I’m 29 today. I finally feel fully adult, because no part of a 29-year-old can claim to still be a kid. It feels really good!
As I’ve done since birthday 22, I’m sharing some reflections with the world today. I’ve come to know that my mental and emotional health depend on my living authentically and connecting with people over shared values, passions, joys, and outlooks. I’m feeling a lot of clarity around this very adult birthday. And because I want to live honestly and connect with anyone who shares any of what’s most meaningful to me, I’m offering the following gratefully, authentically, humbly, and vulnerably. What follows is long and very personal.
The last year was the most intense, full, painful, and thrilling of my 29 so far. A year ago today, I was in my first semester of law school and reeling from half a dozen painful events that hit in September, October, and November. The presidential election came in the middle of a series of personal traumas that piled on top of each other, and I spent December desperately trying to stabilize, to find anything to grab on to, to find some joy and security in the middle of so much confusion, fear, and sadness.
I started succeeding over my winter break. In those weeks, sleep, time with family and friends, and the first notions of changes I would make to my life helped me steady myself, feel some happiness again, and think clearly enough to begin turning ideas into action.
Mostly by accident, I threw myself into political organizing. Two efforts I started with little thought in January blew up, and I quickly found myself working harder and more passionately than I had in years, to be politically engaged and help others be the same. Political organizing took over my life, squeezing out law school through the winter and spring, exhausting me but giving me purpose and hope I had lost in 2016.
At the same time, I decided to live intentionally in a way I hadn’t done before. After a traumatic breakup last year, when I began dating again in January, I decided to dive into something scary and new, resolving to only date people committed to non-monogamy. I began meeting people in a new way, exploring a form of romance and connection that before had intrigued me but seemed unrealistic, too difficult, too radical, and somehow unfair.
For my first summer in law school, I decided to go to the South, and I wanted to work for an organization fighting unapologetically for justice. Fate brought me to literally the perfect organization, run by the most incredible person, in a city I quickly came to love. Over nearly three months in Nashville, working with the No Exceptions Prison Collective and Jeannie Alexander, absorbed into communities unlike any I had known before, I saw new ways of living, new ways of working and struggling, and new ways of being in the world.
In these last few months, since getting back to New York, starting my second year of law school, continuing to organize, and building a new romantic relationship, I’ve settled into new identities and become confident embracing ideas that I had previously minimized or rejected out of fear or ingrained thinking. I’ve finally admitted to myself that, over the rest of my adult life, I wouldn’t be happy living a life resembling the one I grew up with, the one that for nearly 30 years I assumed I’d keep living, or the lives of most people I know. Here are some of the things that I now know will be central to my happiness in the years to come:
—Non-monogamy. Shedding culturally dominant ideas about how to relate to people romantically and sexually has liberated me in ways that extend far beyond just my romantic and sexual relationships. All of my relationships feel richer and more honest now that I’ve begun living so intentionally and so vulnerably in such a critical area of life. This new way of being with people has taken and continues to take new kinds of effort, which I’m very proud of myself for making. But it’s also been made possible by the people who have been exploring with me, guiding and supporting me, and doing work with me. Most wonderfully, I have a partner I adore, and our relationship has been more honest and mutually supportive than the relationships I built before this year.
—Anti-capitalism. My ideas around this are developing quickly, and I still don’t have good vocabulary for a lot of it. But I now know and can finally say publicly that capitalism is incompatible with the humanity I believe in. A political and economic order focused on scarcity and market-based apportionment of food, housing, education, and medical care is one that unequally and intolerably distributes freedom, health, self-actualization, happiness, and even love. It tells some people that they are disposable and whole groups of people that they are less worthy of safety, nourishment, and joy than others. Its injustice is a feature, not a bug, and it is the responsibility of people who believe in equality and justice to envision and work toward a different world. I’m hard at work envisioning, and I don’t yet clearly see that better world. But I’ve started seeing things I can do: dedicate my skills, energy, and resources toward alternative systems, like democratic socialism; support and participate in the solidarity economy; not seek or acquire more resources than I need to live; not celebrate consumption, either mine or other people’s; recognize and acknowledge that we who are able to consume in abundance can only do so because of systems that deprive others; and support communal ownership, resource sharing, and redistribution.
—Spirituality. The people I met, befriended, and worked with over the summer showed me what life looks like when it’s centered around and forced to answer to the deepest truths one knows. In this area of life, I’m exploring a lot that’s dramatically foreign to me, so I have no idea where this path will lead me or even whether I’m currently on a path, in an ocean, or suspended in another substance or metaphor. But I feel something deeply powerful trying to reach me, or break out of me, or both. I joined a friend at her house of worship last month, and in her sermon the pastor asked those of us gathered, “Are you making time for quiet? Do you meditate? Do you pray? When you pray, do you just ask God for things, or do you also listen? If God is speaking to you, will you know it? Are you listening?” I don’t know anything about God, but I know I should be, want to be, am called to be listening right now. A lot of clarity and strength feels just beyond earshot right now, but I think I’ll be able to hear it and bring into my life if I listen persistently and creatively.
—On lighter notes, biking and bluegrass! This year I recognized that riding my bike and listening to bluegrass make me happier than just about anything. I’ve incorporated each of them into my daily life the last few months, and I need to keep them there as long as they bring me so much joy.
The items above are only some parts of an exciting journey I’m in the middle of. The most liberating, humbling part of the journey has been coming to appreciate that none of this exploration or work ever ends. Whenever I die, my life and existence will be a work in progress, full of misunderstandings, shortcomings, and flaws. I demand of myself that I do the work necessary to have fewer of those next year than this year, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever get to the end, to reach a place where I can be satisfied and rest.
Sharing all this is fraught but empowering. By making these feelings and thoughts public, I tether myself to them and invite the world to challenge me, make me answer for and stand behind them, and hold me accountable. I’m well aware that declaring everything I’ve written here serves as an invitation to all of you to scrutinize my actions, to see whether my words are hollow, hypocritical, or self-aggrandizing. The power of that invitation, and the knowledge that those of you reading this will see me and my actions differently after such public announcements, is scary, unsettling, inspiring, and motivating. By sharing things that matter so deeply to me but had so far remained more private and undefined, I’m asking both you and my future self to keep me honest. Please do.
Please help me continue this work, the work of being authentic, introspective, and compassionate, and please help me avoid retreating to rationalizations that allow me to prioritize my comfort over the happiness, health, or security of others, and over our collective liberation.
I’m still very far from figuring this all out, and this shit’s hard! Life is hard. But what’s getting easier each day is living intentionally, and I intend to keep doing that. I’m looking forward, in the year to come, to living intentionally, honestly, lovingly, and joyously as consistently and as fully as I can.
If any of this resonates with you, I hope you’ll reach out to tell me so, because it would make me very happy to connect over it. If any parts of our personal journeys are the same, I’d like to share them in the year ahead. For now, I hope my love and gratitude reaches you. Thank you for being in my life this past year.