Upon learning that Vivian Gornick—one of my favorite writers—is appearing at The Community Bookstore to promote her new book, The Odd Woman and the City, a follow-up to Fierce Attachments, her bittersweet memoir about her relationship with her mother, I immediately thought of my own version: The Young(ish) Woman (Sort Of) in the City. Since turning thirty-three last year, I’ve dropped the “three” when asked my age; instead, I demur, I’m “in my early thirties.” (This, of course, will change when I hit thirty-four in November).
I divide my time between my Connecticut condo—a place I’ve had on the market for nearly a year—and everything else (i.e. job, boyfriend) in New York City. My frustration has mounted over my inability to rent or sell my home in a still-soft market. And in addition to having a penchant for overusing parentheses and em dashes, I also tend to live in extremes rather than dare contemplate that awful A-word: ambiguity.
So when I recently read a Buddhist’s reflection on the actual term “not-knowing,” my protest included a revived passion for Pinterest, particularly boards on apartment hunting, and a flurry of city-based Meetup groups. Meanwhile, the reality of the market and my schedule makes commitments perpetually ad hoc. To relax into uncertainty seems, to put it politely, counterintuitive. But I also can’t deny that spending most of my adulthood ignoring uncertainty’s permanence in virtually all aspects of life has often left me lost, frustrated, and, ironically, exactly where I started. The certainty of a dream job or ideal relationship can crumple under the sky-high expectation of culling almost all happiness from them.
Several years ago, I was told the obvious: I lacked validation from within. At the time, however, it was one of those stop-in-your-tracks epiphanies. I also thought I could achieve this inner contentment in a few weeks, months; a year at most. Six years—and many blog posts later—relaxing into a place of inner calm remains my biggest foible. The ensuing negativity and self-centeredness that often accompanies the perception of never having enough, or, more painfully, being enough, has resulted in strained, even fractured, relationships.
These experiences are teaching me, slowly, to change the one variable I ignored in my quest for peace: my own behavior. That the empty hole I stuffed with idealizations of careers and partners could only be filled by me, developed from fostering a stronger sense of self, of knowing that the idea of never having or being enough is, indeed, only a perception. It’s also about being open: to new experiences, like enjoying (!) basketball, to professional opportunities, to losing the rigidity of my own opinions by listening more attentively to others’ viewpoints.
These days I’m focused on my relationships and my lately-neglected interests: reading and writing. Earlier this spring, on a solo trip to Vermont, I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s captivating Gift From the Sea. After, I scribbled “The Art of Solitude” in my journal, a title for a piece on aloneness for the shy extrovert, those uncomfortable with being alone, those who crave company but at times avoid it, only to face the deep, sometimes difficult, contents of their own mind. I’m ready—at the ripe old age of thirty-three—to march in and dig, to pluck, however disconcerting, the truths and ugliness and joys I evaded. It’s the only way a self-described writer can find liberation—scratch that, the only way any individual—can truly find comfort in the, yes, ambiguity, of life.