In the wake of another birthday, I got to thinking about the last decade of my precious little life. For the fun of it, and because I sometimes wonder where the time has gone, I want to pin down a few landmarks inside each age.
The Last Decade (2007-2017)
Age 22: I've been graduated from college since the end of January. I work at Starbucks, and I'm really good at what I do, perfectly frothing milk for cappuccinos and lattes. I apply feverishly to jobs in the midst of recession mayhem and get hired as a receptionist for the Downtown Journal/Southwest Journal (pretty much because I mailed homemade chocolate chip cookies with my resume and cover letter). This job involves a lot of envelope-stuffing, yet it supplies me with free tickets to shows at First Ave., and so I am content.
Age 23: I've been laid off from my receptionist job, but I'm approaching a full year in my first serious relationship, so that's nice. I get mono and am bedridden for a while, not so nice. I begin applying for jobs again and this time get in as a server at French Meadow Bakery and Cafe, which to this day remains one of the best jobs I've ever had. I work with incredibly nice and interesting artist-types who instill in me a love of good food. This is the year I begin realizing my foodie inclinations, and I'm delighted to discover Minneapolis's and St. Paul's restaurant scene. Also, this is the year I spend a month living in Charleston to develop the media coverage for one of the most stunning festivals I've ever attended.
Age 24: Total shift: This is the age at which I move to Montauban, France to teach English. I arrive with poor speaking skills, despite all the French I took in high school and college. The biggest challenge comes when I must find my own housing, and do so completely in French. Then set up utilities, buy bedding, and account for my bills and health care, also completely in French. Regardless of all that, the experience is total magic, complete with accordion music. I live in a historic building and have a skeleton key to get into my apartment. I travel around Europe (Denmark, Spain, Italy, more France), and begin a relationship with a Frenchman.
Age 25: Quarter-life crisis mode. I have returned to Minnesota and am caught in emotional turmoil over what I'm doing with my life. I cry a lot and am perpetually anxious. I work in a cafe owned by Belgians, roasting coffee beans and selling croissants. I buy a ticket to return to France to live with the Frenchman in Toulouse for almost three months. I consider writing a book. I sit in the window and smoke cigarettes. I continue to apply for jobs in Minnesota and everywhere.
Age 26: I am back in Minnesota. The relationship with my Frenchman fizzles out slowly and sadly. I have been cat-sitting for wealthy Stillwater residents. Waitressing over the lunch hour and making next to nothin'. Freelance writing for local magazines for the past five years continues to be the boat that I float in, clutching the mast and hoping it will deposit me somewhere stable. Hallelujah, it does. I get my first "big-girl job" as a staff writer for a B2B magazine in Rochester, MN. I pack my bags and move to Med City. I can see the corn cob water tower from my apartment. I live without internet or a TV. I go to the library everyday.
Age 27: Life as a staff writer has been elucidating. I love writing and feel smarter for working with the others on the editorial team. However, I don't care for Rochester, and I miss the Twin Cities. I briefly begin dating another Frenchman who owns a chain of bakeries. He snores terribly, and I can't get any sleep. The relationship ends strangely and upsettingly. I apply for and get a job as a senior editor for a quarterly cooking magazine based in Minnetonka, which allows me to move back to Minneapolis. I love my job so much. It sends me around the country for things like walnut harvests in Sacramento and the IACP conference in San Francisco. I meet incredible editors and writers who I look up to and with whom I'm still dear friends.
Age 28: Still workin' at the cooking magazine, this time starring in a series of cooking videos called, "the Clever Kitchenista." There is a whiff of trouble in the office. The parent company is tanking, and the trauma of layoffs will begin soon. This is the year that I can't seem to get comfortable in a living situation. I move from living alone in a brownstone to living with a guy I found on Craigslist in an old house by Lake Calhoun. Here, I trade baked goods with my neighbor, Ruth-Elaine. One day, Ruth-Elaine is upset to find me moving out after only living in the house for three months (though we continue to make an effort to bake for one another). I move into an apartment by Lake of the Isles, and it is finally a place I can settle in and be comfortable. I continue to trade baked goods with my neighbors here. I will stay for the next three years.
Age 29: One sweet summer day, I walk into Common Roots Cafe and meet a handsome fellow in a fedora named Paul. He is now my loving, supportive partner. We enjoy tacos, beers, and super-moon evenings together that summer. We fall in love. In September, I travel to France alone and revel in its beauty and the fun of solo travel. I meet up with friends I haven't seen in years. Then, right before Thanksgiving, I am laid off from my job. It sucks, but I am weirdly giddy about finding something new. The new gig turns out to be a job as a social media-and-metadata-writer for a publishing company downtown Minneapolis. It's fun working downtown, but I am depressed by the work's lack of creativity. I get to travel to some great cities for work though: Austin, Portland, and Salem. Also, I get piles of gorgeous books for my coffee table.
Age 30: For my big 30th birthday, Paul and I travel to California, rent a car, and drive along the coast to Big Sur. In the fall, another great trip: I travel with my "Portugirls" to Portugal and experience a lavender farm, ancient castles, and a port tasting (among many things). We all buy beautiful wool blankets. The winter of this year, I change jobs again. I'm like a hermit crab scuttling from shell to shell, searching for meaning and purpose. My new job is with the University of Minnesota, College of Continuing Education. I interview students and write their stories, working in the midst of academia where people care about the same things I care about. It is a great job, and guess what, I still have it! In the spring, Paul and I travel to Savannah and marvel at the Spanish moss, incomprehensibly flakey biscuits, and Old South architecture. I eat chocolates on a bench that's in close proximity to where the classic bench scene from "Forrest Gump" was filmed. It's so awesome.
Age 31: Here I am, jetting around town in my Hyundai with my real estate agent Liz, looking at houses. Paul and I had been considering finding a 2BR apartment to rent, yet I abruptly find myself interested in real estate. In late July, I find a cute little bungalow, nestled in a St. Paul neighborhood with a lot of Billstein family history. Offer accepted, we move into the house in late September. I treat myself to a fancy dining room table from West End that looks like it belongs in a French farmhouse. We continue to feather our nest. Freelance writing is increasing, and a new business opportunity blooms with my childhood friend Tara. Also, we get a puppy. A golden doodle we've named Harvey. He fills the house with energy, cuteness, and love. We can't imagine life before this little furry creature.
This brings me to the age I am now. I guess when it's all written out like that, those volumes of vaporous time, I can see how all of these jobs, relationships, and travels have been braided into my wrinkles, my suede-soft insecurities, and watercolor-blurry memories. Here I am, livin' the dream and marching onward. Perched on the back porch of a house with a glass of white wine, looking up and out at the trees.