Our trip to Charleston was supposed to be a celebration.
I turned thirty on November 28th, and since my birthday always coincidences with Thanksgiving travel, we’d planned an earlier getaway for November 12th to toast my soon-to-be new decade.
Election day, of course, fell four days before we left for South Carolina. When the time came to pack our bags, I was busy grieving my lost hope for our first female president, and deeply worried about the dark, divisive vision of America that would soon be driving national policy.
I’ve always cared deeply about politics, and held strong opinions about government’s role in society; it’s part of the reason I chose to attend college in Washington, DC. I grew up among parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who were all politically engaged, and as such, politically-charged conversations were commonplace at our dinner table.
My worldview continued to evolve throughout my twenties. My circle of friends became more diverse, and I found myself humbled by how little I understood about the myriad forms of privilege I’d been born with. And as an ambitious young woman, I began to recognize the ways in which members of our patriarchal society stack the deck against us—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes quite knowingly.
Outside those dinner-table conversations, though, I struggled to raise my voice more publicly. As uncomfortable as it is to admit, opening myself to criticism felt too brutal. Instead, I made monthly donations to causes and political campaigns that I believed in; subconsciously, I must’ve felt like my money bought me the relief of getting to stay quiet.
By the time we left for Charleston, I’d realized that keeping my mouth largely shut—a deeply privileged choice to begin with—hadn’t been a harmless stance after all. Allowing other people to dominate public discourse meant that they defined the conversations our nation was having, at the direct expense of people of color, immigrants, and LBGTQ+ folks. It was, and had always been, my responsibility to be an active and vocal participant in demanding progress and justice; making that shift will be the ongoing work of a lifetime.
This realization came as the election dust was settling, but in some ways, it was also a function of getting older.
Having shaken off some of the time-consuming—and, frankly, not very interesting—fixations of my younger self (Am I [insert insecurity] enough?), I’m intent on asking and answering better questions in my thirties: for example, What am I capable of? It’s a question that, quite intentionally, is unconcerned with other people’s perceptions of me—and thoroughly concerned with defining success on my own terms.
In December, I fulfilled a longtime dream by moving halfway across the country to Seattle. Now, we can see the Cascades, the Olympics, and Mount Rainier from our rooftop, and I get to spend my free time trail running, hiking, and backpacking among those mountains. And next month, after taking nearly two years of financial planning coursework, I’ll sit for a comprehensive exam that will propel my fledgling new career onward and upward.
So far, my new decade has been defined by taking bigger chances, speaking out more frequently and consistently, and ever-so-gradually becoming comfortable with change, risk and uncertainty. If this is thirty, I’ll take it.
One final note, for friends and readers traveling to Charleston: I’d highly recommend reading the work of Michael W. Twitty before you go. He’s the two-time James Beard award-winning author of The Cooking Gene, a culinary historian who unpacks Southern food culture from an African-American, LBGTQ+ and Jewish perspective. I’d also recommend following and learning from BJ Dennis, a Gullah Geechee chef who hosts mouthwatering pop-up dinners in the Lowcountry.
Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400