Anyways, we were talking the other day, and he asked me for some advice. He has before on occasion, and I'm flattered by it - he's about 6 years younger than me, and I like being the wise big sister, even to non- siblings. But this time...well.
John told me that he gets worried about his peers passing him by on the Gulf Stream of Working A Whole Lot While You're Young while he's making his way through the Fjords of Academia, with another year of study and research around every corner. I told him that he really didn't need to worry about that - he was normal college age, he had plenty of time and a good head on his shoulders and he was doing something he loved. "Yeah, but it still gets me worried, though - seeing everyone I know get ahead of me and make it while I'm still working things out, you know?" he said. "I mean, how do you deal with it?"
He didn't mean to be cruel - he's just a kid, asking advice from someone he sees as having the same problem he's worried about. To his credit, he noticed that I was a bit taken aback (that's terrible litote, I felt like I'd been slapped) and tried to ease things up a bit by clarifying that he really didn't want to be disrespectful. But the question remained.
I don't remember my exact words, but I turned away and fiddled with my pack to hide my burning eyes and muttered something like "you don't. it's hard." and then gathered my belongings and myself as best I could, and hoofed it.
I texted him later. Warning, fambly: there are bad words and self-loathing ahead.
You don't really deal with it. I never stop being angry and ashamed that I'm still a fucking failure while my fam & friends are making it.
The trick is to channel that anger into action instead of breaking under the amount of stuff you have to do just to catch up.Since then - it was this past Wednesday - I've done a lot of thinking about the conversation - specifically, my own words after the fact, and the question of whether I'm really living them.
What constitutes "making it?" Having a steady paycheck? Having a roof over your head, artwork on the walls and cozy accent lighting? Having an attractive partner and people telling you "oh you two are so cute together!" I've had all of those. I've also had 14-hour work days with no break being the norm. I can't deny the pleasure of a beautiful home, but it becomes all too easy to sink into the comfort and grow too many roots, getting soft and lazy. As for the last situation, the people envying your adorable couplehood don't see the utter dread that fills you at the thought of getting out of work an hour late and having to face the furious demands for proof that you were actually working for that time. (Yes, I'm biased, and there absolutely can be beautiful loving relationships that are the same at home as they appear in public. Yes, I'm still healing. It takes a while.)
This train of thought is a rough one. Perhaps on one of those rickety wooden bridges across some wide-gaping valley. And it's a steam engine and you're low on fuel. But over and over again (by which I mean over the decades I've had these same questions), the same things become clear, only to fade quickly into the fog of What Should Be Done. And on a brief side note, yes I absolutely adore metaphors. But, although the actual realisations from these moments will stay a little more personal, the actions finally resulting from them are ready to be presented to the world, if for no other reason than just to give me more accountability.
- I'm going to Ireland this summer. I'm buying a ticket and packing two carry-on bags and going. I might be WWOOFing, or couchsurfing, or staying with friends, or just walking. I've already given notice on my lease in preparation.
- Before I go, I'm getting rid of the majority of my stuff. I've already started doing inventory. Everything I shed will be up for grabs (probably) here first, then sold or donated if it doesn't go quickly.
- When I get back, I'll be starting a project to turn a vehicle of some sort into a micro motor home, preferably with a biodiesel engine and tweaks for sustainable energy sources. Yes, I'm absolutely serious. This is the side of physics and engineering that drew me in the first place, and while I like the programming OK fine and am good enough at it to make a career, I'm refusing to eradicate the weird and wonderful side of science from my life.