23 Things I Learned Before Turning 23

  1. Enjoy the things you like loudly, proudly, and unapologetically. 

    Yes, for my college graduation gift, my mom took me to a Taylor Swift concert, and yes, I cried. I don’t care if this isn’t “cool.” I had an incredible time, and so did my mom. 


  2. Don’t buy underwear with someone in mind. 


  3. You can’t go wrong with splurging on a nice lipstick or blush.
    
Blush is crucial to looking like a real human being after applying liquid foundation. It replaces bronzer entirely, especially if you are as dedicated to the 80s aesthetic as I am. The product itself lasts a weirdly long time because how much blush can a singular human being go through if they’re not Boy George? In addition, I recently purchased a $30 Marc Jacobs lipstick after savoring a Sephora free sample of it for a full year. It doesn’t dry my lips out. It was worth every penny. 


  4. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. 

    Dating is weird. Millennials have a hard time with the “exclusivity” thing (Clarification: I don’t, but apparently that’s weird to the people I date) and that creates a bizarre dynamic in which you are required to put your metaphoric eggs in more than one basket or else you’ll end up with a disappointing omelette. Unless you’re cool with getting your feelings hurt, take your time and keep your options open until intentions have been honestly communicated. This isn’t cynicism; this is practicality. 


  5. Invest in a good pair of leather (or vegan leather) boots.
    It may cost you a good $300-$400 now, but you’ll never have to do it again. 


  6. Personalizing your space is crucial in enjoying yourself in that space.
    
Your headspace is inherently connected to your physical space. Cultivating a beautiful area in your home, in your cube, and even in your car makes life a little more comfortable. 


  7. Life is hard; stop beating yourself up. 

    On @manicpixiememequeen, a lot of my followers reach out to me asking about how to forgive themselves and moving on from the past. Life can be so trying, and you’re inevitably going to have some mistakes and rough times. Personally, I’ve never let a single thing go in my entire life, but I’d be a lot healthier if I did.

  8. What you initially may consider “mistakes” are probably crucial parts of your life-path.
    
In late May of 2018, I moved to New Jersey without a job or a plan. Feeling defeated and demoralized, I moved back to California in early October 2018. Were those four months a loss to me? No. They taught me infinite lessons I would never have learned if I had stayed in California. See “Dreams Deferred.” 


  9. Make your bed daily, and please, for the love of God, floss. 


  10. Keep your friends close and your enemies blocked.
    
Block your enemies/exes/ex-friends! Banish that negativity! In the world of social media, it’s so easy to stalk your ex-lovers or ex-friends, and it’s so tempting to do so! However, knowing what those shitty people are up to does nothing for you but create anger and anxiety. Even though it’s hard to block those people and even easier to stalk them, please try to block them. Honestly, they could give you the evil eye. Compromise: muting their profile. (Which, in fact, I do frequently. Unfollowing is another option but for some reason just feels petty. Either continue to follow and mute, or block entirely. I’m not an unfollow kind of person). 


  11. Find a signature haircut and a signature nail color and rock it.
    
For me, it’s a Stevie Nicks-esque long shag cut with curtain bangs and an obnoxious yellow nail polish. At least no one else can say it’s theirs. 


  12. Sometimes, things change that you never think will change. 

    Since my birth, I had a bizarre and inexplicable fear of dogs. All dogs. Even an adorable golden retriever puppy or something as small as a teacup Yorkshire terrier. I would immediately break out in a panic attack. I couldn’t go to friends’ houses if they had a dog or even go to public parks. Sophomore year of high school, I quit my soccer team because seeing dogs in distant fields was unbearable with my phobia. In 2016, I went on Zoloft for generalized anxiety, and it did not work. However, when I stopped taking Zoloft, I somehow did not have a dog phobia. Recently, a coworker brought his dog into the office and I was 100% fine; I looked back on my dog-phobic past, realizing that you never quite can predict what is possible, what will change, and why, but things do change, and sometimes that’s pretty rad. 


  13. Crying is cool.

    …pretending that you don’t have feelings is not! Our experiences are amazing because we feel horrible things and happy things, sometimes all at once. If we didn’t cry, there would be no recognition of the pain or the wonder of life. Owning when you are feeling shitty through a good old-fashioned Kim Kardashian ugly cry feels good, and so does owning a good ass happy cry. So, crying rocks. 


  14. When you’re intimidated by someone, just remember that they have had diarrhea before. 


  15. It’s okay to ask for help.
    You’re really not supposed to do it on your own. You’re a human, not some sort of weird lone wolf or Eric Carmen. During my most difficult time with anorexia, I told my mom and dad that I needed help, and they helped me find treatment (actually, many different treatment centers—massive shoutout to my thorough and incredible parents). Even though a lot of those options were not a fit, they eventually led me to a program that did not cure me, but did save my life, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. 


  16. You never know the full story.
    Your friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, coworkers—literally everyone—will never have time to fully give you their life-story. There are always stories and facts left out, sometimes incredibly crucial ones that give context for actions and behaviors. Take everything with a grain of salt, and give everyone an ounce of empathy, even if you think they don’t fully deserve it. 


  17. Seriously, drink more water. 


  18. I am privileged, and I have a responsibility to recognize it and use it for good.
    
As a white, middle/upper class, cis-gendered female, I have a responsibility to use my voice for my brothers, sisters, and siblings who face discrimination and systematic oppression. You’ll see me at the women’s march, transgender rights protests, LGBTQ+ pride, Black Lives Matter protests, and promoting universal comprehensive healthcare reform that includes mental healthcare. Not recognizing and using my privilege for good would just be an irresponsible abuse of it.


  19. You can love the Top 40 hits while jamming to a weird mix of grunge, indie, classic rock, country, jazz, and rap.
    My dad taught me this lesson early in life—his playlists are neurotic and amazing. They jump from Jim Croce to Milli Vanilli to U2 to Johnny Cash to Rihanna to Paul McCartney. My playlists are similar, ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Hole to Dolly Parton to Post Malone to Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga to specifically “Stir Fry” by Migos, and I carry no shame about it. Life offers us so much variety; the things you enjoy shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or shameful. Guilty pleasures are a myth. See #1. 


  20. Staying in a hotel room entirely by yourself is liberating.

  21. Knowing lesser-known varietals of wine is beneficial to both the wallet and the palette.
    See: Lambrusco, Falanghina, Suave, Garganega. In addition, you can get a decent Chianti or Pinot Grigio at Trader Joe’s for under $10. The quality of a wine isn’t always about a price point.

  22. Bringing homemade bread to a potluck or dinner party will impress any person there.

    You may even make a friend or a significant other. Personally, I make these herbed rolls, which are easy AF to make and a crowd favorite. (This is not sponsored; I genuinely just love these rolls).

  23. Don’t compromise yourself for anyone.
    
I’ve been in too many relationships in which I compromised myself and my goals for another person. In one particular relationship, I adjusted my entire life-plan (at the time, it was to be in publishing in NYC—note: life-plans can change) in order to stay with him. I decided that I wouldn’t do the things that I had dreamt of doing for years, and all of my loved ones looked on saying, “Cori, is that you?” and I was like, “Well, yes, but I’m not entirely sure—I just need to stay with said person!” When we broke up, I realized my dreams had the ability to be resurrected, and I moved to the East Coast to pursue them. As Janis Joplin said, “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.” All relationships are difficult, so compromise healthily, but you genuinely are all you have to count on, so never compromise yourself or your values.

This listicle was inspired by Taylor Swift’s article in Elle’s Magazine, “30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30.”

I turn 23 on June 4!

In Memory of Keith Hartwig

January 8, 2018, 8:55am: “Oh no! I hope this is the right phone number. I think it is you, Co. Anyway, listen, I wanted to see how you’re doing, and yeah…life is fun, ain’t it, at times? But you are too talented, you have so much going for you, and c’mon. You gotta kick ass. You, out of anyone, could kick ass. That’d be you. You’re a smart, talented, pretty lady. Anyway, I just want to tell you that I love you, and you’re always my biggest fan. I think you’re just so gifted, and I’m not just saying this, you have so much talent, you do, and um—I might have a little more. I’m Keith. *laughs* It don’t get better than that. Anyway, I love you, kid, and I’ll talk to you soon, and I just hope you’re doing well. And I love the fact that you’re, you know, doing what you gotta to do and all that. Alright? I love you, kid, hang in there, be tough, be strong—well, that’s what they told me too, but I’m there, and I ain’t being strong. So you gotta hang in there with me, kid, alright? I love you to death, Co. Hang in there. Love you. Bye.”

—Keith’s voicemail to me, the first of three.

***

Content warning: anorexia, suicide.

I am six years old. I don’t need glasses yet. It’s Thanksgiving. I still like holidays, not because they are vacations but because of the natural novelty of them. I sit on my twin bed and wait for my family to arrive, peering out of my window that looks down on the street. Earlier than called for, I see my uncle’s pickup truck roll by and park by the mailbox. I run outside barefoot.

“Hey, kid!” my uncle Keith says with a toothy grin. He has a styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand and greets me with the other. He has Timberland boots on (before they were considered fashionable) and cargo pants. He is the coolest person in the world. He lights a Marlboro and tells me to sit on the small retaining wall off of the side of the porch to shield me from the smoke. He tells me funny stories about nothing. Every time he goes out to smoke, I follow him. He tells me that I don’t have to follow him out. I tell him that I want to follow him out. He lets me.

I am fourteen years old. I have short hair, braces, glasses, and a horrendous level of insecurity corresponding to my awkward adolescence. Dad tells me Uncle Keith is coming to live with us for a while. I do not know why this is, but I do not ask questions. He sleeps in the loft upstairs. I like having him around.

“What did you do today?” my mom asks me and my younger brother at dinner.

“Not much. I just did some homework, then I wrote a song,” I reply.

“You wrote a song?!” Keith says. “Can we hear it?”

My insecurity flashes across my entire being, but somehow I end up bringing out my guitar and singing a tune called “Breathless” in the living room to my family. Keith cries. It is then that I realize that I can actually sing, after years of people telling me that I was tone-deaf.

Keith goes back to live in New Jersey on June 3, the day before my fifteenth birthday. It isn’t a memorable birthday at all.

I am twenty years old. It is a Tuesday that happens to be Valentine’s Day. It is my brother’s birthday. Two days pass. During a lecture, I receive a text, “I’m so sorry about your uncle” without knowing which uncle or what happened, but I know it is Keith and I know it is self-inflicted, now aware that the reason that he lived with us when I was fourteen was because of a suicide attempt. I am old enough to know that history repeats itself. I exit the classroom and go home. Keith is in the hospital. I cannot process this loss until he comes home to us in May. He is on crutches and has a scar across the top of his head like headphones. I give him my room at my parents’ house. I spend more time at my apartment near the university. He still wears Timberlands. He is still cool as hell. We sit outside in the backyard. We watch the birds and the sky’s gradient fade into different versions of itself. I tell him about school, friends, music, dates.

“Do you love him?” Keith asks me after I’ve told him about a date with someone I have been seeing for a while.

“I think so.”

Keith smiles. He has a preoccupation with love. He especially likes the songs I write during this time.

I am twenty-one years old. After six months and their challenges, fights, and outbursts, my parents and Keith have decided that it is time for him to move back to New Jersey. My dad says goodbye at the airport. It is Thanksgiving, but I do not run outside barefoot. We are a family of four again, but almost three. I do not eat Thanksgiving dinner beyond vegetables. By the beginning of January, I begin an outpatient treatment program at a hospital in Berkeley. Keith calls me the morning of orientation and leaves a voicemail to tell me that he is happy that I am going. I do not return the call. He calls again on January 10, twice. By then, I have already quit the program. I don’t return those calls either.

Three weeks later, I am Keith’s profile picture on Facebook. In that moment, I know. The photo is a close crop of me at a healthy weight, posted while I am going through intervention-esque treatment for anorexia. He captions it, “My gorgeous niece Cori Hartwig!” I comment and tell him that I love him. He replies, “You’re The Best Co! I Love You! Hope Everything’s going Great over there!” This is our last exchange.

Consumed with my own disappearance, I forget that other people have the ability to disappear as well. By the time I overcome my state of being snow-blind from the flurry of doctors and hospitals and skin and bones, he is lost to me.

I am twenty-one years old. History repeats itself. It is immortalized in police reports, filled and unused prescriptions, receipt paper, license plate numbers, anonymous news headlines, security footage in retail stores. We piece together timelines and stories. There is no note.

Hang in there, be tough, be strong—well, that’s what they told me too, but I’m there, and I ain’t being strong.

There is no note, but there are voicemails and calls left unreturned.

I am twenty-two years old. There is a spider on my wall. I watch it crawl like I watch the memories from the Pennsylvania split-level, from downtown Pleasanton at the coffeehouse (now closed), from our walk to the middle school, from the backyard, from the Pacifica shore, from the boat on Lake Del Valle two birthdays ago. I watch it crawl. It is two in the morning and my eyes grow heavy with sleep, my vision cloudy like cigarette smoke on the porch. I wish there was an easy way to tie everything up, to package it gracefully, to set it aside, and to indulge in these memories without feeling the grit and friction of grief against my consciousness. I wish there was an easy way to know that a soul is okay, an easy way to show a spirit a new song you’ve written, an easy way to share one last conversation, an easy way to return one last phone call, an easy way to turn back time and take away their pain before it could cause collateral suffering to those in their wake, an easy way to bring their presence back to you—even for a split second. Until then, I pray. I pray, I pray, I pray, and I remember.

keithsquirrel.JPG

Rest in peace Keith Hartwig

07/02/1968—02/28/2018

On Life-Path Reevaluation: Flowers Grow in Shit and Dirt

On Valentine’s Day of 2018, I had a doctor’s appointment with the eating disorder specialists at UCSF. It wasn’t my first visit to these doctors; it was my third week of an intensive, ultra-monitored recovery program. I had been forced to start it in late January, after I went for a routine physical, and my primary care doctor found that I was at risk for cardiac arrest due to a relapse of my anorexia. 

I took a Lyft to UCSF from my South San Francisco apartment, somewhat embarrassed to tell the driver that my drop-off was the hospital. I stepped out of the car, walked into the lobby, and took the elevator up to the second floor. Looking up into the mirrored ceiling of the elevator, I saw my drawn face, the circles under my sinking eyes, and I remembered when I was allowed to take the stairs up to the second floor of buildings, instead of being forced by a group of doctors to take the elevator because my heart had grown so weak. A short elevator ride, but by the time the doors opened and spat me out, I started crying, thinking to myself: How did I get here? 

A brief moment of clarity—crying in an elevator of a hospital. 

I thought about the progression from the previous July to that February: how many times a day I’d weigh myself; how many times I’d debate eating a piece of dry toast; how many times I’d measure out carrots by the gram; how many times I’d pinched my arms, legs, and stomach during a lecture, eventually tuning out the professor because I had been thinking about how much I regretted that half-portion of low-fat vegetable soup three nights before. 

Who am I, when did I lose sight of who am I, and how did this happen?

During recovery, I dove into my art to attempt to rid myself of the deep-seated pain in my gut (both emotional and physical pain)—writing songs, personal essays, fiction, prose poems—and I remembered that this is what I live for. I do not live to look beautiful. (And I do not live to look sick). I do not live to count calories. I do not live to obsess over being in control. I do not live to stand and shrink until I disappear while everyone watches. 

I do not live to stand and shrink until I disappear while everyone watches. 

Silence, shrinking, fragility, conformity, fear—these are things I openly reject. And as I created my art and shared with my peers, regaining that sense of intrinsic purpose, I realized that the life I was living was a life that was inherently intertwined with values that I reject. In turn, my very actions were contradictory to everything about my identity. Then, over the course of the past six months, came an equally difficult and equally easy reevaluation that inspired me to begin writing a memoir, share my mental health journey with others, get in touch with my spiritual side, and move back to the east coast to pursue my passions and be with my family. 

Growth often comes from pain. Flowers grow in shit and dirt. Reevaluation of your actions and the life that you are living is necessary for growth. 

Remember your passions. Keep a list of them. What grounds you? What makes you feel intrinsically motivated (try not to consider money, fame, recognition, etc.)? What makes you feel like you put meaning into your life and into others’ lives? These passions can be as “small” as writing letters to your loved ones, or as big as fighting for universal accessibility for people with disabilities. 

From that list, look at what you value. Is it justice, family, spirituality, honesty, communication? Values are completely based on the individual and nearly limitless. Write this list below the list of your passions. 

Now, take a look at these lists collectively. Why are you passionate about painting? Why are you passionate about gardening? Why are you passionate about education? Why do you value family? Why do you value authenticity? These answers are your intentions. 

This next step is often the hardest and the most painful, but remember the physical growing pains you felt in your shins during middle school. The same thing happens mentally and emotionally when you reevaluate. Think about the life you are currently living. Where are you passions and values in your life right now? Are they fully apparent, sort of hinted at, or have they shrunken down and disappeared completely? Are you intentionally living your life? 

Upon those answers, you can make informed decisions to make changes that you need in order to feel fulfilled and avoid mental/emotional/physical/spiritual exhaustion. With this exercise, you can restore your sense of agency and can feel grounded and validated in any further actions you make to keep you on your true, meaningful life-path. 


To request a topic or ask a question for me to write about in a blog post, please comment or contact me via coriamatohartwig.com/contact!