I am not self-described as precocious. The percentage of actual wunderkinds is something like 2%… maybe 5%.
To be gifted implies rarity, and I am so sure that being enrolled in Quest (a gifted and talented program) at the age of 8 does not make me a qualifier. A victim of extra work, fastidiousness and elitism? Sure.
When I rolled out of bed this morning, I couldn’t help but think, “I am in the second decade of my life, and this is way too early for me to be conscious. How did I manage when I was a freshman in high school?” I was up at 6AM, drawing on the blockiest brows with the darkest shade of pomade, scrubbing bronzer on my cheeks hoping I’d one day grow into my round, flat face.
I was likely lethargic then too, but it felt manageable. Nowadays, waking too early and sleeping too late causes this devastating spike of cortisol that makes me uncomfortably anxious. It’s not advisable to dismiss the feeling, since the mornings often set the tone for the rest of the day. I tried avoiding this by sleeping in as much as society deems acceptable.
This action is honorable – making this decision as an adult garners empathy, a compassionate nod, and intrinsic understanding of the territory of adulthood. As a child, you’re rewarded with frustration and criticism, because the same decision is brattish, naive, unearned. Why be tired as a kid, when the only thing accomplished is coloring outside the lines, staining a pair of brand new jeans and tearing off the edges of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a tired mother made before taking a sip of her well-needed but stale drip coffee?
We’re conditioned to live in pale color.
It starts when you’re 5, if your parents had the time to care for you til then, or 2 1/2 if you’re like me, enrolled in daycare by a single parent who works a 9-5, not accounting for the morning rush. We aren’t necessarily taught to be tired, but are trained to be okay with it.
If it seems like it’s an active choice – I want to have dark under eyes, listen to obnoxious radio hosts and brand my mornings as the ‘7-9 before my 9-5’ – then it’s that much easier to be content with being exhausted. In fact, the idea of fleeing the so-called ‘capitalistic hellscape’ has done nothing but created an even longer, more performative working day.
Make sure your Anthropologie duvet cover is pristine, ensure that your IKEA beside carafe is full, and never show globs of toothpaste in the sink during your ‘day in the life!’ Take the extra time to organize your color-coded wardrobe (full of staple pieces you’ll wear once or twice), take three hours to cook (and shoot) the easy dinner idea you had in mind, and throw back your second quad espresso of the day, ’cause pilates later is definitely gonna kick your ass. Brand yourself, and choose wisely: are you a clean girl? A cool girl. The girl with the coquette makeup, or perhaps the man-eater. Remember, you can’t possibly just be yourself.
Regardless of your decision, and the endless time spent broadcasting it, know this: at the end of the day, you would’ve been a little less worked with that dreaded 9-5.
I am tired. We’re all the same – few perspicacious than others – openly willing to enclose ourselves in even tinier boxes than the ones originally provided, given the illusion of choice and rarity. To differentiate yourself from others is an edge, a way of uniqueness that reaffirms you are not your worst thoughts about feeling insufficient, being unworthy or, the most unbearable, being akin to others. I say all this with the very female perspective in mind, because while the concept is not exclusive to women, I hardly see men being this categorized.
So, as a former non-official ‘gifted child’ I am essentially saying: the competition to be aesthetic, different and socially superior to others is quite literally traumatizing a generation. The same way I got assigned more multiplication sheets in third grade, we assign ourselves more work to seemingly outperform one another. There’s nothing wrong with striving for more! But when did we stop making art for fun? When did it all become driven by accolades, bragging rights, and conversation starters?
Once upon a time, I’d write and be happy my stupid little stories made their way from the star-like neurons in my head to the infamous and cringeworthy Wattpad. I managed to garner a comment or two, urging me to publish the next chapter of a corny love story. The idea that someone would want to read what I wrote and actually liked it felt amazing. Somewhere along the line, I grew insecure and doubted myself so much I wouldn’t even let my thoughts pour out from a cheap fountain pen to a journal stuffed in the back of my desk.
It became about whether it was good. Were my ideas stupid? Did I have too many run-on sentences? I read a novel and wanted to smother myself, thinking my words could ever be lapidary like that. I learned that folks typically publish their first book in their mid 30’s and figured I shelf my ideas ’til then. Saw the shiny awards celebs held in both arms and decided if I couldn’t be that good, what was the point of trying? What was the point of even hoping I could excel at the written word when there were so many people better than myself?
Slowly, it’s gotten better. I recognize that the deeply longed-for Academy Award is actually solid bronze, and is not at all objectively indicative of quality. That a low-budget student film can premiere in a shoebox Brooklyn apartment and still be showered with praise and an overwhelming feeling of success and happiness. A web series I wrote when I was 19 can be awful and I can still call myself a writer. I can self-describe as a filmmaker, without discredit.
I can work my 9-5 and, if I choose to broadcast it, do so honestly. Be real with others and reassure them that 90% of artists have to have day jobs because while the other 10% don’t, mommy and daddy cover the costs. Give reason to others to not play the comparison game. Reaffirm that the idea that 100% of people on social media are honest about the BTS of their lives is completely unrealistic. Debunk the casual implication that without three streams of passive income you’re considered a chump.
I’m glad I’m not alone in protesting this – too many of us struggle with avoiding cataclysmic ennui. The expectation to perform ‘visually perfect’ at all times is the cherry on top. I adore taking in social media but I have to say, it’s wrecked havoc on my self-esteem and like an addiction, it’s going to take time to undo the effects. I want to be keenly aware of what I’m consuming, and tailor it in such a manner that makes me excited and inspired. I want art to feel like art again.
Now… with all of that off my mind… here’s the past two months in review:
Aside from evaluating the pacing of my life, as dissected above, I’ve also taken time to reflect on my bottled-up emotions. Back in September, I split from my partner of a year and remained phlegmatic for the most part. I reminded myself it was a long time coming, and I was lucky enough it was not only mutual, but healthy. In retrospect, and obviously so, I still felt crushed by the ending and subsequent return of loneliness.
I decided to plan a mini girl’s night, hosted at a friend’s pad, and between sips of soju I reminded myself that I don’t like who I become when drunk. Friendly, confident, and too often overly emotional. As if the cells in my body could understand, and in empathy, my stomach refused anything that wasn’t water. I drove home hours later in tears anyway, upset that the love-tinted glasses had come off and the honeymoon phase had eroded in the face of callous and turbulent waters I’d long grown weary of.
Always the dumpee, never the dumper, I had wrongly assumed that being the decision-maker (or in my case, instigator) was always the easier thing to process. I could recognize that I was unhappy, unfulfilled, and most of all, young and dumb. Still, knowing that the decision I made was correct did not stop me from feeling so lachrymose. And why? When it wasn’t all that long, when we were polar opposites, when we’d gone from skimming to skipping each other’s thoughts. Maybe I felt that I’d lost someone who I believed could understand and, well, tolerate me.
One night, he dragged me to an art and crafts store to buy paintbrushes. We spent half an hour swapping canvases, swirling acrylic paint and giggling at whatever we added. When he first handed me my canvas back, and I furrowed my brow. “What were you going for?” “The sunset,” he said it as it was obvious. Poor guy is colorblind. Like, actually colorblind. The romantic sunset he spent the past 10 minutes on looked like a blood-red apocalyptic wasteland. I added a flying saucer. Maybe it could be Mars instead.
Adaptive. Like a chameleon, I decided wherever I didn’t make sense, I’d just color myself the same hue and pass myself off as the right thing. I’d get along with the indifferent friends! Play the cool girl game, where I too was insouciant. Completely fine with being sidelined, non-prioritized, and frankly, demonized. I say this all affectionately. I am not bitter, I’m not angry, just reflective. I remind myself of all of this whenever I think I miss the way things were.
And maybe this is just dating in your 20s. In fact I’m sure of it. The 30-somethings on TikTok talk shit while they mix their martinis, directly speaking to yours truly. They talk colloquially, as if we’d been friends for years. Urge me to dump the guy I have my doubts about, not to stress too much about my career, and always wear sunscreen – even when it’s cloudy. They do their best to validate how I feel, call me beautiful, and insist that things get better.
They also keep it real: dating is hard, and very lonely. There’s the guys that want in your pants, there’s the on and off situationships, the ones that got away, the love bombers, the cheaters, the lovey-dovey ones that haven’t gotten over their high school ex, and the list goes on. There’s the very real possibility you’ll find the one, until you actually find the one, and to your surprise, that one wasn’t right either. There’s the undeniable fact you’ll meet someone who gets it right, only for the spark to be missing.
You may even have the infamous experimental phase full of one-night stands. Know that this is a very optional choice. Know that you can also practice celibacy, if that’s what you want. Understand that at no point do you need to settle. That whatever it is you’re looking for is out there in someone, but in the meantime, is discoverable in yourself. And on and on and on…
I’m letting myself process this, and am unfortunately attentive to the fact it’ll take time. In October, I filled my time with hours of hunched-over writing for my latest screenwriting class. I wrote and rewrote the same pages, submitting them nearly biweekly for review. The first few drafts were complete shit, but the final day of class rolled around, and my instructor and I agreed it was finally looking like it was in good shape. I didn’t get as far as I would’ve liked, but she reminded me that it was better to fix the issues now than plow through them and be fucked later. In fact, she expressed that she wished everyone else in class would’ve done the same. It made me feel better – getting further word count wise is an accomplishment on its own, but knowing I’d put in the time and work to make my existing word count quality was gratifying.
When Halloween rolled around, my family and I made our way to Chicago. I was excited to see the electric city that I once called home. Gluten-free pumpkin donuts and warm coffee from Stan’s made me feel like a teenager again. Later, I plucked a memoir off the shelf of a mom and pop bookstore and stood in the corner near a monstera. I ruffled through the pages and paid the premium – I’ve been trying to get back into reading. It’s odd to call myself a writer knowing I’ve avoided reading for the past few years. I blame my rigorous school textbooks for keeping me away.
Over the next few days, we attended parades, grubbed at food halls, and poked through thrift stores. I held a Sony camcorder the entire time, insistent on saving the memory. My favorite place by far was the Lincoln Park Zoo. I’m not a huge fan of animals in cages, though I frequented the grounds during my college years. The leaves had all drooped and oxidized into an array of muted yellows, oranges, and reds. I felt cozy in the cold and wondered if I’d ever come back to live there. Maybe. The second to last day in the city ended on a shitty note, given I made my way to the ER for the dumbest reason ever. Hooray Halloween. I hated leaving on a bitter note, but it was a bad day, not a bad life.
Since, and throughout the month of November, I’ve focused on feeling better mentally and planning my move. Resentful of how long it’s taken, I’ve tried to soften my feelings by reminding myself that I’m on nobody’s schedule but my own. I planned for mid-December, and am currently rethinking it. Would it be easier to go the first of January? Probably. The holiday season will have come to an end, there’s likely more subleases and/or Airbnbs to stay in before committing to a year-long lease. My contract ends January 5th, and while I’m hopeful about being brought on full-time, I also know I can’t pull all my eggs into one basket. So in the meantime, I’m weighing on whether to delay my plans for 3-ish weeks.
I don’t know. Ugh. Universe, please give me a sign.
To distract from the fear of the unknown, I’ve resorted to taking myself out on solo dates, investing in a pair of industry-leading headphones, incessantly bouldering, and streaming romcoms like Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s fun.
I am very, very worked up lately. I want everything to work out perfectly, and I’ve no choice but to be delusional enough to assume it will. I don’t know how, but it will. Regardless of whatever decision I make, it’ll be the right one! The worst-case scenario (and I am being completely serious) is that I grow frustrated, sell my car, and travel the world til I figure it out. I mean, it’s just the logical thing to do. I know I shouldn’t but I keep peeping my ex’s socials, slightly jealous that he’s traveling in Qatar and I’m not. I even had the chance to be in Doha myself, but it didn’t seem right. All respect for The World Cup, but I’ve never been into soccer.
C’est la vie. Come the new year, I’d love to plan a solo trip to London or something. Thailand? Ireland? Japan? I’ve no clue. I will continue writing (as always), enjoy my newfound infatuation with Vietnamese coffee, and try not to stress too much about the moving stuff. The great thing about having no clue what you’re doing is that you make it up as you go. I’m a master at that.