So… I’m turning 30 next week. Shocked? I know I look sixteen in the wedding photo on my About page, like some sort of child bride; plus with the addition of my sisters also wearing white in the photo, it’s like a whole child bride/sister wives thing going on. Trust me, I am now aware of this troubling illusion. But no. I’m almost 30. And my husband only married one of us.
It’s interesting all the unsolicited advice I’ve received lately as 30 creeps closer- I get a lot of ‘don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think’, and ‘just don’t think about it and it’ll be like any other year’ and, my personal favourite, ’30 is the new 20 anyway’. Good God, I hope not! I wouldn’t want to be turning 20 again for anything, except maybe the courage to have both blonde and black streaks in my hair at the same time (I still have to stop myself from using the word ‘streaks’ when I go to the hairstylist.. old habits die hard). What has shocked me about all the advice, however, is how negative it mostly is. It’s like everyone is patting me sadly on the back as I enter the last game of my football career or something- “ah well, she had a good run"; "we can’t all stay young forever”; "she’ll have a great career in broadcasting if she plays her cards right” (perhaps that one’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea). But though aging might be the death of a career as a footballer (is that a real noun?), or a model, or Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend, I think it’s quite the opposite for a life as a writer. In fact, I think every year I grow older I grow closer to becoming the best writer I can be.
I will say, my earliest stories as a wee youngen were pure gold, I’ll give myself that. I had a lot of trouble with endings, so inevitably they mostly ended with someone ‘waking up from a dream’, but my imagination was purer when I was 10, untainted by a commitment to realism or really a basic narrative structure of any kind, and so I imagined brilliant stories about rocks that turned into children, or fairy colonies that lived in the river bed, or even a particularly well-received musical entitled Precipitation, Condensation, Evaporation (highly influenced by my current science-fair research at the time).
That immediate willingness to write whatever came to my imagination is something I still envy, as a few writing degrees later, I have the voices of all my peers and professors in my head already critiquing my strange dreams before they even make it to the paper. So though I will agree that it is easier to write when you are younger, simply because there are less voices telling you not to (if you’re lucky) than as you get older, easier does not necessarily equal better writing.
At 10, I had imagination in spades, but I lacked the tools to use metaphor and deeper meaning, create musicality and poetic device, or write proper narratives with riveting beginnings, twisting middles, and, well, any ending at all. Those tools didn’t come until later, once I began to study writing in university. Before that, I moved away from writing for a time and pursued other vocations (actor, prime minister, and pastor, to name a few), so when I came back to studying writing, it was definitely much harder than before because I felt the pressure that comes with “finding your career”, and was determined to figure out how to make a living from the thing I loved (that’s what university is for after all- figuring out how to make money from an arts degree… yes?).
Now outside of class, I had no problem writing the soul-crushing-est of unrequited love poems, long meandering letters to friends I had met on my travels, silly plays and scripts for games or other celebrations, but that wasn’t “real” writing, right? In class, I was getting marked on my “real writing" by my teachers and getting critical feedback from my peers, and there was so much competition to submit to the school journal, and local magazines, and to talk big about being published one day; it was enough to give me writers block just walking onto campus (that and the amount of slack-lining shirtless "hippies"… thank you, University of Victoria).
When I finished my degree, I had no intention in continuing on with writing, since I had to get back to my real vocation as prime minister/actor, but I had a wonderful playwriting professor who encouraged me to apply to grad school in Toronto, and I got in, and that became a whole other two years of writing being a whole damn lot more difficult than when I was 10.
Now, when I wasn’t writing for zee graduates, I was penning sprawling diatribes on the meaning of life as a millennial in a giant city, and writing love poems to my new husband, and scathing plays on the ridiculousness of grad school rhetoric while procrastinating my final essays. But that wasn’t “real” writing, I told myself- the REAL writing was what I would do when I inevitably got a manuscript published, or a play produced, or a film made, and raked in hundreds of dollars (yes hundreds seemed like a whole lot at the time in my one-window, mouse-and-mold filled basement suite), right?? The problem was, I seemed to have a lot more trouble writing that “real” writing. It didn’t flow nearly as easily as the stream-of-consciousness diatribes, or as truly as the love poems, or as bitingly as the plays. So at the time, it truly did feel like writing would get harder and harder the older I got. More pressure. More opinions. More stakes. Less imagination. Less freedom. Less time.
Now, on the brink of 30 and a couple years post-grad school, I’ve clearly figured it all out and am extremely mature and all my writing is done as easily as finishing a pan of brownies to myself. Also I write swaddled in fur whilst drinking champagne…. just kidding. It’s still really hard!! Definitely harder to begin writing and to tap into my imagination than when I was 10, but the difference is that I’ve started embracing the writing I do "on the side" as my real writing- the little poems, little paragraphs, little imaginings I pen in notebooks and napkins and my brain when I’m sitting in a waiting room at the dentist, or out for a cocktail with friends, or sleepily scribbling things down that rise to my mind as I fall asleep. Those writings come easily, without really thinking about them, and though I discounted them when I was younger as illegitimate writing, as I get older, I am beginning to accept these strange little writings as my best writing, my truest, and allowing them to teach me, and to blossom into other bigger things, or not- to stay small and hidden and lovely just on their own.
I'm also realizing that I don't have to try so hard to dig for "brilliant", "deep" material. Every year, simply by getting out of bed every (most) days, I'm gathering more and more images, experiences, and stories to me like those brownies gather around my love handles. I'm not even trying! I just wake up, go outside (or, like, leave my bed), and BOOM- another day gives me new images to mine from, new experiences to ponder, and new stories to unfold. It's like magic, I swear. All I have to do is keep my eyes open, grow older, and the world does the work for me.
Guys, if I’m figuring this out one week before turning 30, IMAGINE what I’ll know when I’m 40! Or 50! Or, oh my goodness, 90! I can’t wait to read my writing when I’m 90! I’m going to be so good! Is that weird/extremely conceited to say? I don’t care; I really do look forward to reading my own writing when I’m 90. I imagine I’ll have a million zillion more images and experiences to pull from, I (hopefully) won’t take myself so seriously, I’ll potentially be beyond the beginnings of a writing career and write more for love than for money, I expect not to give a f*** what my peers think of my writing, and my imagination will be as free as it was when I was 10, but with the addition of a life’s worth of writing knowledge, tools, and tricks up my (fabulous, preferably silk) sleeve and under my (is it too far to hope for Gucci?) belt.
All this to say, I’m still just beginning as a writer at age almost-30, but I’m already a better writer than I was at 10, and 20, and even 29, simply because I’ve lived more life. If you are reading this and you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or 90s, and you’re thinking “it’s too late for me, I should have started earlier, I should have gone to school for writing, I don’t have anything to say now, who would care what I have to say?”, I want to jump out of the screen and say STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!!! Your voice is valuable, it has always been valuable, and it is actually growing in value with every year you live more of your life, and gather more images and experiences and insight. Do not let age stop you from writing. It is not reliant on schooling, or education, or grades. You’re not a football player- you don’t top out at 28 after so many concussions you start seeing two footballs thrown at you instead of one. You are a writer. You’re gathering more and more stories every day, every year, whether you’re aware of it or not, simply by gathering life.
So please, next week, if you see me on the street (or, more likely, at any number of cocktail bars in the city), don’t tell me that 30 is the new 20. I do not want to be 20. At 20 I was insecure about my writing, trying to please too many people with it, unsure of my voice. I’m very happy to be a writer at 30. And looking forward every year to being an even better writer at 90.
As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"