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A year-end list for my 30th year
by Cynthia Ann Schemmer

I turned 30 in May of this year, two weeks after the 8th death anniversary of my mother and one day after mother's day. She governs everything I do and and every milestone I make. I thought to myself, and no one else, that I had lived half of my mother's life. If genes and heredity work against me, I could be dead in 27 years. I could be dead at any moment, yes, but I could also be dead in less than the amount of time I've already lived.

In the months that predated my birthday, there was sheer panic. I questioned my relationship, my internal clock, my health, and my life course. I became depressed with how far I'd come and how much time I threw away on self-doubt. I sulked around for months and didn't do much of anything at all. I understand that, in the grand scheme of living, 30 is young. People said, "See? You wasted all that time worrying." The thing is, I don't believe I did. Thinking about how long we've been on this earth and the unknowable time we have left is crucial in moving forward. I thought about time and my mother and I snapped out of it. I started with now. I stopped procrastinating and started doing. The fear of failure woke me up.

This is a very personal year-end list. A lot of 20-somethings may have already achieved these breakthroughs, and that's fantastic, but some of us move slowly. This list is for the 30-year-olds who took a long time to get where they want to be or who are still getting there. For those who gave up and yet never gave up. For those who go to shows even when they are tired and for those who don't go to shows because they are tired. For those who trampled through their 20s and stayed radical. For those with bad attitudes and big dreams. For those who made it to a year I thought incomprehensible.

This year-end list is also for my mother. I hope that she is endlessly proud.


I grew up in the DIY punk scene on Long Island, and then at SUNY Purchase, and then in Brooklyn. At this point in my life, I wouldn't call myself punk anymore. I engage in DIY punk ethics, but I no longer refer to myself by the term. In an email conversation with Jason Brownstein of the bands Joyride!, Permanent Ruin, and Hey Hallways, he wrote to me, "It's like the moment you start listening to the Clash as a teenager or some shit you start gestating a conjoined type punk twin somewhere on your torso and the rest of your life they grow in tandem. And punk is sort of supposed to be an all inclusive kind of experience but it has a way of isolating interests and feelings even within a single person." I feel this wholeheartedly, and once I turned 30 I took it seriously. I separated the conjoined twin but she's still with me. The older you get, the more you shed. At first I felt nostalgic for my youth, but now I embrace it. I am different and yet, still the same. I no longer feel guilty about not showing up once in a while. I can pick and choose the shows I want to go to and I can respect myself and my own time. I can identify or not identity with this subculture. I can say no. I can go to sleep early and stay inside with the cat and knit. I can still care, but I can also not care at all.


Have I told you I'm terrified of releasing my solo music? It's true. I find it easy to play in other people's bands because it's not actually me up there. I am a hologram floating around in someone else's feelings. My own music, however, seems way more personal than my writing ever will. This seems strange because I am known to spill my heart out in words. For a long time, I would write songs and think "I'm too old to start now." I still look around and think, "Why didn't I push harder when I was 25?" I wasn't ready and I gave myself a really hard time about it.

Mitski's "Bury Me at Makeout Creek" is one of those albums that nudges me roughly. I read her interview with Hazel Cills where she said, "Being a woman artist is always, always fighting and always having to just be strong." This is incredibly poignant, and I still often fear that I am not strong enough. I've had songs for years that I've done nothing with. I sit with them for hours, then put them aside untouched for months. I dream of a perfect line up but I convince myself that people won't be interested in playing my songs. But then I look at Mitski and I see clarity. She seems to have been through a lot to get where she is now. Through the vividness of her music I blossom with respect and inspiration. It's where I wish I was when I was her age, but it's also where I can be now.


In my early to mid-twenties I ran from love. When things got too hard, I stepped out. This past March, after taking a bad dose of hormonal birth control and falling into a severe depression, I almost took that step again and it would have been one of my biggest regrets. We went on a weekend tour and I spent most of the time crying because we weren't communicating our needs. We spent most of our time hiding feelings in return for a good time. It was heartbreaking. When we came home, we both realized we were worth it. 30 means you don't run, you talk it out if it's within reason. 30 means for the first time in your life, you stay.


I spent many years not doing what I needed to do. I used to call it a waste of time, but these days I understand that I just wasn't ready. I went to college for a Journalism degree in the early 2000s, when print was still viable and internet writing was only on the edge of up-and-coming. I learned almost nothing. I graduated and my mother died. I moved to Brooklyn and spent years focused on drugs and sleeping around to deal with my grief. I hit rock bottom. I moved home to Long Island to get it together. I was miserable. I applied for graduate school and realized "creative nonfiction" was a real thing. I moved back to Brooklyn. I attended Sarah Lawrence to begin a memoir and I graduated with some of my best writing to date. I took two years off from writing because the stresses of New York City were too much for me to focus. I moved to Philadelphia. Two years after that - this year - I began taking my writing seriously. I looked myself in the mirror and said out loud, "You can do this shit."

I've had more pieces published this year than in my entire life combined. There was a piece written about my writing life in Impose Magazine. I started tabling my zines at fests and even had them featured in Time Out Magazine. I got hired as the managing editor at She Shreds, a magazine I truly respect and love. It may seem like I'm gloating, but please indulge me. There's nothing wrong with self-recognition. It took me a long time to get here. I'm still doing a lot of hard emotional work, but I've made enormous strides Writing my memoir is still terrifying because it's about my mother and New York City, but I think about it every day. Even if no words come out, I know I'll get there.


I am not here to tell you that therapy is for everyone. That would be too assuming and ignorant. However, I can say that therapy is good for most of us with anxieties and fears that bind us to failure. We have these fabulous ideas in our heads that are muffled by our deprecating second voices. There are those of us who easily do, and those of us who easily don't. I've more often than not fallen into the latter camp, but in my 30th year I've come around and I'd like to give a shout-out to Marta for helping me pull myself out of the "don't" ditch. She pushed me to keep writing and applying myself. She showed me I need to be compassionate to myself and sit with my feelings even when they weigh me down. She helped me understand that age is relative, and that you can do it now or never. We ended our time together one week before I left for a five-week tour so she herself could move forward. Here I would like to thank her a million times over.


September 18, 2014 - Our show was in the Sunset. It was foggy and gray. Apparently (and ironically) they say that's what every sunset is like. I walked alone to the beach, only two blocks away from the venue. Took my shoes off and considered throwing them into the sea. Got overtaken by the tide and soaked up to my waist. It felt refreshing, awakening, and the salt was cleansing. Found a whole purple crab shell as my souvenir. It felt good to be alone, with my thoughts and the opposite sea.

I wrote every day of Radiator Hospital's five-week tour because I couldn't let anything be forgotten. I've gone on tour before with other bands, but for whatever reason this tour had a very different meaning. It was a reminder that I can still do the things I love, regardless of work and obligations. It was a test of my own mental health and an evaluation of my internal needs. I had meltdowns in Olympia and Seattle, but regained my stability when we got to California. I took time to myself, away from three of my favorite people, to remain coherent and well. I didn't party every night, but I partied. I was completely broke, living on a dime while having an unbelievable time, which made me reevaluate the way I stress about money. It was undoubtedly the best experience of the year.


I've always been terrified of voicing strong opinions and maybe even scared of standing up for myself, which has perhaps worked against me in my writing. In February, my band got asked to play in New York with the Marked Men, one of my favorite bands. The person who asked us to play wrote what I and many others thought to be an offensive article about the Philadelphia music scene for Noisey. The article featured two of my bands and I took offense because at the time I taught in public schools (the writer makes some very classist and ignorant remarks about Philadelphia education) and I could not stay quiet. I responded on my website where I said I did not have to be grateful to this writer for getting my band on the Marked Men show and that, as a musician, I do not have to be agreeable just because the writer promotes my bands. My response garnered a lot of positive attention, and some negative. The writer continued to send me emails that tried to make me feel guilty for speaking out and ungrateful for all he had done. Where I once would have caved, I didn't. I felt righteous and content.


When my mother died, I basically lost a support system within my biological family. I felt lost, alone, and discouraged. My creative endeavors were looked down upon for a long time, and sometimes still are. I've accepted the fact that I am allowed to prioritize my chosen family over my biological family. Sometimes your blood lets you down, so in moments of need, choose the support system that shows up.


Earlier this month, I took myself out to see Wild, a movie I've been anticipating for over a year. It is an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir by the same name. After losing her mother to cancer, cheating on and divorcing her husband at a very young age, and getting hooked on heroin, she knew she had to make a major change. Strayed hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Portland. The movie, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, had me crying every few minutes. Hell, I even cried at the Lionsgate intro music. I cried for two hours straight amidst older adults on a Friday afternoon. I let it flow without reserve. Afterwards, I treated myself to a slice of cake.

In the last lines of the book, Cheryl Strayed writes, "It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That is was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be."

The best part, so far, of getting older is this idea of letting it be. To sit with your feelings - and I mean really sit with them - without distraction is a feat to behold. To let the terrible memories resurface and to truly deal with them. To take the time to process rather than digress. To be compassionate and true. To trust yourself.


Reader, please don't be deceived. This year wasn't all shimmering realizations and bounding growth. I moved backwards often. I cried a lot. I was jealous and resentful. I acted egotistical and over my head. I told myself my writing, including this list, was worthless. If I made it sound easy, it wasn't. If I made it sound like I'm complete, I'm not. I've still got a long way to go and a lot of emotional work to get through, but I made it to 30. And there's hope yet.

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