Oddly enough, I have been surprisingly calm about turning 30 – maybe even a little excited, dare I say? In all honesty, my calmness has been entirely shocking to me. Typically by the time September rolls around, I start to get that metallic, anxious taste at the back of my throat because I start thinking about aging and lost opportunities and all of the societal terrors that are ever so kindly imposed on women. In the week before my birthday, I am at my worst – crying, panicking, and most of all, in an endless cycle of self-loathing and self-criticizing. I have never handled birthdays well, no matter what the age – any mention or reference to aging has always been enough to make me clench my buttcheeks hard enough to suck an entire chair up my ass, legs and all – but somehow, when it comes to this one, I feel cool. Seriously. I feel pretty cool. This tells me that I’m either growing up or about to have an absolute mental breakdown – is there even really a difference between the two?
I’ll be thirty soon. In just a little over 3 months.
It feels hard to believe and also just right, you know? Like, wow. I can’t believe I’m not 11 and listening to Hanson and waiting for Taylor Hanson to eventually deflower me. And also like wow, I can’t believe I’m 29 and listening to Hanson and still wish it had been Taylor Hanson who deflowered me. Somewhere in between all that.
I’ve become quite introspective as my twenties have gradually started to draw to a close, which I feel is probably very normal – sometimes I look back at the last decade and ask myself “what the hell did you waste all that marvelous, youth-laden time for? You should have done so much more!” And other times, I look back and I laugh and cry and thank God Almighty that I have seen and done so many of the things that I have, because life moves so quickly that sometimes I forgot how great it has been – and truly, life has been kind of wild.
Though I’m reaching this milestone birthday that (to me, at least) is supposed to really signify the crossover into full blown adulthood, this place where I should be totally together and everything everyone expects of me – there are times where I feel less sure of who I am than ever before. Truth be told, I never really know what to think of myself. Do any of us? Perhaps this is the last great hang up of my twenties – perhaps it will take much, much longer to figure out. I recognize that I get caught up a lot in living a social media life. I want my life to look pretty and I want you all to think that I’m interesting and fun and worthy of love, and I want to be someone that you want to know. I am very lonely a lot of the time, many times when surrounded by people I love – but I don’t want you all to think of me as lonely. I want to talk to you about my mental health problems, but I worry that I’ll do or say something and you’ll think I’m just “crazy”. And most of all, I worry that you think something must be wrong with me because I am single. That’s the greatest worry of all. Sometimes I want to show up on the internet performing tricks, juggling fire, belting arias, anything just to distract you from the fact that I’m single – because it makes me feel different. And feeling different makes me feel bad.
So I worry. And that’s silly, isn’t it? To worry about what people MIGHT be thinking of you. But boy, I am the queen of it.
There are many days where I struggle with who I am and with my life’s path, because let’s face it – three months won’t make me a together kind of girl. I won’t magic myself into adulthood just because the calendar says so. And I feel like a lot of times, I don’t have many people to turn to for guidance – I just don’t know any other morbidly obese, lipstick fiending, bipolar morticians who burst into tears at even the thought of Elton John… I’m kind of my own species, it feels like. I envy those who are excitedly getting married and having children right now, because that is so very, very adult. No one could ever question those people because they are doing typical adult things, and that makes them official adults, right? It is ridiculous to feel this way, because I’m literally envious of people who are getting things that I don’t want – but what I do want is to feel normal, and there are a lot more save the dates and baby bumps out there than there are morbidly obese, lipstick fiending, bipolar morticians. I’m not kidding when I say that sometimes it is my biggest shame that I am not another wife in a Lilly Pulitzer dress getting excited over flatware – I wish I had that in me, but it’s like a synapse that is misfiring – I can’t will myself to be her. I constantly try to cover up my life like a cat turd, because somehow I’ve convinced myself I should be ashamed of it. I still catch myself willing life to fast forward to the “good part” where I magically become some normal person who isn’t always so very, very, THIS.
But on good days, on days where I haven’t sunk too low into my worries, I try to grab ahold of myself, shake myself by the shoulders and remind myself that what I constantly fail to acknowledge is that this IS the good part. It’s MY good part. And it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s good part.
Like I said, on a good day, when there are no triggers or setbacks or tensions, I love my life with such ferocity that my heart could burst. I feel gifted, truly, with the one thing that shames me the most: being single. If the perfect man or woman comes along for me, that’s bitchin, and I’ll be stoked – but that relationship could never be more valuable than the one that I’ve been building with myself as I am forcibly dragged into adulthood. There’s a reason I’m single, and I’m not ashamed of it (at least not today – it’s a good day) – I’VE GOT MORE TO LEARN FIRST. I’ve got further to journey before someone else can come along, because I am, for some reason, lucky enough to be given both the gift of self knowledge, and the time required to truly learn who you are. I know that by society’s standards, I’m supposed to be a wife and a mom by now, and growing up, I never really thought either way about what would happen to me when I got older, but I assumed it would look like everyone else’s life – and the moment I realized that it didn’t and that it wouldn’t, well, I have been scrambling to camouflage my oddities ever since.
But really – when you divorce yourself from what you think your life should look like and focus on what actually makes you happy and who you want to be (and not who you want people to think you are), there is this freedom that you would have never ever been able to dream of. My grasp of this concept ebbs and flows, depending on the day. There is sadness, too, when you align yourself with this line of thinking, because with that acceptance also comes a certain type of goodbye to a person you’ll never be – goodbye, Ashley in a Lilly Pulitzer dress, picking out shades of paint for the guest bedroom – but the pain feels worth it, somehow. Like that girl had to die so I could truly live. I mean, that’s sort of harsh, but you feel me. I’ll never know (well, I guess I will, I’ll ask Jesus about it after I die, right after I ask him who really killed Jon Benet Ramsey) why I’m meant to be eternally marching to the beat of my own drum, but who knows – maybe I’ll magically figure it out when I turn 30. For now, I’ll just keep wondering and marching. Well, maybe I’ll march more towards October – it’s getting hot outside here and I’d like to avoid boob sweat.
What I wish I could stop being ashamed of is simply just being who I am and feeling the need to explain away all of the things that I see as flaws – how the hell did I get to be this way?! Why am I the rudest person my self has ever encountered? And what I need to constantly remember is to STOP COMPARING MY LIFE TO OTHER PEOPLE!! We can all be happy and different and it doesn’t make me less to be just one person and not part of a pair. If the greatest relationship I ever have is with myself, then that’s awesome. If I find someone else who is a match for me, that’s awesome, too. But this mentality of thinking that I’m not enough or not on the same level as my peers because I don’t have a baby or a husband/wife – I hope that toxic thinking is the first damn thing to go when I turn 30. Because I’m more than enough. Hell, I’m too much – and not even in a braggy way. Just literally. I’m exhausting.
Above all things, I just want to be grateful for this season of MY life – all seasons, really. Things seem so difficult and meaningless and frustrating all of the time, and I complain the days away and bitch about what is and what isn’t – but if I had to be honest and sum my life up with one word (other than “lipstick”), the first thing that comes to mind is “fortunate”, and that kind of blows me away, you know? I was so surprised, when it appeared, quite taken aback – but then I nodded to myself. Yeah. Fortunate. Sounds about right.
Whenever I try to write these days, I feel a sense of panic that I can’t really put words to. Writing used to be my most natural and craved form of expression – every word, every exchange, every thought had to be documented once, twice, three times over. I was religious in my documentation, the telltale hump on the middle finger on my right hand always red and swollen. My diaries were my friends, my confidents, the only people who knew the truth about who I was, what I had done, and how I hurt. Like a fool, I took for granted the person I was and the life that I was naturally living, and instead used to cry to the fates and beg the universe for a life worth writing about. And then when one fell into my lap, when things were hot and fast and out of control, when I had EVERYTHING to suddenly write about – the pages slammed shut and I put away the pen.
I rationalized this because a lot of things that I needed to say were hard. And some things are just too hard to write about. So … I stopped, pretty much completely.
Can you blame me, honestly? It’s like, you try as hard as you can and work with a furious fervor to squirrel away the things that hurt into a place where they aren’t constantly falling back into your immediate line of vision – and writing is just purposely recalling blinding, white hot pain for the sake of …?
What was the point of recalling what I barely made it through the first time? Then again, didn’t I always want this? Countless pages in countless diaries, wishing one life away to make room for another? Oh, how I wanted to be a real, bonafide adult, like the ones on TV – to have all the mythical secrets of adulthood unlocked and for the taking. Wasn’t that the story that I kept waiting to write?
It is this narcissistic and frustrating combination of finite disinterest and fleeting whimsy that seems to be where I spend most of my time these days. All of the time that I wished away is exactly where I wish I could run like hell to now. Most days, I feel like a battery in a car that won’t turn over – you try as you might, but the damn thing just won’t do it. Everything in my life, not just writing, falls into two categories – hard, or not. If it is hard, if it even SEEMS hard, I don’t even bother looking at it. Writing is hard, so I don’t do that anymore. Facing my fears is hard, so I’ll just turn away and not look. It isn’t that I don’t want to move forward, or that I don’t want to be present or progressive – I just can’t find the strength. But here I am. Ashley the adult!
Every day, I’m toeing the line between desperate to make a point and exhausted by the idea of even trying. Working around the deceased has made me siamese, one single body split, fighting two alternative visions. There are only so many times that you can artfully arrange the shell of what used to be a human being into a fancy casket before you make yourself look down and wonder what the hell we are all really doing here in this life. When death becomes real to you, really, really real, everything matters SO much. The fear of wasting a second of your life is all-consuming. I panic so often about not doing it (life) right – the same old fear of not living “a life worth writing about” – yet similarly, I can’t help but feel that nothing truly matters in the grand scheme of things, because we all leave the same way – alone, and with nothing. Both viewpoints are right in their own ways, but there has to be some sort of middle ground that doesn’t leave me hollow inside and terrified of facing reality.
I have to laugh now when I think about the desperation of wanting to carve out “a life worth writing about” – it’s sort of like walking willingly into quicksand. Before you know what you’ve done, you’ve gotten so far off track – one leg stuck in the muck, no escape foreseeable. I have spent SO much of my time in this life wishing for something better, something bigger, SOMETHING WORTH WRITING ABOUT – but I have very rarely been willing to actually work towards the promise of a better tomorrow. If wishing hard enough created reality, I would be the richest woman in all the world. But instead I am poor, because I have robbed myself blind. I’ve stolen my own ambition, I’ve bartered away my strength and confidence, and I’ve crippled and hobbled the purest and best part of me – my imagination – and replaced it all with cynicism and fear.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop wishing everything away, to stop questioning everything so damn much and just take each day one at a time. Because we do all die, and you don’t get a second chance, and you should never waste your time worrying or being afraid. Instead of letting that reality be my touchstone, I have spent nearly 30 years wringing my hands and wondering if I’m doing it all wrong. An entire life that has always been a game that I am playing against myself and am still somehow losing. If I could go back in time, i would shake my old self by the shoulders and tell her that life was and will always be worth writing about, even on the hardest day, and to never, ever lose that good and pure part of yourself. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be documented. Face your fears, every single one of them. Don’t NOT try because something might not come from it.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time here – none of us ever really get it all right – but the biggest one that I ever made was putting down my pen and shutting myself up because I got scared. It may take everything that I’ve got, and it may truly be for nothing in the end – but a life worth living, much less writing about, would not mean a damn thing without this, my purest expression, my most honest release. And I know that I can do this, because just like I know without a doubt that I would go back in time to tell my younger self to never stop writing, my younger self would visit me in the future and be shocked that I ever had.