Mountain above, fire below

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A lot of people I know turned 30 this year or late last year and frequently what I hear expressed by them is, “I haven’t accomplished anything.”

I’m turning 30 on April 30th. That’s right. It’s my golden birthday. I’m not sure what I have accomplished. Honestly, I’ve more thoroughly considered which Jeffree Star or Melt lipstick I should buy with gifted birthday money. (I count it as nothing short of a birthday miracle that so many cruelty-free makeup brands are re-stocking this month.) Of course it’s worthwhile to consider choices you’ve made. It’s also worthwhile to add some color in your life where possible. Purple lipstick war paint does that nicely.

To my friends who, in their late twenties and early 30’s lament over “not accomplishing anything”, I have this consolation to offer — most people don’t accomplish anything really fascinating that early and even if they have they probably can’t recognize what it is that they’ve done or why they’ve done it. The people who do truly remarkable things early in life usually just end up burning out and screwing up later. Like child actors and poorly made fireworks. Occasionally there’s the freak who manages to have the longevity of the tortoise without actually being one — maybe an elephant? — but it’s not useful to compare yourselves to those people.

Just like comparing yourself to a friend that comes from a really wealthy family who therefore goes on a lot of exciting trips. He or she did not “accomplish” touring Italy for the summer. He or she did not “accomplish” having no student debt and thus being able to take an indefinite internship at an organic farm in New Hampshire. Your friend might be a hard-working, generous, compassionate person, but they are not better than you just because they have a more superficially exciting Instagram.

Your life, like mine, is probably composed mostly of small things. Beautiful, small things. I bet you have done a lot more than you give yourself credit for because those successes were not glamorous.

Maybe for years you took tiny measures to keep your mother or father out of jail and out of a coffin. Had to figure out at 17 or 18 how to be a mother while still trying to figure out what you want. Worked full-time while going to school full-time. Lost your home and had to come to terms with how impermanent such an important structure and symbol can be. Divorced and had to really learn what it means to be independent.

Maybe you learned how to love other people. Decided to have boundaries, but not barriers. Made it a point to be a better listener. Started a garden. Shared affection without expectation or guilt. Gave a gift. Received a gift. Read a book about an unfamiliar subject. Spent an afternoon in a museum. Walked on an unfamiliar trail. Completely changed your career path. Decided to stay instead of leave. Decided to leave instead of stay. Spoke up because you had something to say. Allowed silence because it felt right.

Those things aren’t really shiny or exciting, but they’re still pieces of your life.

Living is necessarily a vulnerable state of being. More than likely, you have accomplished some living. And that’s quite a thing. The shiny and exciting part is you’re not done yet.

 

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Birthday Thoughts

I’m skipping the Art Domestic post this month because today happens to be my birthday.

Quite unexpectedly, I woke up sick this morning and spent half my birthday in bed. Also unexpectedly, this did not particularly upset me beyond the physical discomfort of expelling bodily fluids a little over-enthusiastically. I did what one might do for their birthday anyway — I read, watched something entertaining, napped, and pet my cats.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about my relationships, perhaps because my Facebook page was blowing up with messages and well-wishing comments, or because my husband bought me a really moving album that makes my soul tingle like its about to be struck by lightning, or because my dad called and I received flowers from my in-laws. And about 10 minutes ago, I received an email from a very dear friend of mine.

It tipped me over from thoughts without shape to word-shaped thoughts. Thoughts that reflect a wealth of feeling I am most often incapable of expressing. A sincerity that I am often questioning into exhaustion, and for the moment I have decided to follow without reservation.

While reading Hicksville this morning, I came across a passage in which the character Grace is described: “I thought her strong – hardened, wiser. But now I think it was fear: the appearance of strength people have when they’ve grown accustomed to fear.”

It struck close. I paused and then kept reading.

As it often happens when something is haunting your thoughts and feelings, other external situations and moments point back to it.

When I think about my relationships with people that I love, it seems that primarily what may make them difficult to love or to feel loved by is the prevalence of fear. Fearful people are difficult to love, find it difficult to love. The performance of unwavering strength and control is too exhausting yet self-sustaining to allow much spontaneity.

And what is love if not spontaneous?

I didn’t really know how afraid I was until my life stabilized and I was with someone who loved me fearlessly, recklessly. The tools I had sharpened during a decade or so of fear and uncertainty culminating in painful explosive bursts were not needed with him. I still tried to use them, and he pointed out the failings of my self-designed certainty, which also reflected the issue in friends and family. I found myself in a new context and it was, at first, crippling.

Only at first.

I have a lot more love in my life than I used to, in part because of psychoanalysis and knowing some truly amazing people, but also because I have come to want to be more than just strong (read: fearful). I want to be brave enough to love. I want to be brave enough to be sincere.

No one can give that to me. I can’t buy it for myself. And having it once does not mean I will have it always. I have to work at it, constantly. Thankfully, the shifting context in which I shape myself allows for more bravery and sincerity. It has to. It’s dark and uncertain.

And I have never felt a deeper appreciation for other people in their nuanced, weird, uncomfortable, unknown, fearful, vulnerable, courageous beauty. I won’t be able to keep this moment, but I have it now.

Thank you.