Welcome to 360 Months

This is a space for sharing experiences and feelings around turning 30. From people who are approaching this milestone with anticipation and uncertainty to those who have recently passed the 3 decade mark with a warm embrace, 360 Months is an opportunity to challenge dominant social expectations of this marker of adulthood. It is also a chance to ignite new conversations amongst peers in the struggle to make sense of, and even celebrate, growing older.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

360 Months: An Introduction

A zine about turning 30? I know. Perhaps it seems kind of trivial when placed in a global context of war, climate change, austerity measures, and other impending crises. How relevant would a similar book from 1981, at the height of the Cold War, be today? I don’t know. But when I first formed the idea of this project towards the end of 2010, every single person I mentioned it to was enthusiastic about its potential. Our lives matter.

Originally, I was going to write up a short list of questions and then email them to friends that I knew had turned 30 recently, or were going to in the next year or so. Then I would compile the responses and have the release of the zine as way to celebrate, and make sense of, my 30th year on the planet. For months, I talked and talked and talked about the concept, always eliciting positive feedback, and…just talked some more. My birthday loomed and I was taking no concrete steps toward make this project happen, until I realized how disappointed I would be with myself if I didn’t go for it.

It wasn’t until the beginning of March, with only one month left of my 20’s to go, that I finally did something. 

Finally, I created the 360 Months blog and posted a call for submissions on March 5th: What is it that is most exciting or terrifying about this milestone to you? How has the urgency of this looming birthday affected the ways in which you have pursued your life goals, your dreams?

Less than 30 days later I had received 30 essays. How appropriate, right?

I think another factor that pushed me towards actualizing the project, beyond mere discussion, was my own personal circumstances. At the beginning of 2011, my world was turned upside down as the relationship that I moved to Philadelphia for 2 years prior started to come to a close. On the cusp of 30, I was heartbroken, confused, and prepared to move away and start over…well, where I came from.

The same week that those conversations began about going our separate ways, a Bollywood movie was released called “Turning 30.” It documents the life, in a romantically comedic manner, of a 29 year old woman in 21st Century Mumbai. She is on the path to a successful adulthood with a solid career, an engagement, and happiness. Then, just before 30, she loses everything only to put it all in perspective as she builds a new life for herself.

My version of this was no doubt less comedically romantic but, despite the heartache, my circumstances helped kick me in the butt and make this project a reality. And in turn, the zine has helped me keep a positive focus on new beginnings as I climb into this new era of my life.

What you now hold in your hands owes everything to my amazing friends, acquaintances, and mutual friends who took the time to think deeply about what turning 30 means to them and then courageously share their thoughts with the world. I thank you all for participating in this experiment. I couldn’t have imagined this caliber of writing or sincerity, humor or intelligence. You truly have made this a successful project with your words of wisdom.

I also want to thank my friends who have encouraged me along this journey and also my family for their unconditional love. You guys rule.

360 Months is dedicated to all of those thirty-somethings that are pushing the boundaries. You’re my inspiration.

Thanks for reading!
Matt Dineen, April 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

30 Days of 30: Sarah Berkowitz

Sarah Berkowitz is another one of those superheroes. Her contributions to the Wooden Shoe as treasurer, zine orderer, among other roles, have invaluably helped to make the collective what it is today. Sarah is one of the smartest and most inspiring activists I have met in Philadelphia. Hopefully one day we’ll carve out some time in both of our busy schedules to finally make that Hole cover band, that we’ve dreamed about for so long, become a reality.
This weekend I went to the Chicago Zine Fest. I left Philly around 3pm on Thursday and I drove through the night with my partner, Ryan. I’m 29 now. I have been involved in zines for about half my life. Many of the things that were important to me when I was younger are still a big part of my identity. Feminism, anarchism, veganism, social justice, reproductive rights have all been a pretty big part of my life for the past 10 years. These have been my anchors when everything else was in turmoil throughout my 20’s. 
I have been thinking about turning 30 for about a year. It is on my mind a lot. Especially because a lot of the things I am interested in attract younger folks. It feels good to have experience and to feel grounded in that experience. But sometimes I crave more peers my own age that are interested in the same projects I am interested in.
When I was a teenager I never really thought about life after college. I had no specific goals of marriage or a full-time job.  I had little aspirations for life rituals. I spent a lot of my early 20’s crying and feeling sad. Things constantly felt hard- relationships, friendships, and jobs. I stayed in bad situations for too long. When I was 24 I got what I thought could be a dream job. I became manager at a Planned Parenthood surgical center. It was a nightmare. I felt lost. Every full-time job I had had after college wrecked me. I had no idea how to advocate for myself so I stayed miserable in horrible work situations. These patterns were mirrored in a lot of my personal relationships as well.
I spent the second half of my 20s making drastic changes. I quit my job, went to therapy, traveled, spent summers biking around and swimming in fountains. I started staffing at the Wooden Shoe. I took risks, put myself out there and learned a lot of new skills. Eventually I morphed into someone that was pretty sassy and assertive. 
I haven’t had a full-time job in 3 years. I’ve been taking classes to go back to school for nursing and working various part time jobs. I still feel weary about striving for a full-time career. I know that jobs are never going to be satisfying or fulfilling completely. I would choose not to work if I didn’t have to. What satisfies me the most are the projects I don’t get paid for. I like feeling connected to the things I have felt passionate for in my youth. I don’t want to give up my radical ideals. I feel a sense of pride that I am still connected to anarchism and feminism and vegetarianism. I have seen so many people give up on these things over the years. It can be really disheartening. 
When I was 18, someone told me that one of the members of the band Submission Hold got a circle-A tattoo when he turned 30. I thought that was so cool! Everyone gets punk and anarchy tattoos when they first get into it but to get it when you are 30 means that you have sat with these things and let them become a part of your life. You are in it for the long haul.
With that in mind, I have been planning to enter my thirtieth year with an event I have been calling 30 days of 30. I want to plan an event for my 30th year for 30 days around my actual birthday on Sept 28th. September tends to be a strange month and personally there have been some major losses around my birthday so I would really like to reclaim this time of year. I expect to use some of those days to get tattoos that I have been talking about getting for 10 years.
When I think about being 30, I finally feel like I am a grown up. I feel ready to buy a house and move in with a partner, to move across the country, and to think about having kids. When I was in college the first time I never cut class or took a lot of risks. I had a lot of insecurities.  I’m an adult now, so I’m confident that cutting class to drive to Chicago for a zine fest to see a Q & A with Aaron Cometbus and Al Burian is the right thing to be doing with my weekend. Cometbus zine also turns 30 this year. It was comforting to hear Aaron Cometbus say, “Some people have kids, I’ve been doing a magazine for 30 years.” It is ok to stick with what you know.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Release: Tami Devine

The first year I lived in Northampton I used to go to the Smith College library to check my email. One day in the early fall I was sitting at one of the computers when I noticed a familiar face two monitors. Well, I wasn’t actually confident about the familiarity so I logged into Friendster (remember that?) and did a search for Tami Devine who, sure enough, had just started a grad program at UMass-Amherst. I came over and whispered a one word question: “Bard?” It was that moment that we became good friends since, although we sat in the same row at commencement with the other D’s, we never hung out in college.  I miss Tami a lot. Her unique wit and elegance are almost from another era. Tami is one of a kind.
For those of you Class of ‘99ers who are already thirty, I’m still 29, suckas! It will be that way until October, when I’ll join your pitiful ranks of over the hillers. The casual “checking people’s age out” and seeing where I stand has not left me. A lady on Judge Judy was a divorced mom of 3 at 22. My college buddy is a homeowner and mom at 30. My colleague is a 40 year old divorced mom looking for love on Match. My parents continue to evolve and seek enrichment in their employment and activities going on 60. These numbers, once so damning (remember the “old” Bard students who were like, 26?), now seem such useless measurements.
Thirty meant something different to our parents, who probably had babies + a house + a wedding ring and all that jazz. Thirty seemed to be the arbitrary “I’d like to married by...” date when I was a youngster playing Barbies. In my child mind, like that would give me a whole decade to spread my wings and establish a career for myself GUFFAW!!!! The cruelty of it all, if little me could see me now! I’m Masters degreed-out now, sometimes a caricature of the overqualified & mortified crowd. I’m working similar jobs to those I worked before my fancy degree. But you all know the story. We’re questioning it all. We want better. Some days I wonder why I didn’t go for my MRS degree ...hardy har. Like after all that angsty riot grrling, listening to PJ Harvey + reading bell hooks in coffeeshops, I like to think I’d make a pretty damn good SAHM.
A few years ago one of the issues I was struggling with was that I didn’t feel like an “adult,” and it was all tied up with how my parents kind of never let me be an adult. I won’t bore you with all that now. But I kept going back to that fetal position. While my friends were spreading their wings I was like just dipping my feet in adult life through sublets and vacuous pursuit of internships. There was always a feeling of “if I fail, I’ll just move back home.” I wasn’t really trying, I guess, the clicking life clock paralyzing me into a dull anxiety.
Well, while I wasn’t looking all that kind of Adultness happened to me. I stopped blocking my own life joy. Volleyball - I’ve loved you since age 12 - but art school and glam rock emo boyfriends made me feel like I was a dork for loving you. I got the courage to get out there + play because I LOVE IT. I got two cats, recently a dog, and all that “responsibility” I used to desperately dodge from, I now seem to crave. I’ve met my “Ken” of sorts. That warm glow of family is hard to trade in for some of the ugliness of younger days. But I haven’t said “I do”; and maybe the absence of anything carved into marble is a relief.
One night last summer, I pulled my car over to the side of Route 9 to remove a cat who was struck by a car to its woodsy grassy resting place. That *choice* of putting my compassion into action and experience the grief of the loss of life - whilst blocking traffic- was a poignant moment of connection to my adult self. I’ve had the mildest feeling that something pure and organic was flowing out of me - I didn’t feel like I was trying to be someone else. I’m hoping for the next decade to put that feeling of connection to my true self - and what I believe to be REAL in this world- into action less seldomly. I don’t want to be the passer-by.
“Release” has been my mantra over the past year, and I’ve felt really strongly like I am shedding skin, shedding stale friendships that no longer nourish me, holding me back in their superficiality. There are those who will be left behind in a cloud of smoke, never to be seen again, except in facebook land. As will you too—left behind as people move on, past you.
We couldn’t have imagined it back then, but this is what thirty looks like. I think I’m doing all right...and so are you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not Too Old for the Hostel: Lia B.

I met Lia B. through the Wooden Shoe, but only briefly. The last time I saw her was actually on her 30th birthday in Center City Philadelphia. It was late February of this year, and I had just left a labor solidarity rally across from city hall with a couple other friends from the Shoe. We ran into Lia as she was leaving the building where she works for a much-needed break. We wished her a happy birthday and James told her about my project. Lia seems like a great person with a committed passion for both animal and human liberation, and adventure.
I had always figured by 30 years old I would be tired of the shenanigans that defined my youth, but it seems like not only am I not tired of it, I don’t know how to out grow it. I have a somewhat serious job. I have an amazing little bulldog mix that I have miraculously kept fed and homed for 3 years, and a completely disgusting collection of travel souvenirs that I really should just get rid of (would anyone want a sand "snow" globe from morocco, or a volcanic rock from Iceland?).  But while I am proud of my work ethic, alcohol tolerance, cooking skills, and dog mommy-ing abilities, does that really fit the popular conceptualization of "adult"? Somehow I doubt it...
Recently when on my 5th stay in Barcelona I wondered out loud to the friends I was traveling with, "When are you too old to stay in a hostel?" We looked around and saw young tattooed Irish guys puking into garbage pails, various Barca soccer fans - fresh off the Malaga win- running through the hostel screaming for their team, beautiful college girls from Portugal shrieking from the sight, and random fornicators making everyone feel awkward. My two friends said out loud, "Should we have just paid for a hotel?" I felt comfortable and at home in that environment, but it made me stop and think: Adults don’t stay at places like this. Am I going to be that odd 50 year old women, still going on vacation with a back pack and vans, looking for squats somewhere, carrying powdered soy milk and a stash of cliff bars? 
My parents worry about me. They ask me when I'm going to get married, constantly. They ask me when I'm going to buy a home. When am I going to "settle down"? When am I going to wear clothes that match? When am I going to look back and realize that all of this procrastinating on "growing up" has stultified my life? Don’t I want to accomplish these "goals" society/ my parents/ my peers have all accepted as the norm? Or do I want to dust off my backpack, put my sneakers on, and ride my bike around Cambodia this fall?
30 to me, right now, is self actualization. My life has been a quirky, awkward journey, filled with music, passion, rage, food, alcohol, metrocards, passport stamps, broken bones, and soy products. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by loving friends and family at every turn. Maybe I don’t want to be the weirdo who is "too old for the hostel" but I definitely want to keep my adventurous spirit. I don’t think growing up means giving up, settling for anything, or ceasing to have fun, but I do think the expectations associated with growing up do not work for me.
At 30 I have accomplished more than I could ever imagine, and done things I have only dreamed of. I have kept my priorities of social justice and animal rights, and even while working in a capitalistic industry, I have remained true to myself and to my work, conducting business with an honest candor that might not be as commonplace as it should. I have been realizing that while I am older and hopefully wiser, I don’t have to change myself to fit my birthday. Maybe I will never "grow up" as most people imagine, but I will always be changing, learning, and enjoying as much as I can.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Falling Short of Fourth: Kristin Bott

When I was in fourth grade, my (fabulous) teacher, Ms. Dearing, had a "Shine On" board, which would highlight a different student every week. Everyone in the class would write a note, scrawling something positive about you and cover it in well-intentioned crayon. You would fill up the board with important pictures and "About Me"-type worksheets.
One of these worksheets asked you to draw a picture of you five, fifteen years from "now." In careful Crayola marker, there's a picture of me in my late 20s, which looks strikingly like the rendering of me when I was 15, which is closely related to "me now" at 10. Except: when I'm older, I am standing next to a marker-man, in front of a misshapen marker-house, and I feature a seriously pronounced butt. (Apparently I knew that girls' butts get bigger as they age. Dear fourth-grade me; they're called hips, please.)
By fourth-grade metrics - I'm quite behind on my timeline. I hit 30 next week - and unlike many of my friends and peers, I lack both house and spouse. (The hip-size predictions, though, are spot-on. We're a sturdy people...)
It has been a bit strange to watch the rest of the pack pull away in various senses, engagements announced and houses purchased, pregnancies heralded on the book of face and pictures of little wrinkly-old-men-looking babies triumphantly shared after the big day.
My peers have partners, kids, careers. I was always one of those kids who kept up with front of the class... and now there are days when I feel impossibly behind. All the loveable ones are married. All the serious ones have houses. All the dedicated ones have children. All the focused ones have Job Plans.
Kristin... you're doing it wrong?
But, wait. In between donning bridesmaids dresses and making plans for sewing baby bibs, I've managed to do some things. One and a half graduate programs and some number of stints as a research scientist (field and lab, both). I've been a science educator, labor organizer, non-profit Jill-of-whatever-you-need. Four states of residence since leaving my native Idaho; in each, I've gone from knowing nothing/no one to having community and some "sense of place."
Yes, there have been some number of honest attempts at long-term committed relationships (my own mother "can't keep track of them anymore"... thanks, Mom), with n-1 that have reached the end of their best-functioning term. And, not uniquely, one of the "ends" includes a messy Saturn's return timeline; just before I turned 28, I moved in with my guy-for-life and was teaching college full-time. Six months later, I had gone through a horrendous break-up/move-out and was concurrently working four part-time jobs - it was awful. By the time I turned 29, I had settled into one full-time job and fallen in with a new, fabulous partner (who is still around and still fabulous).
There are moments of panic, when I realize how behind I am - losing at the spouse game, the property contest, the job of producing and/or raising children, of having a single, focused career.
But there are also moments of satisfaction, sitting in my studio apartment, looking out over my home city and over at the mountains, or brewing beer/cooking dinner/gardening/traveling with my guy - where I can't quite imagine doing this any other way.
Hello, 30. You're huge, you're looming, you are impending doom and horrible bouts of navel-gazing. You are a reminder of all of the things I Am Not Doing That I Should Be Doing.
But... you also look suspiciously like other things I've seen before. Like other gigantic impossibilities, summiting Mt. Hood or running a half-marathon, job searching in a horrible economy or completing a difficult graduate program, that were overcome with a simple, calm, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-with-a-sense-of-purpose approach.
Maybe you're actually just another year, and your significance is an artifact of our base-10 number system. I'm with Pamela on this one - there's a lot ahead, and you're just the start.
Dear 30, you don't get to make me feel behind. Dear 30, I'm doing everything exactly as I should be, including all of the rough spots and bad episodes. Dear 30, I still don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up or whether or not a house, kids, dog, spouse is/are in the plan. But, dearest 30, that's how this is going to work.
And - dear fourth-grade me, I'm sorry to let you down. But, with all due respect, ten-year-olds have a somewhat poor track record of accurately predicting the future.
Kristin grew up in southern Idaho, a land filled with sagebrush and Republicans. She's lived, worked, and studied in western Montana, southern Arizona, and mid-Michigan, where she met Pamela Roy. When not busily failing to produce children, land a spouse, or purchase real estate, Kristin rides her bike early and often, brews beer, reads books, cooks good food, and maintains a decent garden. She works at a non-profit in Portland, where she lives with three houseplants, four bikes, and multiple rain jackets; you can find her tales of bikes, beer, and breakfast at: http://bikingpotato.blogspot.com/.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Things it took me until 30 to learn: Monica Elkinton

Two memories stick out when I think of Monica Elkinton; one during college and one from after we graduated. The first was on “Pi Day,” (3.14) 2003. In addition to being a political activist, Monica was a mathematics major at Bard and invited me to the Math Club’s Pi(e) Party that day. I delightfully ate as many pizza slices and fruit pie as my body could process. I maintained a friendly conversation with Monica as her peers looked at me with scorn as a party crasher. Then the following year, Monica and I both found ourselves in Madison, Wisconsin. I had moved there to immerse myself in the city’s legacy of post-capitalist counter-institutions, while she arrived later to intern at the state’s supreme court for law school. The day after Bush was re-elected Monica invited me to see a Beasties Boys concert, to dance away the inevitable sorrows of the ensuing four years. This is all to say, thank you. She is now a public defender in Alaska, continuing to change the world.
1. Every day is a blessing.
2. How to buy a house. And what the heck mortgage insurance is.
3. Turns out staying up all night debating philosophy is not a good quality in a romantic partner after all. Doing the dishes and supporting me in my decisions is way better.
4. A taste for very dry wine.
5. That I could be dropped in any city in the world by myself, and make a good adventure out of it.
6. That everyone else is just as scared as I am.
7. The best way to be a friend is to listen.
8. The second best way to be a friend is to have been there.
9. How to invest, and what I will need to retire. (Whoa. Yes.)
10. That if you like your job, then overtime and weekends mean nothing.
11. There is more to you than your job or career.
12. Email, twitter, and facebook can never make up for phone calls and visiting people in person.
13. One-night stands don't make you feel very good.
14. Healthy food actually does.
15. And sleep.
16. Greasy food and beer make your stomach hurt. Maybe that's because it's bad for you.
17. That my parents were making it up as they went along.
18. To buy a slightly used car: not a new one, and not a clunker.
19. That you can try to alter your attitude with whatever chemicals you want, but the people that love you, love the sober you.
20. Being around family is important.
21. That joining the Board means you'll be expected to give a large donation.
22. That I am not an athlete, and that I never will be. Some of us just can't move that way. The closest I will get is to dance. Mostly to folk music.
23. Little kids are awesome. And that we have so much to learn from those younger than us.
24. If making art or music is what you need to stay sane, then for God's sake, do it, even if you're not someone else's idea of “good” at it. If you have fun, and it colors your world, then you're good enough.
25. That I love living in a racially diverse community.
26. With the right time commitment, you are capable of learning any skill you want to learn.
27. How to live on your own time frame. Your urgent doesn't have to be someone else's urgent.
28. Sharing a meal with loved ones is simply the best thing to do.
29. We are all human.
30. All humans respond to a smile from another human. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The 30 Gland: John Biando

I wish I knew John Biando better at Bard. We didn’t have any classes together or belong to any of the same student groups or anything so I had to wait until after we both moved to his hometown of Philadelphia to become friends. I recently had the pleasure of attending John’s 30th birthday party where German cuisine and drinks were consumed in honor of this solid human being. In addition to being a creative writing Master (literally), John is a talented artist in the mediums of digital illustration (see below) and Halloween-themed food creation.
Check out his Philly sports blog Crying Eagles, Noble Turkeys, Red Glares at: http://nobleturkeys.blogspot.com/.
Beautiful Josephine was the most depressed dog at the pound six months ago. I wanted a three-legged dog and Josephine had four, but after a troublingly toothy encounter with tripedal Tony, I settled on bashful and beautiful Jo. She was priced to move at three cents a pound. Some of those pounds were intestinal worms.
Little sleeper cells of U. stenocephala. They caused a lot of abdominal unrest in Beautiful Josephine. But since nobody knew about the hookworms, everyone assumed that the unrest was just Josephine’s disposition, that the dog was just a farter.
I didn’t know if I could live with Josephine’s gas. I got a dog, a depressed dog, because I was depressed and I thought a depressed dog and I could help each other work things out. Her effluvium set a more or less constant dark, choking, overwhelming tone to our time together. It was embarrassing and undignified to be 29, unemployed, and struggling with an unseeable sickness. It was embarrassing and undignified to be 29, unemployed, and struggling with an ethereal emanation. This confluence of smells and feelings felt almost unconstitutional. It felt like double jeopardy.
While we coped with Josephine’s aromas, she developed another affliction. She got very itchy. She started to scratch herself raw. I took her to the shelter’s veterinarian. He thought it was seasonal allergies. Allergies are just as impalpable as depression. I took her to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital. They’re very thorough. I wanted a cure.
As the Ivy League Veterinarian greased up Josephine’s finger, she talked about how she swore she’d never express a dog’s anal glands again when she finished Vet school. She complained that anal glands were an evolutionary dead end, that there was no reason for them anymore. She said this as she milked a juice out of Josephine’s butt that made me yearn for our salad days of smothering toots. They smell of anal gland fluid is deeply wounding. It smells like a sweating metal hinge on a coffin filled with decaying possum meat.[1]
I don’t know that anal glands are indisputably unnecessary, but it sure seems like they’re at a wooly mammoth-meets-tarpit moment in history. Cursory internet research indicates that dogs’ anal glands are used to mark territory, show fear, and help with identification. Today’s dogs don’t live a life in which a trailing scent is very important. They sleep in our beds. They have to eat diet pet food. They take Yoga classes. There just isn’t much occasion, or, at least, proper occasion, for anal gland dispersal in a dog’s daily life. If we can just get dogs off anal glands and on android apps, well, I feel like there can be a pretty seamless transition from funky to 4G. Because it’s untoward to anally juice up one’s own Yoga mat.
I’m 30 today, and I’m seeing parallels between Beautiful Josephine’s anal glands and what it means to enter one’s third decade. Thirty is an identifier, one so potently sensible it might as well be a glandular secretion. Culturally, 30 marks territory and is a display of fear. Thirty squirts in an upward trajectory and the display is a fearful one in that it’s going to land hard and rottenly. Thirty means the pressure of getting somewhere, knowing that one’s deeds will echo in Bingo Valhalla. Thirty makes a statement. A very fetid statement.
So I have to ask. Should 30 be going the way of Beautiful Josephine’s anal glands, which should be going the way of the tin can and string? Today, on my 30th birthday, my answer is: no. I don’t want 30 to be a useless nozzle in my rectum; I want it to be important. That’s why I prefer to think of 30 as a mysterious nozzle in my rectum. Let’s leave it alone in there and let it be some kind of third eye, a pineal gland, the “seat of the soul” as Descartes might say. The 30 gland isn’t something to be expressed by a Veterinarian. No good ever comes of squeezing something dry.
Without the outside pressure, malodorous 30 is like my Beautiful Josephine, ringing me in blithe circles when I come home to her.
Josephine’s worms are all dispatched, by the way, and her intestinal tract doubles as a life model for Master Cleanse classes. She and I enter our 30s together. We’re working on our happy chops. We’re letting ourselves get there. We’re getting there.

[1] If you ever want to experience a facsimile of canine anal gland odor, and you live in the Philadelphia Area, go to the foyer of the Target on Aramingo Avenue. I’m not sure how it happened, but it smells exactly like Josephine’s anal glands.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Otherness in a Borderless Land: Jessie Clark

Jessie Clark is one of those people in Philadelphia that I wish I saw more often. We do run into each other on a fairly regular basis at the Wooden Shoe, but usually just in passing. Jessie exudes that rare combination of creativity, friendliness, and intellect and after one conversation you feel like you’ve known her since high school. Check out Jessie’s amazing artwork and writing online at: http://thejessicaclarkshow.com/

30 is an odd (though even) age, indeed. It is here that youthful, hope-doused exuberance meets bruise-y dark circled exhaustion, with small, well-meaning hand extended. I imagine the door to 30 stands upon a great precipice overseeing the deep & inevitable abyss that is aging, an aging of the italic, bold, underline variety. Suddenly full-fledged adolescents have sprung forth in that span of time between the not-so-long-ago & us. How could this have come to pass?

One day a few weeks ago whilst standing with thumb extended in artistic concentration (because that’s how it works, really…) to the drab, drudging drones of National Public Radio, the speakers spat forth one shining & gold-tinged thought-nugget effectively absolving the dull pretentiousness preceding it. Kurt Anderson, host of Studio 360, was in the process of interviewing Jennifer Egan on the topic of her then-upcoming novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. Author and interviewer had just broached the subject of aging. According to Egan, …Goon Squad addresses issues of age and nostalgia by way of the pop-culturally acceptable medium of music. As I have not read Egan’s novel, I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity (or success) of her claim. It is a statement Egan made while referring to this particular aspect of her novel that this long-winded set-up seeks to focus upon. In youth, “old” is seen as “Other,” Egan says. This feeling of otherness is held well into adulthood until, one day, it realized that it might just be the case that “old” is “Other” no longer.

This sort of “otherness” is especially intriguing when taken in conjunction with that “Other” of fiction, fairy-tales, and fables alike. The literary “Other” often appears to its counterpart (the subject) as a metaphysical monstrosity. It is perceived to have dastardly designs on the unlucky & seemingly innocent twin, and so it comes to pass that the subject becomes obsessed with the elimination of this sickening and familiar wraith. Should the subject succeed in striking a mortal blow, s/he dies in turn (an unforeseen consequence). This Other effectively acts as an externalization of the Subject’s poorer qualities. Once made visible (corporeal), the Subject is sickened, wanting nothing more than to smash these personal failings made physical. However, since Subject and Other are one and the same, death for one means death for both.

This creates a rather potent metaphor once applied to the process of aging. On one hand Old-Age stands like a camp, flaps open to all new/old-comers, a place with borders. Youth is surrendered to this blue-veined & wrinkled shelter. On the other, Youth and Age exist with simultaneity as with the Subject and its Other. Past self and Present self coalesce with little distinction and no means for escape except at one’s own peril. Perhaps a Future self is likewise in the mix, in the form of glittering possibility and/or gloomy, liver-spotted doom. In my estimation, it is this borderless land that speaks best to the age of 30.

About two/three months after my thirtieth birthday, my sister had her first child (my first niece). As I hold her now (a 7 month old bundle of slobbery giggles), I become starkly aware of those childhood photos wherein my aunts held me in much the same posture. 31 years and far-less corduroy later, a Clark-family motion is repeated. Rather than simply accentuating my new-found-feelings of age, these photos reveal the youth of my relatives—then and now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Next Thirty Years: kelly shortandqueer

Was it 2004? Or maybe 2005. I met kelly shortandqueer at the Madison Zine Festival the year that I lived there. I remember carrying in boxes of zines with kelly and being struck by how friendly and outgoing he was. I think the last time I saw kelly in person was a few years back now, in Boston, when he was on tour with the Tranny Road Show. Recently, we worked together to organize an event at the Denver Zine Library with artist Cristy Road. In addition to helping to run the zine library, kelly continues to do his long-running zine Short and Queer.
One of my closest friends over the past few years is 48 years old. He’s been with me through some hard times, lending an ear and helpful feedback – both validation and challenging me to look at my responses with a new perspective. I can’t even count the number of times he’s started a sentence with, “You probably don’t want to hear this, but…” Each time, I’d have to stop him and assure him that I know he’s going to give me some push back and if I didn’t want to hear it, I wouldn’t have called him. Often, the end of that sentence would relate in some way to my young age. It never felt like he was expressing ageism. On the contrary, I’ve been grateful for his willingness to share his experiences and wisdom with me. I’m conscious of my own social location in terms of identity development and figuring things out. I know it’s likely that in the future, I’ll look back on where I am now, understanding a whole lot more about the world and have a different perspective of my own, yet again.
I’m turning 30 in about three months and am beyond excited. Maybe this excitement was influenced by my mom’s joy in aging (I remember she called 44 and 55 her power years). Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending more and more time with people older than me, specifically older LGBTQ folks in square dancing and two-stepping contexts. These folks have been models for me in several ways. Many of them have created chosen families that have provided support over many years. They’ve been through so much in their combined lifetimes that I’m continually impressed by the love and joy they share with the world despite hard times, crises and heartbreak. It’s also great to be surrounded by older folks who are confident, desirable and sexual. When I think about people who dread turning 30 (or more generally getting older), specifically around perceived attractiveness, I want to introduce them to my friends who have seemed to figure out how to age gracefully (physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc).
A pattern, which I hope continues, is that the older I’m getting, the more things seem to be calming down. I feel more confident, comfortable and flexible. I still have adventures and late nights out dancing. I’ve found a balance between stability and spontaneity – at least a balance that works for me right now. I think that I’ve made it through my Saturn Return in one piece and have found that the most effective nursing for those bumps and bruises along the way has been living with intention and integrity.
As a trans guy, I’ve always looked young for my age. For years, I’ve had people constantly telling me how much I’ll appreciate it when people tell me how young I look in the future. That may be true, but I’m also excited about getting older, having my presence and looks reflect my age. I can’t wait to have eye crinkles (crow’s feet) that physically demonstrate the joy I experience in life from years of smiling so much. As a sucker for salt & pepper hair, I’m excited to have some gray of my own start coming in. Since starting testosterone in 2005, my physical appearance is starting to catch up with my age and I couldn’t be happier.
For the past year, whenever anyone has asked how old I am, my response has been, “I’m 29… and turn 30 in June.” My plan for my birthday, which I hope to pull off, is 30 days of 30. The question now is what a reasonable 30 days of celebration looks like. I think it’ll include cooking with friends, lots of two-stepping, laying in grass, margaritas, slumber parties, game nights and discussions about how to create a loving community that honors age and experience and how we, as queer and trans people, will age together, learn from each other and share in each other’s lives. For now, I’ll keep listening to Tim McGraw’s My Next Thirty Years and figure out what I want those years to look like in my own life.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Embrace of 360 Degrees: Matt Dineen

The 360 Months zine is here! Replete with the stunning cover art by my sister Sarah Dineen, it contains 30 essays by 30 people sharing their thoughts about turning 30--in 72 pages. If you are in Philadelphia, come check out the zine release event at Wooden Shoe Books at 704 South Street at 7:00 pm.

Here is my essay from the zine in honor of today, my 30th birthday. Enjoy! Also, check back next week for the rest of the essays. I'll start posting the remainder on Tuesday. Thanks for reading!
Life really does come full circle sometimes. I guess this is no surprise since our lives are not single linear journeys of constant progress. We are on a continuum that ebbs and flows and our personal histories often have the pesky tendency to repeat themselves. Our current selves are an amalgamation of all of our ups and downs, and the journey we’re on is a complex one.
On the cusp of 30, I feel like I’m 15 again. Half a lifetime ago I spent the summer washing dishes at Nonnie’s Country Kitchen in Orleans, MA—my first job. I was paid under the table, in cash, to scrape the remains of chocolate chip pancakes larger than my face, scrub lipstick stains off coffee mugs, and listen to the classic rock station that the sexist cook would sing along to all morning. It feels like yesterday.
Actually, it was yesterday.
I arrived at my new job to discover an envelope in the back room with my name scrawled in full-caps: MATT. It contained a (small) pile of 20 dollar bills for my previous week of labor. After counting the bills, I stuffed the envelope in my backpack, grabbed a glass of ice water, and squeezed into a fresh pair of bright-yellow dishwashing gloves. Something was different though.
Instead of elderly retirees filling Nonnie’s counter (and inhaling her second-hand Lucky Strike smoke), there were tables full of people gazing into laptop computers, sipping lattes and eating pasta salad. Instead of AC/DC and Van Halen on the transistor radio in the back, Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire were playing on an iPod through the surround-sound speakers of the cafĂ©. Everything has changed. But as I stood in front of the industrial sink scrubbing lipstick off a coffee mug it hit me that, actually, everything has stayed the same. In one week, I will be a 30 year old dishwasher with a college degree.
How has my life reverted to this, 15 years later?
It would be pretty easy to wake up on the morning of my 30th birthday in despair that my life is not going anywhere; paralyzed by an internalized classism, making me feel like an utter failure of a human being. Luckily, I have dedicated a lot of my time since school to analyzing, rejecting, and documenting alternatives to the dominant culture that defines people by what they do for money, first and foremost. I have spent more than half of a decade now interviewing activists and artists about the dilemma of following their passions, doing what they truly love, while surviving in a cutthroat capitalist society. So I have thought about this stuff a lot. 
Over the years, when people I meet ask me, “What do you do?” the answer is always complicated. “Well,” I’ll reply. “It depends what you mean.” We are all so much more than our wage jobs. We are complex, multidimensional creatures. And this should be celebrated.
As I approach 30, I think back to that requisite thought exercise throughout many of our childhoods: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Is this it? Am I grown up now? At one point, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Apparently I told my mother (who was 29 when she had me) that I would become rich as a Major League star and buy her a house. She lovingly reminds me of this broken promise every now and then. Sorry mom!
It has been essential for me to talk to people who have spent their lives redefining what success means—prioritizing happiness and community over the accumulation of wealth and power. This is also true of the aging process.
In my mid- to late-20’s it was really inspiring to talk to people in their 30’s who were truly embracing getting older. Actually, I have found that if you ask people who have passed the 30 year milestone, almost across the board they will talk about how much better life is than in their 20’s. So why is it then that many twenty-somethings in our society are so scared of this moment?   
I wear a pin on my jacket that reads: “Growing up is awesome!” The person that created (and gave me) this pin explained that it was in response to the popular subcultural slogan: “Growing up is giving up.”
In a culture that fetishizes youth and perpetuates “glory days” mythology, that teaches us to fear and misunderstand the natural cycles of life, embracing one’s 30’s is a radical act. 
The vision I have for my 30’s is to actualize all of the things that I talked about doing in my 20’s. I want to take inspiration from, and further cultivate, the best aspects of my youthful past. Simultaneously, I want to learn from the mistakes I’ve made, the low points of my personal continuum. This is not to say that it will be easy or that history won’t continue to occasionally repeat itself. My life will inevitably come full circle once again, but I am hopeful for what the next 360 degrees holds for me. Turning 30 is awesome. I am not giving up.
Matt Dineen lives in Philadelphia, where he turned 30 on April 7, 2011. Contact him at: passionsandsurvival(at)gmail(dot)com