It’s been nearly a month since I turned 25, and every day I still try on my new age in front of the mirror of self-regard to see how it fits. How it fits: tight and uncomfortable, like a tailored silk dress that zips up all the way from the small of my back to the base of my neck only if I hold my breath and tuck my tummy in, the kind of dress that makes me want to ransack my closet for an old cotton tee, with tiny holes and loose thread, that ends two inches short of my knees. But, of course, I don’t wear that, at least not outside, where somebody might see me and think, What a shabby getup, has she nothing going for her? So instead, I hang the silk dress back in the closet, wear dark jeans and a button-up shirt, and tell myself, maybe if I work really hard today, tomorrow the dress will feel like a second skin.
That’s the thing about growing up, you have to look the part, act the part, become the part.
I wish I could say I’m not so far from there. But when I reviewed the bucket list I wrote when I was 22, I thought, wow, how… fresh, how fun, how seemingly unburdened by any sense of professional ambition, much less duty (this, of course, is my conscience speaking, as I am a very selfish person). I mean, most of my goals then involved going on some kind of adventure. Nothing wrong with that, of course, especially if it’s what lights up one’s life, but is an adventurous spirit and lifestyle the be-all and end-all? Or must it be cultivated to achieve some other end, to Make A Difference, in one’s field or in other people’s lives (but then, as Mark Strand points out in “Black Maps”: “… how would you know? // The present is always dark”).
I don’t know, man, to be honest I just want to live a quiet, peaceful life, own a few things, make just enough to be able to keep doing what I like to do and support the people I love, die young. But my (super)ego pushes me to push—to seek purpose, to be ambitious, to be brilliant, to empower others, to be able to say, The time I spent here was not wasted. I don’t seek wealth or fame or a million followers on Twitter. But I do want my life to matter, to me, and if not to me, then to those I inevitably touch (I’m looking at ya students, I don’t want to be the kind of teacher you simply wish to get over with). I’m not sure if that’s too much or too little to ask of life, but (if life is suffering then) I think it’s work enough.
I know, I know, these concerns belie just how young I am. Like, what about marriage, children, mortgage, that sort of thing, well I DON’T KNOW, as my little brother often gleefully points out, I seem to be on the road to spinsterhood (or single blessedness). So before I wax any more existential or insecure on you, my goals (baby steps!) for the next five years:
- Get my MA degree in Literature and Philosophy
- Present a paper at an international conference with someone I’ve cited in bibliographies
- Publish scholarly articles in at least one local and one international journal
- Teach a higher-level literature course
- Become vegetarian
- Establish a daily pranayama/Zen meditation practice lasting for at least 20 minutes (lengthening the duration as I advance)
- Accomplish the handstand, scorpion, and lotus poses
- Learn how to bike and swim (for goodness’ sake! Then bike up a cliff and dive into the sea)
- Go back to Chiang Mai and spend at least a month in Pinnan’s farm. Then take a two-week Vipassana meditation course in Wat Doi Suthep.
- Go to the UK and visit J., see a play at the Globe Theater, attend a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, research in the British Library, and go hiking in the Lake District National Park (among other things!)
- Spend six months to a year in Europe on an Erasmus Mundus scholarship
- Climb Mt. Halcon, Mt. Kanlaon, or Mt. Apo
- Help Brother Bear graduate
For now: finish checking these papers and submit grades by June 4.