The Great 20-Something Debate

Many of you have probably gotten wind of the current discussion that has the media all a-buzz, the one about people in their twenties? About why we're taking so long to become "adults"?

Almost two weeks ago, a New York Times magazine contributor tried to answer the question "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" in a lengthy article that got people talking. The next day, Jessie Rosen of the  blog 20-Nothings wrote a great response, "Dear NY Times, Here's Why I Haven't 'Grown Up." Love, a 20-Something". You can hear them both discuss the issue further on NPR here.

Rosen decided that we actual 20-somethings should join the conversation, explain ourselves, let people know exactly where we fit into this whole phenomenon, and how we got there. She asked her readers to respond to the prompt, "At twenty-[blank], I feel [blank]." I decided to contribute my two cents. Here's the little essay I sent her.

At twenty-four, I feel on the verge of something big.

Since graduating from college two years ago, I’ve spent a year living and traveling in Europe, two months on a 5,714-mile road trip around the American West, five months interning for no pay at an exciting literary nonprofit in San Francisco, and another six weeks in Europe.

Now, age 24 and freshly returned to California from my most recent travels, I’m living at my parents’ house with no job, no savings, and no boyfriend. I am, essentially, starting from square one. I’m proud of the choices I’ve made and the things I’ve done, and yet embarrassed by where they’ve landed me.

I'm not in a hurry to reach society’s prescribed model of “adulthood,” and I'm optimistic that things will eventually work out and fall into place. I’ll build a fulfilling and meaningful career, maybe go back to school, meet someone I want to marry, have smart and healthy children, and make a nice home.

I’m optimistic, but I’m also terrified. I realize that all those things, unlike what many of us have always thought, are not a given. In fact, from my vantage point, they seem largely unattainable. I feel like I’m standing in front of a locked door and I can’t find the key. I can just barely hear the music and noise of all the things I think I’m supposed to have, all the things I’m supposed to be, on the other side, but I can’t figure out what they look like or how to get to them.

I know I’m not alone on this side of the locked door. And with the way our generation was raised, it’s understandable how we’ve ended up here, nothing but impressive college transcripts and unanswerable questions in hand. All our lives, we’ve been spoon fed sentiments like “follow your dreams” and “do what you love and the money will follow.” We’re taught that we can be anything we want, so is it any wonder that it’s taking us a while to narrow it down?

I remember the frustration I felt as a 17-year-old finishing up high school and being asked left and right what I wanted to do with my life. I remember thinking, how the hell am I, a teenage kid brought up in sheltered suburbia and educated at a less-than-stellar public school with limited resources, supposed to know what I want to do with the rest of my life? Why can’t it be enough to know what I’m going to do with the next year, even the next month? The thing is, when I finished college, I still felt that way, and now, at 24? You guessed it.

The unprecedented wealth of opportunity and choices facing today’s 20-somethings is both a blessing and a curse. We’re situated in a strange paradox, one in which we’re encouraged to reach for nothing less than the stars, but once we finally figure out what that means to us, we can’t actually get the right job. In other words, the values instilled in us from the beginning don’t exactly line up with what’s available in today’s job market. We’re taught not to settle, and after seeing so many of our parents realize the mistakes of a youth cut short, the value of waiting until we truly know ourselves (given the means) is all the more vital.

What I don’t understand is why everybody seems so surprised. Is it really news to anyone that the times they are a-changin’? I mean, as Robin Marantz Henig points out in her NY Times magazine piece, we’re not even the first generation to take this more meandering path toward adulthood. Anyone remember the ’60s and ’70s? Take my father, for example. Now a successful business man, but before he found something that stuck, he explored various professional avenues until age 30, including higher education administration, carpet sales, the turquoise trade, and beer-drinking, pot-smoking, white water-rafting mountain life (that last one maybe not so much a career path as general debauchery). The point is, he turned out OK. He’s your proverbial self-made man. He put three kids through college, has a big house in the suburbs of San Francisco, and is on track for a comfortable retirement with his wife of over 30 years. While this is a common story, it’s also common for these same wandering hippies to grow up, turn around and shake their fingers at their wandering children (not my parents, of course). Like Henig says, “It’s reassuring, actually, to think of it as recursive, to imagine that there must always be a cohort of 20-somethings who take their time settling down, just as there must always be a cohort of 50-somethings who worry about it.”

For me, though, much of that pressure comes not from my parents’ generation, but from my own peers who have taken a more traditional path. I often sense in them an attitude that says “I’m working a 9-5, paying the bills and putting away savings, and you should be too.” But what I hear again and again from people who have already been settled for a while, when they hear about how I’ve spent the last year or two, is this: “I wish I had done that.” Call me crazy, but I think that’s worth listening to.

I sometimes think I’m imagining the peer pressure because maybe I actually do wish I were a little more like my traditional counterparts. But then I realize how much I love the thrill of not knowing exactly where I’ll be living in five years, one year, or even a month, not knowing what I’ll be doing or who I’ll be with. I feel good about the person I’m becoming, and while I’ll admit that the future is a scary thing, I have to trust that I’m gonna turn out OK. I have my whole life for certainty and stability, but this? This is just one little decade.

Join the conversation, leave a comment! I'd love to hear thoughts from anyone and everyone - fellow 20-somethings, baby boomers, or even actual babies.


Beer, Spinach, Licorice, Tomato+Strawberry

This is a post about ice cream.

You may remember that I recently spent a week in Denmark, five days of which I enjoyed the delights of a tiny island called Bornholm. You'd have to visit it for yourself to get a sense of what a truly special place it is, but I'll do my best to share it with you here. Starting with ... ice cream!

My friend's family's summer home is near the lovely little town of Svaneke on the eastern side of the island, and Svaneke is home to a beautiful (and beautifully delicious) ice cream shop called Svaneke Ismejeri & Cafe. It's always got a line out the door, friendly servers who will give you a taste of every flavor and tell you all about them, charming enough to cozy up in all day long, and a lovely garden to boot. It's the kind of place that makes you feel instantly warm and fuzzy, that turns your world all into flowers and light and colored glass until you walk out and know nothing but the wonder of the ice cream dripping down the side of your handmade waffle cone. 
Cute, right? But the best thing about this place isn't the decor, it's the ice cream (obviously). They rotate through a menu of over 200 flavors - some classic and some surprising - and they make them all with entirely natural ingredients, including Nordic berries and herbs and locally produced honey.
And the flavors! Truly, I die. On our first visit, we figured we'd taste the beer-flavored ice cream (called Catch 22 after the dark stout from the local brewery they use to make it) just for the novelty. Of course we ended up ordering it, commenting on its deliciousness after every bite, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. The shop girl - a perky high schooler - told us all about the flavors and how they make them, and then told me it's a dream of hers to see every state in the US. This is not something I hear often from Europeans, and I told her to go for it.
We had to try the beer itself at the brewery around the corner, and we decided it was a choice ingredient.
On our next visit, we had a scoop of licorice on the bottom, and tomato+strawberry on top. Sounds weird, right? It was heaven. So good, in fact, that on my last morning on the island, I insisted we walk the 30 minutes into town just so I could get it a second time before I said farewell to lovely Svaneke, to Bornholm, to Denmark.
I know I'll be back on that island someday, but until then I hope to get my quality ice cream fix from Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco. I haven't been there yet, but it comes highly recommended and I mean, look at the crazy flavors! Maybe I'll try the Thai Chili Lime, Foie Gras, Skull Splitter Root Beer, Collaborative Evil Ale? Or I could go for something more tame, like Banana Pecan, I Have a Dreamsicle, Jesus Juice, or Guinness Gingerbread. Clearly, it will be nearly impossible to decide. I'll let you know where I settle. If anyone cares to recommend a favorite flavor, or would like to accompany me on this ice cream escapade, just scream. Well, scream, and then leave a comment or send me an email. I probably won't hear you scream.


Are you my mother?

Someone told me recently that they didn't think their mother was that pretty when she was young. Not that she was ugly, just...regular. It didn't strike me as a weird thing to say at the time, but then I thought, how could a person not think their mother was beautiful in her youth (given the fact that she wasn't, you know, a terrible person)? How could you look at an image of this woman in her few shining years, this person who brought you to life, who poured her very everything into you like dry soil, and think Eh...? This person who could have been anything, but somehow became your mother? 

This, lovely readers, is my mother. Age 18, the year 1973, on a school trip to Washington DC.
I look at this and want to cry for the unbearable purity and youth of it. I look at this and I want her brow bones, her thick lashes, her knowing eyes and full coral lips. And how is it that her natural hair color was such a rich auburn and mine is so ashy and flat? Hers full and wavy and mine stringy and limp? Or maybe that wasn't her natural hair color. Maybe she spent hours staring into the mirror, wondering why she looked the way she looked. Wishing it were different.

I say purity and youth, yet somehow there is wisdom waiting there, behind her eyes. Do I see it simply because they are the same eyes, now wise, that I've been looking into all my life? The eyes that I once looked into as into those of a super hero, a queen? But here, those are the eyes of an 18-year-old girl. Eyes that I know so well, yet don't really know at all. A person that I look at and I know is my mother, but she's not, she wasn't.

My mother, who sewed her own wedding dress and often prefers the company of a good book to actual human beings. My mother, who won the Betty Crocker Homemakers of America contest in high school because she knew that to peel peaches you have to boil them (although she couldn't really cook at the time and had certainly never boiled peaches). Who went to Europe by herself in a time before the internet and cell phones, who denounced the Catholic church she was raised in. Who fell in love with my father at age 23 while staring at his hands in hers at some diner in Colorado. My mother, who wears her glasses on a chain around her neck, who makes a mean apple pie, who's drink of choice is Jameson on the rocks, who loves "that's what she said" jokes. Who raised 3 kids, who just became a grandmother and discovered a kind of love she didn't even know was in her.

My mother, who I am absolutely sure never realized how beautiful she really was. Is. Will always be.

My mother, who will either cry or roll her eyes when she reads this. Or, more likely, both.


I hope this isn't the last post of mine you ever read.*

Because it's late and I am up looking at photos instead of sleeping, and because I realized all I've shown you of Amsterdam so far is Orange fanaticism and pictures of cute children, here are a few favorites from just plain old city wanderings. There are plenty more where this came from, so don't be surprised if I soon rely on photography instead of writing yet again.
I hope these make you want to visit Amsterdam as much as they make me want to go back. My heart breaks a little each time I think of it, but I remind myself to also think about the things that suck about living in Amsterdam ... the depressing weather, the oft inefficient public transit (that's actually all I got right now). It's like trying to get over a crush or a break-up by imagining the other person taking a shit. Grunting, squirming, that slight yet repulsive screwing up of the features, a focus and determination in their glazed eyes as they produce sounds and smells that no one else should ever bear witness to.

How's that for a thought to start your day with? I bet you're all sitting there now, imagining various past loves squeezing a few out, and either hating me or loving me for it. You can try scrolling up to look at my stunning photos one more time, though I don't think anything will be able to get that image out of your head.

Happy Tuesday! I wish you all a triumphant crap.

*I promise I'm not always this crass. I just like the odd parallel between a city with a clogged train system, and an ex with a clogged toilet. Please don't hate me for it, and come back again. 


Sun Sun Sun

Still wearing my procrastipants. If I keep saying it like that does it make it more forgivable? I'll go with yes.

For now, I can't help but share this. Someone who sits in an unusual spot in my life once wrote these lyrics to me in an email, but didn't tell me what song they were from. That was almost 2 years ago, and I've always loved it and always wondered.
"Well in five years time we could be walking 'round a zoo with the sun shining down over me and you and there'll be love in the bodies of the elephants too and I'll put my hands over your eyes but you'll peek through and there'll be sun sun sun."
Then I heard it on a blog I follow, and the lovely and creative Jessica of Living the Swell Life kindly dug this up for me, and I can't get enough (I can't embed the video, but I promise the whistling in the song alone will put a little sun in your day and pep in your step. Click the link!). I heard the lyrics and suddenly having a melody to put to those words was like chancing upon a beautiful place that you've seen a photo of a million times. Standing real in a context you didn't know was there.

I've got sun sun sun all over my body this week for one last stint of teaching swim lessons, and then it will be time for something else, something more. I'll let you know when I figure out what that is.



Remember how I told you to expect a surge of posts? Yeah? And then remember how I didn't actually do any posts? That was weird, right? I know, I don't get it either.

See, the thing is, my hard drive is full to the brim. So I can't upload any of my photos from my week in Denmark until I buy a new, bigger external hard drive and do some reorganizing. For that, I need some money and a kick in my procrasti-pants. I mean, it's like organizing your closet. Who wants to do that? It's so much easier to just close the door and when you need to extract a shirt or some socks, cry a little bit and then just close the door again. (I don't actually do this. My closet is quite orderly.)


So just know that one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few months, I will be here again, dazzling you with my beautiful photography and poetic words. I know you can't wait.