35 Things that Surprised Me Before 35

Composed on the 28th of February in the year 2015, at 2:37 PM. It was Saturday.

1. After 32, it became vital to know where my antacid and heating pad are at all times

These are the most important things I own. Not everybody deals with stomach acid issues, but those of us who do know that you only have two minutes to stave off soul-destroying agony that won't stop until you get at least 500 milligrams of calcium carbonate. It's probably gotten a little better since I started paying attention to my diet, but when it hits, it has to be dealt with. I've roamed the streets at four in the morning, and, in desperate situations, forced myself to throw up, all for the want of a Tums.

The back issue is more common, because our backs aren't supposed to do what we do with them. Those of us with little or none of the discipline that would otherwise keep us in the gym need heating pads to trick our backs into working at least once a week.

These bandaids become more and more necessary, because

2. This is the age where that shit catches up to you

Your early twenties are the years where you get your comeuppance in a bad way if you've ever previously announced that you don't believe in hangovers. That's fair.

The early thirties feel less fair, because it doesn't really matter how you treated yourself. Yes, there are things you can do to slow the decline, but your body has no qualms reminding you that your peak breeding years are over and it's just punching the clock until it can close up for good. Knowing that,

3. Pain management becomes economic

So because you thought your body was a tank for the first third of your life, you've got some busted bits, and you take them to the doctor. Sometimes the doctor gives you medicine or advice, but at some point, your doctor will say: "Well, we could run a bunch of tests, but it's probably nothing. Take some pain-killers." This is the moment where you realize your health is negotiable. I don't know if it was just Star Trek, but I unconsciously nursed the belief that any health problem can be solved with enough beeping things and flashing lights. This may be true up to a point, but what they never tell you is every beep costs as much as a year at community college. They probably could fix that nagging ache in your knee, if you're comfortable taking out a second mortgage and selling your children into slavery.

So you save your cash for the day when they do decide to run you through a few beep machines and discover your life is about to get really expensive. In the meantime, you suck it up and pop a few Aspirin.

4. 40 still looms

I thought I'd be over arbitrary age-specific phobias after 30 came and went without much fanfare, but nope. Forty is still there, looking at its watch and tapping its foot, asking me if I'll achieve anything interesting before I show up.

5. Selling out is fun and relaxing

This got easier for my generation when Dubya won his second term. We shared a collective sigh and said, well, fuck it. Just give me some money to keep the internet on. And everything got easier, though I do wish we'd done something about science education before global warming ramped up its game.

6. You're just not going to finish some things

Deal with it.

7. Mostly because sleep is fantastic

And you can never get enough of it.

8. If you're not having kids, there are no more checkpoints

If you eschew the twenty-year distraction/achievement of spawning, there's a certain feeling of "now what?" that creeps in once you reach financial stability. I'm far too selfish to take care of a child, and I wouldn't wish the next fifty years on one unless I get a signed and legally binding document from world leaders promising to get their shit together. I still have lots of things I want to do, but it does sometimes feel like "try not to die today" is stuck at the top of the list.

9. You have no control over your legacy

I've always wanted to get famous on my own terms, which are straightforward: I have lots of money, no obligations, my name pops up a lot in The New Yorker, and nobody recognizes me in the street so they're always shocked and awed to find out who I am. I wanted to do this through novels, but since my first novel took me fifteen years to write and still needs work, I thought I'd keep a blog on the side to look like I was producing something.

After ten years of experimental short non-fiction, read by maybe my family, I picked up Tucker Max and thought he was funny, so I decided to write about my bad dates. These were the posts that finally got my friends to read it. Then, for no real reason, I wrote about losing my mind, and that's what got Reddit to read it. Then one day I decided to try to write a rant without using profanity, and everyone read it. So all I wanted was to be a Quiet Writer Type poking away at a computer in Brooklyn, and so far I've been known as The Slutty Asshole, The Drugged Up Crazy Kid, and The Guy Who Hates Programming.

Albert Hofmann was a chemist for most of a century, and the only reason you know his name is because you dropped acid in college. Oppenheimer? Atomic bomb. He probably saw that one coming, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't picking graduate courses on the basis of which ones would help him blow the most shit up. Unless you manage to David Bowie your career, your claim to fame won't be claimed by you at all: something will randomly catch the public consciousness one day and stamp your forehead with that one thing you did that time when you weren't paying attention.

10. There's no shame in settling in

There's a fixation in my generation that truly following your dreams means throwing away all your possessions, getting a great tan, and running around in deserts or on beaches (it has to involve sand for some reason) with a lot of healthy-looking young people and maybe one older guy who's not creepy at all. You'll also write a book or redecorate a studio apartment, or be enlightened or something. You will like to dance, at least for two-second intervals when the camera is pointed at you.

I don't mean to dump on anyone. I have a lot of spirited gypsy friends,1 and they have great stories and tell me about Burning Man and supply vital momentum to social progress, but part of the reason they get to run all over the country is they can sleep on the couches of people like me. And by people like me I mean people with apartments with couches, because possessions turn out to be awesome. I like watching movies on my giant TV. Video games are fantastic these days. I have books and heat and food all the time, plus lots of musical instruments that don't have sand in the electronics. Are these things existentially fulfilling? No. But the thing about existential fulfillment is you can get to it whenever you feel like it, unlike clean water, or shelter in February.

11. Boredom is procrastination in disguise

Seriously. Bored? In this day and age? We have access to, like, all the information via pocket computers, and even before that there was an effectively infinite world of crazy stuff. I thought boredom was a lack of creativity for a while, but it then it occurred to me that every time I was bored it wasn't because the inscrutable mystery of existence didn't have anything to offer right then, it was because I wanted to be doing something else. This realization didn't make me drop everything and write a symphony, but it's an occasional motivator.

12. It's important to listen to music

I used to listen to music on my headphones until I almost got hit by a car three times in two weeks. Unlikely as that was, and as unlikely as it will be as long as I keep an eye out, I decided that since it only takes one not-almost to disqualify me from the rat race, I needed my ears in the game too. Somehow this bled over into the rest of my life and I just didn't think about my iTunes playlist or turn on my speakers unless I was throwing a party. Fact is, life gets a little more depressing without music. It's also easier to get work done with a little music in the background, at least for me, so I'm making the effort to get tunes going. Also, these crazy kids actually have some good shit on the radio these days. Which reminds me

13. The kids don't know your music

Everybody warned me about this, but it still hurt because I made a real attempt to get to know my parents' music, mostly because I was homeschooled and didn't have another option. I even try to listen to the kids' music, because I'm never the one picking the music in the office and I don't have another option.

So I try to accept people not knowing Primus, but Nirvana? I don't even like Nirvana that much, but you can't not know they were a thing.

14. But seriously, you should know Primus

Primus has the weirdest fan demographics I've ever seen: frat boys up front, Grateful dead retirees in the back, and a mix of goths, punks, good ol' boys, army lifers, pseudo-intellectuals, and a bunch of kids on mushrooms in between. No publicity department anywhere has ever come to the conclusion that this is the group of people they should focus on. I don't even know what the group of people could be defined as, but it's always the same group. And 90 percent of us would never speak to one another in polite society, but we'll all drop our problems when Jerry the Race Car Driver starts up. I don't know why Primus brings the world together, but goddamn.

15. Happiness is a short commute

This is one of those nice facts that's true on the day-to-day scale and even truer when taken to absurd extremes. A thirty-minute commute is better that a two-hour commute, and no commute at all is clearly better than one that never ends. It turns out simple and measurable happiness factors like these are rare in life, and you should keep a list of any you find so you know where to start if you feel like killing yourself.

16. You can still hang out with your married friends, until they have kids

Married friends without kids are the same as your friends who go excessively steady. There's no mysterious vanishing act: they still hang out, they don't decide to only hang out with other married couples, and they're comfortable around their single friends unless they weren't in the first place.

Once they have kids, they're gone, they have nothing in common with you, and you don't want to talk to them anyway because fucking hell, enough about the kid already.

17. There are the callers and the called

Some people get in touch with me all the time. Some I would never see again if I didn't go out of my way to keep in touch with them. It's tempting to think of this as a pecking order, but it's a matter of temperament. Some of my friends are shut-ins, and they're busy with books and video games and living quietly. Some of my friends are semi-famous and they have a lot of people to deal with all the time. Some of my friends I love but I don't have the energy to have a two-hour phone call twice a week. Some of my friends I never call, because our friendship is based on eating potato chips and watching Buffy, and we don't have that much to talk about. It's not important.

18. You are indeed a special snowflake, but nobody gives a shit

Everybody's got a story worth listening to for some amount time. It might be a small amount of time, but it's not nothing. But it's good to remember that all your stories feature you, and odds are nobody else remembers your highlights. I can definitely remember hating or being impressed by two or three strangers today, but I don't remember why or what they looked like, and I never will. I'm too busy snowflaking through my own life.

19. Farting is part of the routine

I dimly remember being embarrassed about all my methane emissions, now I just try not to emit them in elevators. I find the trick is to take care of it with gusto in the morning.

20. Alien is still the best sci-fi movie ever made

I've exhausted most of the internet's store of science fiction movies, so whenever I dig deep on Netflix for that shitty straight-to-video sci-fi flick that somehow missed my radar, I realize I really just want to watch Alien again. The slow build and increasing desperation are the envy of any horror flick, and the story is spacefaring humans encounter alien life for the first time, and that alien life eviscerates them like its opening the yogurt it should have had before it got drunk last night. It's not just offing the humans, it's messing with them by the time it's six hours old. In fact, I'm putting that on right now, but before I go, the reason the Ripley character is so good is because Sigourney Weaver does fear so well. She's the archetype that people dimly imagine when they say "you can't be brave if you're not afraid."

When evolution's end game has a mouth erection for your skull, you're going to be afraid. Ripley keeps moving when every instinct she has is curled up under a blanket and crying, which is why when she delivers the line "I got you, you bastard," it doesn't sound like a freshman ejaculating on his keyboard.

Plus it's got John Hurt in it. He was the cool old English guy before Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan decided to be cute all over Brooklyn.

21. I still haven't paid off my student loans

This is especially galling because no one, anywhere, has ever given a damn about my college education. I got an interdisciplinary degree in film theory which was rightly ignored by everybody who hired me to do things in film, then people stopped hiring me to do things in film and my career swerved into professional nerding.

22. Ring around the collar is real

I remember watching commercials as a kid thinking, "Jesus, how hard is it to wash your neck?" It's too bad I was so judgmental about it, because now I look at my white button-ups and think, "I'm a disgusting pig."

23. There will never be peace in the middle east

I mean, I like peace, but I just saw a headline about the US sending people to train rebels in Syria, because that always works, and I'm just over it.

24. Wine is the best alcohol

Every three or four years, the medical community changes its mind on whether or not wine is good for you. I'm not a doctor, but whatever they say, alcohol is bad for your liver, so if you must drink it, as I must, wine is the only game in town. You can't chug it unless you're insane, it's not another variation on cat urine like beer, and nobody tries to pressure you into doing half a dozen shots of it at the end of the night to guarantee a spotty memory of whatever the pressuring party wanted to do next. Speaking of which:

25. Peer pressure still happens

I happily remain immune most of the time, but people will still try to convince you you're not cool enough if you're not doing whatever they're doing. At thirty-five.

Judging from observation, you get a reprieve from this if you drop a kid, but even if you don't, peer pressure should be over by twenty-five, to say nothing of the next decade. If you have to try to break somebody's self-respect to get them to follow your example, consider the possibility that your example is terrible.

26. There are still people I keep in touch with via AIM

You are thinking either "wtf is AIM?" or "omg me too" and neither of you have any problem with the acronyms.

27. My memory went early and fast

The history of my Y chromosome records a poor relationship with memory. We now live in an era where our memory is outsourced to various Google services. For me, that means my memory is reduced to StackOverflow and Wikipedia. On the bright side, my new silicon memory contains more information than my brain is capable of storing. On the dark side, I find myself looking up the definition of "ontological" every few months, even though I absolutely know what it means, because I don't trust my brain the way I once did.

28. There is nothing too petty for people to fight about

The Oxford comma. The Oxford. Fucking. Comma. People decided to eFight about this for years. In public. With their real names. And I thought the Emacs vs. Vim debate was some kind of obscure nerd aneurysm caused by hand-coding HTML tables. Maybe it is just nerd culture bleeding into the rest of the culture, because

29. The nerds won

So epically it's not even questioned. It's old news. The writing was on the wall for a century, but now nerds rule what's left of the middle class and maybe 20 percent of the 1 percent, so it's over. I really did not see this coming in high school, which is one of the many reasons I'm not rich. If memory serves (which it does not, see 27), Bill Gates was the first one through the . . . gate, I guess, but I think it was the bizarre notion that Steve Jobs was "cool" that sealed the deal. Should have invested in Apple. Fortunately

30. Investing in Netflix was a really good idea

I have no clue about the stock market. My parents got me an IRA as a birthday present, um, a few years ago2 and I thought, well Netflix is a thing I like, and my sole good investment has a 2000 percent return so far. Which is money I'll see if I manage to make it to 65. Which is a dodgy bet, because

31. Holy shit is smoking bad for you

I blame a lot on natural age and laziness, but Jesus I wish I could quit cigarettes. The various cancers and emphysema and blood clots are frightening, sure, but it's the day to day pain that gets to me: six flights of stairs might as well be a two-mile jog, I can't taste anything, I can't smell anything besides ripe feces and over-applied perfume, and my diminished lung capacity means my muscles don't have enough oxygen to relax, and even while I'm dealing with all this, my whole schedule revolves around getting the next cigarette before Mr. Hyde makes an appearance.

32. And that's not even the most irrational thing I do

I will sit in a position that's causing me pain, knowing that I could relieve it with no effort, until I realize I'm intentionally punishing myself for not having finished some task, then I continue to subject myself to this punitive puritanical damage until I finish what I was supposed to be doing, even though I'm checking Facebook.

When I finally end this, I know I'm not alone as I look around at yet another open office plan even though open offices reduce productivity, and try to think up an excuse to avoid a brainstorming session, because brainstorming isn't very useful. I return to my desk and delete a bunch of emails from recruiters looking for candidates with strong multi-tasking skills, even though multi-tasking is not a skill, it's a bad habit that damages your brain. My phone buzzes and I realize the last iPhone update has turned all my notifications back on and I have to learn a new method of turning them all back off because who on Earth wants to be distracted three hundred times day? I only want to be distracted for two-hour intervals playing games that make me anxious and frustrated. Later, I will go drink a legal intoxicant that is actively harmful and makes me dangerous to myself and others, while listening to a story about a friend getting arrested for having an illegal intoxicant that makes them placid and hungry, and blaming the arrest on Mars being in retrograde.

So, nerds, enjoy it while you can, because the crazy is strong in this species.

33. Pants are for suckers

Remember?

34. It doesn't matter what you do, it's who you work with

There have been troubling philosophical aspects to certain jobs I've had, but the morally gray jobs with great people always trump ideologically spotless offices filled with assholes. I once had an interview with a guy who couldn't deign to sweep the condescension from his eyes as he asked me what I thought his company was about. I said, "You're trying to make it easier for patients to connect with doctors." He stared me down with superhuman disappointment and said, "We're trying to make the world a better place."

People who proclaim they're trying to make the world a better place tend to be the least qualified for the job, because they're assholes. People actually making the world a better place say they're trying to do something specific, like get housing to the homeless or medicine to the sick. Come to think of it, just asking "Do you understand what we're trying to do here?" is the kind of thing assholes do.

The people who do make the world a better place are people who are not assholes. If you can find a whole office full of people you don't hate, take that job.

35. You do not actually meet the same people going down as you do going up

All you have to do is move once in a while.

1 Three.

2 ibid. 27

Do it. Doooo it. What's the worst that could happen?

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