Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Where I Am Not ...

This is not the post I would have written two hours ago.

Today started off like any other day of late, my morning drill of bringing myself and the house to life: opening curtains, booting up the computer, deciding whether to have coffee (this morning's vote was a "nay," but this afternoon's vote was a "yea"), reading e-mail, loading my morning batch of sites, hopping on the treadmill. I allow myself a bit of Oprah so long as I'm on the treadmill.

This is Oprah's Best Life week, and I had it in my head that today was Suze Orman day, which was enough to make me not want to watch, because I really don't like her, but I turned on the TV to check and discovered that today wasn't finance day. Today was spirituality day.

All righty then. I'm all about spirituality these days. It's practically all I'm about these days.

So there I was, walking in place, which is a metaphor for my life lately: moving but not actually getting anywhere. (Just yesterday, on Facebook, I wrote, "Beth is feeling like a baby learning how to crawl, metaphorically up on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth, but not yet moving forward.") And Oprah or one of her acolytes (Oprahlytes?) said something about living the lives we're meant to live and I said to my ceiling, "I don't know what life I'm meant to live." And I started crying. But I kept walking. Because in that moment, I had to accomplish something.

Yesterday, after I wrote my comment about feeling like I'm not moving forward, one of my Jeff friends (I'll dub him Photography Jeff) added a quippy comment and then commented again to add, "I made light of your serious posting. I'm sorry. But seriously, you've done so much. I think you're actually in the middle of a sprint, but just taking a moment to recharge."

I didn't mind his quippy comment. Sometimes a little levity is a good thing. But I appreciated his follow-up comment. Not for the apology, because no apology was necessary, but for his perspective of me being in the middle of a sprint but taking a moment to recharge.

Because I sure as hell don't feel that way. People comment to me on a fairly regular basis that I have such an interesting life, that I know such interesting people and I've done such interesting things. And those comments land with a "plink!" inside my brain and I think, "Hey, yeah! I do have an interesting life!"

But here's the truth: Deep down, I feel like a failure. I feel completely overwhelmed. I feel completely adrift. I have no idea what I'm meant to do, no idea where I'm meant to be.

I've been given an extraordinary array of gifts. There is very little I try that I cannot do. And yet, I can't figure out what I'm meant to be doing. And I feel as though the harder I try to figure it out, the more elusive it will remain, like the answer is mercury.

I feel as though I am in some kind of purgatory, a cosmic grey area where I'm aware of the unrest in my life and aware that this unrest is part of a transition to a new place – it's propelling me, in fact – but I'm not yet capable of fully understanding what it all means, as though I'm seeing and hearing the future through static and I don't have the tools to sharpen the picture and sound. It's like being unable to think of a certain word. You know you know it, but for the moment, your brain won't let you access it.

Inherently, I know that I have all the answers, but for the moment, I have no idea what they are.

My mom came by today, unaware of my meltdown-in-the-making, and listened to me vent. (I have the best mom ever.) I told her how I envy those who know what they want to do with their lives. "I wish I could see that point on the horizon," I said. "Even if it was 1,000 miles away and I had to walk there. At least I would know what I was walking toward. I would get there."

Instead, I feel like I'm perpetually scanning the horizon and getting closer to nothing in particular. A spiritual nomad.

I recently realized that I don't have an answer to the question, "What do I want?" And I try not to think of it in terms of want, because "want" implies that I'm lacking and I have an abundant life in so many ways. But it was startling to realize that I don't really know what I'm looking for. No wonder I can't find it.

In Jen Weigel's book, she tells of a dream she had about her dad in which he gestures to everything around him and says that none of it matters, that all that matters are the people in our lives and love.

And in that way, I'm very blessed. I have many people about whom I care and many people who care about me.

But part of the contract of being human is existing in the world in a productive way, making a contribution, and being able to sustain a life. Money, unfortunately, is a substantial part of the equation. Many a savvy mother have said to their smitten children, "You can't live on love."

So there is a very practical side to my efforts to figure out what I should be doing with my life. I have to pay my bills somehow. But there are also the issues of fulfillment and service. I'm almost 40. Presuming my life is about half over, I feel like I should have figured this out already. A whole other biological clock is ticking.

Years ago, when I worked at the Tribune, my friend Rick left a note on my desk. We were meeting up for drink after work and when he stopped by to collect me, I wasn't there. "B," he wrote, "Where are you? Rick".

To this day, I have no idea.

Where am I? I am in my house. I am in my office. I am in my 30s. I am in my head. I am in my heart. But to the larger question of where I am in the world, what contribution am I making, I come up blank.

Earlier, my mom mentioned my compassion and that there was a time when I was going to be a doctor. Maybe, she said, I should be working in a field that brings my compassion to bear, like social work.

I said very honestly that I think I'm too emotional to do something like that. When I was pre-med, I knew I could never be a pediatrician because it would be too hard for me to be around sick children. It'd break my heart.

But I certainly would love to help people. Wouldn't we all?

Talking with mom helped. It always does. I was grateful for the opportunity to expel some of this emotion, to talk through some of the miasma in my head.

At times like these (oh, yes, I've been here before), I also appreciate my surroundings. In lieu of making sense of my thoughts, I make my bed. I do dishes. I Swiffer the floor. I organize books on shelves. I fold clothes. I apply order where I can as if that will alleviate the anxiety in my chest.

The other day, my cousin Lora's husband, Don, asked me if I suffer from anxiety. I said "No." And later, I thought, "Well, that's completely inaccurate." But I found it interesting that my immediate answer was "No." Did I not want to admit it? Or do I not view this as anxiety? And if I don't view this as anxiety, what is it?

Many years ago, my friend Mark told me to ask myself when I'm worried, "In this moment, am I OK?" His point was that while we may be concerned about money or a relationship or something external, in any given moment, absent imminent mortal danger, the answer to "In this moment, am I OK?" is "Yes."

From that perspective, I am OK. And since all any of have is this moment, that counts for a lot. But I wish the answers would come. Then again, maybe they are. Maybe I'm expecting them to appear overtly and they're showing up subtly. Maybe I need a different perspective.

Or a Xanax.


Anonymous Alison said...

Thanks for this. I needed to read something just like it today. I can so relate!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has it occurred to you that your true path is to seek? That you weren't meant to zone in on one thing, but do many? I think it's the exception, rather than the rule, that people know what they are supposed to do. Seriously. And I think a lot of people who seem to know what they're supposed to do are putting up a good facade. Here are two simple pieces of advice: Pick something, anything, and start it. That will remove the feeling of inertia. And stick with it for a while. Don't declare victory right away and start looking for something new. The second piece of advice is this: Lose the hang-up over being 40. It's an age. It's pretty meaningless. Many, many people make their greatest contributions at a far older age than that. Sometimes the contributions to the world are the accumulated actions, not the grand gesture. Danusha Veronica Goska, in an article on Paul Rogat Loeb's book, "The Impossible Will Take a Little While; A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear," writes:

"Sometimes we convince ourselves that the 'unnoticed' gestures of 'insignificant' people mean nothing. It's not enough to be our best selves; we have to be Ghandi. And yet when we study the biographies of our heroes, we learn that they spent years in preparation doing tiny, decent things before one historical moment propelled them to center stage. Moments, as if animate, use the prepared to tilt empires."

I am one of those lucky people who have always known what I was meant to do and have done it, with many tweaks along the way. Now, there is something else I want to do, and I'm working my way to that new profession. In the end, did I write the great novel, win a Pulitzer, end a war or cure cancer? No. But I made it a policy to live my life with no regrets, so when it comes to an end, I'll die knowing I made the world a better place with my small contributions ... wasn't Emily Dickinson who wrote something about easing the suffering of one?

I frequently read your eloquent blog and I think you have to stop thinking and just jump in someplace. Take a risk. Go back to school. Take a job out of your comfort zone. You might just hit on what you're meant to do.

To steal from Mary Chapin Carpenter ... "don't be late for your life."

7:16 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks, Alison,

And thanks, E. I'm not hung up about turning 40. My feeling here isn't "Oh no, I'm going to be 40!" I'm looking forward to it, really. I just feel like at this stage of life, I should be on a path and have a sense of where I'm headed, instead of still looking for the path. Of course, I also understand that the path I'm on, however ill-defined I may perceive it to be, is a path nonetheless.

I totally agree with you that my contribution can come later in life. I'd just feel better if I had a sense of what I was going to contribute. But you're right to quote the book and that the tiny things matter and moments add up.

Thanks for all your thoughts, as ever. I knew I could count on you to weigh in. : o )

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the Dickinson I was thinking of:

"If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."

And one more for luck: "We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." -- Will Rogers

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn. And I thought I was "Anonymous."

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's your problem right here:

"I just feel like at this stage of life, I should be on a path and have a sense of where I'm headed, instead of still looking for the path."

Who told you THAT?

One of the greatest things about being a woman is that we are wired to recreate our selves a number of times throughout live, hence "the wisdom of menopause." Most of the world's greatest women made their contributions far later than 40 ... so there is no place you SHOULD be, or no stage you SHOULD be.

Ax that word from your vocabulary and you'll soar.

By the way, while I'm busy doing everything I was intended to do in life, nobody is Swiffering my house or putting the clothes away! Too bad. My house is a mess.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Good advice, all.

I shouldn't be shoulding.

But I "should" be "somewhere" and I feel like I'm "nowhere." But this agitation is good. Like sand in an oyster. The end result is a pearl.

7:36 PM  

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