There Are No Songs About Being Twenty-Three
On turning 23, and a very early morning at the Toronto International Film Festival from the comfort of my bedroom.
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Short and sweet one this week because there’s been a lot going on; not just in the realm of pop culture, things Jon Bernthal may or may not have been doing, or insane shenanigans of rich people attending an event Sandra Bullock once robbed on the big screen, but also in my own life!
I’ve tried to write this week’s newsletter twice over now, and both times it didn’t feel right. I’m hoping the third time’s the charm.
Earlier this week I turned 23. That’s right, like the Taylor Swift song but plus one! Isn’t that insane? Like I’m a year older than Zayn was when he left One Direction, and a year younger than Louis was when he had a baby whilst still in One Direction. That’s how I measure the passage of time: One Direction-related tabloid headlines.
There aren’t a lot of songs about being twenty-three. I mean, why would there be right? It’s such a bizarre age. You’re not out of the woods yet, your brain is still developing, but you feel so far away from being a teenager that all you want to do is crawl back into the safety of middle school drama. The only song I can think of is right where you left me by Taylor Swift but even then she uses the age simply as a lyrical choice:
Did you ever hear about the girl who got frozen?
Time went on for everybody else, she won't know it
She's still twenty-three inside her fantasy
How it was supposed to be
Did you hear about the girl who lives in delusion?
Breakups happen every day, you don't have to lose it
She's still twenty-three inside her fantasy
And you're sitting in front of me
It’s not 22, where she doesn’t know about you but she does feel 22. It’s a song that makes me recoil because I know that I’ve been there. That I’ve felt that about people that I don’t even talk to anymore. To me, as much as right where you left me is about not being able to move on from someone or the heartbreak itself, but more so of the feeling that you’ve become so accustomed to. She’s still sitting at the corner of the restaurant because it’s all she knows how to feel, and you know you can’t go back but leaving or moving forward is somehow scarier than the initial painful loss.
I feel like I’m stuck—or proverbially still at the restaurant, to quote Miss Swift—at either 19 or 21, I’m not sure which. I’m stuck in the part of me that’s missing London and what it meant to me. I don’t want to let it go just yet, especially if I might not have to. But that’s the thing isn’t it, when you hold on to something so tight? You might crush it. I’m not sure how I can literally crush the Big Smoke (surely that’ll help with the extortionate rent prices) but I have to be okay with just not being there right now. Maybe it’s incoming LFF FOMO, or knowing that my friends will move back, or knowing that I might move back sooner than I thought I would (fingers crossed) that just makes everything feels scary. The paralyzing kind of scary that makes you really, super annoyed at yourself.
Twenty-three is a weird one, isn’t it? It’s like nineteen, fifty-three, or twenty-seven; the hell kind of numbers are they anyway? At least twenty-seven isn’t a prime number, it’s still divisible by three and nine! I remember being nineteen and looking at my friends that were twenty-three going through life and I always thought they knew more than me. Or at least, they were let in on a little secret the closer they got to twenty-five. I don’t know where any of that came from.
That feeling reminds me of an episode of Community from Season 2, Mixology Certification, where Troy celebrates his 21st birthday. There’s a scene where Troy has an outburst upon realizing that Jeff and Britta, who he’s always regarded as more worldly and mature than he is, have been arguing about two bars that turned out to be the same bar. He admits that he thought the two of them had always known more about life than he did, but he has come to realize that they are just as dumb as he was. To wish Jeff and Britta respond: “Duh-doy.” It was obvious that Jeff and Britta are hot messes, but to Troy, they made that part of adulthood look cool or effortless. I think he forgot that everyone in his study group, hell, everyone at Greendale, was where they were because they’re all working towards something better for themselves. They were all works-in-progress. There is an odd comfort knowing that there is no such thing as “having it all figured out.” Even if someone said they did, or looks like they do, or are perfectly content where they are, there will always be new things that life will throw at you to figure out. Maybe not “figure out” per se, but learn to deal with as they come.
I’ve always thought I was someone that knew what they wanted, knew what they were doing, and had some plan or other to get from Point A to Point B. Naturally, I don’t have the slightest idea of any of those things I listed above. I think the pandemic has forced me to reckon with staying still, getting my head out of my ass, and finding different ways to exist. To just be. Because what once was working, if at all, isn’t really working anymore.
Existing under capitalism has made me forget why I do anything in the first place. I get sucked in into looking over my shoulder or how I could be doing more, more, and more, and I’m too embarrassed to admit it. I need to come back to why I want to make art in whatever form or medium they take instead of, understandably so, freaking out over where my next job will come from.
This newsletter has been nice, but I’ve often felt like bailing on it because it felt hard to maintain and keep up with how fast everything is moving. It has, however, been a really fun exercise in just writing for the sake of it. I’ve been toying with the idea of serializing the novel I’m writing on Substack or a similar platform, but we’ll cross that bridge when I finish the damn thing. I feel like I bail on lots of things. If you have a gripe with me bailing on a project we’ve done together, message me, and let’s try again. I think my goal for 23 and the next 23 years to come is to quit bailing on myself altogether. One final Big Quit (to quit quitting.) If I can quit smoking, surely I can quit another thing that’s ultimately destructive, right? Right?
Taylor Swift references abound, I had to pull out some Fearless classics for this one. I got myself tickets to an In Conversation with… talk at TIFF this year and attended virtually! I got to see my beloved Steven Yeun! I took some pictures of my laptop screen on my film camera because I thought that would be—I don’t know, cool but in a high school art class way? I’m excited to see how those photos turn out, if at all. Here’s one I took on my phone:
Steven Yeun was absolutely delightful, charming, and insightful. He is so, so funny. I learned that he had a small stint as a stand-up comic, in addition to being the hottest guy to have ever done improv in the history of improv. He used to do a bit about how he wanted storage because all the white kids he grew up with had storage and that wasn’t a thing for him and his family. Like “Oh, I can’t play with the game console because my parents have it in storage.” Come to think of it, I never really used a storage unit before. Storage must be nice. But what do you do with all that stuff? Where do you even get so much stuff that you can’t fit it inside your house? I never really asked any of these questions when I’m watching Storage Wars re-runs with my dad. The more you know.
Yeun said something that I didn’t know I needed to hear at the time. In his work as an actor, his focus is excavating the humanity behind every story and every role, getting that universality from his specific approach. Just trying to find the humanity in everything as honestly as he possibly could. I forgot how important that was to storytelling. That’s how you know you’re stuck. But after hearing him say that I immediately felt like there was still hope for all the stories or characters I’ve sort of let collect dust in the back of my head, as long as I keep them grounded in their humanity.
The session went through his career post-Walking Dead and all the different things he’s learned from the directors he worked with. Another takeaway I got from the experience was a reminder that there are so many stories to be told that exist in in-between spaces.
I think I’ve always been drawn to Steven’s work because he understands, or at least makes it his mission to understand, how to exist in spaces where you mean different things depending on the context you’re in. To, again, reveal the humanity underneath all that nuance or cross-cultural miscommunication. It was super, super inspiring, and incredibly life-affirming. Also, he answered a question that I asked (which someone else also asked, and I think they’re like one of the Steve Yeun stan accounts I follow on Twitter?) on whether or not he’d be interested in writing or directing in the future.
He has also made the TIME 100 list this year! Look at him go!!!
I need to rewatch Sorry to Bother You. A film about the perils of capitalism and how they could lead to a strain of cocaine that turns you into a horse? It’s a masterpiece. The moral of that story is that if Armie Hammer is the one offering you coke at a party, never take it. It’s good life advice.
Thanks for reading this little diary entry. Your regularly scheduled programming will be back next week!
See you then! Until next time!