In a few days I will celebrate my 35th birthday. I’m kind of excited about this one because it seems like 35 is the defining age at which a person officially transitions from young adult to adult, and along with that there is the assumption of wisdom. Now I hope I’m a relatively wise person anyway, but there is something to it. By 35 our bodies are slowing down a little, aching a little more. We start to use phrases like, “well the sensible thing to do is….” We are finally capable of really imagining our futures and starting to think not just about retirement planning, but maybe even a little beyond. The intemperance of youth has more or less slipped away and the mature adult has emerged.
In those terms, 35 really might be a sort of milestone. So my birthday has gotten me considering just how I will spend this upcoming year. And to help myself think through that, I’m looking back at the lives of a few notable people and what they were up to at the age of 35.
Though many of the details of William Shakespeare’s life and original drafting and publication dates aren’t entirely clear, leaving a little wiggle room for interpretation, one could reasonably believe (and for the purposes of this blog post, I do) that in the year 1599, at the age of 35, the poet/playwright wrote As you Like It, Julius Caesar, Henry V, and possibly even did some early work on Hamlet. He might have written a sonnet or two as well, but as a writer who is not nearly so prolific, I really can’t face that possibility.
1811 marked the beginning of Jane Austen’s professional writing career with the publication of her first full novel Sense and Sensibility. Although Austen is arguably the most well-known and beloved of women writers in British Literature, she gained little attention during her short lifetime. At the age of 35, Austen published Sense and Sensibility as a novel “by a lady.” Not sure I am well-mannered enough to pull off a pseudonym like that.
Known today as the “father of modern genetics,” Austrian monk Gregor Mendel gave up on his longtime dream of becoming a high school teacher (after failing the teaching exam several times) and in 1858, at the age of 35, turned his attentions instead to pea plants in the monastery garden he tended. His research, which revealed in a very simple way, the pattern by which single-allele traits are inherited from one generation to the next (in retrospect, this guy probably would have made a brilliant high school teacher) was ignored by the scientific community because of Mendel’s obscurity. It wasn’t until around forty years after his death that the his research was rediscovered and promoted, making the name of Gregor Mendel more recognizable the world over than are those of most of his contemporaries who undervalued his contribution to science.
In September of 1882, the Edison Illuminating Company located on Pearl Street in New York City, fired up a generator that provided electricity to 59 customers. With this event, Thomas Edison, at the age of 35, orchestrated the first public use of electricity in the United States. Somehow I doubt, however that this is the first time a New Yorker appeared lit in public.
Forever an American icon known for his sacrificial leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, particularly for his use of nonviolent methods in furthering his cause, even when he himself was threatened by violence. At the age of 35, King was the youngest person to have yet been awarded the prize.
On May 25, 1977 (and if you already know why that date is significant, you might be a nerd), George Lucas’s Star Wars: A New Hope opened in theaters to surprisingly overwhelming success. By his birthday, almost two months later, at the age of 35, Harrison Ford found himself launched from obscure face in a handful of mildly successful films to overnight Hollywood star.
And finally, in more recent news, Misty May-Treanor, at the age of 35, won her third Olympic gold medal in Beach Volleyball at the London 2012 Olympic Games. She and partner Kerri Wash Jennings earned the medal just days after May-Treanor’s thirty-fifth birthday.
So what will I do at the age of 35? I’m afraid I’m not much of a poet and though I did plant two varieties of pea plants in my garden this year (alas, I forgot to take notes), most likely I will not make any major contributions to scientific understanding. At this point my world is probably a little too small to attract the attention of the Nobel Prize committee. At my best I am a pathetic actor and so if I do appear in a science fiction film this year, I’m sure it won’t be the unexpected blockbuster with with impressively advanced special effects. Sadly I’ll have to wait until I am 38 to have a chance at beach volleyball Olympic glory and so I’ll probably just let Kerri Walsh Jennings and her new partner have that one. If I have my first novel published this year, well, you can be sure I will not publish it quietly under a pseudonym. Forget 35-year-old maturity. I want my credit.
So I guess that just leaves lighting up the night in New York City. I’m going to leave that one on the table as a maybe.