Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Has your life ever flashed by in reverse? You see yourself years younger and long to give that poor confused you a hug? It happened to me, but instead, I bought younger me a drink.
It’s mid-carnival in New Orleans and I’m in line for the bathroom at Fat Harry’s bar on St. Charles Avenue--a watering hole I frequented twenty years ago when I was in college. As is the case in most bathroom situations for women, I made a new friend while in line. As the parade rolls by, the clamor of brass bands and cheers seep into my old haunt but are muffled by the sad woes of my new friend, an ever panicked college senior mourning that life as she knows it is going to end in three short months. It mirrors a similar scene from days gone by, only instead of Kendrick Lamar, Santana played on a juke box, and instead of collegiates drinking boujie-ass wine, seven and sevens were pinkies up. But the pangs of nostalgia she feels are all too familiar. They were the same as mine when I was her, at the same bar, and in the same season of life many carnivals ago.
She explains the troubling situation. Very soon, she’ll have to let go of all the freedom of youth and be something. The certainty is terrifying! May is like a death sentence—after that, she’ll have to land a job that will shape the course for the rest of her life. It has to be something fabulous, like her, but most of all it has to be defining.
Take a xany, younger Annie.
As my new friend and I saddle up to the bar, I break the news to her: life is rarely so convenient that our fate is wrapped up in a pretty bow. She’ll have defining moments, but they likely won’t be born from the drama of her first job or whatever happens in June. Younger me needed to find her thread and go from there.
As human nature as hope, our thread—those particular passions that somehow weave in and out of every failed attempt we take at success—is our compass. What that thread actually is is entirely up to us to understand once we’re finally honest with ourselves. It’s also up to us to tug that thread instead of the opinions and expectations of others. Doing that is defining.
Sometimes our thread hides behind jobs or choices that don’t move us, and in those moments when all seems lost it’s easy to give into panic. But here’s the good news: life has become a bit merciful. The notion of having a single field is as vintage as cable. Reinvention is an actual accepted thing, as is an average job while we figure it all out. It may not be a fabulous job, but if just a shred of the thread is there, we can follow it to something greater. That’s defining.
The irony of my trip down memory lane is that this time of year in New Orleans I always go through a melancholy spell of nostalgia myself. Carnival hands me a free pass to forget responsibility, to get off-course. Suddenly the party is over and I have to think real. Panic ensues. Everything I set out to do in January has been derailed, and I would rather crawl under a rock than face reality. Reality is so basic compared to the glamour of freedom. But like sunshine on a cloudy Mardi Gras morning, hope has a way of breaking through so long as we tug on that thread and keep going.
I know enough to know that the only one who waits with baited breath for me to do anything defining is me. Had I had my shit together when I was 21, I wouldn’t have stumbled enough to learn the necessary trifectas that are my thread: I need to create, I need to play, and I need to surround myself with people whose opinions inspire, rather than add more pressure than I already put on myself. Knowing that and sticking to it is defining.
So to my pal at the bar in her gold leggings and Chuck Taylor’s, a senior on the brink of giving up, and the rest of us who have convinced ourselves that our life hangs on what we achieve today: It won’t define us. What will define us is what we choose to acknowledge when we’re completely lost, when we find that thread—that glorious, stirring muse within us—and cling to it. At times we might hang from it. But let’s do, because that thread is what will save us the next time we’re lost.
One shouldn’t spoil a perfectly good season of life in the greatest town with angst—whether 21 angst, or older angst. Take a deep breath and pull the thread. It’s already there. Just don’t unravel before you catch it.
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This blog post was originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.