31 and 38

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I’ve been writing a lot of fiction in the past few years, mostly stories of men who’ve reached a point of comfort and stability in their lives, and find it a little hollow. And without my intending it, all of my protagonists have been the same two ages.

  • Robert is 38.
  • Clay is 38.
  • Jerry is 31.
  • Tim is 30.
  • Colin is 38.

Gosh, projection much?

When I was 31, I was just finishing my undergraduate degree at Berkeley. I’d done marvelously well, was writing architectural criticism and cultural features for a newspaper, and was hired immediately by an architectural energy-analysis company in San Francisco. My then-wife was working in accounting at a major local hospital. I could have chosen the professional track, and I’d totally be comfortable and well paid today. Instead, I was already planning for grad school two years later.

When I was 38, I’d just finished my PhD, and was quickly coming to the realization (as I just read in another context over the weekend) that my diploma was just a very fancy receipt that had no further currency.

So for me, 31 and 38 are markers of vast upheaval, and my fiction seems to be a catharsis, a way of revisiting those moments and making them work. The most important lessons are the ones we learn a thousand times, a kind of close-at-hand reincarnation that gives us the same problem once again and a new chance to solve it.