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by Charline von Heyl
Note: this piece is partially inspired by Zach Braff’s new movie, A Good Person. It’s in theatres + streaming now.
Girls on TikTok are talking about “the pivot.” A pivot is when you quit a job, dump your boyfriend, move to New Mexico.
The girl I’m watching says, everything good in my life has come from my pivots. On this Substack I do nothing but talk about persistence, continuity, but some part of me agrees with her.
That’s always been my philosophy: throw it away, start over, see what you miss.
The things I miss are not the things I thought I’d miss. Certain dreamy, nondescript East Coast neighborhoods. A long and empty day capped off by meandering somewhere for a burger and a glass of wine. The heavy, portentous late August air.
New York is a city that makes you want to spend money. In SF I go to the same three cafes. I order a bloody mary on weekends, an iced latte on the weekdays. I’m always too cold and too hot at the same time. I overuse the word “brisk.” I spend less money, I browse vintage vases online, I wake up every morning at seven.
I’ve always loved California with a certain amount of reluctance. California is the kind of boy that makes my heart twist, too golden, too tenuous, entirely untrustworthy. Sometimes California snows and sometimes it burns. There are too many taxes, beaches, bikes, sequoia trees. I’ve uprooted my life for California a few times.
M and I decided there are only two good reasons to move: work and love.
Girls on TikTok say that living alone is good for you. Something you should do before you give half your closet space to someone else forever.
For the first time in my life I’m losing weight without trying. I call S and show him my hipbones. I’ve been worried about Akko, who’s been sick all week, first scratching himself bloody from allergies, and then vomiting and refusing to eat after an allergy shot.
I sit on the floor in my one-bedroom apartment and I watch my dog breathe. Is this what living alone is? Pain. Bliss.
I’ve always believed that people can change. On the Zoom to get material for this Substack post, Zach said that the movie is about a traumatic event that splits your life in two, changes you not for the better or worse. Just cuts your life in half: before and after.
Most of us have moments like that, these bifurcations. Falling in love. Losing someone. Illness and injury. These are involuntary pivots.
My own pivots:
When I met J. When my dad got sick. When I met S. When I met B. When I started writing.
When I moved to the US. When I moved to SF. When I moved to Utah, then New York. When I moved back to SF.
The breakup that made me go insane. The breakups that barely affected me in the moment but still rewired my brain.
Leaving college. All the visa problems. Making money from my writing for the first time.
I haven’t lived for that long yet. I’ve been very lucky.
I keep revisiting this essay about whether people can change. It talks about the Dunedin study, which tracked 1037 babies born between April 1972 and March 1973 throughout their lives.
Through such self-development, the authors write, we curate lives that make us ever more like ourselves. But there are ways to break out of the cycle. One way in which people change course is through their intimate relationships. The Dunedin study suggests that, if someone who tends to move against the world marries the right person, or finds the right mentor, he might begin to move in a more positive direction. His world will have become a more beneficent co-creation. Even if much of the story is written, a rewrite is always possible.
Can people change? I’ve always thought that they can. I’ve watched my parents change over the years, as they’ve moved from China to Canada to the US, as they’ve raised two children, gotten older, weathered health problems and life problems. My parents can take care of themselves. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. My boyfriend at 20 broke up with me by saying: “Are you waiting for me to change? You know I’m never going to change.” A few weeks ago B said the same thing to me (“Ava, I’m too old to change), and followed it with “Hey, just kidding” when he saw my face fall.
I told L that I’ve committed to not trying to change people. I’ve said in therapy 100 times that S is who he is and if I can’t accept that it’s on me. I hosted a salon with Tao Lin and he said he’s always trying to give his parents health advice, which sometimes they take and sometimes they don’t. I resonate with that. It’s so hard for me to refrain from trying to change the people I love.
A better question: can I, have I changed myself? Can I, have I, gotten better?
This state makes me sick with love. It’s pollen season and my face has been swollen for weeks. I can’t walk down the street without running into someone I know. I cry outside of Rintaro. I drink two glasses of white wine in a sushi restaurant on Chestnut Street and wake up hungover the next day. I do crow pose, headstand, king pigeon in yoga class. In shavasana my body vibrates with pleasure. I have several friends who are obsessed with meditation, awakening. Are they seeking? Seeing?
I love California because it’s so extremely beautiful. B says I’m obsessed with beauty, pleasure, privilege. He has a new baby. In my second favorite cafe a dad flirts with me. Or does he? He’s holding his daughter, who’s wearing a pastel hat.
It doesn’t matter what I lose so long as I can write. Whatever happens to California, I want to live here as long as I can. I don’t control my writing, intellectually or emotionally. It controls me. I don’t control what I love, intellectually or emotionally. It controls me.
I’m willing to start over as many times as necessary. I’m willing to take care of you until I die. Are those two things irreconcilable? I am changed by what I keep in my life, and what I throw away.