How to build fortresses out of bricks as heavy as the hypotheticals you carry on a day-to-day basis. On some days, you forget the ache they leave in the valleys of your shoulders from bearing their weight like it’s no big deal, like being accustomed to discomfort is the same as being okay with it (or maybe it is). Because when you protect yourself from room for error, you also protect yourself from room for growth, throaty laughter, nervous tingling. When you refuse to buy in too heartily, too brusquely, you can only expect the payout to be just as tepid, just as pallid and gray.

How to dive headfirst into Finding Yourself as if you were ever lost, when in reality you had both feet tied firmly in the ground, completely stationery where everyone was able to see you, just from afar. When in reality, Finding Yourself was never about discovering what it is you care about (you’ve always cared about the same things, just in iterations: fairness, good will, foods that taste like July). Instead, it was about learning patience for being alone, finding tools of self-care that weren’t just chocolate and bubble baths. It was about navigating loneliness but also friendship, where you’d share a pint of thick-churned ice cream with girls you’d lop off your right arm for, spoons clinking like wine glasses late into the night, and realizing that they too had been there all along, that they didn’t require Finding of any kind, just a little thought and care from your end.

How to lose track, just briefly, of time, despite always being someone who thrived off timetables. And don’t be fooled, you still like planning things at least five hours in advance, with time, location, and duration spelled out so detailed that the letters practically spill from the screen of your phone, but at least now sometimes you lay on your back with your shoulder blades grinding against the floorboards, mind stumbling until an hour has passed and you have no work to show for it. At least now you can sit through a 50-minute commute with a paperback pinned between your fingers, barely noticing the automated voice over the PA (even though you have the message memorized: “Please stand clear of the closing doors… 34th Street. Herald Square. Transfers available to the D, F, and M lines.”). At least you’ll still wonder every once in a while that in a city dedicated to speed and snappiness, momentum and hubbub, how much time slips through the subway doors, through the wide-mouthed vents along the sides of the road, through the gaps that weave between people waiting in long lines that bend from block to block?

How to say no. And how to believe heavily in a peace that will follow, especially since your most rickety, off-kilter moments are when you’re preoccupied with everyone’s opinions but your own. Those moments may never fully disappear, but you’ve learned how to stand by your choices a little better—or at least, hold tight when the wind threatens to push you into disequilibrium.

Things you do not learn:

How to tear down fortresses. How to tread water after diving in. How to reel time back onto its spool. How to stop straining to hear people’s inner voices when you know they were never meant for your ears anyway.

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