A Quarter Life Crisis In Motion

I’m having a quarter life crisis.

I’m 26. I’m an artist. I sling tacos and cappuccinos and clean up a tattoo shop to (almost) pay the bills. I embroider and I bead and I embellish fabric until my carpal tunnel fires up when I’m not doing those things. I see my friends and I miss my family and I watch TV and eat delicious meals with my boyfriend when I’m not doing those things. I’m never flush with cash. I’ve got a fledgling business selling my creations that feels like it’s always going to be fledgling. Over all, it’s not that bad. It’s a really good life, the life I have. I’m happy with it, I’m proud of it, I know it’s a work in progress and that things will get better.

But here’s the thing. Here’s the thing that’s been eating me up, chewing me raw, reducing me to a stupid pulp every fucking day.

I don’t know what my dreams are. I don’t have any goals. I know I want and crave and can have the career and the future I want, but I have no idea what it is. Everything is so fucking abstract, and I feel like I’m trying to nail down smoke when I attempt to figure out what it is.

As a 20-something, inevitably, nearly every time I talk with friends, we talk about careers. We talk about how frustrated we are, how stuck we feel, how deeply uncertain we are. What I say every time is that we are all in the infancies of our careers. We feel like we have to have it all sorted, all planned, because we’re a few years out of college and paying our bills and in bigger meeting rooms and taking on more responsibilities in life in general. But we’re fucking babies. We don’t know anything! No one does at 26 what they’ll do the rest of their lives.

But that idea isn’t nearly enough to soothe me. I still panic. I still convulse with uncertainty.

So, I’ve been hiding under the covers.

I’ve been crying into my hands until my mascara and my snot become one nasty viscous homogenous clot.

I’ve been yelling at my cat when he knocks stuff over, even though it’s me I’m mad at. I’ve been slamming my fist into my dresser drawers in the morning, because I want so badly to work in fashion but I don’t know what I want and it all feels unattainable, and it makes me angry that I have to get dressed in the morning. That I have to confront these articles of clothing, the thing I love so fucking much, the act of dressing a reminder that I feel abandoned by my purpose.

What the fuck am I going to do?

Short term, I spoke up. When saying what I’m thinking is the hardest thing to do, it’s got to mean it’s the right thing to do. Right? 

I reached out this week to the members of a private Facebook group of which I’m a member. The group is for women (and some men) entrepreneurs, and it’s full of the kinds of people you don’t even think are possible in the real world. Creative, unapologetic, honest people, who are beyond willing to share their compassion, advice, and experience with someone like me, someone stirring her mascara/snot smears in her palms. 

They offered me buckets and moats and rivers and oceans of advice. Personal. Experienced. Heartfelt. And I cried some more.

These women, my god. They’re oracles, each and every one of them. I’ve never felt so much love and support from strangers in my life. But they’re not really strangers, are they? They’re brave people, like me, on similar journeys. Each and every one of us wants something more out of life and work than the prescribed path. We’re fighting tooth and nail to create work that is meaningful and fulfilling to us, to our souls, to our families, to our places in the world. 

I’m choosing not to share their specific words here, because what was said was said in confidence, between girlfriends. I hold their words dear. 

Today, I went to the post office and sent off a couple packages, each of which held a piece of my artwork I was sending out into the world. The woman who helped me asked if I was an artist, and I answered “yes.” She looked at one package I was sending (creatively wrapped), looked me up and down, and said “You’re going places, honey. You’re going to have to come back here and give me your autograph!” 

I nearly cried on the counter. 

I hope, against hope against hope against hope, is that other people who feel the way I feel right now have support systems like mine. I have a family chock full of people who accept me wherever I am, and believe in my ability to make a brighter future. I have a boyfriend and friends who make me laugh and let me dance around like a fool and sing Lady Gaga songs at them and I have people who will hold my hand next to a fire pit while I cry it out or rage about how fucked the world still is. I have this group of strangers on the internet who are actually guiding lights in the middle of a crisis of self. I have found the one post office in Baltimore City where the people working there treat customers like human beings, and can see exactly what the person in front of them needs to hear right this moment. I’m lucky as hell. And I’m thankful as hell.

What I really hope to say with this post is this –

It sucks. It’s hard. It’s like this for most of us, if not all of us. And I hope you have a support system. And if you don’t, hit me up. I’m here for you. We all deserve to feel supported while we’re figuring it out. And we will figure it out. And we will slay.

I love you.

xxoo Sarah

My Life With Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is my favorite. My guide, muse. My rock’n’roll spirit unicorn.

It was through Lady Gaga I finally fully embraced my true love of pop, and her music has marked milestones in my life.

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It was “Bad Romance” that sealed the deal. The music, the visuals, the spectacle, the woman creating it all – it was something new and something that resonated with me more than any pop performance I’d seen or heard before. Here was someone harnessing pop to explore darkness. It felt more honest and true than so much of what had come before, the other pop I’d loved in my life.

When I first saw the video for “Bad Romance,” I was a sophomore in college. I’d spent my freshman year hanging with the hipster crowd, sitting in on discussions of the merits of a bunch of indie and old school bands I honestly could have cared less about. There were some bands my friends turned me on to during that time that I still connect with (looking at you, Velvet Underground), but mostly I was just silent during those discussions, trying to fit in by not weighing in. I bought “Circus” by Britney Spears on iTunes that year, and was promptly made fun of. Whatever. 

Then, “Bad Romance.” Bright, studio pop with sharp teeth and nails and wild eyes and McQueen and that voice. That voice that gave me the permission I needed to start using my own voice. I became a super fan on the spot. I’m a pop person. No apologies. Let the hipster nonsense roll off my back. That year, my friend Paige and I would cut my hair differently almost every Friday after class. I got my first tattoo, a stick ’n’ poke on the back of my ankle, administered while I lay facedown on a common room table, with Paige sitting in a chair in front of me and holding a gin and tonic up to my lips. Basically, I stopped giving so much of a fuck.

“Telephone” was huge for me, too. The video premiered the night I wrote my essay to be considered to study abroad at the Glasgow School of Art the next year. By this time, I hated my life at school. I had made up my mind to either transfer, drop out, or study abroad for a semester. I had to GTFO. Lady Gaga’s music video for “Telephone” gave me the push I needed to look towards my future, rather than stew over the shit I was in in the moment. It was full of ideas, it was visual candy, it was rough and sexy and made me want to dance. And Beyonce in those baby bangs? YES!

How can one even get into the importance of “Born This Way?” The single came out after I returned from Glasgow, having just spent three months living on my own and making art all day, every day. I came back to Goucher more myself than before, having tested myself in a new environment. My best friend and I stayed up most nights, listening to Lady Gaga and giddily talking about her artistry, her innovation, what her music meant to us.

When the album “Born This Way” came out, I was back home. I dressed all in black, did my makeup like I was going to a goth rave, and showed up at the record store when they opened. I drove and drove and listened to the whole thing a hundred times, absorbing every word and feeling the swell of bravery in every chorus. 

The timing of the album release was perfect, because my ex boyfriend was getting back to our hometown from his college a week later. We had already broken up and gotten back together 5 times. I knew he would try to “get me back” when he returned. The thing was, it hadn’t taken much for him to “get me back” before. I was stuck with him in a cycle of mistreatment and manipulation, and it had gone on too long. “Born This Way” became the soundtrack of my strength, the music that allowed me to stand up for myself and end it, for good. 

Lady Gaga saved me.

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My senior year of college, I built a shrine to Lady Gaga in an empty closet next to my dorm room. I covered the walls with collages and song lyrics. I covered the floors with shiny pink plastic and sequined fabric. I covered the ceiling with swirls of tulle and fairy lights. I made prayer candles. I made offerings. I gussied up a Barbie doll with the complete look Gaga wore in the "Judas" video. I even Sharpied-on all her tattoos. I wrote a prayer book. I invited my real friends in to see, to share, to listen to her music, to kneel and giggle with each other about how right it felt. Some people were, understandably, weirded out by this obsessive piece of work, and that was fine. I was done making apologies for how much or little anyone else liked my work, or the things I liked, or what I did with my time.

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“ARTPOP” came out a few months after I moved back to Baltimore, to be with the love of my life. I was living in a room painted blue and gold, eating dinners with true friends and fighting off stray cats in the back yard while smoking my many “I’m unemployed and scared” cigarettes. Life was good, but life was also hard – a big question mark. I was making art, but I was also holing up in my room all day, afraid to answer anyone’s questions of, “so what do you think you’re going to do down here for work?” My roommate Samway gave me the leaked album and his good headphones. I went into my room, listened, cried, danced, thrashed around on my bed, and let waves of ecstasy and agony wash over me. “Gypsy” was so important, because my boyfriend was in a band, and they were starting to travel more. When I felt alone, like I’d moved so far from my family and my life to be sad in a blue and gold room, dancing and singing and crying to “Gypsy” made me feel less alone. 

That spring, my sister and her then-boyfriend (now husband) drove down to visit us in Baltimore. The first night of their stay, Katherine and I went to Lady Gaga’s artRAVE concert. We wore embellished denim (by yours truly, of course), danced like maniacs, sang so loud, hugged each other and shook with glee. There she was, Lady Gaga, the woman who had already given us so much, giving us her all on a stage right in front of us. It was surreal. It was a religious experience. 

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Last night, I set an alarm for the release of “Perfect Illusion.” Will helped me hook up my computer to his stereo. We turned the speakers up. I stood in the space where the sound meets. I looked forward, I listened, my toes started gripping the floor beneath me as Gaga let her vocals rip through her pain. The key change made my eyes go wide and turn to Will, with what I’m sure was a manic look on my face. We listened to it again through the speakers. He gave me his noise canceling headphones for a third listen. We talked about the music. We listened to the songs he’s working on for his first album. We talked about the music. I danced around and stood in the spot where the music meets. 

Lady Gaga is not afraid to fuck shit up. She’s an artist. She is fueled by her need to create. She expresses without apology. She’s a fucking rock star. She’s helped me take my fucking LIFE and make it more and more of what I want. She sets the example that to be an artist, you have to do what it is that YOU need to do, express what YOU need to express, let the darkness out and create light in so doing. She’s open about her depression, her anxiety, her heartbreak, her struggles in the industry and in life. But she never fucking stops creating. That’s what I want, too. I want to make the things I want to make, love the things I love, feel the things I feel, be what and who I am, without apology, with honesty.

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So let’s all go listen to “Perfect Illusion” a thousand times and dance and sing and cry and get even more excited for the album to come. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.