In a couple more weeks, I turn thirty-four years old. I have few profound thoughts or feelings about this occurrence—as a desperately uncool and unaccomplished teenager, and then a young, overwhelmed mother, I have always lived out-of-sync with age-based societal expectations and gave up on trying to adhere to any of them long ago. But it is true that I have grown and changed, and am settling into a rather grown-up, contented way of life.
The only task is to learn that it’s okay to settle into a grown-up, contented way of life. Somewhere in me there’s a reflexive resistance to that. I wrote before about my process of accepting my routine, and the process is ongoing, but I have recently realized not only the extent to which I want an orderly, quiet pattern to my days but also the extent I feel I have to apologize about it.
As that desperately uncool and unaccomplished teenager, it was made very clear to me that my world of books, movies, comic books, writing and art was not … right. It was nice enough for not-pretty girls to be smart (what else did they have of value, after all), but it didn’t get me much attention or approval from peers or parents. I knew what I liked, but I remained suitably socially ashamed of it, even as I pursued it.
Many years after coming out of my shell, I retained that habit of shame. Nowadays, I have the habit of joking about being old and boring, because explaining that I genuinely want to go to sleep early and get up early, and spend most of my time in quiet industriousness, and read lots of books and watch lots of films, and write every day, seems complicated and weird.
It’s weirder because those things are not the only things I ever want to do, nor are they born of shyness or reticence. I also love going out, exploring new places, eating amazing food and meeting new people. I just want those things to be punctuation giving meaning to the steady, balanced, elegant text of regular life.
Recently, I recommended Nick Offerman’s book Gumption, and I was thrilled to read him discussing similar thoughts. In his section about Benjamin Franklin, he writes: “Despite the rather puritanical tone of his guidelines, Franklin was still a lot of fun. I mean a lot of fun. I am heartened by his advice to set up an orderly, structured, and productive life, and then fuck around within that framework, ensuring that you engender mirth whilst remaining optimally productive.” Engender mirth whilst remaining optimally productive. Now that’s a motto I can live with.
And so I find myself in inconvertible adulthood, finding inspiration in moderation and contentment in being boring. I’m still perfecting the right balance, as much as any human can perfect that sort of thing, but identifying what you don’t want anymore is one of the chief achievements of growing older. Possibly the most important achievement is no longer caring what anyone thinks about what you don’t want anymore.