This is 38.

What to say about the last year of my life?

It’s hard to do big, retrospective moments when you live a small life on purpose. But I guess that’s a good place to start: the decision to play it small.

It’s counter to everything we encourage, and boy, have I caught various levels of exasperation from friends when I describe myself as “ordinary,” but whittling my world into easily manageable parts has kept me afloat in the madness of the last year and a half. Not saying that I’m keeping up with Michael Phelps or anything, but I’m not screaming for life rafts via vague “check on your friends” memes on Instagram, so I’ve got that going for me.

As I think about it, though, I can see how small decisions in the last twelve months have added up to a theme. In March, I stopped going by “Skinny Black Girl.” In May, I quit Twitter after nearly 11 years of vomiting my inner dialogue into the world (142 days off that narcotic as of today). In August, I dropped my lifelong objection to strength training (crystallized by years of being the absolute worst at everything in elementary school phys. ed.) and picked up my first set of weights.

By the end of the summer, I had collected a handful of moments that felt like “last times” and it hit me that I was shedding skin.

To know me is to know I’ve had several radical life transformations. I flame out. I rise from the ashes. Rinse. Repeat. Stopping the rollercoaster and living in the middle makes those transformative moments harder to recognize, but in the slow, steady way that characterizes this phase of my life, I’m turning things over; making room for who I’ll be in the next decade of my life.

I’m excited to meet her. In the meantime, here’s to another year of clearing the way for her grand entrance.

Everything Tells: On Turning 35

I don’t know how to do 35.

When I was a child, 35-year-olds were GROWN UPS. When my mother was 35, she had a seven-year-old daughter. My friends’ parents were 35. They had spouses and owned homes. They were in charge of things.

I don’t know how a woman who does not want a partner, a child, a harried career, or to own anything that hinders easy movement does 35.

I think it over with friends. They interrogate my desires, make me root out the source of my angst. I hear “Thirty-five doesn’t look like anything.” As long as my choices make me “feel good, affirmed, sexy, powerful…in ya skin,” I’m fine. Another friend gave me the social media equivalent of a pat on the head and advised “Adulting is what you make it. Just keep the things you like about yourself at 34 and MAYBE have one small goal or thing you want to bring differently for 35.” Someone else reminded me “Our generation is different. There aren’t set norms for things we are supposed to be doing.”

Wise counsel. I wish it was enough.

I want exposition, rising action, climax, denouement, and resolution in that order. I can’t wrap my mind around a big-sounding age not meaning anything in particular. I crave an arc. “What is this character’s motivation?” I ask about 35-year-old me as if she is a protagonist on a page.

“You’re in your mid-thirties. Everything tells.”

I heard it in a character analysis about warrior-turned-washed King Robert Baratheon.

Everything tells.

The three beers that show up in a pouch above my pelvis at the end of a too-long night out. The aggravation flashing in my eyes when men bloviate at work. The atrophied muscles during lazy weekends in bed. The lack of inspiration when I’m too married to my routine to get out and interact with the world outside my head. The random charges that hit my account at inconvenient times because “Oh, yeah. That thing I subscribed to when I needed more stuff to consume to distract me from my thoughts.” The drafts of lifeless prose penned by someone trying to “sound like a writer” because the truth just ain’t as sexy as it used to be.

I can’t hide anything from anyone anymore.

There was another version of this blog post. I wrote it in Starbucks. It was full of those intentional run-on sentences I write when I’m depicting the breathless spirals of my inner dialogue. It painted a bleaker-than-reality picture of my mental state. I was ready to exploit my emotions for the sake of artful prose.

In the middle of my Blonde Flat White-fueled pity party, I received the following text from a friend:

Just wanted to say I’m proud of you. For always defining your own lane, taking time to breathe and [being] comfortable being you.

After a near bladder-busting wait for the restroom, I deleted the draft and left.

My Solar Return for this year says:

Saturn ruling this year forces you to face reality and your own limitations.

Not “what my reality looks like.” Or “what narrative about my reality feels right.” But the cold, hard facts of my life.

In other words: everything tells.