Dickon Edwards (dickon_edwards) wrote,
Dickon Edwards

How To Be 34

Yesterday: to the Kafka-esque Benefits Agency building in Euston, to prove I'm still eligible for the government's kindness and am not pulling a fast one. It's where you have to sum up and justify your entire life. This is who I am, you say, this is what I feel my vocation is, I haven't managed to make a living from it. So please can Mother Government not cut off her paltry if starvation-preventing payments? No problem for me, as I've done this so many times before. Which IS the problem.

How do I feel at the age of 34?

I notice things I didn't before. Never mind policemen getting younger; I feel there's more young people around full stop. And I think I resent them for being young. When really I'm resenting myself for not feeling older in any other sense than not having died yet. And for not having attained what I feel should be the position of a 34-year-old. There are compensations for being 34. It's just that I don't have them.

I don't know many other 34-year-olds. I suspect this is because the average 34-year-old doesn't want to know me. When I do keep company, I find it tends to be with those a few years younger. Or older people who are a bit unconventional. Actually, I need to find a few more of those. One can only care about the love lives of young people so far - before they call the police.

Not that I'm ungrateful for the company and readership of the young. It's just that I worry if they'll still be about when they're 34.

Cut to the next decade, and a typical 34 Year Old. "Oh, Dickon Edwards! I remember him. But I'm over that phase now. Sorry, I have to go, we couldn't get an i-Babysitter for tonight..."

So, 34 and still living on state benefits. Which are never enough for 'living' in any real sense of the word. Added to which I'm in debt, with the bank charging me £35 this week for a bounced rent cheque, due to me not paying close enough attention to my budget. £35 is half my weekly income. I had to laugh.

I look around and see people of my own age or younger who are so much further ahead in life. I look at adverts in the press for flats and houses and again, I can only laugh. It's the sums written down. Thousands of pounds, hundreds of thousands of pounds, millions of pounds. I wonder what's it like to have that sort of money. What must it be like to have savings? What must it be like to NOT rent a furnished bedsit on housing benefit forever? Will I ever know? I've been like this for years now. No signs of changing. Just signs of ageing.

Admittedly, living in a cheap room in one of the wealthiest areas of London probably aggrandizes such thoughts. Down and Out in Hampstead and Highgate. But I can't deny there's an inner voice that cries, this is not as it should be. Not now. Not at 34. Not you...

Teenagers try to survive, full stop. Working out who you really are isn't the number one priority when you're trying to breathe. At school, you're surrounded by people you'd cross the street to avoid in later life. Yet you have to get along with them daily at the most fragile time of your life. The best advice to a teenager is to take cover, and to hang on.

Twentysomethings can breathe a little, meet as many different people as possible and try every social sphere available. They find out who they really are, and what they're best placed to be doing with their life, and have fun doing it. They care about what's going on, but also about Getting On.

By 34, you know what you care about. You can follow the news and the trends in music or fashion if you like, but it's finally okay to focus upon what only matters to you. You're meant to have worked out who you are, and be in some kind of stable career path. Or at least able to say what you do. You're meant to have savings. You're meant to have a flat. You're meant to have a direction. Maybe a loved one or a family. You're not meant to still be living alone on benefits with no sign of ever signing off.

I sometimes feel I appear to be living like a heroin addict, without the heroin. So when I wear short-sleeved shirts in hot weather, I'm pleased that people can see I'm not a junkie. Though I'm far more pleased they can also see I spend some of my benefit money on chemically removing the hair from my arms. And yes, Veet is such a silly name for what used to be Immac.

One recurring dream: I am running in a race, but impossibly left behind. I stop to catch my breath and wonder: is it worth continuing? Ah well, I never cared for Games. Can I be excused with a note from a doctor? From Life? (answer: yes). And does the racetrack have a bar?

In another, I'm in a relay race of great writers, songwriters, actors, wits and artists. The baton is handed to me - and I promptly break it.

I look in the newspaper Vacancies pages, and it's like the Properties pages again. An alien world, a world for other people. Not me. Experience X required. Qualification Y required. Would suit a young graduate. Competing, hustling, bullying and networking required. If you're not young, then you're expected to have experience and references. And if you're not young, and you don't... It's hard not to feel utterly useless, worthless, hopeless, suicidal.

So it's just as well I don't feel those things. Even a depressive narcissist has a sense of self-preservation. It's called a mirror.

I badly want to get off benefits and earn a modest living doing something I can do well. Which I think - I hope - is writing, or rather writing the way I write. It's just the thought of hustling and 'talking myself up' that drains me. What I want is someone to get in touch, rather than spy something and have to fight for it. The latter is just not me.

It's all true. I'm afraid I genuinely believe the world owes me a living. And I laugh again.
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