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Where were you at 21? How does that reflect in your writing today?
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This should have been a great year of my life, but it really wasn’t. In the US, 21 is like coming of age for good. It’s the last graduation to full adulthood, in many ways. That said, it didn’t come with any great realization or change. That also said, 21 was a tough age as I maneuvered a deep depression and growing anxiety symptoms because of it.
21 is the age when we Americans can legally drink alcohol. Big deal, considering we find ways to party regardless of the law. I was no different than any other young person. Thus, gaining this right to choose for myself if I would imbibe wasn’t any big deal. In my family, we didn’t treat the use of alcohol as anything negative or positive. Our deeply European and progressive roots just didn’t cater to prohibition. Historically, we fought against such infringements of freedom–meaning I had family who ran a speakeasy during that ridiculous period of history in the States.
Although we had alcoholism in the family, too, that didn’t change how we felt about the use of drink. I tasted my first beer very young. Wine was my preference until I grew older and also grew a fondness for Cognac. Whisky can be nice, too. I once tried a peat tinged brew that left me deeply impressed. I felt like a dragon, the way the heat rose in my throat and a puff of that smoke followed. Very cool.
Drinking to excess was never something I cared to do. I didn’t like the drunken feeling at all. As someone who has survived assault, being without my faculties to protect was not of interest–especially in mixed company. I guess that this is one of the things that kept me from ever over doing it.
21 had other experiences, too. I was not in a great place mentally. Depression, as I said was deepened at this point. Frustration at so much–between terrible dating experiences, career problems, and feeling trapped by a mundane future weighed heavy. The writing was on the wall, in other words. All I foresaw was struggle. And, I wasn’t wrong, just as I knew, but others insisted I was wrong. Trusting my own mind, quite gifted in putting two and two together, is the one great thing that came of that period.
Trust your gut. I can’t express that enough. We have these senses for a reason, and others attempting to lead us away from them are doing it for their own comfort–I wish I could explain why, but that still eludes me. Being positive is fine, but being real with yourself is smart.
The frustrations of 21 have remained through my thirties and into my forties. This is not to say that I have not gained ground. Quite the contrary. I published my books, just as I wanted. Also, the degree in film finally came in my late thirties. Check and check! Still, I wander around feeling like the level at which I work isn’t enough yet. I want to do more.
21 sucked but 41 was much better by far! I was on my way to having my first baby and I had made immense ground on my career goals. Still, I had been right. The road there was long and convoluted. None of it was great. Worthwhile? That’s complicated. I don’t think anyone should have to suffer as I did trying to get to where they wanted. It truly wears away at the joy you can feel when you do achieve the goal. For instance, I barely noticed that I met my publishing goal when it happened. It felt like nothing. A let down in ways.
I’d not change a thing in having my daughter. In only wish I had her sooner and that I had more! I love kids! That said, I am glad I never compromised on the partner front. That was never worth the frustration and suffering, but learning that took too long and was too much.
It’s interesting how our lives work out when we take the time to look back at that. At nearly 47 years of age, I am happier than I have been in way too long. The road there was fraught with so many perils, and I knew it before I even got started. Much of that has informed my writing in ways I can’t even yet unpack. Take, for instance, my Trailokya series. There are a lot of K Easter eggs locked up in there! A lot of it is fantasy. So much of it is from dreams (both the sleep and the aspirational kind).
Clearly, while I’m not Holly, Claire, or Emily you’ll find pieces of me littered across all my work. You can’t help that as a writer. Even the settings are pieces of me. Every character is a shard. The problem with trying to piece the mosaic together, however, is that you have to know what size and type of material it is. Maybe it’s a reference to other texts, a personal thought, an event, something I love or something I loathe. Literary theory could have a field day trying to piece it together, but I doubt they’d ever get the picture quite right.
Looking back at 21, I see that I had barely begun my journey, but so much had already happened to form the character I would portray in my life story. In so many ways, it’s as if no time at all has passed, just a lot of stuff has gone on. My journey reminds me of the Chutes and Ladders game board. Boy have I hit those chutes too many times to count, sending me backward to the point of losing site of the goal.
Where am I at now? Probably one roll away from the goal or the chute that will send me back to start.
Click on the links below to find out where the other authors were at the age of 21…
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