I discovered that I’m terrified of the ocean while on my honeymoon in Hawaii. (I like to pick the worst possible time & place for such revelations. Keeps life interesting.) I was suspended in the water, shoved around by waves, trying to keep the tip of my snorkel as high in the air as bouyancy allowed. Then I turned my head to the right and saw the sharp line where the reef dropped off into open ocean – and I panicked. It was so big, so dark, this vast navy-blue empty void… Except of course it wasn’t empty at all. I remember thinking, anything could be out there.
On the other hand, one of my favorite things is stargazing in the country. Drive far into the wilderness, find a clearing, lie down in the bed of the pickup, and marvel. In the city, the night sky is faded and homogeneous, punctuated by only the strongest stars. But when you escape the light pollution, you confront a void that is profoundly huge and black and empty but also full of light and life. Again with that thought, anything could be out there. This time it’s not shaded with dread, but with wonder and delight at the infinite possibilities. It is a different thought altogether.
I have an Ocean feeling about life, lately. I spent 22 years on the clearly-marked American Dream path: early childhood, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, degree, first job & apartment… Somehow I never gave much thought to what came after that. It’s no longer obvious. What do I want my life to look like? I can actually choose that. There are legitimately a million different lives that I could live. I’ve just now realized this and it feels like the nice big path dumped me out onto a high cliff, and I’m staring out into another void – a dark, foggy void with huge, indistinct shadows that disappear when I look hard at them. Anything could be out there. And the big path sort of continues half-heartedly down the cliff, but it’s a tough slog and what I can see of the end doesn’t look terribly inviting. And occasionally the fog will shift to reveal wonderful destinations, but I don’t know which one is the best, or how to get there. Should I take the sort-of path and hope it winds around and branches an awful lot? Should I just scuttle down the cliffside and hope for the best? Is this an Indiana-Jones-Leap-of-Faith-type scenario?
Oh yeah, and there’s a quickly-approaching time limit for my choice.
So I’m standing on this cliff with like… a pretty small flashlight. I’m cold and I’m not wearing very good shoes. This old man showed up earlier and said “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” and gave me a kitten, which really doesn’t seem very helpful.
This is getting away from me.
My point is, I’m confronted with way too many possibilities, and I don’t really have a plan for how to proceed, and I’ve never actually had to make a plan before, and I am terrified. I’ve got an Ocean feeling about it. I think I need to flip a switch in my brain somehow and turn it into a Space feeling – excitement and curiosity about what the future could hold. I don’t know how to do that; it just seems like it should be possible.
It does help to limit the void a bit – there are things that I definitely cannot do. I’ll never be a doctor or a lawyer or anything else that requires a doctorate because no thank you. I have no desire to be an “executive” of any kind. Way past the point of no return on every professional sport. I’m limited geographically because my husband doesn’t have my sort of wanderlust. I guess I’m also limited morally from a Life of Crime?
But beyond that… I don’t know. Who knows? (*grabs you and shakes* How do you know?!?) I’m interested in pretty much everything, but I never know what will be lasting until I really get into it for a while, and I don’t have time for that sort of thing anymore. I guess that’s what college was supposed to be. Can I somehow transform into the sort of person that has like 10 hobbies outside of her day job? I barely have the energy for one as it is.
And my mind goes to career stuff first, but that’s only part of life! I want to be the sort of person that sees friends and “entertains,” but also I’m a big ol’ introvert and crowds are exhausting and I’d kind of like to be a hermit instead. I should join a book club or a knitting group to meet new people, but also catch up with old friends on a regular basis (monthly? weekly? daily? what’s the standard?). I think it would be cool to have a recurring get-together to play pretty involved tabletop games; it’s a shame that our D&D group never got off the ground in college because I was excited about that. I want to have consistent quiet times, and be “active in the church,” with all the Sunday Schools and Bible Studies and the volunteering in the nursery and such. I want to read again. I want to be the weird hippy lady with a giant garden and urban chickens, or maybe have a cool industrial looking artist’s loft in the city. I want to write a novel, but I also want to write & draw a graphic novel, and I’ve got one good idea with a million character sketches and several written pages and I don’t know which format fits so I’m just sitting on it. I’ve got about 5 knitting projects on the needles that will probably never get done. I want to put together an illustration portfolio, but it would take me years of work to get to a professional level and I don’t know if I could take the stress of freelancing. I also want to just draw for fun, but every time I try I feel this weird pressure to really make it “count.” My husband is a web designer but I want to build my portfolio site myself for some reason. I have no professional “businessy” ambition and that bothers me. I should really get in shape – I’ve never really been skinny before and I’m running out of time for that. I want to get really good at a cool activity like rock climbing or yoga or something. I wish I had some friends to mess around and make funny videos with because that sounds really fun. I’d like to cook pretty regularly. I’ve got lists and lists of ideas for minicomics, or short stories, or cool crafty stuff I could sell on Etsy, or illustrations… but I want big blocks of time to work and weekends are full of laundry and cleaning and errands (and weeknights are full of collapsing on the couch). I watch too much TV but I really love figuring out why characters and stories work, and maybe that’s making me a better storyteller? I miss being into music, but I can’t work and listen to music at the same time. I want kids – I want a little house just chock full o’ kiddos playing together, but a single kid (if any) would be much more responsible. And I’d love to be a stay-at-home mom but I’d also love to eat and pay the bills, and would a Real Career be more fulfilling? Could I be part-time? Work-at-home? Which careers are friendly to taking a few years off and then starting back? Why the hell am I so worried about this when we have absolutely no plans to procreate any time soon??
There are a lot of contradictions here and I don’t know what to do about them. I want a map of different routes down the cliff to see if there’s any place where everything I want intersects. I’m sure there isn’t. And there’s definitely no way to know. That’s not how life works. I’m probably supposed to just wander down the path of least resistance and go with the flow and trust that everything will work out, but that goes against every fiber of my being because everything has to be hard all the time.
I am so incredibly neurotic. Just feed me to the sharks, man. I’m done. \angst