My 20s were horrible. Absolutely horrible. There were good moments: gigs, people, movies. There were achievements that sound great: earning three degrees and publishing a scholarly monograph. There were moments of defiance: reaching breaking point and walking out of my horrible job at Tesco. But my 20s also involved surviving abusive relationships (not necessarily always romantic ones) and pushing myself literally to the point of collapse because of the dangerous climate of academic pressure - if you're not working yourself to the point of illness, you're not doing enough.
Surviving these sorts of things may seem positive, but they take their toll. My 32-year-old self is rather resentful towards my twentysomething self for the signs of ageing, the damage, the anxiety, the lack of confidence, the fear, the diminished resilience that have only worsened in a life lived beyond my control.
'Take back control' is a phrase in English that will go down in history as one of the stupidest things humans have ever said alongside 'Make America Great Again'. None of us truly has control over our lives. But perhaps we can take ownership of our identities. I'm 32 and still figuring out what I want to do with my life. This is distinct from figuring out simply what to do with your life. That problem has been solved for me. Now the task is knowing what I want to do. Part of this involves being comfortable with feeling 17 again, with recapturing youthful promise and a slight air of rebellion with just enough maturity to have some perspective on the world and people around you.
At 17 I was a massive fan of Feeder, Garbage and the Foo Fighters, and was full of geeky knowledge from having devoured Douglas Adams and Michael Chricton novels since age 11 or 12. I've been reading Adams's wondrous letters in The Salmon of Doubt again, feeling somehow glad that he - I want to call him Douglas as he feels like a friend, but I worry that that's disrespectful - had no experience of the world post 9/11. What would such a catastrophic event have done to him, but more than that, the explosion of technology and mediatization that erupted? Would even he, the custodian of all fruit-based devices, then more associated with a style of raincoat, have been overwhelmed by the technologization of, specifically, the attacks in New York? 2001: rather than the space odyssey, it was the year Douglas Adams died, that the global mediatization of terrorism reached saturation point, and I turned 17.
Unlike many, I was relatively eased in to the horrors of the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001 because my grandmother was in hospital, just diagnosed with bladder cancer. She died on 21 October that year. It was only after that that I came back into the world and slowly realized the enormity of what happened. I was studying literature, and what I wanted most in the world was to study English literature at university, which of course I did, joint with film studies when I discovered that was a thing you could study. [Aside: growing up in an anti-intellectual working class loyalist area in East Belfast where 'Pradastints don't dawnce' meant that not only was I the weird kid, but was rather sheltered about what subjects could even be studied out there in the world beyond the Holywood Road.] The unplanned trajectory of my studies brought me back around to the bigger questions of mediatized conflict, the visual culture surrounding ubiquitous mediatizing tecnologies, and their implications on memory. At the moment, I'm trying to bypass the horrors of my 20s and remember that 17-year-old weird kid who could have been anybody, and turned out to be me.