I’ve reached the point in my life where most of the “firsts” have come and gone. My emotional life is currently a mishmash of seconds, of thirds.
Last week, my best friend and I sat on my second bed, in my third apartment. We were laughing over our middle school journals, pages of smeared gel pen filled with trite “firsts.” We empathized and rolled our eyes at the little girls we used to be, before we even knew each other. Back when we were doing everything for the first time. Back when it seemed like the first time was all there was.
The world is bigger now, I guess.
Nothing is a first anymore, not even our friendship. We’re happy, we’re close, and it’s awesome. But it’s certainly no first. I met her in adulthood, after all. My trial-and-error timeline was already well on its way by the time we joined hands.
Firsts are important, sure, but I think we sometimes downplay our seconds, thirds, fourths. Maybe it’s because they’re less of a learning experience and more of an experience, period; they can rock your world, but they don’t rock your worldview. They just happen, they just are. I’ve put together a bed before, signed a lease, called a girlfriend in hysterics. Caring and craving and crying are officially somewhat-familiar territory. Circumstances will change, but I am at least aware of my basic emotional range. When big things happen again (and we all know they will) I will have an emotional compass established, a moderate understanding of how I respond to these things.
Perhaps that makes them seem like less profound follow-ups. But that can’t be true, it can’t. The fact that we even get second chances is incredible. We can hurt, and love, and be passionately interested with our whole selves. It can feel massive and real. But when things end, if they end, we get second chances. We can give ourselves permission to continue the story. We can move forward, we can try again. And again. And again. We can tire ourselves out so fully, yet still have more to give the next day.
That’s amazing. We get to fail, and life still goes on.
I think that’s worth recognizing, don’t you?
So here’s to the seconds, thirds, and fourths. The feelings we’re kinda-sorta familiar with. The stuff that happens after we learn from our mistakes. The ones we meet a little further down the timeline.
Because anything that reminds us of our personal capacity for resurrection? That’s pretty awesome in my books.
Your daughter who swore she would never drink coffee.
In middle school, my father embarked on a quest to get me to drink coffee–or give it a fair try, at least. This quest didn’t last long. I recall it ending mostly in frustration on his part (see also: all good-intentioned interactions with a pre-teen daughter ever). I was thirteen, dammit! I knew what I liked! And if I didn’t like something…then I didn’t like it. And I would never like it. Ever. Not even if you covered it in hazelnut syrup and cream and sugar.
[Please note: Hazelnut syrup/cream/sugar have A LOT more bargaining power in my post-pubescent life.]
Alright, so I’m a big kid now. I’m not who I was in middle school. That’s…a big relief. You should be relieved, too. Consider: I recently discovered a letter pre-teen Shauna wrote, heavily detailing her affection for Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5.” Also in the letter, 13-year-old Shauna cited the following hobbies: Singing to herself, making stupid videos with her friends, talking about boys, and “letting it all hang out.”
Pfft. Please. I now sing catchy 90s tunes to myself while I do my taxes. My latest boy talk was about my unrequited man-crush on Anderson Cooper. As for stupid videos: post-production, bro. Because I’m an adult now, and that’s what adults do.
Alright, we’ve established that my tastes have changed at least a bit in the last decade. And we’ve established that 13-year-old Shauna was…well, thirteen years old. But there was one very profound thing she said in her letter–yes, the one with the Lou Bega, and the hobbies, and (this just in) the words “everything I do is just awesome.”
Here’s the profound part: Thirteen year old Shauna had a rough outline for her future. She knew what she liked, and she really knew what she didn’t like. But, in an unprecedented moment of maturity, she gave it a big ol’ subject to change disclaimer. Sure, 20-something Shauna was strongly encouraged to keep writing (actually, the term used was “make magic with words,” because it simply had to be as dramatic as possible). But…that was it. There were specific dreams and ideas, but they were beautifully tentative. There was a lot of encouragement, a half disturbing and half adorable, “You’re awesome! Because I’m awesome, and you’re me!” but no specific expectations.
Basically, I was sucking up to my future self. I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do.
I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. It’s incredible how often those words apply. And therein lies the (very brief) wisdom of my 13-year-old dreams: the best (or, at least, most successful) long-term goals have been so, so vague. Not vague as in “uninterested,” but vague as in “unlimited.” They have had to be. The world is changing constantly and life throws so many curveballs. Somehow, even uncaffeinated 13-year-old Shauna realized that if you marry goals that are too specific, you end up closing more doors than you open.
So few of the amazing opportunities I’ve had were even on my radar a few years ago. Things that didn’t even register to me as possibilities for my life have gone on to define my life. When I went on an Ottawa walking tour as a teenager and my mother pointed at the guide, saying “You could totally do something like this,” it didn’t register as an actual possibility. No one would hire me for that. My French isn’t good enough, right? I’m clumsy and silly and auditions freak me out. They don’t hire people like me to do things like that. I would want it too much to actually get it.
I’m now entering my second year as a tour guide for that same Ottawa walking tour company. Amazing.
I am, however, taking a temporary leave from guiding for four months. I’m taking a temporary leave because the Smithsonian’s record company has taken me on as a Marketing intern. Try telling high school Shauna, buried in research on blues music and the Harlem Renaissance, that she would EVER be on the Smithsonian’s radar–never mind be working for Folkways. Just try it. She wouldn’t even know how to go about something like that. And yet–it’s happening. It’s happening right now.
I’m not saying this as an “I’M LIVING THE DREAM, BRAH. SUP WIT’CHU!?!” I couldn’t even say that if I wanted to, because 1) my pronunciation of “wit’chu” is awful, and 2) until we’re presented with “THE DREAM,” we often can’t even know what in the world it looks like. All I know is that I applied to everything. I tried out a bunch of cool-seeming things with varying levels of success. I dabbled in new technology. I avoided the word “No.” But how could I have ever known what kinds of things I would end up saying “Yes” to?
I had no idea. No idea I would ever like coffee. No idea that my affection for Mambo Number 5 would (somewhat) fade. And certainly, no idea that such jobs or internships even EXISTED for me to pursue.
My brother Michael, now in the 10th grade, has figured this one out. He told me this summer that when he grows up he wants to be “Happy.” Just happy. I had some reservations about this “happiness as a goal” thing at first, so I told him not to focus too hard on being “happy.” I worried that he might miss the real moments of joy in pursuit of some non-existent fulfillment ideal. He shook his head at me; “Your big words have no place here, lady.”
He might be onto something. I still think that happiness can sometimes be what happens while we’re busy trying to be happy, but…I do love the vagueness and optimism of Michael’s aspirations. Happy doing what? He doesn’t know yet. Something he loves. Growing up to be what? Whatever comes from being himself as successfully and actively as he can be.
I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. You really, really never know what could be out there. I certainly had no idea. But now I’m getting ready to face it, latte in hand.