If you’ve spoken to me at some point recently, or maybe in the past nine months, and you’ve asked me what I’m doing, or where I’m going, or what I’m applying to, or what I plan to do after X time, or what my eventual goal is, or even how I’m enjoying X job/internship/occupation-related activity, and my answer was a rather cold, maybe disinterested, two-word description, before I changed the subject and started herding the conversation toward Libya or the thing I just made for dinner…
It’s because I probably felt a touch of terror deep down somewhere.
You’re supposed to retreat into a cave and light candles and get into lotus position and get comfortable with the typically-sort-of-hollow dark chasm inside yourself and send out a soft call that goes, “What do you want?”
I have trouble even getting into the cave and lighting the candles and sitting in lotus position, let alone trying to communicate with the Inner Self, the self that has a “calling” — the word people always use that infuriates me, because it renders them so meaningful. My Inner Self disturbs me, because I’m afraid that when I actually come upon my Inner Self, it will have been watching TV the whole time, or it will be running through fields of daisies in a completely unproductive fashion, or it will just be indignant that my Outer Self was heaping all these expectations on it the whole time. This is how the conversation goes:
Outer Self: What do you want to do?
Inner Self: I don’t know. What do you want to do?
OS: This isn’t two twelve-year-olds hanging out after school. You’re the Inner Self. You’re supposed to have this covered.
IS: You could be a photographer, that seems romantic. Or, ooh, a travel writer?
OS: You’re being sarcastic.
IS: Well maybe you should have given me more to work with, instead of watching all those episodes of Arrested Development.
OS: But I’m allowed to be superficial! Those were fodder. You were supposed to turn those, and all the web comics, and the recipes I made and the New Yorkers I read and the museum exhibits I saw and the GChat conversations I had and the books on Afghanistan I read and the sudokus I did into magic which would then transform into my One True Calling.
IS: No. You know what I spend my time thinking about? DEATH. You’re going to die! And rot and be buried and covered in warms and decay and even if you wake up under the ground you can’t get away and you’ll be in one spot forever and ever until the earth is swallowed by the sun and then you’ll just be hot ashes and that’s it because you don’t believe that God would create people just to play around with and you’re too lazy to consider other spiritual alternatives. I also think about how much people suck and also how wonderful people are. I have all that to consider and you really think I’m going to get excited about the prospect of some daily-grind work that you won’t have control over anyway and that you’ll finally approach after twenty years of trying just to find it’s not going to bring you happiness and you were wrong all along?
So that’s a conversation that never really gets too far. There also seem to be these people, like my family and friends and acquaintances and strangers, that have some sort of interest in knowing where I am on My Path and where exactly My Path is going and things like how I feel about My Path. They also expect me to admire Their Path or offer commiseration over Their Path. Basically, everyone believes these Paths (maybe “life” is a fair substitution) are public things and we should just get all up in each other’s Paths and monitor the progress and make comments and force each other to get all descriptive and introspective about them. But I feel a little touchy about mine, because it’s looking a little weedy and not very clear-cut and might be leading to a beautiful scenic outlook or might be leading to, like, an outhouse — (WHO KNOWS?) — and no one wants to walk down a path to an outhouse. But the point is, I don’t know how I feel about My Path because I don’t even know what it is, I’m just sort of forging it as I go.
In truth, though, I see now that this is all moot. The crux of the matter is that I shouldn’t care. I have read and reread this amazing Joan Didion essay on self-respect (from Pex; thanks, Pex!), the thesis being, basically, your shit may be complex and messy and ugly, but you have the right (obligation, even) to own it nonetheless. Our Inner Selves and their lack of timeliness are not answerable to other people’s clocks. And really, is the lack of togetherness I have to show so frightening as a reflection of other people’s actual thoughts or my fear of their perceived thoughts? Either way, what value do they have?
This part of the essay is particularly smart and revealing:
To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our self-image is untenable – their false notion of us.
And so I have a ways to go. I own my actions and choices, as in, I believe that they are legitimate and reflective of me. I still find myself in odd, confused competitions that I seemed to just wake up in the middle of, or defending something I didn’t feel the need to defend to myself when alone and at peace. There still may be a false notion in the narratives for my future I’ll spin because they’re convenient and seem correct — when really what I want to do is what I’ve been okay with so far, by myself, alone, which is shrugging and smiling and just being glad I haven’t lost my sense of interest.