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Twenty-Two and a Half

Twenty-Two and a Half

Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Content warning: This post has a semi-graphic description of blood (out of the nose).

I legitimately celebrate my half birthday each year.

This started in college — I usually went back to my mom’s house in Philadelphia during the summer, and I’d always wanted a “school year” birthday so that my friends could celebrate with me. [1] January 2, the day stuff starts back up again after the New Year, was a perfect way to do just that when everybody was around.

Now that I’ve graduated, I no longer throw extravagant parties for the occasion. Birthdays in general have become more low-key affairs. This is totally fine by me, since I seem to have become way more of an introverted extrovert.

Last January I was interning when my half birthday rolled around, so I wrote a blog post in lieu of a concrete “celebration”. This year, I will do the same.  

Feelin’ 22

Twenty-two and a half is much different from twenty-one and a half. This time last year, I was on my game, keeping a regular sleep schedule and hurtling at full speed toward the goals I’d set for myself. Now, I’m sitting in my bed at my dad’s house in Florida, and ideas have been keeping me up til 3 AM. They’re good ideas, so I let them through, but this means that my 5 AM club membership has been temporarily revoked.

I read that half birthday post with a lot of pride and a little envy. I haven’t lost any of the things I said I’d learned in that article — all five of them are incorporated so deeply into my life that it feels strange to realize that they haven’t always been there — but this post is not going to be about anything I learned since turning 22 (you can read about all of the things I unlearned this year here and here).

Right now, I’m feeling just like Taylor Swift in that iconic song about being 22: “We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical, oh yeaaaaaaaaah.”

Sure, I’ve been a legal adult since I was 18, and I could legally drink when I turned 21, but 22 feels like the first real year of adulthood to me. Part of it is because I graduated college. I felt as though I could still kind of fuck up at 21, or be that super young person who already had it pretty much figured out. At 22, I feel like it’s kind of expected for me to have my shit together emotionally, financially, nutritionally, mentally, physically — like I should step up, because I’m a fucking adult now.

But all I have are so many questions, mostly centered around my career, the “real world” and what it means to really be on my own for the first time. I embodied the “overachiever with the bright future” role for such a long time; when I left my job and took a somewhat unconventional break earlier this year, I felt like I was giving all of that up. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge, but I’d let my productivity and “success” become a part of my identity, and I’m still looking for ways to untangle myself from it.

Although I’m fine job-hunt-wise and I haven’t become unproductive by any means (I’ve consistently published essays I’m proud of every single day this week), there’s still a nagging tiger-parent voice in the back of my head going “you failed. You’re a fucking failure, and you have no idea what you’re doing. You should push HARDER! Do MORE! What the hell is wrong with you?”

Paper tiger parents

My parents are actually the opposite of tiger parents — they’ve been incredibly supportive of me and my choices from the very beginning — so all of this is really, truly in my own head. Whenever I feel this specific type of anxiety, I remind myself that I’m not lazy, that I’m not ineffectual or a failure, and that, in the long run, questioning myself and taking the time to think deeply about things will be deeply beneficial to my life.

This type of questioning has already brought three concrete benefits:

  1. I’m so much prouder of the writing I’ve been producing lately, which is a direct consequence of the introspection and almost-daily late-night thoughts
  2. I’m no longer afraid to be honest about my feelings on any given matter
  3. I’m able to connect with others in the same situation as myself

The third one especially has led to some priceless memories. The most recent one involved an airplane, a fellow twenty-two year old, and a bloody tampon … although perhaps not in the way you think.

An unlikely airplane adventure

I spent New Year’s Eve on an airplane from San Francisco to Tampa, with a small layover in Atlanta. On the way to ATL, my nose decided to treat me to one of those borderline-profane gushing nosebleeds that I get about once a year. [2]

FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK, I thought as I desperately tried to keep blood from dripping down my face. The only thing I had was the flimsy napkin that had come with my airplane pretzels. Tilting my head back wasn’t helping much. The nosebleed didn’t feel like it was going to let up soon.

Fortunately, I remembered that I’d stuffed half a box of tampons into my backpack before the flight in an effort to be prepared. I shuffled the bag out from under the seat in front of me with my feet, then did a truly graceful rummage-around-in-the-front-pocket-while-keeping-my-head-tilted-back move. Once I found a tampon, I popped it out of its packaging and shoved it up my nose, with the string hanging out and all.

Sometimes people ask me how I have the courage to take posed photos in such public places, or how I can be so open online. The answer is because I have no shame.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a middle-aged man not-so-subtly rise from his seat and point his cell phone camera directly at my face. I smiled and waved.

He sat back down.

I turned to the guy sitting next to me, who had been trying not to laugh the entire time. “I think that that dude just took a picture of me.”

“That’s a great solution you’ve got there,” he replied, gesturing to my nostril accessory. “Isn’t it from the movie She’s The Man?”

We ended up getting into a surprisingly deep conversation. I found out that his name was Yuji and that he was a photographer/tour guide living in Tokyo. We talked about being queer. I told him I was trans and what masculine-of-center femme meant to me. We discussed the uncomfortable, blatant wealth discrepancy in the Bay Area, the difficulty of making a full-time income as an artist, how personality was a key component of attraction, and what it meant to “find yourself”, career-wise.

He felt lost, I felt lost, and it was strangely comforting knowing that this uncomfortable experience wasn’t something I was going through all by myself. Both of us were creative Asian kids on the brink of discovering who we were and what we wanted to do with our lives. I also discovered that we were both twenty-two, born a week apart, and sitting in Aisle 22 of the plane.

It seemed serendipitous. “Befriend a complete stranger on an airplane while you have a tampon stuffed up your nose” was an item I didn’t even know was on my bucket list until I’d checked it off.

I’m smiling to myself as I recount this. Had I been super intent on getting ahead, I probably would’ve been buried in my work and totally not open to conversing with anyone.

Conclusion

No, I’m not hyper-focused in a singular direction at 22.5 like I was at 21.5, but I’m so much more aware and emotionally available now. I like myself more, which counts for something. I’m working on getting that sense of direction back again.

Life without a current direction isn’t without its challenges — the biggest being my own doubts and the thought that I should always know what I’m aiming for. The upside is that having less direction leads me to being open to opportunities I may not have seen before, which often lead to interesting adventures that shape me as a person. I’m learning what it means to be true to myself, rather than to shape my life (and my version of “success”) based on others’ opinions.  

The past six months have been one hell of a trip, but it’s an adventure I’m so glad I’m going on. ♚

Notes

[1] For full disclosure, the featured photo with the pink “22” balloons were shot on my actual birthday in July — I didn’t have a post up for my birthday this year because I was in a weird place with blogging, so I’m using it now. My mom and I have a tradition that we started last year, where we buy big balloons for whatever age I’m turning, do a photoshoot with them, and then spend the rest of the day hanging out. I don’t mind going all out with birthday celebrations on the days around my birthday, but not on the actual day. July 2 (and January 2) are reserved for reflections and thoughts for the times ahead.

[2] No, I haven’t been snorting anything. Get your mind out of the pharmaceutical gutter! I used to get the most intense nosebleeds at the worst times; I think this one was brought on by the altitude.

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