Somewhere around 23, I started baking all the time. I worked in bar, baked cookies and cupcakes on the regular, and brought them to work in a hat box I'd decorated with some matte vintage wrapping paper that was covered in peaches. I doled out my treats to regulars and people I wanted to charm with the universal allure of sugar, eventually earning myself the all too appropriate nomer, "Cupcake."
I can't remember how many times I tried, or really, if I'm honest, if I tried at all, but at some point, I decided that, despite my love of baking, making pastry dough specifically was out of the question. It was not something I'm good at.
And so it remained. Every time in the last 12 years I have served a homemade pie or tart, it has been with store bought dough-- an affront, really, to the pride I take in making sweets from scratch, like my mama, but, after all, dough was, I said, just not something I'm good at. And to be clear, I have made a shitload of pies.
Two weeks ago, just that many days before my 35th birthday, I was preparing to make a savory tart for dinner, store bought crust in hand, when it suddenly occurred to me that a lot had changed in 12 years-- I had moved states, learned to cook not just passably but pretty darn well, developed a consistent work out routine and generally become a much healthier person, developed an emotionally stable, fulfilling relationship, had a baby, was about the have another baby, and overall more or less gotten my shit together-- so maybe I should just try making the dough.
So I did.
And it was the most goddamn flaky, shortbready, buttery perfection of dough a person could ever imagine.
I was shocked and not shocked and mostly aghast that I'd spent 12 years not making dough because of some story I told myself at one moment in time and then held onto like it was the last puff of air in a life raft keeping me afloat in what now turns out to have been an empty baby pool. For the love of god, why? Why did I waste so long cherishing an idea about myself that turned out to be totally untrue?
I do it often. I live through a symphony of voices in my head that tell me so constantly who I am and what I cannot and the truth of the matter is, I really don't believe a lot of them.
So today is my 35th birthday. And on the cusp of it, I felt it suddenly imperative to perform some sort of ritual for the occasion. I had a flash of an impulse to reach out to a person I am friends with on social media, with whom I actually have almost no real life relationship with, and yet, that's what the impulse told me so I followed it. And she kindly entertained my weird request and said the actual most perfect thing.
She suggested: "Light the candle for yourself and your life all the way up until this moment, all the yous at every past birthday and now. The intention of the practice (any practice you choose) is an honoring of your past and present self. When closing blow out the candle with intention to let go of anything you no longer need at this time of rebirth" along with some extra info about how to meditate looking at the candle.
And so I did. I lit my $3.99 Trader Joe's candle, sat cross legged on my yoga mat, and started at a flame while I told myself:
I honor Beth, who was a happy, easy baby, who, according to my mama, just slept and ate for two full years. I honor Beth, who turned two only to "start talking and never stop," Beth, who changed her clothes so many times a day that mom stopped washing them, who knew just what she wanted. I honor Beth, who went to school, loved school, and made best friends with a girl named Lauren, always swinging her hand vigorously during assembly to comfort her when she was sad because she missed her parents. I honor Beth, who loved playing the rice table, who dressed up as a bee on Halloween, who pretended to sleep at naptime so she could be first to choose a sticker to put on her lunchbox. I honor Beth, who was desperate to have homework like her sister, who begged for a neon three ring binder just to pretend she was doing work, who cried when school was out.
I honor Beth, who started to feel anxious sometime far too young, who feared desperately, constantly her parents dying, who grappled with something she could only name "the empty feeling." I honor Beth, who was so young and uncomfortable and smart. I honor Beth, whose whole world was so small and she didn't even know it.
I honor Beth, who went to highschool and fell apart, who longed to be part of something, to be something she was not. I honor Beth, who demonstratively cut her wrists, threw up her food, discovered how to write the saddest words, listened to angry music, and felt lost beyond all reason. I honor Beth, who sang and danced in sparkly sack dresses as her only respite from whatever imagined misery she suffered. I honor Beth, who was constantly wanting to be loved, to be wanted, Beth, who could not yet possibly understand what that meant. I honor Beth, who got a trashy tramp stamp, who had horrific acne, whose body she sought both to destroy and make sense of at the same time. I honor Beth, who always did well in school, even when shit was hitting the fan.
I honor Beth, who made a bold choice and moved to Berkeley. I honor Beth, who dyed her hair, wore gummy bracelets and combat boots, who smoked clove cigarettes and ate donut holes at 2 am. I honor Beth, who drank and compromised herself. I honor Beth, who was lost. I honor Beth, who loved a boy who loved her back. I honor Beth, who loved a boy who loved her back, who died. I honor Beth, who graduated in 3 years, kept a full time job, learned to love writing, expanded her world view just ever so slightly. I honor Beth, who met her best ever friend in college.
I honor Beth, who got a shitty English degree and immediately became a waitress in San Francisco. I honor Beth, who was desperate for love. I honor Beth, who was desperate for that boy's love and that boy's love and that boy's love and that boy's love. I honor Beth, who was desperate for love, who accepted far too little, who valued herself not at all. I honor Beth, who was desperate for love. I honor Beth, who was desperate for love. I honor Beth for every restaurant job and bartending gig and alcoholic drink and shitty choice and lost moment of her entire life. I honor Beth, who learned to love to dance without inhibition. I honor Beth, who formed loving, crystalline, healthy relationships despite all her bullshit. I honor Beth, who found her solace in writing. I honor Beth, who secret smoked cigarettes for a thousand years. I honor Beth, who was desperate for love.
I honor Beth, who one day went to yoga. I honor Beth, who tried. I honor Beth, who had trouble being still. I honor Beth, who earned a degree, during stolen hours, that licensed her to run a preschool. I honor Beth, who found something pure and clear in being with children that didn't exist in the rest of her life. I honor Beth, who always worked hard.
I honor Beth, who one day married her best friends in their backyard and then went home the next day to, hungover, talk to a boy named Nic. I honor Beth, who recklessly and immediately decided she loved him. I honor Beth, who was desperate for love, but who also knew when something felt different. I honor Beth, who invited someone relatively unknown into her life, thinking she could be open, but she still fucked it up. I honor Beth, who kept fucking it up but forged ahead anyway. I honor Beth, who left her whole life to move to Kentucky for the boy, who didn't quite love her yet.
I honor Beth, who fucked it up, who didn't understand yet. I honor Beth, who stuck with it, talked it out, conceded in very small increments to growth. I honor Beth who worked in the most soul sucking childcare facility imaginable, who tried to make it better until she realized she couldn't. I honor Beth, who moved on, who grew with each job she had, who escaped the endless allure of the restaurant industry. I honor Beth, who learned to live an everyday life, to feel instead of drinking, to slow down. I honor Beth, who began to do yoga regularly. I honor Beth, who found vulnerability scary. I honor Beth, who became too committed to health, who let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. I honor Beth, who finally became a little less desperate, who felt secure not because of some repeated reassurance or promise from her relationship, but because it was, simply, healthy.
I honor Beth, who decided to have a baby. I honor Beth, who decided to have a baby out of wedlock. I honor Beth, who struggled with childbirth and postpartum. I honor Beth, who named her daughter after her sister. I honor Beth, who feels at once the best mama to her baby girl and also a constant failure. I honor Beth, who is bored at home and also who would have it no other way. I honor Beth, who dreams of a terrifying future where she is connected and powerful and useful in ways she cannot yet imagine. I honor Beth, who is about to have her second daughter, who lives in fear but also certainty. I honor Beth, who is 35 today. I honor all the joy, disappointment, frustration, hope, excitement, fear, and confusion she feels.
I honor Beth.
I honor Beth, who spent 12 years not making pie dough because she thought she couldn't. I honor Beth, who, one day, decided to try again anyway.
I tried not to feel sad about how much of my life I've spent selling myself short, living in desperation, ravaging my body, entirely fucking shit up. I feel like way way too much of the misery I’ve carried through my life is just from stories I tell myself about myself. It’s a trickle down. It’s years of so desperately grasping onto that life raft that I’m afraid what will happen if I let go, even though it’s pretty darn clear now that we’re on dry land.
But I was meant to honor those moments, that person. I had to tell myself again and again.
I honor all those moments, because not in spite of them, but because of them, I am at this exact moment in time today, and I would have it no other way. I would have it no other way than to be alone, in bed, exhausted at the end of my, in some ways, pretty great, in some ways, pretty lame birthday.
I blew out the candle.
I release anything keeping me from making the dough; I no longer need you, and yet I honor your place in bringing me exactly here. Thank you.
I am 35.