Growing season

Flourish Vol. 36

When I chose to begin this newsletter almost exactly one year ago, it felt deeply silly. Self-indulgent. Embarrassingly earnest — something I’d rarely, if ever, allowed myself to be, and certainly not publicly. All I knew was that it felt urgent, and compulsory, to create this outlet. To allow my thoughts and feelings and interests somewhere to live outside of my own head, to stop depriving my inner life of oxygen for fear that I had nothing of value to say. As I look back at all that’s happened in the past year, I realize this was the first rumbling of a seismic shift in how I saw myself, and how I wanted the world to see me, too.

The truth was, I’d spent so much of my life striving for perfection, scared to death of failure and risk and vulnerability, that I’d backed myself into a corner of my own making. One where security carried more weight than happiness, where all creative pursuits and risky wagers and scenarios outside my own comfort zone were headed off at the pass. Because what if I tried something and was just horrendously, miserably awful at it; what if I looked stupid, what if I failed, had to crawl back with my tail between my legs? After all, is there anything more deeply mortifying than wanting something so sincerely and not getting it?

Of course, I realize now, the most deeply regrettable thing I could ever do was to not try at all. God, how embarrassing — to shrink and sanitize and censor yourself so as to never feel the discomfort of change, the growing pains of being alive, of finding yourself so unmistakably that it feels like finally coming home — whether that happens at 25 or 55. How tragic, to look back and realize with some quiet grief that you were never too old to learn guitar, or too “fat” to wear a bikini, or too inexperienced to try a new career — you were simply afraid. And fear is the most insidious thing; a mold and a cancer, a quiet manipulator, a thief that robs you of faith in everything you deserve to be.

That fear, or rather fear of that fear, is partly what motivated me to start this newsletter. It’d been festering under the surface for a while, the nagging realization that I was not living the life I wanted, at least not here. But I was an expert at finding distractions. In February, I’d booked a dream excursion with one of my best friends to Morocco, was given the green-light for a work trip to New York, and had unexpectedly found someone pretty special who — as my luck would have it — lived on the other side of the country. I painstakingly built that little house of cards for a while, willing it not to fall apart. And then the universe laughed.

Between the pandemic and an injury that limited my mobility for months on end, it’s hard not to feel as though this has been a lost year; a total wash in my personal and professional growth. And I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling the omnipresence of my own mortality, the existential weight of growing older with each shapeless day. But then, this year has been as much about dismantling old ways of life as it’s been about building something new. And everything that’s gone miserably wrong has been a blinking neon sign that it’s time to cut the bullshit, cut out the things that aren’t working, and actively, hungrily, relentlessly seek the life I want.

So cheers to a year that has asked me as many questions as stars in the sky, and happy birthday to this little newsletter and all of the answers it’s brought me.

I suppose this is all to say that in a few weeks I’ll be leaving California after eight ridiculously, heartachingly beautiful years. I’ve spent my entire adult life in this state; my current apartment is the longest I’ve lived anywhere since I left my childhood home. California is not so much a place as a character in my life, and I could — and probably will — write about it forever. My decision to leave has been a long time coming, and something I will probably extol about more once I’m on the other side of it. But for now, I’ll direct you to a newly discovered gem, Haley Nahman’s newsletter “Maybe Baby” (is this newsletter-ception?) which perfectly encapsulates my long-simmering feelings about Los Angeles and all the things it could no longer give me (although her words were written about her sister’s decision to leave New York.)

“At a certain point you have to construct a more grounded proposition for living here—one that accounts for the material conditions of your life. And if quarantine has finally given you the space and time to do that, and your conclusion is that it doesn’t amount to a life well-lived, I can both respect that and understand it has nothing to do with my decision to stay. Even if it breaks my heart a little. I suppose this process can apply to anything in life, whether it’s a city or a religion or a relationship. At some point your idea of a thing has to make way for reality, and avoidance can only get you as far as you can distract yourself.”

She continues on with this line, which sort of took my breath away: “This is the comedy of ‘wanting’ to love anything; you risk becoming an inadvertent salesperson, more committed to the pitch than your lived experience.”  

California was better to me than I ever deserved, but change is a natural — and necessary — part of life, and to deny yourself that, whether out of fear of the unknown, or unrequited devotion to the familiar, is the greatest disservice you could possibly do. Onward.

Reading and recommendations:

I didn’t expect Straight Up, an incredibly stylized little indie on Netflix, to make me feel as much as it did. Sure, its dialogue and aesthetic are stylized within an inch of its life, and I do think there were certain conversations about sexuality that could’ve delved deeper (I thought this review was fair — spoilers ahead!), but it was also incredibly funny and sharp and insightful about the ways in which sometimes there’s no winning in love, as much as you want it to work. When it was over, I found myself bawling and I wasn’t even sure why. Also, Kate Findlay is impressive as hell. Also also, the soundtrack. // The podcast I Said No Gifts, specifically the episode with Caroline Goldfarb, which made a very long, very hot drive back from Mammoth Lakes much more tolerable and felt like actually being able to go to parties with fun, funny people again // For black women in media, the ‘dream job’ is a myth // This tour-de-force profile of Michaela Cole // “Walking Home To You,” and the whole album LEMONS, by Nick Leng.

And this song, which has been running through my head like a favorite poem lately.

I’m not quite sure how to wrap this all up other than to say a thank you to my past self for making this space, and to current you for being here.