Edition #119: A Simple Solution to Future Woes
Plus, what does vex money do to love, a bruising poem, and the happiest music video ever
A Note From the Editor
I have imagined myself in many fictional futures. The Northern California girl driving a Subaru, listening to Phish, forgetting what makeup ever was. She lives in a big house with lots of windows—this detail was purely mine, the singular speck of me that I allowed into this vision—and she likes outdoor sports. Snowboarding and skiing but not the fancy kind, the sort where you pack a turkey sandwich for lunch and get dropped atop a looming mountain range via helicopter. Another time I am an up-and-coming politician, the other half of a polished pair. I wear pantsuits and smile broadly, even when I am seething inside. I have a powerful group of friends and attend many a fancy gala whose tickets benefit the underprivileged communities I was once a part of; look how far she’s come. I live in New York or DC, preferably New York, but my pragmatism seeped even into this fantasy so probably, DC. I am on the arm of a promising progressive and together, we are a power couple, dedicating our lives to bettering the country in the partisan ways we see fit.
There were countless other fictional futures, some brief daydreams, others impeccably detailed. In an iteration dreamt up at the start of this year, I am a childless intellectual, traveling the world for six months and staying in a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn for the other six. In this future I have extreme financial security—I suppose I did in all of them, but in this one especially—and so I can do what I want with my time. I write, go for walks, have long lunches, read books, and get into spirited debates with my partner. Neither of us can commit to children so we toy with the idea of fostering, something we talked about on one of our early dates, but our feet are so itchy and we cannot sit still, so we falter at the prospect of being pinned down to one place for an extended period of time.
What do all three of these fantasies have in common? A partner—a man, in all of the aforementioned cases, playing the starring role in my life. I’m there, too, but slotted in a supporting role. An afterthought.
There were times, earlier in my life, when I was dating people so far off from who I knew myself to be that I couldn't even conjure such fantasies; boys I dated in high school and college whose dreams felt so small that I knew I would never be beside them as those dreams transpired, or didn't. My high school boyfriend spoke about a life in the country, never straying too far from his roots. A job as a park ranger, kids who attended the same school his mother taught at. The idea terrified and repulsed me. My college boyfriend wanted Florida with a capital F: football games and tailgates, pools and pool parties and sweaty gyms, a Groundhogs Day where adulthood would only be a slightly altered version of the lives we were already living. I didn't have words for what I wanted back then, but I knew familiarity was not it. My desires were like wistful dreams, the sort you just barely remember when you wake up; simultaneously vague and familiar.
It didn't take much for that to change, for my dreamed future to become bewitched by my romantic entanglements. For as long as I was out and Florida, and as long as the men I met weren't the boys I grew up with, they carried a certain promise of the variety I craved. Adventure, a new state, a new set of circumstances. My first love was 12 years my senior and the first thing I noticed about him was his steadfast sense of self. He preferred a certain type of music and he went to concerts regularly. He had hobbies and preferences beyond those inherited from his upbringing, an opinion about hotel room linens and car brands. He drank pink coconut water and grocery shopped at Whole Foods and had a fantasy for an outdoorsy future in, you guessed it, Northern California. In short, he was simply an adult, whereas I was just a 22-year-old who desperately wanted to grow into something different than what I knew myself to be.
I could say that love is what enchanted me into my initial fantasy of crunchy granola adulthood in California and maybe it did, but mostly, I was taken by the promise of adventure; a life so unlike the one I had lived to that point. That first fantasy was the start of a season in which I would begin to view romantic prospects as one-way tickets to a new version of life, a life in which my preferences, dreams, and desires were always secondary. I would no longer be the main character in my own imagined future, that role would be taken, unknowingly, but whatever man I was loving or being loved by, chasing or being chased by.
I have imagined myself in many fictional futures. The Writer, capital W. She wears oversized cat-eyed glasses and when her hair begins to turn she doesn't bother dying it because a silver streak is considered chic in these circles. She is probably a little bit annoying, with just an air of that particular brand of literary pretension. Look at this girl, Florida public school educated, taking up a place in such a crowd. She lives in a city but has a house somewhere in the woods, to write and drink tea and read poetry. She is a guest lecturer on panels about gender and sex, utopia and dystopia. She gets death threats every so often for the polarizing ideas presented in her work, but it never scares her. It only proves that her work means something.
In a slightly altered version of this future, she is a screenwriter and a director. She spends large swaths of time writing and researching, but also, meeting people, interviewing them, working with actors and growing familiar with the sets and the stages and cameras. She attends lively parties and intimate dinners with people who seem more like characters than real-life people; she enjoys it but she keeps her true circle small. She stays up late and sometimes sleeps in because her life doesn't adhere to a normal schedule. She travels often—to New York, to LA, across the Atlantic, across the globe, and it’s a hectic life, sure, but it’s worth it.
After a long, eye-opening summer spent out of my comfort zone and in a vastly different space, I returned to New York last week for a brief stopover between travels. Coming home for 48 hours was overstimulating and the opposite of relaxing, but it also felt like a soft place to land—in my dirty, familiar, chaotic city, in the arms of one of my best friends.
I attempted to share some of what I discovered about myself while I was away with her as we caught up. I admitted my habit of mentally slotting myself into someone else's life when it comes to visions of the future rather than asserting my own vision, in the case of a romantic partner. She found my admission to be a surprise, for this was not something she did. “I always imagine how they’ll fit into my life,” she said.
I've long thought that whoever has stronger convictions in a relationship wins. If one person really wants children and the other doesn't, children will likely end up in the future. If one person has a career that demands mobility, the duo will be at the whims of said career. The more religious of the two will instill their faith in their future children, the one with the more overbearing parents will probably be where the pair spends the holiday season. I’ve seen this truth played out in countless relationships and yet, I still have been unable to gain a strong mental footing when it comes to determining what I want out of the future, particularly in the case of love and parenthood. This indecision feels monstrous and bleeds into other facets of my imagined future, too—my career, my mobility, my financial stability, my potential for happiness. Everything melts into the next thing and I am left feeling like I know nothing about myself, like I have no clear directive or desires for what’s to come.
I unloaded this hand grenade of worries onto my sweet, generous friend of mine during those two days in New York. I admitted that, in the past year or so, the future had morphed from a bright, promise-filled prospect to something darker. I would inevitably erode—in a society that values women as their youngest, hottest, most potentially childbearing selves, a time would come when I would no longer be seen as beautiful. Superficial, I know, but a genuine thought nonetheless. I might never become a writer of any great accord, for lack of willpower or luck or perseverance or a mix of the three. I would lose my parents, at some point, a thought that began to hold my mind hostage during the early stages of COVID, and I could hardly decide whether I could ever imagine myself being a mother. I hadn't been able to identify when the future had become this overwhelming place, but it had. "Let's do a tarot reading right now," my friend said.
Neither of us knows anything about tarot, but we've come up with a method that is part talk therapy and part advice-giving. We voice our concerns aloud as we are shuffling the deck. I shuffled and shuffled and talked about the future in great depth, wondering why was it so much easier to fit myself into someone else’s life than to make decisions on my own, wondering when things had begun to feel hopeless. Then, we lay out three cards. The first is a summation of our current state, the second is the proposed solution to our self-professed problem, and the third is what happens if we follow the solution.
Perhaps I was searching for deep meaning here—I suppose I am always searching for deep meaning in life’s mundanity—and I found it on the solution card: The Empress. The Empress is the embodiment of femininity, so says the internet. She is a mother figure, a pinnacle of fertility and security, dedicated to nurturing others. We decided this card was a clear indicator that I am to learn to mother myself the way I had always mothered those around me; to learn to love myself in the generous, unconditional way I am able to love others. The more we spoke, the more clear this simple directive became: learn to love yourself unconditionally. Learn to love yourself unconditionally. Learn to love yourself unconditionally.
I've reflected on this reading every single day since it happened, and I've especially considered my propensity to think about the future in terms of someone else. It becomes clear to me that doing so is easier, despite the fact that it presses against all of my independent, feminist sensibilities. I have long since known I will never let a romantic partner, especially if that partner ends up being a man, control me. But as long as they provide me with a sense of freedom, it seems I have been mentally willing to bend my life in every direction to accommodate theirs, even if it’s just been in my imagination.
Making such a decision could be spun as an act of selflessness. It requires me to make fewer decisions, it allows me to place romantic love on a throne, the pre-ordained number one priority, abdicating the necessity for personal agency. "I did it for love," I could say of my lifestyle, of my cross-country move, of my lack of career success. And people would understand, they would relate. And I would be satisfied, at least momentarily, with the decision that was made for me. One day, probably, I would end up resentful, but today I would be OK. I would fit the mold—everybody's doing it, girl. Just fall in love, just make your decisions for your partner. Nobody would blame you and your mother would be thrilled.
And yet, as I listened to my best friend give me her heartfelt interpretation of The Empress card, a rare light switched on in both my mind and my heart and an unbelievable calm swept over me. Could it be so simple? Placing a love for myself at the center of my life as I enter a new decade, leaving behind old habits and patterns in place of newer, gentler ways of thinking? In learning to love me unconditionally, in channeling the care I've found so effortless to dole out to others back into myself, might I be able to reclaim my role in my future, whatever it may look like?
Only time will tell, but I'm eager for the chance to find out. And for the first time in a long time, the future does not feel like inevitable degradation but a long, winding walk through a garden. I don't know what I'll find along the way but I am ready for the stroll; ready to be delighted and surprised by all the great mysteries I uncover.
I have imagined myself in a fictional future landing somewhere in the middle of the road. She is a decently respected writer, respected enough to make a living doing it, but not so much that she'd be recognized by anyone outside of a very small, very niche circle. Her anonymity grants her certain freedom: she can live wherever she wants, be whoever she wants. She chooses two places, one in the US and one elsewhere, in another country where she can divorce herself from the American values that are not her own. She writes but she does other things, too. She surfs, she bakes, she volunteers at a local theater, and she even keeps a little garden, though she’s not much of a gardener. She reads often and continues to explore the world. She spends time nurturing relationships with those she loves. Her life oscillates between slow and fast, but she never lets it get too fast. She wakes when her body tells her to, she lays on the floor and listens to music and watches films that make her cry. She does lots of yoga but not for vanity, for longevity. And still, she is learning.
Cheers, my dears, and as always, thanks for reading. If you want to support this newsletter, consider opting for a paid subscription. Paid subscribers keep this thing going! I appreciate you, always.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
What Does ‘Vex Money’ Do to Love? So many things to love about this essay. I’d never heard of the term vex money before, but then, I was not raised in an Afro-Caribbean community. I stand by the idea of teaching children, especially young women, that they should always have a plan for themselves and that plan should not include relying on a romantic partner for their livelihood (see: advice I would like to give to my younger self). Still, it’s also interesting to consider what having a backup plan means for vulnerability in long term partnerships.
Coming To This. Poetry as a medium is so compelling, in large part, because poets know how to do so much with so few words. Short poems tend to woo me in particular, and I especially love the sentiments expressed in this one. I like to imagine the speaker contemplating a love who is not his, not by any formal definition, and wondering why they continue to choose each other, despite the pain the arrangement brings them. It’s sexy and achy. Give it a read.
What It Takes to Put Our Phones Away. The first time I read this essay, I felt the sort of panic I feel when I think about the inevitability of death, or our warming planet—scary, out of my control—except the subject matter at hand is in my control. We've all heard about the scary pitfalls of social media and being glued to our phones, but those are realities I oft choose to ignore. This essay uses two similar, but varying philosophies—a productivity-centric digital detox book, and a book about why doing nothing is an essential tool for rebellion. I'm struck, again, but how poisonous social media companies allegedly are, and yet we all continue to ignore their dangers and keep using them ruthlessly. Yikes!
Perhaps You Should… Holler At Me With Your Best Advice
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know my favorite edition is coming up: my annual birthday list of unsolicited advice! I’ve written a list for the past two years (here, and here), and I always get so much joy out of compiling these tidbits throughout the year. This year’s my most monumental birthday yet, 30, and I’ve been asking all the people in my life what their best piece of unsolicited advice is. It could be a simple life hack (sunscreen on the back of hands), deeper advice (pause for a few seconds before responding in a conversation), or anything between. I’d love to hear your—email me and if I use it on my birthday list in a few weeks, I’ll be sure to give you a shout-out. And if you haven’t read it already, Kevin Kelly’s list, which inspired mine, is one I read like gospel. So wise!
**Bonus Content** (Happiest Music Video Ever)
WOW, this music video is everything I’ve ever wanted. The outfits! The dancing! The pure, unfiltered joy! Consider me a full-fledged Jon Batiste fan.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.”
-Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.