Number six in an ongoing series in which I ask people what their lives were like at my age – even if they’re not very far from my age. (Better explanation here.)
Jen is a writer and editor in Washington, DC. We met about five years ago when we were part of a small group of volunteers working to bring 826DC (then known as Capitol Letters Writing Center) to life. The previous installment in this series came about after a Facebook post; Jen’s is all thanks to Twitter. Score (at least) two for social media!
Julia: Does the term “Saturn returns” mean anything to you?
Jen: I hadn’t heard the term until I started reading your project. Though, if you had asked me earlier, I would’ve assumed it was the perfect title for a horror movie about my 1992 Saturn coming back to haunt me with its lack of air-conditioning and scratchy upholstery.
Julia: Where were you when you turned 28?
Jen: There was a total lunar eclipse on my 28th birthday. I spent the whole next year kicking myself for not noticing the obvious foreshadowing.
I made lots of terrible decisions—as if there was a shadow over any real perspective on my life. I literally couldn’t see myself, and where I should fit into the world. I had been living in DC for three years, and I was only supposed to be there for two. I agreed to marry a man that I knew would make me miserable. I just got an MFA and I had no idea what to with it—I stopped freelancing and writing all together. I stopped listening to new music because I couldn’t find myself in any of it, and that was a big deal for me. I moved from one too-expensive apartment to another too-expensive apartment. I made so many awful thrifting decisions. I saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on opening night.
Julia: What was happening in the world that year? Do you remember newsworthy events, books you read, movies or shows or art you experienced?
Jen: I remember rereading a lot of Joan Didion and Jo Ann Beard.
Even though I had basically stopped listening to new music, something made me listen to the Los Campesinos! album, Hold On Now Youngster. I listened to the hell out of it. It was the perfect intersection of a past and a future sound, and it made me realize that I wasn’t going stop liking new things.
I saw a Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective in Chicago called You Are the Measure. He was an architect-cum-artist who cut holes in floors and walls of houses in the late 1970s to transform the spaces, and add new perspective. I *loved* that he created by destroying things—I *loved* talking in terms like that.
I was pretty dramatic when I was 28, if you can believe it.
Julia: Do you feel close to those memories, or far from them?
Jen: I’m 32 now, and it seems like that year belonged to someone else. Some other Jen.
The best thing about having a bleak 28 was that a month after turning 29, my life completely changed. The eclipse was over. I got rid of that manipulative boyfriend, I started freelancing again, I made some incredibly empowering friendships, I took out my nose ring, I learned that the clothing I hated just needed a belt. And, like the improbable plot of a rom-com, I met my future husband eight days after my 29th birthday.
I appreciated the successes that happened when I was 29 more than I probably would have if 28 had been, well, smoother. I learned a lot about what I could deal with, what I wanted from my life, and what I absolutely didn’t. I stopped doing things because they seemed like things I should achieve, and I started doing things because I wanted to.
Julia: Do you have any advice for someone going through this (supposedly) astrologically tumultuous time?
Jen: Listen to your gut! It knows what’s best for you. When that fails, listen to your friends. If you have the right besties, they can help you figure anything out. And if nothing else, read some Didion.
I don’t get to talk to Jen often, so I love reading her words because she writes like she talks. And she talks so nicely. Thanks, Jen!
Photo of herself at 28 courtesy of Jen Girdish.