23 Things I’ve learned being 23

  1. After years of begging my parents for a dog and more years of identifying as a cat person it turns out I’m not a pet person! I like animals just fine – I just don’t want to responsible for them permanently. Also: I firmly believe that it is incredibly unsanitary to sleep with an animal in your bed.
  2. Before you vent to someone: journal about it. It’s a better way to get out what you feel without having to make it make sense to someone else AND you can rant about the same thing over and over and no one will mind! I’ve starting doing it during quarantine as a way of preserving my thoughts and feelings during this time. I do it right before bed, and I’ve noticed that on that nights I do spend 10 minutes jotting some stuff down my heart feelings noticeably lighter when I go to bed.
  3. But also: over processing is a real thing.
  4. Country music is actually good when it’s not about patriotism/misogyny.
  5. Being an oversharer is not charming/cute/cool.
  6. If someone doesn’t like me – it’s none of my business as to why.
  7. Being desired is meaningless.
  8. One of the hardest things to do in a friendship (and IMO one of the most important) is to hold each other accountable.
  9. Buying plants = serotonin
  10. It’s very interesting that as a formerly extremely messy teenager I’ve become someone with kind of high standards for cleanliness.
  11. I don’t know if I belong on the East Coast, at least long term.
  12. Sometimes the best opinion to have on a subject is “I don’t know.”
  13. I don’t care if you don’t believe in astrology but I do care if you’re obnoxious about it. Some belief systems are not inherently more true than others. Except Scientology which is completely false.
  14. Christianity and socialism are inherently extremely compatible. I also don’t think you need to be a “perfect Christian” to be allowed to have an opinion/critique the faith.
  15. There’s a line between being an extrovert and using external things to distract yourself.
  16. Oh my god mortality is terrifying. It really took a global pandemic for me to fear death.
  17. I have to stop seeing the world in black and white. The problem isn’t my political views, it’s how I view people that disagree with me. And I’m not talking about fascists or Nazis or avid Trump supporters. I have this ugly, knee jerk reaction to anyone that isn’t politically close to me. And while politics are deeply personal, there are tons of shitty people on the left and good people who have other political beliefs. I’m not saying I need to start stop talking shit about the demonic turtle that is Mitch McConnell, but I need to judge people for who they are beyond their politics. Maybe I’ll even start swiping right on moderates.
  18. Boundaries are real things that are very important to establish with people you’re close to!
  19. Twitter is a net bad for my mental health.
  20. Even adults have to parent themselves.
  21. If they like you, you won’t be confused.
  22. Projecting past hurts onto new people hurts you the most. Let it go sis!
  23. Honestly, the Twilight movies are kind of good.

daisies, etc .

Today is tender white calves and toes 

The impulse to buy yourself flowers, kiss someone when the sun is still out

A new year of its own kind – the sun tucking its fingers underneath your skin 

The wet green waiting, your mouth tasting of tomorrow 

We want to touch each other again, lace fingers in the grass, underneath the trees, turn high school poems into heat-pinked flesh 

Clean your floors

Open your windows

for a while 

We will remember Eden

A poem for Boston

Boston is an old boyfriend

who I reminisce about often.

It’s a relationship made beautiful in the past tense.

At the time it was too dark to see my hand in front of my face, to see beyond next week, next month.

But here was a cold, winter bed of becoming, the sense of being unleashed upon a city where every face was a stranger, every night limned with the possibility of disappearing.

Here was joy in parceled out shiny moments, stored deep in the pockets, constantly brushing against the fingers, worn smooth by the physical act of remembering.

the quiet of snow, the damp quiet breath of summer, the sense of time slipping like sand.

I arrived heartbroken and left heartbroken and somehow that is a selling point.

There was something there to fall in love with.

The actual city that never sleeps

I came back from India over two weeks ago and I’ve been struggling to write about it. There’s so much I want to write about: complicated feelings of first world guilt, wondering how different I would be if my parents hadn’t immigrated, the feeling of belonging and yet being a stranger all at once. Being in Bombay makes me understand how tourists from the Midwest feel visiting New York for the first time.

I don’t know that I have anything new to say about being part of the diaspora. The culture that I am in touch with is often cheapened – filtered through the commercial cotton candy film of a Bollywood movie, further distanced by Catholicism, adrift in a sea of pretend Asian-American solidarity.

I arrived at the Mumbai airport in the middle of the night but I was wide awake. Partially because it was still daytime back on the East coast and partially because I was eager to be in a place I hadn’t seen a decade. The customs officer was deadpan when I said “good morning.” He didn’t say a word, even asking to take off my glasses for the picture they take by miming the act. He didn’t say anything until he handed my passport back to me. “10 years?” “Yes.” He twisted his lips in an expression that might have been judgement, surprise, maybe even an acerbic welcome.

The last time I was in India, I was 14 and still uncomfortable with my heritage, a side effect of the white suburb I called home. I spent the whole summer there – from late June to Labor Day weekend. My memories from the trip are less documented as this was pre-smartphone era for me. But I remembered the adjustment period. My grandmother making breakfast for us every morning, me reading the actual physical paper. Mainly for the celebrity gossip but I did catch some hard news. I came back to America with new books by Indian authors, 10 pounds lighter, and a diagnosis of depression by a high school social worker because I regularly thought of the Indian farmers who were committing suicide because they couldn’t feed their families.

I was so sure that this time my perspective on Mumbai  would be radically different, that the decade in between would offer a new context, a different light. But it felt the same. 10 years of finally learning the Hindi alphabet (please don’t ask me to actually say anything), reading feminist retellings of the Mahabharatha and wondering if it would be weird if I named my future daughter Draupadi, almost joining a South Asian sorority, and realizing my birth country has a very cool history (and present) of communism didn’t change much. Knowing more about Mumbai didn’t change the way I felt about it.

I realized that I blend in more on the yuppie downtown streets of DC, my current home, than I do on the crowded streets of Mumbai.

My mother and I sit in the women’s compartment of the train and I think about who I would be if my parents never left India. Sometimes I wonder if I would be a less complicated person. I would know more languages. Maybe I would have listened to my parents more when I  growing up. Funnily enough, the one thing I am incredibly sure of is that my politics would have moved left at a younger age. I know I am “better off” having had the chance to grow up here. But that seems too simple a conclusion, one borne of a western-centric perspective. Nothing makes me appreciate America more than being outside of it, but that is only because I miss the things I am used to. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that.

Mumbai is not just the city of my birth, but also the city my parents grew up in. Mumbai has 15 million more people in 80 fewer square miles. It’s not only the commercial center of India but also the home of Bollywood – so basically NYC and LA combined except with cows in the middle of the street. It’s hard to imagine my middle aged, suburban, sensible shoes wearing parents living in a place like this. It’s a reminder that the people they are are not what they always were, and that there are versions of my parents that I will never meet. The Grace and Malcolm that wandered the streets of Mumbai are not the same Grace and Malcolm that taught me how to read, or grounded me, or the Grace and Malcolm I call because I don’t understand my 401k. This trip was just my mom and I. And despite nearly 23 years of living in the US, she navigated the teeming city with ease.

My trip also gave me the opportunity to spend time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins who I have not see in a decade. My aunt and uncle looked the same as I remembered, but my cousins might as well have been strangers. It’s a reminder that even the people who seem the most solid, the most unchanging, are far more fluid than you know. It’s a reminder that we can only know people so well, because of how they constantly change. I’m sure the next time I meet my cousins, currently 12 and 14, they will be different people, and so will I. But because we’re family, we’ll find new ways to fit together.

I don’t know whether my relationship with India will ever be easy to understand, clean cut. It changed in the years I was away, and so had I. One day I’ll return without the shield of my parents, and I’ll experience the country as a true foreigner. Realistically, there’s not much difference between me and the goras (white people) that eat, pray, love their way across the country. I don’t speak the language, my stomach isn’t strong enough for road side food, and I don’t know how to drape a sari. But India and I, we’re family, and we’ll find a way to fit together, eventually.

It’s Okay to Feel Sad on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day sales in the United States are expected to reach about $27.4 billion this year. That’s an increase of $6.7 billion from last year. Overall, a great year for the purveyors of teddy bears and heart shaped chocolates. Given these statistics – let’s not pretend that V-Day at its core is anything but another opportunity to worship at the shrine of capitalism.

I have had a complicated relationship with Valentine’s Day. As a child I used to throw literal tantrums about going out with my family on Valentine’s Day. When I was old enough to be left at home, my parents and sister would go out without me and I was perfectly happy. Not sure why I was morally opposed to Valentine’s Day at age 8 but I like to think I was disgusted by the commercialism (even though I didn’t know what that word meant).

Since I have identified as SingleTM for most of my teen and adult life, V-Day has always felt more geared towards celebrating the friendships in my life (shoutout to Leslie Knope). Not to sound that that girl, but I’ve always felt that romantic love was not intrinsically necessary. Love as a whole, whatever form it came in, is. But if you’re single on February 14th, it can be a bit difficult to remember that.

In recent years I’ve seen a lot more people uplifting other “truths” of Singles Awareness Day, such as:

  • You need to love yourself before you love anyone else.
  • You need to learn to be alone before you can be with someone else.
  • If you just find happiness in being single, you shouldn’t feel the tiniest twinge of sadness on Valentine’s Day.

Quite frankly, all of these are false. While learning to love yourself and learning how to enjoy alone time are extremely important, they’re not prerequisites to being loved and they’re often an evolving life long journey. And regarding the last one, even if you are totally killing it being single (aka like moi), you can still want to be in a relationship. Both things can be true. Wanting and needing romantic love are two different things.

The other thing is that the feelings brought on by being single on Valentine’s Day – loneliness, sadness, not feeling deserving of love – don’t exist in a vacuum! We’re basically conditioned since birth to tie our self worth to a romantic partner. Especially if you’re AFAB (assigned female at birth), those feelings of desirability are so intertwined with how we view ourselves.

Most of the time, I’m pretty happy that I’m single. The three most important things in my life are my friends, my job, and myself. Dating is fun (most of the time). But occasionally, mostly on Friday nights when I make myself stay in to recover from the week/practice enjoying my own company, I feel a little despondent about my relationship status. I worry about dying alone and how long it will take people to find my body. In reality, I call my mom everyday and am extremely active in the groupchat so honestly it will probably take them 45 mins.

I have plans tomorrow night involving sushi and tequila with friends. And you know what, I will probably still feel a little emo around 2 am. And that’s okay!

For those happily partnered up – enjoy tomorrow. Celebrating love is never a bad thing. Maybe this is your first single V-day in a while, maybe like me you are used to being unattached, maybe tomorrow will bring up feelings of loss and nostalgia about who you used to love. Feeling lonely tomorrow will diminish everything else that your life is, it will not make you any less independent or strong or brave or confident. Try and spend it with people that you love, or spend it showering yourself in love.

You’ll be okay, and even if it doesn’t like you will, all that sappy themed chocolate will be on discount Saturday. That’s one thing to look forward to.

 

 

I thought I was used to this/yet another thing I need to be happy

I went to high school in a fairly conservative, extremely white area. Exhibit A: A member of the Gay-Straight Alliance was spat on by a parent at Back to School night for handing out flyers. Exhibit B: I caused an uproar (included accusations that I was “racist”) when I wrote an article in my school paper about the lack of diversity at school and how it impacted minority students.

In many ways, I am used to living among whiteness and conservatism.

And then I went to college and spent four years learning about leftism and organizing and how my feminism was incomplete without a race and class analysis.  I met people who shared a similar vision for the future. And then I graduated, moved home and then moved to DC, all in the span of 6 months.

2018 was a rough year and I got to DC, with a job I was thrilled about, and after living in suburban New Jersey for several months, I was ready to throw myself back in the fold of friendship. And these friendships have been wonderful – most old but some new. Many that have changed and gotten closer with the new proximity to each other. Relationships that I am deeply grateful for.

But as I hit the year mark in DC, I started to feel like something was wrong. Something was missing. Funnily enough, it took a mini high school reunion at my parent’s Christmas party to figure out what was wrong.

I don’t have a single close friend in DC who shares my beliefs. 

When I first moved here, I tried. I went to a few DSA meetings but didn’t find them super welcoming. I tried to get in touch with PSL a few times and didn’t succeed and ultimately gave up (but have recently succeeded woo hoo!). Let’s be real: I had a ready made friend group and was living in a new city where happy hour was legal (looking @ you Boston) and just wanted to enjoy myself.

Recently, I did a bunch of reading about Christian socialism and I wanted to go to a dive bar and spend a few hours talking to a friend about the relationship between faith and social justice and how apparently, there’s evidence that early Christians lived in communist societies. But I don’t anyone that would have been interested. So instead I called my mom and told her all about it. There’s a protest at the White House tomorrow about the US’s further involvement in Iraq and the potential war with Iran. Protests/large crowds make me extremely anxious and as much I want to go, I don’t know if it’s something I can do alone.

“Alone” is a good word for how this situation has made me feel. As fulfilling as my friendships are, my central friend group is all white, and without a single other person that shares my beliefs.

This might be my privilege talking, because my economic background and education and “good immigrant” status allow me to move semi-comfortably in primarily white, privileged circles. This isn’t the fault or responsibility of my friends. It’s 100% the result of my own decision making and complacency.

I’m realizing that feeling lonely can look like a lot of things. That you can be lonely for physical touch, be lonely for people who share your faith, be lonely for people who understand you.

Call me a snowflake but I’m lonely for a safe community where I can share my thoughts and ideas in a way that doesn’t have to end with an argument. Where I can question my beliefs without constantly feeling like I have to defend them.

If I had to wish for one thing in 2020, I would wish that I find those people and that I hold on to them.

 

 

a way to be yourself

I am no good at solitude, 

It must be poetic otherwise I will ball it up and bury it amongst yesterday’s leavings. 

Being alone makes me feel like I am burning youth, as if it is a dance that only exists under a watchful and appreciative eye. I am only alive when I am adored or making beautiful things. Otherwise I am scrawling in the margins, holding my breath as I step over a crack, somehow a paler, less filled in version of myself, one that doesn’t deserve intrigue or adventure but malaise that sits right underneath the skin like a vein. 

I never learned how to live with myself. Without sound, without asking and answering, without having a different heart to press my fingers over. What am I but what they see. A song is a song only after it’s been heard. I am always acting. Looking in the mirror like it’s the first time, dressing up for myself to mold my own soft, flabby edges into something else. I put on accents, try on phrases. My bedroom is a stage my bed is an altar. Come, listen to me pray.

Season 2, Episode 4 of Fleabag

I am Catholic in the way that God is the first neighbor I ask for a cup of sugar. I am a different girl than the one who wore white and believed it was Jesus on her tongue. I am a different girl than the one who felt the priests oily thumb on her forehead and spent the next year looking for the divine within her. There’s so much in this world that I don’t know how to do – so much I am doing wrong, bravely. To know that I can walk into a church and know my lines means there is always a place at the table for me. I go to confession once a year without telling anyone. I don’t think I need forgiveness, I just need to hear another person loves me in spite of. I try out different churches, dabble in Hinduism because maybe that’s more true. I don’t know how to separate the Church from its ghosts, the God I understand from the God that loves rich people. I have always talked back and He is the only one to never complain.

a need for chaos

On Sunday nights life feels like a death drop towards disaster.

You’re angry at the changing of seasons, at the bus that was 20 mins late, the person who doesn’t text back after a great date, the men who slide oily eyes over you when you walk home on the late side, wondering how effective your house keys are between your fingers. 

You think you’re missing out on love but what you really want is the taste of transgression coating your tongue.

The feelings that allow you to spin out, just a little bit.

Just enough to rinse yourself of the prosaic and the mundane.

You’re in search of the electric, the unrestrained. 

A good story that makes you feel like you failed your god.

You don’t know where you’re going, only that the road is long.

(Re) Learning How to Dress Myself

I’m 23 and 1/2 , or at least I will be in two days, and I’m learning how to dress myself. 

Okay, let’s rewind. To be clear, my mother has not picked out my outfits in many years and while I have solicited feedback from friends and family on important outfits (we’re all doing jeans and nice top, right girls?) I have mostly dressed myself for a long time. 

But lately I’ve been trying to change my approach to shopping and picking out outfits. At some point this year, I realized that despite my lifelong love of fashion and clothing – my first dream job was a fashion designer and model – it’s been a long time since I truly dressed for myself. 

Why? Because I haven’t liked my body. Because I wanted to be perceived as “attractive and desirable.” Because I was worried what people would think. 

Despite the style fails of my early youth (bangs, Ray-Bans, skinny scarves, fedoras, etc), I’ve always been relatively put together. But the emotion that stands out the most when I think about how getting dressed made me feel in my middle school/early teen years is shame. 

In high school I attended a Catholic youth conference one summer. In case you’ve never been a Steubenville conference it’s basically like Comic Con for people who love Jesus. Literally thousands of teenagers converge onto a college campus for a weekend of prayer, reflection and listening to, tbh, a VERY good Christian rock band. One year I purchased a shirt from the conference vendors – aka very milquetoast looking Midwestern Catholic moms – with some Cool Church Kid slogan on it. It was a standard blue v-neck. Nothing jazzy or super revealing. But one of the chaperones with us told me to go back to my room and change because “boys could look down my shirt.” So I did as I was told – telling my friends I spilled something on myself and had to change. At the time, I was really embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had worn something that could be construed as sinful at an event that was supposed to be about not sinning. I felt deeply ashamed of my body. 

Looking back, THIS IS INSANE. I was a teenage girl wearing a v-neck that a Christian vendor had deemed was appropriate. And even if they hadn’t given it their stamp of approval, the wandering eyes of teenage boys were not my responsibility. 

This was not the only time I felt that way, but definitely the most memorable. And so for the rest of high school and for most of college, I shied away from wearing anything even remotely revealing. Not because I didn’t like the way it looked, but because I was worried about what people would think and because quite frankly, I didn’t really like my body. 

Beyond covering up, my other goal when getting dressed was to look as slim as possible. I didn’t wear bright colors because I was afraid they would draw attention to my size, or make me look bigger than I really was. Busy patterns? You could forget about it. 

I dressed to make myself as small and unremarkable as possible. Oh but also hot, because the only thing that could make me feel good about my ungainly meat suit was of course, male validation. Looking skinny factored into things but I grieve for all of the fun, quirky outfits I’ve passed up over the years because I was worried about them being unattractive or unflattering. What an absolute prison the male gaze is. 

But in the Year of Our Lord 2019, I finally stopped dressing for other people. And I started dressing for myself. 

And what a freaking joy it is. 

This has obviously been a work in progress: a lot of following women with bodies like mine or larger on Instagram, Sonya Renee Taylor’s “The Body is Not an Apology”, some very hard work regarding self image, and of course an increasing realization that the only opinion on my appearance that matters is my own! 

The only downside of this is that I feel like I’m suddenly almost at square one with my personal style and have made some really weird purchases like white leather boots and sequin dresses. I’m learning that I actually *don’t* really like to wear super understated things, at least all the time. Someone recently shared their top tip for going shopping with me and I’ve been trying to put it into practice. To develop a personal style and stick with it, you have to first envision a style persona. Maybe it’s a gay space cowboy who thinks hot pink is a neutral or an outdoorsy ceramicist who loves a good drapey dress. Personally, I’ve settled on Parisian art gallery curator meets Mindy Kaling. Punchier colors and patterns in more streamlined, classic silhouettes with some fun statement pieces. But still French, d’accord?

Maybe a lot of you are already ahead of the game, or maybe you’re just a boring person who doesn’t care about what they wear, but I encourage you to think about why you pick out the clothes you do and who you’re trying to impress. After all, as Oscar Wilde, my ultimate life and style icon said, “Looking good and dressing well is a necessity. Having a purpose in life is not.”