I am thirty today. Three zero. Thirrrrty. For many years, I have wondered what today would be like.
Like the Ice Bucket Challenge and many challenges before and after, there’s a new “challenge” circulating called the “Ten Year Challenge.” Its timing is curious, because I’ve already been reflecting on the last decade; for me, the Ten Year Challenge is from my 20th birthday to my 30th.
So I dug around in my old LiveJournal (you bet your ass I had one of those and updated it religiously for about 5 straight years - a treasure trove of all my thoughts and words and feelings from age 15 to age 20 or so), wondering if there was anything there that would help encapsulate this stretch of time.
Boy, was there ever. We’ll get there in a sec.
The thing about 20 to 30 is that a lot of life happens. When I was 20, I was a sophomore at Birmingham-Southern College, dating my high school boyfriend, and celebrated my birthday while doing a Jan-term in Nashville, playing personal assistant to then-Broadway star Laura Bell Bundy. At 30, I’m living in Asheville, North Carolina with my husband of four-and-a-half years, my one-year-old son, and our nearly five-year-old dog, Tom Hanks. I am jobless, but still a writer.
When I was gearing up to write this post, I couldn’t decide on a direction for it. I still can’t. The “morals of the story” are bouncing around like fish in an aquarium. I need my thought fish to calm down so I can catch one.
My son is sleeping and it’s sleeting outside because I live halfway up a mountain and it does that here. I never thought I’d live outside Alabama. And I do. Many times in my LiveJournal I lamented that there was no such person as the one I married: both attractive and kind; both caring and ambitious. And yet, I found one. I said to a friend recently, as we sat in my car at 4 in the morning (a rare and delightful night out for this young mom), “I’m thirty and I have no job that I love. Am I washed up? It’s over for me.”
He said, “I’m thirty and I have no boyfriend. Look at your life. If it’s over for you, what does that mean for me?” What my friend meant was that everything is a trick of perspective, and that I needed to get a grip on mine, because life goes by in a blink, and he is JUST SO RIGHT. Mary Oliver died yesterday and I found myself unexpectedly weepy all morning. I didn’t know yet, but I’m certain that her energy leaving the planet was a wallop to the hearts of all feeling people. And I have all my grandparents still earth-side. And I am thirty. I think God knows that I’m just not finished being formed by them so here they all are with me, just as present living their lives in their houses right this moment as the trees outside my window.
And I don’t feel melancholy! Not at all, in fact. I feel so damn GRATEFUL. The phrase “incandescently happy” comes to mind (thanks, Jane Austen). I feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives in the last ten years. I was a student and then I was a teacher and then I was a teacher of teachers. I went to South Africa as a United Methodist Youth ambassador and I went to Alabama and America’s Junior Miss as a Decatur ambassador. I have dined in America’s Finest Restaurant (hello, Highlands!) many times, and am a regular at the Waffle House on Tunnel Road. I do not believe in leaving the house without earrings on but I also got a tattoo recently (if you made it this far, let’s not make a big deal of it - I’ll tell you about it when I see you). And yeah, sure, some of those things could be dumb lyrics written only because they’re dichotomies about the stupid Manic Pixie Dream Girl that that guy sings about in “Meet Virginia,” (She wears high heels when she exercises - Are you fucking serious? That’s a crazy thing to do!), but the real thing about it is that everyone has such a multifaceted and layered life. And that’s kind of the wonder, isn’t it? It’s that no one is just one thing. It’s just about paying attention. It’s like...human experience baklava. The layers are paper thin, and you really have to stare to see them all.
Anyway, back to the point: the old LiveJournal posts.
When digging in the archives to find a birthday post from January 18, 2009, I found two that I thought were of interest. The first is about what I want to be when I grow up.
I'm feeling like I could do a million different things right now. Most people would say that's a great thing - that I have parents and mentors who've encouraged me to the point of possibility. And that's true. It is a great thing.
I am overwhelmed with the "if." And the "how?" And the "where?" as well. The following things are on my list of dream lives to live. Can't we just have more than one?
1. Get married early. Travel. Kids. Not work so much, but be an incredible mother (like mine) and do non-profit work later in life.
2. Throw it all away and go to Broadway. Figure out how to expand my range and grow a chest voice and take over for Laura Bell Bundy or Idina Menzel or someone. Live in New York. Be glamorous.
3. Go to law school and work for International Justice Mission. Become best friends with Gary Haugen.
4. Go to seminary at Emory or Vandy, work closely with IJM and write for a Christian publication.
5. Get a graduate degree in journalism and follow great stories all over the planet, ending up in some extremely beige house with a closet full of things Meg Ryan would wear in "You've Got Mail" and a husband who's aged like Harrison Ford. And some kind of prestigious award.
Of course, all these paths include a husband and kids. But I've got enough ambition and enough dreams to fill up at least 5 lifetimes. Why am I limited to only one? I'm converting to Buddhism tomorrow.
Maybe the right chance will come along. Or maybe I'm supposed to go tackle it in the street.
Here's what I do know. Double stuff Oreos? Fabulous.
So for now, young Mary Catherine, we’re here at Option 1. But there are a lot of possibilities here, sister. I mean, Option 2 is probably out. Sure. But Option 5, or something kind of like it? Yeah. I think we can make it work.
And then there’s this, which makes me smile and cry and be reminded of all the versions of myself (and ourselves) that exist within me (and within you) at all times, just waiting to be called up:
The fissure. 1/25/09
I turned twenty on Monday of last week, and I've been thinking a lot since then. There are these weird flashes that I've been getting of me as an eight, or eleven, or seventeen year old. I remember how it felt to think I knew it all back then. And then I think that my twenty six year old self will be remembering twenty and thinking how foolish the twenty year old was to be judging her seventeen year old self on all her mistakes. It just seems like it's going to be an endless cycle of learning and remembering, and I think the trick is not to beat yourself up about the things you didn't know while balancing the knowledge that you don't know it all. Make sense? Great.
Being single has allowed me, so far this year, to become extremely self-aware. That has always been something I'm good at, but recently I've realized just how much being in a relationship with someone else affects my relationship with myself. It's hard for me to articulate the different ways that I change when I'm single, but they are very real and very bold in my own mind.
Sometimes at night, or even in the day -- passing a cluster of stores, or a tree, or even a smell -- I will think of Oxford [England], and think of my home there [over the summer]. And some moments, like this one, make those movie reels inside my mind play memories extra slowly, so that somehow my body floats backwards and forwards simultaneously into what I was and what I will become. And in this fissure between space and time, it becomes easy to live without the worry of a twenty six year old blonde wrinkling her brow.
Mary Oliver asked me once, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Here’s to thirty. And to embracing the twenty year old. And the eight year old. And to letting both those girls do the talking every once in a while - because damn, twenty year old me was doing okay in the writing department! Here’s to more writing, more living, less apologizing, continued focus on skincare. To less time on the lightbox in my pocket and more time with my dog. Here’s to all the boys I loved in my twenties and the one I never thought walked the earth who put a ring on my finger. Here’s to my son. Here’s to no such thing as one version, to the endless possibilities, to throwing myself a bone, to lapping up my life. To what I don’t know. To learning and remembering. To tackling it in the street. To the next ten years.