I have to admit, boys and girls, that I’ve been struggling lately. The clocks have changed, and while the sun is still shining brightly here in southwest Portugal, it’s colder and the long, dark nights are setting in.
I’m less busy than I was during the summer months and have more time to spend with my boyfriend, which–after our brief estrangement–has been great. On the flip side, I also have more time to spend with my own thoughts, insecurities and anxieties, which, to be honest, hasn’t so been so awesome.
After spending a week nearly constantly with my boyfriend–distracted by fun things like kayaking, dinners out, hiking, surfing, sex, cuddling, watching films etc.–I had a few days on my own.
And during those days my brain became crammed full of more racing thoughts than passengers in a Moroccan taxi, stuffed to capacity with 46 years of doubts and fears and “I’m not good enough” and “what should I do with my life” and “is he the right guy for me” and “how can I make more money” and “where should I go travel to next”…you get the idea.
It was all too much and put me in that kind of paralytic state that comes when you know you have to change *something* in your life but you have no fucking clue exactly what.
In the past, whenever I’ve had the good fortune to find a guy who will put up with my schizo bullshit long enough to actually call it a relationship, I usually try to blame him whenever I’m feeling shitty about my life or generally depressed or unhappy.
I’m trying very hard in my current relationship not to do this, because–though we’ve certainly had our ups and downs and there are times when he could have reacted in a more mature way to situations–things are actually really good between us at the moment.
More importantly, I’m finally learning that no one makes you happy or unhappy–unless, of course, he or she is extremely abusive, which my boyfriend is not–some who know me and my mercurial ways might think he’s actually a fucking saint.
No, happiness–or at least a general feeling of contentment and acceptance of our lives, relationships and general existential situations–is that elusive thing we must find within ourselves. And that’s what I have really been struggling with lately when I spend more than five minutes on my own.
I’ve been thinking too long and too hard about why I feel this general unease, and I am pretty sure it has to do with my “job,” or lack thereof. OK, to be fair, I do have a job (in addition to managing a small guest apartment in the summer months), if not a full-time one–I write on a monthly basis (which means nearly daily) for an online website called Design News.
My area of coverage for my articles is cutting-edge technology that’s coming out of academic labs and think tanks, tackling stuff like alternative energies, 3D printing and materials science. While I find the topics I write about interesting, lately I’ve been feeling a distinct sense of ennui about the work, and am not feeling very fulfilled or satisfied by it.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a writer, making up stories in notebooks about how I wanted my life to be when I was 6 and just learned how to write in complete sentences. When I was 11, my teacher would make me read the stories I submitted for my sixth-grade creative-writing exercises aloud to the class, much to my chagrin. Later in high school (and again to my chagrin), a teacher read a poem I wrote and praised my talents in front of my peers at the height of my adolescent awkward phase.
I survived–and one BA degree in English/communications and an MFA degree in creative writing later, it seems natural that I would become some type of writer as a professional career. But still the kind of work I do isn’t what I’ve imagined for myself.
I think it’s because not only am I so much as a writer as a communicator, not just on the written page (or computer screen, as the case may be now). I’ve also done stand-up comedy, performed in bands as a musician, worked with kids and young adults as a therapeutic writing facilitator, and given talks about various topics at conferences throughout my career.
But aside from professional and entertainment purposes, one of the reasons I’ve found myself communicating so much and so well is because of the human condition and existential situations that I and my friends find ourselves in. This is become I’m often the one friends come to when they want to know the straight-up, from-the-heart truth or to sort out a tricky personal situation in which they’ve become involved.
I’m also the one people tend to pour their souls out to not just in conversations, but sometimes also in writing some years after traumatic situation has happened. I’ve had this happen on more than one occasion in the form of e-mails from old friends who for some reason wanted to write me a long missive about their divorce, or the death of a loved one, or something to that effect–only to not respond to my return email of sympathy or advice. It’s almost as if they just wanted to tell *someone*–and that someone happened to be me.
I’m not sure why this happens, but if I had to venture to guess I would say I have this vibe about me that people feel like they can trust me enough to tell me things that they find difficult to talk about–and they value my opinion and ability to articulate it enough to confide in me and hear what I have to say about it.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how I can use these skills in a more meaningful way to earn a living beyond being a freelance writer. I’ve had several false starts in my attempts to branch out and use these skills before–studying and volunteering as a therapeutic writing therapist in both New York and San Francisco, and achieving my second-level Reiki training and giving some free treatments here in Portugal.
So far, however, I have never managed to translate these and other interpersonal communication, counseling and–for lack of a better term–life-coaching skills into a paying profession.
So I guess all of my recent internal struggle ties into the idea of doing some kind of *meaningful* work for me. I don’t find writing about science meaningful, even if people enjoy my work and it somehow affects them.
What I do find meaningful is realizing that I have actually made a difference in someone’s life by sharing my knowledge or talent with them, or giving them a piece of advice that actually changes how they view a difficult situation in their life or provides them with a way to change it for the better.
For example, one of the coolest things I feel like I’ve done in my life is when I spent two weeks on San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador volunteering with school-aged children, helping to teach music and do other creative projects. It felt so good to see the immediate effect working with these kids had on them, and it felt satisfying to give them an experience that was different from those to which they’re generally exposed in their every-day lives.
Of course, I do also wonder sometimes how much of this need to have meaningful work (and get paid for it) is tied up in my ego–do I want to affect people because it’s good for them, or because it somehow validates in me that I’m a special and worthwhile person?
If I was really so pure of heart, would I need to be recognized for the gifts I have to offer to the world, or is it enough to just live a good, honest life, give good advice to my friends and loved ones, and never be praised or financially rewarded?
The other day all of this was ricocheting around my head and a friend suggested I stop thinking so much and take a walk (very good advice, that was). So I did–a long one–and on that walk I listened to a random Spotify playlist which includes a song by a band called Dawes entitled, “When My Time Comes.” In that song is a line that really stood out for me–“You can judge the whole world by the sparkle that you think it lacks.”
In that moment, that line was for me so reflective of the way I’ve been feeling–flat and listless and bored with my awesome life, like I have nothing to offer to the world and the world has nothing to offer me. I felt like everything had lost its sparkle, and I was looking at life through a dimmer and frantically trying to find someone or something to blame for why everything was going dark.
The truth is, I can’t blame my boyfriend or my friends or even my lack of meaningful work for this feeling–this is on me. Yes, it would be a good idea to have more money and to make that money from doing something that uses what I (and others) perceive as my communication skills and other genuine talents.
But what my walk helped me figure out by clearing my mind and shifting the energy in my body was this: That if I’m ever going to do anything of that nature, the first thing I have to do is accept that what I am now and the work I’m doing, and the money I’m making, and the girlfriend and friend and daughter and sister I’m being, and the person I’m showing to myself and the world every day of my awesome life are *enough.* Right now. As they are. As I am.
It sounds like the biggest cliche in the world, but the older I get, the more I find this to be true. I’ll put it another way: Nothing in my life nor I needs to be anything more than what we are right now in this moment.
And until I am comfortable with that idea–and stop blaming my boyfriend or my work or my laziness or my constant need to sleep since the fucking clocks were turned back one hour–for my sense of unease, and start realizing that everything is exactly as it should be and someone or something out there is looking after me, even winning a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize wouldn’t be enough for me to feel the kind of meaning I am seeking in my life.
So I’m just gonna sit back and sleep if I want to sleep. And cry if I want to cry. And walk until my legs ache and my head stops spinning. And spend lazy nights watching YouTube videos if I want to do that instead of crawl the Internet for jobs or blow out my brain trying to rethink how to brand myself as something different so I can create a new career for myself.
Because the world is fucking sparkling like crazy already. All I have to do is keep my eyes and my heart open to see the shine on everything.