My Twenties: A Retrospective In Paragraphs And Pictures

January 18th, 2011 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration

My twenties were much like my cartwheels: clumsy, fun, and often fueled by tequila. Photo by Larry Jon and Patrón Silver. Click Picture To Enlarge!

When I was 20 I was a gypsy. It was my second stint of homelessness, actually, though this time around it was much more fabulous. My beau and I had devised a plan: sex in all contiguous 48 states. We roved America in a soccer-mom mini van, customized with a raised bed built in the back. We stored clothing, food, and a camping stove underneath. Up top we slept in a pile of cheap pillows, my vintage hat boxes, and an old guitar. Five months in and we were nearing our amorous aim, but alas a torn timing belt in Massachusetts bankrupted us. We high-tailed it back home and had to skip the southwest; we made 39/48.

Thrilled to finally see the Atlantic ocean, I dipped my fingers right in and tasted it.

My first baby, Killer, joined our journey somewhere in the far northeast.

Getting silly with old friends in Seattle, where we couch surfed for many weeks. Does this friend look familiar? Yup – that’s young Damian!

A year after Bush took the White House but before September 11th. We took photos . . . *ahem* . . . *sharing our feelings* all over DC – the FBI, the IRS, and on. Ha!

No longer a nomad, I turned 21 and enrolled in school. See, I’d had this epiphany while gazing into a vernal pool somewhere in New England. Biology! I parted ways with my travel companion and got a gig pulling shots at a grungy art house/coffee shop. That’s where I met the man who would steal my heart for the next half a decade – though our actual courtship would only last until Christmas. He was older, much older, and a rock star through and through. But his heart was gold and he crooned to me Nat King Cole love songs, and we both became lost in the fire that flared white hot between us. Some flames just burn too bright.

My first semester back at community college, this was taken in Chemistry 101!

My hometown boasts a world renowned photography school, and thus I’ve done a lot of amateur modeling. ANTM? Hmm . . . don’t think so. Artist unknown.

My best friend and I fireside at Bar Absinthe. I spent many long nights nursing my wounds and sucking down pints on that patio.

The start of an amazing project that never came to be. Photo/art by Matt Jordan.

My 22nd year was a lesson in tragedy and consequence. My heart had been utterly decimated; each morning in the shower I cried until I dry-heaved. A close family friend died, and then my young dog Killer died too. I had a one night stand and became pregnant. I became un-pregnant. I crashed the van. I took a lot of baths and listened to a lot of Tom Waits. That was the year that I began drinking.

Amidst the misery, life kept moving. A collection of misfits became my comrades – a motley crew of scientists and artists. Our poison was Patrón Silver and our pleasure was Trivial Pursuit. We gathered for games each weekend in my living room, simultaneously flexing our brains and drinking ourselves to oblivion. I paired off with a partner who wouldn’t require too much of me; my heart wasn’t part of the bargain.

You can pretty much stop here – this picture captures the essence of my early 20s.

Cell bio. Sneaking a quick catnap with my lab ‘partner in crime’, while waiting for our gel electrophoresis to run. Still the hardest class I ever took in college. Loved it!

We held a wake for Johnny Cash on the night he died. RIP September 12, 2003.

At the end of the year, Harley the Happy Dragon joined my life. Read his story here.

At 23 I was stabilizing. I fell deeply in love – with academia. School consumed me. I had a tumultuous affair with calculus, then a lusty fling with physics. I ran mathematical marathons all day each day, and I still sipped myself into a stupor every night. I favored gin those days. I ended another relationship. I was awarded a number of scholarships, worked within the bio department, and set my sights on my dream school. That fall some friends and I managed to score Tom Waits tickets – his one and only American show of the tour. It was a dream come true and helped ease the pain when the next month, the American people re-elected George W. Bush as president.

Sweaty and surly after an anti-war march, summer 2004.

Outside the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Tom Waits on the marquee. We crashed with Damian’s parents – who knew that one day they’d be my in-laws?!

Immediately after seeing Tom Waits for the first time. We were all still in a daze . . .

The day after the 2004 elections, photo taken for

My 24th birthday was spent in Washington DC. I was there to protest the Bush inauguration . . . and also to visit a new flame. He was an Air Force officer I’d met online, and so began a year-long cross country romance. We were an odd pairing, but he taught me a lot about loving, the verb. I was still too broken to meet him in that place, but I gave to him as much of myself as I could. That year I was accepted to the College Of Creative Studies at UCSB. I spent the summer working in a parasitology lab and began University that fall. By winter I had taken on a research project. I destroyed my relationship, again. Near the end of that year I decided to do two transformative things: I vowed to stay single for a full year, and I got my ass into therapy.

We stood in the freezing cold for almost 6 hours to proudly turn our backs on Bush.

A winter afternoon on the banks f the Potomac.

This is the weird kind of stuff you do when you’re in a long distance relationship.

Hard at work in the field – a muddy job but somebody had to do it!

My 25th year was electric ambition. I was single and self determined. I dated for fun without any intensity. I learned how to take care of myself. I learned how to *take care of myself*. I was a scholastic machine, dead-set on maintaining a perfect 4.0. This was a year of incredible growth, of hard work and hard play. In summer I traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, where my research partner and I presented our results at the International Congress of Parasitology. In November, on my one-year anniversary of being single, I gave myself a wedding ring. I married myself in a solo ceremony that took place in my beloved bath tub. There was chocolate, and bubbles, and champagne. There was whispered commitment to truth and openness; a chisel to finally crack that armor.

The next day, I kissed Damian.

Single girls just wanna have fun!

Parasites! This picture ran in a number of newspapers. Photo by Kevin Lafferty.

Presenting our work in Scotland. I clean up nice, no?

Exploring Glasgow. I may or may not have romanced a 7 ft. tall scientist . . .

At 26 my life was a whirlwind of forward motion. Damian clicked into my heart so completely that I gasped once and then never looked back. When he proposed 6 months later, I wondered aloud what took him so long. Some love is just immutable truth. Sublime simpatico.

By early June I was graduating college; by late June we had bought a house in Portland; by August I was settling into p-town and by September Damian had joined me there. In late October we began [the gut-wrenching, incredibly long process of] quitting smoking. We were in a whole new city with no friends, no jobs, nothing but opportunity. I was breathless.

Damian and I lookin’ all swanky for a French-themed party (hence his strange facial hair).

And lookin’ *not* so swanky, sick in bed (but I love this picture!!)

Getting my diploma – this picture ran in the newspaper, haha.

We had to sedate our dogs for the epic journey northbound. Poor dogs on drugs!

My 27th year was terrible bitter and blissful sweet. I got lost in the depths of a quarter-life crisis, battling real depression for the first time in my life. I was working a meaningless job and had lost my sense of direction. Also, I was quitting smoking – a seriously emotional experience.

In contrast to that, the year also the held greatest highs I’d known! I married my one true love on 060708, a day so filled with joy that it still overwhelms me. Following that was 10 delirious days in Cancún: all twitterpation, paradise, and glee. At the end of our honeymoon we flew to Phoenix, got matching tattoos, and saw Tom Waits. It was the perfect end to our perfect adventure.

Working the demo station at Trader Joe’s, my sign says “Happy Super Tuesday – please keep me updated!” Such a political junkie.

Happiest moment of my life.

Oh Cancún, dear sweet perfect Cancún

Brand new tattoo (my first!) and Tom Waits on the marquee.

Turning 28 was the beginning of my turnaround. I was actively hacking a path towards happiness; living my truth was changing my life. I’d quit my day job. I’d gone vegan. I’d bought a bike. I’d launched Bonzai. And then, on our 1-year wedding anniversary Damian and I made a baby. But I need to give credit where credit is due – there’s no way I would have quit my job, become a writer, built a web space, or been able to find my Bliss if it weren’t for Damian. His support is unwavering and I just don’t know how I got so goddamned lucky.

For a friend’s photo project: “one word to define you right now”.

The first image of our son!

My goodness, I loved being pregnant.

My ‘bed rest nest’, where I spent the last 3 months of my pregnancy.

In my 29th year I became a mother. I could sit and stare at this cursor all day long but I’ll never be able to summarize my feelings regarding that matter, simultaneously the most effortless and most excruciating experience I’ve known. Wee Mr. Waits is the light of my life – I didn’t know there was love like this! But having a child has also been hard, in ways I hadn’t expected. I’ve had to learn to slow down, and I’ve had to fight (fight!) to keep myself in a positive space. And by slow down I mean, somewhere in all this motherhood madness I’ve managed to take on my next big project (which I’m so tired of not being able to talk about, seriously). Okay, so I guess I’m still learning about how to slow down . . .

Love at first hug <3

We had our rough spots.

But mostly we had a total blast.

Emerging from 29 I feel like my life is just beginning. I look towards my left and I see so much to be thankful for. I look towards my right and I see endless possibility. I wiggle my toes, kiss my family, and look out towards my future.

  • Courtney

    Amazing. You have lived such an eventful decade. Happy Birthday! I hope you have a wonderful next decade of a beautiful life!

  • lara

    thank you so much for your beautiful honesty! i am enjoying your site so much and feel so proud of you, whom i really don’t know!, for writing such an uninhibited reflection. it’s so affirming to see where we’ve come from and be so full of excitement for what’s ahead. good for you! i am sharing that hopefulness in my own life (turning 29 soon and 30 is just around the bend!) and look forward to continuing a life of love and wonder and compassion.

    blessings and blog hugs,


  • Rachel

    Sayward: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    Bonzai Aphrodite gives me so much joy; it makes me want to do a happy dance! Thank you for being open and sharing both the good and bad of your 20′s. I’m 21 now and feel inspired by your story and what you’ve been able to make your life into. You help me feel like I can actually do what I want with my life; as opposed to what I’m told to do. Thank you for that; and for being a genuine person!

  • Lacey

    Wow! What a great post! I stumbled upon your blog a little over a year ago, somewhat accidentally, while doing research for a paper I was writing about the effects of our food choices. I instantly became hooked and check in every week. Many of your posts have made me think to comment, but this one truly inspired action. I myself am nearing the end of my twenties and just wanted to say Thank You! I found your reflection, and the sharing of, to be beautiful, thought provoking, and courageous. With positive energy I wish you continued success and happiness and a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    P.S. Waits is probably like the most adorable baby ever!

  • Kelly H.

    Ditto everything everyone else said. Beautiful. And I know it’s sinful, but I positively envy your relationship. I want some “immutable truth and sublime simpatico!”

    You’ve experienced so much growth already…Bravo. Happy 30th!!

  • Helen

    I’m speechless.

  • Ffion @ Chocolate & Raspberries

    For someone who is now twenty three, and a bit lost, and scared as to where life will take me, and when is it gonna get better, I really enjoyed this. It gave me hope!

  • Nicole

    That was amazing and beautiful and brave. You are so full of win, Sayward!

    And, since today’s the day: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!

  • TeanyTinyStar

    Happy Birthday! I hope all of your birthday wishes come true :)
    I don’t know if you remember me, you commented on my blog last year. I just celebrated my 21st b’day two days ago and I kinda feel like im starting a new chapter in my life too. Thank you so much for keeping such a fun blog, I really do enjoy reading it. Oh and if have a chance check out my new blog, id love to get your comments and critiques. Thanks so much :D

  • Lynn

    Hello! I’m relatively new to your site, I was led here by a friend, but I wanted to say that I love your writing and this post was VERY inspirational for me! Happy Birthday! I hope the next decade of your life holds even more amazing adventures!!!

  • Nathalie

    Thanks for sharing, Sayward- what a joy to read!

  • April

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Sayward. I hope that your birthday was fantastic. How did you spend it? My 30th birthday was not as heartbreaking as I thought it would be, although 29 was pretty dang tough. This year I will be 33, and I feel so much more grounded and confident in who I am. Cheers to you in your new decade!

  • Nikki

    Just found your site. I love it and I loved to see Chancellor Yang here! Go Gauchos

  • Monique

    Wow.. it took me a while, but what a lovely post! It does remember me of my “old days” ;o)

    Love to see your change, big and succesful. And sure love your photo’s of becoming a new mummy.

    Sayward, thank you so much for sharing. I hope you will keep on writing!

    Love from Holland

  • Jessimayhall

    I’ve read this twice now! I would love if you could share your experience quitting smoking. I’m about to and have wondered if you knew anything about helpful foods etc. . . !

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I haven’t written a post on this yet, sorry! But one of my favorite bloggers, Gena from Chooshing Raw, did a few posts:

  • Brandy

    how did you quit? can you share some tips