Existential Crisis Take Two

So… for those of you who are ‘regular readers’ (if there are any of you out there), you’ll know I had a deep and meaningful, ‘whats-it-all-about’ post a couple of weeks ago. This post continues along those lines, as I got stopped in the midst of my existential crisis by a nice trip to a green Irish field and never really got to any satisfying answer, due to the fact that there were horses jumping over things in the field and rolling clouds and many other distracting things.
So, to recap, I don’t think I really worked out properly why I was doing this ‘travel thing’ before I left. I came up with all sorts of stuff that I wanted to do while I was over here, festivals to apply for and to attend, places to see, music to listen to. I had lots of ‘activities’, lots of movement and bustle but nothing to hold them all together. I still didn’t know what I was hoping to ‘achieve’ from coming over here (these plans remind me of Macbeth: ‘it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing’). Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, I had no divorce to get over. Unlike Bill Bryson or Pete McCarthy, I had no book deals. Unlike other au pairs, I’m not trying to learn English.
Speaking of which, I’ve been boring my au pair friends silly with this question over and over and over again. No matter where the conversation starts, inevitably we wind up raking over the depressing coals of my life and trying to arrange them into some sort of meaningful and fire-lighting pattern. Its the reason I visited the tarot card reader. To try and get this whole experience put into some sort of wider context, some sort of mystical world order (of course, the more her predictions have proved to be incorrect, the less comforting and satisfying the whole tarot card experience was/is). Unfortunately, the au pairs are all much younger than me (between 5 – 8 years younger usually) and its not as pressing an issue for them. For me, coming up to 30, suddenly it seems like the world is crashing down around my shoulders, because I feel like I’m still barely surviving, I’m hanging on to the rock face with my broken fingernails whilst friends of a similar age go from strength to strength.
Because, the question of why I’m here in Ireland feeds into a larger question of what, exactly, I am hoping to achieve in my life in general. There comes a point, when you have to accept you’re not going to be a Hollywood star (and that, truth be told, you probably don’t want to be one either), but getting rid of one childish dream only means you have to re-think what exactly it is that you are aiming for in life at all. How can I hope to survive as an artist both spiritually (if I keep getting rejected or turned down for things) and financially (if everything I do is for free or co-op)?
Its a feeling that has been cropping up a lot recently. Waking up in the morning, before you’re out of bed; or being stuck inside the house from 9am – 6pm with a hyperactive 4 year old, not being able to go outside due to rain, and not having a car to at least go to the shops with; being rejected for more arts festivals but being inundated with au pair jobs; going out to bars with friends but not seeing a SINGLE human being of the opposite sex that you would be willing to speak to for more than 5 minutes; all these things, all these moments, when you stop and think ‘in’ them too long, that is, step outside what you’re doing, step outside the teeth brushing and the constant tidying and the over drinking and the making food and the filling out the application forms etc. etc. etc. and look hard at what you’re doing and think, ‘what is this all for?’ and then, ‘why do I care so much?’
I’ve always had a sense in the back of my head, I think from my constant years of dieting and reading biographies of actors in celebrity magazines, that, some day, out there, in the future, a new me would emerge, a perfect version of myself and my life, like the phoenix from the flames, and then everything would suddenly make sense. I’d look back and pick the narrative out of my seemingly random life choices, ‘well, yes, of course, I had to go to Ireland, otherwise I would never have been accepted into x and then y wouldn’t have happened, and I’d never have met z and then I’d never have been able to work with a and b and then where would I be?’ Somewhere, out there, down the track, was the life that I was meant to lead, and I just had to get to it, I just had to make the right choices, follow the right path and I’d be good as gold. Sometimes that meant following other people’s plans for you (going to university), and other times it meant following your intuition, no matter how zany (going to Ireland). But the perfect life was waiting at the finishing line, it was the light at the end of the tunnel, the trophy, the prize: to put it another way, I was all about the goal, and nothing to do with the journey.
But, waiting for that perfect life to emerge – ‘when I grow up, I want to be a…’ – only really makes sense when you’re in school (and even then its a little fucked up, if only because it defines you entirely by your career. No little kid says, ‘when I grow up, I want to be happy with my life choices, whatever they may be,’ or, ‘when I grow up, I want to be a confident, proud and content human being’). By the time you’re 27, and you’ve had control over your life choices for most of a decade, you have to start thinking, well, hang on a minute, exactly when does this perfect life emerge? I mean, I’m close to a third of the way through now, so, when do I get to start enjoying my life and not waiting for it to happen to me? And, if this is my life, if this is as good as it gets, where the hell did I fuck up?
The problem with doing well in high school and, then, university, I feel, is everyone has such high expectations of you. You’re told you have ‘potential’, people predict various bright futures for you, ‘oh, who knows, maybe you’ll be a diplomat, you’ll be a star, you’ll be prime minister, you’ll be an author, you can do whatever you want!’ They want you to be a doctor, a lawyer, an academic or a journalist. You walk around feeling a little insecure, but certain that things will work out with time. That the awkward, ugly and slightly lost duckling will someday turn into a highly influential and impressive swan. Because, you’re a good person, right? And all the stories end like that, right? And all those adults and teachers and people you respect and who know more than you, they’re all saying it, so it must be true, that you are great, even if you don’t feel it, and someday, when someone’s worked out what you’re supposed to be, what you’re supposed to do, when they’ve discovered your hidden talents, given you strength and confidence and job offers and held you up high to others, shouting ‘oh, the wonderfulness of you!’ it’ll all make sense. But, then, before you know it, you turn around and you’re staring down your 10 year high school reunion, you’re not a diplomat, you’re not a ‘star’, you’re an overweight au pair in rural Ireland whilst your high school best friend is working in marketing at the BBC (and even that’s apparently not good enough for her, or where she wanted to be 10 years out of school), so you start questioning what the hell you did with all your ‘potential’ and whether or not you actually had it in the first place. You start looking at careers in ASIO, looking at Master’s programs in anything, start throwing writing and performance ideas at everybody that might be remotely related to the arts. You start thinking you should choose a religion, choose a man, choose a house, choose anything, just make a choice and make it the right one this time, please, because, look, lets be honest, you must have seriously screwed up every single one before this.
And, then, without any warning, you’ll be driving the car one day, to pick up one of the girls from preschool and a sudden, angry and highly rational voice will yell at you from the back of your head. It will cut across all the high-pitched, anxious chatter from the other voices, who are making themselves dizzy with suggestion upon suggestion of improvements that could be made to you and your life and whack you right between the eyes. It will shout, ‘hey, this IS your life, idiot! This is it, this is all it is, its not waiting round the corner or down the track, or a few months or years or decades away! This is what you wanted! You wanted to travel: you’ve done it. You wanted to pursue an artistic career: you’ve done it. You didn’t want to be stuck in an office from 9 – 5, Monday to Friday: you’ve done it. You didn’t want to settle down with a mortgage and kids before you were 30: you haven’t. You didn’t want to do all the things other people were doing, you wanted to cut your own path, and make crazy choices so you could tell people about your strange and wonderful life: well, you’ve done it. This is success, baby. You’ve achieved everything you wanted, now stop whining and fucking enjoy it.’
And you know that the voice is right. You can feel it, because all the other little voices shut up and can’t think of anything to say in response. Its still and quiet in your head, and you suddenly feel completely in the moment, completely focused on your driving, just driving. You feel as if you have dropped in to some deep and essential level of your brain and your existence, some part you never use because you’re always up high, on tip-toes, looking around and above everything and everyone, searching for what else could be happening, what else would be better, more fun, more interesting, always chatter, chatter, chattering away on mindless, nothingless things. Its quiet and still for a few seconds when suddenly one of the smaller voices, pops its head up slowly and says, ever-so-hesitantly, ‘but this isn’t what it was supposed to be like.’
It wasn’t meant to be boring. Ever. Every moment of every day was meant to be exciting. It wasn’t meant to be lonely. I was meant to meet attractive men at every turn who I would fall in love with and have wonderful flings with. It wasn’t meant to be depressing. It wasn’t meant to be hard. I wasn’t ever meant to question my choices. I wasn’t supposed to need constant reassurance that I’d made the right decision, that I was good enough on my own without accolades or huge salaries or pictures in the paper. In the life that was promised, just down the road, somewhere in the distance, when I was all grown-up, I was meant to be happy and I was meant to be confident. I was meant to like my life all the time.
I was meant to be content.
And, I think that, above all other things, is the feeling I am lacking. I don’t feel content. I hardly ever feel that. Do others? I don’t know. I don’t think I ever truly feel content with my life. There is always something else that I could be, should be, would be doing, if only I had done something different, lost 10 kilos, did a different audition piece, went out instead of staying in, blah, blah, blah, blah. There’s always something to beat yourself up about doing or not doing, or not doing right, or not doing enough off. There’s so many options and then contentment becomes a very difficult thing to feel confidently and consistently. I don’t even feel content with my dessert choice at restaurants if there are too many cakes on offer. So, how to get contentment in my life? I often fantasise that contentment lives in a cottage in the Blue Mountains, where I can bake my own bread and listen to the birds sing, but I suspect the overwhelming choices would follow me there too and suddenly I’d feel like contentment actually lived in an apartment block in New York City, where the city’s twinkling lights would sparkle through my window and keep me up late at night. And once I’d moved there, I’d suddenly realise that contentment lived in a refugee camp in northern Africa, where I could really be ‘making a difference’ and so on, and so on, and so on.
And, on that note, I leave you, because I’d quite happily sit down with a glass of red right now and drone on and on for several more hours and still not come up with the solution.

Photo: Oops, I forgot to realise my potential.

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1 Comment

Filed under Introspection, Ireland

One response to “Existential Crisis Take Two

  1. Oh my Jenny :/ someone's having a very tough time of it at the moment 😦 I'm not even sure where to start! that was an epic!
    Okay well… I guess we all feel that way every now & again, always comparing to others & thinking everyone else's life is extra special & we're not doing good enough. (perhaps a hangover from the select high school culture, I’m not sure..).
    In truth when I went to your Aus/Irish farewell I was jealous of YOU in a sense, in that you dreamt it & you actually were DOING it! While I was a boring accountant with the house & mortgage… huff… One regret I do have is that I didn't do the whole travel around the world before/after uni thing that almost everyone else I know seems to have done.
    But you know, one thing I've really come to learn in the past few years is that happiness (read content) starts on the inside, and it can be a case of 'mind over matter'. The pure feat of smiling can make you feel better 🙂 What's to smile about? You're alive, you have family & friends that love you, the sun is shining (well, not sure if it actually is in Ireland, but I promise it is somewhere!), the smell of fresh air is amazing etc etc. These little things are full of bliss if we choose to acknowledge them.
    I'd rather that than measure myself against some perceived level of success of my own or someone else’s. Someone is always going to be “better” than us, and someone’s always going to be “worse” than us.
    I'm not saying I've got it right or down pat, it takes a lot of reminding, but I truly believe that the little positive affirmations really add up!
    You want some reminding how much of an awesome life you’ve had & are having..? take some time to look through all your various photo collections. Snap shots of moments in time, the happy, silly, funny, touching, sad, & poignant moments, which sketch the outline of a life being LIVED. Not an ultimate goal, but truly the journey.
    I hope the airing of your stress & worries took the load off a bit. I hope this helps a little bit too (apologies if it’s annoying/not helpful..). And remember to smile!
    Courts xoxo

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