Revisiting Rilke: growing up and freaking out.


The other day I was walking around the neighborhood with one of my dearest friends (you’ll hear about her a lot because she is one of the rarest and one of the best and I love her so much), telling her about how I’m feeling about my upcoming birthday. Before you think, geez, all this girl talks about is herself! (which if you are thinking that: um, hello, this is a personal blog! How else am I supposed to relay and relate to life’s experiences outside of my own?), let me explain…

There seem to be about four types of birthday people in world: 1) people who LOVE their birthday, 2) people who DON’T love their birthday, 3) people who love everyone’s birthday but their own, and 4) people who literally do not give a shit about any birthday, theirs or otherwise.

Well, I repeatedly find myself in lovely category number three. I looove me a good party! It could be a picnic party in the park, a full-on rager someplace in Meatpacking (complete with champagne bottle service, obviously), a kickback at an apartment rooftop, or an adventurous occasion like go-carting, I don’t care, I love parties, and I will be there with a bottle of your favorite and my home-made guac in hand (I have to admit, I make a pretty good guacamole) (okay, I guess I don’t have to admit that, but I wanted to share that with you anyway). My point is: I love a good birthday party, as long it’s not my own. I can’t quite put a pin in it, but here are a few reasons why that come to mind:

— I don’t have one big group of friends that I can just invite to one place. I have some smaller groups of friends, but even more so than that, I just have lots of different individual friendships with various people. So it’s hard to pick a place that will first of all, accommodate everyone, and second of all, that will help everyone mesh. Is it too fancy??? Is it too casual??? Will everyone like it and be happy??? Will they get along???? The meshing, especially, stresses me out.

— I really don’t like all that attention…and I swear I’m not being coy, I’m being COMPLETELY HONEST: I really don’t like it. It’s so much pressure!!!

— No matter how many times I pep-talk myself into thinking that I don’t care if not everyone shows up, I end up caring!!! It’s not that I don’t appreciate the company of the friends who do make it, because I really do appreciate that. But you can’t deny, you just get bummed! And then for me, all I can think about is why those people didn’t come…do they not like me enough to come hang???!!! So then what does that mean about our friendship??! Never fails. I find myself inviting less and less people to my birthday every year because I end up sitting there inside my own head evaluating all my friendships. I know that makes me sound like a crazy, judgmental, debbie-downer, but if you’re not gonna show up to my birthday, it’s gonna get me thinking… (For the record: you’re totally allowed to not show up to a friend’s birthday if you have a valid excuse like a family wedding or a graduation to go to. Or, if they’ve planned it for 10pm on a work night and you have a 9am meeting: also excusable. Anything else is a shitty excuse and please don’t bother coming next year).

— The total opposite also stresses me out: when ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS SHOW UP. Then I just spend the majority of the night wondering if there’s enough food and enough alcohol and is there enough room and is everyone comfortable or did we lose someone and no one can find each other and I haven’t said hi yet to so-and-so and I feel so bad because they took the time to make it out here and their train was down and ahhhhhhh!!!

— One year, I got too drunk and had to leave my own party early and spent my entire actual birth date the next day sending apology texts to all of my friends. It sucked and I was not proud of myself or happy about the way I had started my next year of life. This is more just one instance, but it still turned me off from the whole idea of celebrating my birthday.

In essence: I don’t love celebrating my birthday. I guess I’m just not one of those people that revels in all the “fun”. I get way too stressed out way too easily and by the end of it I’m always like, akh…FORGET IT! Every year, I come THIS CLOSE to calling off all the plans and forgetting the whole thing.

So I was explaining all of this to my friend, and telling her about how anxious I feel about my birthday this year in particular. I mean, clearly I feel anxious about it every year, but that’s more on a logistical level. This year, I’m feeling stressed about the actual aging part of it. Which is crazy, because I’m still really young and I thought I was superhuman and would never be affected by LITERALLY THE MOST HUMAN EXPERIENCE of not wanting to grow old (commence: Liz Lemon eye roll). But in all honestly, I’m not really looking forward to my birthday this year…it’s the big two-five, and yes, that’s exciting, and yes, it feels kind of golden and special in a once-in-a-lifetime kind of way, but…I also feel like…

So what comes next?

I have the good fortune in life to have a lot of friends who are older than me. This is amazing and incredibly lucky because I always get a sneak-preview of what life will be like in the coming years, which is great, because I hate surprises and like knowing what’s coming up next in life. So let me share with you what I have gathered thus far: once you hit 25, a lot of your friends and people you know start getting engaged and then married and then having kids. This entire process ranges depending on the person, but starts roughly around 25 and can last up to a decade. A DECADE, PEOPLE! And I know this is entirely presumptuous of me, but I’m already freaking out about it and I’m nowhere near getting engaged!!!!! (Let’s be real, I’m nowhere near dating, even. But that’s an issue worth its own post so I’m not even going to get into it here.) In spite of the fact that I’m not even dating, though (not even within “ten-foot-pole” reach), the prospect of people in my life slowly starting to secure themselves into partnerships is kind of scary, because…well, it gets me thinking about whether or not I want any of those things for myself…

Let me be clear: I know I’m majorly jumping the gun here. I know these are very “future” questions that my present reality may not necessarily require the answers of. But my mind works at a pace 7 years ahead of itself and it’s hard to get it to pull back sometimes (okay, a lot of the time). There’s just so much I want to accomplish in the next year and within the realistically foreseeable future that hasn’t happened yet and that I want to happen before I even begin to think about any of those bigger-ticket things. For whatever reason, my brain thinks: 25 = not that far from 30 so get your shit together and FAST = get married/have kids/mindlessly slump into boredom. And I know that’s not necessarily the case for everyone, it’s a gross generalization of a stereotype, I admit that. But one of my largest fears is not living up to my full potential and just becoming a boring adult (that, and death) (casual, I know). I just want to know that if I indeed want those things–like, genuinely want them–I want to know that it’s for the right reasons.

And, not for nothing, but I actually enjoy being single and focusing on myself and my career and leading the life that I want to lead. So much so, I honestly question whether or not I want that to change, if I want to have a partnership and build a life with someone. I’m not saying that I definitely don’t want that, I’m just saying…I’m not 100% sure that I do. I’m not even sure what I really want out of this next year, or the following few, except for that I want to gain more experience and become more established in my career. But others than that…I have very little idea. The questions keep piling up and I keep not having the answers and I just feel like I’m out on the street without an umbrella as a summer storm thunders over me. Real cute, right? Soaked, sad, COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED. Happy Birthday!!!

This is where Rilke comes in.

“I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” — Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Letter Four.

I first read Letters To A Young Poet back in college, during a very tumultuous period in my life. A friend of mine from Santa Cruz came to visit me, and brought along a copy of the book as a gift. All of it is very good, I highly recommend the read. It’s such an important book to read early on in your twenties, and throughout. To this day, I can’t fathom how the advice of a poet from the nineteenth century is so undeniably and effectively applicable to my own life in the twenty-first century, but, it is. A few of the letters are some of my favorites, but Letter Four in particular really hit home for me when I first read it, and it continues to hit home every time I re-read it. The quote above is one of the mantras I try to live my life by, one that I have to repeatedly remind myself about: to focus more on the present moment, and less on getting all the answers to all of life’s questions. So what is an anxious, overly-ambitious, forward-thinking individual to do during these desperate times? Answer me that, Rilke! He does: “…trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon.” In that moment, for Rilke, his eyes are resting upon nature. So, in essence, he’s saying to turn our attention toward whatever it is that’s in front of us in the present moment. This is so important because it’s so easy to become caught up in the details of everyday life and to grow obsessed with the grander queries that keep us up at night. But redirecting our attention away from those things and toward the present moment, Rilke says, will make things a bit easier, “more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in [our] conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in [our] innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.” All this emphasis on busying ourselves with whatever is happening in the present moment in our lives, so that we may relieve the grasp of our attention from whatever is unresolved in our hearts.

I bring all of this up to say: this is what I’m trying to focus on now. To turn my attention toward whatever is happening right now in my life; to focus less on the unanswered questions and unsettled issues I mentioned earlier. To trust that, with time, and as long as I’m awake and aware of and alive within the present, I will gradually live my way into the answers. And maybe I’m not ready for them right now anyway, as Rilke suggests. Maybe I wouldn’t recognize the answers to all the questions I have even if life smacked me upside the face with them! Maybe right now isn’t the right time to be asking myself all those questions, even if 25 is around the corner. Maybe, just for now, I should focus my mind and my heart and my soul on living in the moment. To live everything. 

4 thoughts on “Revisiting Rilke: growing up and freaking out.

  1. Who is this amazing friend you mention – she sounds great 😉 Listen m’dear, I could not agree more with your Rilke-influenced analysis. Right now, it’s more important to ask questions then it is to have answers. Questions are brave, fierce, feminine steps in the direction you want to go. Keep asking, keep walking, keep sharing your journey on this blog!! Love you, homeslice.


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