I was always afraid of getting older, even when I was a kid. It seemed like, the older you got, the harder life was supposed to be, and the less understanding you would get from other people. Just before I turned 4, my little sister was born, and I realized "I'm not the baby of the family anymore." I had to get my act together, fast. I thought twice before asking my mother for help, because I knew she was busy taking care of the baby (go on, ask me how many gigantic messes I made trying to do something myself). Somehow, it got into my head that once you pass a certain point, you can't lean on anyone anymore. Growing up wasn't about taking responsibility for one's effect in an interacting community, but rather it was about trying to achieve total independence.
As you get older, the stakes get higher. When I had one of my crying breakdowns, age is how I was reprimanded by my mother and grandmother. "You are five years old!" "You are six!" It meant "stop feeling; just meet the expectations." When I got confused or impatient or - heaven forbid - didn't know how to do something properly - "You are eight years old," "you are ten," "you are fourteen." It meant, "you're not allowed to screw up anymore."
School was the same. In grade two, if you couldn't do math, that was fine. You were young; still learning. But in grade three, or four? Well, if you couldn't keep up, you were an idiot. Even in my grade 10 class, the teacher used age and time elapsed to illustrate how unacceptable it was that we couldn't figure out the quadratic equation. She said "this is grade 10; do I need to spoonfeed you guys?" I KNOW you just plug it into the formula, but the numbers always got distorted on me. And how is it completing the square if it's not even a square, but rather a parabola? I was afraid to ask because I was too old to display such ignorance.
School, books, YTV - anything meant to inspire kids always talked about the incredible accomplishments of the very young. Here's Craig Kielberger; he's only 12 and he's rescuing kids in 3rd world countries. And here's whatshername, a 15-year-old gymnast who won gold in the Olympics, and here's a ten-year-old movie star and a three-year-old who plays violin concertos. That's great. It's all very inspiring and tells kids that they're capable of doing amazing stuff, but... what about the failures (sorry, "late bloomers") like me? What about the people who don't accomplish anything special when they're young? Because, you know, MOST PEOPLE don't.
Hayao Miyazaki and Nora Ephron and Steven Spielberg didn't get any recognition until later in life, but that doesn't mean they weren't any good. (Yes, I know I chose all film examples; I'm sure there are others in other industries). I wish there was more focus on what great achievers did when they were young. Like, here's whatshisname, he's 80 and a genius, but when he was in his 20s, he was working in a shoe store. I need to see more of that.
I'm stuck on this idea that age somehow devalues accomplishment, like if you learn to play the piano when you're 4, you're special, but if you learn it at 24, it's just a stupid hobby. But playing the piano, and, indeed, all kinds of artistic and creative pursuits, take TIME. You START whenever you can start, and you take as long as you need, but it's not like you're ever really done. Science too - you learn how to do it, but then how long does it take to discover and build things? LONG TIME! Years. Maybe decades. And I feel like we only celebrate the very young when they're very accomplished, and no one else even matters. Like, if you turn 20 and you haven't saved the world yet, you'll never be anything.
I went to the same school as that girl who started the charity to give soccer balls to kids in Afghanistan. She was in grade 9 when she did that. When I was in grade 9 I was drawing comics and writing stories and making silly cartoons with puns about TV characters. Does that mean I did something wrong?
I'm scared, you guys. I'm at the age now that can round up to 30. 30! Is there life after 30? Did I miss my chance to be something useful and important?
I remember when I was 22, I thought the work of Joseph Campbell was some of the most interesting stuff in the world. I read as much as I could about him, and then I'd seek out books of fairy tales from around the world to find stories I didn't know yet and see if his findings applied. Anyway, I also read his biography, and when I focused on the person rather than his discoveries, it got to me that I hadn't really done anything with my own life. The biography had a timeline of his life, so I flipped to that page and looked at where he was at age 22. Well, guess what. He had graduated university with a bachelor's degree. Same as me. Same as every 22-year-old. So maybe I wasn't such a waste after all. Maybe I was just doing what the world demanded of me, and even though I hadn't really amounted to anything yet, that didn't mean it was never going to happen. I'm just on a longer road - of course I am. I'm a turtle! I'm in it for the long run. Maybe nothing I do will matter for the next while, but at some point, you're going to drive your flying car to an award show and hear my floating head in a jar give an acceptance speech. ...I hope they get my hair right. My hair doesn't react well to humidity.
Anyway, why am I writing this? I got the nicest rejection letter. I submitted a story to this sci-fi anthology - and I submit stuff to writing contests all the time. I never make the cut. I'm always up against people who have been doing this stuff for 40 years. Professionals. And I thought, "why do we stop dividing life into levels after a certain point? How come between the ages of 18 and 65, we're all one big blob called 'Adulthood'?" If it's not fair to make a 2-year old compete against a 12-year-old, because they're both kids, how come I'm going up against grey hair and all of its wisdom?
Wisdom, that's another thing. We're so youth-obsessed, that nothing seems to count once you're old. But... isn't what you do when you're old the most important thing in your life? It's the cumulation of all you've learned so far. I don't care how amazing you are at 15; you'll be so much better at 60. And yet, there's no nod of appreciation given to the people along the long road.
That's what brought this on, by the way. The rejection letter. The person acknowledged that I was just starting out and gave me the names of authors I should read and basically gave me lots of encouragement. That's what made a huge difference to me. It wasn't "well, you're not good enough," it was "you CAN be good enough." I think that's what I needed. I just needed someone else to say that it's okay that I didn't make the cut just yet. I'm still young enough that there's still time for me to get better, and if I don't get good enough until many decades have gone by, that my accomplishments will still count for something. That normal is good enough if there's a lot of hard work and honest effort, and as the years add up, that won't detract from my value, but rather, add to it. So, maybe there is life after 30.