Live Through This

A Tried and True Map to Paradise

Notes from the passport office on how you will never get your act together, and that might be a good thing!

Illustration by reader Meghann Stephenson

This may be a bit of a harried piece. Which stinks, because Rookie is my favorite magazine, and I was really hoping to impress you guys. I was hoping to sing down like a sage from a mountain high, inspiring you all with my hard-won wisdom and “grown up” nuggets of truth. But here’s the truth. I’m writing this on my cellphone, sitting in the passport office as my five-year-old daughter is slumped next to me wailing of boredom. We found ourselves here because her passport has expired and we leave in 48 hours on our big “girl trip.” First stop is a wedding where she is the premier flower girl. Not only have we been practicing flower tosses and slow, graceful walks in the hallway for two months, but also the darn wedding is nearly in a palace and she gets to wear a very fluffy princess dress. Needless to say, she is living for this and I can’t mess it up. In my attempt at a segue, we are embarking on a trip that is her version of paradise.

I have spent my whole life believing that at some point I would get things perfectly right. That at some magical point in maturity I would gain some clarity and know all the right answers—or fully know who I am. I now realize that this will never happen. And this is a good thing!

When I was a teenager, my idea of pure, unadulterated happiness was childhood—that time before hierarchies and complicated relationships developed, before our stories were told and retold by us and by others until we became false characters fossilized inside them. To my daughter, bedtime, bath time, and the end of playtime qualify as real-life drama, but I beg to differ. She hasn’t yet begun to regulate herself based on what she believes other people think of her—and that seems to me like a version of paradise. My goal lately is to try to get back to that place as often as I can.

I’m writing this piece to implore you, reader, to please go easy on yourself. I’m writing this to say that everything you’re going through right now—the awkwardness, the discomfort, the introspection, the awkward grappling—is really the road to Arcadia. You don’t get to experience paradise without a lot of hard work—you know that already. What you might not know yet, because you maybe haven’t been there yet, is that once you reach the Promised Land, staying there is impossible. You come and go. You lose the map and have to be reminded of important landmarks. You forget altogether that it exists. And you have to work all over again to find it. Which you will, again and again.

What I’m getting at is that paradise is an island called YOU. Meaning you are the captain of your own ship, the master of your destiny, the keeper of your flame. Paradise exists in those fleeting moments when you are deeply in your own skin, when you’ve sunk down to the bottom of who you are and allowed yourself to rest there for a while. It’s when you feel close to someone you love. Paradise is feeling understood, heard, open, and vulnerable. Paradise is feeling good and making someone else feel good. It’s the muse whispering in your ear, it’s doing something you love and excelling at it, it’s friends, community, love. Paradise is all these things, but it is ever fleeting.

You can’t wait around for good things to transpire. A lot of times you have to manifest the goodness. I thought this was a nifty little story by the great science fiction author Ray Bradbury. He loved cartoons and science fiction as a child. Kids made fun of him and said that no one was interested in “the future,” so he tore up all his favorite comic strips and started to cry. He asked himself, “Why am I weeping? Who died? The answer was me. I had allowed these fools to kill me, and to kill the future.” He decided never again to pay heed to negative people. “I’ve learned that by doing things, things get done,” he said. “We ensure the future by doing it.” I extend that idea to happiness: we ensure our own happiness by creating it for ourselves. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than not trying at all.

Once I hit my teens, happiness became purely aspirational—it was never palpable in the present. Even today, I find myself looking forward to old age, to some fantasy of my “golden years,” when I won’t expect so much of myself, when I’ll feel like I’ve done everything I need to do and can just settle down and enjoy what’s left of the ride. But the truth is that that day will never come. Every stage brings its own disappointments, and its own struggle to find paradise. As you become more comfortable in one area of your life—friendship, dating, school, whatever—you enter a new phase that is equally hard and scary. That cold, damp, lost-in-the-dark-woods feeling of your teens never really leaves you. Now that I’m an adult and a mom, I’m faced with completely new scary questions that I don’t know the answers to every day!

What I’ve learned is that it’s OK to say “I don’t know.” I tell my kids that all the time when they ask me something—it’s important for them to know that I, their MOM, don’t know everything. And I’m officially a grownup! If I don’t have the answers all the time, they certainly can’t be expected to!

One other thing: happiness and confidence take practice. You sort of have to train your brain to think more positively. For me, it was as silly as telling myself to “stop it” when I start to feel negative or self-defeating. I may have to tell myself to “stop it” 100 times a day. But it gets easier, and eventually it’s less than 100 times a day, and finally your thoughts automatically go to greener pastures!

Oh and also, don’t compare yourself with your friends or people you do or don’t know. We are all born with different levels of confidence and coping skills, no one is perfect, and no one’s life is perfect. I have to remind myself of this all the time.

Here’s the point. Paradise doesn’t exist. What’s exciting about being human is that we get to learn…forever! With each new chapter in our lives, we have a new learning curve. Life is exciting when you look at it this way cuz there’s no pressure to know how to do things, there’s only the pressure to learn and do your best!

P.S. OH my gosh, one more thing…I can’t even believe I’m writing this, because it’s so so so uncool and, to be honest, it comes from a selfish place. But here it goes: talk to your parents. I say this because I am one. Now that I am a parent I know how much I love my kids. I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do for them. I love them so much it hurts. I love them in ways that didn’t seem possible before they existed. Most of your parents do, too. Sometimes we parental types mess up or put our wishes for you first, but the truth is, we really really really really want the best for you. So give communicating with us a chance. AND if your parents fail you wildly, which we are apt to do at times, talk to another grownup who has their act together or a good, trustworthy friend. Just talking about our troubles and insecurities is magic. Even when no solution is reached. OK, sorry, just had to say that! ♦


Sarah Sophie Flicker is a mom, wife, performer, director, aerialist, designer, writer, and filmmaker. She is the creative director of the Citizens Band, half of a filmmaking team with Maximilla Lukacs, a contributor to HelloGiggles, and editor at large for Lula magazine. Jack of all trades…master of some?

31 Comments

  • Emilie June 20th, 2012 11:07 PM

    love love LOVE that illustration!

  • missblack June 20th, 2012 11:24 PM

    Mmmm, I love this. I actually wrote something similar on my blog a few days ago, just because it was on my mind. Most of the time I feel less than awesome but I have these days where I feel really centered and like I’m really being myself, and it really is like Paradise. It’s a really great feeling, and I think Sarah captured it perfectly. I was never able to describe it; but she has, and SO well.
    But what’s great is that even when I don’t feel totally awesome, if I hang out with my family, like all of my siblings together, it’s really cool and it’s almost as good (maybe better, actually) as those days when I really feel like I’ve found ‘Paradise’.

    Little&Trivial

  • Catherine_CC June 20th, 2012 11:25 PM

    Sarah Sophie, with all honesty, this piece is fantastic! As a 17 year old rising senior in high school all I can think about is “one more year, one more year, one more year until I’m out of the house and free.” But the idea that simply living for the future in hopes that it will be better than the present isn’t making life any better for me.

    I love that you said “we ensure our own happiness by creating it for ourselves. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than not trying at all.” Being in a southern conservative town enrolled in a private Catholic school while being atheist, feminist, bisexual, and about as liberal as you can get isn’t exactly paradise—-but I shouldn’t expect happiness to be handed to me with a ribbon on top. I have to find that happiness, and lose it, and find it again—-and you’re right, that takes effort and the ability to admit that I don’t always have the answer.

    Thank you so much for writing this and giving me more insight into something I’ve already been thinking about and trying to figure out.

    -Catherine
    http://atinybitquiet.tumblr.com/

  • katrinaexplainsitall June 20th, 2012 11:31 PM

    The illustration is so pretty! And I really liked this article. I mean it’s true! No one ever really grows up. It reminds me of this quote from Maya Angelou

    “I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.”

    http://www.katrinaspice.blogspot.com

  • decemberbaby June 20th, 2012 11:39 PM

    THIS. IS. THE. BEST. This is so important (for everyone, but for teenagers especially, because we’re just beginning to realize this and wondering if we’re doing something wrong)! It’s so timely! It’s so accurate! It’s perfect! THANK YOU.

    I feel like I knew this article was coming for a while… I’ve noticed a sort of series of amazing articles like this on Rookie, that have been really super helpful and important, but I knew one of them would eventually hit the spot exactly for me personally and where I am right now. It finally came! I feel like a five year old that’s been checking the mailbox every day for an expected birthday present or something and finally has it. :D

  • AlisonWonderland June 20th, 2012 11:43 PM

    This reaffirms my belief that Rookie will always be better than some fake, vague “motivational” speaker. Everything sounds and feels real and honest. Thank you so much for writing this!

    This isn’t really relevant, but I have a weird connection to this article. I was looking through T, the New York Times Style Magazine, the other day while making a collage. I saw a cool picture of this woman I’d never heard of named Sarah Sophie Flicker, cut it out, and put it in a collage that hangs in my room. And then I went on Rookie and my jaw dropped when I saw your name!
    Thank you so much for writing this!

  • Cauliflower June 21st, 2012 12:06 AM

    Rookie, you’re brilliant. I sometimes worry, when I’m in a strange mood when everything is worrisome, that I read you too much. But I’m glad I do. This was lovely–some much-needed reminders. G’night.

  • lylsoy June 21st, 2012 12:08 AM

    This article is so helpful in my life right now. The part of not comparing myself with others.. Also Paradise doesn’t exsist- so true! Although I am fairly “grown-up” and I think realistic about future, sometimes I gethit by all these negative feelings and am just a crazy, wimpy, stupid teen. But, Hey, that’s okay too, sometimes!
    Thanks for that article!! :*
    http://gossipgonzesse.blogspot.com/

  • MinaM8 June 21st, 2012 12:09 AM

    Thank you for writing this! I think somewhere inside, I’ll always believe there’s a paradise, but that it’s broken into little pieces scattered around time and places. But that’s just me xx

  • espressoslut June 21st, 2012 12:15 AM

    This really does not come at a better time than the end of the school year, when at least I always find myself grappling with what to do and who to be. THANK YOU

  • Maggie June 21st, 2012 12:25 AM

    “Talk to your parents”
    I really like this bit of advice. I feel like our generation is really hard on our parents. (Maybe every generation is that way.) We can complain that our parents don’t understand us, but it’s better to meet them halfway and try to understand THEM too.

    • mayaautumn June 21st, 2012 2:18 AM

      i agree. i always think parents are the best people to talk to! i know some people think otherwise but it does actually make you feel so much better if you do, people.
      i also LOVED the illustration

      http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

    • christinachristina June 21st, 2012 3:05 PM

      so true. and it gets easier when you get older. i’m almost 25, and the past couple years have been the best in terms of a relationship with my parents. and it’s only getting better!

  • mdoodle13 June 21st, 2012 10:40 AM

    I think I might just want to be her one day.

  • mouse June 21st, 2012 11:20 AM

    As always Rookie, your timing is impeccable.

  • Annypimp June 21st, 2012 11:58 AM

    Happiness. Great, great article.

    But there’s still a question/advice I’d like to ask. Have any of you ever felt like … you would get bored being totally happy ? Or, maybe not boredom, but … a kind of fear ? I happen to torture myself; it looks like I can’t allow myself to get “too happy”. I’m not brave enough to face happiness. Help !

  • Runaway June 21st, 2012 12:47 PM

    It may be dull, but I just wanted to say “thank you”. I’m no longer a teenager and sometimes I get so hard on myself because I don’t think I am nearly as mature as a twenty-something should be.

  • Sea goddess June 21st, 2012 2:38 PM

    This is so great. It’s amazing how we all humans search for happiness and actually come to think that as we get older we will find the phase where everything is just perfect; and No there’s no such thing. Which sux but oh well it’s the truth. We have to build our own happiness, no matterhow lame that sounds. It’s whe I expect nothing and give with heart that I truly find happiness, because nothing can much dissapoint me. Fake it till u make it, like another post of rookie said!

    Love u rookie gang :)

    http://deadelmare.bigcartel.com/

  • hejhej June 21st, 2012 2:42 PM

    “Once I hit my teens, happiness became purely aspirational—it was never palpable in the present”
    Exactly how I’ve felt all throughout my teens. I just turned 18 and am slowly learning that I’ve got to DO SOMETHING in order to stop being so unhappy.
    Couldn’t have read this at a better time. Thanks!

  • christinachristina June 21st, 2012 3:00 PM

    I don’t know if it’s just cause I’m on my period or whatever, but that Ray Bradbury quote made me cry. He was a wonderful man.

    Great article! And great illustration.

  • shelley June 21st, 2012 4:15 PM

    This really is a lovely article. thank you xx

  • maddzwx June 21st, 2012 5:01 PM

    This is such a beautiful piece of writing…I am going to bookmark this and come read it like, every week. ;)

  • kruisin June 21st, 2012 5:33 PM

    This is a great article, very wise.
    I can’t wait to read more from you Sarah.
    PS I hope the passport debacle works out.!

  • Masby June 21st, 2012 10:53 PM

    Amazing article, seriously! I’m 24 and always thinking “I thought I would be more mature/know me better by now”, and then I have to remember that this won’t happen, every age will have different struggles, but it’s ok, it’s not just me and that’s life (and it’s great and beautiful and happy sometimes!). I really know that, but it’s always nice to read something that expresses perfectly that “revelation”.

    Oh, the PS is amazing too. My relationship with my parents was always ok, but it got even better when I realized sometimes they feel lost too. There’s a song from brazilian band Legiao Urbana (that I’m not a fan of, but they have some nice lyrics) called Pais e Filhos (Parents and Children) that says something like: ” You say to me that your parents don’t understand you / but you don’t understand your parents. / You blame your parents for everything, that’s an absurd. / They are kids just like you… ” and it sounds like a huge truth to me.

    Well, this enormous comment just to say: thank you for that, Sarah =)

  • Lucille June 22nd, 2012 1:06 PM

    I dreamed of paradise.
    Amazing article!
    Somehow, I’m dreaming about being mature, big, old enough to make my own decisions.But at the same time, I’m scared.
    I believe to my parents, and I’m aware that they don’t know EVERYTHING, and I sometimes find them lost and confused. But they’re also human, like me, and any other teenager- they have more life experience though.
    LOVE it!

    xo

    http://fashion-babel.blogspot.com

  • soretudaaa June 22nd, 2012 8:27 PM

    This was actually amazing.

    I’m “one of those people” who couldn’t wait to finish high school. And my “paradise” was, basically, the end of high school. When I thought everything was going to be awesome. And it wasn’t (for many reasons). And I think the big lesson that I had to face was essentially what this article is about: struggle is in every stage of our lives. There’s no smooth-sailing. Sometimes things don’t go right and you have to start over, and sometimes you’re lost and you have to do a whole lot of re-learning (about yourself), but that’s life.

    Anyway, thank you for such a well-thought article :)

  • Eliza June 23rd, 2012 11:40 AM

    You did actually ‘impress you guys’ and ‘sing down like a sage from a mountain high, inspiring you all with my hard-won wisdom and “grown up” nuggets of truth.’

  • Lucythechamp June 26th, 2012 10:32 AM

    Oh my goodness, thank you so much! I have been stuggling to put these exact sentiments into words. I am going to print this out for my students. I think everyone need learn a little from this. In fact, I’ll print this for my friends too…and my mummy! Thank you! :)

  • SSF July 2nd, 2012 12:14 PM

    Hello Everyone! WOW, thank you for all your wonderful comments. I loved writing this piece and look forward to writing more! As I write, I sit next to my daughter, safely abroad with passports in hand! X SSF

  • meghannfinley July 16th, 2012 11:26 PM

    Hey guys, I made a dress with this illustration as a print. Check it out on my etsy! There are more hand printed clutches and baby doll dresses too!

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/104554500/mountains-dress

  • goldielocks June 11th, 2013 6:49 PM

    Oh my gosh just last week I wrote a 10 minute seminar on this for school! It was of course not so delicately written but had the exact same philosophies!

    “Why can’t I be happy now? And one of my biggest questions is have we mistaken happiness as a destination or goal? Because I believe that happiness is a way of thinking, a decision and a mindset, which means that anyone can have it whenever they like. I think society’s perception that we need to do this, go there or buy that in order to be happy is one big trick. You have the ability and freedom to be happy whenever you want, so why not choose now?”

    That’s just a tiny bit of my intro and conclusion, ah I’m so excited someone else think the same as me! :)