I can’t help it. I’ve been feeling rather stuck lately. Stuck in the middle with me, myself, and I. I keep forgetting that I’ve come so far, that where I am right now is so much better than where I was a year ago. I keep forgetting that I can and should feel content with how things are in this moment. I try to remain present, but honestly, the present moment isn’t always a place I want to be. I am in a kind of limbo, stuck in the middle-space where the past is thankfully receding and the future is looming before me with its vast, unknowable terrain of possibility.
I have often spoke of this unknowable realm as a place that should be seen as inviting, exciting. And it should be. But that doesn’t mean that it always feels this way. Seeing the unknown as a place of good, of possibility, is something I strive for every day. I know that I should be excited and grateful, and I am. But I am also scared. And I am also frustrated because I haven’t gotten “there” yet. I know that we as human beings often think that when we get “there,” everything will be perfect. That the present moment isn’t ideal, but when we obtain whatever it is that we’re striving for, we’ll be happy. We’ll feel complete. We think, When I get a new job, it’ll all make sense. When I get a new car, I’ll be set. When I get this or that, everything will be perfect. But that’s not how life works.
We’re conditioned to feel this way, to believe in the constant seeking. That is the beauty and the downfall of what we’re told our whole lives. Climb the ladder, take the steps, set goals. I believe in setting goals, in striving, but I also believe that we have to endeavor to be happy without “it.” “It” being whatever we wish for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, we should be yearning and dreaming and striving, but we also must appreciate where we are in the moment. We have to remember that when we finally get what we want, we will always want something else. Life isn’t remedied with a new car or a new outfit.
Last week I wrote about getting a new haircut, a new tattoo. Right now I am in the process of settling into a new internship and am already wondering what comes next. I seem to always be looking one step ahead of where I am, looking for something. It’s not that I thought when I got a new haircut or a new tattoo that my life would dramatically change, but I realize that I was and have been and perhaps always will be looking for the “next thing.” What is the next thing? Why is it so hard to appreciate where I am, in the here and now?
I find that I am often frustrated because of unmet expectations. I expected that I would have a new career right now, that I wouldn’t still be working at the same restaurant I have been working at since I was seventeen years old. I expected that when I graduated from college my life would immediately change, be different. After all, that’s what we’re told while we’re in college. That once we graduate, the quality of our lives will improve. And yes, in America and in our society, having a college degree definitely opens doors, I will not deny that. But the doors don’t open overnight. That’s what they don’t tell you. We expect to have a new job out of the gate, to be living a new, better, more mature life. But what does this really mean? And how long is it supposed to take? Will we find what we’re looking for?
What is it that I am truly looking for? I thought I had it all figured out in school and especially when I graduated. In August of last year I took an internship that I thought would change the course of my life forever. I’m sure that it has positively affected my life, I definitely appreciate the experience and don’t regret it, but I also left that internship with more questions than I came into it with. I came out of the experience knowing less than I thought I had known. I realized that perhaps I don’t want a career in the writing/editing field, that perhaps I want to keep my creativity somewhat separate and have my job be something different. But what?
What I know for sure is that I want to feel fulfilled. I want to be content, where before I wanted to be inconceivably happy and excited all the time. I am prone to fits of joy and depths of sadness, as we all are, and have always wanted to feel the wild joy. The joy-seeking is one of the reasons I drank the way I did, constantly trying to re-experience the initial high. I was like the woman from my favorite Wallace Stevens poem, “Sunday Morning”: “‘But in contentment I still feel/The need of some imperishable bliss.’” What I know now is that this kind of joy is fleeting, it is not sustainable, and it is not a permanent way of being. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay, it is the truth of life. At the risk of sounding corny, life is about the highs but also the lows. The lows make us savor the fleeting moments of happiness, the hummingbird darting by and jolting us out of our rueful contemplation. Amidst the drama of the highs and the lows is a middle ground of contentment. And there is beauty in contentment.
What is wrong with wishing for security and stability in life? Growing up I didn’t always feel secure or stable, and I see now, in this whirlwind of graduating college and quitting drinking and cutting my hair and getting a new tattoo, that what I want is to feel like I am standing on solid ground. I have been in a state of near-constant flux for the past year or so, wishing and wanting for things that have shifted and morphed. I went to college to be a better writer, because writing is my passion and we are told to find our passion and follow our bliss, but perhaps I do not need to be a copywriter or copyeditor to pay the bills. Perhaps my creativity can still endure without a career in the arts. Is that so bad? If I want to feel secure, stable, is it so bad to acknowledge that I could potentially do something else for a living? I will always write, it keeps me sane, but cannot I still write and pay the bills in another way? Until I write my bestseller, of course, *wink wink.
When I wrote about taking chances a few weeks ago, I was in the mode of seeking excitement and wild happiness. I disregarded the potential of applying for a job in my hometown because it seemed too safe, too easy. I do not regret taking the new internship that I am currently in, for it is an experience that is helping to guide me to where I am in this very moment, but I see that I took this plunge because it was another unpaid potentiality with artistic leanings. I realize that perhaps I was being somewhat of an elitist. I was thinking that I got my degree in Creative Writing and that I should be seeking artistic pursuits. But isn’t what I’m doing right now, writing this post, an artistic pursuit? Isn’t life itself an artistic pursuit? A constant and scary and beautiful opportunity to seek and search and ask questions? To create what it is we wish to see?
I wish to see fulfillment and satisfaction in my life, to feel like I am making a difference, to feel like I am making a contribution to something greater than me. I see that I feel frustrated and stuck because I am not “there” yet, because the “there” keeps changing shape before my eyes. What does a fulfilled life look like to me? What do I want to do? These are the questions that we all ask ourselves, the answers to which we search for every day. For those of us not already living a life of contentment and fulfillment, it can be scary and disappointing to not already be there, to not already know what will make us feel whole.
And there it is. What will make us feel whole? Yes, our work is important and a way to create satisfaction in our lives, but work will not make us whole. Nor will a new car or a new partner. Not even removing alcohol from the equation will make us complete. It will make our quality of life improve, but it will not make us whole. We must see that we are already whole, in this moment, right now. We must find satisfaction with our breath and our body sitting where we are, here. It is only then that we can clearly seek and find the icing on the cake, the trimmings and the fixings of careers and life mates and whatever else it is we wish to see. When we are able to appreciate how far we have come, when we are able to not fixate on the future, that is when the magic happens. I must remember that where I want to be is not more important than where I already am.
I wish you a wild, free life.