The Story Behind the Book: IN TWENTY YEARS 

Some people approach forty with grace, with the confidence that comes with accrued wisdom, with the assuredness of finally knowing what they’re doing. I was not one of these people. As my fortieth birthday loomed, I, a hopeless optimist who can almost always find the positive in just about anything, stared back at it with gloom, with a heavy cloud of melancholy.

Forty.

Really?

I didn’t feel forty. I certainly didn’t think I looked forty. And I really didn’t think that I acted forty.

Forty felt like the end of something for me, though I wasn’t sure what. My youth? The delusion of my youth?

Certainly, I’d long since surrendered to adult responsibilities: two children, a mortgage, a long and steady marriage, a bunch of misbehaved dogs. My days were filled with school forms and carpools and dinner schedules and deadlines. Really, I’d left my carefree life behind ages back. So why did forty feel so daunting?

It was here, in this grey area, in this quicksand, that I found inspiration for IN TWENTY YEARS. In this day and age of social media, it’s hard not be reminded of our younger selves nearly all the time. My Facebook feed is jam-packed with college friends, all of whom still resemble their younger selves, maybe with a few more lines around their eyes, maybe with a little less hair (the men, exclusively). And I would gaze at these faces, at their status updates, and wonder where the time had gone… how it felt, well, simply impossible that twenty years had passed between then and now. That, when I closed my eyes, it really felt like just yesterday. And yet, with all the proof of my very adult life, I knew this was impossible too.

It turns out, I wasn’t alone in my musings either. As my friends stood on either side of forty, it became a common discussion: how did we get here? It’s not that we weren’t happy – many of us were, rather simply that life had gone on so quickly, and even if we were active participants, looking back, it was also hard not to feel like bystanders. It's also not that we weren't grateful - we've all lost friends and loved ones along the way and understood how precious it was to simply be alive.

Since my graduation from Penn in 1995 (!!!), I’d always felt a kinship with the people I met there, as well as the actual campus itself. And as my twentieth college reunion approached, it felt natural to stage the book at the place which I sometimes remember as the happiest times of my life, and other times, have a firmer reality check, in which I recall how claustrophobic I felt my senior year, how miserable my romantic trials and endless break-ups with my boyfriend made me. And I wrote the book through this lens: how easy it is to distort the truths of our past, how easy it is to forget, and really, how easy it is, if you allow yourself, to remember. Also, to consider with naked honesty how we get away from the people we wanted to be back then, sometimes for better, sometimes for less.

As I wrote, I found myself tripping down lanes of nostalgia, of silly pranks, of misguided youthful indiscretions, of mistakes and triumphs and highs and lows that somehow define your years in college. Really, of how invincible I felt, many of us felt, at twenty. Forty was truly ancient. Geriatric. My characters felt this way too, and now, smack in the middle of their lives, they have to wrestle with the reality that no one is invincible, no one is offered the promise of their youthful dreams.

Forty, it turns out, isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s really no different than thirty-nine or thirty-six. (I’m not naïve enough to say it’s no different than twenty-nine.) Sometimes, I still stutter when asked my age, but it’s not because I’m not grateful for all of my years; rather, I think that it will always be impossible to believe that our youth gets further and further away. There’s no chance to revisit it, no chance to go backward. But so what? As my characters discover: who ever said that who we were then is who we need to be now? I can be grateful for my time at Penn, for the people I loved there, for the knowledge gained, and equally grateful for the sturdiness of my life now.

This doesn’t stop me from peering closer at the faces on Facebook and remembering way back when. But it also doesn’t stop me from looking forward, from wondering about the next twenty years, to when we’ll all gather at our fortieth college reunion and say: “Wow, I sure don’t feel sixty! Where could the time possibly have gone?”

 

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