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moving slowly on mondays
on embracing uncertainty + mid-30s grief
Uncertainty is hitting a little different these days. Not just in the general sense but in the three years post-pandemic, innumerable existential crises, and getting older yet not getting much closer to where I would like to be, sense. As life resumed business as usual and summer raged on, I felt like I was floating through some dark tunnel to nowhere while everyone else seemed to be getting by without a care in the world. Of course, these assumptions are mere projections, and I’m certain anyone on the outside looking in could see my recent activity and be surprised to hear I feel this way sometimes. I use social media as a space to share and celebrate my wins, even when I’m acutely aware of the areas where I’m struggling. I don’t see this as misrepresenting my life so much as it’s a way to redirect and focus on the positives. Still, through all of these external strides, I find myself grieving the life I wanted for myself at a time when I’d much rather reclaim my joy and an insatiable lust for life.
I'm 35, and while I was fortunate to bring in this year of my life blissfully grateful with my tribe in Portugal earlier this year, a post-birthday wave of grief washed over me. At first, I couldn't understand where it was coming from. I had so much to celebrate and look forward to. But the gap between where I am and where I'd like to be started to feel as vast as The Grand Canyon.
Chasing dreams in your mid-30s is much different than chasing them in your 20s. In your 20s, you have hope, possibility, and potential in the palm of your hands. In your 30s, the harsh reality of time and making tough decisions that you hope won't lead you to regret your path can taint your rose-colored glasses. I cannot, for example, bootstrap a dream and start a family. As a woman who is geriatric-pregnancy years old, I'm tasked with deciding whether to save money to shoot my next film or freeze my eggs. I mean, is having children even ethical with the state of the world? And what is a dream of making films and telling stories even worth it in an entertainment industry that was at one point constantly in flux and is now at a complete standstill?
Being in my mid-30s also means taking stock of how I can provide myself and thrive. Like many millennials, I've had to reconsider what financial stability looks like. It definitely isn't the 6-figure income or homeownership benchmarks everyone told us we should strive towards when we were growing up. As someone who pays rent in the most expensive place to live in The United States (and where I can assure you, 6-figures is not a marker of wealth, at least not on the low end), having f*ck you money feels about as viable as winning the lottery (maybe I need to start playing numbers). So, I'm then tasked with considering why I want f*ck you money, to begin with, and how important it is in making me feel financially secure. After all, I am far from poor. I have all of my basic needs met and then some. I'm fortunate to have survived as a freelancer amid a massive economic downturn. Yet, that nagging voice in my head is like, "You're closer to 40 than 30, and is this where you want to be in five years? Still living in a small Manhattan apartment, working gigs that do not fulfill your passions, worried about how you will turn your dreams into reality?"
It’s a full-time job tuning that voice out, and in those moments, I take a beat to look around my Manhattan apartment and appreciate it in all of its limitations. It's been the setting of so many memories. It's a home I've built with the love of my life. It kept me safe and secure when going outside was a risk to my life and livelihood. It leads me to acknowledge the abundance of love I have in my life, the spiritual growth and professional strides I've made, but that doesn't change how I've felt the pandemic robbed me of three of the most crucial years of my life. Some days, I think that maybe I'm using the pandemic as a scapegoat for my inability to adapt and cope. There are other times when I reflect on what has happened and how traumatic it was for the entire world to be destabilized with no clear direction for an extended period. And if it was indeed a traumatic period collectively, could it not also be true that part of what I'm feeling is a version of post-traumatic stress?
And so, where to go from here? Well, the answer is nowhere. For once, the solution to my problems is to do less. I know that stillness is the antidote to stress, but as someone who has always been a restless go-getter, I've struggled to embrace stagnation. I suppose my Americanness has made me feel like I must always work towards something or that wallowing in what could’ve or should’ve been is a justified response to uncertainty.
Moments of inactivity allow us to recharge, realign, recover, and pour back into ourselves the knowledge, insights, courage, and energy we need to be prepared when a richer and more abundant season germinates. And while that abundance may not come in the form of achievements or things we have wanted for ourselves, it can provide more spiritual endurance to embrace the present moment fully.
Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t even written a newsletter in months, and that’s largely because I’ve had to process all of this. I knew any insights I was gathering about where I was would be obscured by everything that was weighing me down. I've spent the past few months reframing my outlook on how my life is unfolding, and I've concluded that what is happening is simply a fallow period. If I think of myself as a farmer and my life as my land, fallowing is essential to creating more fertile ground. Moments of inactivity allow us to recharge, realign, recover, and pour back into ourselves the knowledge, insights, courage, and energy we need to be prepared when a richer and more abundant season germinates. And while that abundance may not come in the form of achievements or things we have wanted for ourselves, it can provide more spiritual endurance to embrace the present moment fully.
I had been so focused on what I couldn't control externally that I became disconnected from myself internally. When you're fully in touch with your spirit, you know that uncertainty is one of the only guarantees in life. Our very existence is predicated on the fact that we can never be 100% sure where life will lead us or how it will end. It's easy to forget this when you are driven by pursuits instead of being fully present in the here and now. It makes me wonder if ambition and mindfulness are mutually exclusive because how can you live in the moment if your primary concern is moments that have not yet happened?
I grieve the versions of my future self I've conjured in my mind that are limited by my beliefs of what's possible. I engage my grief with curiosity and allow my imagination to expand even when reality feels constricted.
I'm still trying to find balance in all of this. So far, it looks like moving slowly on Mondays, centering joy in my creative work, releasing perfectionism, knowing when and how to get my brain out of work mode, and intentionally setting aside time to reflect, explore, play, dance, sing, and commune with nature. Disconnecting from social media and spending less time on my phone helps tremendously, too. By spending time understanding my frustrations, I’ve cultivated more peace and serenity. I've actually been thinking about the serenity prayer a lot lately. I don't consider myself religious, but it's one of the few prayers I remember and a good reminder when I'm overwhelmed with uncertainty.
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."
Beneath that wisdom to know the difference is the realization my issues with uncertainty are driven by a desire to skip pages on the story of my life that has already been written. Instead of trying to predict what is waiting around the corner, I can take moments of darkness to tap into sacred curiosity. A quote I recently read carries this sentiment:
"In the dark, a new being appears. A new being who has not the courage to face daylight. In the dark, people dare to dream of everything. And they dare to tell everything." - Anaïs Nin.
In the dark, I befriend my grief, get to know its inner workings and unravel my understanding of it. I recognize that my grief isn't for the life I've wanted but for my expectations. I grieve the desire for wanting to influence the outcome of things that are not 100% in my control. I grieve the versions of my future self I've conjured in my mind that are limited by my beliefs of what's possible. I engage my grief with curiosity and allow my imagination to expand even when reality feels constricted. I know that grief is non-linear and constant, so it doesn't feel honest to say that I will no longer desire what I've envisioned for myself, but I can grieve the parts of myself that felt like I needed those desires to be fulfilled to feel whole.
The Wedding by Dorothy West
This was a perfect summer read that I managed to get through in about two days. A 1950s-era bougie light-skinned Black family who spends their summers at their vacation mansion in Martha’s Vineyard prepares for the wedding of their daughter Shelby Coles, who is engaged to a broke white jazz musician while being pursued by a wealthy Black single father with a seedy past and some major baby mama drama. There’s also a decrepit, down-on-her-luck racist grandma whose only surviving family are colored folks. It’s a commentary on interracial marriage and how class influences marriage prospects. I watched the Oprah Winfrey Presents mini-series on YouTube after reading the book, which stars Halle Berry as Shelby and Lynn Whitfield as Shelby’s mom. The series doesn’t land as well as the book, mostly because many of the characters in the book are white-passing, and so a lot of the themes either didn’t translate or were simply not addressed. It reminded me just a smidge of Passing by Nella Larsen (whose film adaptation was far superior). Fun fact: It was Jackie O who ensured Dorothy West published this final book in her bibliography.
Eight Grade (2018)
I’ve been watching and studying a lot of coming-of-age films lately. Some of them are just okay, others have a great concept but poor story execution, This one was just right for me. Eight Grade follows the socially awkward Kayla, who has no real friends and an advice-centered YouTube channel that no one watches. I wanted to give Kayla a hug this entire film, it did a great showcasing the isolation and awkwardness of being a Gen Z 14-year-old. I was a little surprised that Bo Burnham made this movie, as I only know him for that weird Netflix movie he did, but this was pretty impressive. It made me want coming-of-age stories about awkward little Black girls—- and so I’m working on some!
Affirmations but make them Black
As I mentioned before, over the past few months, I’ve been working on reframing my mindset, and one of the things that has helped a lot is morning affirmation. These aren’t any kind of affirmations, they are mostly affirmations by Toni Jones and Chris-N-Teeb, who are well known for making their affirmations specifically for the Blacks. I like to start my week listening to So Perfect by Chris-N-Teeb or Talk to Me Nice by Toni Jones, the perfect soundtrack for moving slowly on Mondays!
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