Livvy likes to ask people two questions on their birthday: “What is something remarkable that happened on your last trip around the sun”, and “What do you know or hope will happen on your next trip around the sun.”

Last year, on my 29th birthday, I wrote my responses to those questions and sent it out to friends and family. It felt a little odd to send, unsolicited, a birthday letter to other people on my birthday, but I appreciated the chance to essay some thoughts, and decided I’d give it another go.

This year though feels a little bigger, so instead of looking back and forward in a one year scope, I want to take a look back at all of life so far. Arbitrary as it is to divide life by clean, round numbers, I find it hard not to think that turning 30 is kind of a big deal. I will no longer have the chance to make it onto any 30-under-30 lists. I will lose the chance to seem precociously talented. I will not be able to explain away future recklessness or bad ideas as silly things I thought or did in my 20s. I will need to trade in my boyish charm (like my boyish swim trunks) for something slightly more age-appropriate. Perhaps a furrowed brow or subtle smolder.

Silly, of course, the idea that a day/year/decade is that significant. Life stages, it seems to me, are far better defined by major events in relationships and beliefs. Life before and after heartbreak, before and after discovering creativity, before and after doubt, before and after loss, before and after mastery, before and after meeting, before and after becoming comfortable in my own skin, seem like much more identifiable breakpoints. And yet, 30 still seems like something serious.

So in spite of its dubious significance as a marker, I want to take stock. What follows are 30 things, unordered, many vague, that float to the top when I look back.


If all my friends jumped off a cliff, would I do it? A poor scenario for the point intended, I always thought: it depends on the friends. If these are friends with whom you repeatedly stayed up until the early hours of the morning, Freshmen year, excitedly discussing theology and philosophy—with whom you shared small and big adventures, in person and in stories—with whom you felt known and appreciated, then of course. There would be a very good reason for the jump. Like a birthday.

In either case, this is a bridge. And there are harnesses and ropes. And the guide seems tremendously untrustworthy but probably he is just being funny. I jump, and in the split second before the rope catches, I feel an immense peace.


You are kind, and welcoming, and though I am intimidated by most kids I’m not intimidated by you. You can draw super well, and not just for a kid, but for drawers period, and I’m amazed by that. I love seeing your imaginary worlds, and dreaming up inventions with you and Breja, in-between learning practical skills for surviving the end of the world.


In my dreams, you rarely take your present form, but every time I fall in love I know it is you. That intense feeling of newness, of discovery, of risk, of delight in the unfamiliar, it is always you, veiled in other, vague dream-like forms.

You said once that we don’t have fireworks anymore—we have the sun; but in these dreams it is pure fireworks.


The day that your LEGO guy, who was obviously the cool LEGO guy, invited all the other LEGO guys to his party except for my LEGO guy, will overshadow almost every good memory I have of us playing together. Later I will wonder whether I throw so many parties partly in response to this oversized wound. I am always invited to my own party.

Still, I adore you.


You already know that I’m not sure how long I can keep doing this—that the doubts and the questions and the challenges and the darkness make it difficult for me to see this project being something longterm.

But I love making things with you. You are talented and smart and funny and you make me feel like I am too. You see and bring out better versions of me.


We still cannot remember what we were fighting about, but you told me that the only reason I had any friends was because of you. It cut. It was true.

At least it felt that way.

Even today, when I think about how I do have friends without you, I feel like a lot of what I know about being a good friend I learned from you. You were and have continued to be the very best of friends.


We are on the bus, in Somerville, heading home, sitting in the sideways facing seats. It slows, suddenly, and, bodies in motion, we both of us slip one seat to the left. We laugh and laugh, and look around to see if anyone noticed this wonderfully silly occurrence—this bizarre gift of exquisite physical comedy. But the bus is mostly empty—the other passengers too distracted to notice.


Later, when I think of this time, I will often choke up and hold back tears. We didn’t get to grow up around each other, and outside of these few precious months, despite all of my best intentions, I probably won’t get this again—these sweltering afternoons, playing soccer, talking about nothing, making up for too much lost time, proud of blood.


On a dark and windless Friday night, after vespers, the six of us cram into my 1990 Volvo 740 GL and scout for an open road. We find a good spot, pick up speed, and watch our beloved box-kite, lights tied to its wings, soar out of the moonroof. We are elated.

It gets stuck in a tree.

Two nights later we return with a rescue party. Headlights aimed, climbers navigating, shoes thrown, sticks tied to ropes. We succeed.


We talk and talk and talk and talk. And then sometimes we go weeks without talking. You are eternity to me, you and dad. I love and fear and adore and sometimes even worry about you. I have never once—except in brief moments of absurdity—questioned your affection. You have given me everything. Your stories have taught me to love language. Yours is a home I am always trying to return to.


I am here with good intentions but very naive, and in way over my head. Here I will begin a treasured correspondence, make friends—on my own—and feel an endless wonder. We, in various configurations, will hack through the jungle, travel to the outer islands, eat at the bakery, play push-up ping-pong, cover “Hey, Soul Sister”. We will also live through a kind of trauma here, mostly of my own doing, and feel close in that way that people who go through hard times together do.


Around a fire at a lodge outside the Serengeti, the 18-year-old white Kenyan of Norwegian descent tells us about his plans for his gap decade. I dream of being so adventurous—of taking ten years to explore and travel and improvise before settling into a career.

The conversation winds down, and he heads back in. I tell you that I’m going to head to my room, and you ask me: “Would you like some company?” And you don’t know how much that means—how profound of a kindness I feel from you in that moment.

I will never tell you, because the appreciation is mixed up with attraction, and things are messy right now. But that question will seep into all of my own aspirations for the future.


From as early as I can remember I desperately wanted you. I didn’t know what size or color or texture you would be, but I knew I would love you and that you would be fun and friendly and caring and soft. I read books about you, long before you were a possibility, while we still lived in a place where you weren’t allowed.

When you finally came you were perfect. I slept by your crate that first night and heard your inconsolable grief.

You are frustrating at times. You never take a shit when you’re supposed to. You start to spin sometimes, and I get hopeful. But you spin, and spin, and spin, and then get distracted. Sometimes I am busy, and resent you for keeping me out. But you take me on walks. Help me see the sky. Appreciate the smell of the vineyard in the summer. Make me smile and laugh. And of course you are beautiful: medium, golden, wavy.

To watch you die, from far away, over text messages of pictures and videos, will leave me sobbing.


I enjoy you both tremendously. You are delightful, and significantly, you delight in Livvy and I, and our story. And somehow I am not terrified of being at fault for your potential eternal ruin.

It is an odd time to make friends. I have not been myself for some time, and you meet me at my least enjoyable. But as we travel across the expanse and swap stories of growing up religious, discovering shared characters with diverging stories, I feel like I can let my guard down.


You interviewed us, listened to us babble on for hours about how we are willing to consider changing out entire worldview, and that we have not yet done anything tangible that can demonstrate our commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression but we promise we care about that stuff.

The house, full of activists, accepts our application.

When we move in you are one of the only people to help us unload. You are wearing a tie-die shirt. It seems appropriate.

We don’t know yet that this experiment is doomed—that there will be a chore strike, that the finances will be in disarray, that a violent hate-crime against a pacifist will lead to a psychological breakdown that will lead to racist words that will lead to threats of police that will lead to me, sitting in that room with him, asking him to please move out.


My faith is shaken by an old book. The ground opens up beneath me. I feel adrift, and imagine unbearable futures. I hope for release from this great burden. The therapist is worst than unhelpful. The scholars puzzle me further. And yet you are all (mostly) unbelievably kind and understanding. Unworried in unsettling ways, but so deeply kind. You encourage me to leave, to keep trying, to forget about her, to look for bears.


You laugh easily, and it makes me think I am funny. I am funnier around you—try more jokes than I usually do—and an unbelievable amount of them land. We mostly play racing games together, and hang out at church. I enjoy you, and I enjoy myself when I’m around you. I don’t have many to compare you to, but you’re a really good friend.


Things unravel. I revise the past. And for far too long many of your words and gestures are reminders of the loss. I feel robbed, but not for the reason he thinks. The pandemic came at a good time for me—a terrible time for you—but it provides ample cover for our attempts at recovery. When people ask us how we’re doing we say some ambiguous things about it being a weird year and people nod and agree and understand.

Therapy helps, but so do video games, tv shows, and buying a condo far, far away.


The program makes it clear to me that I’m not very smart, that I never learned effective study habits, and that, in spite of not being able to keep up, I thoroughly enjoy things being intellectually challenging.

Critical thinking is a joy.

The classes I take lead to some of my most embarrassing and proud moments. Half-jokingly sounding out the letters in roman numerals gets me called out in front of the class; getting a good grade on an essay about Samson Agonistes moves into my permanent collection of self-esteem boosting achievements. But the pinnacle of my academic success comes in the middle of a discussion-based class for which I’m not prepared. You ask a question I definitely do not know the answer to, and afraid to have my poor scholarship exposed, I have the rare stroke of genius to raise my hand.

You never calls on those who know they know the answer, and I am safe.


One of the best weeks of my life. A feast of learning and making. A critical mass of radio nerds and the man who has taught so many of the great producers. We make stories, at a breakneck pace. The experience of shared creative toil, group critiques, and deeply wanting to do a really good job remind me of the design program. My piece, about a sci-fi-themed bicycle chopper gang, ends up closing the showcase, and I swell with joy.


You are turning eighteen while on your tour, and the night before you leave I write you a birthday letter. I have procrastinated but I deeply want to reciprocate your years of thoughtfulness. I want to communicate how much I care about you.

I craft you a package with eighteen cards—assorted memories of you—and stay up until early morning. It is one of my favorite things I’ve ever made, and will be.


We are just sitting on the grass by the creek one day. We are eating lunch, but nothing spectacular is happening. There is no show, no exciting action taking place. Neither of us has just won a prize of discovered our purpose or found five dollars in our pocket. But you say, with your exaggerated and childish arm movements (you are, after all, five): “Isn’t this great? This is so great.” I ask you what you mean and you say “This! This is so great.”

You become my counselor.


The office is always filled with strangers. I come in sometimes, between classes, and find people I don’t know taking naps on the couch. This room is much bigger than it needs to be for the way we’re running the operation, and so it becomes the hangout spot. We host storytellings, watch shows, work on homework, bring our food down, miss our curfews. In this room I design spreads, make mistakes, and break her heart, again.


The feeling of being almost out of control—at the outer limits of my skill; the intensity of close calls; the sensation of blissful self-forgetting; the shrieking with joy, sometimes out loud; the shifting weight in the movement and acceleration.

The internal dialogue quiets when I’m trying not to fall, and the fear of falling is a far better feeling than angst. This is the most peaceful feeling there is, and I imagine a world where I hold the demons and angels at bay with simple adrenaline.


After entering society as a grown-up, far outside the warm bubble of Adventism, our social lives take a major hit. At my first and only job in the city, I realize I am entirely awkward and have no idea how to talk to people anymore. Where do I put my hands? Am I walking funny? My jokes don’t land, I am not caught up on pop cultures, and I don’t enjoy talking about food.

I used to introduce myself as being very charming (which used to work very well as a charming opening joke), but I feel out of place here. An outsider. It takes years to be myself again, to shake the weird feeling, and eventually I become someone who is friendly, who invites people in.

We become hosts and co-hosts, invite people over for meals and games and silly events. We end up with a previously hard to imagine set of problems: not enough seats; having to pick sides (always the wrong ones); failing to satisfy the emotional needs of others. I discover that I’m not very great at this end of the spectrum either. But they are good problems to have, and it is an uncommonly good life that gets interrupted.

After the flood waters recede, and our rocket ship lands on a different patch of very dry earth, I feel somewhat more prepared, and enlightened, and aware.


The city is everything I hope it will be: the old world architecture, the pedestrian streets, the weather, the transit, the elevation, the sea. It is the first city in Europe I’ve ever been to and yet I know it is the one I want to live in someday. “Isn‘t this great? This is so great,” I can hear myself saying, in my head.


We are living in the time shortly before the ubiquity of smartphones, when it is still possible to get lost. We make up a game, in the back roads, of flipping a coin whenever we come to a turn and letting it determine our next move—a makeshift divining rod for adventure.

Sometimes the coin doesn’t let us leave campus. Other times it takes us to new roads. Along rivers. Into haunted towns. Down an airstrip.

We travel much.


We buy the rights to a small area of space up in the sky. It is a significant improvement from our oddly shaped apartment in Somerville, and an almost imperceptibly distant cry from the hundred and thirty-five square feet of our co-op room, where the studio stabilized, the audio experiments started, and you switched careers. Here, in the sky, we have a full-time bed, and (at last) a full-time couch. We even have a pantry.

We have more than we need here, to the point where it feels extravagant.

Sometimes I wish I had a family flag to plant in the middle of our living, to claim it for the Ruizes and Aguilars and Jimenezes and Estradas. This is really theirs.


You seem very frustrated with me, which makes sense, as I have not practiced enough this past week, making this a waste of both of our time as well as my parents’ money. I don’t like violin, and it shows. I think you don’t like me, and I think that shows too. We are probably not a very good fit for each other, you being a violin teacher, and me hating violin. I feel sorry for us both.

Later, this unwillingness to push through things I don’t enjoy will seem like a major weakness, and will come back to bite me, when I come to learn that there is a certain intoxicating effect in the mastery that can only come through sacrifice. I will not come regret quitting violin, but I will come to regret giving up on things that are hard.

Around the same time as that realization, I will see you, for the first time in a decade, across the church at your son’s funeral. I won’t know what to say to you. Residual feelings of shame and the fear, along with the total inadequacy of words for a moment like this, will leave me hoping that you won’t recognize me, and won’t notice me slipping out early, avoiding one last difficult thing.


After months of missing and hoping and longing, there, in my grandfather’s store, you appear.

‘Es de pelicula’, as my cousin says. A superlative gesture I will never be able to match. A moment I can only honor and adore.

Though my sense of you shifts and corrects and grows, the person that you are in this moment of time becomes omnipresent to me.

In retrospect, a 30-item retrospective might have been a bit long. It also excludes far too much. I have been moved by and appreciative of far more people and moments than are represented here. I’m grateful for all of you who are still in my life today, and grateful for all the others who have gone on to their own spinoffs.

It has been very good.