Song of Myself

“Youth, large, lusty, loving — youth full of grace, force, fascination”
(A perfectly self-indulgent reflection on the occasion of my 30th birthday)

A third of the way through my life, I’m sitting down to ask myself: what experiences have I had thus far?

Drawing portraits, painting nudes, building 8-foot frames to stretch 8-foot canvases, mixing plaster, sculpting, brazing, welding, wiring beaded jewelry, wiring lamps, carving wood, drilling into glass, etching, printing

Planting seeds, weeding gardens, mowing lawns, mixing sand and clay and straw into adobe to hand-form waffle beds, harvesting peppers and tomatoes, picking apples and berries, carving pumpkins

Cutting vegetables, cooking sauces, baking bread, grilling meat, roasting corn cobs and marshmallows over open fires, flambéing bananas (and singeing my eyelashes in the burst of alcoholic flame)

Spinning raw sheep’s wool into thick skeins, weaving scarves from dyed thread, knitting mittens, sewing cocktail dresses, embroidering silk flowers

Dissecting organisms and organs, counting fruit flies, categorizing rock types, mixing chemical compounds, calculating moles of molecules and velocities of objects

Competing on soccer and basketball teams, bowling under glowing black lights, cheering at rough roller derby matches and sunny minor league baseball games, tailgating at college football stadiums, mini-golfing among dinosaurs, lasertagging and paintballing and collecting bruise-blooms, throwing ninja stars into hay bales and aiming bow-and-arrows into bull’s-eyes, racing go-karts around arcade tracks and grocery carts down fluorescent cereal aisles, taking autumn hayrides in the musty upstate chill, pogo-sticking past a hundred, trampolining, bouncing on an inflatable castle, leaping into ball pits, blowing iridescent bubbles and dandelion puffs, jumping rope, chalking hopscotch blocks onto sidewalks, playing board games on rainy days, beating video games, editing photos and home videos, coding websites and wiki pages

Practicing piano, pressing organ pedals, playing flute in pep bands and orchestras, singing in choirs, dancing in (pirate) ballets, learning Breton folk dances in a class with French retirees in Rennes, acting in plays by Shakespeare and Arthur Miller, performing in corny musicals and Nykerk competitions, volunteering to embarrass myself onstage in others’ improv shows, producing Funworx Films about Greek goddesses and secret agents, modeling for an up-and-coming fashion photographer, dressing up as long-dead monarchs and living astronauts and futuristic space commanders for Halloween

Piling onto the car roof at rural drive-in theaters, picnicking at outdoor movies on a Seattle city block, sampling a bit of everything at food truck festivals, whistling as parades marched past, catching fireflies, watching fireworks over lakes and urban skylines, drawing brief dazzles in the night sky with sparklers

Skiing downhill and cross-country, sledding through thick snowfall, tobogganing, whizzing down an Olympic bobsled track packed in with siblings, being pulled across frozen Lake Placid in a sleigh harnessed to huskies, ice-skating indoors and out, roller-skating in parking lots and under disco balls, turning wide cartwheels in Altamont and Madrid and Albuquerque, building forest forts, climbing three-story maple trees, climbing rock walls, climbing the sides of brick buildings for the view from the roof, leaping off ziplines through woods and lagoons, descending into dripping pitch-black bat caves and Mexican mining shafts

Hopping across creeks, rope-swinging over water, casting fishing lines into rivers, canoeing on Adirondack lakes, paddleboarding in Midwestern inlets, kayaking down rivers, renting a surfboard off the Florida coast, swimming with “Gnarly Women” in the Mediterranean and with swarms of slimy jellyfish in the Black Sea and with bubbling scuba divers in Santa Rosa Blue Hole and with friends in the Gulf of Mexico and with dolphins in the Atlantic and the Pacific, skinny-dipping in a moonlit Lake Michigan while shrieks and giggles echoed in the waves, dancing in fierce rainstorms while lightning crackled through the dark

Taking ferries and hovercrafts and catamarans between islands in New York City and Scotland and England and Italy and Ukraine and Michigan and Washington State, touring the Seine by bateau mouche and Amsterdam’s canals by dinner cruise and the Ganges by rented rowboat, sleeping and showering in a riverboat hostel in the Netherlands, riding friends’ speedboats in Lake Michigan by day and by night, rushing across the surface on a towed tube, sliding down water-slides in chlorinated theme parks

Riding rollercoasters, racing down highways on the back of a motorcycle, being pulled over for driving too slowly and ticketed for speeding, renting bicycles for myself in Rotterdam and Paris, riding horses and elephants and camels, watching whales, washing dogs, cat-sitting and chicken-sitting, feeding fish and wild birds that landed on my hand, petting alpacas and stingrays, holding tarantulas and boa constrictors, tossing hot dogs to alligators, photographing wild monkeys

Scrambling in the foothills of the Himalayas and the Alps, climbing up New York creeks alone for hours to find their hidden waterfalls, hiking down into gorges and through slot canyons and up volcanoes and past mossy rivers and along rainforest ridges and over sand dunes and around hoodoos, camping on beaches and beside mountain streams and under California redwoods and along canyon walls

Sleeping on airplanes and trains, crossing cities in subways and landscapes by bus, sharing hostel bunkbeds with strangers, riding the rails across Europe and India and the American Midwest, taking funiculars and monorails and ski lifts and tramways, walking among Celtic and Roman and Mayan and pre-Puebloan ruins, giving and taking tours in Dutch windmills in Holland (Michigan) and at Kinderdijk (in het westen van Nederland), meeting my Dutch “name twin” for lunch in Utrecht, translating from French to English and back for fellow travelers, shrugging off translations of Spanish in Grenada and Guanajuato to attempt to understand on my own

Studying French grammar in classrooms, practicing Italian pronunciation with headphones hooked to Rosetta Stone, teaching myself the Korean and Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets with the help of friends from Seoul and Dnepropetrovsk and Jerusalem, exchanging letters with pen-pals in China and El Salvador and Romania, poring over Parisian poetry and writing 15-page literary analyses in French, reading hundreds of books from dozens of centuries, studying the holy scriptures of different religions and the treatises of different philosophies

Visiting art museums and galleries, attending symphonies and ballets and Broadway shows, watching indie movies in art house theaters, snapping at slam poetry in smoky hookah lounges, applauding flamenco in a sultry Seville dive bar and a swanky Albuquerque tablao, clapping for belly dancers in a strip-mall restaurant, cheering for dueling piano players in Grand Rapids and Orlando, laughing at stand-up comedians in Paris and Chicago, dancing in nightclubs in Rennes and on party-boat tables in Amsterdam and in city streets in Fontainebleau and at costume soirees in Seattle, singing karaoke and caroling at Christmas

Exploring science museums and NASA space centers and planetariums, watching IMAX documentaries and 3D action movies, strolling through zoos and aquariums and Japanese gardens, touring French chateaux and Moorish citadels and German castles and Mughal forts, climbing medieval cathedral towers and prehistoric cliff dwellings and Mesoamerican pyramids, sitting quietly during ceremonies in Buddhist temples and synagogues, attending a bar mitzvah and a Catholic confirmation, visiting mosques and Hindu shrines, wrapping a borrowed sari and getting henna on my palm for the wedding of Hyderabadi and Parsi friends, cradling tiny newborns and helping to bear the weight of a dying man as he struggled moaning up into bed, participating in Protestant baptisms and weddings and funerals, witnessing intertribal pow wows in cities and Feast Day dances in Pueblos

Dining on spiced posole and pasta and tofu and tapas and fruit pies and elk tamales and dried seaweed and rabbit stew and sushi rolls and curries from different continents, catching rice at hibachi grills and helping make tiramisu in Italy and cracking open lobster claws in Maine, tasting kangaroo and calamari and alligator and bison and frog legs and calf kidneys and goose liver, slurping up bubble tea flavored with taro root and guava, sipping sweet drinks out of whole coconuts and pineapples

Popping expensive French champagne and cheap California wines, sipping Japanese sake and toasting with German beers and clinking glasses of sangria and slamming flaming shots, touring vineyards in Michigan and a brewery in Belgium and a distillery in New Mexico and an olive press in Italy, smoking hookah in Spain and Ukraine and the U.S., passing joints in an Amsterdam coffeehouse

Injecting my prescribed treatment with clean syringes every day for a year, undergoing MRIs and CAT scans and X-rays, getting vaccinated and taking malaria pills, cracking off tooth corners on tile floors, watching an ER doctor stitch up a cut finger, donating my O- blood, donating my long thin ponytails for chemo patients

Working through existential depressions, coping with anxiety and ocular migraines and guilt and fear and loneliness, confronting my God and my demons, crushing on boys I barely knew and men who barely knew me, falling in love, breaking my heart, hashing out hours-long fights in French, making gut-wrenching decisions, crying myself into exhaustion and day-sleeping deeply on others’ couches

Road-tripping across states with everything I owned in the car with me, relying on family to store the oversized canvases I’d painted, resigning from a solid career-track job, submitting applications and story pitches, getting odd temp gigs and contract work, borrowing money when I was broke and lending it out when I was flush, studying and interning and working in five different countries, reporting for local papers, interviewing artists and authors, reviewing books freelance, founding new websites and blogs, designing curricula, teaching classes, presenting at academic and corporate conferences, defending my master’s thesis, winning awards for my work

Voting, volunteering, serving as an election official, writing letters to newspaper editors and politicians, signing petitions, marching in protests, rallying around common causes

Ascending silently in a hot air balloon at sunrise, practicing yoga in rooms scented with incense, grunting out chest-presses and squats in a gym with pounding music, running along quiet paths at dusk, walking the dog with my love, taking turns holding the leash while we each go in to pick up our respective stacks of books, curling up together at home to read, letting our lives overlap into something new…

Youth, large, lusty, loving — youth full of grace, force, fascination
Do you know that Old Age may come after you with equal grace, force, fascination?

I certainly hope it does.