Turning 30 - so why does Pixelsmith still feel 18?
I turned 30 last week. I was expecting big things, hoping that my clock would flick from 19 minutes past midnight to 20 minutes past - the time of my birth - and I would experience some kind of tangible sensation to signify the acquisition of total adulthood.
"Yesterday's memory map is lit up like a city at night, but your childhood is barely a cobweb in a storm."I expected it to be like the "I know Kung Fu" moment from The Matrix, only instead of suddenly being great at martial arts, I would instantly know all the things grown ups seemed to know when I was young: how to bleed a radiator; how to fill in a tax return; how to erect a shelving unit; how to cook a batch of scones, drive a tractor, choose a fireplace, grow potatoes, build a raft, keep an up to date address book, select the best suit for a wedding and judge the right time to put a pet down.
However, my 30th birthday wholly failed to deliver me into adulthood, in much the same way as every birthday since my 18th has failed. And every one before that, for that matter - not that they count.
My childhood is sketches now. The incredibly long-winded process of sentient existence is not one which lends itself to perfect recall. I need a prod to bring last week to mind, so the first 10 years have melted away to a series of vignettes and pockets of emotion, snapshots of conversations set against a background of remembered rooms.
Consciousness gives the impression that it can be stored in great big chunks, like sequences of lengthy video clips which capture the fluidity and completeness of it all and store everything away, to be revisited at our leisure. In truth, every moment that passes into the past is boiled down to conceptual atoms, linked by an indescribably complex chain of chemical reactions so beautifully tangled and self-referential that it manifests itself as thought.
Over time the atoms shift, and the strings break, until great lumps of your life are kept alive by a structure so dim and frayed, compared to its former glory, that its mere survival is a miracle. Yesterday's memory map is lit up like a city at night, but your childhood is barely a cobweb in a storm. Vignettes. Snapshots. Sketches.
Amongst the scraps, I remember something tremendously clearly. It was the way grown ups used to feel. They felt solid, whole, in a way children never seemed to be. In a world laden with surprise and mystery and new experiences, grown ups knew what to do.
I remember looking forward to being a grown up. The prospect of knowing what to do and being taken seriously is very appealing to a child.
But it turns out it was all a trick. There is no line to cross at which everything clicks into place. They were all just making it up as they went along.
I still find it hard to reconcile the disparity between the hallowed conception of what it is to be a grown up that I remember having as a child - that I'm sure all children have - and the reality, which is that the world is populated by billions of 18-year-olds with varying depths of wrinkle.
I was once sat in an exceptionally dull meeting - this was in my 20s, so the memory is probably reliable - in which one person was presenting a lengthy report, while a number of other people listened dutifully. There was a format to follow, rules to observe, proposals to be formally discussed and adopted and fine print to be scrutinised. It was important business being handled in an appropriate fashion, and was thus being taken very seriously despite being stultifyingly tedious. I was taking it very seriously too.
Looking at the various faces around the table, I remember having one of those strange little thoughts that takes you slightly out of yourself. "Nobody actually wants to be doing this," it said. "They're all just pretending." Deep down, I thought, they all want to fling their paperwork in the air and start flicking rubber bands at each other. They want to jump on the table and shout and laugh and run around and stuff their faces with chocolate, but they won't, because that would be very silly, and grown ups aren't allowed to be silly in front of other grown ups.
I don't think any of us make it far past 18. We just stumble through life with the mind of a teenager, accumulating mud and injuries and piling on the responsibilities until their sheer weight dictates the structure of our existence. And so children look at us and think we know what's going on, that the whole business of being sensible was some kind of choice, unaware that we are nothing more than larger versions of them, just a little more scared of getting it wrong, and a little more scared of dying.
I turned 30 last week. Not that it counts.