I was standing in a Starbucks, waiting to use the bathroom. My eyes found a young woman sitting in the corner, knees curled up on the bench she was sitting on. She pulled her jacket tightly around her, as if she could protect herself from the chaos of the human species around her. Or perhaps, she was just cold.
This is something I do. I live in New York City, I spend a lot of time searching the seas of the people around me for meaning. Like the girl on the subway, reading a book the way you read a book when you wish you were the kind of person who could read a book on the subway. Her eyes fluttered up at every other sentence, anxiously surveying the crowd, desperate to know how others saw her. Or at least, that’s the meaning I assigned to the body language that I saw. Maybe she was nervous about missing her stop. Maybe she’s previously had a negative experience with a fellow passenger, and was keeping herself aware. Maybe she was thinking about something completely different.
Because from the outside, there’s only so much you can grasp about the life of another. But there are some things you see, some things that you observe that you can’t deny. At that moment you see the raw truth of a human accidentally become uncovered, before they turn themselves back in.
Like the boyfriend who pointed out something funny to the girl at his side. He was laughing. She rolled her eyes. At least one heart sunk in that moment. Perhaps two.
Or the two construction men sitting side by side, headphones on, dirt falling off their boots. I sit across from them, trying to silently observe as much as I can. One pulls his right headphone off his ear, and turns to his friend “I love this song.”
“Oh, yeah, I always get teary eyed when I hear it.”
Suddenly, in one moment, my entire perception of them is shattered. Moments later, a group of young kids boards. Filled with the energy of the youth, they quite literally bounce on to the train, and don’t stop moving. Two teenagers, one child with stars in his eyes. He can’t try harder to be like the boys he’s with, he’s trying so hard to be something. He can’t tell that he is already so much. The boy, only a boy, sits down to eat a snack to the right of me. The subway slides, he slides right into me, his friends yell “There’s a lady, idiot!”
One of the construction workers passes the boy a napkin to clean up his crumbs.
In this one moment, this is my entire universe. Three boys chasing something, two construction workers that know more about vulnerability than I do, and me.
Each one of us writing our own story.
The boys get off. The construction men do too.
I alone remain, privy to a secret world of occurrences that disappear as the next people sit down in those seats, oblivious to who sat there before them.
Two girls board.
As they sit down, one says to the other with her eyes on her phone:
“Oh, so-and-so died.”
A celebrity. I hope a celebrity.
“Oh, s***” her friend responds, moving her bag to her lap. “So, Katy recommended a great bar.”
Everything changed. Nothing changed. Death and life dancing together in the breath of their words.
It’s what I do, it comes naturally, I can’t stop it. I draw conclusions, I assign life-stories, I pull meaning from meaningless moments.
The only thing I can’t see from the outside is me.
October 29th was the last time I posted something here.
On September 20th, I started a new chapter on this blog, I promised excellence. I promised quality. I successfully destroyed my creativity with those words.
Nothing has been good enough.
It’s one thing to be vulnerable and admit that you don’t think you’re very good. It’s another world to be vulnerable and admit that you like what you’ve produced.
How could I put my words up, claiming they are quality? Claiming that they are the cream of the crop, these are the words I chose to share?
The chase for perfection has always been my downfall.
My writing always suffers when I put an iron on it, forcing it to be wrinkle-free and strong.
As I look at my students and tell them “It’s okay if it’s not perfect,” I wonder why I can’t look myself in the eye and say the same.
As I look at my students and tell them “You don’t have to write a novel today to be a writer,” I wonder why I torture myself, trashing every single idea I have because it’s not good enough.
The collection of observations you read above have been sitting in my notebook for weeks. Waiting.
They’ve been waiting for me to translate them into something even better than they are. They’ve been waiting to be carefully placed inside a best-selling series. An award-winning essay on the psychology of human behavior.
I’m studying Psychology. I’ve got aspirations bigger than my blog, and somehow I confused myself by assuming that those aspirations contradict my words right to exist on this platform.
I started playing ukulele a few weeks ago. I’m learning, slowly. My fingers hurt. But it’s thrilling, every time I figure out that chord. Every time I make a melody that someone else can recognize.
I allow myself to be imperfect when it comes to the ukulele. I am able to see, so clearly, that practice is necessary.
Why has writing always been different for me?
I know me.
That’s the only thing I know.
One thing I’ve always known about myself is that I was going to be a writer.
Today, in my life, I’m taking steps towards a different kind of future.
Perhaps I’m struggling to forgive myself for that. Perhaps I feel as if I’ve betrayed writing. I haven’t been as grateful as I could have been for words. I acted like I could be more than a writer.
But I can.
And I will.
For all my observing, I’ve been keeping my eyes trained outwards.
I’ve been afraid to let my eyes look in over the last few months.
I’ve been working so hard towards something that I didn’t realize I’ve always been dreaming of.
And it’s not writing.
And perhaps my identity has shifted in a startling way.
And perhaps these are all the reasons why I haven’t shared a word since October 29th.
And maybe it all doesn’t matter.
Maybe it’s time I take some of my own advice.
It’s okay if it’s not perfect.
I don’t have to write a novel today to be a writer.
I don’t have to know the meaning of everything, for all of it to have meaning.
I’m tired of not writing. I’m tired of putting my words on a shelf, dusting them so they don’t get dirty.
My words are who I am, and that person is far from perfect.
So here they are.
Here I am.
Photo by Eddi Aguirre on Unsplash