Who even remembers their 20s?! Now on the cusp of forty, I’ve been reminiscing about my thirties a lot. It was a good decade: I earned my PhD, married my husband, had two kids, and started to publish my writing.
But my twenties, though I was happy to be out of them at the time, were a good and productive decade, too. After all, that’s when I moved to California and started graduate school, lived on my own for the first time, did all the work for my doctorate, and met my husband just weeks before I waved hello to thirty.
The writers in this great collection aren’t thinking too much about thirty right now–they are keeping way too busy for that. Raising kids; nursing a boyfriend through terminal illness; maturing in Kuwait; working at Wendy’s; learning to dance with their OCD; logging on to Friendster, Facebook, MySpace and Nerve accounts — they’ve got a lot going on, and it was fun to check out of my life for a bit and listen in on theirs.
My favorite essay, of course, is Elrena Evans‘ “My Little Comma,” first published in the section I co-edit over at Literary Mama. I’ve read this essay, in various versions, over a dozen times in the past year and it never gets old. This is my favorite section today:
I just got off the phone with my advisor, and if my daughter weren’t watching me, I swear I would spit. The pressure is on, he admonishes me: finish your project or lose our funding. I wonder: if he knew how close I was to leaving, what he would say? I wonder what would happen if I left in the middle of the year, just scooped up my plump little baby and left. I wouldn’t wait until the end of the semester to go, and I wouldn’t leave everything tidied up behind me. I’d simply up and leave, tear myself out of the university and leave a gaping, jagged hole in my wake. My spine prickles guiltily at the thought. What a lovely mess I would make. Part of me just wants to say “I don’t care” and wait for the lion to eat me.
Meanwhile, the conversation about mothering and graduate school that Elrena’s essay started is turning into a book (stay tuned to see how it all turns out!)
Other essays I particularly loved… Jess Lacher’s “California” reminded me of how strange and unfamiliar it all seemed when I first arrived here myself: the “gentle and mysterious suggestions” of the seasons; the intense and exotic plants; the sense of being on a “vacation life” (yeah, that ended for me a while ago). Emma Black writes about teaching elementary school and learning how to “Think Outside the Box But Stay Inside the Grid.” For the sake of her students, I hope she keeps trying. Radhiyah Ayobami spends “An Evening in April” getting a treat for her son before the curfew at their shelter; they give some change to a woman on the corner, and Ayobami imagines someday going to the park with this stranger and her kids: “People would look at us, and instead of seeing two beggars, they’d see two mothers with children, and they’d smile. I had big plans for that woman, if only I could see her again.” In Shahnaz Habib’s gorgeous “Backlash,” written the day of the bomb blasts in Delhi, she worries about an old friend and thinks sadly of the secret relationship they have now lost.