I’m staring down at a sweet potato, fresh from a scrub and rinse and still glistening with sink water. My right arm is raised slightly and bent at the elbow, a large chef’s knife clutched in its fist. I’m in deep, meditative contemplation about what a 1/4 inch slice really looks like. Do I break out the tape measurer? Am I that girl? A few more seconds of thought and I release a deep sigh. “Why the fuck am I trying to make sweet potato toast anyway?” I say out loud, to no one at all.
It is settled. I hack the tuber in half and throw it into the oven for conventional roasting. I’ll just pile my usual slew of goodies – hummus, tahini, avocado – on top. This may seem like a lot of thinking for a trendy dinner recipe, but I assure you it’s far more than that (the resulting dinner was satisfactory, but ultimately lackluster, by the way). It dawns on me that amid a sea of gluten-free alternatives and plates of avocado toast, I have lost sight of myself.
I’ve swatted this thought away often lately, but the more it comes up, the more inclined I am to pay attention. I’m turning 30 in a matter of months, and with that has come a host of doubt about who I am and where I’m going. I’m in the midst of my Saturn Return, so apparently this is natural. I suddenly feel there is a version of myself that I much prefer, and that somehow I’ve left her salsa dancing in the winds of 2013. I feel an impulsive pull to rent an apartment in Rome for 2 months and have the locals teach me how to make cacio e pepe. I feel the need to redirect my purpose, because up to this point it has yet to be fulfilled. Screw you, Saturn.
I won’t rent that apartment in Rome. Not this month, anyway. What I will do is try to uncover why we all hit roadblocks in life that make us question where our truest identity has gone. Over the past year I’ve noticed that, while still achieving things through one of my greatest loves, distance running, I was perhaps complacent in other areas. The red-orange flame within that always made me feel Rihanna was my spirit animal had died down to a sad sepia color. I was far more emotional than I’ve ever cared to be, out of some misguided sense that I shouldn’t be single and still “doing my thing” by now. I was dwelling, dwelling, dwelling on men that were really just not that nice to me.
This realization hit me like a ton of bricks: who was this whiny bitch? She was certainly none of the things I genuinely loved myself for. The salsa-dancing spitfire I alluded to would never have allowed this. Not long ago, I ate pizza every Friday night because that’s what I wanted to do, and for the most part my hair (I have curls, bear with me) looked pretty good.
I started longing for that version of myself the way I long for certain Chanel haute couture pieces that will never (ever) hug my Kardashian-esque ass the way I want them to. I used to stay home some weekend nights, order multiple Insomnia Cookies, eat them all and watch movies because it was fucking fun. Other nights I would go out and dance until 4 am for the pure joy of it. I still do those things now, but they are a lot less frequent.
I was #blessed enough to land an apartment in Park Slope last year, so weekends have evolved into praying to the brunch Gods whenever possible. I’ve gravitated (heavily, I admit) toward the wellness movement and its clean-eating splendor. I have Crohn’s Disease, so as far as my affinity for all things gluten-free, not all of it is invalid. But now I wonder how ordering a quesadilla to my apartment on a weeknight – sans guilt or complication – morphed into wandering the aisles of Whole Foods multiple times a week. You can find me there hunting for kale chips and “primal” chocolate, or any snack devoid of the refined sugar that has been paralleled with Voldemort himself.
I endured the traumatic loss of a parent last year as well, which softened me (naturally). It made me kinder, more empathetic, which I don’t rebuke. But have I forsaken too much of my beloved vivaciousness and free spirit in its favor? Striking the balance between who I was and who I am becoming is the trickiest part. And it feels like time to pick up a David Sedaris book and figure it the fuck out.
Reintroduction to self is a journey that can’t be rushed (keyword: journey). First off, I decided to dye my hair back to the deep burgundy color it was when I really, really liked myself. And that first glimmer of recognition was all I needed. I knew the spitfire would return if I coaxed her out in just the right way.
Needing to travel and see more of the world was another given. If my balls were (slightly) larger, I would be on some solo, Eat, Pray, Love quest to eat my bodyweight in gelato. For now, I’ll take vacation, period (first pick: Lagos, Portugal).
Coming to an existential crossroads can be really fascinating, though. The quest for identity is ubiquitous. People feel it when they hit any number of milestone ages. People who are married feel it. People who are new parents feel it. The part I’m coming upon slowly is that this urgency to revert to the former isn’t necessarily the solution. Perhaps we are meant to take small parts from people we share meals with, love, and sleep with along with us. In other words, keep the bits of yourself you’ve fallen in love with, add on to them, and it will (hopefully) result in you being a 95-year-old masterpiece. Think Betty White.
For the time being, I think a little joie de vivre is in order. Most of my girlfriends are in relationships, some married, occasionally pregnant. I’m not, and right now I don’t want to be. And that’s not something that requires justification. I’ve got a lot of things I want to stretch out my arms for – as a woman, a runner, a writer. How bout dah?
I stroll into one of my local coffee shops in Brooklyn on a Sunday morning. Insomnia Cookies girl is not dead, but I already know I’m going to request avocado toast with a poached egg (insert heart-eye emoji here) and an almond milk latte. I scan the case of baked goods, my eyes dancing across poppy-seed-laced muffins and scones dotted with currants. The barista pulls me from my daydream, directing my attention back to him. “For the avocado toast,” I say, leaning in, “do you carry gluten-free bread?” You know, baby steps.