On a Treehouse, Excitedly

What is quite possibly the most adult project I could attempt this summer? Building a sweet treehouse in my backyard, of course.

As a child, I’d disappear into the apple tree in our backyard and spend hours reading. You can’t see it anymore, because it’s no longer there, but there used to be a perfect lounging spot. Two branches extended to the right of the main fork – they were just far enough apart and at different levels that one would support your back and the other was perfect for hanging your knees over. It was like a chair.

Now that I’m grown and have my own space, I’d love nothing more than to take advantage of the beautiful backyard. Mike is dreaming of fire pits and lights, and I’m dreaming of the treehouse and a hammock. It’s going to be magical, should it ever come together.

This is my amazing tree:

Yesterday, one of my friends posted a sketch of some plans for a backyard party and I immediately picked up the phone to call him. Instead of assuming I’m insane when I offered to bring plates and cups and cutlery for the party and then immediately launched into my questions about treehouse-building, he readily agreed to sketch it out for me. I love having creative friends. He was concerned about access to the treehouse, I am now concerned about the fact that I’ve never built anything before.

This could happen. Potentially. This could be really fun. Maybe. Maybe this will be like vacation where half the fun is just imagining it.

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On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

It’s happened like clockwork. Every five or six months since I joined the working world, I start to panic. I find myself burned out, thoroughly exhausted, and inconsolable because it seems like everything I work so hard for is ultimately unattainable.

This month, I looked at my bank account after I paid my bills, sorted my savings, and so on. For the month of April, I have $15 a day. This includes gas for my car, food, and anything else I need. (Let me put this in perspective for you: It costs me around $40 – two and a half days of life – to fill up Simon’s gas tank. I do this every seven to ten days. Budgeting for four fill-ups during the month of April, we’ve already lost a quarter of my funds.)

***

According to new studies, about 11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. I lost the link to the article, but apparently the people with the highest percentage of prescription drug abuse are people born between 1981 and 1990. And then there’s this horrifyingly sad op-ed piece from a father who lost his son to a drug overdose.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was twenty-three. It was a hellish two-day testing, during which all learning disabilities were ruled out. I’m grateful for that – I always wondered if I was just bad at math or if it was something more than that. (As it turns out, I’m actually average to above average at math, so I’m wondering how much learned helplessness is playing a role in my inability to do calculus. I also wonder how necessary calculus is for a long and happy life.)

In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I’ve embraced my Adderall and all of its drawbacks. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful for the drug. It’s changed the way I work. It’s allowed me to focus, something that I can’t do. I now have the ability to be productive. I often wonder what my grades in high school or college would have been like had I been properly diagnosed around the time I started wondering if I had a focus issue. I wonder if my inability to concentrate – which was honestly so bad that I never read a textbook – negatively affected my grade point average and my chances at success in life.

My manager when I was 16 always used to tell me that I had the attention span of a golden retriever. Now, I’m still not the best at impulse-control or listening, but I’m at least getting better at being patient, at doing work,
[edit: I came back to read this paragraph and realized I’d totally trailed off, leaving it unfinished. I’m leaving it this way.]

True, I immediately lost 15 pounds and have struggled to maintain my four-pounds-underweight weight ever since. I pick at my skin, unconsciously. I was having trouble sleeping for a while. They tried to prescribe me pills for that, but I declined them. I don’t want more pills.

Regardless, I’ve never abused it. Nor have I sold it. Nor would I ever dream of doing that. I believe that too much Dateline as a child has led me to lead the mostly drug-free life I lead today. I am disappointed to hear so much about the struggles that so many people are having with drug abuse, particularly my beloved Adderall. I never took it recreationally before being diagnosed, so I never understood the allure of it. I hate the vilification of Adderall-users. I hate how I feel like a criminal with my pharmacy and my doctors. I hate how hard I had to fight to get my insurance company to cover it, initially. I don’t take it on the weekends. I don’t take it so I can stay up and party. I don’t understand why you would.

***

I work sixty hours a week, and have for much of the last two years. I supplement my income from my full-time job with income from a regular babysitting gig and then a part-time job at a Dairy Queen. I am exhausted. There is no time for balance. There is no time for moderation. I see my family and friends when I can, working them in between the triple-work schedules that I juggle.

I hope that one day, I will make more than $xx an hour. I hope that eventually, I won’t have to work three jobs so that I can make ends meet. But for now, this is what I have to do. I try to love my job, and generally I do, but there are times when things start to get so impossible that I start to drown in the negative.

These past few weeks have been that cesspool of hell, the undercurrent threatening to pull me under. I go from being confident in what I do to cut down and weak. It’s frustrating. The environment, which can be so collaborative and positive, can quickly turn threatening and hyper-competitive, leading to unnecessary drama and unanswered questions. Instead of being able to stay afloat and above the chaos, I find myself questioning my own abilities.

***

People ask me why I work so hard. I don’t know how to tell them that I know what it’s like to wear damp pants to school because your dryer broke and your parents can’t afford to fix it right now.

I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given. I am grateful that I have been blessed with the ultimate gift of education. I am blessed because I  understand the value of a dollar, the value of simple indulgences like a drink with your meal. I understand what it’s like to make sacrifices; I understand how to cut out the unnecessary. (Seriously, if you want to save money, don’t buy liquid. Don’t buy juice, don’t buy soda, just drink water. One of my favorite indulgences is fruit and veggie juices. It pleases me on some core level.)

I don’t ever want to worry about money. (Which is why the sad irony here is that I spend every day worrying about it.) I don’t ever want to have to ask for help. I don’t need a gold-plated bathtub – I need to know that I can pay the water bill. I won’t stop until I know I’m okay. I can’t. If something bad happens, I need to know that I can hold on for a few months, that I won’t lose my house, or not be able to afford a car, or whatever else.

***

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s a life crisis of the worst kind. The “why do I work so much when it’s not really getting me anywhere?” struggle. The “maybe I’ll just live off ramen and be done trying so hard” train of thought.

I’ve been wondering if it’s that I’m materialistic or too greedy. But then I think, that can’t possibly be the case, can it? Sure, I take pleasure in my material comforts, but I truly believe I’m reasonable about them. I haven’t gotten my car fixed (long live the duct taped bumper!) because I believe it’s an unnecessary expense.

***

In the middle of this disjointed spewing of thoughts, I renewed my prescription online. Then I got a message saying that I’m due for a blood pressure check. I will gladly go and do the blood pressure check so that I can get my prescription renewed. I’m responsible. I’m on top of it. I renew, I submit to the examinations of the mind and body whenever they tell me to, I pay. I don’t abuse. I take my dose, no more, no less. I hate that people want to make the drug the problem, when in fact, there are other factors to consider. I will say, though, that I’m glad it happened at 23 and not at 10, or younger. I am grateful that medication was my choice.

***

I hate to say it, but have we considered the fact that our society is slowly building a set of standards that are possibly unattainable? I hear all of these complaints, including that op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal by a very whiny high school senior who didn’t get into her chosen schools, from people who aren’t measuring up. But are the standards too high? Am I one of those who worries I’ll never be good enough simply because I could be good enough? Or perhaps I’m already good enough but can’t see it because I’m constantly being told I should push harder, run faster, be better. (For the record, I’ll never run faster than last place, and I’m cool with that.)

I need my Adderall to focus. But I need my focus to work. And I need my work to survive, to be happy, to be secure. Above all, I want security. Is that so much to ask for? Security should not be the result of a sixty-hour work week. It should not come at the expense of happiness.

***

Last week, someone asked me what I do to relax. I stared at them, my mind desperately searching for any answer besides “gin.” After a very long and uncomfortable pause, I weakly offered, “I take baths sometimes?”

“I expected that you wouldn’t have a lot of answers, but I didn’t expect nothing,” was the response I got. I’m determined to somehow find time to take care of me, to find my own relaxation somewhere in this madness. But perhaps, much like security and happiness, relaxation is another of the unattainables we were told we could have if only we worked hard enough.

On Mike, Because He’s 23.

“Guess who said it,” he yells. He’s reading from his little book of quotations. He’s previously told me that if he ever dies, the book contains everything I’ll need to know about his life. And my life. And life, in general. “‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love…'”

I’m frantically running around the house trying to find clothes and put on makeup – it’s 10:20 pm on a Friday night and I swore to the boys that I’d be ready to leave by then. (Surprise, surprise: I’m not.)

“Mandela!” I yell back. I pause, suddenly unsure, but still pretty sure. “Or Gandhi. Or Mother Theresa!”

“Mandela!” he yells back. His friend laughs. He’s been watching my frantic getting ready with amusement – he has an older sister, too. I love having this time to banter with my brother. Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am to live with him – even though we’re both super busy with jobs and/or school and life, I still get to see him. I imagine that I’ll be really sad when someday, it’s not the same anymore. I take it for granted and I know that.

My first Cubs game! 2010

My brother and I could not be more different human beings: he’s the calm, reserved one. I’m the take-charge, emotional one. He lets things go; I don’t.  I live in a fast-paced world with no time for slowing down; he spends time meditating and reflecting. He cleans the house. I make sure the administrative details (bills, ew!) are handled. In truth, we complement each other very well. We both learn from the other and take care of each other. We’re both surprisingly protective – if someone were to hurt my brother, I would hope they understood the hell that I would unleash on them.

South Africa, 2010

We’re 22 months apart. I don’t remember how I felt about getting a brother, but I do remember how much fun we used to have playing together as kids. (And fighting, of course. I’m a little bit tougher than I look because I grew up fighting Mike.) We used to dig holes in the garden, trying to make a swimming pool (frustrating process, let me tell you). We would play baseball against the wall of the house. I used to dress him up and make him play dolls with me.

My most regrettable failure as a big sister was the day he sat on a nail. We were eating lunch outside on the back patio (pb&j and Cheetos), and I didn’t want him to sit at the picnic table with me (because I am a terrible person), so I told him to go sit on a pile of boards. Well, as it turns out, some of those boards had nails sticking out of them. And he sat on one. (I’m currently alternating between typing and covering my face in shame. Even now, I feel awful.)

Mike’s my partner in crime. We used to sneak out of our rooms during nap time and slide down the stairs on my mom’s exercise mat. We used to sneak into the neighborhood pool for night swimming. We used to play this game where we’d flip each other off at the dinner table when our parents weren’t looking. The first one to get caught lost. (I don’t lose.)

When we were in high school, my friends and I thought we were so cool because we had a freshman. Mike was our freshman. (We weren’t cool; we know that.) We used to call Mike “fruitypants” – ugh, long story, but it’s something a guy I once dated used to yell out of the windows of a moving car just because – and it stuck. To this day, whenever he runs into our old Creative Writing/English teacher, the teacher always calls him “Fruitypants.” Mike looooves that. But somehow, it stuck. Sometimes, we still call each other “Fruit” out of habit.

Mike is one of my best friends. I’m so grateful that he’s my little brother. He’s one of the wisest people I know. He’s got such a big heart, and he’s so smart. He’s thoughtful and kind and funny. Everyone who meets him loves him. He was always looking out for me in South Africa.

In our family, we always tease each other about being “the worst guy.” Mike started it; my mom and I picked it up. It’s usually used in a teasing way, out of exasperation. “Oh, you’re the worst guy!” my mom will say, and there will be a lilt of laughter in her voice. It’s the kind of warm expression that radiates love and family.

I love them. They’re the best worst guys ever.

Happy birthday, Mike! It’s your Michael Jordan year and it’s going to be so good!

On Spring, Expectantly

What is it about the first hints of spring that incite a need for motion? I feel as though the minute the scent of the forthcoming growth stings the nostrils I have the urge for adventure, for chasing the dawn, for stars and night frisbee. (Night frisbee is my weakness. It gets me every time.)

This weekend brought warmth and the promise of summer heat – that first day that makes you shed your shoes and run outside, only to find that the ground is still cold and damp. Those are the days when you don’t care, you let the mud seep up between your toes and you relish it, knowing that soon enough, you won’t be cold.

Last night, as I left the restaurant where I was having second dinner with a couple of friends, I smelled summer. In my mind, I was no longer walking down a dark street in early March. I was suddenly walking down a dark street in June. It’s that smell that transports you, that reminds you of soft streetlights and sangria shared with friends. It’s the smell that calls you to the park, to sit on blankets, to listen to jazz. Oh, it’s the best.

When I was little, there was always that first really warm day before spring. I’d open all of my bedroom windows and run out to the backyard, where I’d begin to dig around in the still-frozen garden. My toes would be freezing because I was (still am) always barefoot and too stubborn to put on real shoes.

I had a dream last night about that garden, and about the wild green onions that used to grow there, and how I’d pull them, and chop them, and put them into pretend stews that I’d create using mud and sticks. My hands would reek of onion for days, but it was always so worth it. In my dream, they were there, growing sooner than ever, their green tops sticking out of the earth. They were wonderful. I smelled the spring and I woke content.

***

Speaking of things from the earth (what? totally legitimate seque, I swear), Katie and I juiced yesterday. She’s into making juices and I am into drinking juices, so this was bound to happen eventually. We ended up at the grocery store, loading up on fruits and veggies, before heading back to her house and breaking out the juicer. It’s quite the ordeal, with all the cutting and washing and juicer setup taken into account.

I had so much fun and I only cut myself once – great success. We made two different kinds – one green, one beet/orange. (I have such a thing for beet juice, but have never tried to do it myself since I’m intimidated by fresh beets. – That’s not weird at all, either.)  I think it’s something I may have to look into getting into. It could be fun. Or alternately, a piece of kitchen equipment that hangs out in my cabinets, collecting dust.

On the Weekend Recap, Productively

This weekend passed far too quickly, but it was wonderful.

On Friday night, I met my friends Jacob and Gina for dinner at my favorite Thai place. It used to be two blocks from my apartment, but now that I live across town, I don’t get there nearly often enough. (Order is always the same: an order of crab-cheese wontons with extra house sauce, pineapple curry, medium. Jacob and I usually share a bottle of their house red wine, too.)

Then I went to a friend’s soccer game. Well, sort of. His roommate and I ended up waiting forever for food, so we missed everything but the last two minutes of the game. (Oops.) I spent all of Saturday doing nothing on the couch – it was amazing. I never get days to do nothing, so doing nothing felt so good.

We always joke that I would make a terrible housewife since I’m not well-versed in the art of cooking. Or cleaning. My friends had a joint birthday party on Saturday night, and it was a snack potluck. In the middle of panicking about what to bring, I decided on bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos, because everyone loves those. I went to the store, bought a bunch, made a bunch – it took forever – and then brought them to the snack potluck. They were a huge hit, which pleased me greatly.

Here’s a semi-gross picture of the final product:

Bacon wrapped cream cheese stuffed jalapenos

The party was awesome – there was so much food. Gina made the most delicious carrot cake I’ve ever tasted, then we made cream cheese frosting for it. We ended up with two cakes – one that said “Happy Birthday” and then another that said “Erica and Justin.”

My Dairy Queen cake-writing skills transferred nicely to the house party setting. I wasn’t so terribly thrilled with my handwriting, but it was suitable and made them happy, so I’m not complaining.

On Sunday, I worked. I feel like we’re staffed by a seriously high percentage of over-qualified people, and I’m grateful for it. A lot of us have been there forever, too, so we’ve known each other for years. It makes work interesting and reminds me how important it is to have a cohesive team. My friend Evan has graduated from college and is back at Dairy Queen awaiting word on some jobs that he wants to do – in the meantime, he’s got a bunch of qualifying tests to take, so we spent Sunday afternoon playing with words and quizzing each other.

At one point, my junior high math and social studies teacher came in. She didn’t recognize me (thank G-d). She caused me much grief during those fragile, hormone-addled years, and I hate her for it. (Seriously embarrassing but somehow hilarious story – when I was in 7th grade, I didn’t get into the “fast track” math section that would do Algebra in 8th grade. I got stuck in the “slow track” section that did two years of pre-algebra. When I found out the news, I stood at the window of the classroom, fighting back tears. A few months ago, I found myself sobbing – absolutely breaking down – on my therapist’s couch about that incident. It somehow totally changed my ability to see myself as intelligent, and I had no idea that I’d been carrying it around with me for so long. In the middle of my crying, I turned to my therapist and sobbed, “You can’t make this shit up,” to which he responded by laughing so hard his body shook – while apologizing for laughing. He wasn’t wrong. It’s funny, sad, and true, all at once.) So, of course, rather than stand by my co-worker while he rang up her purchases, I did the mature thing and went to the back – where no customers can see – and busied myself with some unnecessary task until she’d left and it was safe to go back up front.

I went to Jacob’s belated holiday party last night. It was fun. I didn’t know anyone, so I tried to muster up the energy to be social and make small talk. It was good – I was bubbly and talkative for a while, but then was saved when my friend’s roommate texted me and asked me if I would edit a paper for him. (I love to read people’s papers.)

Tonight is my weekly girls’ night with Emily – we watch the show GIRLS on HBO (she DVRs it for us); we cook dinner; we drink wine; we do our nails; we bake something. It’s a surprisingly low-key and very calming way to start the week. I’m excited. Tonight we’re making chili.

On the Future, Not Quite Resignedly

When I was younger, I swore that no house I lived in would ever have white walls. I’ll never forget the textured white walls of each apartment or townhome we lived in. The apartment had that bumpy wall that looked like spray foam. The townhome had the softer walls, the ones that looked like someone had sponged thick white paint onto the wall unevenly.

We don’t have white walls here, except for our basement. It’s white. We’re working on covering the walls with art, posters, flags, lights. It won’t be white for long. Paint isn’t the point. It’s the walls. They’re not white. They are the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself years ago. They are proof that you will not lose all of your childhood ideals as you age away.

I often wonder how much of adulthood is like slow and painful adolescence, where no matter how mature you feel, you’ll look back in the coming years and cringe, shamed by your own misguided, subjective look at reality.

I meant to make a list then of all the things I swore I’d never do as an adult. I’d love to see it, even now, during the second adolescence that is young adulthood, the years sandwiched between your first taste of freedom and the hard reality that you are exactly what you said you’d never be.

I am achieving exactly what I thought I would, and yet, I have come to realize that I am nowhere near where I will end up. I am simultaneously so far forward and so completely lost.

Everything is at your fingertips, the future still looms in front of you, undecided, yours for the taking. It is the promise of a limitless supply of endless joy – available only to you. Beneath the excitement of possibility lurks the ever-present fear of failure. Chance is a terrifying game to play.

Think too much or too little? Failure. Conform too much or too little? Failure. It’s all about the search for balance – work, life, everything that goes along with those things. I’m coming to realize that at first, adulthood is like wearing your Easter dress every day instead of once a year. You’re itchy and uncomfortable, and you’re still trying to figure out why you can’t just wear your Ninja Turtles pajamas. (To be honest, I’m still tempted to put on yoga pants every morning instead of real pants. It’s funny how something as simple as pants can make you a professional.)

(That may have been a terrible metaphor, but I’m imagining little kids looking uncomfortable in their suits. And I’m imagining young college grads looks equally uncomfortable in equally ill-fitted suits. Some things don’t change.)

I got home last night, plagued by the storm of thoughts that comes with trying to rationalize existence and the correct path forward into the looming future, and looked around my house. My room, to someone who didn’t know me, would be appalling: clothes strewn everywhere, my dresser stacked with books, lotions, and jewelry not put away.

The same child who swore she’d have no white walls also imagined that she’d grow up to be the neatest, most organized person who ever lived. (She was very imaginative.) Instead, I find myself grown (but grown up? no) and no more tidy. Apparently, we can’t keep all of the promises we make to ourselves.

I should start making lists. Lists of things I imagine I’ll be some day, and lists of things that I am right now, because I don’t ever want that to slip away, even as I grow and change, the metamorphosis into middle-age happening more rapidly than I could ever imagine.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll start working on making and keeping promises to myself. I’ll try to morph into Monica Gellar, although I have a sneaking suspicion it’s just not going to happen.

Maybe I’ll just have to realign my perception of my future self: instead of being Monica, I’ll just have to get rich enough to be able to afford a cleaning service. They won’t even have to scrub (I can do that), they’ll just have to pick up the clutter I leave in my wake. See? The future looks brighter already.

On Stumbling, Stubbornly

It happens less frequently now, most likely due to a conscious effort to subdue such thoughts, but every now and again I’m struck by a period of existential crisis which leads to panicky thoughts, hastily hatched life plans, and morose moments spent in soon-to-be tepid bath water, reading material thrown aside and all my focus directed on pink toes turning the taps.

Those toes breaking the surface of bath water form the basis of the physical memories of each experience, but it is the rapidly firing thoughts that mark the turn from “keep on keeping on” to “panic” in my existence. I spent a lot of time questioning everything as an adolescent (to wit, I had a “Question Authority” bumper sticker hanging in my room – right next to my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker and an Anti-Flag album – oh adolescence). The questioning led me to beliefs that I still carry today, and to the realization that some questions are better left unanswered.

The goals of my early introspection were far grander than they are now. Then, I was determined to seek love and beauty in all things, in the naive belief that arriving at the correct answer would be as simple as stumbling in the right direction with enough stubborn determination.

Now that I am older, immersed in a world that is far more complicated than I could have ever imagined, I see that the root problem revolves around conviction. Convincing yourself of something can be difficult, although true growth requires conviction to move in a singular direction (or perhaps many singular directions simultaneously).

I spend time now mired in the “what if?”, and endless stretches of point and counter-point conversation with myself. I can convince myself of the correctness of both sides of any argument, and it’s that ability that holds me back. How can I move with conviction if I’m not convinced myself?

Which brings me to my current crisis, which has been simmering under the surface for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s terribly important, and yet it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. It’s the ennui of the daily grind, I think, the realization that I’ve lost focus on the bigger grander scheme of things in favor of survival now. I’ve lost a part of me that is essential to me. I’ve let go of certain dreams in favor of the moment, and even though it is living the moment that keeps us alive, it is also important to chase dreams.

It’s funny how quickly survival now can turn into tunnel vision. It’s not just “now” in the immediate sense, but also now in the same way we used now in Africa – now can be immediate, or it can be later. It could be at any point from now into the future. Survival now for me has become an endlessly repetitive schedule of work, work some more, maybe see some people, date, pay bills, don’t think about anything but this week or next.

But what I’ve lost, or misplaced, is perspective. Perhaps not perspective exactly, but the ability to remove myself – whether it’s objective introspection or a wild fantasy world. It’s the thoughts, the curiosity, the wonder that used to keep me feeling alive. It’s the drive to know everything about everything. I’ve somehow managed to separate me from my future self, and in doing so, I’ve somehow disconnected the forward progress, I think. But maybe that’s overstating it.

I think that I’ve gotten so bogged down with everyday stress and responsibility that I’ve lost the wonder that used to fill me. I often write about wishing that I had time to be bored, and yet, when confronted with time unfilled with obligations, I find myself so overwhelmed by the possibility that I fill it up as quickly as possible.

I was shocked when I read this article in The Atlantic about online dating, because it struck a chord with me. Not necessarily all of it, but the idea that there’s always something else waiting made me start to think about how I approach much of my life. They discuss “perceived alternatives” as one of the three factors that affect satisfaction in a relationship, and it got me thinking, both about dating but also about my own perceptions of alternatives.

I imagine my future self as being entirely different from the person I am today, which is silly, because as I age, I grow increasingly aware of the fact that I am and always will be myself (this is an overwhelmingly positive thing as I’m only growing more and more happy with who I am). Yet, if this is the case and I’ve got my mind constantly focused on the intangible elsewhere that is the “perceived alternatives”, how is it that I’m supposed to start building the foundation for the rest of my life? It’s not something that can be done subconsciously – arguably yes, but is that the sort of foundation you want?

I know that my disconnect is not uncommon. I know that approaching something looming ahead of you as large as the rest of your life is not something to approach all at once. It must be resolved in small chunks. Baby steps, if you will. (You will.)

I think the restlessness might be growing pains, the terror of assuming responsibility for everything you are and the desire to have the fullest life possible. I spent most of last year working on my own perception of myself, and I think that beautifully positive pseudo-metamorphosis is causing me to reach for more and question the path I’ve found myself on for some time now – the path of immediacy, the path of stability, the path of desperate independence. I have achieved my short-term goals: stable employment, home ownership, savings and a retirement account, and of course, my sense of self has been strengthened and renewed. Now, I want more.

I am looking for more knowledge. For more passion. For more wonderment. For new experiences. I am looking to continue the growth period and extend it – ultimately fusing the ideal of my future self into the absolute reality that is current me. I have spent the last decade learning how to live, how to be alive (here I pause to say that living and being alive are two different things, mostly), how to fully embrace myself as a human being and I think it may be time to return to my origins as a know-it-all fascinated by all things in the world around me.

It hadn’t occurred to me that it was intellectual curiosity that was missing until I sat next to a guy on a date and watched as he explained a theorem to me. I realized that I was absolutely fascinated, and even as I yawned against him, exhausted, I was desperate for more. My brain, it seems, has not forgotten what it feels like to learn. It is as though the connections that used to fire so rapidly, the very same connections I long ago set aside in favor of experience, yearn to fire again, to make sense of things, to connect.

I think this time it may be as simple as starting off in search of knowledge that will lead me where I ultimately need to go. I have built the foundation that I needed, created the security that I sought, and now I can push forward, confident in my own abilities. Perhaps I was not wrong about stumbling stubbornly in the right direction all those years ago.

On Nostalgia, Forwardly

I’m in the middle of a project – and by that I mean I’ve begun something but I have no idea where it’s going to take me – and I thought I’d share a little bit with you:

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of family, but I don’t spend all that much time talking about my childhood. I wonder if we all lose memories as time goes on. The way we remember is unique, of course, and memories are different for each of us.

For me, memories are a glimpse, like a single photograph stored that will stand in for an entire afternoon. That stagnant picture is often directly correlated to the most emotionally charged moment, be it placid contentment or raucous shouting. Those pictures in my head bring emotions to the surface, but any really tangible details are often swept away, long gone.

My most beloved childhood memories are usually moments of solitude: climbing the apple tree in the backyard to read a book, coloring while listening to a book on tape, digging in the garden.

It’s interesting to see these pictures, and now I understand why photographs are so very important to people. Photographs are the memories we neglected to make, or have lost, or can’t find. Photographs bring us back, jolting us into a moment that our brain may not be able to recall.

When my brother was about 17 – I was in college – he had our favorite picture made into a giant canvas. It now hangs above the mantel in my mother’s family room.

It’s this one:

My favorite thing about my baby pictures is the faces that I make. I’m always moving, or laughing, or making a silly face.

My love of books and distaste for pants is not a new thing.

On Being Adopted, Quite Happily

Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to be adopted, but honestly, I have no idea what it’s like to not be adopted, so I’m never sure how to answer that question.

I never not known that I was adopted.To their credit, my parents did a great job about normalizing the adoption experience. (They adopted my brother and I at birth, so we’ve never known any other family structure.) Both my brother and I were lucky enough to know who our birth mothers are, instead of having to wonder. We’ve always known – there was no awkward conversation when we realized that we look nothing alike.

(My brother is two years younger than me – but he’s been bigger than me since I was about seven. He’s now 8 inches taller.)

(Easter 2011)

My boss, whose four children are all adopted, always says that adopted kids always want to know two things: why was I given up for adoption? and who are my parents? I can answer 75% of that question. I know why I was given up. I know who my birth mother is, but my father will always remain a mystery. Instead of finding myself less curious as I age, I find that my curiosity grows. Not that I’d like to know the man. I have no desire to have any sort of relationship with him.

I’m fascinated by the aesthetics of it all – I look very little like my mother. I do have her double-jointed limbs. I do have the paw print in my eye (which will always remain my favorite part of myself). But I am more elf-like. Where did my nose come from? (She has a very German nose, while I ended up looking like a resident of Rivendell.) I am longer, and pointier. (I have ridiculously sharp ears.) My coloring is different. We are very similar emotionally, spiritually, and share similar energies, but outwardly, we share little, except shapes of our chins and eyes.

My mom used to tell me that when I was little, I would be talking, and she’d turn around expecting my birth mother to be standing there, because my tone and what’d I’d just said sounded exactly like her.

Granted, it’s not always such a rosy, happy love fest. When I go the doctor, and they ask me about my family history, I shrug. And it makes for some complicated emotional stuff. As much as I’ve been loved, I’ve also had to deal with an immense amount of family turmoil.

I love that we have such a connection. I am glad for it, but at the same time, I’ve never felt the immensity of the mother-daughter relationship. (This isn’t something that I’ve ever necessarily wanted or assumed or expected.) I hope that makes sense. I felt a wave of jealousy rise through me when my brother got to be with his birth mother and birth father for lunch earlier this year. It surged through me, really. Mike’s birth mother is active in my life – she likes my posts on Facebook, we’ve been playing a word game together on our phones, she sends positive loving comments my way all the time. I’m so glad I got to keep her, too.

At the end of the day, I’m glad for the extra mothers in my life. I’m glad for my birth mom, I’m glad for Mike’s birth mom, and I’m glad that I get to have both my mom and Mike to keep forever, even if they are the worst guys. I’m glad for the love, and for the magnitude of support and acceptance from my family. I’ve never felt like the odd one out at family gatherings. Mike and I always had a hard time in middle school pulling the “you’re adopted” joke on each other, because if he’d say, “Oh yeah? Well you’re adopted!”, I’d respond with, “So are you!”

Mike is fascinated by the nature vs. nurture question, as am I. The two of us grew up in the same household, yet we are nearly complete and polar opposites. We love comparing personality traits with our birth mothers and our mom. We laugh because when I’m mad at Mike, I use the “mom voice” exactly like our mom does. That’s definitely a nurtured behavior.

My birth mother gave me a book, “Guess How Much I Love You,” when I was in third grade.  A part of me will always be the Little Nutbrown Hare reaching up into the sky, trying to find more ways to show his love. I read that book to the kids I babysit sometimes, and I always tear up. Being loved so much that I got to have this life is overwhelming.

I got to see her this weekend. (I’ve seen her twice this year! That’s the most in any year ever!) It was wonderful. It was so wonderful. This is the woman who gave me life, who nourished me and took care of me when I was a tiny cluster of cells. She loved me, even though she’d never met me. She held me after I was born. She chose my parents, my future family. She set me off running in the direction that my life would take. I will forever be grateful.

I love that I was adopted. I hate the unknowns, but I love the wild speculation. And should I ever meet anyone who looks like me, I will be thrilled. I love that I have a spiritual connection with my birth mother that no one will ever take away. It’s the paw print. It’s the protection. It’s not something anyone else will ever understand.

I’m not sure how I’ll look when I’m 80, or whether or not I’m genetically pre-disposed to anything (except breast cancer), but I do know that I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that I am loved. And that’s enough for me.

On Rage and Authenticity, Quite Happily

As much as I dread the thirteen-and-a-half-hour workday, I find that it is a reminder of many things, including strength, dedication, commitment, and so on. Mostly, it’s a reminder of the lengths that I’m willing to go to ensure myself a solid, stable future and to keep Carlos in the style to which he’s become accustomed (which is basically just fat. Wet cat food is not cheap, but since it delights him so much, it’s worth it – and I benefit indirectly because the amount of snuggling I receive correlates to his enjoyment of his wet food).

Lately, as I struggle yet again with a lingering resentment for a part of my extended family, and as I work long days, I am reminded of the opportunities for gratitude in everything that I do. Today at my real job, I had the opportunity to have a wonderful conversation with my lady boss, a woman I’ve come to respect and admire for both her spirit but also her ability to keep everything together in the face of immense pressure. She’s funny, strong, and intelligent: all things that I aspire to be.

After that, at my night gig shelling out ice cream, I was grumpy because a couple came in and made fun of the way I said “food laws” by way of an attempt to explain why we no longer offer a certain product. Excuse me if I get offended because you find my use of “food laws” so immensely entertaining that you need to say it eighteen times. I’m exhausted, annoyed, and perfectly capable of using correct language, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. “I misspoke,” I said simply, glaring at them, hurt and embarrassed. I swear, “cross-contamination” and “regulations” are words that do exist in my vocabulary, even if I’m not always capable of injecting them into conversation. I was determined to let it bother me all night, holding onto my repressed rage at the indignation I felt.

But of course, life had other plans and I was treated to some of my absolute favorite customers. A mother and her son came in and told me that they were delighted to see my face behind the counter. A father and his son came in – they were in for ice cream last night so I made a quip and we discussed our own personal limits for enduring Journey songs on the radio. Another guy came in who knows my boss, and so we talked about the neighborhood and the church and parking tickets. Yesterday, I had a conversation about the American habit of rushing through eating, and the idea of savoring a meal and appreciating the experience. These are all totally strange conversations, but they’re the kind of conversations that I want to be having. They show me so much about people.

These are the moments when I’m reminded why it’s so important to forge wonderful bonds with people, even if those interactions are infrequent, or based solely on introduction to free Blizzard punch cards. The people who may have the most profound impact on you are the people you may know the least, and that’s why it’s so important to present your best self at all times – not your best fake self, but you, entirely. The people who came in tonight revived my spirit and my mood. They have no idea they had that affect, of course, but I can only hope that I did something similar for them.

As I think about the version of myself that I put forward, I think back to a conversation I had with my mother this week about my frustration with an issue that I’ve done everything in my power to resolve, but to no avail. She told me that no matter where I go in life, and no matter what tax bracket I find myself in, I’ll never lose my grit. (I immediately saw myself wearing dusty cowboy boots and clenching my teeth while smoking a Marlboro.) But she must not be wrong, because the sentiment was echoed by someone who means very much to me who told me that my authenticity shows in everything that I do.

And the more I think about it, the more it’s true. Living my life guided by three simple principles – “don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal” – has allowed me to be my most authentic self at all times. I’m not always right, but at least I’m always me. And leaving out all deception, theft, and malicious intent has allowed so much love and happiness to grow inside of me.

Consistency and adherence to my core values allows me to experience so much that others can’t, and I’m immensely grateful for it. I’ve found myself in many situations this year that have tested me in ways that I never imagined – both professionally and personally – and yet they’ve allowed me to flex my honesty, my drive, and my intuition.

Things are going swimmingly – I’m happy. I’m happy discussing conspiracy theories with my Dairy Queen co-workers; I’m happy writing press releases at my real job; I’m happy in my new relationship; I’m just really happy.

Of course, I’m overworked, exhausted, and prone to bouts of melancholy. Of course I’m panicked and stressed and overwhelmed, but even through all of that, I’m happy with myself and with the person that I’m becoming, which is far more important than anything else.

I’m so grateful for everything that I’ve experienced in life, because it’s made me so much stronger. I’m no wilting wallflower. I believe it was Courtney Love who said, “I’m not a woman; I’m a force of nature.” I aim to embody that. And as my mother said during our conversation, no matter where I end up, I’ll never forget where I came from. I’ll never forget the hard work I’ve had to put in to get here, because in the end it’s all worth it. Along the way, there are little bits of encouragement, reminding me that the path I’ve chosen is the right path.

When I wonder why I’ve been rejected by an entire section of my extended family, I can’t help but take into consideration the fact that perfect strangers are excited to see me. I can’t help but think about how much I care about the people I love, and the things that I’d do to help my friends. I can’t help but think about how much of my personality gets to shine through at all of my jobs, at family events, on dates and adventures and through literally everything that I do. I can’t help but think about the person that I am today, and the person that I was yesterday, and I realize I’m still exactly me; I always have been.

What was my advice to adolescent girls dealing with people who are assholes? Oh yeah, “fuck ’em.” Here’s another piece of advice: if all of the evidence points to you being an authentic, awesome (oh, totally modest right now, too) human being, fuck the people who can’t wrap their heads around that. Fuck the people who don’t respect you, or value you, or care. You can find new family; you can make you own – and you can find the respect and value in tiny places like a pair of customers at Dairy Queen who express joy at your presence. That’s enough to remind you that who you are can’t be all bad.

Everything is going to be all right. Everything is all right. Everything is better than all right. Everything is amazing. Life is beautiful. It’s complexity and it’s pain, but it’s insanely worth the journey.

My authentic self, chilling on a rock in the desert:

He does take the best pictures, doesn’t he? (He’s editing, more soon.)