For the first time in a long time, I feel calm.
It is not my nature. Since the beginning, I’ve been a hurricane of a human. Especially as a child. I wanted to do everything and be everything and never have to choose one path in particular. And so I was an actress, an artist, a singer (I couldn’t sing) and a construction worker (I had no upper body strength) and a traveling photographer. I studied animal bones in the make-shift shed under my parent’s deck. I walked around my street in an orange wig and called myself Dawn and bossed around the kids in the neighborhood. I also collected rocks, pretended to be a happy-go-lucky orphan from the 1800’s, and told myself I was a descendent of an Ancient Egyptian princess. I ate everything put in front of me as quickly as I could because I wanted to taste everything, all at once. And then I wound up with a stomach ache.
As I grew older, my insatiable desire for variety only became worse. Qualities that make for charming children often make for unfortunate habits in adulthood. Yet the only palpable difference that I could find now was that the nature of my wants changed, and that exploring my options didn’t feel like much of a game anymore. I still wanted all of it, wanted to suck that marrow out of life. But now there was this invisible deadline approaching to accomplish everything: to graduate college and begin my career and meet my soulmate and travel the world and transcend my own humanity. Preferably before I hit 25, of course, so I could still be young and beautiful while achieving self actualization. My mind was always busy, always thinking ten steps ahead. What will I do? Who will I be? I was the physical embodiment of the overused Plath metaphor, and my indecision and inability to commit to one life left me feeling exhausted and inadequate.
And so a few years ago, I began to cut the excess out of my life. I was unhappy, but I wasn’t sure sure why. There was this emptiness I felt when I stayed in one place too long, this dull ache that I couldn’t outrun. Happiness, at that point, was elusive. It was always just around the corner, and never quite within my grasp. I told myself that I could catch it, if I just tried a little harder. if I could only obtain the body that I wanted, if I could just make a little more money so I could afford to travel, if I could just find a more interesting career path, if I could only be better at painting, at writing, at taking photos. It took me a lot longer than I care to admit to learn that happiness wasn’t a reward received for achieving the closest imitation of a perfect life. It wasn’t something that happened to you. That it was a choice, a choice made consciously and determinedly, made every day. It was the crux of that Tom Robbins quote I wrote in pretty handwriting in my college notebooks but never actually took the time to apply to my own life: The point is this happiness is a learned condition. And since it is learned and self generating it does not depend upon external circumstances for its perpetuation.
I looked around me. After moving across the country twice after graduating college, I noticed several feeble friendships that I was no longer interested in pursuing. My phone was filled with the numbers of people that I didn’t speak to anymore. My feed was full of updates of people that I found irritating. I saw a closet stuffed with cheap clothes that didn’t fit me and that I didn’t even like. I observed a career that was unfulfilling, and emotionally exhausting. I saw a deep-rooted dissatisfaction in my relationships, with myself, with the life that I was creating.
So I removed most of it. It took a long time, like all things worth doing, and it was uncomfortable. Closing doors is always difficult. But it is also liberating, like looking up and realizing that there is no ceiling. I focused on the friendships that had sustained the tests of time and distance, quit my job, made space for the things that made me happy, and an extreme sense of clarity followed.
The internal quiet I feel right now is serene. I wish I could hold onto it forever, cling to it. I look around me, and I see nothing but an open horizon of potential. For months, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Why I was suddenly able to sleep at night, why I felt unaffected by the chaos surrounding each day. But I think it’s because I’m starting to understand the beauty of the fundamental. I’m beginning to realize that I don’t have all the answers, especially to questions like where are you going and what are you doing? And that indecision doesn’t equate to failure.
Cutting out the superfluous left me with the time and space I needed to slow down. It allowed me to clear out a life that was stuffed to the brim with garbage and rediscover the most precious, beautiful components. I made a conscious decision to choose happiness. The raw stuff, the stuff no one sees, the stuff of contentment – the kind of memories that don’t need to be documented, just lived. And on days when I failed to choose happiness, I forgave myself, and tried again the next day.
I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be yet, but I’m getting there. And I’m taking my time.