too confused to remember what it is you were worrying about in the first place. This is all for the best.