Today is my birthday. There are so many things to feel about aging. Fearing birthdays and getting older, isn’t me. My camp is more worried that I won’t get to do and experience all the things I want before I die. I love celebrating milestones and reflecting on what I’ve done. But celebrations are a dual moment. So often, they are viewed as all happy, but they’re not. Celebrations are also a moment of grieving.
I have a few things left on my list to celebrate graduating from grad school. One of those is my traditional graduation tattoo. However, I did get to spend time solo hiking in Shenandoah National Park as part of closing that chapter. While walking along the trails and watching for bears and snakes, I thought a lot about my solo adventures two years ago in Yellowstone and Grand Teton and my medical leave seven years ago after the surgery that fixed my eighteen-year illness. I didn’t do any hiking on my medical leave. Instead, I did strength-building walks around my house, then ventured further each day into the park across the street. Each of these walks/hikes was a celebration. Each was a letting go. Each held fear of what’s next. Each carried an excitement of what was to come.
Celebrations are a perfect example of noticing the past, present, and future in one moment. My hikes around Yellowstone and Grant Teton started with crying the whole first day. Not only was I horribly jetlagged and couldn’t figure out the satellite radio (I listened to a Big Band station, which was just fine), my body was adjusting to dry heat and altitude, but I’d also woken up at three in the morning so I could eat, pack a lunch, and drive from my Airbnb to my destination before throngs of tourists arrived.
Plus, I was so burned out and exhausted down to my core. I’ve worked since I was a little kid, earning money to do things with my friends, travel, and exist in the world, but shortly before my trip, I’d quit my full-time job with benefits to be a full-time grad student with a part-time job. I was in Montana for the first time to attend the Elk River writing workshop and went a week early to explore. I got reasonable accommodations about half an hour outside of the north gate. The cheapest rental car I could find (which was hard to do in 2021. People were paying five times as much as I was), and I went for it.
It was a dream come true, and I had to balance my joy and excitement with a grieving process for leaving behind the world of stability I’d built for myself for so long. Even in my undergrad, I worked two to three jobs to keep up with other students who had money from their parents. So that first day, I cried as I drove through the snow that August morning and sweated my way around the geysers at Old Faithfull in the 90-degree heat. It was wild.
On my trip to Shenandoah, I thought about how much better I felt than I had just two years earlier. It was hotter than I expected and humid as all get out. I learned you can’t wear wool hiking socks in the summer south of the Mason Dixon (or so I was told afterward when people saw the horrible rash and scarring my socks left on my legs.) Not to mention the timber rattler see blog post. But even with all that, I could breathe in a way I couldn’t two years earlier. I was energized and proud of myself. I was also terrified and sad.
It’s hard going back into the job market after two short years. I took advantage of every opportunity and used the precious time I gifted myself as best I could. It ran out so quickly. Thoughts of returning to a full-time job and the worry over burnout and losing everything I’d worked so hard to achieve over the past few years are scary, with good reason. But I think it’s going to be about balance. My grandmother used to tell me she never met anyone who liked balance more than me.
To celebrate my birthday, I’m looking back, I’m looking at today, and I’m looking ahead. Here’s what I’m jumping into this next year of my life. I am working at the writing center at a local college. I’m in two editorial roles – CNF with West Trade Review and Fiction with New American Press, working with Developmental Editing clients, continuing to work on my writing project, teaching some classes online (the next one), and working my way through my magical/marvelous realism reading list (there will be a page just for this soon). I’m also participating in a year-long writing program with Writing the Wild. I’m pretty excited about all of this.
So here are my birthday requests:
Keep inviting me to cool things and understand if I can’t make it.
Continue to walk/hike with me in the woods.
Even if it’s to comment on my posts, I take too many pics of plants and mushrooms.
Join me for LIVE MUSIC!!!
Yes, please send clients my way for developmental editing.
Tell me about your TV and movie recommendations, but don’t expect me to watch them soon. I probably don’t have that platform, nor do I have the time. I’d rather spend my time with you.
Book recommendations. I have a bunch I’m reading right now, so it may go on a list for later.
Visits (even if online).
Time writing together (again, even if online).
Share your ideas for classes you’d like to take. I’m enjoying teaching online (and maybe in person).
Get together for a meal or a drink.
Exchang plants and cuttings (please help, my new office needs plants and art desperately).
Talk about books.
Talk about writing.
Talk about anything you want.
Friends and friendship!
Share your suggestions for writing programs for next summer, and I’ll share mine.
Yes, please, let’s do fun things.
Yes, to join me or offer suggestions for my graduation tattoo.
Thank you to all my amazing friends and family, who’ve been such a fantastic support system. I feel lucky every day to have all of them (especially my hubby and kitty) and in my life.