“Imagining the Future is a Kind of Nostalgia”

Shout out to John Green for this one line that has been haunting me for years.

Being in your twenties is like being in one continuous existential crisis. “What do I want??” you scribble in your journal and scream at your friends and at the universe and at your mom. Except at family events when you politely smile and try and sound like you have your shit together so you can feel like you’re doing better than your cousins.

In the attempt to try and understand what I want I have created several pinterest boards, an aesthetic tumblr blog, and a list of what I find fulfilling in a career. I’ve read about vision boards and thought to myself “huh that seems like a good idea.”

But honestly what is the point of all these things other than to imagine a future where things are rosier than they are now? The idea that in the future I will dress like this and my apartment will look like this and my dog will be this cute is actually just a fabrication, the image of a life where everything is neatly sorted and there is no mess. (Because of capitalism I often idealize my future through the objects I will consume. How fucked up is that?)

When I look back through pictures of the past few years I think to myself “look how happy I was! I enjoyed working with these people so much! My hair was so great then!” and I gloss over the nights I spent sobbing on the phone to friends, the interpersonal drama, the times at work when I felt so frustrated I wanted to scream.

I am trying to embrace the idea that life will always be unexpected and messy. That when I ask the question “what will make me content?” the answer is probably lots of things. There is no proscribed program that I need to follow to happiness. Sometimes that is terrifying. It’s like Aziz Ansari quoting Sylvia Plath in Master of None:


“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

I think when we feel we have control over our destinies, we get scared, because what if we pick the wrong thing? What if we don’t have a calling but just a job? What if there is no such thing as soul mates, but just people we choose to love, over and over again? What if we never learn quite how to forgive and forget, but rather have some regret about the interpersonal relationships that will never quite be what we had expected?

The concept is scary, but I’m trying to accept that it’s okay. To again quote John Green, “You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet.”

Inevitably there will be nights when I sob on the phone over the uncertainty and injustice of life, but I will also have laughter and love and friendship and community, like I do now. And if one decision doesn’t work out quite like I expected to, I imagine I will be able to find more figs.


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