Tuesday, July 28, 2009
This is not our fault
I have a friend named Cassie who goes to art school in Boston. In the evenings she rides the train beneath the city and decides that she's mediocre. I can see her, there in the rumbling twilight of the subway with the sodium lights flashing by, rolling this idea back and forth through her head like a marble. Deciding how it feels, if this is something she can get used to.
My sister is a musician. She performed in front of 2,500 people just a few days ago. She wrote and sings this song. And yet she still wonders out loud if she'll ever make it. She wonders what will happen to her if she doesn't.
There was a voice that one day fluttered into my skull and stayed there. I was working a job in Seattle and writing a little bit on the side and everything was going well. I had a small apartment and a car and was in only a little bit of debt and was doing pretty good by all accounts. And one day the voice started hissing. Is this all? You certainly are playing it safe. You are heading towards a life of nothingness. You will very soon be nothing. Not a terrible thing to be, it whispered. It's easy after all. But nothing is nothing.
It was unsettling. I listened to it and two weeks later had given away everything I owned and was on a plane to the other coast. It was winter there and so I was alone for a while. The voice kept humming. This is alright for now, but this can't last. We both know this can't last. So I went south. I lived out of a backpack and fell off waterfalls. Life was terribly exciting. My head was quiet and I sung in the shower to fill the silence.
Then one day on a warm, clear river, I got caught and trapped in a cave underwater. I saw black spots and I knew that my number was up. I was a dead girl. But then I went through a long dark rock tunnel and emerged in the current. I climbed up on an island and lay there, bleeding all over and choking up water. Something landed lightly on my shoulder. I turned my head and saw the little wings. Well this is just terrible, it said, how stupid are you? we both know this won't last.
The voice planted itself firmly in my brain. At the slightest tremor of synapse it would launch into a rehearsed monologue. Aren't you too old to be living out of a backpack? Shouldn't you be going back to school? You don't have a novel written yet, how terrible, you never will if you haven't yet. This is games, what you're doing. There is no future in this. Everyone you know is settling down and starting up a life that will last. Do you want to be financially stable? Do you? Do you even know what a 401k is? This continued until I left and went home.
Now I am back in Seattle. I have a long scar on my right leg. In about a month I'll have no money left. "I'm trying! I'll quit the school! I'll find a career!" I tell the voice at night, in the morning, in the car, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, when I'm alone, when I'm out with friends. "I'll put something in my savings account. I'll keep the house cleaner. I'll wear better clothes. I'll be nicer. I'll be a real person."
Good luck, it says. Odds are against you. Are you sure you want to settle down now, at this age? Shouldn't you have a few more adventures before you give in?
"I'll go back to the school then. I'll live in Chile. I'll do big things down there. I'll leave Seattle and everything here behind."
The worst part is, says the voice, no matter what you choose, you'll be wasting your potential for something else. No matter what you do, you'll be a quitter.
I'm not the only one. I know a boy who paddles class 5 rapids every single day, because it is the only way to quell the incessant marching of questions in his mind. Then he takes out and there they are again.
I know a girl who got married a few months ago. She tells me, "every two days, I know that this is the life that I wanted. But the days in between...."she throws her hand and looks off into the distance.
This is not our fault. It's the hallmark of the 20's. It's doubt and guilt and shame and hesitation and indecision. It is the absolute certainty that everyone else has got it figured out, knows something we don't, and will soon be coming into the small fortune they worked so hard to secure. They are making the headlines of the paper we're one day sure to be sleeping under.
I don't think we're supposed to talk about this. We're supposed to put our heads down and push on and put on a facade of confidence that, once it's night and we're alone, we unwrap from around our necks like a scarf: everything is okay. Everything is just fine. Maybe that's why it seems so important to be with someone else, because when they're around we'll keep it up. We'll keep it on. But it's always there.
What does your voice tell you? Mine reminds me all the time that my life is inadequate and I"m in big trouble, just in case I've slipped and ooops! enjoyed myself, or felt content, or excited, or proud, or inspired, or capable, or I've stopped thinking about the future for just one tiny moment.
I think the voice gets more dangerous the more we keep quiet. So, talk about it. Also, this song will help.