Letters to My Grandma: 3 Months
I’ve started to think about how time doesn’t really make sense. We live our lives based on days, weeks, months, and years, but the concept of time rarely adds up when we conceptualize our lives on a grander scale. When I think of myself as a kid, sitting with you early Christmas morning (when would we wake up? Before the sun rose - 5AM?) I think of a different person. I’m still that kid, but I’m different. So much has changed. In addition to the little boy that watched That's So Raven as religiously as any devout church pupil, I’m also the 20 something year old now stumbling around a big city pretending to be an adult. I believe time gives us a false sense of existing in “now” and “then” because it gives us the assumption that things end when time passes. But nothing really ends, it kind of just grows into something else. I grew into myself now, I’ll grow into myself with wrinkles. I think that’s why some of the memories we have feel like yesterday and 10 years ago. I think it has something to do with interconnection - why when someone smiles we smile. Why when someone cries we cry. I think about how grandpa left us when I was 5 years old, but his life never "ended". It's a part of us now. He's in New York, typing on a computer, writing to his wife (you, or me writing to his grandmother). I just think we're all here together, and that's something time can never define.
I like simplifying time down to a convenient concept we use to organize our lives because it helps me reframe what’s actually important. I make a to-do list for myself every single day, sometimes weeks ahead. I set monthly goals. I imagine where I’ll be in a year or two, or five or ten. I do it because I have certain ambitions. But, when I really think about it, these to-do lists mean nothing. I didn’t have an item titled “Meet your best friend in Sweden” or “Become extraordinary close with your family and friends” on any of my lists. The most significant parts of our lives aren’t necessarily defined by deadlines or 30 under 30 lists. They're defined by the significantly less celebrated experiences we have that make this big, sometimes-scary world feel big in a brilliant way. The moments we share that remind us we're all in it together. The ones that remind us our lives are lived through every impact we make - big and little - on people and place.
A lot of young adults fret over our dreams. We feel this immense pressure on ourselves to succeed, do something different, be someone impressive. I’m not over that. I think about it every single day. I think it’s one of the most dangerous qualities of my generation. We’re ambitious and optimistic - we want to make an impact - but sometimes to the point where it might drive us crazy. I want us all to accomplish every goal we set our minds to, but I don’t want us to miss life while striving to do so. I’ve been trying to remind myself to take a moment and look around. Just see what we’re living, the stuff to-do lists can’t capture. The things you can’t schedule into a calendar. Conversations you have with you’re friends when you’re 20-something years old. Questioning the quirky parts of life that are universally tackled. Dancing to good music and feeling clean after a hot shower. The small stuff. I’m starting to think that's what builds the biggest lives.
You helped teach me these things: How to enjoy life, live it, see it, appreciate it. I want to update you on the past three months, but not in a linear order. I don’t think that’s how we actually experience things. So I’ve categorized the past three months into place and people.
HOME + NASHVILLE
I’ve gotten to visit home quite a few times since moving to New York — I’ve enjoyed seeing you, Mom, Dad, and Aaron on my visits home. It’s definitely hard to live away from the people you love, but I think there’s a special element to it as well. Living far away has enabled made to appreciate and cherish the time we have together (with family, with friends) more than ever before and with greater attention. Knowing that each visit comes in between large breadths of distance seems to prevent people from taking each other for granted.
The last time I visited home I spent the weekend visiting a community I called home for four years (UC Santa Barbara) for Alumni Weekend, the first time I'd been back since graduating college. My best friend Olivia funded my ticket as a birthday gift, something I’ll never be able to express enough gratitude for. Do you remember meeting her a couple summers back? You both grabbed lunch in San Jose while I was still away traveling. She’s become one of the most important people in my life; we share everything with each other and are in constant communication. It’s almost like a relationship, except we’re friends, though maybe family is a better word. Did you have a friend like that when you were my age? I think everyone has one person in the world who exaggeratedly knows them. But then sometimes I think it’s quite a peculiar thing we have. We’d do anything for each other. Maybe not everyone has this, or maybe not everyone has it this young. It seems like some married people have it. I don’t know what it is, all I know is that I’d go against every elementary school teacher’s advice and jump off the cliff after her. We’d scream like lunatics and probably end up laughing the whole way down.
Visiting UC Santa Barbara was incredible because it reminded me that home is everywhere. Whenever I fly back to California there’s a weight lifted off my shoulders. I’ve never felt the way I do in New York anywhere else — inspired and possible — but California has a sense of comfort I’ve never found anywhere else. I think that comes with growing up somewhere, being committed to a place for a long time. My weekend back at UCSB felt like home because I spent virtually every hour with my two best friends Olivia and Jack. I could write for hours about Jack, I love him so much. You would love him too. He has a bright soul and a big heart. I’ve never really met anyone like him, as calm and collected and easy going. The three of us have a lot of fun together, and Jack usually keeps us all in line. No too in line, though. I think it’s important to have friends like that.
I got to see almost every friend I met in my four years of college. It felt, just, heartwarming. That might be the word. You know, sometimes, when you feel something you can't describe? I’m starting to think that the thing everyone is searching for is quite simple, and it has something to do with belonging. At one point we gathered at one of the bars we used to go to and everyone was there. Everyone I knew. It was a celebration of hugs, hellos, dancing… Crazy! Of course, the reality is that not all of us can stay in touch. I didn’t get to converse with everyone I saw. I don’t really know the lives they’re living anymore. But the love we share, I think that’s forever. I think the preservation of past moments and memories made trickles into the present. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t know where I work now, or he doesn’t know my latest obsession. What matters is that we’re happy to see each other. We belong in the spaces we’re in because we once belonged to them; we belong to the people around us because we once belonged with them. That’s love, that’s all I want.
Around two months after visiting Santa Barbara I visited Nashville with my Jack, Olivia, and one of my dear friends Jackie. We organized the trip for Jack and Olivia’s birthdays, dancing, drinking, eating, and listening to live music every minute we were there. The food was impeccable and southern hospitality is a quality I think we should all embody (and towards everyone). Of course it wasn't really the food or the music, it was Jack, Olivia, and Jackie. That was the trip. I’m starting to think life is one big reunion. It’s a uniting of people and reuniting of people. Of friends and family, strangers who become friends, friends who become family.
It felt pretty somber to leave both weekends, after visiting Santa Barbara and traveling to Nashville. But it also felt like a reaffirmation of trust. I trust in life because of weekends like that. And both times I boarded the plane back to New York I knew I’d be reuniting with another home, another family of faces I’d be happy to see. If all the lives that have been lived in this world came together to come up with one line of advice for everyone at every age to hear, I think it’d be: Keep your heart open. When we let people and places inside, amazing things happen. Reunions upon reunions.
And, New York. I’m always a little hesitant to write about this city and my life here because I’m not sure if it’s legitimately possible to communicate what it is in words. Maybe it’s not possible to communicate life in general, but we try. We have to try! Not necessarily to make sense of it, but to thread together what it is we’re living so we can look at it and give our thanks.
In the past few months I’ve gone upstate to a cabin in the woods with a group of 20 friends. We dined, drank, relaxed. I moved apartments and switched areas (I now live in Williamsburg, a hotspot for restaurants, bars, and attractive young people - woop!). I made a handful of extremely close friendships with people I now see every week, some every day (my friend Olga lives a 5 minute walk away from me, and having a close friend as my neighbor has made this city feel even more like home). I found stable income and then lost stable income (the full time job I got became part-time, after some company financial issues). I made a wonderful mentor and friend (the creative director of the company I’m now part time at). I decided to focus on building out my freelance business full-time, instead of searching for traditional full-time occupancy again. I've started to learn how to screen-write (for film and TV), and am dedicating a lot of my time to that. I've been trying a lot of new things and learning a lot about myself along the way - love, sex, relationships. I ate oysters for the first time! And other things.
In terms of day to day events, nothing is crazy. I’m not out partying every single night (just every single night on the weekends). I’m not on the phone closing million dollar deals on wall street, I’m never working in an office and I have yet to attend a rooftop pool party that earlier me fabricated in his head prior to moving to this city.
It’s nothing like what I thought it would be and everything like I thought it would be. I’m not doing what I anticipated, in fact, nothing like it. But what I feel is everything I imagined. It feels grand, it feels big. Almost everything feels possible. I think the most magical thing about this city is the sheer number of lives you encounter and the multiplicity of lifestyles you witness, it makes you recognize (on the day to day) that there's never a single way to live.
You can work on a variety of projects out of coffee shops like I do (four of my favorite shops are all within a 5 minute walk from my apartment), you can work on wall street, you can work in a restaurant, you can work two jobs or one job, from 10PM to 5AM or 10AM to 5PM. You can hustle every day and night, you can party every day and night, or you can exist somewhere in between. You can go to a meditation class and then a live concert, grab dinner in between or maybe walk in the park. It is all just here. I don’t think any city is like this city. I’m not speaking about appearance or layout, design or politics. I’m speaking about the city itself — the energy it gives and the people it provides for (or perhaps, the people that provide for it). A lot of my friends make fun of me for being so in love with New York (I also make fun of myself), but look! No other city in the world is written about at such length by so many writers, set as the background of films and TV shows, or dreamed of by little boys and girls around the world as much as this city. When I first thought about this it shocked me. Why not Paris? Why not London? But there’s a reason for this. That reason is New York.
I don't think any of this makes New York superior to any other place. I just think it shows you what life is, loud and upfront. This life exists everywhere. It's just so dramatic, colorful, alive, and always on in New York. It makes you appreciate it, fall in love with it, and wake up every day energized to be a part of it.
Or maybe I’m just young. Maybe everyone feels like this. Life is a crazy story and every week I feel as though I’m just starting to write it. A fresh page and a new pen. Whatever it is — being young, being in New York — I’m grateful for this. The fact that I can see it, celebrate it, and aspire to live every minute of it is a privilege won by so many people who have lived before me.
If you went back 9 months and asked me what my plan was for New York before boarding the plane, everything I would have told you would turn out to be wrong. Nothing has played out the way I intended it to. It's kind of become my default state of being - unexpected turns and reroutes. I think it’s the same for everyone, maybe a bit less messy, but generally the same. We can’t plan life! But I do believe we can pursue it. That’s what I’m doing now, trying to enjoy every surprise along the way. That’s what you’ve always taught me to do. I listened from a young age, but sometimes it takes learning what you listen before you can actually live it. I think I’m learning how to live a lot of it here in New York. And you've been with me every step of the way.
Love you dearly,