Today I learned what middle school Ashley would have never grasped.
On your birthday, truly, nothing is special. It is, but it also isn’t, in that too often we overlay the ordinary with some special meaning, that being to celebrate. I believed in the act and magic of this for years, relished that on my designated day, I could do whatever the heck I wanted, because I was the birthday girl, because for one day, I was the star.
Nowadays, I don’t believe in that anymore; I’ve been crushed by the so-called magic of expectations too many times, the worst being on my twentieth birthday when wounds were still fresh, then stepped on, and left to wither under a smile that only few can decipher as fake. After that meal, I cried and didn’t feel special and felt like a fool for expecting the world to acknowledge the day of my birth.
Today, I woke up late in a place I didn’t want to be at for my twenty-second birthday. I thought and I hoped that by now, I’d be on my own in some exciting city; instead, I’m in Peoria, Illinois, passing a month since I moved in with my parents. And yet, how God has been gracious in how this time has taught me to be less stubborn and more brutally honest with myself. It’s been a mix of some pretty dark lows but also some necessary reflections, discussions, and light.
I knew that today wouldn’t be special and I didn’t want any fake attempt for it to be. My mom unintentionally helped with this; when my phone went off with dings of notifications and birthday texts, she moved the phone to another room so I could sleep as late as I wanted. So I woke up at ten, washed up, and strolled downstairs. My brother Chris made me a cup of coffee (twice because I’m picky), Mom made a yummy brekkie sandwich, Dad was out mowing the lawn.
It was simple, and I loved it.
Our neighbour Brenda came over to share some Japanese noodles and Chris told her it was my birthday and she wished me a happy birthday and apologized that she couldn’t give me a hug because she was sweaty from gardening. My mom took five noodle bundles, three soba and two white noodles, and we went back inside and Brenda went back to her garden.
I didn’t want to get my phone, wanted to prolong getting it, but I had to see if the hot pot place an hour away (alas, not all places have hot pot as near as Iowa City does) was open for lunch and if my request to reschedule an interview went through. I walked upstairs, dreading opening my phone to see all the notifications. And sure enough, there they were.
As I came back down, scrolling through the birthday posts on Facebook, I marvelled at how years ago, I prided myself on how many people posted on my wall. Now, the spectacle of it was gone and more of a cultural expectation of sorts. And so I scrolled on, and on, and on.
Right as I came back to the dining room and took a seat, I paused.
A paragraph, and a picture.
And then I cried. And not too far after that, another paragraph with a picture I didn’t know was being taken.
I cried again.
I don’t take compliments well, or at all. They generally have no effect on me, and I’m not sure why, but when I do, I’ll write about it then. But these words, penned by two deeply caring precious friends, weren’t compliments, really.
They were more like gentle unraveling things, peeling back and shining light on something more real, less glamorous, harder to compliment.
Through their words, I felt seen. There was no part that felt fake or required; rather, it was as if they peeled back their minds and memories to show how they saw me all along, and it was rooted, and it was real. And it’s not like the paragraphs are Pulitzer prize winning things (though they are beautifully phrased); no, instead, those words were me. They captured in them some shimmering human quality and in so, became real, wonderful, and powerful.
The day is still ahead of me. It won’t be perfect. A squabble might happen, simply because when there’s four grown adults together, it’s likely.
But either way, I feel special.
Veni and Vici, you two are absolute gifts to me. Thank you for your words and, well, making me cry well after they were written, haha. You guys are blessings and lights in my life.
And everyone who posted or reached out, thank you. Regardless if Facebook told you or if you knew beforehand (lol hi Steph), you took time to pause and type out at minimum at eighteen word message. I’m guilty of not even doing that for some birthdays, but you, you did. Thank you.
Twenty two, I have no idea what you have in store. I have fairy floss images and mirages, of course, but what I’ll be doing even next week? No idea. But with the support from my family who makes eating out such a fun, loud experience (seriously why are we always so obnoxious when we go to a restaurant?-), my dear friends who have seen behind the light I cultivate and spoke life into the melancholy, and the acquaintances and social media friends who step in randomly and cheer me on regardless, I think, and maybe I know, that I’ll be okay.
[written at 1pm]
[written at 10pm]
Hello all. It’s been a long long time since I wrote on this blog, and I think that this might also be my last. Don’t worry, though, I’ll still be writing and sharing things but on a new blog/website, one that will function as a portfolio of sorts and a side blog.
But I felt like I had to end somehow and this felt right.
I started this blog the summer before my freshman year in college, so perhaps this is meant to be. Tomorrow, I have some job interviews (!!!!) and for the first time in eighteen years, I’m not a student. It’s a weird place to be in, but one that I know I can’t replicate again, so I’m trying to enjoy it, or at least soak it all in.
I feel like I must apologize to some people in how I upped and left. It did feel shameful to move back into my parents’ place but now I see that it is not and that either way, I shouldn’t be so bothered with other people’s perception. I’m still working on it. But that fear and heaviness stemming from it is why I didn’t give some people updates on my life. I knew that people had high expectations for me because I did all these cool things in undergrad and I felt that telling them that I moved back to Peoria was disappointing them and extremely underwhelming. And perhaps it is. But that’s only the first layer; I have learned so much on a personal level this past month, stuff that doesn’t’ translate onto a resume or a simple relationship. So I resolved that, eh, people who think that way of me probably aren’t invested enough into my life to probe deeper and will just dismiss me. In which case, why worry about them?
But still, the awareness of the stigma associated with living with parents weighs heavy on me and has distorted even the good friendships. It’s made me respond later and delay talking to friends and giving updates because I felt like a fraud, a scam. All that during undergrad and now look at her. What a waste.
And yet, people speak life into this melancholy. And yet my parents deal with my extremely stubborn self. And yet God is good. And yet my friends respect me, cheer me on in all my creative projects, check in on me, send me encouragement, remind me that it’ll be okay and that my time will come.
Post-grad is weird, guys. It’s simultaneously a whirlwind and a desert. I don’t get it. But I’ve been writing and living my way through it and I know that this weird period will end. And I know that I do have things to be proud of, things that happened and that can’t be taken away.
I have my own chapbook live, in physical form, in audio book form. I curated my own exhibition along two brilliant creative minds. I somehow got to work with writers and the Chiara string quartet. I made my own little EP.
I did all that, and none of it can be taken away from me.
So, yes, I’ll be fine. I just need to keep repeating that to myself and letting my family and friends into the heaviness and melancholy and marching onward.
Dear blog of mine, thank you for holding all the memories and thoughts.
Dear upcoming twenty-second year of life, let’s see all that you’ve got.
And dear reader, as always, thank you for coming by. I created this blog to write but also to connect because maybe somehow in the thoughts on my mind translated onto scribbles on a screen, someone will feel comforted, entertained, or less alone.
Thank you, and from some part in Chicagoland, good night, friend.