Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A blip on the road trip of your life

This weekend I met up with a good friend of mine who I hadn't seen in years for far too much wine at outdoor pub on sunny Saturday afternoon on the South Bank. We met for the first time years ago when be both worked for a non-profit book publisher in New York City. It was one of those first jobs that you have fresh out of college. A job that seemed so important, so big and so pointless. A job that even though you were technically proficient, even great at your job, somehow took something out of you. Wore you down.

Essentially sucked your soul out through your eyeballs.

It got me to thinking about all the things I wish I could go back and tell my 20 something self. There's a lot of them. Bear with me . . .

A note to my 20 something self . . . 

These will be hard years. It's not about growing up or dealing with the real world that will make these years hard, its how woefully unprepared you will be. Even given your childhood, your four years of college, you will still be a 20 something child for the first half of this decade. You will still want to please everyone. You can't. You won't. Give that up now.

Everyone will give you great advice. Most of it will even be sound. You won't listen to a word of it. It's ok, that's how it should be. There comes a point in time where you have to just learn. Live. Words. Advice. Hindsight. It will all come later. Now is the time to be fearless. Enjoy.

You will lose people who you didn't know you could live without. And yet, you'll live.

You'll learn how to do a million things that will seem impossible. At the time they will seem probable. The only real option. It's not until later, when you think back to your tiny apartment and the ramen noodles you ate three times a week that you'll wonder how did I live like that? Could I do it again?

Yes. The answer is always yes. You wouldn't want to though.

You'll make decisions now that will matter. Decisions that in a decade you'll wonder about. Decisions that felt throwaway at the time and then changed the course of your life. Don't over think things. Sometimes the only way to move forward is through. Move forward.

It will get harder and harder to make new friends. It will become harder to 'be yourself' an essential part of this 'real world business' is turning yourself into the professional you, the girl who wears dress shirts and pencil skirts and leaving the girl in paint splattered jeans and a hipster tees to the weekends. You'll wonder where you went. Why you can't make friends the way you used to.

You can't because you are only you some of the time. The best version of you. The weekend version of you. The rest of the time you are guarded. You are trying so hard to always look the part you are playing. It's not until much later that you'll let things slip, let people in, and realise that the you who you are on the weekends is always there, she just doesn't let her hipster/freak/geek/nerd flag fly enough.

You miss you. You miss the way you used to laugh. The inside jokes you had with close friends. You miss laughing about nothing. You miss laughing about an awful day. You miss the way you could laugh until you cried and then move on.

You'll be bonded to the salad day friends you make now. You'll remember tea and sympathy, the chronic time wasting emails about your career options when you give up your office job and become an Upper West Side nanny. You'll remember the heat of NYC, the post work walks around the Central Park Reservoir, riding on the swings at 8pm and wondering why it is no one goes on the swings anymore.

What age did it stop being cool to ride the swings? You want to go back to that version of yourself and smack her across the face. You want to tell her: THIS. NEVER. STOPS. BEING. COOL.

You'll remember Summer Fridays, margaritas in the afternoon in Harlem. Wandering down the streets singing the lyrics to 'On the Radio' at the top of your lungs with your best friend. People will think you're high. You're not. For the first time since elementary school it will be because you are happy in a way only an eight-year-old is. Every word has meaning. Every lyric feels right. So sing. It won't stop the world. You'll miss it years later when for some reason you can't understand you'll have lost your voice. Sing loudly. Who cares who's looking?

You'll remember these days years later. That cheap pair of pink ballet flats you wore all summer, until they were warped from the heat and falling apart. Until one day, in the middle of a massive NYC thunderstorm your right shoe falls off your foot in the cross walk. You'll chase after it, hop walking for the duration of the intersection, praying no one sees you, that a cab doesn't run you over, and slip the shoe back onto your foot. You'll remember that girl, the way she furtively dashed onto the sidewalk a smile on her lips. She got away with nothing, but she believed she did.

You will always think too much. You'll always be older than your years. It's a part of your upbringing, accept it and move on.

You will live in a tiny apartment in Queens with total strangers you found on Craigslist. They will be normal people. Not crazy. You got lucky.

Your room will be the smallest. In the summer your room is airless. So you will buy an air conditioner. Your hand-me-down TV has one volume-- too quiet. You can't watch TV and run the air conditioner at the same time so you alternate. You'll watch TV until the commercial break and then blast the AC. Your room will never cool down. The TV will never be loud enough. You'll read instead. Stacks of novels that you never would have read in your teens. Fantasy, YA, romance novels. Books you once deemed unworthy will consume your time.

You'll want to write. You'll feel its important, but you have no words. Everything feels too big. Too overwhelming. Words will come. Later. Don't stress.

You'll think about these days as the days when your skyline was dominated by the Empire State Building. How everyday when you leave your apartment and look right, there is the entire city spread out across the river, and the Empire State Building is all you can see. How each day you pass the Empire State Building, it's literally across the street from your job. You can't escape it. The colours on top of the building define your seasons. One building becomes integral to your experience.

Remember this because one day you'll leave your first apartment for the last time. You'll turn right, you'll wink to the Empire State Building. You'll be humming 'On the Radio' as you pull away from the city you love in the world's tiniest UHaul ready for another adventure. The first of many. This was just a blip on the road trip of your life.

Be brave and sing loudly.



  1. This is beautiful, Genn. Absolutely beautiful. ::sniffles:: I hope that the adventure you're on right now is one that your future self says amazing things about, too, from the surprise and wisdom of distance.

    Here's a message to you in your 30s:

    You still are cool. And awesome. Don't let them --the world, the doubters and the nay-sayers, circumstances and blows -- make you forget that. Because you are and always will be that girl with the bright hair and the bright eyes with the brilliant plans that everyone watches to see what amazing thing comes next. ;)

  2. <3 Beautiful, Genn. <3 And right on so many levels, not least of which is that the swings are still cool. :)

  3. Oh my God! This could be a long letter:

    Dear Twenty Something Self,

    1. STOP freaking out about how things will turnout and just live. Because it WILL all work out. The job. The boy. All of it. Just not at all how or when you thought. But trust me. When you get there you'll know and it's good. Really good.

    2. Enjoy your metabolism. Enough said.

    3. Never apologize for who you are or what you want.

    4. ALWAYS remember Henry Ford's advice, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

    5. Start reading YA sooner!

    6. Start writing fiction sooner. Yes, fiction.

    7. Do not dye your hair yourself. Just trust me on this one.

    8. Take less money if it means more happiness. (You do this by the way! Good choice.)

    9. Keep drinking wine and dancing barefoot. It keeps you sane.

    31-year-old (*gasp*) Sarah