being 23

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Is to stand on a precipice. Everything that happened in your past shrinks down to fairytale proportions and swims in an alien light, and everything that is yet to happen is unreal in an opposing way. You might have become an expert in the interstices of your own life, always felt like you were standing in a corner and watching people talk while lights moved overhead. This feels newly insufficient.

It is to think of fifteen years in the future and two years in the past with the same weight, the feeling of movement forward in time as suddenly untethered to scripted rhythms, not unlike the flush in your face before saying something unexpectedly vulnerable. Vulnerability now suffuses like dye through fabric; or, it’s like how soap restores it, later, to its new color, its old color faithfully vanquished.

It is to have all these tabs open in your psyche, possibilities foreclosed a long time ago that sleepwalk inside yourself. To sometimes feel their weight when waking up or falling asleep, when everything feels urgent. Days seem shorter and patterns become the unit of possibility. This to me, is the material of the quarter-life crisis — a conflict about patterns borne out into the world. You might feel like you are no longer a soft thing drifting from room to room but something that newly needs intention, focus, discipline. You might also feel like the suddenness is in the fact that that nothing is new & it should be; if you’re particularly staunch & rare, you might find all of this working for you. But you’ll feel it brush against you anyway, bringing with it regressive and explosive sources of frustration or merely bemusement.

It is to have friends who live in different cities, and when you visit them to hear them rattle off the list of what everyone is doing like a litany. To feel sort of depressed, as you did a long time ago, that suddenly people are entering a new form, a new way of being that makes you feel like you need to know them all over. In middle school or so people separated into groups instead of just being curious about each other all the time, and it’s something like that. There’s an anxiety to it but also a caring, a tacit agreement that we are all pursuing our own ends, that we all know what’s good for us now.

It is to be in a state of “figuring it out” for a long time. To understand that no one ever really figures it out, we just find ourselves or not. Your friend tells you to meet your needs, to know what they are. This statement is clichéd because it is obvious, that you should have always been doing this, and your feverish need to impress people when you were younger no longer has any bearing. You might feel that it is undignified to be put off-center by a cliché, but it happens anyway, for clichés are written with the old in mind. This one contains another: you have nothing to prove and everything to gain from being honest. You may spend more time listening — to your friends and what they say, to the way resonances build through overlapping echoes.

You may after this find yourself, without even realizing it, free from contest except between your own tendencies and, naturally, with capitalism, within which complicity has a new register of anxiety due to your newfound agency. It is that your multiple friends who both work in nonprofits and solicit anarchist theory recommendations don’t seem strange; the contradiction is your own, your childish need for consistency and purity. It’s a moment or maybe even a whole era of paradox, not only you feel it. And so, you regain the patience of being young and waiting for something to happen.

It is to notice, not that every day feels the same, but that structure radiates from life like how dandelion seeds are just as easily disturbed as reconfigured over the meadow of time. And that you are orderly — you have little places where you put each consideration, dreaming of shelves & of a good steady illumination to fill your room but leave suggestive corners.

It is that getting over things is both easier and harder: easier because you feel, naively, probably, that you’ve seen everything, that no disappointment could beat the early disappointments that felt as a filling of your being with hot vinegar. There will be more disappointments, but for now all of these are oddly insubstantial, almost like they are simply par for the course. It is to (even so) feel new & raw in a way that is unusual — instead of wanting to change, you want to hold it very close to yourself, to ensure that it doesn’t fade back into substrate and melancholy.

That you suddenly remember someone from high school, or college, even, the first half of it that still has one foot in childhood, and suddenly feel the dust that accumulates on top of old things. You never knew this feeling before, because everything in your world was older than you until recently & now you are older than yourself.

But likewise, it is to text someone after a long time — someone you haven’t talked to in years, an old lover, a longtime crush — and suddenly, you’re walking with them along a street that you both have been down before. It seems like nothing has changed, because it hasn’t, not quite. Someday you’ll move to different cities and forget each other entirely, but for now, there’s this tentative thing. It will remain so forever.

To send emails to your friends. To get them back. For your friends in other cities, this feels like a kind of old-fashioned correspondence that makes you feel immeasurably closer to them; the distances between the cities of old, connected without electricity, are mirrored in the new distances between you and the other person. It is to discover physical distance’s mental effects. You and your trusted friends, no longer share time, except for once in a while when your minds are both trained on the same thing.

To want and to not want sex, intimacy, closeness, to teeter between polyamory and casualness on one hand and commitment on another. You have friends who are married. You have friends who consider marriage, consider what it might mean. For some it’s a relief, for others it’s anathema to the personae that they find they now have room to cultivate.

More to the point, it’s to feel about polyamory that it’s “unsustainable” and to feel about monogamy that it’s “frightening.” There seems to be no solution, but you know one is coming for you soon. You’re okay with this sense of suspension, that in the end it’s this ambivalence that you were waiting for all along. Wasn’t everyone telling you it would be there for you?

But sometimes: it is to wake up in the morning and stare at the ceiling and ache, ache so much for physical touch that it’s unbearable, and you linger a little longer under the covers and feel their weight and writhe and thrash your covers into knots before your alarm goes off, like you did as a small child when you didn’t want to go to school, despite having a straightforward, even easy life then. Or so it seems to you now. Yes, you feel like a child in the morning — despite the light streaming in that beckons you to join the world; or, even, the darkness in winter that promised a later light, one you knew before leaving your bed would be bracingly cold and indelibly new and almost unbelievably clear.

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