Sometimes I sift through the artifacts of who I used to be. I move and arrange my things housekeeping my life gone by, creating tag-clouds of stuff and spend hours sorting and perusing and riffling, and discovering again who I used to be.
Since I was twelve I’ve a notebook or journal of some kind more or less consistently, and today when I leaf through several, re-reading words I no longer remember writing. It’s strange! In an embarrassing way! In a good way!
I’m not much of a diarist (though my earlier notebooks were certainly concerned almost entirely with boys and my parents and some of those school girl dreams and friends and my relationships to them.) My notebooks usually contain the recordings of a haphazard, passionate life: words I’ve read and want to learn, conversations overheard, to-do lists, notes for poems, and sometimes the longer unraveling that I wrote to discover what I am feeling in a given situation or moment. And oh, my twenties were abundantly full of feeling. Crushes/Relationships coming and going; loves arduous, delightful, foolhardy, intense.
I was so holographic in my twenties; so changeable to whomever I was around. I was enormously influenced by certain men I dated—and while I’m grateful I didn’t marry any of them, I’m not happy that I don’t know them at all now, not even peripherally, in the tender and distant way you can only know a former love, now become friend. They are all great men. Enormously talented in their own ways; worthy of the influence they had on me to be sure. Still, I was nearly transparent dating some of them: taking on their passions and pastimes the way water takes on the contours of the riverbed it travels through.
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a friend of mine about turning thirty; about the angst you feel at the end of your twenties when you are told that the world is your oyster and you want to do everything you can to make sure it stays that way. You become preoccupied, maybe, with the way things appear (you check off certain boxes, perhaps: house, spouse, puppy, baby.) Perhaps you throw yourself into multiple activities. You maintain a bustling social life; commit to far too many things fearing that without all the hustle you’ll become a working stiff, a boring old married couple. Maybe you fear becoming that couple with the new baby who no one ever sees any more. Maybe you fear becoming the couple who have regular sides of the bed; who don’t talk over breakfast; who forget to hold hands in the grocery store. Already you are fixated on remembering what you used to be like when your were younger, in your early twenties, when all-nighters were effortless, and you could drink hard and not feel it the next morning (or when you had sex on the couch just because you wanted to, instead of because it was the only cushioned place in the house not occupied by a sleeping child.
I was so glad, looking back, to no longer feel that angst. To feel instead the grace that comes with sticking with things; with letting the edges soften a bit. As I said to my friend: it’s not about doing more, it’s about being more. Quietly, subtly, within the very small orbit of your ordinary, extraordinary life.
That said, when I turned thirty I had no idea how I’d feel now, at thirty two (and a half!–remember saying that when you were a kid?). I hated turning thirty. I can remember my optimism and anxiety cocktail perfectly. I was obsessed with the idea that I had missed the boat already (for becoming a writer and artist; for ever having an amazing body; for doing any kind of adventurous travel; for having a night life.)
I was sure that I was saddled for the long haul, and that in fact, it would be a haul. Thirty sucked. I was pregnant (and vomiting) and while things were fabulous financially, I hated my job more than I can even begin to describe. It unsettled me, and sucked the creative energy from me in a way that left me frazzled and certain that I would never amount to a single thing in the world. Then I turned thirty-one and had Nirvaan and quit my job and all of our financial security came tumbling down around me like an igloo made of sugar cubes in a rainstorm. Yet miraculously I began, last year, to see how being more means being in the moment. It means discovering the day, wholly, with joy and wonder, and living into it as wholly as possible.
I discovered grace in the midst of sadness; wonder in the thistle-sweet heart of despair. I grew disciplined with fitness.
Last year was unfathomably hard. If my twenty-five year-old-self could have seen last year she would have been terrified by the repetition (the laundry, the dishes, the endless responsibility of making food and enforcing bed times), the perpetual noise and lack of privacy, and the endless, endless worry. But she would have been missing the point.
I have a kind of tempered, hard-earned confidence now that I never had in my twenties. The kind of confidence that comes, trial by fire, through doing the difficult, painful parts of life. From giving birth; from loving a small tiny extension of yourself until my heart could split like an overripe melon, revealing the sugary sweetness inside; from fighting and wincing and feeling small and reactive in my relationship and growing from it, to become richer and deeper, like soil made from the decomposed refuse of last season’s garden clippings. We lost a lot last year. A lot of security, a lot of known outcomes, a lot of comfort. Still, I gained a groundedness I’m grateful for. I traded muscles and determination for all the thinness and whimsy I had at twenty-five.
And I’ve begun to discover how contentment can come slowly with the unfolding of a day: with changing diapers, sleeping baby, eating chocolate cakes or a quick sandwich and a frothy coffee for breakfast; with folding sheets fresh laundry; with the sound of the oscillating afternoon fans and lemonade; and later, story swapping after dinner. Of perpetual tiredness.
I am trying to, or shall we say, make another harder, important, life-changing decision about career pursuits; and am still mulling over it. It depends wholly on others: their help, support, time, etc. And it’s about having a baby and having a career, naturally. About pursuing research/ph.d programme school now, or waiting. It’s about feeling like time is slipping by (my time, and his childhood’s both.)
It’s about loving him hard: my boy with his sweet sticky grins and laughter and innocence, and about wanting the best for him… and also wanting the best for me. It’s about wondering if those are mutually inclusive or mutually exclusive.
It’s about getting ahead or falling behind and about hopefully ending up right where I’m supposed to be.
Does the universe has the outcome planned, or are we architects of the outcomes all on our own?