“steam rising from an August storm/ it’s like I just got born”

Tis the conclusion of my Jesus year. Today I am 34 and there isn’t a gimmick about being 34. This birthday arrives at a weird time in my life. I am newly living in California and trying to figure out what I want to do here. It has always taken me a long time to figure out these types of things.

There are two songs about being a late bloomer—that cloying phrase for people and plants who mature later than their peers—that I listen to a lot. The first is “Late Bloom” by Amy Ray. This one is my favorite. So many of Amy Ray’s songs speak to the essence of my being; they put vocabulary to feelings and nuances I didn’t know could be described. “Late Bloom” is no different. In the song, she says, “All that time/ I spent walking behind/ Now I don’t mind/ ‘Cause now I know.” It’s awkward to be a late bloomer, to feel “behind” in some vague way. Amy Ray promises “we grow when it’s over,” and she’s right. All those years of being “behind” meant I had more time to contemplate myself and my feelings, and that experience left me with a predilection for reflection. (Who’s the poet now, Amy Ray?) When I do eventually “bloom,” I am comfortable in it because I’ve grown into it in my own time, rather than just sprouted spontaneously.

The other song about being a late bloomer is “Late Bloomer” by Jenny Lewis. I’m not sure that the late bloomer in question here is actually a late bloomer. She’s sixteen and goes to Paris alone where she has an affair with Nancy, who is the one who calls her a late bloomer. The situation seems like an early bloom to me, but “Late Bloomer” is a really good song, full of great lines like “Forgive me my candor/ But I just had to have her.”

I was a quintessential late bloomer, more Amy Ray than Jenny Lewis. I wasn’t in a hurry to grow up. I was almost a whole year older than some of my classmates because I was already six when I started kindergarten, but I was awkward, sensitive, and shy so I don’t think anyone noticed that I was twelve when sixth grade started.

When I was a little kid, I often punked out on sleepovers. I was the weirdo who lost her nerve around 11:00 p.m. and just wanted to go home. I’d slide into my sleeping bag and close my eyes and think of my own room with my books and my cat, and a low-grade panic would spread through my body. I was homesick. I didn’t always express it. I usually just stayed quiet and suffered through it until the morning. I am still that way. I still sometimes lose my nerve and want to go home, usually at parties.

The tendency for homesickness faded in high school, but I was still a late bloomer. I didn’t have sex in high school. I was almost eighteen the first time I got drunk, and it didn’t happen again until a year later when I was in college. I didn’t know I was a late bloomer, but I knew I was different. I was quiet and really into Latin. (Yes, that Latin.)

I did a bit of posturing, pretending I was more mature than I actually was. Of course, what is maturity to teenagers is just a pile of bad decisions and dangerous behaviors to adults. I’ve always been cripplingly self-aware, and I knew when I wasn’t ready for something. Sometimes it made me look like a wimp, but I don’t think it caused any lasting damage.

I know why kids are restless to grow up. Pop culture makes it seem so glamorous, and it makes even the hard stuff look easy and shiny. And it is frustrating to feel like nothing in your life is in your control. For the most part, being an adult is better than being a kid, but only because I am adult-aged. If I were sixteen trying to live this life, I’d have died of a Fruit Loops overdose.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable with being a late bloomer, but at this point in my life, it seems like the only logical explanation for my lack of career. I just haven’t found it yet. I was really excited to move to California and start afresh. I read the Bay Area job postings every day, and each job sounded more exciting than the last. It turns out that none of these exciting places want to hire someone who graduated from college ten years ago and has no experience working in the tech industry. I’m regrouping and working on my next plan and watching my bud.

Maybe it’s just about to bloom.