Millennial Midlife Crises

Something is happening in my friend circles, and I believe it’s called midlife. Last month, one of my best friends, who is the most outwardly successful of my squad, had a mental breakdown requiring hospitalization. This month my college roommate, who works insane hours and is always in a rush, slipped down a flight of stairs and broke her face.* Another close friend called recently to say his partner has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease — at age 38 — and he’s in a tailspin. Several friends whose weddings I attended ten years ago are divorcing, or it already happened and I only just learned about it because you don’t advertise these things.

For me, my main issue is I don’t know what to do next — I already did the things I wanted to do “when I grow up.” Now I’m off the breaking news treadmill, which I wanted, but it removed the constant external reward system of deadlines and delivery that journalists get fixed on, so it requires me to be ALONE WITH MY THOUGHTS, shudder.

It feels dissonant to be going at a moderate speed, but also satisfying, as I get to reconnect with … me.

A couple weeks ago I was in Sonoma Valley with old, hyper-smart friends. I’ll shout out in particular Colin Maclay, who lives in LA but on the East side of town, which feels like such a hurdle that we hang out more when we’re both in a city we don’t live. And Eli Pariser, who I’ve known since the days the filter bubble was just one of his brain’s many thought bubbles.

Eli told me he pitched an idea to his therapist about “The Millennial Midlife Crisis.” The idea is not about a generation of us feeling burnt out, while that may be true. He wants to explore what a midlife crisis looks like — how it manifests — in those of us now in our mid-to-late-thirties.

“It’s not muscle cars or superficial stuff like trophy wives,” he says, of the stereotypical boomer midlife crisis.

Instead, he posited, it looks exactly like what many of us are doing: a bunch of meditation and therapy and time away from striving and screens. (I realize that to have resources and time to do this is a privilege in it of itself.)

I decided to try slowing down and looking inward because midway through last year everything felt like it was going too fast and I couldn’t reflect and process what I was going through, emotionally. It was like a Shinkansen of new assignments and stupid bureaucratic fights and constant change, a train I couldn’t get off until I moved back home.

Two thoughts about this, early into this chapter of stillness. (Well, relative stillness.)

One, we have got to be brave enough to lean on one another for help. And to reach out when you sense someone you love might need you. The only thing that’s gonna get us through the challenges that come our way is our relationships, which give us meaning. It’s the timely and evergreen message of the Netflix show Russian Doll, which you really should watch if you haven’t.

Two, we should be more curious about our feelings. I’m coached to do this, but I’ve also learned from my own parenting. When I have a child in meltdown mode, I’ll try to empathize first and say, “You are really angry, I see you’re so angry” so the child is heard (this works to varying degrees). But then I try to get them to talk about it and dig in, so they can learn to be self-aware.

I realized sometime along the way that I hardly ever do this for my own anger or dread or whatever it is, so now I’m doing the work on myself. Especially during my quarterly existential dread.

SCENE

Me: [In tears, playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ in a loop]

Stiles: Ahhhh, is it time for your quarterly existential dread?

Me: Oh, god. Don’t talk to me. [Eyeroll, more tears, more Radiohead]

I find it’s useful to be less hard on myself when I’m cycling through my ennui. I’m trying to be more curious about my feelings and what they’re saying. While we all have an internal voice, we get a little disconnected from it sometimes.


*This did not stop me from sending her flowers with this card …


I’ll show myself out now.

The Great Garage Organization, aka, Finishing Unpacking

Mishele is a professional organizer.

Moving my things from South Korea, a separate shipment from Washington, DC, and a stash of my parents stuff from their old place in St. Louis into my smallest house ever, here in LA, was too much for me to handle in September. So I left a bunch of boxes unpacked and piled up in my garage. I made a New Year’s Resolution to finally go through those things and couldn’t face it on my own, so I hired a professional organizer, Mishele, to do it with me.

She was fantastic and now that our three hours together are complete, I feel fantastic. The garage is sorted.

Most of the stuff that’s staying is memorabilia, like my twenty years of handwritten journals recorded between age six and 26 (I was a weird kid/am a weird person), all my parents art that will soon go down to Orange County where they have bought a new condo as a US home base, and my husband Matty’s old stuff, like his YEARBOOKS. (This was a particularly exciting discovery for me given how yearbooks seem to keep getting old white guys in trouble.) I found nothing incriminating in Stiles’s yearbooks but a girl named Mandy did sign his 1994 edition saying “If you don’t take me to Legends of the Fall I am going to beat the shit out of you” which, c’mon, Legends of the Fall was a snooze, let’s not assault anyone over it.

That time we got suckered into buying our photo stuck onto a tequila bottle because we are suckers

Mishele works with a lot of hoarders and said that in her business I am considered a “normie,” as in, a standard issue disorganized person and not someone with deeper attachments or psychological reasons for having a bunch of stuff. As it turns out I didn’t have that much stuff, even, I was just putting off dealing with it. Anyway it’s done.

Ridiculous items I have been suckered into purchasing like bottles of tequila with our faces on them have been Marie Kondo-ed out of my life, and I will remember to stop making impulse purchases henceforth.

Related: Moving to California

Resolutions for 2019

“If nothing else, the routine of aspiration, disappointment, and rebirth gives him a sense of purpose. There is an essential reward in the circular struggle to create a better self, even if…we’re making up that better self as we go along.” —John Teti

Orchid buds. I won’t even try to keep alive an orchid this year. (Photo credit: Robert Mitchem)

When I reviewed how I did with last year’s intentions, I questioned whether I should even keep doing new year’s resolutions. I mean, so many hopes at the start of the year went by the wayside almost faster than I could say “Oh it’s February!”

We are nothing without some measure of hope, however, so here I am with a list of resolutions again.

Take a daily vitamin
This isn’t hard, but I still don’t do it. Having to put down any pill on the regular is a big mental block for me that must have something to do with my father being a pharmacist. You know how the rap on preacher’s kids is that they rebel? Well, pharmacist kids rebel by being anti-drug, I guess.

Get organized, aka, finish moving
There is still a garage full of boxes from the move that have yet to be dealt with, and this is what I’m tasking an organizer with once I hire one. Very excited to do this. If you’re interested, there is a whole association of professional organizers who can come and make sense of your stuff.

Look inward
For a good six years, I was almost nonstop giving myself over — literally — to other humans. No joke, between January 2012 and March 2018 I was either a) pregnant or b) nursing. During that time we also moved internationally, opened a new bureau, covered three countries with dominant languages I didn’t understand and criss-crossed East and Southeast Asia to chase the news. So often I felt disconnected from myself because I was just constantly onto what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. Now that I’m integrated again and in sunny California, I don’t even KNOW what I want to do next. So I shall devote time to being still and meditating so I can hear myself better. 

Learn to surf
Also file under: I live in Southern California now! Friend Nate at work has a live cam on his second monitor of all the beaches nearby so that when he sees really good surf he can escape early to hit the waves. I would really like to join him.

Learn to play the ukulele
We got Eva a ukulele for Christmas, which I am more into than she is, so I’m going to go ahead and teach myself by watching YouTube instructional videos and THEN teach Eva. I think this is doable, but then again I always think resolutions are doable at the beginning of the year.

Blog at least four times a month
I’m glad this self-hosted blog is still around since letting Facebook “connect the world” or whatever has proven so pernicious. Last year my goal was five posts a month, which I only did for four months of the year. So I’m lowering the bar in hopes of actually passing it.

As for my 2018 list, I added the final progress report to last year’s resolution post.

If you have any resolutions of your own that might be worth adding, leave them in the comments. And look, if things don’t get to a great start in 2019 we have about a month to screw up until we can claim the Lunar New Year as a fresher fresh start.

Resolutions for 2018

The fake shrimp tempura that I sent Harper in the mail, after the international
journey to Chicago.

Last year my key resolution was to read 52 books before 2017 was out and by golly, I did it. So I’m gonna get ambitious and write down a LIST of resolutions this time. Let’s check back on these at the end of the year:

Hire a financial planner
I’ve had an accountant for a few years (hi Richard!) but no financial planner, because even though I am 35-years old and a slumlord two times over, I still have my bestie Sudeep hop into my TD Ameritrade account every once in awhile and just make sure my money is still there. He and my accountant both agree this is not a grown-up way to handle finances.

Start a book club on Slack so we don’t have to meet in real life
It’s not that I have a huge issue with the real-life book clubs of which I’ve been a part, it’s that I don’t like any structured socializing, including meetup groups, Bible studies, mommy yoga, etc. So, I want to start a Slack for my cleverest, book-loving friends to tackle a different book every month and have a running Slack conversation about it. And if you don’t read that month’s book, whatever, it’s your loss. The rest of us will be snarking on Slack about it. Hit me up if you want to do this.

Stop drinking as much flavored tea and drink more water
I don’t know that this will happen because spending $4 on a sweetened green ice tea at Starbucks almost every day is the kind of time, money and energy waste that has been written into my routine since I was 16 years old. But whatever, this is my intention list and I’m leaving this in.

Get an accurate bra measurement
I have fears that my boobs are going the way of my great-grandmother’s after she breastfed seven, SEVEN children. I realize bra technology can’t really solve for this, but either way it’s good for every woman to know what bra size she actually wears.

Write handwritten letters and cards to people for no reason
This is a perennial resolution. Last year I did a twist on it, which was “send rando packages.” It was all working out well until the unfortunate melted wax that Friend Harper received, so I’m going back to letters and cards.

Blog at least five times a month
This is my version of the clichéd “write an hour a day” resolution because there’s no way that I DON’T write an hour a day as a function of my job. But I have been trying to get back to non-work blogging as a discipline, and to have the written record of the absurdity or outrage or gratitude of the moment.

See more movies at the theatre
This is one of my favorite things to do, period, especially at Alamo Drafthouse. But in South Korea I have barely gone to the movies and I’m lesser for it. Please note this is a resolution that I’m gonna be better at keeping after we repatriate.

Other intentions:

Keep my credit card balance at zero
Spend more time in Texas
Wean Baby Luna from nursing
Have no more children


Year End Update, December 2018

Hire a financial planner
Failed: I actually started working with a guy named Bob to try and do a tax deferral thing from selling my Austin house and to get my money in order but never followed through, so, fail.

Start a book club on Slack
Failed: Took steps to start this and strangers even wrote me saying they wanted to do it but I had too much going on in the early months of this year (mainly with the Olympics and North Korea) and never got it off the ground. Now I just joined a new “Asian Americans read Asian Americans” book club in LA that has yet to meet (but we have chosen ONE book) so I think I’m giving up on this.

Drink Less Flavored Tea and More Water
Marginal, as Trump would say

Get Accurate Bra Measurement
Success: Squeezed this in before the end of the year when I realized it was a resolution!

Write handwritten cards and letters for no reason
Partially fulfilled: This is a consistent hit or miss, but a perennial resolution. Last year I gave up writing people and replaced it with the “send rando packages” thing, but now that I’m back in America it’s much less hassle to mail things to Americans. Sent Christmas cards, but that’s not for “no reason.” I have no excuses!

Blog at least five times a month
Partially fulfilled. The months I made it to five: January, March, April, December

Other intentions of 2018: Keep my credit card balance at zero, spend more time in Texas, wean Baby Luna from nursing, have no more children. ALL ACCOMPLISHED!