Thirty-one feels bigger than thirty, I think because thirty's a milestone but everyone acknowledges it's a milestone and mostly in this culture we also acknowledge that most socially-forced milestones are kind of bullshit. Nobody I knew in high school felt grown up when they got their driver's licence; everyone I knew in college didn't feel grown up until they had to make their first car insurance payment. It's the gritty little pieces of life that make you re-evaluate the whole. At least, for me.
I think I'm doing pretty well for my thirties. I have an education and a steady job that I like. I've made conscious decisions about my carbon footprint, my political leanings, the causes I support, and the people I associate with (more accurately, I suppose, the people I choose not to associate with). I have things that fulfill me, spiritually and emotionally. I have a reasonably good relationship with two of my three surviving blood kin and my stepfather and his family. I'm not in any dysfunctional romantic relationships and while I'm not in any romantic relationships, I'm mostly okay with that. I wrote a book and sold it and made actual money off it. I've done stuff: been places, seen things, taught, been taught. I don't necessarily understand myself yet, but that's setting the bar pretty high for thirty-one.
But then this morning in the shower I was really thinking about the fact that I engage in play that is still deemed childish by society: action figures, fanfic, comic books, playacting. While pornography might not be considered childish, it is still considered a sort of immature gratification ritual. None of that should matter -- I'm a grownup, I get to say what TV I watch and what hobbies I engage in and what porn I like. I'd rather be happy writing fanfic than be miserable doing something more socially acceptable.
Still, it does matter. That's just the way I was socialised, and I can't help it. Most of the time it doesn't really bug me because I can turn to Henry Jenkins or art theory or even rhetoric and say, these things I am doing are healthy and creative. Which is all true. They are. The fanfic I posted today was a serious discussion of identity, art, interpretation, and criticism. The fact that I'm using someone else's characters to do it is a little uneasy-making but hell, on some level, who doesn't do that? Fanfiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by folk. (Jenkins, you magnificent bastard, you really don't know how much confidence you've given me over the years.)
And yet something in me says, you're thirty one years old, time to watch the news instead of Torchwood. Your friends are having kids, and you don't currently have the financial stability to support a cat. Your fellow students are building careers, and you spend your evenings writing stories. What the hell, Sam?
I stood there in the shower and wondered what would happen if I decided now is when I am a grown up. If I got rid of the fanfic archive, stopped writing it, stopped reading it, stopped watching White Collar and Supernatural and Merlin and Doctor Who and started seeing arthouse films instead.
It's not that I'm going to; that's absurd. I don't even like cinema. Besides, "grown up" in that context is "what Madison Avenue tells you is grown up", not what is actually grown up, and I have made it a policy not to let sitcoms and beer adverts inform my experience of reality.
But what if I did? What the hell would I do with my life? What would people think who read this blog? What do grown ups actually do that their lives are so gratifying? How long would it take me to stop thinking of fanfic I wanted to write? And for just a second I considered it. For one thing, I spend probably four hours a day writing -- some of that on the blog, some original, most fanfic. Original writing is tiring, but eventually I'm sure I could do four hours of it a day. But, well, fanfic got me this far.
I do wonder, but it's theoretical. And, after about ten minutes, I get the fuck over it.
I am conscious enough of myself to know that what makes me a grown up is not what I own or watch on television. I am a grown up because I can think critically and respond rationally; because I can use literature to do so; because I can control my temper; because I try to practice empathy and patience; because I try to take misfortune with a sense of humour; because my immediate urge is to educate, not to scorn; because I have learned when to accept my limits and when to work to expand them; because I know how to question.
I'm a grownup because instead of calling in sick to work and having a couple of shots of vodka, or freaking out and deleting eight years' worth of writing, or deciding I'm a loser, I made a Radio Free Monday post and then a fanfic post and came home and thought about this shit and made this post.
And my Captain Jack Harkness action figure agrees with me, so there.