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Becoming a Real Person
Notes on perception.
When Frances Ha was first released, I was somewhere between my late teens and early twenties. Much to no one’s surprise, I instantly loved it, and it quickly became a favorite to revisit. Frances is awkward and complicated and messy. She is still figuring things out, as they say, and that resonated with me. But Frances is 27, and I was so much younger then. The distance between us felt expansive, endless even. By the time I’m 27, I thought, I won’t still be figuring things out, like Frances. I’ll have it all figured out.
Then, last month, I turned 27.
I’m notorious for rewatching movies. It allows for an advantage we don’t get in our own lives — to know exactly who people are, to know exactly what will happen and when. I find great comfort in returning to these characters, specifically because they never change. Frances will always be 27, but this is the only time in my life I will ever be the same age as Frances. It feels necessary to celebrate this milestone, to finally meet her at eye level.
There is one line that has always stuck with me, replaying in my mind at random intervals like a broken record. Frances says, “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.” It has never felt truer to me than it does right now, in this moment. Suspended between the end of my mid-twenties and the beginning of my thirties, I am balanced, becoming.
Two things occurred in tandem my first year in high school: I read High Fidelity, and I created a Tumblr. The former introduced me to an idea underscored by the latter: What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. I adopted this philosophy as pure religion, curating my interests with painstaking care — the books, films, and songs that could, and would, define me. The world opened up and swallowed me whole, and I welcomed it. I consumed and created in equal part, and always with urgency.
Cue the montage.
I was the main character in my own coming of age indie movie.
I collaged with back issues of Bullett and Nylon and read tirelessly, journaling in the margins. I wrote deep devastating poetry about the most minor encounters, allowing my imagination to not just run, but sprint, free. I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Factory Girl, and The Royal Tenenbaums. Then, I watched them again. I inherited a Polaroid camera, a record player, a typewriter, and exchanged letters with friends from the internet. I spent hours alone in my bedroom, staring longingly into space as some violent white man’s voice crooned softly from my speakers. I catalogued, documented, and immortalized everything online.
Lately, it has been difficult to gauge whether I am really 27, or still caught somewhere in my teens. I have always felt like I’m somehow evading the system. I cook, I clean, I pay bills, rent, taxes, I run errands, I work… I wait for adulthood to descend, but it never does, and this feeling has only compounded over the last year. We’re aging, Maya Angelou argued, but we’re not growing up, because to do that would cost us everything.
In reconnecting past and present into a singular space in time, we allow ourselves to return to who we have always been.
When we choose to exist online, we are simultaneously choosing permanence. It has always been a cautionary tale — that the many selves we share, but especially the ones we outgrow, will one day become impossible to erase.
My Tumblr was an archive, but it was deeply personal too. I was processing my trauma publicly, working through the language needed to name each demon, and eradicate them for good. This blatant transparency did not stem from courage, but necessity. I carved out this small space online in the hopes that it could shelter me, and in doing so, I opened myself up to even more scrutiny. Ultimately, the decision to delete that account wasn’t my own, or even within my control, but I wasn’t surprised when it happened. I was actually a little relieved.
In her newsletter, “Embracing the Paradox”, Fariha Róisín writes, “I think social media escalates the dissonance between the projected self and the internal self, so I’m trying to tapestry those two parts together.”
I struggle with being in my body. I disassociate regularly, forgetting my own existence for extended periods of time. The internet allows us to experience and perceive anyone at any time, without their conscious awareness, or approval, and I forget this too. I try to remember each person I have been, each version of me someone may have witnessed, but it’s impossible. Even as we render ourselves hyper-visible, the internet limits us in its two-dimensionality. It simply cannot capture us whole.
Social media mimics a shattered mirror, splitting our singular image into a dizzying splendor, each particle compressed. Everyone else seems to have pieced these shards together, so we struggle to do the same, but there are too many pieces. We simplify ourselves in order to simplify the task at hand. In this exhaustive pursuit for the whole, we forget that what we are looking at was only ever the reflection to begin with.
I still run into that teenage girl online sometimes — in fragments floating through digital space — and it always startles me. Imagine running into your own reflection and not recognizing what you see.
I rewatched Jenny Slate’s stand-up special, Stage Fright, recently. In it, she explains that the root cause behind her stage fright (performing, public speaking… being perceived) comes down to one fundamental question: Will they like me? She doesn’t earn the love, she says, unless she delivers something beautiful. It’s about expectation, and it’s about exchange.
Like many, I was raised to believe that love is earned, that the earning itself is steeped in pain. My friend Niki said something that stunned me. She said, “If you have to earn someone’s love, then maybe it’s not the quality of love you’re looking for.” I hadn’t realized that there was a part of me waiting for this permission, until the permission had been given. So now, I am no longer going where love is earned, only where it pours with abundance, and freely.
In Untamed, Glennon Doyle writes, “The culture depends on the sensitivity of a few, because nothing can be healed if it’s not sensed first.” Despite my conditioning, something in me has always fought to open up. It is the catalyst through which that first Tumblr came to exist, through which this newsletter came to exist too, and so much in-between. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less interested in denying my inner child, my messiest, most fragile selves. I feel like an exposed nerve, a fresh blooming bruise, tender to the touch, and this can only mean something good.
It’s like waking up from a bad dream. You can either wait for it to become real, to validate your deepest anxieties, or, you can accept that the nightmare is over, and go back to sleep, because the truth is this: Good dreams require surrender, and surrendering requires strength. It is easier said than done, but it is — like all things — a practice. Little by little, I’m becoming less afraid to be witnessed in feeling. And I know I’m creating a different reality than the one I inherited, because no one who claims to love me has turned away from this unraveling.
I am still figuring things out. I will be infinitely.
Finally, I would like to end each newsletter with ten things that made me feel good that month, be it a book, a song, a moment, or a memory. Here they are:
Heartfelt gifts from sisters.
New pen pals, forming friendships from isolation.
Sonate Pacifique by L’Impératrice & Isaac Delusion.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle.
The documentary Flight of the Butterflies.
Every single person who privately or publicly supported the launch of this newsletter over the last month. Thank you for seeing me.