“You’re too young for [fill in the blank]!”

People tend to read me as younger (sometimes much, much younger) than I actually am. So, while I am a 30-year old who has been working since the age of 15, has 1.25 master’s degrees, and owns her home, a lot of people think I’m 22, have just graduated college, and have no idea how the world works. On a few recent occasions, people have assumed I’m still in high school.

“Oh, you’ll be grateful for that when you’re older,” I hear all the time from middle-aged women.

And sure. If people were just telling me that I look 22 instead of 30 all the time, great. But at least half of the time, they’re not. They’re making an assumption about my age, and then using that assumption as grounds to treat me like a child. Or they’re just being condescending assholes. Spoiler alert, it’s usually men doing this, though women aren’t immune.

(The other half are usually people like one of my library patrons who, for example, asked me excitedly if the 2016 election was going to be my first presidential election. It wasn’t—with one exception, I have voted in every election in which I’ve been eligible to vote, including primaries, since I turned 18 in 2004.)

Last summer, a door-to-door salesman for some power company came up to my house while I was outside with my dogs. He introduced himself and made some small talk, then asked, “Are your parents home?” in a very serious, I-have-real-business-to-conduct-now tone. I cracked up because he looked rather young himself and was trying very hard to appear older and (I guess?) more respectable, and it was obvious the possibility of me being the homeowner had never, not once, crossed his mind.

Then there are people who say things like, “Aren’t you too young to have carpal tunnel?” when I’m wearing a wrist brace for an injury that resulted from extreme gardening, not computer usage. This question (and others like it) are always asked in a condescending tone and with the assumption that youth equals health (it doesn’t, in case that was unclear, and it’s downright rude to ask a complete stranger about their health issues anyway).

Now back to the “You’ll appreciate that when you’re older” nonsense. This response is problematic for several reasons:

  1. The underlying assumption that age and beauty are somehow related, and that being young equals being more beautiful. Let me just call bullshit on that right now. Older people are beautiful, too, and anyone who tells you otherwise can be damned to a hell in which their every flaw is constantly compared against airbrushed magazine models.
  2. The underlying assumption that my self-esteem is based on my appearance, and that I need external validation to feel good about myself. Of course, this one isn’t about me at all—it’s about the person saying it. More than likely, they feel insecure about their age and appearance, and they’re projecting that insecurity onto me. I’d much rather have people’s respect than their compliments on how pretty I am.

You know what I’ll really, truly appreciate when I’m older? Hearing that one of my stories, or essays, or novels had an impact on a young person the same way books like Sandman and The Chronicles of Narnia had an impact on me.

No one is going to look at me, makeupless, in jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt, with muddy sneakers and messy hair, and think, “Damn, I’m going to spend my whole life trying to look like her!” And they shouldn’t. They should want to look like themselves. So why should I care what people think I look like? Answer: There is no reason. As long as I’m clean and dressed appropriately for work, it does not matter.

In the same vein, age alone does not determine anyone’s capabilities. I’ve met completely incompetent 50-year-olds and brilliant, wise 20-year-olds. The next time someone asks you if you’re “too young for x,” you can respond with, “Aren’t you old enough to know better than to ask inappropriate questions like that?”

Punk Rock Gardner

Johnny Jump Ups

Johnny Jump Ups remind me of gardening with my mother as a kid.

Working in the garden is meditative. There’s the endless pulling of weeds, checking vegetables and flowers for signs of insect infestation or fungal infection, repairing damage done by small animals or the weather, pulling more weeds.

I like the physicality of these tasks: the strain in my back and shoulders, the flexing of muscles, the slight soreness the next day when I try to do too much in one go. I would be happy to do this work in silence, with only the local birds as accompaniment, but this is often not possible.

Shelling peas

Shelling peas climbing a trellis.

My neighbor likes to blast country music from the backyard of his boarded-up house (why he decided to board up the windows I can only imagine). It’s not that I hate country music–indeed, I grew up listening to it–but it feels like the wrong sort of background for what I’m doing.

So I listen to punk rock, lots of Bad Religion, some obscure Japanese stuff, The Interrupters, Flogging Molly, multiple girl bands with “Betty” in the name. This too may seem incongruous, but growing my own food sometimes feels like an act of rebellion against agribusiness and companies like Monsanto who’d rather I spend my garden money on pesticides and grass fertilizers. Punk is nothing if not one long, loud, scream of rebellion.

A white peony.

The first peony of the spring. They smell wonderful.

Bad Religion has one song in particular that I listen to over and over again. “Kyoto Now,” off their album The Process of Belief, pleads with the listener to stop denying climate change and environmental destruction and take action now to save this ball of earth and water and gas that we call home.

I didn’t start off with the intention of listening to only punk while I garden, but that’s the music I find myself turning to more and more these days, and now it’s become A Thing–even when my neighbor isn’t blasting country music, I still put in my earbuds and crank the volume just high enough that I can lose myself in the noise and the work.

This act of listening to punk while I garden is my meditation on cultivation, destruction, and the intersection of the two. It is my meditation on the mundane and why the mundane is magical and worth saving. It is my meditation on power and abuse and resistance. It is my meditation on how to save the world, one tomato at a time.

May the Fourth Be With You!

photo of me with a jawa and a Tusken raider

On my recent vacation to Tatooine.

A long time ago, in a town far, far away, I discovered Star Wars. I was ten, my brother was nine. We were at my grandparents’ house, where the adults were doing something that necessitated sticking us in the tv room upstairs to watch movies.

It was 1997, and the Star Wars trilogy was airing in advance of the theatrical release of the Special Editions. In our channel flipping, we stumbled on Return of the Jedi. The movie was half over when we happened on it—already the gang was on Endor, chasing down Stormtroopers on speeder bikes.

We were transfixed. When my parents came up to get us so we could go home, we didn’t want to leave. Luke was fighting Darth Vader and Han and Leia were trying to blow up the shield generator. We had to know what happened next.

My dad, perhaps incredulous that we cared so much about a movie that was already fifteen years old, told us that we had it on tape.

“What?!” we both asked, surprised and delighted, but slightly distrustful.

“Yes, we’ve got the whole trilogy on tape,” my dad repeated, trying to hurry us along.

It was too late to watch the rest of the movie when we got home, but the next day, my dad dug out bootleg copies of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, taped off the tv at some indeterminate time in the past. He couldn’t find A New Hope, but we took what he offered.

a Star Wars movie poster with various autographs

I’ve been collecting signatures on this poster since I was 14. My most recent acquisitions are Wedge, Biggs, and Gold Leader (Dutch).

And we watched those two movies over, and over, and over, and over.

It wasn’t until the Special Editions came out in theaters later that year that we were able to see A New Hope. My dad took us to the theater to see it.

We already knew the characters from watching Empire and Jedi, but we soaked up that movie like sponges. The trash compactor scene scared me, but I wasn’t willing to admit it. And I will always remember the thrill I felt leaving that theater, like I had found religion or the secret to eternal youth.

That Christmas was the best Christmas I can remember. We got a (legal) copy of the trilogy on VHS, Star Wars Quiz Whiz, and Star Wars Monopoly. My grandmother began a tradition that has lasted into the present by buying me the Star Wars Hallmark Keepsake ornaments for that year. I’m sure we got other presents–Lego sets, video games–but the Star Wars presents are the ones I remember best.

From then on I had no interest in playing “house.” I wanted to be Princess Leia going on adventures with Luke, Han, and Chewie. I wanted to fly an X-Wing and train to be a Jedi Knight. I called my brother a scruffy looking nerf herder. I pretended my dog Maverick was Chewbacca.

Twenty years later, these films still transfix me. I still want to be Princess Leia and fly an X-Wing and wield a lightsaber. When the world feels devoid of light I only have to pop in A New Hope, learn the ways of the Force from Obi-Wan Kenobi and fight the bad guys in my little snub fighter to remember that resistance is never futile. Resistance and persistence create change, make a better world.

In my most desperate hours, I will always have Star Wars to remind me of this truth.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars, and May the Fourth Be With You.