I remember the fed-up feeling I had that day, sitting there stewing in self-loathing. Just freaking marinating in it. I could be ironic and self-deprecating, refer to my angst and ennui as if I'm a teenager going through a phase, write it all off as "First World problems" -- but that would belittle the very real desperation that led me, in a sign of the times, to the Blogger screen where you select a name and URL for your new blog. I was feeling low, cowed by the world. I felt steeped in mediocrity, opening my mouth again and again to swallow small spoonfuls of the status quo. I felt lost in this boundless, Eeyore-ish fog of despair. Anything outside my miasma of loserdom seemed like a distant and unreal shimmer, a mirage bound to evaporate once I started walking toward it. To put it less fancifully, I felt stuck. I felt scared that I would let myself stagnate there for the rest of my life.
My life is not bad, not at all. Arguably, staying in the same place wouldn't be too shabby, on many fronts. For the first time in my life, I'm in a good relationship, a stable, safe, happy place with someone who doesn't fly off on manic-depressive rampages that leave bloody cuts up and down his arms and ripped-up books of love poetry on the floor; someone who doesn't criticize and judge me while indulging in the ennobling notion that it's all for my own good, who doesn't tell me I'm weak when I don't pursue the life he thinks I should.
My boyfriend has been an enormous source of support during the more than three years we've been involved. His easygoing manner calms my neurotic impulses. He's a solidly good and dependable guy, with a lively and inquisitive mind. He's fun to live with, fun to travel with, fun even to just go to the grocery store with. He's nigh-godlike in the sack. But the first thing I really liked about him was just how good-natured he is. He's the kind of person who, if you accidentally jostle him awake by shifting in bed and triggering a cantankerous bedspring, will not grumble or sigh at having been woken up -- but will just smile at you sleepily before drifting back off. (Me, I grumble or sigh, and will quite possibly utter some profanity -- not directed at him, but at the heartlessness of a universe in which one can be woken suddenly from blissful slumber.)
We're living in a nice little townhouse he recently bought, right across the street from a wooded trail that winds for four miles around a huge lake, over little bridges and past a marina and a merry-go-round, past a train trestle and a dam. The woods are full of brazen deer who've grown accustomed to humans, squirrels (hardly rare in Northern Virginia but worth mentioning because they're so darn plentiful there in the woods, a constant rustle in the leaves), exotic-looking waterfowl with slender necks and long legs and beaks, woodpeckers whose knocks resound through the barren winter woods, hawks that bird-watchers on the trail will let you look at through the binoculars they've set up on a tripod. There's a fox or two who make an occasional appearance as well, slinky in their little legs that look as if they have black thigh-high stockings painted on them.
Inside our house, we've painted some of the walls with colors that my boyfriend gave me the ultimate freedom to pick out, appointing me Chief Decorating Officer (even though technically it is his house, and I pay a sort of rent to help offset his monthly house payment). The colors make me happy, make it feel like our house. Right now we have a mango-sorbet wall and a deep-plum one in the living room, berry-sangria in the dining room/library, lemon-buttercream in the kitchen, and next I've got my eye on the downstairs bathroom, which I would love to paint a saturated cobalt-blue. Our home is full of life because we've recently acquired a wonderful new housemate (she's renting the rooms downstairs; we share the kitchen and laundry room, and all of us hang out on the main level) and her pets, a beagle named Toby and a fat cat named Ursula. It's a lovely place to live, in many ways.
I'm saying all this not to brag or present to you some damn Instagram version of my life -- but to let you know that I'm aware of how lucky I am, how much I have to be grateful for. I'm someone who lived for 10 years in ghetto one-bedroom apartments with my unemployed and mentally ill then-boyfriend -- I realize how good my life is now.
As I mentioned in my post about drinking, I have lived and continue to live a good life. I'm healthy -- "really really ridiculously" healthy, as Zoolander might put it. That's not because I do a bunch of yoga or eat only organic food or something -- it's genetics, it's luck. My body, so far, has been healthy in spite of all the crap I eat and all the alcohol that filters through my liver many nights. I have no debts, not even any school loans to pay off or car payments to muddle through. My parents helped pay for a good chunk of my college expenses, I drive a used car that my boyfriend helped me buy (we traded in my old car to get a tiny discount on the new-to-him one that he drives now, all sorts of swapping going on over at Carmax), and I have never had a credit card (only a debit card; I have never liked the idea of spending money that I haven't already earned). I'm not sick, I'm not poor, I'm not lonely, I'm not homeless.
When I say that a week ago I sat here, looking out the window of my white-collar temp-gig office, sighing because I was "only" making $13 an hour pre-tax doing data-entry drudgery and driving a used 2000 Honda Accord that is not even an interesting color (it's a sort of sea-algae metallic teal)... I'm aware that things could be much worse. So much worse. I am not an idiot.
The big problem I have with the current state of my life is simply this: I know I can accomplish so much more, create so much more, share so much more. I know that I have it in me to do awesome things, if I could just polish some rough edges and get off my ass.
I'm not someone who's ever had to overcome obstacles. I am the one who chose to slack off in high school and subsequently receive bad grades on report cards (in everything except English and journalism classes, and I think my teachers in those subjects only gave me decent grades because I wrote well... on the rare occasion when I deigned to turn work in). I'm the one who didn't have her head together enough, who let herself get too distracted by frivolous things (whatever guy I was crushing on at the time; shallow escapism) to take school seriously back then, to figure out a career I would like to have and a major that went with it, to do any research at all on colleges, let alone try to get into a good one.
I was a rich white kid who kept getting placed in the smart-kid classes (G/T, AP, the International Baccalaureate or IB college-level-classes program that my class of '96 was the first to be eligible for at our school) -- and even given all that privilege, all that opportunity, all those great teachers and mind-enriching programs... I slacked off, I daydreamed, I skipped classes because I didn't feel like going to them. I think that all along I had this sense of "I can figure it out later." I guess it was a warped sort of optimism -- I never felt powerless; I just assumed that I would get my act together the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year.
And then years passed like that. Years still pass like that.
To my credit, there have been upward spikes in the graph. I went away to a party school for rich flunkies my freshman year, because it was notorious for accepting pretty much anybody, and I spent my sophomore year living with my folks, working as a receptionist and taking a full load of five community-college classes. Then about halfway through that second year, something flicked my "Nerd" switch on, and I started making straight A's. I transferred to an OK school for my last two years, and I kept making straight A's. It was uncharacteristic; it shocked my parents, it shocked me. I did any and all extra-credit assignments that my professors offered, even when my average in those classes was already a safe 100+.
I did it because I had belatedly discovered how fulfilling it can be to learn, to be intellectually engaged with new and challenging subject matter, to work hard and create papers and projects that your professors tell you stand out from the rest. There were several times when I turned in written projects in auditorium-large classes for which the professors couldn't feasibly learn all the students' names, went into the professors' offices and shyly mumbled my name to retrieve my graded paper from the pile -- and was met with a look of awe and respect, and the professor intoning, "Yours was the best one I read." God, I lived for ego-puffing moments like that back then.
My point is -- I know I can do better, because I've pushed myself and worked hard and done better before. Not just in college, but at several jobs in the more recent past. I'm capable of it.
Since I started this blog on Monday of last week, going with the first blog title that came to mind in that moment of existential urgency, selecting the "Travel" template and just leaving the damn sample image (surely a blasphemous move in the eyes of my web- and graphic-designer friends) because it had a road on it, and roads are powerful metaphors for me ever since I drove out West to start a new life several years ago... here's what I have done:
- I have registered with a new temp agency, one that specializes in placing creative folks -- writers, editors, designers, marketing wizards -- with companies in need of people with these skills for temporary and non-temporary projects and jobs. I owe a huge thank-you fruit basket or singing telegram or something to my friend who mentioned this agency after I had whined on Facebook about my latest data-entry temp gig.
- Instead of waiting around for someone at the creative-people temp agency to contact me, I followed the advice of the aforementioned friend and I called them, asking if I could come in for a sort of interview so they'd have a better idea of the kind of work I can do. That's set up for tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the agency's headquarters in Bethesda. I name-dropped my friend, per his suggestion, and it seemed to win me some points. Tonight I'll put together an updated portfolio of writing clips to bring with me. (I really should have done that this weekend, but the last three days were jubilantly packed with game nights and friends' concerts and my sister's birthday dinner and then her birthday party at a bar in Old Town, plus hiking with friends and their dogs, a movie with friends, dinner after the movie, and two late-night jaunts to diners for dessert. And I also ran four miles, my first non-walking workout in about half a year.)
- Well now, this is anti-climactic, because I just mentioned it in the paragraph above, but it was originally going to be its own bullet point, so... I ran four miles, on the loop of trail that begins in the woods across the street from our house. For almost half a year I haven't been exercising at all other than my nightly hour-long walks, so this is a first nudge along my path to a fitter, stronger body. A better physique is not my main focus right now the way that job and creative-writing stuff is, but I do want to be in better shape, and I'm in "carpe diem" mode already, so why not get that started, too?
- I joined an awesome local short-fiction-writing group and workshop. Their next meeting is next month. I'm going to go through my archives and find some good stuff to share with the group. It's high time I stopped penning things from my lonely hermit's shack, time I got out of the house and met other literary-fiction writers, especially ones who are passionate about short stories. I am more excited about this than I am about anything else going on right now.
- I dumped out all the bottles of pre-gaming booze I'd been keeping in the trunk of my car to quell my nerves before going into parties and clubs. I haven't bought any more.
On Friday night I walked into two places where friends of mine were gathered -- a game night at the house of some friends in Silver Spring, a friends' rock concert at Jammin' Java in Vienna -- and, stone-sober and hyper-aware of everyone around me, my self-consciousness undiluted with booze... I fled both scenes early, after saying the measliest rounds of hellos at both places. I arrived at the game night bearing snacks, some fancy artisan tortilla chips and gingerbread-man marshmallows, armed with little things to make me feel I had something of value to offer people, any little icebreaker. I stood around and listened and laughed as some other people talked. I felt that familiar shrinking-in-the-spotlight sensation. As soon as most of the people in the house began to gather around to play this one game that I had never played... I saw my chance and left. I worried that it would be awkward to say good-bye to people so soon after arriving, so I just... left. Like some kind of freak. Like some kind of jerk.
At the concert I talked to two very good friends, unable to avoid gushing about how "Ohmygod, I am SO sober right now, and it is freaking me out!" One of them held up his bottle of beer in commiseration, telling me that the night was always so much easier for him with a little social lubrication in his system. Another friend, who had recently shared on Facebook that he would like to cut some bad habits out of his life, gave me a warm, friendly hug and said, "We're here for you." I wish I had stayed longer. But the urge to flee a scene in which I felt less than conversationally scintillating, combined with a homesick-like longing to spend the night with my boyfriend who prefers to spend most nights in, pushed me out and back on the road to home.
I'm not exaggerating or being dramatic when I say that social situations are difficult for me. I would give myself a solid D-minus for how I handled both of the scenes I entered on Friday night -- but not an F, because I didn't wind up crying and covered in barf and spending a surprise night in the guest room of a friend. As always, perspective matters.