I’m having a quarter-life crisis. I’ve been thinking of ways to convey this, the proper words to choose and how exactly to form my thoughts and feelings for at least the last three weeks. How silly of me to NOT realize it was wasted effort because I could never convey my own thoughts and feelings as succinctly and beautifully as Nora Ephron. (I mean, really, who the hell can compete with Nora? No one. That’s who.) What makes this particular cri-de-coeur so much better is that it is Nora’s words, read and performed by Meg Ryan in a lovely scene from You’ve Got Mail.
Ugh. Look at that sentence. Seriously. Why do I bother? Take it away, ladies.
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?”
This sentence is the story of my small, valuable life. I love the people (and kitties, of course) in my life and I love the organization I work for and I think that I should be pretty happy. And actually, a lot of the time, I am pretty happy.
But it’s not the happiness that comes from knowing you took a huge risk and are reaping the benefits of your courageous choice (at least, I don’t think it is. I’ve never actually done that, so I can’t speak from experience.) It’s the happiness that comes from being “okay”. From using most of the degree your parents spent a fortune on. From a steady paycheck and a relatively new car that you haven’t driven the tires off of yet, kitties to snuggle and a partner who makes you happy.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a happiness that doesn’t suck. Especially when you compare it to the rest of the world with the war and starvation and Republicans running all over the place. I really have nothing to complain about.
But of course, the times when I seem to have nothing to complain about are always the times when I can’t shut my mouth. So here’s my issue: Just like Kathleen Kelly in that eternal classic, I do live a small life. And I know that I like it, but I also know that I haven’t been brave. I’m not a brave person and I never have been. When I was little, I did everything I could to avoid getting dirty or hurt (including WALKING down the stairs when I could have slid down in a sleeping bag and almost broken my ankle like my brother did); in high school, my greatest offense was staying out past my 10pm curfew because I was eating Grilled Stickies at Eat N Park with my theatre friends. And in college, naturally, I was everybody’s mom. 98% of the time the DD (even when I’d request not to be) and it’s a trend that has continued into my adult life. Some might say that I wasn’t being a spineless lamb, I was being responsible.
Unfortunately, when you look back at your life, those often tend to feel like the same thing.
And I’ve certainly had opportunities to be brave. I could have fought harder with my parents about where I wanted to go to school, could have moved somewhere that wasn’t safe and back with said parents after college. I could have chosen to struggle and pursue a really difficult and unrewarding job as a journalist (which I would have hated) or a freelancer or something along those lines. But I didn’t. I sat back for a year and let life just happen to me.
For whatever reason, while life was happening to me, it decided to be incredibly kind. (Very out of character for life, up until that point.) It dropped a great job into my lap and an even greater boyfriend who I decided I liked so much I wanted to marry him. (Have to hold onto the ones you don’t have to work for…just in case life decides to shuffle them around to someone else.) So I didn’t really think about things like defining my happiness and identifying with You’ve Got Mail quotes (except, of course “It may not have been personal to you, but it was personal to me. It was personal to a lot of people. And what is so wrong with being personal anyway? Whatever a thing is, it should always start out as being personal.”) Is it just me, or is that the greatest movie ever? Honestly, there’s a quote in there for almost every occasion in life!
Life was good. Life is good. It is.
But it’s not what I’ve always wanted. Not entirely. Am I keeping a roof over my head? Yes. Am I married to a man I love with all my heart and who—for reasons I can’t possibly begin to comprehend—loves me for the truly bizarre, self-absorbed lunatic that I am? Yes. (I know, right? I still don’t believe it.) Am I healthy and well-fed and able to keep my car on the road and feet in my shoes? Yes to all of the above.
I’m also exhausted, grinding my teeth, and fairly certain I’m developing an ulcer. You know what I’m not doing nearly enough of? Writing.
That pesky thing that’s kept me from truly falling in love with the idea of any other profession. I knew when I was eight years old that I could never really be a doctor or a lawyer (although I toyed with the idea of the latter for quite a bit) or a florist or even a teacher because all I’ve ever wanted to do was write.
So, write! You’re probably thinking, looking at your watch and rolling your eyes if you’ve heard this ten million times (looking at you, husband.) What are you sitting around here, bitching at us for? Sit down, shut up, and finish your novel!
Hence my dilemma. Is the path I’m currently on one that is perfectly respectable and one that makes a lot of sense? Yes it is. Do I love what I get up and do every day? No, I don’t. Am I doing what I’ve always wanted to do since I first understood the concept of wanting “to be something” when you grew up? No. At least, not on the days that I’m too exhausted to write.
Sadly, those days appear more often than they do not.
I have the ability to change my life…but it’s terrifying. What if I make these changes and devote myself to my writing only to find that I’m actually not very good? I know it’s going to take an excessively long time to get published (if at all) and in the meantime, I’ll have to deal with a large amount of rejection and criticism and honestly? I’m not nearly as tough as I look.
What if I just end up working a dead-end job to have the time to write books that no one cares about and most people never get a chance to read? What if all I’m actually meant to do is pour words into a computer and occasionally the internet and never get see even the slightest glimmer of success?
Here’s what I know: I’m not really happy right now with the way things are. I’m terrified by the idea of defining myself as a writer who does other things to pay the bills as opposed to a woman with a good, steady job and a good, steady paycheck who happens to write on the side.
Like, really, really pants-shitting, terrified.
And the other thing that I know, or at least feel like I know, is that something is telling me to make a decision and for the first time in my life, I feel like being brave.