On Coming of Age

A new year begins. Heck, a new decade begins. Well, nearly. Remember "Party Like it's 1999?" Remember Y2K? Remember back when Monica Lewinsky was considered newsworthy? When social networking wasn't something you could major in? Remember back before we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, back when airport security took thirty minutes, tops, and we took our film to drugstores to get pictures "developed?"

I still have a few dozen sheets of negatives lying in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, just in case. Sometimes I wonder if the figures in those freeze frames could ever live out alternate realities, seeing as they are stuck in that sepia limbo between the camera and the page.

Last week, one of my fortysomething colleagues said offhand, "Man, so much happened in the last ten years--I can't imagine coming of age during the 2000s." I started to nod, and then stopped before I realized I had come of age in the 2000s. I went to prom in 2000--with five girls. I went to an anti-inauguration rally in 2001, and watched Bush get sworn in twice. I got diabetes a few short months later, in February 2001. I graduated from high school in 2002, the "Year of the Palindrome." I went to college. I went to weekly protests against the Iraq war, starting in 2003. I fell in love for the first time in 2004. I studied abroad in 2005, then went back after graduating from college in 2006. I saw my first series of peers get married. I worked my first "real job" in Spain, 2006-2007, and my first "real real job" in San Francisco starting in 2008.

I saw our first African-American president get sworn into office, January 2009. I started graduate school. I learned how to navigate the awkward office politics of a corporate world. I saw friends fall in love. In the past ten years, seven of my friends came out to me as gay or lesbian. I saw my grandparents lose their brothers and sisters, significant others and friends. I saw more friends than I can count suffer with various forms of depression. I worked at two different camps for kids with diabetes. I saw gays marry, legally, in San Francisco, both in 2004 and in 2008, and then saw their rights denied again. I met Spaniards, Belgians, French, Mexicans, Moroccans, Brits, Scots, Finns, Swedes, Chileans, Colombians, Bolivians, Peruvians, Australians, Israelis, Russians, Portuguese, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Kazaks, Turks, Brazilians, Germans, Americans.

In ten years, I've been an "editorial intern" seven times, and am about to start my eighth. I've made coffee. Taught English, journalism, comics, poetry, art, Spanish. I've photocopied my share of paper. I've answered phones, and lots of them. In ten years, I've interviewed for more than 50 jobs, and applied for at least double that. I've applied to graduate school twice. I've rowed, played soccer, run at least 20 races between 5-12k, waterskiied every summer, biked to work or school most weeks. I've read some books, but never enough. I've written some, but in surprising bursts of energy. I've saved letters, photographs, books, cards, favorite t-shirts and countless mix cds, but never enough money.

I've tested my blood sugar at least 32,850 times.

I broke one person's heart. I think. To my knowledge.

Amidst all of this "coming of age" business, a few things remain the same. The same passions: the urgency to express, whether it be via writing, teaching, community service. The same family core: a wealth of love and support that I appreciate in different ways every year. The same base root of friends, both those that I have loved and known most of my life, and the ones I meet along the way. The same annoyances (this diabetes b.s., political propaganda, the bizarre emergence of ignorance in all its gnarly forms), the same curiosity for all things international. The same undeniable randomness of the universe, the world that brings us both Dick Cheney and Planned Parenthood, J.K. Rowling, Zadie Smith, and Twilight, Sudan and Darfur and Hurricane Katrina and Wangari Maathai and Haruki Murakami.

And although there are so many headaches and so many complications in this world, thank goodness for the plot twists, for the complexity, for the questions. This is what keeps us reading, what keeps us writing, what keeps us interested.

Coming of age in the 2000s -- the "thousands" or "ohs" -- we're not Gen-Xers or post-modernists. There's too many of us, in too many different shades. Thank goodness.