I’ve always done pretty well with expected change. You know, the kinds of life shifts and milestone moments that are “supposed to happen,” and usually happen to big groups of people at the same time. Elementary to Middle to High school to College, ends of classes or completions of projects and beginnings of new ones.
It’s the more murky, vague change I’ve always been hypersensitive to. The kind of change you don’t know to expect, or the change that’s a slow gradual build instead of hard and fast shift. Mostly, the change that’s in my control. Writing it out, I think it’s more about the fact that I have a choice in the matter that unsettles me; that they’re very well might be a right and wrong and I might have chosen wrong. The fact that I could’ve done things differently, and that the responsibility is all on me.
This week, I celebrated my 29th birthday. So very young in the grand scheme of things – in the words of my friends, still such a baby. And yet this space in time feels so old and young at the same time.
The last few birthdays of mine have felt a touch melancholy. It’s a hard sort of unexpected melancholy to explain, really, as I don’t feel any more impermanent on birthdays that I usually do and certainly don’t feel the least bit sad. It’s not me getting a “sense of my mortality” or “feeling old” – it’s just been a soft nagging in the background that maybe I should be doing things differently, or maybe where I am is not enough. A nagging that decides to show up on this one day of the year, just for me alone.
I’m being honest with myself, it’s probably been rooted in expectation: the expectation that the amount of direction and focus I appear to have on the outside should be matching the amount of direction and focus I feel on the inside. The expectation that with each passing year, I should be older, wiser, more certain. Instead, there’s been an unclear curiosity lingering, a question-marked Ellipses.
This year feels different. We all go through these moments, usually many times in our lives, in which we’re certain that THIS shift is the one that will change everything – only to find out later that all along we really knew nothing. And in this moment, I’m feeling this is one of those shifts.
Each birthday in my adulthood, the feeling of “something more” has loomed over me; faint glimmers of a new chapter showing themselves in those quiet moments when I’ve thought that “something more” could be “something now.” In a sense, I’ve been waiting for a next chapter to begin without even finishing the last.
Today, however, feels like I am reading the final page in the chapter I’ve been reading for so long; finally hitting that half-blank page that signifies it’s time to start a new one.
“Openness” is the word that keeps coming to mind.
I left the gym the morning of my birthday after being showered with such love – more than I could wish for – and almost instantaneously, started to feel that perfunctory, dull melancholy sit in, like sugar crash after too much frosting.
And just as it was beginning to get settled, I shook my head like they do in cartoons when someone “snaps out of it.” What are you doing, Katie? My internal voice said. None of that today. You know better. You don’t need that.
And I smiled and I thought – well that’s never happened on this day before.
Opening to the joy. Opening to what Is.
Happy birthday to me.
Sometimes we need those moments of despair. If you know me (and if you’re reading this, you certainly do), you know I’m a fan of that emotional swimming pool. But sometimes we fabricate those moments for ourselves simply because the strong emotional weight feels strangely good resting on our chest. It’s taken me a while to learn this, and even longer to be able to distinguish between true lows and the lows I’m fabricating for myself in order to latch onto something strong. Trial and error and awareness. Over and over and over again. Training myself to be unafraid to dive in and examine the Whys behind each What.
Sure, the day-to-day still affects me on a very deep level. But on this birthday, I feel there’s a sense of what’s bullshit and what’s worth it that I’ve got a handle on now…a sense of how completely stupid and time-wasting some of these micro-worries are.
[Like the fact that I forgot my windscreen for my spin class microphone and my manager reprimanded me and is now disappointed in my lack of professionalism (spoiler to self: she’s not). Like the fact that I didn’t let the guy who was trying to cut me off weasel his way into my lane and he gave me a rude honk and now I’m a horrible person (spoiler to self: I’m not). Like the fact that I don’t fit into those dresses I’ve been hanging onto for a decade now under the assumption I’d fit into them as a not-19 year old and if I didn’t there’d be something wrong with my body (spoiler alert to self: there’s not).]
I am still abnormally sentimental, of course – but there is an openness now to letting go of what no longer serves me. The self-reprimanding. The clothes I haven’t worn. The body hangups. The questioning if everything will all go away. To me – today at least – it all feels so juvenile.
I know I’ll always be nostalgic and I’ll always question if I did the right thing. I’ll always go through waves of feeling great and feeling lousy, because I’m only human, only a set of atoms and chemicals that have their own delicate balance.
But the way I’ve attached it all to my ego in the past – THAT’S what feels so stale. None of that’s about me, really. None of that is my character. It’s the role I’ve chosen to play and the script I’ve given myself to read. And none of it is permanently etched into my story.
I am open to the expansive openness ahead of me, even though I haven’t a clue as to what it looks like. That’s part of what makes this birthday different, I think. The lack of expectation and the lack of ellipse’d question marks. Instead, this birthday feels like a string of commas that’s about to begin – a huge run-on sentence ended with an exclamation mark, maybe two, until the next warped sentence structure comes in.
Living in the constant, hesitant question mark has become exhausting. I’m just tired of it. I know what it’s like now, and I’m so happy and grateful for that…
…But oh, am I ready for that big run-on sentence.
I’m ready to say Yes to what the universe throws my way as long as that Yes resonates with my heart. I’m ready to teach and be taught, internalize but watch from the outside too. I’m ready to plow forward into life like one big experiential experiment, because really, why not? I am so confident in what I know but I think I’m even more confident in what I don’t. The pressure I used to feel of needing to inspire or lead has slowly fallen away over the last almost 3(!) decades so much so that now it’s just a few flakes barely on the surface. Trial and error and awareness. Over and over and over again. Training myself to be unafraid to dive in and examine the Whys behind each What.
I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to just Be, and that to just Be Me is more than great. That I can trust what I’ve been given to do its thang while I’m merely its vehicle for transportation. All of this, I’ve happily found, takes away the questions of if I’m choosing wrong, or if I’ve got it together, or if I’m enough or not enough.
What I’ve learned is that there isn’t “enough” or “not-enough.” There’s just the now, the mix of knowing and not knowing, and the choice of how to place that within my ego. Beyond that, it’s only about being open to what is yet to come, and letting my heart turn the page.
I’m very happy with where and how I am, and that is more than I could ask for. Onward, 29.
pose: fish pose (my favorite throat/heart opening pose)
photo: corntnee loren brown for the chalkboard mag