I’ve never understood why we celebrated the 21st birthday more than any other. I get it if I lived in America cause I could finally drink and would officially become an adult, but as an Australian, it seemed hugely redundant. I had my first drink at 17, I first voted when I turned 18 and I checked my V-card out last year. All of these token indicators of my adulthood I had already passed, so what was the point?
However, that all changed as I approached my 21st birthday this year. I don’t think I could say that this has been my favourite year, as it has been one of transition. Officially, my uni course that I have been over the past three years comes to an end in two months. I will be forced out into the wide world for the first in my entire life, no clear system to back me up and that’s unbelievably scary. So, I have spent the year fighting against the demons which have secretly plagued my higher study.
I’ve always thought I knew what I wanted to do. Since I can remember, I’ve always been making up stories about anything. The elderly neighbour across the road became a superhero, the roadmap carpet thing in the attic became the sight of an epic tragedy which seemed to amuse my parents and my walk to school became like a radio serial with an extensive cast of characters. Those characters became a second family to me, and when everything went wrong in my life, I would torture them, but they would leave on and I would teach myself about the power of resilience. Eventually, I decided to tell their story and set to work on recording everything I could remember happening. Since I started in 2009, I’ve written one complete 100,000 word novel based on them, as well as planning out 12 seasons of 13 novels and incalculable arc plots and expanded universe ideas. They are my babies, but I don’t think I ever entertained the idea that they would never see the light of day in the form I currently had them in.
Earlier this year, I finally, finally told my boyfriend, Finn, about my babies and their terrible, beautiful, hopeful lives. He gently told me that what I had planned was far too extensive to ever be realised, so I’ve worked steadily to cut back my series from 144 novels down to 40 or so. This is still too many. It seems odd to me that the adventures of Maize, Cameron, Tex, Ella, Dani, Phoenix, Kyle, Gabriel, Paris and all of the others may never be known to anyone but me. But it wasn’t just the hugeness of the saga that made me question everything I believed in.
No, that honour had gone to a single tutor late in my second year. She was mean and horrible and hated everything I wrote. She gifted me with my second worst mark ever, secondary only to maths. What was worst about this was that she was right. Not just that. It was that her criticism had affected me so deeply, so blindingly that it shook my faith in what I was doing. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I haven’t got exactly the highest level of self-esteem in the world (just look at the title), which makes my target goal of being a writer incredibly silly. With building or science or accounting, you don’t put your heart and your soul into it, but with writing, it’s me.
One of my friends (Holmes) has said to me that he loves reading my blog because it’s basically like listening to me talk. There is no gap between who I am and what I write. Thus, criticism is like being told I’m ugly or stupid but that, in itself, is stupid. Of course I’m going to be criticised. Her critiques were valid, I am terrible at description and the piece did need more contexts, but they challenged me, they shook me, they destroyed me. The bigger problem is that in the same week I got a 39/40 for a script I’d written. I don’t remember that as much. It’s the bad stuff that sticks.
As such, I have began to question my entire life, wondering whether I have made some of the worst decisions of my life. I think this is something that all writers feel, but my friends seem to be more secure in themselves and their positions to be able to cope. But I don’t have anything else. I only know how to write, and I don’t even have that most of the time.
The worst thing about this is that my marks really don’t reflect this. I consistently get really good scores for my writing and the reception it gets when it’s read in class is usually fantastic, so why do I hate my writing that much? I don’t know.
But if I’m not writing, what am I doing? I’ve considered doing a film and TV course, but that seems like a waste of time, another inevitable delaying of the moment I have to accept adult responsibilities and become a mature and contributing member of society.
I think that’s what being 21 represents to me, the moment where everything tells me to become an adult. University is ending; I have to get a job. If I choose to continue onto that film and TV course, then I’ll have to work night shift. If I have to work night shift, I’ll have to learn to drive and get a car to be able to get home. If I want to move in with my boyfriend (which I do), then I need a job and money. But the idea of working fills me with fear. So many people. So much stress. So much fear.
Turning 21 seems like the moment I am forced to choose a path. What type of person do I want to be? What do I want my future to look like? Do I want to have kids? I don’t know. I have no idea what I want to be. I am trying hard enough to live day-by-day with a brain that seems destined to rush to the most insane option. I am too busy trying to convince my brain that Finn isn’t dead or hates me, that my phone is simply being a dick and not receiving his messages again, to focus on the idea that doing writing may have been a really, really bad idea.
I don’t want to be an adult. I am childish and immature. One of my favourite movies is still The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland. One of my favourite TV shows is Five Minutes More. I am immature and I am proud of it. I am really happy to spend my days watching Mad Men and going to bed at 1 in the morning, rather than working till 5 in the morning, sleeping till 3 in the afternoon and then working from 6 again. I don’t want that for my life. I don’t want to be an adult and I don’t give a fuck who knows it.
Except maybe I do.
It is because I’m young that I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. To me, turning 21 is like graduating from high school. I was so afraid of leaving that place, that system that had held me for six years. They were six years filled with terrible, terrible memories which I’ve spent more than a few hours in a counsellor’s session deconstructing, but I felt like I belonged there. That having the crush on that very straight boy in my lit class was my entire purpose in life, that it was good and right that the height of my social status was as the nerdy Doctor Who kid. So, I cried when I graduated, because I really didn’t want to leave. I didn’t cry because I had loved it there. I cried because I had finally, finally figured out how to belong and that was being ripped away from me for a wider, scarier world. I cried because I had to work out how to do this all again.
That’s why turning 21 is scary. Because it’s new and I don’t do well with new. I like structure and belonging and rules and suddenly it feels like everything is being ripped away. My writing, my characters, my University, my friends, my favourite shows (Glee, Miranda, Parks and Rec and Hannibal are all being cancelled), my sanity, my structure, my boyfriend. And this may be the most stupid thing I’ve ever written. Because they’re not being ripped away, I just have to change the way I do them.
My saga and my characters are not dead, they’re just being cut down a little bit to make them more accessible. They’re not leaving me, they’re standing with me like they always have, helping me to adapt to a terrifying new world.
University is ending, yes, but that’s the door to something far more exciting. I’m not gonna deny that moving on’s gonna be hard. I’ll probably cry at graduation and I’ll spend the first six months scared, but then, like I always have, I’ll pick myself up and move on to something that has the potential to be something far greener and more beautiful.
The friends that I have made are not leaving, they will not abandon me and I will not abandon them. And to all of you reading, that’s a promise. As I approach my 21st birthday, I realise that I don’t think I’ve ever thanked you for everything you’ve done for me. You people who saw something you liked, something beautiful in me mean everything to me. So, to each of you, from your popcorn juggling, chair-ballet master; your time warp dancing, cuddle couch buddy who once kissed you or who drunkenly said your girlfriend had nice boobs; your gossipy friend who tells you outrageous details about my sex life and thinks it cool that you want to be a crazy cat lady; your friend who gets drunk and gets jealous that you’ve seen my partner naked but who I also ask opinions from; your friend in awkward interactions who thinks it should be mandatory for every conversation to end in “I have nothing else to say to you” and walking off, I thank you. I love you all, I really do. The fact that I’m even here and able to have an existential crisis on my 21st birthday is thanks to you. You all saved me one time or another.
My favourite shows are being cancelled, but I can re-watch them over and over and over again, especially that one Parks And Recreation about gay penguins.
My sanity was always questionable to begin with. Look at what you’re reading. A super depressing post which somehow managed to become life-affirming. I swear, it’s like a house style by this point.
My structure will shift and change, but it will remain. And that’s okay.
And, of course, Finn. I don’t really know what to say. You changed my life. Before you, I was this bloody terrified, lonely young guy who you saw something in, something you fell in love with. And while most of the time, I’m not exactly sure what that is, I thank you for it, from the bottom of my heart. I love you every single second of every single day. You are the most perfect person I’ve ever met. You found me, pulling me, kicking and screaming a little bit I’m sure, and I became a better person because of it. My friends have said I’m happier since I’ve been with you and I feel that difference. I always know you’re there to love me and inspire me or slap me round the head when I need it. Your constant refusal to let everything that happens bring you down is beautiful and the way you will not let go of your dreams for anything is inspiring. I love everything about you. And while I can be bitchy and horrible and steal your clothes, I thank you for standing by me. And even if you can’t make my birthday party, I know that that doesn’t mean anything, because you are more than an appearance at an event.
So, 21 is scary as hell. It’s the moment you become an adult, the moment you’re faced with responsibility, where the cracks beneath your feet begin to show. But it’s in the moment that the ground crumbles underneath me that I realise that I will never fall. I have people willing to hold me, to pull me up from hell.
I usually hate my birthdays. They’re the moments I seem to realise how lonely I was. The year I tried to kill myself was because I thought I was alone. The first year I started Uni, I got about 2 birthday messages via Facebook. But this, this birthday feels different. It feels hopeful. Like this one is less a reminder that I’m growing into an adult and that everything is collapsing, but an indication of all the reasons why my Universe will never collapse.
I used to dream as a teenager that I would be alone, that I would be unhappy and that my characters would be the only things that kept me alive. However, as I become an adult, I realise that teenage dreams suck. I am allowed to wish for more than that. I am allowed to be more than that. I am allowed to make an impact on this world. And that’s what I’m gonna do. I will not be forgotten. I will not be simply an adult. I will not allow it for myself.
So, that’s what turning 21 is. The refusal to allow the encroaching adult responsibilities to control me. I like that. I like that a lot.
So, Steve, what did you think of that one?Actually, I’m not called Steve anymore. Changed my name. I’m Ethan now.
Ah, that is exciting. I like that name, it’s cute.
Will not. So, Ethan, what did you think?
I’m seriously considering changing blogs. It was so much like every other one of David’s posts, an inspiration trip.
Indeed, Ethan, I can’t help but agree with you. This blog is like his therapy now and that’s just not acceptable, is it?
No, Jim, it’s really not. Particularly on this, his 21st birthday! We cannot have it.
No, we can’t. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Depends. Are you thinking that we should continue the fine 21st tradition of embarrassing the birthday boy or girl?
Yes, yes I am. If he’s going to embarrass us with his confessional, we might as well do the same with him, right, Ethan?
Indeed, Jim. So, in celebration of David’s 21st birthday, here are 21 deeply embarrassing memories from the vault.
1. When I was in year 9, I realised I was gay after another guy flashed his balls to me in gym. Gotta love all boys schools.2. When I was in grade 6, I decided that the teachers should get rewarded too and created the Terrific Teacher Award. I was such a teacher’s pet.
3. When I was in grade 3, I cried because mum refused to take me to go see Piglet’s Big Movie and I believed that I would never get another chance to see it because it was only in cinemas. This is still one of my most damaging memories.
4. When I was about 10, I used to imagine that all leaves were letters.
5. When I was in grade 6, I jumped off the sandpit boat in our backyard, landing on a nail at the front and ripping my private parts open. I was unable to stand, so my brother went inside and told mum. She replied that he can crawl it. We have huge stairs leading up to the backdoor. You will never know pain like that.
6. One of my earliest memories was when I almost drowned in the deep end of a pool. I have largely refused to go swimming ever since.
7. I frequently walk into sliding doors. They just don’t see me!
8. When I was in year 10, I freaked out a substitute teacher because I looked up a horror movie called Suspiria in IT class and watched the opening double murder. She didn’t see the arty side.
9. I managed to get out of my primary school production (where I was to sing ‘Turning Japanese’) after I threw up.
10. I managed to get out of an oral presentation because I bit my fingers until they bled so profusely I had to go to first aid.
11. When I was in grade 6, I was rather proud of my obsession with teddy bears. I still have several of them which sit proudly above my DVD cabinet. Totoro is creepy though. He just stares at me all night.
12. When I was in grade 7, I was obsessed with Ugly Betty. I didn’t realise I was gay until year 9. This now seems like an early sign.
13. When I was in kindergarten, I went to a friend’s party dressed as a mermaid, not a merman. Mum still thinks this is partially the reason why I’m gay.
14. When I was in grade 6, I chose to spend my lunchtimes working on a bullying project over spending time with the girl I was friends with at the time. Many of my high school friends said that after I told them this story was when they realised I was gay.
15. That same girl taught me how to sing the entirety of Anastasia’s ‘Left Outside Alone’. I still get a touch nostalgic whenever that’s on the radio.
16. When I was in year 12, I watched Eurovision for the first time, crushing hugely on a guy called Alexander Rybak (so pretty). Here I realised an unspoken problem of being gay, having the same interest in men as your mum (shudder).
17. Since at least grade 9, I have no door on my bedroom, even though I have a boyfriend. We still get up to shenanigans when he’s at my place.
18. When I was in grade 9, the only thing that kept me going on a gruelling week-long camp was the idea that I was going to go home and read this random Doctor Who novelisation (Enemy Of The World, by the way). To this day, I still haven’t read it.
19. Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ is probably still my favourite song of all time. I remember I used to listen to the radio all day, every day just on the off chance they’d play it. Ah, the days before CD’s and digital music.
20. My first words were, apparently, “Golly golly” and “Mama, dada.” Random, I know.
21. From 2010, to my birthday, I have seen 957 films, 110 individual series’, read several books and downloaded over 20,000 tracks of music. I am officially a nerd.
I just realised something, Ethan.What is it, Jim?
He’s just used this blog again to block his friends from ripping out an embarrassing story at his party.
Oh. I suppose you’re right. That is embarrassing. Still, if it means they can find something else, it will be even more terrible!
Oh, Jim, that’s brilliant. I literally cannot wait. Now, to close... Wait, what’s this? An envelope?
Hand it to me, Ethan. I’ll read it. Oh my. Are you planning on doing anything near Christmas?
Not really, probably, just going home to spend the holidays with my family. Roast pork, should be lovely. Why, Jim?
It’s... Not like that, Ethan. You’re... Not my type.
I’m sorry. We’ll talk later. Anyway, dear reader, we have an announcement to make. Our author has been hard at work on something incredible, a true gala event. What do you think about that, Jim?
Don’t answer me then. I, however, cannot wait. But what is it? Well, David mentioned in the blog post that he had just seen his 957th film. To celebrate reaching the grand 1000, he will present an epic countdown. 250 films. All of them reviewed. Two weeks of incredible movies.
And we’ll be hosting?
Of course, wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Oh, Jim, that’s so awesome. I can’t wait.
Neither can I. And neither will you, valued reader, want to miss out on this very special event. Over the coming weeks, several little goodies will be released to keep your appetites wet. This is the most ambitious thing this blog has ever tried to do, so I really hope you enjoy it.
So, there’s a lot to look forward to. As David mentioned in the post, turning 21 is about looking to the future. Let’s raise a glass and toast. To a bright and happy future. You agree, Ethan?
Indeed, Jim, indeed.
Hope to see you all again soon. Love and thanks, from me, Jim.
And me, Ethan.
Love and thanks,David Gumball-Watson