I have been trying for weeks to put down what I want to say on my birthday. Because my birthday is so close to the beginning of the calendar year, I always take a little time to reflect on my life. One year older, maybe wiser. What have I learned…what have I become? I also like writing, giving speeches and entertaining people at my birthday party.
Like, for example, when I had my fifth birthday, I actually dressed up like a clown and put on a circus performance for my friends – juggling and magic tricks, the whole bit. It was the first time I invited boys over for my birthday party – boys that I went to daycare with. Those little creeps thought it would be fun to laugh and point and make fun of my well-practiced routine, which sent me into the other room crying.
Then there was the night that I read my DARE essay to my high-school age sister’s friends at a party she had when my parents were out of state. I was a more sophisticated artist at this age (fifth grade), and I couldn’t figure out why they were so tickled pink by the reading of my brilliant essay that had been chosen by our DARE police officer as the winning manifesto on the importance of resisting drugs and alcohol. Later I found out the reason they were laughing was because everyone at the party was drunk as a skunk.
Yet, despite the pain and the scars and the years of therapy I’ve spent getting over my failed attempts at being witty and cute, I’m going to try once again to entertain my friends and share with you a little something from the inner recesses of my mind.
(I hope I’m a little inebriated myself while reading this because it will probably make it that much better and therefore give me a chance at being worth listening to! Guaranteed.)
I’ve tried about 37 thousand times to figure out what I wanted to say in this essay. I’ve had some really seemingly brilliant ideas. Like, I thought about opening with a letter I wrote to myself in 1997, back when I was in seventh grade. I thought it was poignant because I wrote this letter to my future self, and on the envelope is written, “Do not read until 2010.” Well, that’s what it said originally, and then in my impatience I scratched out 2010 and wrote 2005. (But I’m sure that it’s probably been open since around 1999).
I thought that might be a good start, because, you know, it like, shows how priorities change and the process of living and growth, etcetera, etcetera. It says “Dear myself:…”
But then I couldn’t really bring myself to do that. I couldn’t start my reflective essay like that.
Then I thought about describing my professor’s Honors Day Address at UT this past April, a ceremony celebrating the success of me and my fellow over-achievers for having the higher GPA’s than anyone else in the graduating class. He said he knew the secret to life. He said that the secret to life is, and I quote: “get a dog.” Dogs hold the secret to life – benevolence.
Well, I could start with that, I thought.
But no…I still don’t really know where to start. I don’t really know where to end. Where am I going with all of this?
The salmon is an interesting fish. It’s a freshwater creature of the salmonidae family, which is shared by trout, chars, freshwater whitefishes and graylings. Salmon, however, are the only members of the family who are anadromous – that is, they are born in fresh water and then migrate to the ocean. They then spend the rest of their lives swimming, upstream (pound tail pound) back to fresh water and, though the writer of the Wikipedia article entitled “salmon” attributes this to folklore, it has been observed and documented that they indeed do return to the very place where they were born.
They go back to the beginning…to begin again.
I haven’t been very certain about what to write in this essay. But I’m not the first person that’s happened to. I’m not the first to sit down at the computer or to a paper and pencil and have no clue what I want to say. I feel brilliant and witty and full of interesting words when I’m taking a shower or drinking my coffee or lying in bed trying to sleep and wishing I wasn’t thinking about things I would say to the world if given the chance. But when I actually sit down with the pen…it’s like…shit, what happened? That’s pretty common for writers. I’m definitely not the first person that’s happened to.
I experienced a lot of things for the first time in 2010. But then again I’m not the first to experience a lot of these things.
I went to England. I’m not the first person to do that. I saw the desk Jane Austen used to sit in to do her writing. I wasn’t the first person to stand in the same room as that desk and swallow the fact that I will probably never come close to producing anything like Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. I wasn’t the first person to take pictures in the bar where C.S. Lewis and JR Tolkien used to chat about literature, or to walk through the woods in his backyard that inspired his vision of Narnia.
I’m not the first one to wake up in the morning in another hemisphere and realize that I have FINALLY discovered the meaning of life. And I’m probably not the first to go running one week later and realize that the meaning of life is actually something totally different than what I thought it was when I woke up that morning the week prior.
Actually, I’m going to stop writing my essay right now and just tell you this – that a friend of mine the other day was telling me that a friend of hers, who is in her 30s, said that the 30s is way better than the 20s. She said your 20s is all about figuring out who you are and what you want to do with yourself and what you’re about. She said that when you get to your 30s, it’s not really so much about you anymore, and somehow that frees you a little and you don’t have to ask as many questions about life and you finally have ability to relax a little bit. I dig that, that sounds cool to me. I can see how that might really work.
But what I really wish is that someone would tell me what the hell those teen years were all about. Does anyone know why we went through all that unnecessary pain and torture? Over…clothes? And cars? Or real things, like death, and drugs, or abuse or pressure to do bad things and just…oh God, I mean why? I mean, I know I’m DEFINITELY not the first person to write in my journal, at age 12, that I wished I was dead. Yes, I found my journal the other day from a sixth grade writing project for school – “WHEN WILL DEATH COME TO ME??” is written in really big capital letters. I have no clue what that was about. Maybe I was really mad because my dad wouldn’t let me listen to Nirvana.
Back to my essay.
I’m not the first salmon to swim upstream. I’m not the first person to go to college and wish the whole time that it would just be over. I’m not the first to say “How are you?” Or be asked, “How are you?” I’m not the first person to get pissed off and hang up the phone. Or sleep in and be late for work.
I’m not the first to think my hair looks so stupid. Not the first to not know how to stop and smell the roses. I’m not the first person fart in public and hope that no one else is stopping to smell the roses at that moment, either.
I’m not the first person to not finish the book I was reading. Or to stop running before I want to while out for a jog. Or to just not go running at all. I’m not the first to go months without calling home.
I’m not the first person to visit Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull in Scotland (the castle of the MacLean clan from the 12th century) and sign the special guestbook for MacLean visitors only. I’m not the first to meet the MacLean clan chief, since he walks around and maintains the grounds himself and actually lives in the castle. I might be the first one he met who planned on walking for miles and miles around the island all weekend with what he told me he considered to be improper footwear. But there’s really nothing like traveling four thousand miles across the ocean to visit the ancient emblem of your family’s heritage JUST to be given what families give best: CRITICISM!
I’m not the first person to not know what to say to someone and just sit in awkward silence. I’m not the first to have a dream not turn out the way I want it. Or to be broken up with (over email), or to get lost while driving in an unfamiliar city (San Francisco) in a rental car you got to take a road trip to get over the fact that you were broken up with. (Over email).
I’m not the first person to watch a family member have cancer cut out of them. I’m not the first to want to stab my sibling. Or have a parent die young. Or be a parent to my parent.
I’m not the first one to have totally, absolutely, COMPLETELY unrealistic goals, plans and ideals. Or to suffer from perfectionism, OCD and over-the-top narcissism.
I may be the first person to decide on a whim to pack up my car and move from Texas to Washington just so she could say “I’m like a little salmon! Moving back to my home state!” But I’m not the first person to wish to leave the past behind.
I am, however, the first person to ever be me. And no one else is ever going to get a shot at that. For me to know that ought to be enough to keep from falling apart and having a total meltdown when I think of the beauty and the sadness of the whole damn thing called existence.
I’m also not the first to feel loved by the people around me. And to be around the people I am sitting around with right now, and to feel loved like I do when I am in their company, well, it might be the first time this moment has ever happened for all of us. But it’s also not the first time. Or the last.
And so, with my birthday I always say goodbye to another year. I’m glad we all get to say goodbye to something together. As Over the Rhine said, “We’re not the first ones to start again.” What’s really worth stopping to notice is the very GOOD and not overly-publicized NEWS that we really do get to start again.
That’s what this little salmon is gonn