On Not “Peaking”

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “She peaked in high school?”

I really hate when people say stuff like that.

Not because I think of myself as “peaking” in high school–look at any photo of me as a teen and that will be abundantly clear–but because it gets me thinking about the whole concept of “peaking”.

No, I hate this phrase because it implies that your life is supposed to look like two sides of a mountain. That you’re spending some years working towards some version of yourself, then you reach it–then it’s all downhill from there.

I’m getting married this year, and despite my efforts not to treat planning a wedding as the life-consuming process many people (and American society) seem to think it is, it has caused its fair amount of stresses.

One of the things I’m trying really hard not to let get to me is obsessing over my appearance. Self-image is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. (I have a distinct memory of looking at myself in my ballet class mirror and being dismayed that my thighs were chubbier than the girl’s next to me. This may sound normal–but I quit ballet in the first grade.) And now I’m throwing an event where there will be people taking photos of me, staring at me, watching me for an extended period of time. Oh god, just writing that out is giving me anxiety.

Amidst all this angst about trying to “look my best” (dieting, teeth whitening, hair trials) I had a makeup artist actually say to me, while frowning at a tiny line on my forehead, “Well, that’s why it’s better to get married in your twenties. You’re out of your awkward phase, but you don’t have any fine lines yet. That’s when most women peak–around 25.”

I am not 25. I am in my thirties. I had a flash of regret–why didn’t I get married when I was 25? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about all of this!

Then sanity returned.

Why didn’t I get married at 25? Well, because I was a bit of a mess of a person then. I didn’t know well enough who I was or what I wanted to be able to commit myself to another person.

(And I’m not knocking people who get married young. We all have different paths. Plenty of people know who they are at 25; I was not one of them.)

So I definitely did not “peak” at 25. How about now? I know who I am, what I want. I haven’t gotten it yet–does that mean I have yet to “peak”? But what about the fact that I’m aging? Can a woman “peak” past 35? 40?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t look back at my life and view it as a steady climb. It would look more like a squiggle chart: peaks and valleys. There was my childhood, which was amazing, chubby thighs and all, though the rose-colored nostalgia haze I view it through probably has something to do with that. Then came the pre-teen and teenage years, which were hell on earth. College, amazing, but with its own struggles. Living abroad, amazing, but again, some struggles. My late twenties, which involved moving home, getting a “real” job, going through a rough breakup, trying to figure out life post school: really hard.

Because my late twenties were so challenging, for a long time, I thought I’d “peaked” in college. But through it all, I can point to some amazing moments at that point in my life.

And then came my thirties.

I feel like this decade I’m really in the process of coming into my own. Do I have everything I want? Of course not. I’m still working on a lot of things, among them career, debating having children, my writing. And as always, myself. Aging has brought up questions again about who I am, anxieties I thought I had long laid to rest. For me, it’s a lot easier to feel confident when I’m comfortable with the way I look. That’s something that comes from an adolescence feeling I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t thin or pretty enough, and as a grown-ass woman it’s something I feel I should be past by now, but I still struggle with it.

So am I still on my way to my “peak”, even though I may not be as attractive as I was ten years ago?

Or… maybe I just do away with the whole concept of “peaking”.

What if I just spend my life quietly and steadily trying to improve myself, accepting the peaks and valleys that come with it?

I can point to pros and cons in almost every stage of my life. (Adolescence didn’t have a lot of pros for me … though I write YA now so apparently tapping into that pain is useful.) But overall, at least in terms of developing a sense of self, I can look back and see steady progression. It’s a slope that just keeps going up.

So I’ve decided I’m not going to “peak.” I’m just going to keep working towards the best me I can be, fine lines be damned.

How about you?

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Am I Making It Too Hard For Myself?

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It’s Thursday, which means we’re due for a Learning From The Masters post, but I’m taking a break from that this week. This week I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately–something I hope you can help me with…

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On Travel Nostalgia

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“Let’s never come here again because it will never be as much fun.” —Lost in Translation

I’ve mentioned before that I lived in Normandy for a year after college, teaching English. This was before I met my other half, and as it was such a big part of my life, he’s heard me expound on the beauty of Normandy for four years now. I’ve always thought I wanted to bring him back there and show him the beauty of that region. Now we’re actually talking about going! And I find myself … reluctant.

You see, I was in Normandy 8 years ago now (8 years!). I was in my early twenties, alone, doing things like staying up all night dancing in tiny shady clubs with high-schoolers, taking impropmptu weekend trips to Honfleur and Étretat (pictured), staying on farms and helping feed the newborn lambs, getting in long discussions in broken French with people aged 16 to 60 at Raclette parties … It was an amazing year, but the kind of year that could only have happened once, if you know what I mean.

I wonder if going back to all those places, without the same people, finding them changed, finding me changed … will make me not only nostalgic, but sad. And sadness is really not what I’m going for on vacation.

I could be totally wrong. The joy of showing the person I love most in the world one of the places I love most in the world could be an amazing experience. But maybe I need to wait for more time to pass. Or maybe I’ll always feel this way. I don’t know.

Do you revisit your favorite spots in the world? Or do you leave them safe inside your memories?

Above photo by me. Étretat, Normandy, May 2007

On Grass-is-Greener Syndrome

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Today’s post is less on writing, more on life, but what’s one without the other?

So this thing started happening to me towards the end of college. Throughout most of college, I was thrilled to be there and aware of how lucky I was to be spending my days reading and discussing ideas with like-minded people (I was a French major, English minor), and living within walking distance of all my friends. It wasn’t until the end of school that I got an itch to go out into the “real world”. I had applied for a teaching assistantship in France, and was scheduled to start in September.

I’m over college, I told myself. I can’t wait to move to France.

So I moved to France, to Normandy, and lived in this tiny town called Saint-Lô. And it was hard, especially at first. (Moving to a new place alone, never mind a new continent, always is). There was the worst apartment of my life, with linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting and lukewarm to ice-cold showers and heat that got turned off on the weekends. The attempting to teach English to teenagers who made fun of my accent. Being at the mercy of the French transit system. Making so little money I often had to go through my pockets for change to buy a baguette to tide me over until I got paid. The incessant rain from December to April.

Don’t get me wrong: there were many good things about living in Normandy. The aforementioned baguettes. The crepes, the croissants, the cidre. The wine. The proximity of Paris. This trail I used to walk on that leads out into cow country where you felt like the only human being on earth. The adventures I had. The friends I made from all corners of the earth.

But a lot of the time, I found myself nostalgic for college, and at the same time, dreaming of the future.

I’m over France, I said, towards the end. I can’t wait to have a steady job and live in a big city and be near my boyfriend and watch football and have a car again.

So the next year, I moved to New York, got an apartment in Brooklyn, got a decent-paying administrative assistant 9-5 job. I watched football, saw my boyfriend all the time, had money to buy food.

But I had problems, too. Being a real adult for the first time was hard. I found myself nostalgic for France, and dreaming of the future.

I’m over Brooklyn, I said. Over this admin assistant job. Over being a relationship. I can’t wait until my life changes.

It did. I moved to the East Village. I became single again for the first time in three years. I got a new job, a *real* job, in the marketing department of my company.

The marketing job was hard, especially at first. So was dating. And living with roommates. I missed my old colleagues. I missed my old boyfriend. I missed Brooklyn.

Life changed again, as it tends to do. I got a promotion at work, doing something I like to do, at which I’m actually good (social media). All that dating landed me another boyfriend, one for keeps, this time. We moved back to Brooklyn together. I finally finished my book.

But I still have dreams. I dream of living in an actual house, with more than two rooms and a yard and trees (actually, I dream of living somewhere like this). I dream of quitting my job and becoming a full time writer. I dream of wide open spaces, of time to bake, of spending more than two weeks a year en voyage.

It’s okay to dream. Good, even. But somewhere along the way I figured out I have to be grateful for what I have, for the way my life is in this very moment. Someday I’m going to be nostalgic for my 375-square foot apartment two blocks from the Promenade. For the ease of taking the subway anywhere I want to go. For a steady paycheck, maybe.

I’m still nostalgic for days gone by and still dream about the future, but I’m trying really hard to keep my eyes wide open to appreciate the way my life is right now.