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?
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.