Your twenties: wear a helmet.
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It’s a question that plagues me virtually every day. It slithers through my mind and creeps in to conversations with my friends. Usually, my friends and I blurt it out jokingly in the middle of a quarter-life crisis conversation while knowing deep down, we actually have asked ourselves that question time and time again. And, each time, when we dig for the answer, we come up short.
I spent four years in high school building up to college. Spent four years in college building up until this point. I never knew the exact details of my post-grad life, but I knew the framework. Job. Place. Stability. Sorta. Now, I’m peering ahead to the rest of my life and it’s an unlined sheet of paper. For someone who spends the majority of her life planning and an iota of time actually enjoying the fruits of her labor, this unlined sheet feels like the kiss of death. It feels like everything and nothing. It feels like possiblities juxtaposed with indecision. It feels scary as shit.
And, it’s not always work. It’s my LIFE. People, relationships, love. Planting my roots. It’s all of the things that you are supposed to have to be healthy and happy. And, while I feel I am on a launching pad to those prizes, the spring hasn’t been released. So, I’m sort of just standing on some wobbly thing waiting.
Everyone tells me I will be fine. The arguably anal retentive behaviors that have gotten me to this point are the same ones that will get me to the next point, moving closer to the target until I strike my personally defined bullseye. But, just as someone told me last week, “Oh, you’re going to be fine. And, you’ll never believe me, but you’re going to be fine.”
I asked one of my best friends tonight the same question that has anchored this post: “What am I doing with my life?” She replied, “Living.” Maybe she’s right. Maybe right now I should soak up my life for the beauty, mess, and uncertainty that it is. Maybe I should trust that I am doing the right things and asking the right questions and surrounding myself with the right people. Maybe it’s OK to still question. Maybe it’s when we stop questioning what we’re doing that we start settling. Maybe we should ask ourselves every single day what we’re doing with our lives to avoid the epidemic of complacency. But, maybe we shouldn’t let those questions stop us from taking a deep breath, trusting that we will be fine, and just living.
To my fellow perfectionists,
We should just let it go.
This blog post began brewing on Thursday afternoon during a lunchtime getaway to Panera. I was having one of those Murphy’s law kind of weeks. Sometimes a series of small dings are equal to one punch in your gut and last week epitomized that. Feeling the pinches of stress caused by work, money, and the latest development, an impromptu and forced change to my decade old hair style, I started to feel hot tears stream down my face. Why? Because I have a bit of the perfectionist syndrome.
My mind swam through all the different lanes of my life and the clear waters I have created. The stable job. The proud parents. The apartment. The things that you’re supposed to have and do and take care of at the ripe age of 22. But, with those things come incredible responsibility and, in my case, self-inflicted pressure. I have spent the greater part of my early twenties greadually learning how to show vulnerability and take on new roles other than the feisty, put-together kid ready to take over the world. Because, although I’ve been cast in that part, some days, it’s only acting. Some days, I am anything but. Some days, people see those clear waters but only myself and my tribe know the mud and grit underneath the crystal waves.
So, this isn’t a pity party in the form of a blog post for anyone who ever considered themselves a perfectionist. Because, psychology 101 would teach you that perfectionism is merely insecurity. This is, instead, the anti-perfectionist mantra. This is for saying it’s ok to cry or sigh or yell. It’s ok to crack or shatter or fall apart at the seams. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to not spit the programmed “I’m fine” when you are in fact not fine. It is ok to not have an answer to every question, a rebuttal to every debate, or a solution to every problem. It is ok to display a large middle finger to the world and to the buttoned up life you have created and do what you want to do. Wear what you want to wear. Be who you want to be. It is ok to fall, long and hard and fast, but only if you pick yourself back up. It is ok to let it out. In fact, it’s mandatory. Otherwise you become a robot with an internal volcano of emotions. Being human doesn’t make you any less of a person or a powerhouse. It simply makes you human.
Everything I just said in that last paragraph I was only telling myself.
Perfectionists, we just have to let it go.
My best friend tweeted the wisdom. I just decided to make it a blog post.
“The post-college cutting of friends is real,” she told the Twitterverse somewhere around the time I downed the first sip of my morning coffee today.
My timeline erupted with people, myself included, retweeting what she said. Apparently we’ve all had to grab the scissors and snip some people out of lives after we shed our caps, gowns, and college residence.
From my own experience, I have cut less and sat back as a spectator more, watching some friendships gradually dissolve. People have become quicksand, slipping through the spaces between my fingers and falling on what was once our common ground. It’s sad and it sucks yet it’s inevitable. Once you leave the cozy nest of undergrad, the ties that bind you with friends are not quite so interlaced. In fact, you find yourself searching for the similarities. You can’t gripe about exams or walk to happy hour. You don’t know the same people or live in the same places. Your lives don’t mirror each other, making it that much more difficult to recognize the connection.
The benefit, however, of losing friendships is that you soon realize who your true friends are. You learn who are the ones who will pick up the phone at 2 am after a bad night, listen to you vent for 45 minutes and 34 seconds about how homesick you are, and remind you to be patient when you haven’t landed your dream job. You learn who is going to take care of you. You learn that very few friends will be all things to you at all times; some will make you laugh, some will let you cry, some will tell you what you want to hear, some will tell you what you need to hear. And, you’ll find those one or two who will do all of the above and more. You hold on to those people. You make them a part of you like your DNA and your daily breakfast bar. You return the same concrete friendship to them that they have gifted to you. You collect others along the way. Some of those friendships are seasonal, most are not life-changing, and every now and again you find a gem and add them to your tribe.
Learning how to be a friend, keep a friend, and let go of friends is one the building blocks of adulthood. The patterns of our lives after college migrate from identical to individually sewn. We move at different times. We love in different ways. We feel the pang of growing pains in completely different parts of our spirits. And, it only continues. Chances are my best friends and I will not get married on the same day or start families in the same year or land our dream jobs in the same week. We will experience the milestones of adulthood in our own ways and at our own pace. But, we will be there for each other no matter what. We will support one another and listen to the struggles of the other, even if we ourselves have yet to experience them.
That is what adult friendships are. Anything that doesn’t mirror that doesn’t merit our time, our energy, and our love.
I’ve had my blog, Free Love, for three years so when I decided it was time to finally move it into a permanent dot com home, naturally I didn’t think I would change the name. Those two words just roll off the tongue. They’ve become my staple, something I’ve discussed with everyone from strangers at a conference to my dad. It wasn’t until my friend mentioned that a website named Free Love might be misconstrued in today’s match.com driven society that I considered changing the name. He was right; it sounds like a tawdry online dating site. It doesn’t encapsulate my audience or my purpose. After much contemplation and conversation, I decided when I move my blog into its legitimate web space in two months, the name will change.
It seems so simple yet for me it was complicated. My blog is my writing and my writing is personal. It’s delicate. It’s me collecting the dirt and gems of my life, putting them on to a monitor, and hoping those morsels resonates with someone. That’s both a frightening and beautiful experience. I have feared that a new name implies I’m starting from scratch, abandoning the hundreds of posts I’ve written under the Free Love alias. But, I made a firm decision to change the name, solidified by the highway robbery of purchasing a registered domain for a year.
I tell this story because it’s an easier way to tell a much bigger and more intimate story about the things in my life I have let go over the past year. This blog post has been brewing for days, arguably even months, as I’ve considered the value of letting go.
We go about our day to day lives unaware of the emotional clutter surrounding us. We are encircled by boxes filled with fragile belongings of fractured hearts, bad decisions, and relationships gone wrong. That friend we no longer talk to. The ex-boyfriend who shattered our spirit. The stranger who used us. The self-doubt running through our veins. The job we didn’t get. And, what we are even more unaware of us is how tightly we sometimes choose to grip those demons. Our fingers are wrapped around those villains so firmly that we let the imprints from them start to define us.
On this blog and in regular conversations, I have mentioned how 2011 was the most difficult year of my life so far. But, a few days ago, I began to own the quiet acceptance that one year and the series of unfortunate events within that year don’t have to define me. They only have to refine me. At some point, I had to decide to let a lot of that pain and heartache go and soak in my life for what it is now. I don’t think this means I’m not entitled to a good cry every now and again. After all, the things that happen to us aren’t written in pencil meant to be erased. They’re written in ink. Sometimes, we just have to learn to turn the page and start from a blank sheet.
Life requires a certain level of vulnerability from us if we live it the way it’s meant to be lived. It’s why we fall in love or laugh or cry or kiss. It’s much easier to live when your hands are open and not holding on to something that you can easily surrender.
Some people say, “Let go and let God.” I say, just let go.
June 1, 2012 8:51 a.m. EST: I scan the room at a bloggers’ conference, searching for a half full table with inviting faces, the kind that I can break bread with during what is sure to be a long but exciting day. I sit down and meet California Amie. Within an hour, we’re conference buddies, exchanging business cards and tales of what we do when we’re not being up-and-coming bloggers at conferences. I tell Amie the condensed version of the past year of my life, a pitch I’ve recited to strangers so many times now that it’s a part of me just as much as my ten fingers and two arms. Two-year rotational program. I lived in Massachusetts before moving to Texas. I’ll be in Texas until October. No, I don’t know yet where I’m going after. I know where to punctuate the conversation with, “Yes, it’s so exciting!” and when to interject the, “Yes, it’s personal growth just as much as professional growth.” Except, this time during my life elevator speech, Amie says something that I haven’t heard before. “Well, you just have to bloom where you are planted.” I decide I like that maxim. Love it, in fact.
June 3, 2012 12:37 p.m. EST: The streets of New York City. My family and I have decided to capitalize on my rare East Coast appearance and visit some family in Queens. But, before we head their way, we stop in the city for a little shopping. Standing on the curb inundated by the outlandish scents of this place, I am reminded of myself as a 17-year old college freshman. Baking in my non-air conditioned dorm room, I dreamed of making it big in NYC. I mean…didn’t everyone? But a spring break visit there followed by far too many weekends there during my long-distance relationship gradually alerted me to the fact that maybe I am not born and bred for lots of people crammed in to tiny places. Or, maybe I am.
Present day: Sitting in the comfort of my one-bedroom apartment in Plano, Texas, a town designed for families and retired couples, not single 22-year old women. I remember Amie’s words.
My mini world tour over the past year is exhilirating to some and unimpressive others. After all, some people have lived on several continents by this age. If anything, I’ve learned that where we live determines our happiness far more than we believe or understand until we are uprooted. Because where we live determines who we have the pleasure or curse of being exposed to. And, well, who we have the pleasure or curse of being exposed to determines the relationships with which we are gifted. And, those relationships are the fibers of our being.
The one word I would use to describe myself in Texas is relaxed. Anytime people ask me how it’s going or how I like it, the answer is the same: “Texas is a very easy place to live.” I certainly miss the East Coast and, even more specifically, the DMV. (No, not the Department of Motor Vehicles…DC/MD/VA, my loves.) To pillage the cliche, home is where the heart is. My heart is nestled somewhere in between Baltimore and the District of Columbia.
Nonetheless, Amie was right. It is possible to find happiness, sucesss and even more importantly, yourself, in the most obscure of places. It is possible to be pulled from the garden of your roots, planted in fresh soil, and bloom among the perennials.
Exactly one year ago today, my family and I packed up my life’s possessions consisting of clothes and college memorabilia and headed 388 miles north to my new home of Framingham, Massachusetts. My official entrance date in to adulthood would be a week later when I started work. My parents drove the Uhaul and my sister accompanied me in my 1996 Corolla as I decided to forego the corporate moving company and opt for a more organic, albeit arduous, experience.
Leaning over the front seat to my parents on our recent trip home from visiting family in NY, I mentioned how it had been a year since that move. We all agreed that the move to Massachusetts was different from moving to college my freshman year. That Massachusetts move was the epitome of their child spreading her proverbial wings and leaving the nest. College was 45 minutes away. Massachusetts was eight hours. There wouldn’t be any more drive bys after my biweekly hair appointment on Fridays or loads of laundry to bring home during winter break. This time, I was leaving. It was real. It was palpable. It was all too soon.
I remember the unsettledness swirling through my mind’s threads, quickly unsewing everything I knew about the comfort of being familiar with a place and more than happy with a group of friends. Driving back to my empty apartment after dropping my family off at the airport post sweaty moving weekend, it hit me: I don’t know anyone here. With the exception of a college friend who lived in a sleepy town an hour away, it was just me. There’s something about that feeling that is unspeakably liberating yet unbearably frightening.
A lot has happened in the 365 days between then and now. A lot that I have written about, a lot that I have ranted about, a lot that I have cried about, laughed about, and a lot that I still haven’t figured out. There aren’t 365 words, blog posts, or days that could truly sum up the lessons stitched in to the fabric of the past year. So, instead, in true Free Love style, I will raise a lingual toast.
Here’s to the past 365 days. To, without a doubt, the most difficult year of my not-even-mid-twenties-yet life. Here’s to the friends I’ve gained, the ones I’ve lost, and the ones who never left. Here’s to the family I didn’t really appreciate until I couldn’t see them at a moment’s notice. Here’s to homesickness, hot guys, and hating Mondays. To Roxy, the cat. To those really good times last September. To those agonizing writing sessions last December. To Saturday night on demand movies. To Sunday night grocery shopping. To my loud-Michael-Jackson-blasting neighbors in Massachusetts. To somewhere-in-between-a-sauna-and-the-ninth circle-of-hell heat in Texas. To Zumba and spinning and salvation through sweat. To my blog, one of the few things that kept me anchored when the winds and water got high. To laughing too loudly in the office, and reading on my apartment patio/balcony/outdoor thing, and recognizing that every day has a beautiful moment even in the midst of a hideous season. Here’s to knowing I can do anything. Be anything. Face anything. And I can come out not just alive, but so much better.
Here’s to the past year and to many, many more.
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.
-Marina Keegan, “The Opposite of Loneliness”
I was struck by the ubiquity of Marina Keegan’s recent special edition to the Yale Daily News entitled “The Opposite of Loneliness.” My sister read me a passage on the phone last night and a coworker pinged me the link this afternoon. It wasn’t until I googled “Marina Keegan” that I realized the tragic misfortune. Keegan passed away just days after writing about her life’s endless possibilities, so close she could touch them with her fingertips.
I read Keegan’s piece in its entirety tonight and I was zapped with a pang of guilt. Here I was reading about “how it’s not too late, we’re only twenty-two”, and the owner of these very words was prematurely stripped from this Earth.
I’ve spent most of today juggling stress with my complaints about having to pack for a trip this weekend. It’s muggy, I didn’t sleep thanks to a vicious Texas thunderstorm, and my weekend trip is packed to the gills. Nestled in between my Ikea pillows, I had no intention to blog tonight. But, I read Keegan’s piece and realized it would be selfish of me not to say something. Do something. Write something.
Each syllable of her lexical serenade hits a different touchpoint for readers. But, what I take from Keegan’s story is that we have to remove the noise of our lives and create our moments. Absorb our moments. Adore our moments. Our moments, conceived out of our limitless possibilities, are all we have.
I spent so much time today complaining about packing and the rapid speed at which my week has raced that I haven’t appreciated that I am about to spend time with my family and friends. I am about to go to a bloggers’ conference that I couldn’t shut up about weeks ago. I am sprinkled with the big man’s good graces and I haven’t even stopped to stick my tongue out and taste the droplets.
So, Keegan, this is for you. This is for soaking up life’s simple pleasures. For a glass of cold water before bed and a $3.99 notebook to record your thoughts. For forehead kisses and Friday nights. For reading on the patio and laughing with friends over margaritas. This is for never letting the monotony of existing outweigh the beauty of living. This is for not giving up on ourselves, not turning our backs on our potential, and never shying away from our purpose. Our true purpose. Not a paycheck or a marriage or anything else that is colorlessly commonplace. Your purpose. That thing that is all your own that makes you want to jump and dance and kiss even the cumulonimbus clouds. So this is for everyone wedged somewhere in between mom and dad’s pride and whatever the hell you really want to do. This is for chucking the watches that the world wants to dangle upon our wrists and instead responding, “It’s never too late.”
Marina Keegan, you taught us all of that. And, this is for you.
One of the last lines in Demetria Lucas’ book “A Belle in Brooklyn” (one of my absolute favorite pieces of lit) reads, “My mother was right. They do always come back.”
This morning when I woke up for the second time—what’s a weekend if you can’t wake up and go back to sleep for a mid-morning nap?—I noticed a red star next to the text message icon on my Blackberry. Assuming it was one of my girlfriends adding information to the inane textual dribble we’ve had for the past few weeks, I opened it. “Fab 4 Thread” didn’t appear. Instead, it was one of those numbers that you always remember, no matter how much you’d like to forget.
I would recognize that area code anywhere.
There are boyfriends and then there are former-flames-turned-fake-friend-turned-how-well-can-I-ignore-you-and-my-feelings-for-you-until-you-spontaneously-combust. Today’s text message was from the latter. Even better, the text message didn’t provide me with any substantial clue as to the purpose of the conversation. “Wilks.” I presume this was a witty spin on my real last name? Or his finest guess. Either/or.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this text message?” was as sprightly as I could come up with before noon.
What followed was one of those conversations about everything and nothing, ending in something like “enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day weekend” even though we both could give a rat’s ass whether the other person skydives this weekend or sits on the couch reading about how to write creative nonfiction as she prepares for the journey of writing her first book (maybe I did this; maybe I didn’t. Ok, maybe I did.)
Demetria’s words, or rather her mother’s words remastered, clattered in my frontal lobes. They do always come back. It’s never when you expect or when you hope but they always come back. Last fall, right as the weather bent from “Oh, look at the leaves changing” to “Oh, shit, winter’s coming,” I would have done 600 jumping jacks if my phone buzzed with a text message from this person, even if it were an incorrect spelling of my last name. At that time, I wanted him to come back. Now, 1800 miles and unfollowed Twitter handles and lessons learned stand in between me, him, and my wanting him to reappear.
So, yes, they always come back. That doesn’t mean they always come back wanting to right all of their wrongs, graduate from frog to prince and be with us. That’s not the case. Usually, we just crossed their minds long enough for them to find our name in their contacts list and shoot us a quick hello. No need to analyze or psychoanalyze or overanalyze. Just worth saying hello back and quietly thanking the heavens for the progress we’ve made.
At approximately 9:31 a.m. central standard time today right as I tossed my Starbucks cup in the waste basket, I was reminded of an indisputable fact: I am single.
It went a little something like this:
Me: This is what happens. I’m seriously single and I throw all of my energy in to writing.
Friend: Yeah, you need to throw that in to dating. So you have more experiences to write about.
I pondered this. I then decided it was worth polling my best friends.
Text message on thread with my three best friends: Question of the day: should I be dating more?
What followed were a series of responses about how only I can decide that (true, and I’ve decided the answer is no) and questions such as why do I like being single anyway? (The true answer to this is I don’t like being single as much as I don’t mind being single. Slight difference.)
On April 17, 2011, I wrote “A Single Girl’s Manifesto”, my bra-burning proclamation for single women everywhere slash a rant about how I don’t like cuddling. Same diff. Since that feminist tirade, quite a bit has changed. So, I read it today and decided it was time to go back and revise. Because, single college Tyece and single real world Tyece are two different individuals. During the senior half of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I was bitter. I was livid. I had just emerged from a breakup for the record books, ready to declare my freedom by indulging in activities that made me the human equivalent of a barbershop; open, ready for business, no appointment necessary.
But, there are two types of single women, as I discovered in my conversation with friend 1 from today’s post. There are single women who use “I’m doing my own thing” as a misnomer for “I’m actually scared shitless of being vulnerable so I’m just going to build a wall and act like I’m OK when I’m not.” That was single college Tyece. Then, there are single women who are actually doing their own thing, willing to forfeit their solo status should someone worthy of a duet come along. That is single real world Tyece.
I don’t feel a need to rant or or whine or moan or feign Power Bitch status. I am not a Power Bitch. I am a girl who worries I’ll get a run in my stockings and who falls asleep watching Golden Girls. I am hard on myself and I doubt myself and I worry I’ll let my parents down. I like when I catch a guy staring at my ass and I giggle at jokes that aren’t funny if a boy is cute. I’m as normal as women can get.
And, that’s the misperception that I want to put to rest. That single women are walking around with a sign on their forehead that says, “Stay the hell away from me or I’ll breathe fire on you” or even worse, “Please! Quick! Find me a husband because obviously I’m crestfallen!” The rest of the world may have set this target on our backs that the only thing standing in between us and the rest of our lives is wedded bliss, but I’m yanking those darts out. The darts from Steve Harvey telling us we need to think like a man.Those darts from the Twitter chat about “Becoming Mrs. Right.” Everyone, just reeeeelax. Grab a Xanax. We’re all going to be more than fine.
I said I would write a manifesto so here it is: Being single isn’t about defending yourself or possessing strength at times you don’t have or being your own man. Eff that noise. Being single is about the quiet acceptance that your life is fulfilled. It is about the faith in your judgment that when someone life-changing comes along, you will know. It is about owning the right amount of vulnerability to open up to that person. And, it is about granting yourself full permission to be happy and whole until that person comes along.
Besides, let’s be honest. I’m not really single. I’ve been in a relationship with Free Love for three years. Yes, she is a girl and Obama supports us, thank you very much. So, I’m going to write her till the wheels fall off.