The physical symptoms are obvious. My back is more sensitive. My legs get sore. My balding exists – persists. I have to be more vigilant: about my sleep position, about not overexerting myself physically, about avoiding a room full of mirrors. My body needs more attention than ever before, and for the first time in my life, I alter my diet – MY DIET! – to regain the trim figure I once maintained effortlessly. No more snacks, no more midnight McNuggets, no more carbs without abandon.*
*Okay, so I was a ticking time bomb.
I find myself getting legitimately excited about the weirdest shit. Finding a deal on a second-hand water boiler, making the move to a cast iron skillet, having my handpicked curtains block out the sun. They’re small victories, reminders that I can sometimes pass off as a competent adult. I manage to change my address at the bank last week, working with a teller who barely speaks a word of English, filling out several forms in Japanese. I pump my fist on the way out, multiple times.
Mostly, I’m still the same. I buy a rice scoop because it is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s glove: the handle resembling his arm. I am as giddy as any teenage girl at the Pikachu Café to eat food shaped like the Pokémon character. I stop at arcades in search of electronic basketball, a reminder of the unit I once owned and put in my apartment in lieu of a dining room table. I’m basically a big kid with money, maybe more reason and a bit of a conscience.
My sister says that she only feels old when she thinks about how old I am. There’s something to that. I could live my life in blissful ignorance, with a little more maintenance for my body and a lot less hair on my head. But the world around me makes me all too aware of the time that has passed. Kids get younger, anniversaries bigger. I had an acquaintance whine about hitting 30 a few weeks ago, and it made me realize that I’ve been 31 for six months. I had kind of forgotten.
Working in and around university settings for the past decade presented everyday reminders of my mortality, but only to a degree. As a researcher, the effect is lessened: I don’t interact with students regularly, am not faced with how young every successive class looks. I dress comfortably, resembling the kids more than I do the professors. Meanwhile, my fish-out-of-water status in Japan and general personality traits strip me of authority I might otherwise be associated with. I feel like Tom Hanks in Big.*
*Or updated, Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30.
That I am part of the Peter Pan generation living in the ultimate Peter Pan society – albeit temporarily – only wipes away the remaining vestiges of normalcy and judgment and expectation. Manga is ubiquitous; cosplay everywhere. We are all finding ourselves. We are all dicking around or at best, trying to get our shit together. Again, a respite. And thus it is only when I think about returning to the States at 33 – when I think at all – that I am broadsided by the reality of time and age.
But put aside normalcy and judgment and expectation, and the passing of time doesn’t really matter. I am making progress, even if I still haven’t broken the $50,000 a year threshold. I am putting myself out there, even if I can’t stumble my way into a serious – or even a frivolous – relationship. I am generally happy with who I am as a human being, while working on the aspects of myself that I want to address. I can do that and still see the Ninja Turtles movie on opening day.
I remember listening to the Blink song about being 23 when I was 16 and the idea of 23 seemed so far off. I remember listening when I was 23 and lamenting my lack of progress in life – blogging about it, naturally. I remember listening when I was 30 and a wee bit sheepish about still listening to Blink, but 23 had become so small and insignificant. In my very first college course, on human aging, we were asked to jot down our ideal ages. I wrote 17. These days, I wouldn’t consider anything lower than 27.
The number doesn’t matter. I’m realizing that. I’m 31. Who cares?