We now know that we don't know: A birthday reflection

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added. -- New York Times, emphasis mine

When I visited my dear friend and college roommate Steph a couple weeks ago, we packed a metaphorical bag and six quarts of poetic trail mix and hiked down Memory Lane. It wasn't just stories and "where are they now" discussions; this round of reminiscing was multimedia-driven.

During the year we'd lived together at school (sophomore year, Lawrinson Hall, corner room), Steph had come to possess a camcorder that grew into an extra limb by the end of fall semester. (I know this doesn't seem impressive today, but given technology in 2002, having such a major piece of electronic equipment made you a minor celebrity.)

Steph took that camera everywhere. She filmed lip sync routines in our room, dramatic reenactments about cleaning out the fridge, running commentary around campus, car rides with high school friends. Nothing was off-limits. She just hit the red button and caught us all as we were: baby-faced, goofy, cocksure and scared shitless, with a surprising amount of time on our hands.

With a decade now between the students making the video and the women watching the video, and with our 29th birthdays approaching soon, we couldn't help but stand in awe of just how much had changed in and around us (starting with video camera technology).

Steph was feeling particularly reflective. She told me she'd found an old journal of hers where she listed what she'd have by age 30. It included:

  • Be married
  • Have one kid and/or be pregnant
  • Own my own home
  • Make $100k

She cracked up. "Well, that's not quite the reality, is it?" she said. No, not really, I agreed. I don't even remember what I once thought 30 would bring. Probably much of the same, especially the married-with-bebes part.

"We'll have to adjust our scale," Steph said. "Where do you think you'll be when you're 35?"

Hmm. Given our conversation to this point, I was reluctant to answer. I have no clue. In fact, the only thing I know now that I didn't know before is that we don't know and we can't know.

I can share what I'm hoping for and what I'm working toward:

  • Publish a book
  • Earn my MA in Writing
  • Travel to India
  • Find the love of my life
  • Pop out a bebe (and maybe another book)

Ultimately, though, life will take me where it wants. I wasn't predicting three years ago, much less 10, that I would still be in DC, that my job would have expanded, that I'd be on the cusp of grad school, that I'd be back on the dating scene, that I'd be writing picture books. Life swirled right along, taking my day planner and my false sense of security with it.

Trust me, I will still attempt to shape my future, as I will never be laidback enough to float along and take whatever comes. But I will also never be able to account for the economy, my health, drunk drivers running red lights, encounters with bad seafood, and other people's decisions.

Here's where you're thinking, "There goes Julia, veering into morbid birthday unhappiness land." I promise, I'm not saying any of this to be bleak. I say it because I'm hopeful. Life has been beautiful to me thus far. Whatever happens, I'll be a-ok at 35, however a-ok looks.

If anything, embracing poor fortune-telling skills relieves some pressure. I can't predict bad things OR good things. My wildest imagination might not be wild enough. Anything can happen (and I've been told that anything will).

So Steph, what do I want when I'm 35? I'd like to be satisfied with where I'm at. I want to have dynamic memories on hand and in progress. I hope I'm sitting back on a couch with you, talking about what 40 will look like.

That, I think, would be terrific.

Julia and Steph, sophomores no more. July 2012.

Prayer #218: Birthday Wish (29)

Imagination rests in the shadowy corner of the gray cage, its many-hued chest slowly rising and falling, waiting for me to release it.

Every so often, at my bidding, it steps forth for some mundane task. But I've never unleashed it. I've never challenged it. I've never trusted it.

This year, Lord, give me the courage to let my imagination run wild. Years are not bars, nor is failure. When heartache comes, don't let it calcify around what's boundless.

I wish for a vivid and visionary life. I wish for an imagination that can't recall captivity. I wish for faith in a wild creature.