thin, lady bird, crippling self-doubt

It's probably posts like these that will one day convince me to make my blog more private, but I'm pretty sure I know the few people who actually keep up with this regularly (love you all), so I'll just go with it. 

I've been thinking a lot about life lately. It's a very normal thing, I'm told. So much of life has been spent going through school, with little time to think about much else. Graduation felt like being fired out of a canon, the summer a blissful freefall. And now I feel like I've landed in an empty field. The dust has slowly settled, and I am lost.

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I'm brought back to a room. My old room at 1425 Lyndon St, in South Pasadena. This, as I am realizing, was such a defining space for me. It was here that my various dreams were both hatched and buried, where broken hearts were mended, and where I slowly began to learn who I am. 


I've been feeling so indescribably lost lately, and it took a movie for me to find the words. I watched Lady Bird back in November, mostly due to excitement about a few of the scenes being filmed at my high school and the local coffee shop where I went often (and where I had my MIT interview). Leaving the theater, I didn't really think that much of the movie. It was definitely good, but I focused a lot on the embodiment of the characters and setting, not about the emotional responses, which were the heart of the whole film. I joked that it was a really "white" movie. And that was it for a while. 


I got incredibly homesick in January. I sort of expected it, with the miserable Boston winters, lack of sunlight and all. I missed the sunshine, the beach, the moonlit drives, the feel of a longboard on smooth concrete. I missed the warmth of friendships, the exquisite pain that comes from laughing too much, and the feeling of wanting to bottle up beautiful moments to save for later, and for forever. 


I see my past so visually and so vividly. It's painful and lovely at the same time. Memory and photography are so inherently tied for me that it's hard for me to explain the difference at all. I guess the major difference is that I press a shutter to take a picture, but there exists thousands of clips in my head that never make it onto a film strip or sensor, whether real or imagined - strangers' smiles, sunlight reflecting off buildings, ocean waves, drifting snow. 


In 9th grade, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to make movies. I spent the majority of my free time reading about screenwriting techniques and watching cinematography reels on Vimeo. I dreamt about going to USC film school and becoming a DP - making the visual nuances that make me so happy come to life for everyone. I made a few random videos on my own or for school projects, but I never allowed myself to fully immerse in a world where this dream seemed like a feasible reality. I started taking photos as a less serious alternative, deleted my video editing software, and went on to search for new dreams. Did I want to be a dentist? Yes, until I had to wash people's mouths for 8 hours a day. A biologist? Oh, I never took biology. I went to an MIT summer camp, became interested in mechanical engineering (because I started fixing cameras), and the rest happened how it happened. 


MIT was an incredible place, for many, many reasons, but it's also the place where I felt like I lost myself the most. I made some truly wonderful memories and met some of my favorite people in my life, but in retrospect, I felt forced to believe that I wanted something I didn't. I feel horrible writing this because I know that MIT is a lifelong dream for so many people. I really wanted it, too, and I was lucky to have genes from incredibly smart parents and also parents that created an environment for me to build a strong work ethic and intense self-discipline. I wasn't sure about engineering when I went to MIT, but I wanted to be sure about it. I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps, to show him how well I turned out, and to prove my own value to myself. I wasn't sure about engineering when I was at MIT, but I didn't have anything that I really liked that much more, until I started taking more social science classes towards the end of my time there. I got into product design, which was something I liked because I could use the engineering I didn't really want to do, and combine it with the social science parts that I did enjoy.

And now here I am. 


I went home last weekend since I was out in Palm Springs for a work trip anyway. I rented a car and drove back on Friday, right through sunset. The shades of pink, yellow, blue, and purple in front of the sandy mountains was more than my heart could really bear. I smiled the entire way home. I suddenly thought of Lady Bird - the last scene, where she calls home and asks her mom whether she got emotional the first time driving through Sacramento. The memory of that scene just hit me so hard. 


I got home, and was able to spend a few days in Irvine and around South Pasadena. I saw the aforementioned coffee shop, and scenes from the movie came back to me again. It was weird, because the locations were just triggers - I started identifying with the subtle emotional trajectories of the characters, months after I had seen the movie. And then I would recall the way it was filmed - the colors, the sunflares, the tonal quality - and it reminded me of the ways I construct my own memories. 


There's another scene that hits me really hard from the movie (sorry for anyone who hasn't seen this movie, it's hard to explain how the delivery changes the meaning, or how spectacular Saoirse Ronan is): 

Mom: I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
’Lady Bird’: What if this is the best version?

This scene kills me. I've never had this sort of conversation with my mom, but this sentiment is something I struggle with internally on a daily basis. Not the idea that I won't be better, but the sense of crippling self-doubt. 

I've always prided myself on being able to go for things that I want, and my ability to be willing to pick up new skills and try new things. While I still think those things are true, I'm coming to terms with the fact that I've never actually tried that hard for the things that I genuinely love doing with all of my heart. I'm actually really scared of putting my all into something and realizing that I'm not that good at it, or that I'll never make a difference with it. Since college, I've been working towards things that provide stability. Job security, good income, ability to support myself, insurance, etc. I was convinced  that once I had those things, happiness would follow, but...

Money is not life’s report card. Being successful doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. It just means that you’re successful. But that doesn’t mean that you’re happy.
— Marion McPherson, Lady Bird

It's weird - I never really understood people that loved their jobs, or wanted to work more than they had to. This judgement, I've realized, comes from a bitterness within myself. I think, deep down, I just really envy people who work just because they love it. This doesn't apply to people who have to work for financial stability or people who attach their self-worth to a paycheck or external validation - I feel for those people. But working for enjoyment? That's completely foreign to me, and it's only now that I realize that it's because I've never let myself even try to turn something I love into a job. Yes, I've done some freelance photography, but not before I grossly undercharge to eliminate any real expectations from me, and this just worsened during my time in college. I'm so terrified of disappointing myself by trying too hard and failing that I've built an entire separate track of my life that walls off life productivity from personal happiness. As a result, I'm judged for things that I don't feel that strongly about, so if I fail, it's easier to move on from. It's easier to pursue the things I love in my free time, away from any actual responsibilities or ability to make a real impact, and that's sort of cowardly. And I convinced myself that this was desirable. 

We’re afraid that we will never escape our past. We’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid we won’t be loved, we won’t be liked. And we won’t succeed.
— Parish Priest, Lady Bird

To be honest, I don't really know where to go from this realization. I'm proud that I'm able to support myself with my education and skillset that I built for my career, but I want to push myself to take more risks, expressively. I'm working on my photography a lot more now, and eventually do want to become a well-established photographer. Shooting for a magazine or a website would be really cool. I want to make a documentary one day. Maybe even work on a film. I want to use the food knowledge that I'm gaining to make systematic change. Most of all, I want to empower people through the way I see the world. And one of these days, I want to be able to let go of an expected 9-5 job to pursue, in full force, something that doesn't have me checking the time every half an hour. I want to be someone who gets up excited to do something with their day, even if that day is challenging as hell. I want to think about something 24/7, not because it's stressful, but because I know that it truly matters to me. To be honest, I just want to feel some of the fearlessness I used to feel, before logic, fear, and an expectation of what my life should be led me to a very stable emptiness.