I spent this past year celebrating the weird process of life that gradually spins into womanhood. I don’t quite know how, but somewhere between 29 and 30 – I found out who I am and who I want to become. It was a strange feeling to recognize growth (perhaps an even stranger event to explain now), but today feels like something worth celebrating.
A few years ago, I was creating who I was from what others thought I should be. I did this unrecognizably at first: slowly piecing myself together, one criticism at a time, until I realized I was becoming a collage of other people’s standards. I hated the fear and need for approval that brewed in my mind every time I voiced my opinions out loud or even posted a photo onto social media. I was in a weird purgatory. I knew who I was in my core, but I was trapped and shunted by the expectations I allowed others to place on me.
I went through a rebellious stage: rejecting religion, family and even, as lame as it sounds, pop music. Something in me thought if I made a 180° turn from my current state, the edgier side would somehow reveal a braver, stronger me. In my solo trip to France, I realized the recent rebellion was a different kind of fear and conformity. I was rejecting southern traits and femininity because I didn’t know how to carve my own place amongst them. Out of mere defiance (or maybe survival), I rejected the idea of becoming a mother, rejected the ideals of womanhood, and at times, I even rejected my role as a wife. I wanted so badly to be me, but I didn’t know who that was.
Today, I am thirty.
I no longer list my dreams as a question needing approval. I no longer wait for someone to select me out of a crowd and tell me it’s okay to be me. I know who I am, the good and the bad, and I celebrate the years that shaped me into this new, impenitent woman.
For me, thirty means I can be confident in my decisions, comfortable with who I am, and strong enough to live the life I want. Instead of fighting against the quirks and fears, I can embrace them. I can grow from them.
When I feel nervous or scared or intimidated by the brawny world around me, I close off. I leave whatever goals or tasks were on my to-do list and about-face back to my comfort zone, shrinking several inches from my already small 5’2″ frame as I watch the busy world continue on around me. My text inbox racks up to 300+ messages, my emails pile as high as the caffeine I’d need to read them, and I fall down a dark hole of self-questioning and doubt (think Alice and Wonderland, but less drugs).
This is too big for me and everyone knows.
The pressure of my own expectations pile on me one pebble at a time until there’s suddenly a boulder resting on my chest. I feel small. I feel trapped. And I start wrapping everything I write, do or say with these two main fears:
Why does this matter to anyone
This doesn’t matter to anyone
This self-mutilating thought process is rough, and though I don’t find myself in that position everyday – I often struggle with letting doubt and insecurities control my ability to produce thoughtful, creative work.
A couple of months ago I wrote a paper during a visit home to Louisiana. It was a midterm about Hillary Clinton and the haltering statistics that kept her from the presidency. I’m an all-star procrastinator in general, but the 15-pages about Hill drug on for an unusual amount of time, mostly because the topic proposal I submitted months prior was geared around Hillary winning. You know, because I LIVE DEEP IN THE BROOKLYN BUBBLE.
I had loads of articles proving America had shown significant signs of progress (ie: increased percentages of career women, number of women in the Senate, the lame ass statistic guru over at FiveThirtyEight, my own personal outlook of Clinton being the political version of Beyonce, etc. etc). Equipped with some dope quotes from Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray, I planned on showing how Hillary’s win was an inevitable step in furthering the trend of gender equality. But Hill didn’t win (cue cries), and instead of writing about America’s progress my paper shifted to a dark depiction on the social restraints that still hold the female race back.
In the midst of my writing delirium, I ventured down from my hideout spot overlooking the bayou to refill my coffee cup and steal a few more sugar cookies. While I sat in the kitchen, a sweet friend of the family asked what I’d been doing all day:
“Writing”, I said.
“Writing what?” he responded.
“A feminism paper.”
“What’s your husband think about that?”
I could talk for hours about the irony in that line, but I’ll let Bey take care of that shit.
A few months ago I got letters from the grad programs I applied to saying I didn’t make the cut. You may remember me writing that sad post about the tears I cried and my determination to figure out a new dream/plan of action.
Some people didn’t like that I suggested you have to give up on things, but sometimes I convince myself I’m okay with failure in a desperate effort to handle the rough realization that I don’t get everything I want.
I know, #firstworldprobs.
When I heard a no from the programs, I had to tell myself I had other options – even though I knew I didn’t. My dreams hadn’t changed, but the wind in my sails was straight up stagnate (ie: the whole effing boat was sinking and my shoes were bricks).
My maintenance man, the one you may remember me talking about in They Outran the Rain just kissed me, and I don’t mean in a sweet, British, double cheek way. I mean in a flirtatious,is he going to throw me back in my apartment and have his way with me way.
He bear hugged me, squeezed me in tight, and kissed me in that awkward, high cheek area near the ear. Let me rephrase that – his sloppy lips were on my ear and he kissed repetitively until the shock from the awkward encounter finally left my body and my limbs found the strength to push him off of me.
When I was in the 5th grade I won an essay contest for D.A.R.E. In the essay, I had to explain my pledge to stay away from drugs. I wrote something very cheesy and expectant for a typical elementary kid. You know, something really thought provoking like, “drugs are bad.”
I’m pretty sure my essay would have left that “Heaven is for Real” kid in the dust though… had our sentences been juxtaposed.
The essay wasn’t life changing, but I wrote it with passion. And it wasn’t because the DARE officer showed my formative brain horror videos of drunk drivers and families abandoned by victims of drug overdoses, but because I had already witnessed that in real life. When I look back on the essay, I realize it was a pledge to you. It was me promising I would never turn out like that, while somehow simultaneously begging you to come back. Today, I’m writing a new essay. Not in hopes that you’ll put down your habits (I mean, I do hope that too), but in an effort to say, I get it.
The only thing that makes the disgusting cat calls, awkward eye contact diversion, and dance routines doable for my 2.5 hour commute each day is a set of earphones and a good read. Every once in a while, I look around the train and think…
I should probably acknowledge this person’s existence.
But just as that thought makes it’s way to my frontal lobe, someone tells me there’s a seat available on their lap, and my duty as a caring human seems to vanish.
I’m not trying to insinuate that I’m irresistible in New York, I’m just letting you know the men here are bold and they all appear to be fresh out of the pen.
At least the ones in Spanish Harlem.
Side Note: The maintenance man in my building calls me “mama” on a regular basis, and I’ve totally come to love him and his gross affection towards Mosie, which probably discounts my frustration with the aforementioned topic.
I’m sure you’ve heard naysayers explain that everyone in NYC is out to get their “piece of the pie”. I bet you’ve heard New Yorkers are always tired because they’ve been climbing their way up the corporate latter, or that we value money and status over family. You’ve probably heard the young people in Brooklyn are all wannabes, and that we have an unrealistic view on the real world. And I’m 99% certain someone told you everyone in Manhattan is living off daddy’s dime.
You wanna know what’s great about being in school? No one expects anything of you. No one expects you to know what you want to do. I mean, don’t get me wrong… everyone will ask you what you plan on doing with the rest of your life, but no one honestly thinks you’re going to guess right.
The world should be envious of you.
You get to take obnoxious spring breaks to Mexico, you get to empty out your savings in an attempt to support your fun fund in the midst of unpaid internships, and it’s totally acceptable for you to have a shit job as a barista.
The people of Ferguson are fighting a fight I didn’t even know needed fighting, and I’m feeling more and more naïve with every picture of smoke and flames that covers my social media threads this evening. I keep seeing these images of law enforcement that look closer to military, and I can’t help but wonder what the other options for Ferguson could be. I’m not saying this fight is right, but I am asking – how else do you take a stand? How do you fight against a nation that seems to be against your community – against your race? I can’t condone the looting. The images of fires and the groups of activists fighting for their place in this world bring fear… and I’m miles away from the riots. But I do support their fight. What you may find shocking, and I don’t care if you do, is that I’m not concerned with the material aspects that will be lost throughout all of this. I don’t care about your corner store, or the local Walgreens. What makes me fearful is that this country, this place I thought I valued, has let me down. These riots and this legal system make me realize I’m living in an age I thought I was far past, and I’m finding myself emerged in a violent, unjust country that I’d mistakenly thought was free.