A Message from the Present

Dear 15-year-old self,

It's the year 2013. I write to you from the future.  I know that in the year 2003, you're contemplating many morbid yet genuinely curious thoughts of life, death, mortality, and purpose, so I may as well get this bit out of the way: you are still living, breathing... and still writing vain self-reflective blog posts, apparently. 

Allow me to introduce myself. I'm you, ten years from now. You survived high school, graduated university, and you have a job. Spoiler alert: you're a teacher. Glad to have gotten all that out of the way. Now, I know that my revealing all of that bears little to no weight on you right now because until every single one those things comes to fruition in the next 10 years, you'll continue to writhe and worry about each thing and then turn around and say that it's because you fussed and fretted about every little detail that you were able to survive, graduate, and what have you. There's nothing I can do about that.

Moving on, then.

I know that what you most desperately want to know is what being a grown up feels like. I know that you think that feeling of being a grown up will come in a "long, long time from now--in, like, 3-5 years". Let me tell you honey, that "I'm a woman, now" feeling will settle in in about 10 years.

Here's what it looks like, though:

You live abroad right now. It's November and you're wrapped up in a mustard and maroon colored fleece cloak, sipping on Ceylon tea (you've taken to tea a bit, but you're mostly drinking it out of politeness, as it was given to you by a coworker who just came back from England). You're at work (a high school), but it's a slow day because it's exam season, which is why you have time to write this letter. Your desk is scattered with the following items: 2 grid notebooks, one Japanese grammar textbook, Tupperware which contained the made for lunch, leftover beef stew you cooked last night, a pair of glasses (yes, you wear glasses now, just like you always hoped), a water bottle, an apple, one of your pocket journals, your Kindle (it's like a tablet on which you can only read books. Oh, a tablet it like a computer without a keyboard, but this one doesn't use back light, so it's easier on your eyes... never mind, you'll figure it out about 7 years from now), a name tag that says "Aloha, my name is April", a stuffed animal that you got on a trip as a summer camp counselor to Tottori, Japan, and a paperback copy of Lolita from the library, which you're reading out of curiousity because it's your neighbor's favorite book. Perhaps I should let you meet your neighbor letting you know that Lolita is his favorite book so that I don't spoil any pre-notions of your awesome Washingtonian neighbor... nah, it's OK, you have no idea what Lolita is about.

Grown-up-you looks exactly the same, minus the acne (be patient with Mom, she means well, despite how she nags and embarrasses you about your pimples). Speaking of Mom, you and her are besties now. Hard to believe, I know. It's hard to keep in touch with Mom, Dad, and sisters nowadays, so try not to fight with them too much while you have time to be truly together with them. Well, I know that you do fight with them plenty in your time, so just know that it gets better and you will have more independence from them than you ever wanted one day.

What does being a grown up feel like? Right now I feel tired and sick because I have a cold, but I came to work anyway. I feel healthy, otherwise. Last Saturday, I ran 16 miles and came out of it feeling stronger than I've ever felt coming out of a long run. I made country style potatoes, eggs, and almond pancakes from scratch for breakfast, carbonara for lunch (you don't know that is yet, but you'll like it), and beef stew for dinner. I spent Sunday morning cleaning my shared apartment with our boyfriend (standup guy, you'll like him) and the afternoon picnicking with a couple of mutual friends. In the evening, you all went to a 岩盤温浴, which is a Japanese-style spa. Overall, it was both a productive and relaxing weekend.

As for friends, social life as a 25-year-old is still something I'm getting used to. I still contact friends from high school every now and then--some friends, once every couple of months, others, once a year. Your 20th year and the couple of years after was very social--more so than in high school, if you can imagine. Now, at 25, people our age spend half their time being busy, responsible adults and the other half of their time with nowhere to be, a decent amount of money, and no one to go home to, so we go out of town, we go to bars, and we spend a lot of money on food, drinks, and entertainment. Weekends tend to be action packed with groups of friends; weekdays tend to be quiet evenings at home, solo runs around the neighborhood, and homemade dinner with Brian. I sometimes miss having a girlfriend to invite over to do nothing and talk about everything with. I sometimes miss living with a house full of people. But I also realize that this is a temporary stage in my life--something new to try out. So I enjoy it for what it is. Brian usually comes home much later than me, so evenings are mine to do as I please. I'm learning that time spent alone can only be enjoyed differently from time spent with others. When I think of "joy", I usually think about laughing with others, swapping stories, cuddling, playing a game with someone... I'd be hard pressed to imagine a scenario by myself that involves joy.

"Just found joy... I'm as happy as a baby boy" This song lyric just played as I typed this. Little by little, I am learning to find joy when I'm by myself. It's completely different from my usual image of joy. Here's what I've figured out so far, though. Joy by myself is:
  • Listening to jazz and classical on a really, really good sound system, like my Bose headphones or Bose speakers. I'll sometimes catch myself staring at nothing but listening to everything--the tiniest sounds of a triangle being struck, the distant beat of a timpani drum.. and my eyes well up with the sound of it all. I don't think it's possible to have such an overwhelming, heartbreaking, and heartwarming moment in music unless I'm completely alone.
  • Writing. Uninterrupted writing. Scratching that itch to get something out on paper, rereading what I read, and actually liking it.
  • Creating something. When I was in college, this meant crocheting. Lately, I've taken to cooking while listening to opera. It makes me feel like the classiest millionaire living in a penthouse in New York City. 
  • Inhaling new information. When I was caught up in the hustle and bustle of keeping up with everyone's birthday shindigs and rendezvous, it was hard to devote any time to comparably tame and stuffy time-wasters like watching documentaries, listening to radio podcasts, and reading non-fiction. God, can you believe you read non-fiction now? And that it's actually interesting to you? 
It's evening, Thursday, now. I'm home by myself. I usually go bouldering on Thursdays after a 5 or 6-mile run and dinner with friends, but I'm still feeling rundown from this cold, so I caught an early bus, train, and another bus home. This morning, besides my usual classes, I had a special "storybook time" at lunch with students who wanted to sit in and listen to a story in English. There were as many teachers as there were students attending, and plenty of pictures being taken. Afterwards, I finished up Lolita and studied another chapter of Japanese. I wanted to cook tomorrow's lunch and squeeze in a quick yoga session, but I decided to just rest and not push myself. I wasn't sure if that was me being lazy or smart, but it's what I decided to do, and I'm learning not to beat myself up over choosing to relax.

Anyway, I think I'll wrap up here with a few words of wisdom, aged at just 25-years: Try not to get lost in that annoying feeling of helpless despair on late nights. Go to bed earlier. Know that bad feelings are part of what makes good feelings good. Know that bad feelings pass, but the only way to get through them is to get through them. Let yourself fall deeply in love--often. You're allowed to fall in love as a teenager and you're allowed to fall in love more than once. Your heart will break and you'll wonder how to piece back together a heart that's burned to ashes... and when you recover, you'll be sideswiped by a different kind of heartbreak in an unexpected way. And that's OK. You'll come out of it OK. 

Stop pulling all-nighters to nit-pick on papers or to cram for exams (those all-nighters will end up killing your performance on test day!). Make time for fun. Always say yes to new opportunities. Don't be afraid of making space for yourself in seemingly closed off groups of friends. Go easy on yourself when you make mistakes, but go hard on yourself when you feel like giving up. Some people will walk out of your life--let them go. Cultivate new relationships, but don't neglect old ones. If a relationship seems like a bad one, it is a bad one. Let yourself get really, really emotionally close with people--there's no reason to hold back. If they hurt you, intentionally or unintentionally, if you lose them, or if you drift apart, you'll still have come out having gained from that relationship. Your sanity is precious, take care of it. Your gut-feeling is right, follow it.