Well, I'm 30 now, y'all! YOU HAVE TO TAKE ME SERIOUSLY OMG.
(I explained that to scalzi and matociquala at Penguicon. It then occured to me that bouncing up and down and making the little fists I have made for emphasis since I was two while saying it somewhat undercuts my message.)
For my generation, it's not 18, it's not 21. Most of us are having sex and drinking long beforehand. The chance to be disenfranchised at the ballot box isn't really a coming of age. It's 30. This is the boundary-cross, from youth into adulthood. (Sort of. In as much as the Muppet generation ever acts like adults.) Life is stretched, longer and more complex, split into catgeories: different marriages, different jobs, different cities. It's no longer monolithic, keep at one version of yourself til you die. So we don't settle down at 20 like our grandparents, and even some of our parents, did. Llike hobbits, we come of age, into real adulthood, at 30. justbeast and I, long before we ever met, had long conversations about the lack of coming of age rituals in our culture for both men and women (the idea that menarche is a coming of age ritual is pretty laughable, considering the shame and secrecy around it, and that menarche can occur at age 8), the lack of boundary crossing, of definite identity-shift. For his 30th, I gave him a rite of passage, in the Ohio forest, with blood and strain and feasting afterwards. It wouldn't have been right at any other birthday. This is the last one where it's even an issue, really, transitioning from youth to "maturity."
For us, this is the big one. WE'RE GROWN UPS NOW, MOTHERFUCKERS! Ahem. We're elves (that say motherfucker): we live longer than ever before, our adolescence is stretched and stretched and stretched. Childhood can go on a whole other decade than it did for our parents. When my parents were my age, I was already in elementary school. I have no children yet, and will be putting it off a while longer. But as I rushed towards 30, I did, actually, really get my act together. I have a house I love in the place I want to live more or less permanently. I have dogs and a husband-to-be, my True Bride, if you'll forgive the phrase. I'm reconciling with people I thought I'd never reconcile with. Saturn returns, baby. Not for the weak of heart. And I've written a lot of books. That helps with the age-zen.
Our culture has a grotesque relationship with age. I've never understood the joke of headstones and black balloons on birthdays ending in zero, especially 30. What, nothing left to do unless you're in your twenties, hurry up and die? In my experience, most people waste their twenties on something that doesn't work out like they planned: a partner, a job, a half-finished degree. Certainly I did. The stress about turning 30 is just not in me. I've accomplished what I wanted to and much more by this age (except for that doctorate. Dammit, I know I left it somewhere), and the first half of my twenties were sheer misery. I'm looking forward to my thirties--in my synaesthesiac mind, 30s are golden colored, and I like that.
Birthdays are about life, about it being freaking awesome to move through this world, learn and grow and dwell in it, messily and to the marrow, so that you don't miss anything.
But, of course, it used to be never trust anyone over 30. (Now it might well be never trust anyone) These days, 30 is pretty damn young. Most 30 year olds I know are indistinguishable from those in their early twenties physically, and aren't any less dynamic or artistically viable. They're paradigm-wrassling gods of small worlds, amazingly competent, leaping from thing to thing and life to life and rolling aorund like kittens in this awesome future world--despite swine flu and the new Depression, despite the fact that we're all supposed to be crippled socially by text messaging and the internet, despite having been raised by single moms and latchkeys, despite rather a lot of us being queer and poly and kinky and pagan out about all of it, which still isn't easy, despite the breakdown of traditional industries, despite lay-offs and a seriously unsure future. I look around and I see people who love this world, who don't care how old anyone is, because as the future revs up, it matters less and less, and can be known by looking at someone less and less. Hollywood might still hate the over-30 woman. But you know what? Fuck them. I've been looking forward to 30 for years.
Which is all to say that I'm turning 30 today. I don't feel any different. But I do feel like there are wonderful things ahead. I do feel like I beat a boss character and am ready for a new quest. I do feel like I'm surrounded by my tribe, moving into a new world, the world I want to live in, that I made with tears and books and hitting the road in a big (gold) truck, so that I could live in it. And not to get too mushy about it, but I guess that's what growing up is.