Once upon a time at the age of 25 I had a revelation. I was lying on a perfectly white “linen-ed” bedspread, flat on my belly with my hands and feet spread to the ends of all of it. My face pressed into the perfect pillow, my eyes opening like a little newborn duckling ever so slowly to the morning dawn I was: at peace. My boyfriend at the time (I’m just going to start calling them thing 1, thing 2, etc. You get a *fake* name if you’re a decent human) had decided to stay at his place for the night so I woke up the next morning with this sense of freedom.
The kind of freedom that comes when you can just sleep any which way you want without someone else in your bed. You can drool, sweat, not be woken up by drunk snoring and let the mascara drape under your eyes without worry that someone else can really see you. At 25 this worry had definitely not escaped me. At 21 the worry was so real, I use to leave my then boyfriend’s (thing -.004) house before sunrise. Like a bad kid at Jesus Freak camp, 3am would hit and I would pack my things and kiss him goodbye and he would beg me not to go. Why was I leaving at such a god forsaken hour? “I feel used” he would say. What sort of person would neglect the chance to cuddle on a lazy Saturday? My fake answer was: I have to church. My real answer was: At 21 I was still fighting my acne issues and without makeup, my fear was that he would see the real person who wasn’t meeting the fantasy version of the first date me. The image I felt he had still not let go of. The image I feel like, when most men finally do let go of it, you become something else entirely and the stakes get too high, even for my taste.
Wait how did we get here? Oh yes, sheets!
Lying flat on my belly on sheets that cost more than my rent (annually) I was apartment sitting for a generous soul who lived in a high rise downtown with floor to ceiling windows lining the entire place.
As my hand grazed the sheet from my knee to reach under my pillow I had this deep vision strike me of what life was: one giant blank page.
I don’t know if it was the peaceful slumber, the newfound freedom, or the clear light readiating from the white linen, it hit me…hard.
At first the sensation of understanding just how malleable, new and straightforward life could be was terrifying but as I let my hand wash over the fabric and closed my eyes to this new way of seeing the world it became exhilarating.
Picturing your life as a giant blank page is something you do in your twenties because the clean and blank space that usually haunts me as an artist, finally had let go of me for one single moment in the confines of my morning wake up.
A blank page for an artist can be terrifying. It’s not narrow or specific enough to feel like you have only one choice. As we know limitless choice is NOT freeing, its debilitating at best and depression inducing at worst. I have the worst envy for savants, engineers, construction workers; people who wake up in the morning and do not have a question in even the deepest part of their mind that they are doing exactly what they were made to do. Or they get up, they go to work, cook dinner, go to running groups, take a class and visit their parents on holidays. I crave this kind of ordinariness that maybe is a misplaced sense of longing, rather than envy because no one really has this life, at least not for long. Eventually the blank page is filled with sudden, unexpected, terrifying and if you’re lucky, electric, surprises: no one stays static for long.
I wish I could have held onto that electric feeling for longer. It was like a blanket for my mind. No sooner had the thought entered my mind the reel of “What is Erin doing with her life?” began, interrupting my moment of zen. I knew what I wasn’t doing: going to school. Everything after felt less linear and confident. Where was my identity entrenched? Was it children? Was it in my relationships with other people? Was it yes, with theatre, but to what extent? My reflection not matching the other people around me, felt so disjointed. Even when I did win, I would go searching like a thief in the night for the one thing that someone said to confirm my anxiety: that of course I had been faking this artist thing the whole time and dammit they found me out! I’ve been revealed! Like the wizard of oz but with less of a booming voice and a sweatier upper mustache.
Such is the plight of perceptive people (say it five times fast): you don’t want to miss something that could be true and how often do people really tell you to your face how awful you are? How often did I? Not that often…
Now, as the magical age of 30 has lived with me for almost a year I have some things to say about your 20’s vs. 30’s.
I think my 30th birthday party (a giant disappointment) prepared me for my 2016-2017 route. A route eerily similar to that of my 20’s because once again I am sitting in a coffee shop, in front of a blank page, job searching, downing caffeine, inches away from my old seminary apartment, minutes away from meeting with an advisor from the very place I left. The routes, the peaks, valleys and action items are very similar. The only thing that has changed is: me.
For as I walked into this coffee shop, I was met face-to-face with an ex-guy whom I went on three dates with (thing -.2670). He was horrible to me, just horrible. I gave him three different opportunities. Opportunities for him to just reveal the very amazing person I knew was underneath all the bullshit. He spoke so eloquently, his faith was real, he was a good single dad but he also treated me like a prize, never returned my calls, used and abused me basically. At 23, I would have walked into this coffee shop and died with anxiety, drama and shame. At 30, I saw his face behind the counter, I saw what attracted me to him and I decided to pretend as if I didn’t know him at all because…why? I could be polite and say a few awkward “how are you’s” but the Chicago in me just doesn’t want to play for anything less than keeps and what sweet savage revenge to have him believe I can’t even remember him, kind of like how he treated me. The Christian side of me may win, offering up a peaceful handshake and a “I hope you’re doing well” after I close my laptop and ready myself to leave or maybe I’ll just move on with my day, happy that I’m not 23 anymore.
While nothing magical happened to me after 30: I’m very disappointed, angered, hurt and saddened by all this year has brought me, however, I’m also not. I can hold both of these things opposing views in place. At 30 I know how to do that. I know how to walk into a coffee shop and not attach people’s bullshit to the sleeves of my heart. I know how to sit in the exact same place and ask different questions. For literally as I sit right now staring outside of the window pane I can see for the first time a building I never saw for the entire year I lived beside it’s foundation. I walked by this building every day for a year and yet I never questioned or considered what it might be. From the outside it looks like an old building/community center with a park attached. As I discovered, three months ago it is actually a thriving actors’ gymnasium and a theatre that is working tirelessly as a voice for reason. How did I miss this? Was I really that depressed for a year? Yes. Did turning 30 correct my vision? Absolutely not. I did the hard work in my twenties to make sure that happened. I went to a lot of therapy, had parents who did not give up on me when I was ready to, was on antidepressants for a few months and I learned how to say, “fuck it” a lot more.
At 30 I really hope for a lot more than I fear. I hope that my relationships get stronger, healed and healthier. I hope I am able to let go of my anger towards…most things. I hope that no matter where I sit in front of a blank page, I remind myself to look around and say, “Fuck it. I’m going in.”
For a blank screen, white bedspread and piece of empty paper is really just another way the world is trying to remind us we’re never really messing up, we’re just messy and that is just more material for the next story or investigation. For even in an empty bed, we’re never really alone, just full of more possibility. For even if I live my whole life with the tortures of being an artist I wouldn’t trade it in, for these eyes can see more than a building made of stone, I see a million worlds unfolding right in front of my face. A sea of possibility…
Check out my page Freedom//Justice for more stories of freedom. Bey well.