¡hola papi!

‘Where’s My Quarter-Life Chrysalis?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

The situation goes like this: My best friend just moved to my city (we’ve been apart since graduating college three years ago), and I’m so incredibly happy. Not only did she move across the country, but she broke up with her serious boyfriend in the process (he was ready to settle down, she was not) and is now about to get a new job too. On a recent trip to New York to see our other friends, we were all celebrating how glowing and happy she seemed and joked that she was having the opposite of a quarter-life crisis: a quarter-life chrysalis.

While I’m thrilled for her, it got me thinking about the persistent slumber I feel like I’ve been in for the past few years, even when accounting for the pandemic. It’s not quite chronic depression, but I feel like I’ve lost my mojo. I’ve been in this city, with the same job and partner since graduating, and can’t help but wonder, How can I fashion a quarter-life chrysalis for myself? Do I need a move, a breakup, a new job? How do I shake the dust off? 

Larval Lady

Hey there, LL!

You know, I’m used to hearing from people who are terrified of change, so this is a pleasant surprise. You’re actively courting it!

Broadly speaking, I know how you feel. You mentioned dust, and I think that’s the perfect visual. Sometimes it feels like things are just a bit too settled, like we haven’t moved anything around in a while and a thin film of apathy has covered our lives, making us, more or less, furniture. For me, an example is a bit literal. It’s my apartment, which, to be honest, I could stand to dust off.

Is it super-clean? Is it shiny? Does it still give me that little twinge of satisfaction I felt when I first moved in and decorated it? No. But it’s home, and I have my little way of doing things. It’s a little disordered, but I know where everything is (or at least I do most of the time). I cook my little dinners and eat them at my little table where I usually have unopened mail sitting in a not-so-little pile. The books on my shelves are a bit crooked. My rug has not aged well.

But nonetheless, there’s a rhythm I have going here in my apartment, and it functions fine for me, week by week. But we don’t just want life to function, right, LL? A rhythm alone isn’t enough. We want lyrics. Poetry. A bass drop. Music! We want the fantastic, and the thing about the fantastic is, by nature, it lies outside of our quotidian affairs. It’s out there, beckoning us to chase it.

I should get a new rug.

The point is that with such grueling familiarity, we can begin to feel one-note. We get the sense that we want to emerge from our present life, break through the film as something better, someone better. This sentiment becomes especially pointed, I think, in our late 20s and early 30s. There is ample opportunity to pause here, take stock of our lives, and think, Is this really all there is?

There’s this idea that, by this point, we should largely have our affairs sorted out. We should know what our goals are, what kind of life we’d like to live, and how we’re supposed to go about making those things happen. Even if we’re not quite there yet, we’re supposed to at least be on the path, to have a pretty good idea of where we’re heading. That makes life seem like a grind, doesn’t it? Save up X amount of money so you can afford Y. Put in X hours at work so you can be promoted to Y. Are we to be ferried so dully to the grave?

Well, the good news is, it’s actually pretty difficult to have things so figured out. I, myself, am actually lost and confused much of the time. Sure, we ideally get a better handle on ourselves as we get older, but that doesn’t mean we stop searching, stop changing, stop rearranging things, for better or for worse. The score isn’t as settled as some would have you believe. There remains plenty of music to be made.

If you look around, LL, I think you’ll find your life is littered with instruments, with opportunities to make not just sound but music. Your apartment, your morning routine, your regular date spots with your partner, all with the potential for percussion. Change doesn’t lie solely in the big, crashing decisions like quitting a job or moving to a new city. You can make music out of pots and pans. Women musicians have been scoring legions of gay fans with this method for decades.

Sometimes, yes, that looks like drastic, life-altering decisions. Other times, it looks like dusting off your apartment, rearranging the books on your shelves, and remembering what it was about the place that made you think, I like this one. It doesn’t have to be a grand metamorphosis, nor do you need to hit a certain age to seek it out. You only need to decide this: I’m making a change.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on October 6, 2022.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

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