Posted on April 6, 2015
Over dinner I remind my friend Liz that we’ve known one another for half our lives. We were young, wide-eyed, scrubbed clean. We once hatched plans to live in the city after college, and I saw those plans wither as she returned to Connecticut for law school and I made my way around Manhattan, alone, filling myself with drink and stories. But here we are, older, scrubbed honest–we are our most compassionate selves, and it feels like a privilege to carry the weight and potency of the years on our backs. It occurs to me that Liz knows me longer than anyone, save my father. We’ve grown into adults, apart and sometimes together, and it’s been awe-inspiring to watch our respective bloom.
Much of our conversation over the weekend centered around time–how we have so little of it, how it’s imperative that we don’t squander it, and the knowledge that all roads inevitably lead to zeo predicates how we live. We shape our lives around time because there was a moment when we felt infinite, and as the days pressed on the finite revealed itself in degrees. I like to think Liz understood the weight of her mortality when she had children (although I can’t be certain since I never asked but can only assume). While mortality is vivid, omnipresent because I fear the moment when I’ll lay dying.
This knowledge (or fear, as honesty will have it) makes life clear in the way it hadn’t previously. When you’re at the midpoint of your life you tend to focus on bringing presence and meaning to the hours. You don’t consider what you’ve lost, rather you focus on minimizing the bloodletting; you think about the joy, love and wisdom that’s left. You wonder how you can imbue your days with meaning. You care less about noise, the superfluous.
You start to give fewer fucks.
I suppose it’s fashionable to pen lists of things you’ve learned by a certain defined age (30 seems popular), however, I think learning is continuous–we’re always students, sometimes guides or teachers, but mostly we’re here to learn. For me, age is about letting some of the noise dissipate. Age is about shedding that which is unnecessary. For me, 39, right now, is about giving fewer fucks. For example:
You don’t like me; I don’t need my phone list to resemble The Yellow Pages: When I was in my 20s I wanted the whole of the world to like, no, love me. I vivisected conversations, scenarios, and encounters much like how a doctor would attend to life-saving cardiac surgery. When I was younger I believed in the power of quantity over quantity, and the more people who attended my parties, the more people who attended the readings I hosted, the more people I could program in my phone, the better. Never did I equate the fact that the amount of alcohol I consumed was in direct correlation to the amount of people who orbited my life. Never did I consider that being surrounded by people–making sure I always had a drinks plan, a movie plan, a book party plan, a stay-at-home-and-faux-relax-with-ten-friends plan–exhausted me.
I didn’t realize that I was an introvert until I was 37. I stopped caring what people thought about me around the same time. I have a specific sense of humor (dark, sarcastic, and biting at times) and management style (I’ve a low threshold for bullshit, entitlement, laziness, complacency and stupidity; I don’t do office/friend politicking, etc), and I know I’m not for everyone. I realize that some people might think me intense, others might consider me aloof. Do I care? Yes, to a certain extent–especially if I know I’m making a bad first impression on someone whom I care about. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m not changing the core of who I am, so if people can’t roll with my style I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m more interested in finding my tribe–people who challenge me–rather than surround myself with people who are intent on changing me. Big difference.
At the end of the day, my people love me–flaws and all. When you get older you winnow down the phone book to those who are necessary, those whom you need and love.
“Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping—its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)” ― Maggie Nelson, Bluets
Want to know a secret? This is the moment when you break down the doors and all the mothballs flutter out. This is the time when you finally, finally, let the right ones in. All the way. This is the time when you no longer wince when someone draws you closer. You allow yourself to cry the tears you’ve been holding back–you are a river and you are fine. You lay your greatest hand on the table, your heart. You feel safe; you tell your friends this: you’re home to me.
Sometimes you stumble backward. Sometimes you revert to old habits. But this is life, and at 39 you acknowledge this too.
You’re, like, really important or something: Why is it that people think I care about how important they are? Do I care that you’ve made it on a list defined by accomplishments by a certain arbitrary age? Do I care that your book was published in 23 countries and an A-list actress X will play you in the film adaptation of your life? Do I care that you’re a blogger who gets paid six figures to sell pieces of yourself to the highest bidder? Consider me a headliner at The Fresh out of Fucks Tour 2015 because I don’t care about your verbal CV or all the finery you wear on your sleeve.
I care that you’re a person with integrity. You’re not some cretin who disposes of your friends when they no longer suit you. But mainly I care about the fact that I’m not occupying space with an asshole.
The people who inhabit my life are the kind of people I want to invite in my home and with whom I want to share a meal. They’re the kind of people who would lay down their heart for you. They’re the kind of people who will carry you through the dark instead of affixing bandaids over your mouth and skin. I’m impressed by the content and quality of your character, not the length of your CV.
I’m no longer a size 0: Being an integer was fun for a total of five minutes, and then I became that annoying girl in the dressing room who whined about the tragedy of clothing stories failing to stock sizes less than zero (these were the halcyon days before the 00). I was also a functioning alcoholic recovering from a cocaine addiction so I was clearly not living my best life although the media would have you believe I was based on my dress size.
After waging an outright war on my body for nearly two decades, I finally have become comfortable in my own skin. I no longer talk about “earning” the right to eat. I no longer fixate on working out as a means to eat, rather I focus on filling my body with good food so I can live, perform my best when I hit the gym.
I look at photographs of myself in my 20s and it takes everything in me not to cry. You should know that it takes a lot for me to waver, break, but I wish I could hurtle through time, sky and space, and hold my younger self close, bury my face in her hair and tell her that she is so fucking beautiful. You know that, right? You’re beautiful as you are, as the world meant for you to be. You know that beauty isn’t just about whittling down to a bone, right? You know it’s about how you write, love, and breathe.
Lately I care more about running up flights of stairs, breathless. I care about being strong. I care about nourishing my body with the good stuff and some of the not-so-good stuff because I have this one life and am I going to spend it grabbing at flesh and punishing it?
Where does a number get you? Does it inch you further along your journey to fine? Or is it really a shackle, a self-imposed prison where the wardens are endless rides on a spin bike and grating your teeth through green juices and undressed salads?
Stupid people, drama, stupid dramas: There was a time that I reveled in the telenovela–I lived for the drama, drinks thrown, and intrigue because it all made for a good story. However, I’m now at the point in my life where I’ve been through war and dressed the wounds; I’ve a great deal of stories, and now I care about living a good life.
“Before I took to the road, a friend tried to get me to go to a department store with him. He said it was to improve the place where I lived. He said,” I want to know you are reading beneath this lamp. ” This fellow was dying. He knew it and I did not. I think he was tucking me in. He was making sure all of his friends had the right lamps, the comfiest pillows, the softest sheets. He was tucking us all in for the night.” ― Amy Hempel, The Collected Stories
It occurs to me that the older I get the more I see people die. A good friend of mine, who was the first person to really be a friend through my alcoholism, died of cancer a few years ago. Two friends of mine died in their early 20s. An acquaintance I knew, a glinting literary light, committed suicide. Time takes it all, washes it away, and what you have left are the hours. So when you think about the fact that every day forward is a march closer to the grave, you start to think about the quality of your days and who occupies them.
I used to be friends with really shitty people. Catty women who clawed and conspired. People who were covered, head-to-toe, in issues. I used to love men who were incapable of loving me in the way I deserved. And while this is life and there are times when my dearest friends will experience periods of darkness and heartbreaks, I no longer have time or energy for people who are less than extraordinary. I no longer have patience for people who refuse to tend to their hearts like a well-desired harvest. What I don’t have time for? People who put themselves on the road to ruin and like it. People who act as if these are the last days of disco. People who connive and scheme.
I have a cat. I sometimes fall asleep at 9:30PM. I don’t have the time.
Posted on December 18, 2014
I haven’t been 39 for a day and already I’m realizing that next year I’ll turn 40. And before you lay into me about 40 being the new 30, you’re only as young as you feel, and all that jazz, I ask that you please slow your roll because 40 is a big fucking deal. Although I spent much of my childhood wearing the mask of an adult, I remember reacting to the thought of being thirty. That’s old, I said. When you’re small you can’t imagine counting an age beyond your ten fingers. And then something in you changes, the shift is nearly imperceptible, and you suddenly find yourself attaching fractions to your age. You pine for sixteen, eighteen and twenty-one. Perhaps you think the world will reveal itself to you in degrees, because why else would you be so desperate to shed being one of the innocent?
I spent the day alone with my best friend’s daughter once. There was an emergency one Christmas morning–my friend’s son woke vomiting blood, the walls were a massacre of red–and I played with a small girl who was baffled over the fact that I abhor pink (god, what a heinous color!). While I wasn’t a girly girl, I was creative, and I made for a suitable playmate when she wanted to build imaginary sets for the plays we’d co-written. I marveled over her curiosity, and while we watched episodes of Strawberry Shortcake in what felt like an endless loop, I remember smoothing her hair, wanting for her to be young for as long as she possibly could, because children architect these magical worlds that adults find ways to ruin.
Everything for children is a first, whereas adults know too much. We’ve seen things that make us want to press our eyes shut and rewind the tape. Take us back before 21, 18, 16. We want it all back. We want our world small, simple, with only our friends and family in it. I had to write a scene last night about a woman who’s taken up permanent residence in a dark country and she struggles to remember what pure, unadulterated happiness was like. That first spring. The rain of leaves. The light that broke through the trees. Bare feet swaying on a car dashboard. Witnessing a stranger kneel down and pray for the first time. I had a really hard time writing this scene because those moments felt too simplistic, ridiculous and I’ve tainted them with everything that comes after. I can’t only keep the beauty in the frame without ushering in the ugliness, the cruelty, hate, violence and fear that we’ve come to know, in degrees, as the years stumble over one another. Feeling like a sophist I let the page cool, and I hope I can return to the story with something different. Who knows. Maybe I’ll play Strawberry Shortcake episodes to get me in the mood.
From where I sit now, the world is different. I read an article about how little one can change after they’ve turned 30, and contrary to what the author posits, I can’t even conceive how much I’ve changed in a span of 10 years. Or perhaps I’ve shed layers of skin to reveal what was always there–I can’t decide which. In ten years, I got sober, fell out of faith with a god I once worshipped (I’m spiritual, but no longer believe in a god or the binary confines of heaven and hell), discarded the need for materialistic trappings and unguided ambition, fell in love with my body after struggling with it since childhood (and realizing, much like many women my age, that I was beautiful then–why couldn’t I have seen me then as I see me now?), focused on quality over quantity in all aspects of my life, took comfort in the fact that while I don’t want to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word, I find I can be maternal in other ways, softened my view of my mother, which went from a deep, voracious hate to a sorrow, a certain kind of sadness. A few other things I’ve learned (ack! I’m entering the list terrority, something I’ve long admonished, but whatever, I’m riding on a sugar high from eating copious amounts of homemade fruit bars):
1. You start to remember everything you’ve read: When I was at Columbia getting my Master’s, I took a class, “Poets on Poets,” and I can’t tell you how intimidating it was to hear professors and guest lecturers quote other writers and their works as if it were nothing, as if the knowledge were simply stored in this imaginary memory bank set loose onto the world when deemed necessary. My feelings of awe soon shifted to annoyance over what I thought to be pretension. Rolling my eyes I thought, if someone quotes Susan Sontag one more fucking time, until I became the person who reads and quotes from Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. I’ve read countless books, but as I grow older I realize that some of them have lingered, left their indelible mark, and I find myself quietly returning to them to ferret out new meaning. It’s sort of like going back to the familiar and taking comfort that this is a place you’ve navigated before. And I’ve got just the Susan Sontag quote for this, people!!!
In all of this, I am assuming a certain idea of literature, of a very exalted kind. I’m using the word “writer” to mean someone who creates, or tries to create, literature. And by “literature” I mean — again, very crude definition — books that will really last, books that will be read a hundred years from now.
2. Not everyone will love or like you, and this is okay: Years back, a slew of catty book bloggers wrote some very unkind words about me online and I was DEVASTATED. This was before the advent of GOMI and other forums where people talk smack about other people–this was 2006 and I remember my face getting hot and how I cried about people who were so fucking mean. I wanted so desperately to be popular, to be liked, and the fact that there were people in this world who think I’m shit was hard to deal with. Now I don’t care. Admittedly, I’m a hard person to know and I’m flawed, but what matters to me are how I, and those whom I respect and love, feel about me. Everything else is superfluous, peripheral noise that I tune out.
That’s not to say that I don’t listen to criticism or constructive feedback. One has to in order to grow as a person and artist, and if someone cares enough to give me feedback in a way that’s meant to take me to a better place, I think, why not listen? It’s always worth listening to, and identifying what part (s) of, feedback resonate. I had a mentor, whom I adore, who would always pull me into his office to give me feedback on how I was managing staff. He once told me that I wore my emotions on my sleeve entirely too much, and a good leader has to be like a parent–almost always calm, always in solutions mode–and this shit was hard to hear. I was defensive and kind of bitchy, but then I realized that this person didn’t have to take the time out of his day to make me a better leader. And when I refined certain aspects of my character did I find that he was right. Sometimes you need to hear hard truths in order to become better, smarter, stronger.
3. I don’t have FOMO because I’d almost always rather be at home: This coming from someone who was once known as the “mayor”! I threw grand parties, attended them, was always double-booked, and grew miserable as a result. I didn’t realize I was an introvert living an extrovert lifestyle, and I’d often get wasted just to get through making the rounds at a party or I existed in a perpetual state of exhaustion. As I grew older I realized I didn’t need to be everywhere and do everything. I needed to have quality moments with people I admire, respect and love. Which leads me to…
4. I have a circle of ten and that’s about it: Chalk it up to unpopularity all throughout high school, but I used to be consumed with having SO.MANY.FRIENDS. Now I don’t have the time or energy for volume. I have a solid crew of less than ten friends for whom I’d lay down my life. These are a mix of women I’ve known for the greater part of my adult life–friends who saw me through addiction and relapse and knew me when I was a lesser person but stuck around because they saw the potential for me to change–and women with whom I’ve gotten incredibly close in the past few years. And while I may not see most of them as often as I’d like (some are mothers, one lives in Connecticut), when I do see them it’s as if we’ve picked up the conversation exactly where we’d left off.
My friends are strong, brilliant, beautiful, remarkable, tough, and don’t necessarily hold my social, economic and political views. Over the years I’ve learned about the importance of being taught by others. I’ve a close friend who’s a staunch Republican, and while it’s challenging to know that we don’t share the same opinions on how we want this country run, I’ve learned a great deal from her: how it’s important to understand your opponent and not simply ignore them, how we have to find some common ground if we want change. That there is some truth to what we both believe in, and it’s about how we can meld those truths into the greater good.
What I’ve also learned? I’ve become suspicious of women who don’t have long-term close girlfriends. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to have quarterly friends–people whom I like and admire, but I don’t have to see them every day.
5. I’ve been more socially active than I’ve ever been in my life: In college, we were told that we were the apathetic generation. Gen X didn’t care about anything. We were a-political, fatalistic. And for many years I didn’t care about geopolitics and didn’t advocate as loudly as I could have for the things I believe in. Now, all of it matters more than it ever did. Now, I can’t shut up about feminism, gay rights, racism, the fact that the U.S. isn’t morally superior because we apparently have no qualms about raping and murdering our own citizens. Now, I can’t stop reading about the politics in other countries. I can’t stop finding new sources to read. After Ferguson, I realized how “white” my news was, and I made it a point to find different sources. I made a point to be uncomfortably comfortable, which leads me to…
6. Travel is a huge part of my life: There are people who have the means to travel but don’t even have a passport and I don’t understand it. It’s as if the U.S. is enough. And it’s not, at all. It was only through traveling the world did I begin to see it differently. I’d been exposed to cultures I read about through the veil of an Anglo-Saxon or Americanized point of view. I’ve traveled to countries that aren’t necessarily “safe.” I’ve stood in streets watching anti-American rallies. You learn through context, and I feel as if I have a more complex view of America from having traveled outside of it. This year I went to Korea, Thailand, India, Spain, Ireland, and I have so much to see, so many places to go.
7. I let shit go: This is hard for a type-A control freak, but there are just some people, situations and events I’ll never be able to change and I have to accept that. I have to make a certain kind of peace with so much that exists beyond my reach. But this has taken an extraordinary amount of time and self-reflection. It’s only until recently that I’ve let go of the fact that I spent nearly four years of my life working for a man I didn’t like much less respect. Now, I try to learn from the things I can’t control. That, I think, is the greatest change I’ve seen in my life–that it’s imperative that I not stop learning. That I not be complacent. That I not simply exist to be constantly comfortable. That I not be changeless. That I not be open to change. That I not be receptive to criticism.
It never is what you want it to be, and that’s okay. It can be something else entirely.
This is the thing I hate about lists–they never fully encapsulate the whole of everything, or any one thing. However, if I look at the woman I was at 16, 18, 21, and now, I can say that I’m calmer, quieter, kinder, and less insecure. The threadline through all of the years, I realized yesterday, is my writing. I’ve spent the greater part of this year wondering what it is I plan on doing with my life, and then it occurred to me that I only want to write. The writing can take different shape and form, but it’s the only thing that gives me shelter. It’s the one thing to which I can return and it never fails to challenge or excite me.
So maybe that’s what I’ve learned at 39, the year before I turn 40? I want to write, always.