Saturday, April 7, 2012


When you were a kid you were going to be somebody. A household name, a world-changer, a paradigm shifter. Big deal. Kids think this of themselves. Kids of your demographic are raised to believe they have it all and can be anything they want. Everyone has heard the same tired arguments that children should not be raised to believe they are special, should not be sheltered to the point of grand disillusion when they get out there in the horrible world, but that doesn't really matter to you right now. Those arguments are systemic and do not reflect your individual situation. Your parents did not spoil you, did their best to prepare you, which is all any parents can ever do. They encouraged you to get a job, and when that did not work, when reason failed, they begged you or fought with you. No small successes made much of a difference in the long run, and that is okay. You know that is okay and you've come to terms with it. You were a kid; you had no idea it would be this rough.

When you were in college you were going to be somebody. You were on your damn way. Making movies, writing stories, surrounded by the like-minded, the strong-willed, the ambitious and the clever. It was never a paradise but you loved it, even on sad days you berated yourself for wasting your incredible good fortune on being sad, and in moments of great happiness you took care to look at your surroundings, to reflect on yourself, to remind yourself that very soon this will all be gone, and you made sure to remember. You have these moments logged away, collecting dust, already hazy, so little time later.

You were a force to be reckoned with there, a small reputation gathered among your peers and certain of your professors for being wildly engaged and perhaps psychotically productive (while others noted that your work for their classes was slipping gradually to the wayside; but those classes did not matter, they were filled time, necessary credits, bare essentials of academic life, small concerns because you were making things). When it came time to leave, you were ready for it to be over (they always are) and you had plans - nothing concrete, mind - to continue on this path to greatness and glory, no matter what it took, no matter where you were. Your mentor advised you not to go back home, to stay here, in the city, where everything was happening, but you could not do this, for personal reasons and practical ones. This too is okay. You did nothing wrong. You had no idea it would be this rough.

For three months and then for one year you lived with friends and then with family, happy and unhappy, busy and not. After five months you got a job. After two months they fired you: you did not work hard enough, did not excel quickly enough. They fired you right before Christmas, just after you finished your shopping, after you decided to spend more than usual on your family because hell, they deserve it, and look at you, actually making money! Mistakes were made; but you couldn't have known they'd fire you. Fuck them, anyway. It was a restaurant. You do not belong in restaurants, with your weak limbs and your quickly-tiring feet and your soft voice and your awkward, easily overwhelmed nature. It does not matter. You will find something else. Hell, you will start that novel you always wanted to start. You can put it online to share with anyone who will read it, to keep things moving, to get into a rhythm. You're going places. Some days you have to struggle to persist, and sometimes you let it all slide away. At the back of your mind you know you've got to take the rest of your life off hold; but you'll be fine. Someday you'll figure it out; someday you'll know. Something is bound to turn up.

And then gradually you realize that you don't want the same things you did a year ago; you don't know where you want to live or what you want to be doing, and, aghast, you mourn for the loss of that kid, that student, that wild thing who could be anything she wanted. What has happened to you? You've become thick and lazy and bent out of shape. When those rare occasions do come for you to make things again, you barely remember how; it is something like riding a bike, but just as you always were with bikes, you are clumsy, you forget how to operate your camera, must relearn all your tricks. You realize, with a slow onset of deep internal fear, that you are getting worse, bit by bit, that if this continues you may lose yourself entirely. Your friends barely think of you anymore, and why should they? They are far away, living lives no easier than yours, but perhaps more active, more surrounded by others, even if they do not realize it and do not take advantage of that fact. Occasionally you visit them, but it grows harder every time, and more and more you find reasons to back out of it: lack of money, lack of incentive, lack of floors to sleep on. This is becoming a habit for you, isn't it? This "who are you kidding" mentality. You're not qualified for that job. You don't have the money for that visit. You aren't good enough to write that story.

And it's almost two years now, almost two whole years, and who are you? What happened to that kid, that student, that wild thing? What have you got to show for yourself? A thousand unfinished projects and that novel, still going strong, it has its ups and downs and no one is paying you and hardly anyone is reading it, but that doesn't matter because you're doing something, right? At least you're doing something. Your first desperate plans to get the hell out have folded, and now you have more, another destination, another strategy. It's better this time; you're making the right decisions, forcing yourself to apply to more jobs, forcing yourself to walk the dog on occasion, forcing yourself to do things, see people, ask for help when you need it. It's okay to eat: your parents can afford to buy food for you, they don't mind doing it, they don't want you to starve. It's okay to have dark days, and days where you do nothing but lie on the couch watching TV on your computer, all those shows you always meant to watch. Look at you, rereading the books you loved when you were a kid, maybe to remember those times a little better - you've never been a good reader, and look at you reading! But you realize as you sit on this couch at 3pm in your pajamas, sweating under this blanket and turning the pages of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, still so good as it was in 1995, that reading is just like watching TV, just another time waster, another excuse to lie around and wait for the future to happen. And you lay the book aside and you apply for a couple of jobs on a couple of sites, and one of them sends you some helpful data about your competing applicants: shows you their average years of experience, their average distance from this job that you have applied for in a different state. And you realize as you sit on this couch at 4pm in your pajamas, stomach hungry for lunch, dog needing a walk, still sweating under this blanket, that you aren't that girl anymore, that person you described in the first few paragraphs.

What you are is weak and useless, you with your worthless degree, your pathetic lack of real world experience, your nonexistent bank account (closed long ago for lack of purpose), your homelessness, joblessness, your lonely life in your parents houses with so few remaining friends and your girlfriend far away. You put on sad music (Ben Folds' Still Fighting It, Guster's Come Downstairs And Say Hello) and examine your tendency toward melodramatic bouts of ennui, your childish regression each time the world seems too hard, too scary to be handled. Little baby, crying and wanting someone to make it better, too afraid to deal with it yourself. Whining about how hard your life is, poor you, you lucky fucker, pretty, healthy middle-class white girl with supportive parents and loving girlfriend. The audacity, you sneer, how dare you describe your life as "rough," how dare you wax poetic on something so abysmally mediocre, when there are children starving and dying all over the world? Just because you can't get off your ass and find a job? Pull yourself together, you pathetic little shit. But why would anyone hire you? Why would they want you, so lazy and dreamy and emotionally unstable? Even if you made it somewhere, would you last? Would they reject you again, as others have, for your "lack of work ethic," your "lack of initiative", and would you believe them, as you did the others? Would they be cruel, implying that you are not good enough for them, as others have, others that you still blame for making you feel this way, as petty as that is? Would you let them break you - or worse, enfold you? Would you forget yourself entirely, lose every bit of that kid who dreamed about winning Oscars instead of doing her homework like she was supposed to, and become some feckless machine drifting out of the prime of her life with a million ideas and nothing finished?

It's 4:57pm. You wipe your face dry again and perfunctorily tap out some nonsense with numbing fingers. When it's over you'll put some clothes on and take the dog out and treat yourself to a bath and have a healthy late lunch of salad and hummus (this will justify you in ordering Chinese food later on your parents' dime). You look at what you've written, the horrible things you say to yourself, and wonder if you should post it, if people will think you're crazy, if people will try to make you feel better by telling you "but you're so talented!" You'll post it because this is one thing that doesn't scare you: this is who you are, this is what you deal with every day. It's horrible and it's painful, and you want to learn how to stop. You'll learn. Putting it down always helps, releases it into the ether, out of your system. Cleansed for the time being, you think you're ready to face the evening with composure. Things aren't so terrible. You'll be okay. You'll be okay.


  1. Wow, this is an amazing post Emily, and incredibly honest. I know that you're feeling a little better now and there's not much I could say to help anyway, but if it helps, know that you are not alone. I may have a job right now but I went through a couple of years of unemployment also (or working part-time at the mall), and in a very similar situation. I was lucky I had John with me. But I also had the torment of wondering whether I had screwed up my life and it was all my fault because I had moved away from a job on TV in Los Angeles to live here in St Louis and focus on novels which didn't seem to be going anywhere.

    Now things have gotten a little better for me, but I still ride that slide to depression sometimes--why am I a secretary in a community college when I should be back in Los Angeles making movies? All I can say is that--whether I regret any of my decisions or not--everything I've gone through has made me a stronger person. Even though sometimes it felt like the opposite, like I was losing myself, the truth is that I have become better at telling myself who I am even when all the world tries to tell me differently.

    You know John is going through a similar thing, too. Apparently, even going back to school and getting a "useful" degree doesn't solve all these problems. I don't mean to lessen all your own struggles but I hope it helps to know that other people understand this pain and don't look down on you at all for it.

    I hope I can help in some way. Feel free to send me a line whenever you need someone out there in the void to respond :)

    1. Thanks, Jenny, I appreciate it. I definitely know I'm not alone, but knowing that and feeling it are so different...

      Almost as soon as I wrote that, things started coming together a little more than they had been. This does not mean I am any less scared to face the real world, but I know it'll get easier when I'm doing it. It's the anticipation that kills.

      Wishing all the best for you and John. :)