Then and Now

June 3rd, 2014


Now: Still spend many a day moodily contemplating the meaning of it all.

I love to throw things away. But there are a few things I have always hung on to, and one of them is my collection of journals, which I started keeping when I was about eight. I have four boxes full of them. Every few years or so I pull one out to reflect on past me and see if I have changed or grown at all in three decades.

The other night I pulled out a journal I kept when I was 21, fresh out of college, brimming with frustration, frantic with fear.  Not knowing what else to do, I had moved to a small town near where I grew up in Western Massachusetts, yet far removed in so many ways. None of my friends lived nearby anymore, and I had a cruddy little apartment whose $300-a-month rent I could barely afford, even with three waitressing jobs. I didn’t have the slightest clue what do with my life; I hated my boyfriend but was afraid to break up with him; I was a mess.

When I read that journal, I felt compassion for that girl. I also smiled at how little I have changed in certain ways. One great thing about getting older is perspective.

This is an angsty, narcissistic excerpt of a journal entry from when I was 21:

Me at 21

Then: As you can tell by the pallor, I was a vegetarian.

I worry a lot about where my life is headed, but don’t have the motivation to do anything about it. I decide I’m going to practice playing pool, but lose my concentration after just one game. I read The Feminine Mystique and scorn all pathetic and listless women, meanwhile am not exactly an ambitious career woman myself.

I’m very opinionated about everything. I refuse to own a TV because it’s a huge waste of time, yet I do nothing more worthwhile. I read the classifieds every day hoping the ideal job will offer itself to me. I listen to rap and I am happy that my boyfriend hates it. I think it makes me feel independent.

I obsess about money, but spend it compulsively every day. I buy interesting stationery and kitchen gadgets. I think too much. I think about being almost 22 and whether or not that’s old. I write letters to friends 3,000 miles away and justify my lifestyle; even though I’m still getting settled here, don’t worry, I have plenty of plans.

I plan to take a drawing class in the fall. I congratulate myself for calling that one potter and convince myself she’ll call back eventually; I should just wait. I don’t know what to do with my life anyway. I’m not passionate about anything. I get bored too easily. I feel special because I live in the town Sylvia Plath went to college in.

I’m waiting for something to happen to me.

A lot of things did end up happening to me. Probably not the things I was hoping for. I finally gave up waitressing, admitting to myself and the world that I’m terrible at it. I stopped reading feminist critiques and moved on to novels. I started my own writing and editing business—take that, lack of drive! And I gave up on “not watching TV.” Seriously, pompous 21-year-old me, get over yourself.

But in many ways I am still that same girl. I still obsess over my cats. I still love Sylvia Plath. I still worry a lot about where my life is headed.

The nice thing about getting older, though, is that you start to let go of this wild idea that your life should be heading anywhere. It’s just happening. This is all there is, and it’s enough. 

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