Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons by Alexandra Rae
Consider the squirrel. Consider its obsessiveness, the way it paws over treasure of nuts and seeds before stashing it underground for next winter. Consider the high pitched squawks used to communicate with one another; how a single chirp can mean BIRD or I LOVE YOU. Consider if the squirrel loves. If it dreams. If.
Art by Alexandra Rae
Consider the squirrel from the branch of a pine tree, carefully perched on the thin edge, watching the world spin beneath it. A white butterfly dancing between the pine needles. Barking from dalmatians in the distance. Its cousin running freely across the road mere seconds before a pack of children bike past. The possibility of flight. This all taunts the squirrel, who sits – afraid, inches away from courage — in the home it has never left. It considers freedom; warm grass on its paws; flight. The squirrel crawls down the trunk of the tree until it has no choice but to leave its sanctuary. It jumps towards the ground, fear paralyzing its tiny body as it becomes suspended in the air. When it lands, the quiet of earth consumes them. A single tear drops from the darkness of their right eye. The squirrel realizes they have known the unknown all along. They have returned to what has always been theirs.
I recently turned 21 and felt within myself a transition from fearing the fall towards the rest of my life and jumping towards it. I, like the squirrel, used to watch the world slowly spin faster & faster without me in it – my fear of not becoming who I wanted to be propelling me to sit on the edge of comfort but never quite leave it. I took no risks, made no drastic lifestyle changes. Stay chained to my sadness. Saw the key to lock the door to my old life behind me and put it back in the bottom drawer. Dust; my yearning; the things it collected. I didn’t write for years.
When I was five, I knew words and I would be lifelong companions, whether it be my own or through the consumption of others’. When I was twelve, I knew the tightness in my chest and sweat slicking my palms was not felt by every girl my age. When I was seventeen, I knew I wanted to leave my hometown and make something of myself through writing. I typed with shaking hands then. It wasn’t until I turned twenty that I stopped knowing and started doing. The past year has completely changed the trajectory of my life and solidified my passion for everything I am still learning how to do (write, create connectivity with others, be a good human). It is the year that I leapt from the branch of the pine tree and found my footing on solid ground.
Now that twenty is behind me and the possibilities of twenty-one are yet to be discovered, I am able to reflect back on what the past two decades have taught me as an artist & as a young person trying to find their way in the world. The journey to flight is long and unpaved but so, so worth it.
So here it is: here are the twenty most important things I’ve learned in the past twenty years:
You don’t have to be the person you promised others you would become.
Perfectionism is overrated and, above all else, dangerous. This is a topic I could spend hours writing about, but perhaps I should spare the details for another day….another article. Just trust me on this. Perfection was the monster I mistook for a friend – for years.
The scariest moments in my life have come when I didn’t trust myself or those around me. Learning to listen to my intuition has since saved me from people that didn’t have my best intentions in mind & better prepared me for living on my own in college, where making important decisions is solely up to you. That gut feeling to stay or go, to say yes or no, isn’t lying to you.
Spontaneity is the first step you can take to leave your comfort zone. My favorite memories from the past few months alone have come out of an unplanned “hell yes” leaving my mouth.
If you were supposed to know all the answers, don’t you think you would have by now?
Sunrises and coffee are two things worth waking up early for.
It is easier to feign indifference than to risk vulnerability. Take the risk anyway. Choose to love anyway.
A long walk can fix almost anything (mental crises about the impending future, boys, a need for nature…just not shin splints. I found that out the hard way).
The beautiful thing about being invisible is the ability to live without the fear of wandering eyes. Nobody really cares about you in the way you think they do. Wear the dress. Give the speech. Dance with your friends in the street.
At the center of my universe are the women in my life. They have given me their silk shoulders to cry on; their soft hands to hold; their friendship and comfort and guidance. It is they who have propelled me to become the person I am today.
The day you begin to mourn for your high school self (how fragile she was) is the day you can finally move on from trying to fit into your old skinny jeans, praying for a size six miracle.
Walk your dog more.
The art people feel most passionate about is born out of making mistakes.
Fuck up more often.
If it makes you happy, it isn’t a waste of time.
Boundaries. Set them. Unapologetically.
Having seven black skirts hanging in my closet, waiting for the perfect fall day to blow in the breeze as I walk to yet another local coffee shop to write & contemplate my existence, may seem excessive. But it also makes me happy.
The promises you make to yourself are the most important ones to keep.
Go through family photo albums at least once a year.
Leaving everything you have ever known to become everything you’ve wanted to be is one of the many terrors of getting older. It is also one of the most exciting journeys to take in your life. Forget fear – choose flight.
What I hope to learn at 21: how to understand that life is confusing and awful and joyous and beautiful and messy and fun and, yet, we are, all of us, still here. We keep returning to what has always been ours.
And knowing how to do my taxes without crying would be nice too.
Alexandra Rae (she/her) is a 20-year-old aspiring writer from the U.S. studying Creative Writing and Public Relations & Advertising at Point Park University. She loves exploring all genres, but her favorites are Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry. She is also a content writer for The Young Writer's Initiative (@TYWI on Instagram) and runs her own writing account as well
(@theresonationofalexandra). Her biggest writing inspirations are Taylor Swift, Lauren Slater, Stephen King, and Joy Harjo.