I once worked with a woman who’d been in Africa in the Peace Corps, was a graphic designer when I knew her, and was in general the sort of adventurous, fearless soul you’d expect from a nomadic gal in her 20s.
She was always telling me — timid, anxious, still-living-in-my-hometown me — to “grab life by the balls.”
I remember sitting across a table from her in a pub in San Francisco when she reiterated her advice. Our coworkers were drinking beer and throwing darts. I’d had one ill-advised go at the dartboard and had retreated to a booth with my hard cider.
I didn’t even know what to do to grab life by the balls or any other part of life’s anatomy. Have a wild affair? I wished — this was just barely pre-Internet, when the sexual possibilities for the shy and not conventionally pretty were a lot more limited. Travel? I was a broke proofreader. I was not the Peace Corps type. (On the ground, anyway. In theory I was all over it.) Be creative? But… how? That’s such a vague directive.
Auntie Mame’s observation that “life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death” certainly applied to life-starved me.
I drifted through my 20s, married badly at 30, separated worse at near 35, divorced anti-climactically at 37, got better jobs, made better money, made the same romantic mistakes I’ve always made, and found life eventually calmer and less difficult for the most part. I finally preferred being single (handy, that). I indulged my intellectual curiosity in history and theology and literature. Finally finally finally I got to do more traveling — the one life-ball-grabbing thing that was both obvious and intensely desirable to me. I bought a townhouse, something I’d never wanted to do — and it’s impinging financially on my wanderlust — but I’m enjoying it.
Life was a sort of balance between cozy domesticity of the kind I crave — cooking, puttering around the house, knitting, reading — and more outward-directed stuff — working in San Francisco instead of the suburbs, traveling to Europe alone, occasionally venturing out of my social comfort zone.
I’ve been reflecting lately on two things: First, whatever kind of life banquet you prefer, it’s generally easier to avail yourself of some if you have money (the exceptions being things like joining the Peace Corps before you take on obligations, being willing to live in some pretty straitened circumstances, or still living with your family, or perhaps being the sort of extrovert who has lots of friends, who may be able to slip you in places you couldn’t otherwise afford). This in and of itself can be problematic. It does depend on what you’re aching to do, certainly, and some things are much more financially reachable than others. But if you’re truly skint, you’re probably thinking more about making ends meet. And if you’re just not flush with cash, your options are more limited.
Second, I’m feeling a little bored and unfulfilled. The aforementioned housing purchased has made me much less able to buy a plane ticket somewhere (although I am going to LA in two weeks and Portland in four — but they’re quick overnights, my lodging in LA is free and in Portland is only costing me $44). I’m no longer a broke proofreader, but I don’t have a large surplus of ready cash.
Another constraint is nearly entirely self-imposed: My age. I’m not old, and when I’m 75 I’m sure I will look back at 2013 me and think YOUNGSTER. Yet I was raised by older parents who were quite staid by my age. And in the back of my head I guess I have some pretty firm age-related categories: I keep telling myself I’m too old for X, Y, or Z — even though I still feel about 30 and I’m probably not really too old anyway.
Beyond finances and age, though, I’m back to the basic question I faced circa 1993 , sipping my cider and wondering how on earth I could even begin to take my friend’s advice.
So here I am at great length, wondering: What should I do? Given the fact that work + commute = ~12 hours a day, and I’m not rolling in money, and I can only go so long before I need some peace and solitude.
I have thought of four long-term goals (more on those later) although I’m not sure they are entirely what I’m going for here. Or if they’re even attainable themselves. But I don’t want to waste any more aimless years!