33 Things I Learned in my 33rd Year

  1. Falling in love is amazing.
  2. The difference between arrogance and confidence.
  3. Communication is everything to me.
  4. A space of one’s own is EVERYTHING.
  5. Being social is actually kind of fun.
  6. You are your own champion.
  7. Roasted vegetables are easy and AMAZING!
  8. Cats have personalities.
  9. I can’t change my personality, but I can develop and manage it.
  10. Baking Soda and Vinegar kick ass.
  11. Much of life is about showing up.
  12. People aren’t always who they say/think they are.
  13. Embracing my flaws is incredibly liberating.
  14. My people are everywhere, I just have to find them.
  15. I should have bought a power drill a long time ago.
  16. Area rugs are super expensive.
  17. Sharing your time and space with someone is what really counts.
  18. The way I plan to spend Christmas from now on.
  19. I find extroverts scary for all the right reasons.
  20. Being open about my flaws is incredibly liberating.
  21. The difference between a selfish person and an egocentric person.
  22. People who talk big and promise big can be full of intention and empty of action.
  23. How to say ‘No.’
  24. Don’t be empty of action.
  25. Show up.
  26. I can survive humiliation.
  27. Have expectations of no one, regardless of what they say.
  28. Indeed, blue is my favorite color, but I can appreciate others.
  29. ‘Death by meeting.’ The struggle is real.
  30. You can accomplish quite a bit in 4.5 minutes.
  31. People who make others their ‘project,’ need the most work.
  32. Therapy saves my life.
  33. Heartbreak is devastating.

Toward Dignity and Beyond

Over the past few months, I’ve heard the word dignity thrown around quite a bit. In most cases, the discussion was about poverty. On one hand, the poor needed to have or show some dignity by working harder, by “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” And, on the other, the working poor deserve a livable wage so that they can live with dignity. In fact, because I’m finally in a job that uses and tests my education, I now have a more dignified job.

My response, sometimes vocalized, was one of confusion. Is being poor or working a job that doesn’t require a degree or a particular expertise, exclusive of dignity? According to the aforementioned paradigm, yes.

In both instances, a lack of money and capital equates to a lack of dignity. Consciously, subconsciously, and culturally, this language suggests that our bank accounts are intimately linked with how much honor and respect we are given and with which we view ourselves. Yes, living comfortably on the salary of a single, 40-hour-a-week job is a luxury everyone should be afforded, but not living such an existence doesn’t necessarily make people feel less worthy of respect. I hear stories about a middle-class that once existed in this country, a middle-class that prided itself in working hard and earning a living. As those people continue to tumble down the tax brackets, now it appears that they had only dignity in numbers of the populist kind.

It’s unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that something as subjective, personal, and unique as respect has been usurped by a symbolic practice. And until money ceases to be the token for succeeding at life, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If even the deeply altruistic believe dignity is bestowed with cash, then even the good guys are cogs in a system that must, at the very least, be re-calibrated. Honestly, we’re all just rats the maze. But seeing the dignity in others should have nothing to do with their bank accounts. Unless, you truly believe a person can be paid their worth.

Le Douleur Exquise

I read in a book, or an article, maybe even on a blog, that soul mates are fleeting. The logic was one of purity; it was the same reasoning that once declared: the only reason Romeo and Juliet are bastions of “true love” is because they died before their passion could be swept away by the mundane machinations of time.

Like R & J, soul mates are an ephemeral experience crystallized only by gentle recollections and colored gloriously by violent pangs of loss–never to be subverted by comfort and complacency.

I believe such things. Though, as I convince myself that my heart is not broken, but broken open, I’ve come to know–connaître–the pain that necessitates the soothing sterility of such postulates.

The Ayntidote

Like any deeply introspective and philosophical nerd, I turn to books and music and film and art, in general, to assuage my anxiety and to ease my passage through transitions. This particular transition has been quite different. It is being quite different. This transition feels intrinsically right, perfectly measured, and has–in all honesty and perhaps prematurely–been rather smooth sailing.

But alas, a mind as serious and bloated as mine can’t just let things Be.

I am wrestling with my own feelings of living poetically–better, worse–Either/Or. Uncomfortable, for sure. Or (inclusively) I’m simply weary that I’ll never know the unbearable lightness of being.

This evening, I called a boy. I recounted my day, despite acknowledging his boredom, and was moved on. He’ll never call me Shams, nor I him. I pulled out my journal–paper and ink–and began by noting that it had been almost six years to the day since I’d opened my veins and bled black. I noted also the irony of that last and this first entry. As I poured my chaos into the great white abyss, I came to realize I’d been mainlining Rumi the way others snort lines of Harlequin. Perhaps that was the problem and so the solution would be easy.

I began the bleary and sluggish search for an antidote. Kant and Machiavelli were both at hand, but for practical reasons–YES, REALLY!–so they were out. I unearthed Shelley, of the ‘his’ variety, and quickly remembered why he’d sat so long on the shelf. Sorry, Mary…he was just never up to doc. Then I thought about The Seducer’s Diary, and then I thought about that seducer, and then I thought: NO.

It was shortly after this that I saw it. Its physical existence as heavy and burdensome as its legacy. My mind, my space, my soul felt sharp and lucid in comparison. My problem seems so trite and petty when I think of the serious and chronic bloating that afflicted Ayn.

The Tautology of Ontology

I am in ontological crisis. I seem to remain in ontological crisis. For years now I’ve contemplated my snug position in this state of being. And for years now I’ve assumed it was temporary, that once my life began to “fall into place” this feeling of crisis would recede, never to be felt again. I no longer believe this to be True.

I’m beginning to understand that such a state never really resolves itself for those of us who strive, at even the basest of levels, to live deeply fulfilled and examined lives. It’s difficult because it often feels as though the only consistency is the teeter-tottering of what’s important and necessary for me. Some days I feel as though I don’t need anything more than a creative binge, a good film, or outstanding conversation that runs the gamut from fluff to something more somber and philosophical. Even just learning something new about life, humanity, and the people I love suffices. All of these things, alone and in sum, help me to feel and intuit the truth of whatever life is, and they cost nothing. Other days I require the world, and that costs everything.

It’s tough, too, being of a creative mind. To create something out of nothing–to capture the depth and complexity of an idea, an experience from the mind and transform it into something that is both tangible and abstract at the same time and also perfectly primed to take on the infinite depths and experiences of others–is even more exhausting than it sounds. It is exhausting in a physical but not physical way: blank. empty. exsanguinated.

For my thirtieth birthday I received a copy of my favorite poem (Spelling, by Margaret Atwood) printed on paper that looks as though it has been carved out of the sky on a fair day: kyanite blue with cumulus clouds. I read it almost daily and remember that ‘a word after a word after a word,’ is not just power, but what I love to do. And to know so intimately what I love to do is priceless because it is, perhaps, one of only a few constants in this experience that is mine alone.

The fact that I’ve come to understand this while still underemployed and deeply unsettled about everything that comes with that, not only strengthens this belief, but also assuages some of my present anxiety. Where there’s no strife and struggle, there is no growth. And where there’s examination and contemplation, there will always be strife and struggle.

And so now, I suppose, instead of fighting the pulling, pushing, and gravity of this ride, I’m concentrating now on breathing through it, enjoying it, and no longer calling it crisis, but being.

thanks but no

Ages ago, I received my first rejection letter for the book. It read exactly as follows: thanks but no

No capitalization. No punctuation. It was demoralizing. Not because it was a rejection, this I had expected, but because it was so curt. I had spent the better part of three months crafting my query letter and an additional two to three hours tailoring it to this particular agency. And just like that: thanks but no.

Now, after what feels like an eternity of filling out online applications, sending emails, submitting my résumé, making phone calls and spending substantial amounts of time crafting a cover letter for each and every submission and getting absolutely nothing in response, I can honestly say I’ll take a ‘thanks but no’ any day. It is, at the very least, an acknowledgement of my efforts.

Whenever I engage news items meant to put a face to the un(der)employed, I always come away feeling as though the writer has stopped just short of the full experience. The lack of health care, the inability to pay for the basics–let alone any unforeseen and always costly expenses–and the emotional stress that this existential crisis creates is expounded upon in great detail. In a capitalistic society, I wouldn’t expect such articles to be about anything other than a lack of fiscal productivity and its effects on self-esteem. But, there’s another experience that exacerbates the more immediate, aforementioned circumstances: a constant barrage of rejection.

The process of finding a job in a depressed market is proving to be an emotional expedition in its own right. Along the way you shed dreams of living in a particular area. You dismiss illusions of finding a job you’ll actually enjoy. You leave the world you’ve worked hard to break into for the one you’ve always known and the societal rejections and dismissals that come with being un(der)employed. And, as if digesting your new reality isn’t enough, you must take up the active pursuit of rejection inherent in finding a job.

I feel the anguish of imminent rejection most intensely when I’m crafting my cover letters. Like the query letter, a cover letter is the first impression one makes in a situation where, in this economy (the cliché of the decade), the statistical probability of rejection is practically guaranteed. Both letters are appeals to higher powers. Please hire me. Please publish me. Please assess me and find me worthy of joining your institution based solely on this three-hundred word document extolling the virtues you want to hear about most, all so that I may live the life of a productive human being.

Of course I understand the function and necessity of the résumé and cover letter, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s when I’m working on these documents that the entire process of being hired feels unfairly arbitrary. The more I scrutinize a letter, the more it seems ridiculous to me that a couple of sheets of paper determine whether I make it into the next round of considerations. Is anyone ever able to distill their education, experience, and personality into a one page letter that vaguely resembles a fair and accurate summation whilst focusing on telling some anonymous someone what they want to hear? And if I’m going to put the time and thought into doing so, can’t it be common courtesy to acknowledge what I’m putting down, even if you aren’t picking it up?

I try my best not to take the rejection personally. The fact that the economy is in such bad shape eases my pain a little. When I do receive rejection letters in the mail–a rare occurrence–I’m actually grateful someone somewhere took the time to notify me. Mostly, though, I’m just used to it. I try to be systematic about the job search and application process. At the first signs of frustration and depression I ease up and regroup. If that means it takes me longer to find a job, so be it. Because, when it comes to letting this entire process run me into the ground, I’ve adopted a little philosophy I like to call: thanks but no.

The Next Room Over

When I was in high school, aged sixteen or seventeen, I decided I was an intellectual. I wasn’t exactly sure what the term ‘intellectual’ meant but it sounded appealing. It sounded right. It was one of the few labels that had been applied to me on several occasions for which I had no objection, like ‘old soul’ and ‘sharp.’ I was lucid enough at sixteen or seventeen to recognize that I was not yet fully an intellectual, it was something I would have to grow into, to become; it was a decorated uniform I needed to earn.

Still, I tried to imagine what life as an intellectual would be like. But, as was the case anytime I tried to imagine myself or my life at some point in the future, I saw nothing more than hazy tableaux vivants that took their cues from popular culture, fantasy, and my then nascent hobbies and interests.

What I did see, I liked. I liked the visions of my tiny office being overtaken by books that multiplied in number every time I left the room. I saw myself frequenting cafes, sometimes alone, sometimes in a small group: book in hand, ready to be anointed with fresh ink via praise, criticisms, thoughts and questions. I imagined conversations over long dinners that had an ebb and flow of the serious and the mundane. I imagined a group of people from a distance, myself included, gathered around a large table. Their faces illuminated by candle light, and their voices and laughter like an old record playing in the next room over.

That was, more or less, my life in my early and mid-twenties. As an undergraduate I found a small circle of friends (fellow students and professors) and studied abroad in France. Immediately after college I found work and a circle of friends with whom I was able to ‘sow my oats,’ (for better and worse), and then I started graduate school. I lived in a too small, two room basement apartment. My goodwill bookshelves quickly became inadequate for my growing collection of texts. Occasionally, not often, I’d meet friends at a cafe or bar for a drink and conversation. And always, my dinners with friends were long and the ebb and flow of conversation, gentle and inspiring, was mundane and serious. Flowers, wine glasses, and sometimes candles held space for us. Us, as in: including me.

For a short time my life was as I had imagined it would be, over a decade or so ago. What I couldn’t/didn’t imagine was that I could do everything right: go to college and get a degree, get another degree and then…the economy goes to hell and I learn that doing everything right was never enough. I certainly never imagined I’d be nearing thirty whilst underemployed and living with my parents in an area that feels a world away from any place that appreciates the things I love. I work part-time in retail. My second part-time job is finding a full-time job. I have my books and one close friend, but my two part-time jobs and a strong sense of isolation often leave me too emotionally exhausted and sad to enjoy them.

There’s always hope. When I think about who I’ve been, who I’m becoming, and who I’ll be, I remind myself that this time in my life, the present-this difficult time, is just as important as any other. When I’m feeling particularly depressed and hopeless, I convince myself that the darkness alone makes this chapter in life more important and necessary than any other.

As things stand, it is hard to interpret what I’m hearing in the next room over. But, I take solace in the fact that I know what I want to find there. Now, more than ever, I am grateful for the achievements of my past. It is the past that now informs the visions of my future. It is my past that sustains the echoes of intent I send forth.

Memory Shifts

One evening my sister and I tussled about on the big bed–the single bed not attached to our bunk beds.  Elizabeth, more recently known on occasion as ‘Hulk Beth,’ pulled me down and flipped me over her leg.  I remain convinced that it was some fancy Judo move she just happened to improvise.  I flew off of the bed and struck my head on the jagged corner of the electric heater.  Immediately I felt dizzy and then I was bleeding.  But, I was relatively coherent so I didn’t panic.  We put an ice pack and a rag over my gash…

No, it didn’t happen that way.  The way my sister tells the story, I launched myself over top of her, my temple aiming directly for that rusty corner, and I never made a sound.  Even after I put my hand to my head and felt the wetness that was my blood, I didn’t speak…

No, what really happened is the story of two little girls who were rough housing when gravity decided to join in.  Once gravity had thrown one of the girls a twist, literally, skin took offense and blood felt the need to comfort it.