Actually, Shakespeare, There’s A Lot in a Name

I became Liz in kindergarten. Only recently my mother told me she doesn’t like the name Liz. When I was little, she wanted my nickname to be Libby. Instead, one day I came home from kindergarten and announced that my name was Liz (as my mother tells it). And Liz stuck. Libby could have stuck, if Mom ever called me that, but she never did, to my knowledge. That’s how nicknames work. You’re given one, or you pick one, people start addressing you by that name, and it sticks. If my mom wanted me to be called Libby, she should have called me Libby. Instead, I’m Liz.

If I ever have kids, I will give them names that cannot be nicknamed. Being an Elizabeth has given me an identity crisis.

Most of my life has been split between Elizabeth and Liz. On every official document, including school registrations, exams, papers, and assignments, I wrote my name as Elizabeth. Because that’s what’s on my birth certificate. (Side note: my mother who named me forgot how to spell my middle name. It’s Ann with NO ‘E,’ Mom.) On the first day of school though, when the teacher called my name for attendance, I said, ‘Here, but I go by Liz.’ Every class, from first grade through college. Yet in every concert program or award ceremony announcement, I wanted to be listed as Elizabeth. I created for myself two identities: Elizabeth was my public, formal self, and Liz was my private, day-to-day self. It wasn’t until graduate school that I finally dropped Elizabeth. Not legally, but in life. I don’t want to be split; I’m just Liz.

Clearly I put much more stock into given names and nicknames than most people, but Elizabeth comes with so many options!

You know that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer learns his middle name? (D’oh-in’ in the Wind) He says something like, ‘From now on, I will no longer be Homer J. Simpson; I will be known as Homer. . .JAY Simpson.’

Homer Jay

He imagines what his life would have been like as the hippie Homer Jay Simpson, dispensing the ultimate wisdom of: lather, rinse, repeat.

Homer Jay

I imagine a parallel universe for myself, where I’m Libby instead of Liz. Libby is bubbly and works in PR, married young, and has a small brood of children. In another universe, Liza got mixed up with the wrong people and became a heroin addict. Bessie became a nun. Beth teaches elementary school. Maybe Eliza became a man and changed his name to Eric. I don’t know.

When you’re a child you can try on different nicknames and then change your mind, without fear of the implications of that kind of change. Could I just announce one day, at 27, that I’m now Libby? Or is that luxury and fluidity of identity reserved  for children? I’m not saying the name determines the person, but I do wonder the kind of affect it has. When I make a choice, I can’t help but consider how another choice would have created a different life, a different me. Not, like, if I got peanut butter ice cream instead of a twist (always get the peanut butter). More like, what if I had transferred to Franklin Pierce instead of staying at UConn? In the multiverse theory, there are hundreds of other me’s walking around, living completely different lives. I can’t help but wonder who Libby might have been.

I have similar questions for authors and academics who have nicknames: James in publications, but Jim in the classroom. Why? Maybe they want the split identity, or at least the illusion of a split identity. That their public, author self is different from the at-home-with-the-wife-and-kids self. For more articulate thoughts on author selves, check out Amy Jo Burns’ post on the Ploughshares blog: I’m Not a Writer, I Just Play One on TV.

Dress for the Job You Want

Freelance uniform

Fortunately, I own several variations of this very outfit. #DressforSuccess

While I’m in the throes of trying to figure out what kind of work I’m suited for, and what kind of work I can get, my upstairs neighbor said something very encouraging to me. ‘We are fortunate to live in a house of people who love what they do.’

There has been a lot said about this generation of 20-somethings. We’re entitled and miserable and don’t understand why the jobs we want aren’t coming our way. We know we are valuable and yet are so undervalued. Misery loves company. Who loves company even more are the miserable overeducated, underemployed 20-something statistics.

After graduating from my Master’s program, I spend a lot of time commiserating with friends and coworkers about being young and stuck. The economy sucks; no one’s retiring, so we can’t even apply for the jobs we want; jobs we don’t want still require a minimum 5 years experience, which we don’t have, and graduate school doesn’t count as experience; or we aren’t sure what we want to do and don’t want to take a temporary desk job just to pay the bills, only to get stuck in a position we don’t care about, but what else is there? This is the byproduct of growing up in the 90s with a strong economy and being told we can be anything we want when we grow up. Oops.

All that miserable company and commiseration makes for a lot of justification and reinforcement and inactivity.  There is more to be said for making changes and being around people who inspire and encourage and push you, instead of feeding into that self-righteous depression.

I’m not on track to make my first million by the time I turn 30. I don’t have a brilliant idea for a start-up. But I do live in a house of people who are willing to work hard to follow their interests. I’ve made small and large changes in an attempt to create the life I want to live. I’m learning that progress, professional and personal, takes time. And more time that I’m comfortable with. I’m doing my best to quell my inner Veruca Salt, but, man is she loud and demanding.

I Should Have Failed Kidergarten

I’m not very good at making friends. I’m also not very good at cutting paper in straight lines, but the latter is less of a necessary life skill, turns out. I’m actually ok at the making friends part, it’s the keeping friends part that I’m less good at. Friendships have to be tended and cultivated. They require things like phone calls and plans to get together. That is where I tend to fail.

When a friend of mine heard that I was leaving Boston, he told me I needed to plan a going-away event and ‘GO OUT WITH A BANG.’ I told him, ‘I don’t think I’ve done anything in my life “WITH A BANG.”‘ I didn’t really feel the need to even tell anyone I was leaving (aside from my landlord and employers), which is sad. In part it’s because I’ll still be going into Boston once a week, and I’ll make it a point to see my friends (seriously, I totally will). But it’s also because I didn’t feel like I made very strong connections in Boston. Now, maybe that’s just my perception, and that’s totally on me.

Friendships are infinitely easier in grade school. K-12 you see your friends at least 5 days a week, and on top of that you spend time with them in extra-circulars, and sports, and clubs. Friendships start as incidental and circumstantial. As Louis CK says, You’re friends because you’re the same size. I saw my closest friends all the time. And I loved high school. I know as a nerd/intellectual/later-in-life-smart/creative-person you’re not supposed to have loved high school. But I did. I was teased and whatnot, sure, but I was able to shake it off because I stuck to what I was good at and to whom I was close. It was the best. I actually expected college to be much the same. Of course it wasn’t. There isn’t the same kind of built-in friend structure once you graduate from high school. Not even in the smaller, slightly incestuous-feeling fine arts departments.

I’ve never been the type who, after meeting someone says, ‘Hey! We should exchange numbers and hang out some time!’ or even, We should get coffee, or go see a move, or, anything, really. Outside of classes and extra-circulars and work, I’m not very good at being a friend. Which is a problem when you’re 27 and sporadically employed. I don’t make plans because I assume people are busy or uninterested in hanging out with me (remnants from a best friendship gone bad). As an adult, I have no idea how to really be a friend. Fortunately, I have friends in this town who are better at being a friend than I am.

Having friendships end, therefore, is something you think I would be accustomed to. And, somewhat sadly, I suppose I am. Typically my friendships end due to lack of contact. We gradually stop emailing/texting/facebooking/etc., and since we aren’t in the kind of environment where we see each other often, the friendship fades out. Although, I do still consider many of these people my friend, despite never seeing one another and hardly ever talking. Other friendships end because, well, you grow up. I’ve remained friends with very few people from high school. We went away to different colleges and our lives went in different directions. It’s no one’s fault; these things just happen. I’ve had other friendships barely even start. Even from college and grad school I have few friends because I haven’t reached out the way friends are supposed to. Maybe it’s a low self-esteem issue; I don’t think people want to be my friend. It boils down to a fear of rejection that I’ve developed as I’ve grown up. I’m not the kindergartener going around and introducing herself to everyone in class anymore.

I’ve had some of my best friendships end. Two because we were in elementary school and their families moved away. It was sad both times, and both times I didn’t think I’d ever be able to have a best friend again, despite being barely-into-double-digit-hood when both friends moved away. Another of my best friendships was long-term and ended because, well, simply put, we weren’t very kind to each other. But also, we grew up, and we realized we were just very different people. The friends I have now, I do keep at a distance because, I’m sure subconsciously, I’m preparing for the friendships to end, one way or another. Coping with friendships ending is one of those adult skills I’m not sure I’ve quite acquired yet.

Sometimes You Do Go Home Again

Moving is always difficult for me. I was fortunate to never had moved when i was a kid, so I didn’t have the pleasure of the experience until my freshman year of college. Because of that, moving makes me anxious and sick and stressed and I can’t wait for it to be over. I wish there were a way to fast-forward through the whole process.

My cat, Karma, is about as well-suited to moving as I am.

karma packs

We have to adjust to the new noises and smells, new neighbors and neighborhood, way more birds and bugs and the occasional neighborhood cat. Karma spent our first night here meowing through the wee hours of the morning. It’s like sensory overload, despite the fact that I 9and she) grew up about 10 away from where we are now.

I was back in Rockville for less than 24 hours, and the first conversation I had with a stranger was at the bank.

‘. . .I recognize that last name. . .Did you go to Rockville High School? Do you have an older brother?’

And just like that I feel like a kid again, trailing behind my big brother.

Coming back to a community I’m familiar with is somewhat comforting. Like a puzzle piece fitting nicely into the place it was intended for. Except, I’m a puzzle piece with cat-gnawed corners, and the puzzle was in the box too long so it’s become slightly warped and it takes extra effort to force my piece back into the puzzle.

To keep my spirits up about the move (and to help keep myself busy while I’m so underemployed) I’m doing #100happydays on instagram. So follow me! @another20something. Maybe this will even turn me into an optimist. . .

Why I Gave Myself Permission Not to Compete

People say life is a game. But it’s never, ‘Life is a game, so have fun!’ or ‘Life is a game, so play fair!’ Instead it’s ‘Life is a game, so play to win!’ Win what, exactly? What is winning at life? And I don’t mean #winning. I’ve said before that I think I’m failing at adulthood.
failing adulthood

According to my [expensive] college degrees and my work ethic, I’m supposed to have a lucrative career by now. Because I’m 27, I’m supposed to be in a stable relationship headed towards marriage and kids. I’m supposed to be thinking about buying a house in a good school district. This is what I’ve been taught and what I’ve bought into. Nearly all the models I’ve had in my life pointed me in that direction. I’ve become obsessed with the things I’m not and the things I haven’t achieved by now. And countless blogs and online articles will show that I’m not the only one. Has any other generation been so obsessed with what we’re “supposed” to be doing? What we’re “supposed” to achieve?

Or maybe this isn’t a generational difference. Maybe this is the commonality across the generations; when we reach our twenties, we all face these crises – Incidentally, is this why so many people are on various anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications? Because all those “supposed to’s” can really add up. Being $90,000 in debt and feeling like my skills and education add up to not enough to score that dream job I’m supposed to have is crushing, frankly.

When I graduated from my MA program last summer, I felt really optimistic. I felt smart and strong and ready to get a job. In the last year, I’ve gotten soft and fat and spent a lot of time with my brain turned off. I can blame Netflix and post-graduate school burn out and job application fatigue all I like, but, in reality, I don’t know how to play this game. Especially when so much has showed me – and so many people have told me – ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!’ As a recently graduated 20-something, turns out I know a lot of recently graduated 20-somethings. The world of networking makes me feel phony and insincere. Some people are designed for that. They’re predisposed to compete in life. I think they end up as economics majors and business majors, or they get their realtor’s license. I, on the other hand, chose the humanities, and nothing has made me feel less human than robotically sending out resumes and manufacturing cover letters. I have to stop buying into those ‘supposed to’s.’ I need to stop wanting what I feel I’ve been programmed to want, what too many have been programmed to want so that we have to compete rather than collaborate, and then feel like failures because we’re forced to boomerang back home.

A coworker told me I need to read the book The Defining Decade, that it really helps her when she’s feeling stuck. Our 20’s, apparently, is the defining decade. So, as with all of my ‘supposed to’s,’ the clock is ticking. The choices I’ve made and continue to make in my twenties will shape the rest of my life. I read the first few pages of the book and felt like I was going to have a panic attack because I’m not building enough professional capital. I’m too stubborn for self-help books or carpe diem advice or a life coach. But after years of schooling and feelings like I’m building up to something that never happens, just spinning my wheels in place, I do know I needed a change. I’m not saying I’m going to take up yoga or do on a 30-day juice cleanse or hike the Appalachian Trail. But I choose not to treat my life like a game.

About Me

I left Boston and moved back to my hometown.

Why? Well, myriad reasons. I made a list and everything.

Boston Rockville list

At the top of the list is the fact that living in Boston is expensive. That alone pretty much finalized the decision for me.

It’s difficult to come home again. Already I’ve had to hear a lot of, ‘But you were so gung-ho to go to Boston. . .’

‘. . .And now I’m gung-ho to come back!’

‘For a job?’ ‘What are you going to do when you’re back?’ ‘Do you have a job here?’

‘Nope! I’m going to figure it out and see what comes my way,’ I say with a syrupy smile, not betraying my ultimate annoyance at these tired questions I’ve been hearing since graduating high school, never mind college and graduate school.

Even after I weighed the pros and cons and committed to moving, I second-guessed the decision every day, obsessing over my choice and waffling between being happy with the move and knowing I shouldn’t move, realizing moving was my best choice and feeling like I had failed. Of course I think moving back to my hometown is a good idea. Of course I think moving back to my hometown is a bad idea. Am I just doing this because I’m restless? And am I going to regret the move as soon as I’m settled in?

For all of my adult life, I thought of my hometown as a black hole. No one escapes its pull. Of course that’s melodramatic, but I still view my hometown through college-bound-teenager eyes. We’ve all gotten stuck there at some point or other: you had a kid while in high school, or you never went away for college, or you married someone you went to high school with and now you’re having kids or buying a house, or as part of the boomerang generation, financially forced to move in with parents. (And none of these are necessarily mutually exclusive.) I was not going to get sucked into the black hole. I envisioned my life like a bad Disney movie – and not the good Disney movies, I mean Disney channel, made-for-TV movie – where the coming-of-age heroine escapes her small-time town to make a name for herself and show ’em all back home! . . .So naturally I’m defensive when questioned about my choice to move back here. I’m not moving back into my parents’ house, so I’m not a boomerang. I don’t have kids or a husband. So what does that make me? Another overeducated, underemployed, 20-something statistic.