“You know you look like you eighteen, right?” said the store-owner skeptically. Without knowing it, I was speaking to Regina Y. Evans, the owner of Regina’s Door, which is a social enterprise, vintage shop in Oakland that I was peaking into when our conversation began. I was happy that she noticed that “Black don’t crack” applies for Asian folks.
After we parted, I thought about my age and walked down the construction-ridden Webster Street passing 18th, then 19th—for this is the view in Oakland’s downtown now. The ripping up of old buildings, the invasion of hipster art and white-owned shops. It is getting even more personal to me now that the edges of Chinatown are being engulfed.
Like this disrespectful gentrification, I can learn from the layers of the past that was there. In this case, I reflect on myself. Age, experience, and purpose have been on my mind recently. On my brother’s birthday a few weeks ago, I thought he was older than he was because I had it fixed that I was 28. For whatever reason, I have been collapsing these last years of my twenties. Maybe wanting my uncertainties to finally reach clarity. Or for desires and needs to be better met. For a sense of confidence I still crave. With all these conditions and the sense of being that I wanted, I sometimes lose track of what I have achieved and who I have become—as I continue to become even more.
I started to think about the younger versions of myself. While there are wounds to be studied, cleaned, and healed, there was a liveliness and strength I sometimes forget and can still learn from.
For instance, as I ponder and plan intentional steps for entering graduate school, I found myself so careful to the point nothing seemed to fit what I wanted in a program. I wanted a school that did not isolate itself from the surrounding community, students and faculty of color, a school large enough and a program supportive enough of taking classes outside the writing department. I wanted an Ethnic Studies program and an Asian American Studies program. The list goes on, and I actually think it is a reasonable one and well-informed by past experiences and current goals. However, this thorough list was keeping me from going for it.
Interestingly, my older self wants to be cradled in a world not made for me. Yet my younger self would have not have been so hesitant; it has been ready to break the cradle and reach for independence.
For example, I forget my courageous 17-year old self. The one that did not question the fact that learning and college were made for her. (And it was. And it wasn’t.) The one that assumed she could do anything rather then be filled with caution. (Travel across the world? Check. Make new friends? Check.) The one who fought for what she needed rather than feel full of fatigue, heavy with grief, or cringing from cynicism. Looking back, I feel that my younger self demanded these experiences, knowing I could find what is worthwhile in them.
As I approach 28, I desire those experiences but wait and think them through. I imagine my hesitation, caught between biking down a hill and thinking about biking down the hill. The thinking is often more frightening than the act itself. As I get older, I want to find myself caught in the act more often—present and demanding of the world. I want to ask myself what I want and what to do to get there. To shrug off the sense that time has shortened, that my next steps need be painstakingly planned, that there is no room for risk-taking.
In giving value to my younger self, I won’t downplay the growing sense of nuance, knowledge and sense of self that comes with more experiences. Yet with awareness, we can benefit from all the parts of ourselves, playing synergistically. As living more may temper the fires of youth, youth can fuel the embers of wise living. Being wiser and gaining experience shouldn’t mean we stop still in our tracks, frozen in fear of what’s possible. I want the growing wisdom to clarify what I want and need, and the strength to help me communicate and achieve it. I need the younger versions of myself to inform this wisdom and strength.
I am so grateful for this more complex awareness of myself and the concepts of “young” and “old.” I am my 17 or 18-year old self. And I hear the wisdom of old age saying There will be pain and the spirit of youth screaming I will survive!