Makes a girl think

October 21, 2006

Last night, as I blew out the candle on my molten chocolate lava cake, Diego evoked the memory of Marilyn Monroe, referencing these lines from Some Like It Hot:

You know I’m going to be twenty-five
in June?

You are?

That’s a quarter of a century.
Makes a girl think.

(More musings on the birthday time of year after the break.)

Yes, I am now twenty-five years old. I think it’s less that number than the fact that in the past year, I’ve realized that I have cogent memories of things that happened ten years ago, even fifteen years ago, and what’s more, I am always surprised when I realize that what I am remembering was actually that long ago. Like, somewhere around the year 2000, everything froze, and so the 90’s weren’t actually getting any farther away as the years went by, because hey, it’s just the start of the 2000’s. Now it is 2006, soon to be 2007. I can’t just lump the aught’s all together into a bundle with the 90’s any more. This doesn’t make me sad, just surprised. I’m starting to see how children become parents. I’m starting to see how I’m living the days my (God-willing) future children will never understand were a part of my life. This will be the ghost history of when I was young.

So that’s one thing. Another is realizing that in ten years, my goals for my life have completely reshaped themselves. I’m not sure how seriously one should discuss the goals one had when one was fifteen, but at fifteen they sure did feel important, and I was always the kind of person who thought that I was going to achieve them and that that was the most important thing life could hold in store for me. What I think about now when I think about what I wanted then, it strikes that for all of my detailed imaginings of a life of auditions and fevered creation and small, cold apartments, there was so much I left out of those dreams. I never thought about the friends that I would have or who I might love or how I might keep in touch with family. To a 15 year old, a life’s work seemed like everything. I don’t think it ever once occurred to me that work is such a small portion of a full life that, inevitably, my life would be changed and guided mostly by the people that I met. For some reason I thought you could achieve something in a vacuum, forgetting that there’s nothing we can do that doesn’t involve other people. Heck, even a writer has to buy groceries.

So newsflash number one hit me about five years ago, another very special birthday with friends. With friends! They threw me a surprise party, which I remember showing up at in concert blacks so I must have had some kind of orchestra thing going on that night. It was Parents’ Weekend too, so I must have been doing something for that. I have no idea what pieces we played, but I remember walking into a dorm room filled with balloons and party hats and food and feeling just about as happy as I’d ever felt. That was a pretty big surprise. Here I thought that GPA’s and concerto competitions were what was going to make me happy. I’m not exaggerating when I say those all seemed to fade in importance when I realized that there were a group of people who took the time to throw me a birthday party, and that they were right there in front of me and I could spend some time getting to know them and figure out what they would want when their birthdays rolled around. Apparently this is something that most people get in preschool, but I was slow, and this was a revelation. I think that year of my life was when I started to think that in addition to what I did, there was also who I was, and that might actually be the most important part of the equation. Did I really want to be the person so focused on practicing and achieving whatever it was I thought I wanted that she could tell a friend to her face that she’d rather stay in her room and read than catch a bite and a movie? Did I actually think that made be stronger? I was that person. Huh. Funny how my friends couldn’t have cared less about all the things I thought were so important about me. They liked me whether or not I had a good reed and a poem in the works. What a thought– I could be a good person without doing a single one of those things. Funny how being happy, actually happy in the present moment, began to seem like its own reward, and a better one than the temporary ego boosts of grades and recognition.

This, plus starting to date D, radically changed the imagined course of my life over the next couple of years. Auditions went out the window, PhD in English plans likewise. I was no longer willing to sign myself up for a life in which what I did necessarily had to be more important than the people I was with. I was very comfortable with this at the time, wouldn’t have had it any other way. Some time during our time in Brazil, though, I also realized that I couldn’t just completely turn off the energy that kept me writing and reading and turning my life into words. I could enjoy a lot of mundane work, I could find meaning it, but there was still something in my head that needed the push of a grand challenge. I could not exist as an entirely domestic being. I couldn’t understand myself that way. It would be like losing a limb, which wouldn’t be good for anyone who loved me, to have a limbless Liz instead of a real one.

What to do? The first thought was, come back to the States and give that Phd plan another think. But as soon as you relinquish your ability to move everything you own in a Volvo sedan, inertia sets in quickly. Our first months back in the US were subsumed with wedding planning and setting up our apartment in Florida. Compromise was almost immediate. I wanted to live in Miami, but when we both got decent-paying jobs in Boca that would enable us to use just one car, we took it. We could have held out to live in Miami, we were still living with family, but somehow the stress of living with uncertain, lower paying jobs didn’t seem worth. So we didn’t. Then came the wedding, the happiest day of my life, an amazing affirmation of family and hope and trust. Also, one of the most exhausting things I have ever done! By the time we recovered from that, it would have been time to start sending off applications to these crazy cold places that might be worth getting an English PhD from. Places which none of my friends had had any luck getting into despite excellent academic records. I realized that because I’d rightfully chosen friends over Honors English senior year, I had no brilliant writing sample. That was fixable. The bigger realization what that, without any prompting from anyone, I had no genuine desire to uproot the life I’d just started building, lock Daniel into a strange location with no particular job for him to do for the next 6-7 years, and be far away from everyone I knew just so I could tell myself that I was living the dream. Not to mention that living the dream would mean existing in a viper’s nest of academic ambition and petty rules, all for the chance to be unemployed at the age of 30. That seemed like the old Liz way of doing things. The way that put image over reality and ambition over humanity.

Fate intervened and gave me the perfect reason to stay in Florida. Two paid-for master’s degrees, one of which would qualify me for an actual job. I get to stay close to family, AVOID THE SNOW, and keep building a real life weekend by weekend. I was deeply relieved that I wasn’t going to have to say good-bye to the friends I was just starting to make or abandon my sister, who I’d talked into moving down here when she finishes her master’s. Perfect? Maybe. Reality continues to sink in– the library can be a bureaucratic nightmare, my classes are way too easy, and I’m just not sure I’m going to find the kindred writing souls that are going to push me as artist. Then again, there’s no reason to think that this couldn’t have happened wherever I moved or whatever I did. It might have been the same crap with different people and bigger attitudes. Needing to go somewhere just so I can feel confident that I am becoming someone is a failure of imagination. There are fabulous, creative people everywhere, and it’s up to me to find them. Thanks to the time I’ve spent working on my social skills, I’m getting more confident that I can. Besides, that was always the real game. As Bret Easton Ellis (gag me! but this is good advice) would say, going a to a reading is a good way to meet a writer. Going to a party is a better way.

Now, 25 years old, I like to hope that the next part of my life will help me balance these two urges. How am I going to stand by the people that I love and make sure I use whatever talents God gave me to the fullest at the same time? Is it possible to do this? If you look past the stigma of the word compromise, is it possible to find another path to where you wanted to be after you’ve made a detour that you needed to make? If not, I know I will be able to grow up and let go of this last little ego trip, but if there is a way to be a worthy partner for D and a good friend at the same time as doing work that I am proud of, I want to find it. I don’t want to give in to the absolutist streak in me before it is absolutely necessary.

For now, let’s party on!

And for the final word, since I am a poet after all, and poets are obsessed by death, let’s ask Galway Kinnell what he thinks about growing up… okay, well, maybe not as it seems the poem I am thinking of is not yet posted anywhere online, so I’ll have to round up my printed copy and save it for a future post. Laters!

PS For a full description of the b-day celebration, see Lusciousity.


One Response to “Makes a girl think”

  1. Lauren Says:

    Word on the realizing you remember things from decades ago. Like, I’ve been driving for almost ten years. Ten years! I can remember perfectly my horrible driving test that I almost didn’t pass because I was so scared of the guy giving the test I forgot how to park.

    Also, it’s really disturbing to hang out with people you think of as being your age, only to discover they are, in fact, three years younger and do not know who Bob Newhart is. BOB NEWHART!

    And, though I realize I’ve been out of high school for six years now, it, and even middle school, still feels so immediate. I remember the crappy play I was in in 7th grade, and it’s still mortifying! Even further back, I remember one day in Mass at St. Mary’s, I was wearing this video game watch (I know, such a dork) and it went off during Communion. Body & Blood of Christ, set to the theme of Super Mario Bros! My teachers were nice about it, but I don’t think the priest was amused. And, I can remember that months later I jumped into a pool wearing said watch and it died.

    Also, have you ever discovered a band you like (in this case, Rilo Kiley), only to find out that their first album came out in 2001? For some reason, that freaks me out. I’m like, what the hell have I been doing with my time? Certainly not releasing three albums.

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