• AJ Hawkins

26: How getting closer to death is bringing me closer to life


“Today’s my birthday and I get one every year.

Someday, hard to believe that I’ll be buried six feet under ground.”

AJ circa 1995

From ages 7-12, I had a tradition of listening to “Six Feet Under” by No Doubt every year on my birthday. I’d play it loud on my boombox, shout singing and dancing along to the punchy chorus. I didn’t know what six feet under meant.


Last year, I turned 25 and something about being a quarter-century old felt heavy. I’d spent the previous several months having regular panic attacks and struggling to manage my anxiety. I’d only just realized that I’d had a 15 year relationship with depression. I was becoming aware of how much of my life I hadn’t lived.


Daniel took me out for a celebratory absinthe service at the local bar on what happened to be karaoke night. A man in a sparkly dress shirt prepared for his turn, warming up with a pitch pipe. He took the mic and began his prepared song - it was terrible, but he was having fun and I had fun watching him have fun. He was brave in a way I am not.


I stewed on this a minute. I sipped my absinthe and turned to Daniel, “I’m going to become a ‘low-key hedonist’.” I’m not really an orgies and feasts kind of gal, but rather I wanted to have more pleasure in my life by living less afraid. I wanted to be less afraid of people’s judgment, to feel brave and be most fully myself; I wanted to be less afraid of failure, to try new things, sometimes succeed, and always learn.


I started by getting a therapist - a sweet older lady named Patricia, who has great taste in shoes and a wrist tattoo. We worked on controlling my anxiety, and improving my confidence. I became obsessed with Brene Brown. I was frustrated at the marks left on my body and mind by the Purity Movement, so I bought myself a crop top, and then 3 more. I forced myself to be experimental in my studio time. I let myself make Bad Art.


Today, I turn 26. I’ve been panic attack free for 5 months. I’ve made new friends and learned to talk to strangers. I’m making the weirdest art I’ve ever made, and I started a new business. I’ve outlived two friends and it gives me a sense of urgency to accomplish things that I’ve never quite felt before.


As I look towards this next year of life, I’ve started to consider what my new low-key hedonist goals will be.


- I want to embrace my body as neutral. I grew up being told my body was evil, sinful, too sexy, too prudish, too big, too small. But bodies are neutral; my body is what I decide it is. I’ve decided to stop wearing bras because they're itchy and expensive. I’ve decided to start dancing because it’s fun.


- I want to say, ‘No.’ more often. My life is finite - I don’t want to waste it on obligations I will grow to resent, and people who cut me down, or who don’t challenge me and inspire me.


- I want to wear more glitter. This is both literal and symbolic. It represents embracing the impractical things that make you happy, and being willing to stand out from the crowd. It represents decorating my body the way that I feel led, not the way I am told. I desire to be the kind of person that is so unabashedly myself, that I in turn inspire others to shine more brightly in their own expressions of themselves.


- I want to do karaoke. I want to be terrified and do it anyway. I want to be terrible and have fun, and hope other people have fun too.


Here’s to being another year closer to dying, and another year closer to living!

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