Monday, April 19, 2021

Parallels to 1998

In the summer of 1998, I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to southern Oregon. I would turn 13 that September, and begin my new life as an 8th grader at Talent Middle School. And while I’m turning 36 this year, and that middle school beginning was over two decades ago (!), I’m finding myself at a similar new beginning, with some strange parallels. 

I should state that I know that the pandemic is definitely not over. We’ve got variants popping up, and mask mandates and business restrictions ending way too soon, and in general our enthusiasm seems to be outpacing the decline of COVID. 

But there does seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and after receiving my 2nd vaccine shot, I find my heart readying itself to enter the world again, post-pandemic. 

First of all, just like in 1998, I spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not I should shave my legs. Ditto on wearing mascara. I can’t decide if I agree with society’s expectations enough to justify the time spent in meeting them. But I also want the social currency that comes with meeting society’s dumb expectations. Will people still be friends with me if I don’t shave my legs or wear mascara? Because I really want to have friends. 

And just like I did in 1998, I feel vaguely uncertain about my social skills. At age 13, I just didn’t have a ton of experience in making and maintaining friendships. At age 35, I’ve got the experience. It’s just that I’ve been hanging out with the same 2-4 people for more than a year and don’t entirely remember how to have conversations. Even social interactions with people I’ve known and loved for years are tinged with a slight uncertainty. There’s an 8th grader inside of me nervously whispering “Did you say the right thing? Should you say something else? What else can you talk about?” 

This also means that any successful (AKA not too awkward) human connection is cause for celebration. (A few weeks ago, I chatted with an entire group of people I didn’t know and I wasn’t very awkward and I rode the high of that for like four days.) 

And if I'm being completely honest, beyond social interactions, in the back of my mind, there’s the buzzing possibility of romantic interactions. In 8th grade, I didn’t have any plans to date until I was 16, and it would still be a full four years before my first kiss. And okay, maybe the possibility of romance was in the front of my mind in 8th grade. I couldn’t help it. I was a hopeless romantic and Ryan Gosling was stealing my heart as Young Hercules on Fox Kids, and the radio kept playing these sappy songs, and I could see my peers pairing off in halting, hand-holding couples. I kept wondering if it would happen for me. When? With whom? How? Would it be all starlight and dancing in gazebos and poetry, like I dreamed? 

I'm pleased to say that as of 2021, I've been able to experience my share of starlight and dancing in gazebos and poetry. But at this point, four years post-divorce and five months post-breakup, some of those questions are beginning to reach up to my heart and head again. Every single relationship I've ever had felt like a fluke. Not quite an accident, but like something I fell into without any planning or expertise on my part. Yes, I've had relationships before, but their initiations don't feel like anything I can replicate. (How does one actually start dating someone? Besides doing a theatre show with them, flirting throughout rehearsal, and then eventually making out?)

But logistics aside, there are more urgent questions. What if I ask someone out and they politely decline? Will I survive that? (Probably?) Or what if my year+ in relative isolation has completely eroded my ability to read any kind of social cues, and I don’t notice if someone is flirting? Or worse, I think they’re flirting when they’re not

8th grader thoughts. 

But there are also some positive parallels between 8th grade and now. I draw comfort from the same sources now that I did when I was younger—from books and movies and music and walks in nature. I feel uncertain of my exact future, but I know what I love and what I want to do, just like I did in 1998. Theatre and writing has been in my bones for as long as I can remember, and I knew even 23 year ago that I wanted to do both of those things. There are days as an adult when I can't get over the beauty of making my 8th grade dreams come true. 

1998 definitely had its rough moments. Moving to a completely new state and new school at age 13 is pretty challenging. But in the grand scheme, things turned out okay. 

And while I'm sure 2021 will have its rough moments, I think things will turn out okay this year too.

Monday, April 5, 2021

On mileposts and the question "What's the point?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about mileposts lately. 

It’s partly because I’ve got a bad case of “itchy feet” lately, which sounds clinical, but is just my phrase for “wanting to travel or explore new places or be someplace that isn’t here.” I’ve been daydreaming about a huge cross-country road trip to see everyone I know and love this summer. I’m planning a trip to Arizona to see some family in May. 

But I also know that I can’t drive for more than about five hours before I start to lose my mind. It’s just too exhausting, and I get tired of music and podcasts and singing and silence and sitting. So I’ve been finding mileposts. Places to stop and rest, to take a break and refill my strength before I keep going. 

If I had more time and hadn’t procrastinated this blog entry, I would have written much more poetic and symbolic drafts of this essay before posting the perfect and complete version of it. But I’ll have to tell instead of show this time. 

Because the last year or so has been the longest metaphorical road trip of my life. It has been for all of us. Pandemic aside, mine has included everything from the sudden and unexpected death of a dear friend to childhood cancer in the family to rejection from dream jobs to the break up of a serious relationship. And I’m tired. Tired enough that my brain started asking, “What’s the point?” 

In the last two months or so, so many small to medium-sized hardships just kept happening. It began to feel relentless. None of them were anyone’s fault, necessarily, and most were just perfectly reasonable and un-preventable circumstances, that also happened to make me miserable. 

My brain was asking “What’s the point?” often enough that at the suggestion of my therapist and doctor, I finally raised my dose of antidepressants, and after a week or so of adjusting, it’s made a wonderful difference. 

But the other thing that’s helped me is these sort of metaphorical mileposts. Moments when I could rest and refill before I carry on. Some have been planned—a massage, a haircut, a weekend getaway. Some were tiny things I chose in the moment. Looking up at the stars before I go inside, after coming home from Door Dashing. Opening a window to listen to birdsong or rainfall. Letting my body sleep when it needs to sleep. 

But some of the most beautiful mileposts were ones that were unexpected gifts. A late night text conversation about travel and magic and tarot readings. A friend stopping by unexpectedly—sitting in the sun and talking for an hour about art and how our bodies hold stories. A book that unexpectedly captured my heart (I see you, “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang). A rehearsal where the actors are making beautiful discoveries and creating stunning moments. Moments of magic. The other day, I was waiting to pick up a Door Dash order in a Five Guys, and noticed a Pearl Jam song playing over the speakers. As I got back into my car, my iTunes on shuffle, I thought “I wish my iTunes would shuffle to a Pearl Jam song” and immediately, my iTunes began playing “Wishlist” by Pearl Jam. 

There are times when the road trip we’re metaphorically on is so enjoyable that we don’t even notice how long we’ve been in the car, or that we’re in a car at all. And other times when it begins to feel relentless. When we start to wonder “What’s the point?” So on the long drive from Salt Lake City to Tucson, Arizona, I’m stopping at both Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. I’m giving myself mileposts where I can rest and breathe and refill before I keep going. And the trip itself is a metaphorical milepost in the longer journey of this spring and summer, one with so many unknowns and a few quiet longings. 

I don’t think there’s one “right” way to go through difficult times. But I’ve discovered that for me, having mileposts helps to answer the question “What’s the point?” The point is a visit to see my mom and sister in Arizona in May. The point is that talk with T on the front patio. The point is theatre. The point is magic and starlight and the universe answering prayers in the form of songs shuffled on iTunes and good books. 

Some mileposts are solid and scheduled, like a second COVID vaccine dose or a roadtrip. But the more I look for them, the more I see mileposts to give me strength day to day. And even though it’s cheesy, I thank the universe for them.