“When Did I Stop Being 20”

It seems that I am finding more and more opportunities to interject, “I am 29” into each conversation. On the elliptical I relish typing 29 as my age and cringe when typing in (I will not reveal it here) my weight. I don’t want to miss any opportunity to be 20ish while I still can rightfully claim it, nothing is worse than those folks who annually celebrate their 29th birthday. In the end I am not opposed to aging. As I mentioned in 2012 I will turn 30, aging is better than the alternative.

Perhaps because it’s poetry month, I keep returning to my favorite poems. At nineteen I bought a copy of Judith Virost’When Did I Stop Being 20 and Other Injustices and I read it quickly and often during the early years of my twenties and then hid it on a shelf. perhaps subconsciously believing that if it were out of sight, I wouldn’t have to identify with the final poem in the collection. This morning her poem, Facing the Facts, entered my head.

Facing the Facts (Judith Viorst)

I’m facing the fact that
I’ll never write Dante’s Inferno
Or paint a Picasso
Or transplant a kidney
Or build an empire,
Nor will I ever run Israel or Harvard,
Appear on the cover of Time,
Star on Broadway,
Be killed by a firing squad for some noble ideal,
Find the answer
To racial injustice or whether God’s dead
Or the source
Of human unhappiness
Alter the theories of Drs.
S. Freud, C.G Jung, or A. Einstein
Or maybe the course
Of history.
I n addition to which
I am facing the fact that
I’ll never compose Bach cantatas,
Design Saint Laurents,
Advise presidents, head U.S. Steel,
Resolve the Mideast,
Be the hostess of some major talk show,
Or cure the cold.
And although future years may reveal
Some hidden potential,
Some truly magnificent act that
I’ve yet to perform,
Or some glorious song to be sung
For which I’ll win prizes and praise,
I must still face the fact that
They’ll never be able to say,
“And she did it so young”.

Ahh Ms. Viorst, you say it so well. It’s the idea that no one will ever remark on your ability to have done it so young!! With two months to go, there isn’t much time to squeeze in another major accomplishment.

I knew that Viorst wrote other texts like, How Did I Get To Be 40 and Other Atrocities , but I didn’t know that this has been a lifelong project on aging. Hyperbole is her gift (who does love Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). Here are her titles:

The age-related poetry series

  • It’s Hard to Be Hip Over 30 & Other Tragedies of Married Life (1968)
  • How Did I Get to Be 40 & Other Atrocities  (1976)
  • Forever 50 & Other Negotiations (1989)
  • Suddenly 60 & Other Shocks of Later Life (2000)
  • I’m Too Young to Be 70 & Other Delusions (2005)
  • Unexpectedly 80 & Other Adaptations (2010)

So, I’ve added a few of her titles to my reading queue at the library. Watching her book trailer for Unexpectedly 80 & Other Adaptations , I was stunned. At 80, I hope to be as glamorous, elegant, eloquent and hilariously articulate as Viorst. She makes aging so cool.

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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8 Responses to “When Did I Stop Being 20”

  1. Mary Brown says:

    Oh Gina you are only as old as you feel. In my head, I think I’m 25… too bad my driver’s license says 41…. I love your writings!

  2. I am turning 24 in a couple of weeks, and it’s crazy to think how quickly time goes by. I know I’m still young, but I feel like I haven’t accomplished what I’ve set out to do in life and I hope I’ll get to do it before I look in the mirror and realize I am 95 years old and don’t have a life to live anymore.

    • Yes, I think these anxieties are pretty normal. A lot of my friends had a quarter life crisis around 25. I was in grad school at 25, so somehow you have an extended adolescence and escape the quarter life crisis. Thanks for reading and following along.

  3. Fidophiles says:

    About six months before turning 30 I went into proper panic-stations about it. I even got my first grey hair as if to hammer home the point! But I’ve since discovered I was Born to be a 30-something. Not since being a kid have I been happier, healthier or excited about the future. Don’t stress about turning 30 – you may just love it.

  4. My mother really liked Judith Viorst. I think I’m going to have to revisit her books now that I know what she’s talking about.

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