I moved to New York City in July. I was unemployed, rejected from graduate school, and had $6.29 in my bank account. It seemed logical.
I’d spent the last year incapable of making the transition from college to the “real world” and convinced myself that the city would help. Instead I had twenty-four free hours a day to feel sorry for myself.
I read. A lot. I skipped meals so I could buy used books and took advantage of my roommate’s employee discount at a bookstore. One day she brought home I Love You More Than You Know, a Jonathan Ames collection that I’d somehow previously overlooked. A few years ago, I read most of his work with that collegiate fervor you sometimes have when you’re nineteen and have just “discovered” an author; when you race through their books in an attempt to make sense of the world around you or, at the very least, provide you with a name to drop in a creative writing class.
My bedroom is too small for a desk, or even a chair, so I sat on the floor and read the entire thing in one sitting. Like the majority of his collections, the essays range from his childhood to his sexual misadventures to his embarrassments and neuroses. His willingness to share his humiliations with the world is perhaps what makes him so endearing as a writer. Any great author can tackle journeys of self-discovery or periods of heartache, but it takes an impressive amount of unabashed bravery to humorously retell tales of late puberty and genital warts.
In “Escape Home,” my favorite essay in the collection, Ames writes: “I rent my apartment in Brooklyn but I don’t have a home. My parents are still my home. I am part of a vast generation of people who live perpetually as if they have just graduated from college. I wear a backpack and have no savings.”
Post-collegiate limbo is a common place to be after graduation. It’s especially common, I’ve learned, when living in a city where friends from freshman year are now a few blocks away, roughly the same distance our dormitories were while living on campus. It’s common when you’re still using a backpack to transport beer between buildings as you walk around, discussing over-drafted bank accounts and jobs unrelated to our degrees.
But it’s almost necessary to have that year. There’s a scene in Noah Baumbach’s film Kicking and Screaming where Grover tries to talk his girlfriend out of moving to Prague by saying she’s only “postponing that ‘get started’ year”—even if she leaves, the emotional paralysis will just wait for her to return. My concern was not with the existence of this paralysis and self-doubt, but with how long it would take before I was cured—a concern that was only exacerbated by the bombardment of articles berating twenty-somethings for taking too long to grow up.
Fortunately Ames offer comfort for this, too: “I console myself with the thought that people live longer nowadays so it makes sense that some of us take longer to mature.” It’s a fairly simplistic sentiment, but it’s a sentiment that’s incredibly reassuring, one that I’ll probably continue telling myself even when I’m well out of my twenties.