When I look down at my bare legs, my quads bulge out above my knees. Tan lines at the bikini line, mid-thigh and just above the ankle. My right knee is badly swollen and itchy with road rash. My back in sunburnt. My hair is all roots and split-ends. My arms are covered in little scratches from a mischievous kitten. The scratches have turned brown from the sun tanning the unhealed skin. I’ve never taken care of scars because scars remind me I can take care of myself. That is, when I’m not wrapped up in being someone else.
My thighs feel thick when I walk lately, like swinging barrels beneath me. Tired, but capable. I woke up at 5:45 am today to Finn biting my nose. If I don’t get out of bed when he does this, he’ll start to bite my ankles. Light doesn’t reached my French doors that early, so I made instant coffee and ate a small bowl of cereal while standing in the kitchen to stay awake. Finn drank from the faucet, and I ran through a ride checklist, staring at my bike.
I know a lot of people who ride their bikes in LA, cyclists. I have a few of their phone numbers and their emails, but at 5:45, I didn’t want to meet up. I didn’t want to start easy or make conversation or pick a route. I just wanted to ride. I wanted to lose my breath and feel the power that comes from syncing your cadence with the beat. I wanted to get lost. I wanted to escape. I wanted to capitalize on the oddly foreign feeling of optimism that was coursing through my veins this morning. Foreign because today was the first day in some time that I woke up excited. You have to be careful with that feeling, she’s delicate and simple, the soufflé of emotions. You need to tend to it, manage it, or it deflates into something like disappointment, discouragement, dis-what-have-you. And I had had enough of that.
I had been feeling the metaphorical and literal weight of the bullshit I was carrying for months. My shoulders slunk as higher and higher numbers on the trainer, on the blog, on all the media no longer met the expectations I set for myself. Alcohol was a convenient cover-up for not training hard enough. Heartache was a convenient cover-up for throwing back drinks. Work, just a cover-up for how miserable the other two made me. And all of it allowed me to be disproportionately disappointed in myself in relation to what was causing the disappointment. I wrapped up in the alcohol and the work and the heartache like a blanket of lowered expectations for life and myself. I wasn’t living up to what people wanted from the blog, or how far my teammates could ride, or any of the other haphazard constructs that I felt were being projected on me, and man, was I taking it hard.
Years ago, maybe eight?, sometime after my parents moved to Idaho, I visited them during a break from college. My father and I loaded two mountain bikes into the truck and drove to the Green Belt that ran through the city. Eight years ago I was not a cyclist. I was just a girl riding bikes with her dad through the park. As we rode, a gap closed slowly between us and a young woman on her bike in front of us until we were on her tail and I slowed slightly, adjusting to her speed.
“Pass her. Don’t let someone else set your pace.”
I pushed forward and overtook the girl I had been tailing.
The words turned themselves over and over in my mind, spinning like a weathervane, melding into the mantra that would soon become my own.
I remember the happiest moment of my life very clearly. I can feel it like a shudder when the air smells like water-logged wood and salt. No one took a picture of it, no one was there. I didn’t Tweet about it, or write a post for Facebook. I just thought to myself, “you should remember this.” And I did.
I was 23, it was 86 degrees F, and I had just quit the job that made me sallow and depressed. I had sent a resignation letter via email to my boss, too frightened of his explosive anger to quit in person. I had tried that once, and he hadn’t let me. And what could I say to anyone? Living that privileged life on a resort, fresh out of college - it had to have been my fault I wasn’t succeeding at the job, it had to have been my fault he was so unpredictably angry with me, it had to have been my fault I was so miserable. I kept trying. And I kept running to the top of the mountain at 4 pm every day to be somewhere no one could hear me cry. Six months in, it didn’t matter what my parents thought about me quitting my first job, it didn’t matter what people expected my experience to be, it didn’t matter I was going to be penniless and without health insurance in a foreign country, it didn’t matter I’d been an adamant rule-follower forever – all that mattered was getting out of there. So I sent the email. In response, he demanded I leave the island immediately.
And for the first time, instead of bitterly doing what I was told, I thought to myself, “fuck that.”
I hastily sent an email from the office computer to some recently acquired acquaintances. Sir Richard Branson owned the neighboring island, Necker, and had made a habit of hiring the most beautiful and charismatic people you’ve ever met. People wildly intimidating to me. But they would come to my island and light up the night, dancing and laughing, and you could see their camp-like romances cropping up in the corners of the bar. I wasn’t one of them, and I knew I never would be, but they were my only hope. I needed a place to stay, to hide, and after being evicted from the grounds where I lived, having my cell phone taken from me, my old laptop crippled with water damage, with only a bag of discount store dresses and flip-flops, one of those charismatic Necker kids replied to my plea and hesitantly offered me refuge in the basement of an under-used and dilapidated staff house. Down a set of unkempt and uneven steps of stone, you would pass the entrance to the main house and continue on to the basement. The wood was weathered beyond repair, the sliding glass doors no longer slid, there was no shower curtain, no sheets on the bed, there were spiders and abandoned cleaning supplies in every corner. Outside the doors, hidden in the overgrowth was a rotted dock. It could precariously support the silent footsteps of a 23-year-old girl in hiding.
It was perfect.
I scrubbed the floors and the shower and swept up all the cobwebs. I put the single fitted sheet I had over the musty mattress, putting the one stuffed animal I kept in my suitcase for comfort in the center. A little brown horse, about eight inches long. It was a gift from my friend Mary from when my horse Snicker had died. Snicker’s death was sad, but not devastating. I kept the stuffed animal not so much as a reminder of the horse, but as a reminder that people like Mary, people thoughtful and kind, actually existed. In the shower, I hung the flag of the islands as the curtain. It was old and weathered and had been given to me by a Captain who had no use for it after replacing it with a brighter, newer flag. The flag had weathered enough storms to weather a shower. A slightly less mighty position than flying on a 60-foot catamaran, but no less loved, surely.
Things were cleaner. Not shiny, barely livable, but I was safe and harbored with a bed and a dock and a shower. I collapsed onto the bed and extended my limbs, curling my fingers up in the excess of the queen-sized sheet on the full-sized bed. I rested my head on the little brown horse, the only pillow I had. I didn’t have a phone or a laptop or a job or money or any semblance of a plan for the future and I squirmed and giggled and nearly ruptured with joy.
I had turned out to be a total failure – broke, unpopular, jobless – and it was the happiest I have ever been.
A few times in my life I captured an essence of this feeling, but never quite in the snapshot way of the first time. I think its rarity lies in that moment being the first time I never owed anything to my parents, to a school, to a job, to anyone. It was the first time I had done whatever I wanted. Truly, whatever I wanted, without considering anyone else’s opinion or the consequences.
It was the first time I wasn’t remotely bothered with anyone’s pace but my own. I needed to go slower then. And I had needed to go slower a few months ago. Gearing down into the speed that allowed me to climb the mountain I alone could see. When I’m intimidated by someone else’s success, when people say maybe I should take it a little slower, when I’m just not ready to give up quite yet. Don’t let someone else set your pace. When people post baby photos, job promotions, engagements, race times, diet plans, re-blogs, retweets, redesigns, renewed leases, renewed vows, re-done bathrooms, torn out kitchens, torn up contracts, taped up boxes, and tallies on life’s smallest achievements, don’t let someone else set your pace.
Don’t let them rush you. Don’t let them restrain you. Don’t let them tell you that it’s too late or you’re not ready. If you need sleep on a Friday night, take it. If you need a drink or four on a Tuesday night, get it. If you need to keep going, do. If you need turn around, turn. If you need a break from life, block as many of the mind-cluttering websites and people you can. If you need to get back into high gear, absorb all of the music and fun and suffering you need to get you there. Don’t let them say you should be further along. Don’t let them say you should be happy with what you have. Don’t let their expectations of you cloud your expectations of yourself.
Your finish line is different. Your half-way point is somewhere else. And when you become obsessed with what people expect of you, with the image you think you need to project, you lose the ability to surprise them. You lose the ability to surprise yourself.
Reset. Figure out what it is you want for yourself. And the next time someone tries to set your expectations for you, smile, walk away, and say, “fuck that.”
I was 10, and I was a wood nymph. I was wearing brown leggings and a brown turtleneck, and my mom had taken me to Michael’s to purchase plastic strands of fall leaves to wrap around my arms. I wore shimmering gold lipstick and orange glitter around my eyes, the colors of fall. We had been studying Greek mythology and I had taken a particular interest in the dryads. I was proud of my costume until approximately 8:27 am when anyone other than my mother saw it.
Hi, guys. Here’s an essay I wrote about a guy thinking I was ugly in the middle of an OK Cupid date. Looking for your thoughts as to whether or not you would read a whole book full of funny, semi-advice-giving essays like this IRL and if you would tell your friends about it and if I could get it published and if one day I won’t have student loans anymore. Thanks.
“You don’t have any deformities worth mentioning. I mean, big teeth, but who cares.” - My friend Alan
I had just moved to New York City, and things were going to change for me. I had a fancy new job at a major media company, it looked like my mild-to-moderate adult cystic acne was coming to the end of its two-year residency on my chin and I was generally more excited than I’d ever been in maybe my whole entire life. New York City had been a dream of mine since I could remember, and I was finally leaving Chicago for the bright lights and rich men of the Big Apple.
Maybe I was heading into my fourth consecutive year of being single, but don’t even be sad about that for me. Honestly. I was totally— Listen, it’s not like I couldn’t get a boyfriend. If I wanted a boyfriend, I could get a boyfriend. I just hadn’t found anyone who could guarantee me that several nights out with them would be more entertaining or provide me more orgasms than several nights in with the Internet.
"What would Beyonce do?"
Hahahaha I will be asking myself this from here on out. Excellent advice.
solid life advice for all that lifing you do everyday.