this is about life humps

In less than a week, it will be my birthday.

I hate admitting my age to people. I hate it because I always seem to be surrounded by people who are younger and doing better, and I hate that I can’t be content and happy with where I am because I constantly feel like I’m too old to be here, or do this, or have that. I hate that this feeling has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I hate that I obsess over my age because I still cling to goals I haven’t achieved so I feel like I just failed at life. (You were supposed to be married by now! For like, two years! And have three kids! Come on!)

My therapist is a big fan of getting me to recognize what are “negative thoughts” and what is “anxiety talking” as opposed to real, true variables. So, I know it’s all psychological. I often get yelled at by my mom and my sister for being so morose when it comes to turning another year older, and why can’t I be happy? What’s wrong with me? I’ve got good things going on, and I’ve done a lot in my life. I’m certainly not sitting at home wasting away with no social life and no dreams and no goals and no money, watching the clock tick forward as the years fall away while I do nothing to take advantage of them. In other words, from a logical standpoint, I’ve got absolutely no reason to sit here once a year and freak out about how old I’m getting when I realize my birthday is suddenly on the horizon. (It always seems like I forget how close it us until I look at a calendar and realize, oh right, THIS is the end of July.)

Over the years, I’ve tried to become better about accepting my age, but the flip side of that is that accepting my age has just gotten harder as I’ve grown older. There are certain milestones that are for sure fun and celebratory, but once you pass them, reality sets in and you just feel – well – old. It’s a maddening cycle: you turn 21 and feel awesome and immediately realize the next big birthday is 25, and, oh god, QUARTER LIFE CRISIS. HALFWAY TO THIRTY. You turn 25 and feel good and immediately realize the next big birthday is 30 and, oh god, THIRTY. OUT OF YOUR 20’s. NO MORE ADULT MISTAKES. You turn 30 and are pretty happy and immediately realize the next big birthday is 35, and, oh god. THIRTY-FIVE. HALFWAY TO FORTY. Etc, etc. I call these milestone things “life humps” – speed bumps that come at you out of nowhere, and leave you feeling shaken and freaked out. But once you DO get over them, you leave them behind as you drive away. I’ll freak out about turning a certain age and become fixated on what’s ahead and how scary it is to think of the next big milestone, even if it’s five years away. But then after my birthday, I more or less forget about how old I am and what age means because I’m, well, I’m not really thinking about it. I’m living my life.

Last year, when I turned a certain age, I made a list of things I had done up until this point in my life that I was proud of. 35 things I’d done in my life, to celebrate turning 35. This year, as I mark passing another life hump, I decided to see if I could look back and reflect on how much I’ve changed – and hopefully be proud of what I saw at the end of the tunnel. I started to do this on my own in my journal, and then realized that maybe it was worth putting out to the world. Even though I often think I’m alone, maybe I’m not alone. Maybe someone else needs to read this. Maybe it’ll help them in some small way.

As much as I still want to hide behind my age since, let’s face it, I look like a 20 year old anyway (except for that place I need botox between my eyes, ugh), maybe it’s time for me to, in the words of my favorite druid, grow up and be a regular adult.

I am 15.

I am 15 and Titanic is the most important thing in the world to me and goddamn, Leonardo DiCaprio is HOT. I ice skate competitively. I go to high school and act in musicals and have fun with friends and hang out at the mall in places like Sam Goody. I am a burgeoning little nerd who is pretty content with life.

In between 15 and 20, the following things happen: my mom hires a limo as a surprise for my Sweet 16. Everyone gets me Titanic gifts, OBVIOUSLY. I try out for volleyball because I really want to play volleyball and am the only one cut from the team. But I become more involved in drama and perform in two musicals, so it all works out. I drive to New Hampshire and pierce my bellybutton in secret when I turn 18 – my one rebellious move. take the SATs and apply to 18 colleges. I get into 6 pretty good ones. I write my college essay on my experience dissecting a cadaver during science camp at a prestigious Boston college, because I am just like my role model and idol Dana Katherine Scully and I AM GOING TO BE A MEDICAL DOCTOR, DAMMIT. I’m on the waitlist for the George Washington University and my mom insists we make an on-campus interview when we go down to visit American, where I’ve been accepted. I essentially BS my way through the interview thanks to my improv skills and get a call after the weekend is over that I’ve been accepted.

In between 15 and 20, the following things happen: I graduate high school, I go to GW, and 9/11 happens less than one month into my college career. I am living in downtown DC, three blocks from the White House and near the State House, and I have no idea what’s going on but it’s terrifying. (I have to fly home to Boston of all places three weeks after this, and I have a full-on panic attack flying into a tiny airport in New Hampshire because Logan is obviously closed still.)

At GW, I go to exactly one informational session about pre-med before I hightail it out of the room due to all the math and science requirements that The X-Files failed to mention. I decide I’d rather major in something totally useful, like English. I meet the person who will be my roommate for four years, my eventual bridesmaid, and my forever best friend. I join a sorority, I learn new things. I get lost, get confused, make mistakes, and have fun. The X-Files ends (for the first time, apparently) after 9 years. I see Rent for the first time on Broadway thanks to my roommate, and immediately decide I need to keep going back to New York to see more Broadway shows. I fall in love with Manhattan and Times Square (I know, I know), make friends through the Rent message boards, and discover my independence by taking a Greyhound to the city on as many weekends as I can, without telling my parents what I’m doing or where I’m going. I go through a year of feeling like I don’t belong in DC and want to transfer to NYU. I don’t get accepted as a transfer and THANK GOD FOR THAT, because the rest of my college life is fucking great. I will not understand how very much it hurts to hear the Avenue Q song “I Wish I Could Go Back To College” until years later when I realize, shit, I really do want to go back to college.

I am 20.

I am 20 and all I want to do is be independent and live and work in New York City.

I turn 21 earlier than my friends because of how my birthday falls and I don’t get a huge 21st celebration, so instead I make my parents take me to New York to see Rent. I achieve my dream of living and working in Manhattan when I get an internship at a talent agency the summer between my junior and senior year of college. The internship is pretty terrible: I get stuck in a back room where everyone forgets about me because they don’t have enough desks, I don’t get any work, and all I do is make Starbucks runs. But I see all my friends, and I go to Broadway shows all the time, and I see Kristin Chenoweth and Norbert Leo Butz’s last show of Wicked, and my best friend has a job down the block from me, so life is pretty good otherwise. These are basically at the best 3 months of my life.

In between 20 and 25, the following things happen: I graduate college, I job search for over a year, and I finally move to New York for good at 23. My job is at a media company coincidentally located on Astor Place – the same area where I spent all my time when I visited the city, because all my friends went to NYU. Clearly, I feel like this is fate. I know this Starbucks! I know this subway line! I know the dumpling place on St. Marks, and the bars, and the yoga studio, and the Barnes and Noble on the corner! I live in Greenpoint with a friend who I’ve now grown apart from, and I know nothing about the neighborhood (otherwise I clearly would not have chosen to live there.) I also live off the G train, which is fucking TERRIBLE – but then again, have you really lived in New York if you’ve never had an experience with the G train? My job isn’t sustainable – a sales assistant role that pays somewhere in the 20’s. I think that’s a hell of a lot of money and my parents smartly remind me that it’s really not. But they’re supportive because this is my dream and they believe in giving your child dreams and opportunities. I spend a lot of time seeing Broadway shows like I’ve always dreamed of, and I go to birthday parties at my favorite bars, and I karaoke at night, and I hang out with friends, because these are my young 20’s and I want to have fun.

I am 25.

I am 25 and on top of the world, as they say. I am fucking INVINCIBLE.

I leave my first job after a little more than a year and get a job at a financial company that plans investment conferences, because I think conference planning is what I want to do. Maybe it is, but the job itself and the environment and the people are so absolutely horrible that my mental health takes a nosedive. I let the shininess of the job (weekend trip to the Hamptons! Five star hotels! International travel to places I’d never afford to get to!) control me until we’ve both had enough. They let me go after 8 months and it’s probably the best feeling in the world, especially since I’ve been on my way out anyway. But hey, I get to visit Monaco and Monte Carlo before I leave, and that’s pretty damn cool.

I turn my life around in a big way. I get a new job as a Development Associate at a religious nonprofit, I get the hell out of my crappy Greenpoint apartment, I decide I’m done living with people, and I fall into a really amazing sublet in Queens. I feel like I’ve started my life all over again; I love this apartment and this neighborhood and my landlord and the building. For the first time, I have a decent salary, a good job where I will stay for four years, a good apartment where I will live for almost five years, good mentors, my own office, and stability. I also feel like I’m realizing why Judaism is important again thanks to my work.

In between 25 and 30, the following things happen: Rent closes after 12 years on Broadway and I’m there at the final performance with all the friends and cast members I’ve met through the years. LOST ends after 6 years and I hold a finale party for my favorite show and I cry all night. I have never cared about American Idol before and on a whim, I randomly decide to watch the 7th season from the beginning, auditions and all. I somehow become utterly obsessed with all the performers. David Cook wins the show and my best friend and I spend the summer following the American Idol tour around to different states, sometimes getting lucky enough to go backstage because we’ve figured out who to talk to at security. Sometime after those summer shows are over, David Cook announces his new album, a release show, and then a tour with his band. I spend A LOT of money and one year traveling the United States, flying to different cities on weekends, yelling at Ticketmaster, learning how to stomach PBR at dive bars in places like Nashville and West Virginia and Tulsa, driving overnight, sleeping in crappy motels, eating Sonic, taking photos, touring ridiculous landmarks like gaudy casinos and corn palaces…and I have the time of my life while doing it. (No pun intended.)

In between 25 and 30, the following things happen: I start dating. I find a great guy and end up breaking up with him because despite wanting a boyfriend, I’m still in the “single” mindset and am also influenced by controlling friends who cloud my judgement by telling me how bad he is and how unhappy I am. (I will regret this choice forever.) I date another guy. I date LOTS of guys. I find a guy who seems really great in every single way and we become serious. I think he’s going to be the one – I even go to his med school graduation in Iowa. He turns out to be crazy and controlling for real, and he emotionally abuses me for months before he dumps me via Facebook. Thankfully, I have amazing friends who have my back. I try to date again. I have one more serious relationship that I think is going to work out, but this one drops me when he realizes I’m going to leave New York for at least a year to get my Master’s degree.

In between 25 and 30, the following things happen: I dye my hair blonde for a long period of time. I give myself bangs and try to change myself (it doesn’t stick.) I attempt to figure out where I’m going to go next in my life, and my mom bugs me about going back to school. I try looking up graduate programs for business administration, which is what I think I want to do, but I never get anywhere. I finally take the GREs because I’ve waited too long to apply and my SAT scores are no longer viable; I do okay on the verbal part but absolutely pathetically horrible on the math portion, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

Because of the fallout of the terrible aforementioned relationship, I turn to entertainment to make me happy, and start writing about television. I start my own entertainment website and go on set visits and make other blogger/journalist friends and do interviews with celebrities and go to San Diego Comic Con as press for the first time. I realize that THIS is what I want to do, albeit on a bigger, more important scale. My dream is to work at Entertainment Weekly, the magazine I grew up reading and loving, so I make a decision that I want to go back to school for journalism. I apply to three schools, including one I think I will never, ever get into. I get into the top program for my career – Medill at Northwestern in Chicago.

This is February. They want me to start the January of the following year, which means I’ve got exactly one year to figure out how to leave New York. My second-to-last remaining grandparent dies. I have my 30th birthday at a LOST bar in Manhattan surrounded by some of my closest friends, and my parents take our family on a cruise to Bermuda. I give my notice at work after almost five years, right before I go to Disney for 2 weeks and drink my way around the world. When I’m not looking, New York changes, and the bars and restaurants that my friends and I used to frequent shut down and move, and I realize just how freaking long I’ve been living here. And also, damn, I’m getting old.

I am 30.

I am 30 and in 5 months, I am going to leave New York behind to start a new life. I have no idea what comes after but I am finally realizing how important it is to get away from a certain way of life and take chances and have opportunities, even if it seems scary. I will not realize how important this change is for awhile, but that’s okay. I WILL eventually realize it.

I start my year-long graduate program at Medill. It’s hard and its tough and the workload is insane, but at least I’m not doing it alone. I make amazing friends and I have the best time – a better time than I had in college, even. My last grandparent passes away and I can’t come home for the funeral because I’m in Chicago. I apply for an internship at Entertainment Weekly, which I know from talking to enough people is basically the only gateway into a job there. Somehow, I manage to make my dreams come true. I join the ranks of EW’s “Medill Mafia.” I work at my dream company and do things like interview people from my favorite shows, write about Marvel movies, go to press days of Broadway shows, attend opening nights, and interview Stan Lee in person. I don’t get hired full-time after my internship ends and it’s disappointing, and I spend some time in limbo until I find a way back into the company. I write about comics, and I find my niche and build up my career.

In between 30 and 35, the following things happen: I finally come out to the world as bisexual. I start medication for anxiety. I decide to start dating again and am sick of not finding anyone on the “traditional” websites, so I try different ones. I find my nerd-loving fiancé, try not to get turned off by his last name, and we become serious and move in together after 2 years. We get engaged after 3 years – I am 3 months past 35 when I finally get engaged. We set a wedding date and talk about our future – I will be 3 months past 36 when I finally get married. I am back in Brooklyn but this time, the place is nicer and the neighborhood is nicer, and at least there’s talk of a house somewhere down the line so I know this is not where I’ll end up for good.

In between 30 and 35, the following things happen: EW restructures and I lose my job again. I call on my connections and friends for freelance work and go on a lot of interviews because the New York journalism world is small, but it takes me almost a year to find another steady job. I get fed up with being depressed, write a lot of fanfic, and start seriously working on a book. I get a literary agent and make my dreams happen. I start sending the book I’m working on to publishers through my agent. I take a job writing at a financial start-up that offers me a lot of money, even though I have no interest in what they do, because I need money and I need employment. I last three months there before I realize that this isn’t working and I am just as miserable as I was sitting at home every day not getting any job leads. The same day I make that decision, I have an impromptu interview for my dream job. I finally see my connections and networking and career building pay off as I start work at Marvel. I run two half-marathons two years in a row at Disneyland. (I spend a lot of time at Disney World and Disneyland.) I get obsessed with a group of voice actors who play D&D for 4+ hours at a time every week and my life changes, even if I won’t realize it for a bit. I play D&D. I strengthen friendships and I lose friendships.

In less than a week, it will be my birthday. I’ve changed a hell of a lot over each of the years that I’ve been alive and I like to think that even though there’s some stuff I regret and some things I could have done differently, I’ve done a lot of good things and learned a lot. These are, more or less, my life humps, and I like to think that I know how I can make the next life humps even better. I’ve got big plans and goals, I’ve got new dreams in terms of where I want to be for a job and a career, I have a family that I’m slowly building out of New York, and I’m trying to be patient about how my future will play out.

In less than a week, I will be 36. I will celebrate with a smile (and a big drink in a dragon mug at the Renaissance Faire) – because the future is bright, and honestly, it looks pretty fucking awesome – even if I’m getting old.

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one more candle

It’s my birthday tomorrow.

Ever since I turned 30 a few years ago, I’ve had a hard time with birthdays. Maybe it’s just the very real fact that after you hit a certain age, you start to realize how much of your life you’ve already lived, and you get that “back 9” syndrome Robert Downey Jr. talks about. But for me, birthdays past 30 are continual reminders of the fact I’m not where I want to be or where I thought I’d be at this point in my life, professionally and personally. It’s hard to shake that mindset, to look forward to another year when you’re so focused on what your age means.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my 20’s, about mistakes I made because I was young, and stupid, and listened to the wrong people, and had different priorities. I think about if I would feel different because had I not made certain decisions, I would be where I always wanted to be. On the other hand, I’m astute enough to realize if I had taken that path, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have the friends I currently have. I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work at the company of my dreams, doing a job I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. I probably wouldn’t be in my current career. I might not have gone to grad school. I probably wouldn’t have gotten into comics as much as I did, and comics not only saved my life, but they also brought amazing, inspirational people into my world.

The thing is, it’s hard to focus on the road less traveled when all you can see in front of you is the one that is now defining your life. Maybe it’s because I know people who are younger, who have already gotten their lives together, and it makes me feel like moving at a slower pace is demeaning. Maybe it’s because I know people who ARE my age who have the things I desperately want, and I wonder if and where I went wrong.

This was an up and down year. There were extreme highs and extreme lows; I had a lot of positive opportunities and moments but I also had a lot of setbacks. I’ve been reflecting recently, about the steps I’ve taken to improve my life and mental health, the things I can be proud of and the things I could have done differently. In my Passion Planner, I purposefully designated today as “self care” with an attempt to relax and enjoy the day without being upset or depressed that tomorrow will see me another year older, and another year closer to an age that’s pretty significant.

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A few years ago, Kelly Sue answered a question about life and balance on her blog. I bookmarked it at the time, and still look at it today when I need to be reminded of the fact that you don’t have to be successful at 20 to have a good life. Or even successful at 30. Age doesn’t matter. Drive and motivation does. Being happy with yourself does.

It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I’m closer to having the things I want, but not close enough that I can feel optimistic that turning another year older will bring enough good things that will make me feel like I’m on the right track. But this year, I’ve had experiences, and I’ve learned. I’m older. I’m wiser. I have amazing people in my life who I am proud and thankful to call friends, who I love dearly, who help me every single day just by having my back in the smallest of ways. I have a family that is big on tough love, but they catch me when I fall, and lately, I really, really have fallen.

In the words of Kelly Sue, I’m doing the best I can, figuring it out as I go. And that has to count for something.