Honestly? I don’t like how this year sounds. It sounds too old. It kinda terrifies me. It sounds like a number, that, many years ago, came with different pictures attached. This is not only not what I’d have imagined my life would look like at 34–this is outright not what I would have wanted. But, it is what I have, and it’s the only life I’ve got. So, instead of bemoaning how this isn’t the way I wanted things to go, I’d better make the best of things.
I did let myself wallow a little bit. It’s always healthy to feel how you need to feel, so long as you don’t become trapped in an unproductive place, or in a mindset that leads nowhere. It’s not like my circumstances are terrible–there is a lot of good in my life and I’m in a better place now than I was a year ago, but this is still not what I would have wished for. But is life ever really what we “wished” for? Some parts are fantastic, others blow. For everyone, I think.
Sometimes, when I look at the landscape that is my life, there is a desire to find the single point on the map where “it all went wrong”. I want there to be a point up to where I could reverse it all and rectify everything. But I have trouble untangling my past so neatly. I think I find the point after which it all went downhill, but then I see that there was also a lot of good that followed aforementioned point. For example, I often wish I hadn’t gotten my Masters Degree in Education–but had I not done that, I’d have never been able to get a job in Ecuador. I’d have never learned what I did about the American educational system and poverty and institutional racism–and that is knowledge and experience I’d never want to lose. I’d have never met all the students who changed my life and made me grow. This Masters-less Katie might indeed be happier, more “successful” in the arts, married, living in some cool house with a leafy garden… I could go on and on about all the things this alternate Katie might be and have–but it’s quite pointless. It’s simply an impossibility to be anything than what we are; there is no turning back time, nor is there any guarantee that an alternate route would guarantee me a “better” life at present. And even if it did, I’m not sure I would actually change anything. What would I lose in the process? What would I have to give up in order go back in time and undo things I wish I had not done? I am not willing to find out.
So if I’m not going to dwell on past mistakes, or on present circumstances I don’t like, then what can I do?
I can’t speed up any processes, I can’t summon things I want but don’t have, I can’t make “success” an instant reality. I can’t make anyone see me, or like me, or care about me at all.
All I can do is the work that needs to be done in order to make my life look more like it does in my dreams. Dreams do not just materialize. And not all dreams can be realized exactly as they are in our imaginations–many times they need to undergo a sort of smelting. They need to be extracted from their bases–just like metal needs to be extracted from its ore. I may indeed have pictures in my mind, but they don’t represent what will actually happen, nor do they even represent what I, in fact, want or need. I don’t know what will happen, what won’t happen. But if I want anything to change, I must work hard, and stay focused on what I love: writing and creating. I love these things so much I gave up almost everything for them. I forget that sometimes–this was a choice. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was a choice.
And I chose it because of this: on the phone with my mom not to long ago, I said that it finally feels like my mind is free. I loved teaching, but it forced my brain to enter some other mode of thinking and perceiving and functioning. It was like a prison when I wasn’t in the classroom; and after so many years like that, I’d forgotten who I was, or that I could ever feel so happy. Despite the persisting reality that I still have no real long-term plans for my career, I’m so happy that my brain can exist as it needs to again–so I can perform little gravity experiments in the bathtub and write poems about qualities of air and figure out how to turn a drawing of a body into both a building and also a tree. Because of the choice I made to leave teaching, to move to a new city, to start all over at the age of 33: my brain is so ecstatic, clicking along not only in this world, but also in the one it is constantly spinning into existence all around me. I’m also often terrified amidst all of the enduring unknowns, but I’m also: so happy. I want to do nothing more than create.
I cannot force my circumstances to be better. But I can be better. I mean, if I want my life to be better, it starts with me, right? I get the whole idea of self acceptance, and that’s important–we must accept ourselves for who we are (and who we aren’t), and all that we’ve done well, and the things we haven’t. But it doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to become stagnant. I can, right now, think of a dozen ways in which I can be a better person, writer, artist, daughter, sister, friend, and coworker. I can just wake up tomorrow and do that, I don’t need anything at all. And that really is quite beautiful: nothing around me needs to change in order for me to change. I can start, tomorrow, just because I want to. I’ve done this several times these past few years, and especially these past seven months. Tomorrow is no different, except I’ll be 34.
If there was any one thing I wish I could give 22-year-old Katie, it would be either more confidence in my work, or the willingness to fake it, to forge ahead without the confidence. And since I cannot actually give my younger self any gifts, I had better give my 34-year-old self that gift. Try having confidence in my work. And if I don’t, instead of calling it all garbage or worthless, be nicer to myself, and keep moving forward in my writing and art no matter how scared I am that it will amount to nothing, that perhaps it is nothing.
My goal for 34? To get my innumerable ideas out of my head, out of rough drafts, and into finished forms: polished essays, poems, paintings, drawings. Whatever they are: have the nerve to finish them. I can’t even begin to count how many unfinished projects I have stored away in my filing cart and computer. Thirty-three was the year I got my life back (sort of?). Thirty-four will be the year I do something with what I actually have. To finish things, and share some of them with the world. The rest? I cannot control. But finishing things will require more confidence (or the willingness to fake it), more self-discipline/routine, and a class or two in revision tactics. That’s it. I can do that.
34: you don’t look how I thought you’d look, nor how I wanted you to look. Parts of you are so dark I cannot quite see them yet, or where they lead. But you’re still beautiful, and I’m still so glad you’re here.
(image @ the top: beers in Manglaralto, Ecuador; a scene that would have never unfolded with out my Masters in Education 🙂 )