In February, one day after my 30th birthday, I received a package in the mail. I opened it to find a small wooden box, small but sturdy, with a chunky, lego-like heart magnetically affixed to its detachable lid. Underneath the lid was a digital screen with instructions on how to configure this “love box,” which I would soon come to learn is an ethereal portal to capture love notes, buzzing with energetic anticipation as new messages wait to be opened.
After a *difficult* year having extinguished the last of my spiritual reserves, splitting from a love I thought would last a lifetime, and slowly, helplessly watching myself wither into a vacuous casing of my former self, family and friends rallied to show up for me in ways that I neither felt deserving of, able to reciprocate, nor previously imagined possible. From my hard-ass mom offering her most tender shoulder to cry on and attentive ears to listen as I recited the same frustrated incantations over and over again, to Dean who created boundless space to hold me during grief, lifelessness, and utter despair, continuously brining me back to myself after years of slow decay, to my brothers, who gave me faith in myself, in the life I’m pursuing, and hope for a beautiful future, to my dad, who infused in me the strength, tenderness, and care that we are capable of, to my dearest friends, Lisa, Kasey, Nick, Haley, Tessy, Carolyn, Andrea, Louie, who buoyed me when I was sinking with strong and understanding hearts, an abundance of warmth and laughter, and a feeling of home, to the Dream Maker’s circle, a group of 16 women with whom I explored the depths of my being and reimagined what a thoughtful, unapologetic, “big” existence could be, to new community who has shown me the grace and power of friendship, and of what is possible when we care for each other, even when it isn’t easy or convenient.
So it came as little surprise, but with an ever melting heart, that I received a literal love box at my door for a momentous year—momentous for bringing me to my 30th year, and for seeing me through my darkest hour. What came as a bigger surprise though, was to learn that it had been sent by my dad (after rejecting my mom’s appraisal of it as “just a gimmick” no less)—my dad, an upbeat and supportive but altogether unemotional person, who would prefer to shoot the shit about work and fitness regimens than feelings and sentimental ruminations.
Over the past month, I’ve received dozens of love notes, the overwhelming majority from my mom, who sends me heart littered love notes, uplifting greetings, and empowering mantras, among a myriad of other loving digital mementos. Scattered between these notes have been messages from Anne, Neal, Michael, and, of course, my dad, who, unlike all other authors, sends his notes anonymously, on a black background, bookended by a series of red hearts that fill the borderless screen.
In more recent weeks, the frequency of these notes, in particular from my parents, has waned. This is perhaps because I’ve been traveling but perhaps more realistically, I had thought, because the novelty had worn off. But today, as I frantically hurried to wind down the work day with a frenzy of messages and to-do lists, I heard my little box buzz in urgent commotion. I hastily ripped off the lid, expecting to read a sweet scribble overlaying an endearingly kitschy background, before getting back to work. What I saw instead, I instantly recognized as my dad’s calling card—no author’s name, black background, white text, adorned by red hearts. The message read “Hi Sweetie! I’m listening to a podcast the dream hunter. I realized that through your life, you have been your own dream maker to be where you are! Keep dreaming and dream big! And you are our dream! ❤ ❤ ❤ [ ❤ ad infinitum]”
My relationship with my dad has been far from perfect throughout my life, often times far from intimate, and certainly complicated by life’s messiness, and subject to its mistakes and lessons. Yet, or perhaps for this reason, this message hit me deep in the gut, for its beauty, its simplicity, and its recognition. So many women, myself included, suffer the violence of men in their lives, whether it be at their physical hands, or the more silent cruelty of their thoughtlessness, carelessness, selfishness, ego, inability to express emotion in healthy ways, if at all, and so on. To say that the same has not been true of my dad, albeit in what feels like a far removed past, would be an omission of certain realities, as would saying that it hasn’t complicated my relationship to myself, to men, and to being in partnership with them. And so to read these words is to mend wounds accumulated over years of self-doubt suffered at the hands of indignity after indignity. It is to feel relief and protection from the constant onslaught that the world, including those I’ve most foolishly cherished over myself, would have me believe is my lunacy, my misstep, my deficiency. It is to feel solid ground under my feet, so that I may stand tall in my conviction of character and self, without judgement or reprieve. It is to be nurtured and honored, truly, by the love of a man who means so much to me, after facing the brutality of those about whom I had believed the same.
2022 has been the year of the divine. Manifesting my deepest intentions, finding community in women who possess and radiate the undeniably divine, and rebuilding a life that finally feels like my own. I cannot believe in the coincidence that, despite speaking very little with my dad about this journey, he writes about being a dream maker (the literal name of the women’s group with whom I continue to work), and about dreaming “big,” a mantra repeated in this same group. I cannot believe in the coincidence that he writes this to me after months of committing these very ideals to my life—unbeknownst to him— sometimes faltering, but all the more proud. In a year that continues to surprise me, I’m overcome by a deep feeling of awe and alignment, one that’s supported by the big love around me, engulfing me as it pushes me forward.
Before you go on, you should know this post has been adapted from a literal diary entry I was writing i.e. unfitted, not-so-sexy-stream-of-consciousness style; but then again, aren’t all my blog posts? 😉 TL;DR: it is a summary of (some of) the things I’ve been thinking, what I’ve been doing, reflections on where I am and where I’m going.
Now that that’s out of the way, where was I? Ah yes: being a millennial is really weird.
I guess not necessarily being a millennial, per se, but being at the point in my life where I’m starting to get some things together, but at the same time if not by virtue of that “progress” I’ve become estranged from the things that have defined me, that mean so much to me, that are, well, me? How can that be? How can it be that I am both progressing but also regressing, improving but degenerating, confused out of my goddamn mind about who I am, who I’m working towards becoming, and figuring out whether these are linear paths that become intractable with time and motion.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just tired.
I just got back to Palo Alto after what was a restorative and joyful two weeks with my family in Northern California (even further north than this godforsaken town). Dang, I don’t mean that, really. But I do! Ah here comes the crazy. I’m laying in bed–correction, on my mat on the floor that has served as my bed for the past 9 months. In my $2400/month apartment, one of 5 in an old converted Palo Alto house that has no (perceptible) heat and is, according to my downstairs neighbor who is as trustworthy a source of local gossip as any, infested with roof rats. Maybe goes without saying that I’m deflated (to say the very least) to be here again after such a nice break with my favorite people. But! in an unexpected plot twist, weirdly reassured that I’ll feel differently soon enough–that work will bring a welcome if not somewhat unexpectedly energetic sense of fulfillment, eroding the memory of my current despair and emotional lethargy. In short: feeling the feels, feeling like I should write something down. It is, after all, the start of new year.
Photo break: said Palo Alto apartment, in the near present
Let’s back up a bit. I’m 26, soon(ish) to be 27. I work at Facebook. I live in Palo Alto, CA. Prior to that I was living at home in Michigan, working towards a degree that came at the onset of a quarter life crisis. This was, if not utterly clear from previous blog posts dated circa 2014, induced by what was one of the most discombobulating years of my life living in New York City, where I was working at a photography studio on the Upper West Side (special s/o to Steve Friedman who owned the studio, became a great friend, taught me so much about New York, exposed me to all the great NY things, etc.). But, cutting right down to the gnarly chase, during this 2014 year I spiraled into a deep situational if not melodramatic depression characterized by an inconsolable post-college disillusionment—what to do with my life? where did all my friends go? why don’t they teach you that money is real? and that you need it to pay rent and buy food?!! yadda yadda yadda—I sought out to make a career change. In retrospect, it’s amazing where and what I’ve stumbled on given that at that particular juncture I knew just as much where I was going and how I was going to get there as I did where I wanted to be going in the first place, which is to say zero none at all I didn’t. I just knew that I was so completely desperate for an escape that was 180 degrees from where I was at, but beyond that was shooting in the dark praying that one, just one stray arrow would stick.
Photo break: 2014 in NY, at the time
So, for the sake of getting back to the more immediate point, suffice it to say: that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working. I’ve been trying to “figure it out.” I’ve been doing everything to distance myself from the things and places that made me so unwell. And in some ways, it really worked. I’m no longer questioning my existence in the same ways (those ways being: should I?). I’m certainly no longer fantasizing about how wicked and satisfying it would be but also terrifying-to-be-entertaining-the-thought of jumping out my window to bring reprieve to the mind-numbing predictability of Saturday brunchers happily, if not foolishly, enjoying their insta-worthy patio brunch. On the contrary, now I am one of those brunchers. That’s gotta be progress, no? Sarcasm aside, I’m no longer sad beyond belief or bitter beyond reason. Yet still, I worry that somewhere between being that morbid 22-year-old and being this salad-eating, fitness-fiend, altogether balanced 26-year-old, I’ve lost part of my soul. And before you say it’s not healthy to “fetishize sadness”, as I was somewhat understandably told recently, hear me out.
Am I missing part of my soul because I’ve become too complacent? Complacent with the choices I’ve made and the impact I have on the world, with my general “I’ll get to that later” attitude about so many values that I Morally. Ethically. Spiritually. Believe in. Hold dear. ? Complacent with the same unhealthy psychology that afflicted me 5 years ago, just now justified by a bigger paycheck? Yes, I no longer have fantasies about jumping out of the window, but my god did that experience force me to learn about myself and identify what, past all the bullshit, is important to me. That year, I discovered these things about myself:
I care about my family. A lot.
I care about community. A lot.
I cannot survive without the previous two bullet points.
Leaving home, “flying the coop,” doesn’t de facto make you successful. There is no shame, and in fact there is so much beauty, in being with the people, around the places, that raised and love/d you.
I need to see nature. I need to hear nature. Every day.
I want to be constantly learning and get bored very easily. But constantly learning is:
Talking to new people
Seeing movies I haven’t seen before
Listening to music I haven’t heard before
Reading things I haven’t read before
Staying open-minded, engaging with the world remembering that I am no better than any other person.
I cannot live in an environment that promotes so much vanity, so much materialism, so much consumerism. I am susceptible to it, and it destroys my soul. The excessive advertising of product, of fame/celebrity, of oppressive lifestyles is the means by which I had learned to hate myself in order to create profit (not for me, and if it were, at whose expense?), had learned to hate myself in order to create profit (not for me, and if it were, at whose expense?). It is truly the definition of Stockholm syndrome.
And to date these remain the most steadfast, most real things that I know about myself. It is undeniably a great thing that I am in a better headspace now than I was then, in 2014, when I started to discover these things more fully for myself. But what have I sacrificed to get here, to stay here? Have I been moving closer towards my values, or have I just been thrashing aimlessly, making a whole lotta noise? In some ways, I’m more fulfilled than I have ever been, but in others I’m still spiritually starving—starving for family, for community, for culture art people energy, for growth towards the reality that external validation does not make life meaningful, having a good job does not make life meaningful, making money does not make life meaningful, updating your Instagram does not make life meaningful.
Being a good friend makes life meaningful. Being a good sister, daughter, partner, niece, granddaughter makes life meaningful. Being curious about and engaged in the world and in people makes life meaningful. Being good to and patient with yourself makes life meaningful. Having values and standing up for them, even when they are unpopular or make you unpopular is what makes life meaningful. *correction: apply “imperfectly trying to” to all of the above
So ok I say I love my job. I’m happy. But I’m also not happy? I’m “spiritually starving?” Ugg, stop it already. But, well, erm, what I can say is 2018 was a really great year, in part for these reasons:
I really, truly, genuinely love my job.
I’m not so fretful and scared of “where I’m going to be in 5 years” anymore. I’m actually kind of…excited? If for no other reason than I kind of kind of believe in myself. ?
I love the community of people I work with–because they are engaged, they are curious, we are working towards something together, they teach me new things daily. In some not so trivial ways, this community is my antidote to the vapid, vanity-obsessed messages constantly being shoved down our throats as 1. people in general and 2. young millennials who are still impressionable, still trying to figure our shit out and 3. young women who could use relief from all this toxic patriarchal expectation. What do you mean what do I mean? I wear a sweatsuit to work daily and no one says shit to me about it. Case in point. *(Though also not trivially, sexism in tech is A BOOMIN’)
I saved money, for the first time in my life.
But at the same time, 2018 was not so cool for the flip side of same exact reasons:
I kind of kind of believe in myself these days…because I got a job that society finally signed off on
I am provided the conditions and environment, work and autonomy that allow me to love my job as a direct result of the fact that big corporations, big governments, big anything with a lot of money, are able to accumulate so much resource off of the very people who are left in the shadows of these towering monoliths.
I have prioritized work over friends, over family, over relationships.
I didn’t buy a car (or furniture!) that would bring me one to many degrees closer to nature to more culture to a life, because I was so focused on saving money.
So here we are, lists drawn out, feelings splattered all over all of our brain canisters. And as is promised of any good cathartic journaling, I’m starting to finally see what I’ve been meaning to say but unable to understand…until…now ?, which is this: I guess life–living with joy, integrity, purpose, and meaning–is not about scoring the perfect line-up of actions (or in my case over-corrections) that make you rich, successful, envied, attractive. Maybe it’s about identifying the attitudes and psychology that bring you suffering and heartache, and building up the defenses to counter them, whether they be negative self-talk, unrealistic and arbitrary societal expectation, de-prioritization of your own true self to accommodate someone else’s definition of you (someone who doesn’t care about you no less!), etc. Maybe it’s about practicing how to honor yourself and trusting your will and strength to unlearn all of the shitty things society teaches us about what it is to be worthwhile, what it is to be kind and conscientious, what it is to be worthy of love—your own and from others. Maybe, even if we’re not desperately depressed, we have to force ourselves to stop and ask the Really Hard Questions that make us better, that align us closer to our values, that pick us up and put us not on the path of least resistance, but of greatest heart and conviction. 2018 was the culmination of (years of!) lots of self-reflection, lots of over-correction, lots of work, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, the things I’ve experienced; I try to and do reflect on that with positivity, not just criticism and negativity. But I also don’t want that to dictate my whole sense of self—my sense of purpose, value, direction, worth, and personhood. I don’t want to think I’ve become everything I could hope to be or that eurka! I’ve made it and am happy as an unthinking clam just because according to society I should be. I am hoping that this new year may be full of conversation—with myself, with family, with friends, with unacquainted but welcome company—conversation that, little by little, makes me more human, makes me more me.
And on that note, finally, goodnight. Thank you to anyone who made it through this blogpost lol. I love you too.
I was watching Miracle on 34th Street today (actually watched it twice in a row because for some reason AMC is too lazy to program more than two movies a day) and was *astounded* at how quickly Dorey and Bryan “fell in love”, a feature of most romantic comedies and certainly the unvarying theme of all Hallmark movies without exception and even when about dogs. Despite having spent my fair share of nights in the early (and later not so early) years of my childhood planted on the sofa giggling along while Matilda (I really don’t know her by any other name) charms Santa and her father-to-be with brimming precociousness and an unusually cute face that I sometimes want to eat, I’ve never taken objection to and frankly never noticed this glaringly obtrusive trend before. For those of you who didn’t spend your childhood junked up on Christmas movies and bonbons smeared on your face, there is really only one thing that you need to know re Dorey and Bryan’s romantic relationship and that is, to oversimplify things, that they have only spoken a handful of times (I realize this may be contentious and some may say that they’ve been dating for as far as we know years, but to my discretion I’m pretty sure they met an hour before the movie started) come Thanksgiving and are married by Christmas. And yet up until my 22nd year of life I accepted this as normal if not laudable behavior. What?
Now, I don’t mean to preach about “media’s” destructive influence on society and give you some annoyingly pedantic essay that would make me hate myself as much as you would (although to be honest, I probably will do that sometime next week) but I really just want to know if and how movies are reflecting or influencing real life? Of course this conversation could go on forever and across an entire breadth of lifestyle modeling, but for relationships specifically, do the interpersonal patterns in movies affect how we play them out in our own lives? On the one hand I’m quick to point blame at them for what I see as a general tendency in couples to not know (or seriously care to know, or in “the right ways” (I hate me too, it’s ok)) each other before committing to serious undertakings, myself having been included. It seems more common than not that people unknowingly sustain their relationships on superficial pretenses and that it’s only a matter of time before the cracks fissure and you drop into hell—or my mom just told me that so I’d be celibate forever. But hoping it’s the former, maybe we’re doomed to this miserable forgone romance and our only salvation is in trade schools for the healing heart during which we brandish ourselves with symbols (“optimistic”, “hurt”, “healing”, “addicted to red meat” etc.) in order to attract compatible companions (which I’m pretty sure is an arranged marriage in which case we should all just get those).
Yet on the other hand, I think these subliminal movie messages can’t possibly have had any irreversible effect or else I would’ve married that guy I met in the hall once 10 years ago at the drinking fountain. Yet due to some divine intervention I’m happy to report that I’ve thus far dodged (or more likely was dodged by) every man that would have possibly taken me as his nearly teenage wife after one month of dating. Instead I enjoy yelling at Jonatan until we both cry, in addition to long walks to the delivery ice cream truck. Quite simply, it amazes and inspires me that I’m in a relationship in which I feel aggressively genuine, and seek to cultivate in an intentional way. If it were up to Hallmark I’d be married to some hick who for no reason wants to be my kid’s dad and likes when I make him waffles in pumps and a bustier. But here I am, androgynous as ever with a fierce suspicion of all men who don’t approve of my shredded underwear from the 6th grade, and I find myself with a person that is as comfortable being as inexcusably frumpy as I am, respects me as much as I respect myself, loves his family as much as I love mine, accepts me more than I can myself, and challenges me intellectually & emotionally every day except for when all we do is nothing + sugar and fat. So how do I reconcile my fear of having drank the romcom kool-aid for far too long and without warning, with finding myself, wits in tact, exploring a relationship that is deeply soul enriching and with no foreseeable plans to marry? Some might just say it’s a Christmas miracle.
(Also I’m 22, so…)
*P.S. I hate that this seems as sappy as it does, but I found these pictures of “said-relationship-person-Jono” today and thought I’d throw them in cuz, well…we like him 🙂
In recent months I’ve been caught up in a slew of vacation idleness including and mostly limited to a copious amount of brain rotting cable television (no offense Hallmark movie channel) and unhealthy amounts of red meat. While it definitely has its rewards (never need to think, move, or shower) it becomes an exhausting chore to remain so inactive for so long. But what seems equally if not more troubling is how easy and addicting this lifestyle can become, and how much of an active effort it is to be productive and keep mentally and physically agile. So why this hair pulling contradiction of feeling compelled to do and accomplish things and similarly feeling compelled to the couch, steak in hand? Does anyone else share this distress with me or should I start going to therapy?
This whole issue came up today when I stumbled on an old email that I sent to someone after my freshman year of college, and was relatively shocked at the general interest and curiosity that seemed to possess me, and also discouraged that the questions that were unsettling then are those that are now more complicated to me today. The email was surprising and also expected–I feel like I’ve been trying to figure out the same thing for years without much clarity or progress. Whereas in college it felt like self-indulged rumination, now it’s clear to me that it’s always been a struggle to feel as though I’m fully realizing my ambition and intent (because, after all, what is my ambition and intent?), and far too tempting to be pulled into the way easier yet much less rewarding mindlessness that accompanies TV and stuffing my face. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not my nature to be in a fixed state of always secretly wanting to go home and watch movies & TV (albeit I’d like to think at least good movies & TV but this is up for debate) no matter where I am or what I’m doing. It’s with honest effort that I understand these incongruences and try to come to some productive arrangement between the two. Maybe I’m just intimidated by the increasingly certain realization that life requires a constant level of control and purposeful determination (and thereby diligent restriction) that always by nature becomes (or just inherently is) a life in effortful strife. This is especially exaggerated by the conviction of desperately wanting creative control over my life that often precludes the traditional workspace–a workspace in which being diligent is enforced and supervised. During the disparate months at a time that I’ve had a job, my high productivity is quite frankly amazing to me and I’ve wondered to no avail how to sustain a similar work ethic of my own accord.
It never feels good to be overcome by self doubt and question not only my abilities but even more terrifyingly my motivations. Am I just lazy? Am I just disillusioned and day dream too much? Or might I actually have an uncompromising need to explore creative/self-made endeavors and am I willing to cultivate the work ethic to back it up? It’s gotta be one or the other, right? I worry that I’m never going to outgrow this teenage cliché in which I desperately try to define the meaning of life while I lay in bed eating Ho Hos for dinner. It’s the 15 year old, pizza buffet loving, teeth rotting girl in me that whines, can’t I just have my cake and eat it too?
New York can be an impossible city. It can feel like wheels under your feet spun out of control, unwilling to wait while you regain your footing and catch a breath, even for just a second. If you don’t put up a fight, it’ll swallow you in it’s roaring streets and thick breasted sky scrapers that you look at with your head pulled straight back and mouth gaping open, and it’ll spit you out a carcass with hardly a beating pulse. Sometimes I feel like I’m the loneliest person on earth. Well, it’s a funny thing walking down a street with herds of people to your right, your left, cutting off your stride straight ahead and on your heels directly behind, yet feeling alone. Really alone. The suffocating feeling of knowing that you could slowly melt into the mass of numb bodies and become lost under their shuffle without a second thought. You could be hit by a subway car, and somewhere a few stops down the line there’ll be hundreds of people dismayed at the delays at the hands of another undisclosed “police investigation,” sighing in, sighing out, scoffing as they stare at the hands go round and round their ticking watches. There’s no time. No one’s got time. No time to drag your feet, no time to be indecisive, no time to explain, no time to take your time. And what I still can’t figure out is what is this hustle for? Where do I need to be that I can’t wait for the next train? No, I need to have that woman’s butt smashed on my thighs cuz I don’t have time to wait for that train. So I’ll get on this train, I’ll touch that woman’s butt, I’ll smell that guy’s breath, I’ll get hit in the face with that book, as long as it’s this train and not the next.
There was a snow/ice/sleet storm in NYC today, which means I might as well have been steeping my feet in soggy hot dog buns all day. You know when you have “waterproof shoes” that either were falsely marketed or are over worn to the point of absorbingwater? Hey, it’s 2014 so I guess it’s just as likely that we’re all being tricked into buying shoes made out of cotton balls as it is that I’m a disgruntled-yet-too-lazy millennial and need to stop wearing shoes with holes in them. But the fact that remains steadfast and true is that all day I could feel the skin under my toes squirming as it shapeshifted from dried prune to drier prune. And because my shoes are inverted rubber bags, they made damn sure no water was goin anywhere but on those toes. On top of which, my boss hoards dirty dishes like I hoard XL Gap Kids underwears, resulting in what often looks like poop splattered dishes heaping over the top of a bathtub sized sink (if that’s not registering, that’s A LOT OF DISHES), so there’s no room to get even a trickle of water from the faucet unless I ricochet it off a plate with old, caked on meatloaf sauce and wait for it to trickle into my mouth like waiting for the final tee in Happy Gilmore (in which he bounces the ball from a car windshield to a metal thing to another metal thing to a third metal thing to more metal things). Why does it always seem like being soggy and thirsty is the worst possible combination? Or do you think as long as my toes were waterlogged for 12 hours it’s basically like being hooked up to an i.v. water pump? I dunno, you tell me.
I really feel like a pubescent butt sniffer again (it’s ok, I mean that in the colloquial sense). I have all the telltale signs: mood swings, fantasies of being strapped down against my will while having macaroni and cheese shoved down my throat, spontaneous and unpredicted bouts of sobbing (see: mood swings), obsessive finger curling of my hair, eating my own fingernails, being too lazy to consider doing laundry, and general distractedness (debatably early onset dementia).
All I’ve done the past three nights is sit in bed with kendrick cranked to 1 above mute so that my white yuppie roommates don’t get spooked to find that their well behaved Asian roommate blasts rap while eating 6 take-out containers of Chinese food alone in granny panties from 6th grade. And after that, you can find me choking down whatever candy and “oriental” snack mixes (thanks Lisa) I can find stuffed in unmarked plastic bags on the floor, making phone calls to friends and family to feel less embarrassing.But even if this all makes me feel like a cheap prostitute, I can’t get enough of it. I stretch out to lay on my newly dressed bed (thanks for the sheets, mama) and feel like a P.I.M.P. as I melt into my flannel sheets and picture gold chains and jewels falling weightlessly from the sky, Kendrick bumping in the background “I been hustlin all day this a way, that a way…,” the taste of chinese food stuck in my throat and a smile spreading across my face like a pair of tanned & oiled legs easing into splits. And I succumb to a complete state of relaxation that I never want to wake up from. Today it feels damn good to be 21 and hungry.