IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AND WE KNOW IT |
Being 20something always crazy.
But being 20something right now?
It can feel like living an inch under the apocalypse.
June 16th, 2015 was the day I graduated college—something neither of my parents did. My mom took lots of photos. My dad who doesn’t cry, cried.
To the rest of the world, June 16th, 2015 was the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States.
My life, Donald’s life, our planet’s life changing.
Oceans rising. More than just California burning.
What is success when you’re young and your country is literally on fire?
Right now The Story of The Successful is waking and meditating, automatically paying student debt with a monthly payment, drinking at brunch, carrying adult things without a backpack from the car into a glass building and into a smaller office, towards a cubicle to click on links and look into an internet with reports quoting scientists writing the effects of climate change are irreversible.
Swipe right, swipe left. Hashtag it or not. Carry it back to your parents’ house or overpriced apartment.
How irreversible is irreversible?
I was 23, staying at a Hilton Garden in an unglorified suburb of Riverside the night Donald Trump was elected.
At the bar in the lobby were a group of real adults older than me drinking and hollering. All white. Men and women. They didn’t talk like they were from the West Coast and seemed to be visiting California for work. One wore a MAGA hat and whenever Fox News celebrated another state winning, he’d yell “And Alabama chooses to…?” and the rest would cheer “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
I sat nearby with my journal and watched them: 7 American citizens like me, partying and talking to the television. Eventually they noticed and there was a confrontation. I don’t remember what was said, but it resulted in the bartender intervening and sending a man with a gray beard to his room for the night who had just poked me in the chest multiple times while slurring close-ended questions about Hillary Clinton’s connection to satanism.
My cheeks were warm. Growing up in rural Oregon, but close enough to that liberal poster-child named Portland, I felt surprised and not surprised.
They all went to bed eventually, tipsy and sleeping better than half the country.
“How old are you, kid?” the young-ish, hotel bartender asked. “Old enough to buy you a drink? It’s on me.”
What does it mean to be a kid who isn’t a kid? How many times do we start over?
I’d moved to California 5 months before because I was tired of Oregon rain and tired of myself. I didn’t know anyone in town. It was an Instagram filter kind of place: 75 degrees year round, brown street signs with a cursive typeface out of the Hobbit, ornate houses that never locked their doors, a Happiest Town in America ranking featured on Oprah. I moved there for the only job I got—working at the most expensive California-state university in the system, recruiting low-income students of color to consider an education they likely couldn’t afford.
The day after the election I visited a school with 80% of its students on federally-funded lunch. Most were Latino.
“It’s a wild time,” I said, walking beside the white high school counselor through the outdoor lunch commons after my presentation. “Any sense how many will be affected, if they’re undocumented?”
“They don’t tell us if they are,” she said. “I just hope there’s a change. We need it. We’ve been spending too much on the illegals and none on the veterans.”
I didn’t respond. I signed out in the front office, walked to my rental car Camry and drove off through the hot, dry valley (a word that to the old me meant refreshing, beautiful, green).
I didn’t like my job and I didn’t not like it. I was grateful for it and wanted anything else. I hated it and I didn’t hate it. Most of the time I was a project manager on excel or a heavy traveler. No creating. I wrote a lot of poems on the clock and printed 200 pages for copies of my first chapbook of poems after everyone left the office, so I wouldn’t get busted.
I felt excited and kid-ish while stealing company printer paper in a town I didn’t know existed for most of my life. 23 years old.
How did I get here?
How did we get here?
In this collection our writers are asking themselves that, along with other things and sometimes everything.
Each jumped into the beige unknown of their 20s and found at least something—whether they got laid off, saw a patient rip his own toe off for drugs, moved back in with their parents, slept on an air mattress , came out, lost their mind, changed their pronouns,
Starting over is hard and exhilarating. The transition can feel as large as being in a new body and as small as going from wandering campus, thinking “where did I park my bike this time?” to wandering parking lots, thinking “where did I park my car this time?”
For our 20-somethings there were times that weren’t okay and were okay. They learned the difference between doing and not doing is simply that. They learned that they’d forgotten again what they’d already learned, and forgotten. That connecting the dots is easier when doing it backwards. That transformation is true and transformation is a myth.
They learned they had a choice. That options are both freeing and not. That choosing what we want right now—over what a past us once predicted we’d want—is rarely easy.
But, it’s a choice worth considering.
And if you choose wrong—whatever that means—then what? Well, it’s probably not the end of the world.
That’ll come soon enough.
Austin Beaton is a poet writer essayist. His work has appeared in Porridge Magazine, the Bookend’s Review, Occulum, and elsewhere. He’s also the founder of Dear Person, a letter writing campaign to connect strangers in a time of passive technological isolation. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.