The day of my flight back to Los Angeles, my mother did one final load of laundry, in which I tossed an oft-worn pair of high-waisted black jeans. These jeans are, on a good day, verrry snug on me, so when I unfurled them the next morning, I was distressed to remember why I almost never washed and certainly never dried these jeans — they’d shrunk just enough to go from wearable-tight to “oh god why does my stomach look like that when I fasten the button.”
Another case of my mother not understanding my needs. (A joke, but one that holds a kernel of truth.)
2014 is ending soon, and I’ve read enough “end of” posts to practically bathe in the media world’s fumes of exhaustion. Why else would Molly Lambert pick “All About That Bass” as the year’s top tune? Ooo, I’m full of jokes today. (That said, really???)
The things I’ve liked about this year aren’t at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been chewing on reflections, and have to conclude that for all the mind-bending fuckery that happened in 2014, overall, it’s been a good year (speaking purely by personal experience), with very soaring highs and plunging, 9th-level-of-Hell lows. The past few months have been strange and stranger still, but I’ve finally quit the job that had me running in circles and am about to start one that holds a lot of promise, I’ve been reading some beautiful stuff (my friend turned me onto Cheryl Strayed and in turn I’ve stumbled into her Dear Sugar columns), and I have time, beautiful time, in which I can devote myself to my writing projects, this blog included. Yet there’s a sour cherry on top of this turbulent sundae.
All year, there’s been an undercurrent of sincere optimism to my writing, no matter how handwringingly bitter the actual words get, but right now, I’m feeling the opposite: deep cynicism topped off with the fizzy, formless foam of “opportunity.” Because, my parents have decided that I’m going to grad school ASAP, to the point where their New Year’s toast to me was “We’re looking forward to seeing Lily reach her new goal!”
Pause. I begrudgingly agreed to take the GRE this spring, because I guess I’d want to go to grad school sooner than later, but on my own terms, right? How foolish of me. I made a move to appease them and ended up with a target on my back. I looked into one nearby school’s program and told my mother about it in an effort to get her off my back and all of a sudden my father was planning out how I was going to transition from working to entering that specific program. In another conversation, they casually mentioned that I’d need to take out loans for grad school, but they’ll help support me as much as they can during that time. “You might be starting school with Mimi!” my mother gleefully exclaimed, to both my and my sister’s horror. Oh, and don’t rely too heavily on your writing to help jumpstart your ***real*** career. Writing, after all, is a skill, not a career in itself, and you’re not one of the lucky few who could ever make a true living off of it.
“It would take a miracle.” This is what my mother chooses to tell me when I tell her my dreams. Two days after I spent three hours crying on the phone about what she said (and then heard my parents pick apart the fact that I was crying at all through the shared walls of our bedrooms), she asks me if I’ve gotten over it.
“We know what’s best for you.” While many things change year to year, the refrain rolls over, sweeps me under. 2015 is about to begin and I’m still hovering under the shadow of my parents’ swollen expectations. What gives? Every time I think I’ve finally pleased them–work all throughout school, job right after school, 90% financial independence–they raise the bar yet another rung higher. My life is their Kickstarter with an ever-rising goal for “Lily’s entire life and livelihood!!!”
I love my parents, which makes this entire exercise even more frustrating. They’re convinced that I’m someone I’m at my heart not — unmotivated, uninspired, demanding of life’s riches without putting in life’s work. I know in my heart that the life I’ve led thus far wasn’t possible without tremendous sacrifices on their parts, but neither of them is divorced from their own parental expectations and dilemmas. My mother hides things from her father to this day, and so when they find me doing the same, who are they to display dismay? They both gambled on America and ended up ahead, but a cursory sweep of the nation should make it clear that that was never a guarantee, so why are they insistent that x y z holds the key to my success, when in the end, it’s always going to be a mixture of hard work and dumb luck that puts anyone ahead? And I’d rather put my passion behind the former and play my cards as well as I can for the latter, without wasting time chasing trails they’ve laid out that lead to their own purposeful ends? I make a remark that I can’t buy the food they treat me to on my own, and that suddenly means that I’m unhappy with my quality of life? I have three roommates when I’m 22 and somehow I’m doomed to live in cell-like conditions until eternity winks out? In what world am I failing. In what world am I not better suited to do what it is I want to do. I don’t have unclear aspirations; but perhaps the enormity of my ambition appears to them as delusion. They raised me to want the world, and now that I finally have it in my sights, they’re telling me to level off. Think small. Keep things close. Because I am ordinary, and I don’t know what I want.
I refuse to believe that I am no closer to reaching my dreams than I was a year ago. I refuse to believe that going to grad school somehow punches my ticket faster than if I worked on my own, and with my friends, and pursued things via interest versus an obfuscated portrayal of necessity. And even if the latter were the case, wouldn’t that mean I should work more instead of study? How many writers took jobs that didn’t consume them for the exact purpose of having time to write? How many people forwent traditional higher education and still *somehow managed* to live meaningful lives?
But of course, this isn’t about the present — it’s about the FUTURE, the great grand future and the incredibly high costs of doing anything that really means anything (a lie, a lie, a lie). One day I’ll have a family, and won’t I want to live a ~*good life*~, won’t I want to be able to provide my children with what my parents have provided me? I want to scream “Of course!”, but good isn’t some monolithic altar upon which I must lay the labors of my being. It wasn’t as though I was fed with a silver spoon from my childhood onward, and it isn’t as though I wasn’t happy with my life before our standard of living went up, or that happiness is directly correlated to income above a base standard anyway. They want me to be happy. They want my children to be happy. But does that mean they weren’t happy with the way they lived? Do they look down upon the happiness of others less “well-off” than they? I have so many friends in creative pursuits, or living in similar conditions as I do. Are they all doomed to wallow in mediocrity and unfulfilling existence? And my friends who went the “practical route,” are they guaranteed happiness? What do you think makes your child happier, supporting them if they are showing progress and self-initiative or taking them down piece by piece for every mark of potential you deem unfulfilled/crowing over “accomplishments” they achieved only to please you? What do I have to do to prove myself to them? What would be a measure of proof? Why should I have to continue to sate them when it’s clear that I’m more successful and happier doing things on my own? Every milestone, every marker — go on, go on, go on, but never too far. Shoot for the sky, because you will never reach the moon. We know better. We know best.
Time will humble you, and your joys are a lie. Happy New Year, and may your future net worth continue to rise.