on twentysomething dreams

One morning, I was having coffee with A., a new friend, who asked me how it was to be 24. At first, I didn’t understand her question, because she was older by about six years, and so had gone through 24 herself. I asked her what she meant, and she said, “How do people your age view your careers? Your relationships? What do you do for fun?” Again, I was puzzled, because not only could I not presume to speak for my peer group, but I also wondered whence her questions came. Was she curious about my worldviews, specifically? But she already said that she meant the typical 24-year-old mindset, if there were such a thing.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose it’s different for everyone.” I thought about my peers. Some were running businesses and NGOs, some were still in school, some were in between jobs or dreaming of a different kind of employment or freelancing. Many felt lost, but most of us were pursuing what we liked—be it travel or cooking or activism or art—in some way. Not one of us was certain about which direction our life was going to take (really, who knows?). Some of us had considered ending it, some of us were building new lives with spouses and kids. Some of us were in committed relationships, some of us were not, and some of us had just come out to our friends and families, seeking acceptance and love. That most of us are on Facebook is why I know these things.

“I suppose you’re right. It’s different for everyone,” A. said as I my tablet beeped with the notification that she had just added me on FB. “I asked,” she continued, “because I spent the last nine years shut in. And now here I am, I’m thirty, and I don’t mind just doing my thing and being on my own.”

I recalled our previous conversation, where she told me that she had just come out of med school, and I realized that she must have spent her twenties poring over books and body parts. I studied her bright, makeup-free face, her easy grace and openness, her confident, straight-backed stance that made her look taller than her barely five-foot frame. She didn’t look like she spent the past nine years “shut in” at all. If thirty looked like that, maybe I shouldn’t feel too anxious about reaching it.

I turned 24 just a few months ago, to not much to-do, and it doesn’t feel any different from being 23, which must be why I keep forgetting that I’m no longer 23. For me, the only difference is that 24 is closer to 25, and I’m not even halfway through my quarter-life bucket list, though I’m no longer interested in pursuing some of the items there, like returning to Sabah to climb up and down Mt. Kinabalu in a day or publishing a book, in the next year or so. How swiftly we change and our priorities shift.

I feel good at 24, though. I’m not as physically fit as I was two years ago, but I am happier. I feel a little less stupid, less anxious, less lost. I have a better idea about what I want from life and how I may give back to it, and what I can’t and should not stand. I feel hopeful and even excited about my plans for the future, though getting through all the long years and months and weeks and days ahead still seems tedious.

My 24 years have taught me, among other things, life’s unpredictability, its irreverence for even the best-laid plans. Even so, my propensity for organization, focus, and goal-setting, and my desire for security and a modicum of control over my life lead me to persist in drafting plans, from itineraries and weekly schedules that account for every hour, to lists of Things to Accomplish in the short and long terms, divided according to months and years.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the direction my life is taking. Even though I am learning the values of patience and gentle unfolding (for unintended, harmful consequences often result from rushing or forcing events into our desired ends before they have earned their rightful conclusions), this doesn’t preclude me from working hard to nudge things toward a particular direction. So while I am enjoying and learning much from my teaching practice, I know I need to start preparing for when I’ll Level Up. My most important goal now is to pursue further education abroad in the fields of philosophy and poetry (I mean poetry in the broader sense of the poetic, the metaphoric, especially as it manifests in literature, the body of our best dreams and forms of expression), at the risk of feeling that my studies are neither useful nor socially relevant—though of course I believe it is relevant (for if language encompasses our world—if language is all our world—then every event necessitates an act of literary criticism, no matter how “automatic” and unconscious the process may seem. And, after all, the important things in life, e.g. “Does he like me?!?!” are not always plain to the understanding).

Since I took a break from my philosophical studies to teach with the English Department, I’ve been easing back into philosophy by sitting in classes and reading books about the philosophy of language. Maybe next semester or next school year, I’ll re-enlist MA classes at my university and complete my INCs, as I look for suitable graduate programs that explore the intersections of literature and philosophy, and markets for selling my organs to pay the tuition scholarships.

I still plan to travel around Southeast Asia before or as I turn 25, though it may not be the month-long solo backpacking trip around Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia that I first envisioned. I’ll need to save up for grad school, after all. And then I want to visit the old Japanese Imperial Capital in Kyoto, hike along the Annapurna Circuit and go bungee-jumping from one of the highest suspension bridges in Nepal, see the mythic landscapes of Yunnan Province in China, and watch the sun rise from atop the temples of Borobodur in Yogyakarta. I want to stay for a few months in a Tibetan monastery, study ashtanga yoga in Mysore, learn Spanish in Peru, and sleep in strangers’ couches all over Europe.

I looked at A. again. She was traveling to South Korea in a few days. She was a dancer and a yogini and a doctor and a friend and a daughter and a lover, and she was only thirty. I thought, gods, what a wonder it was to dream and be young.

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