the road ahead was supposed to be clear + filled with light {long read}

IMG_6678IMG1231

In the midway of this our mortal life,/I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,/It were no easy task, how savage wild/That forest, how robust and rough its growth,/Which to remember only, my dismay/Renews, in bitterness not far from death. ― Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

We find ourselves in a tangled, savage forest. The sky is obscured by a copse of trees, and the ground below is cold and damp, like a grave. We cry out for our Virgil because we’ve lost our way. We’ve traveled from uncertain shores and our eyes our heavy and our knees ache for the cold quiet and rest. We consider all that we’ve abandoned and all that lay before us, the weight of it, the mess of it, and we feel trapped in the space between the two. We are our indecision. And because of this, we are here, but we’re not here, and you know how it is.

We were children born out of the wreckage of war and subterfuge, the looming spectre of a great bomb hanging invisible over the dark night, and a belief that every moment was the eve before the end — I had not thought death had undone so many, wrote Eliot, said me — and we felt the aftershocks of this constant fear: the foiled-wrapped salisbury steaks, television shows where the husband and wife slept in twin beds, and a life spread out over the pages of photo albums. We were the children born to a generation who clung to their photographed youth.

We were told that we needed to be smarter, better than what had come before. Our parents played cards with the deeds to their houses in their hands. {It occurs to me now that actors in silent movies — a kind of like life — were called players.} The script we were handed was a repeat of an old theme with minor variations: go to college, work hard, marry, create a life, build a home, believe in a god, and die knowing you did everything you were supposed to. From the womb, we were preached from this guidebook, it left its indelible mark — and we took these words, this outline for a life, as sermon.

Until we grew up and realized that our mothers slipped coins under our beds in exchange for our rotting teeth, and we asked, out loud, How is it possible for Santa to visit every house, slip down every chimney? Until we regarded this outline for a life to be an incomplete story, a narrative in parts, designed by parents who tethered themselves to disquiet. How did we think they knew any better? Because they were older? Because they felt the horror of loss and the banality of life? Or did we, as dutiful children, want to play out their hand?

Once we begin to feel our years, once we get a glimpse of the next generation scratching at our feet, do we realize this: the road isn’t linear. A great life isn’t assured. The maps we were given were drawn by parents who were lost. And we watch this new generation {millennial, Y} subvert every rule we had been taught, and we spit out words such as: entitlement, lazy, impatient, and part of us envies their perceived sense of freedom. They’re writing their own story while we’re fleshing out the outline of our parent’s story. Of course they’re impatient! We only have this one life.

I have a friend who did everything by the script. He went to Harvard + Harvard Law. He worked his way up in a prestigious firm and made this great money, had this great partner, lived this great life, but there was an ache, an emptiness that needed filling for he craved purpose. He craved a life that intermingled his love of law and his passion for writing. I tell him that there is little difference between us since lawyers and writers are consumed by the dissection of a paragraph, a vivisection of the written word. Last year he made the very difficult decision to be a defender of human rights {less money, an uncertain career path}. Now he advocates on behalf of people who don’t have a voice, and he’s nearly done with a novel that was a five-year Odyssey. Now he has time. He wakes with purpose in his heart.

I have another friend, Summer, who’s a prolific artist. I met her twelve years ago when she was strumming a guitar and writing her own songs and bits of poetry. Over a decade I watched her oscillate from story writing, illustrating, painting, and singing — but still the one pure purpose hadn’t revealed itself to her until this past year. A confluence of events, starting with her incredible book being pulled out of print, allowed her to explore what it is she’s meant to do rather than what it is that she should be doing. Did I also mention she’s an incredible mother, devoted wife and extraordinary baker of pies?

It took me 38 years to realize that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I’m meant to do that something. I refuse to inherit the previous generation’s disquiet. I refuse to make fear-based decisions that are only pragmatic and devoid of wonder.

Summer has combined two art forms to create comics filled with difficult stories. The visual nature of comics is accessible, and the fact that she can overlay painful prose is pretty brilliant. When I last saw Summer, I felt the glow of her and told her that she, as Woolf once wrote, has found her vision. Summer will be 41.

Right now, many of us are in that black forest, that trembling wood, and we are lost. For most of our lives we followed that outline and realized that script allowed for only one path — no deviation, no veer in the wood — and much like our Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy, it took us this long to realize that what the script was missing was life. That we may wake one day and realize our jobs are killing us and we no longer want to be anesthetized. We may wake and look over at our lover and wonder: Could anyone else love me more? We may wake and realize that this life isn’t what we wanted.

What then? We’re in our 30s and suddenly we’re authors and architects, designing a life on the fly. But we don’t have the tools, and is there a store that we can go to buy this life? A book that will tell us what tools we need to use and how to use them? We were instructed to not deviate, but we’ve deviated and what then? Many of us talk about how we can’t fathom the idea of relaxing because we have to work. We were born to.

Over the past year I’ve been playing the hand as it lays — terrifying for someone who is methodical and lives her life so deliberately. I like knowing what’s behind Curtain #2. I prefer the familiar command of the stage and the circus that is the daily workplace performance. I’ve experienced heartache, and professional setbacks that left me confused and questioning my purpose {reading this and this gave me some solace} — until it struck me that I was playing out the very definition of insanity. I was searching for that one, linear path {because for 38 years that’s all I knew}, that constant, the ah! that’s the answer!, when what’s clearly in front of me is non-linear.

One of the many reasons I left my job last year was that I wanted a life where marketing, writing, and food were given equal time on the proverbial playing field — that none of them were to be relegated to the status of changeling. The portfolio career? Possibly. And for the past year I’ve pursued all of these in a very binary fashion. I have my marketing friends, my artist friends, my food friends, and it was only until I saw what Summer did with her life did it make me realize that maybe there is a fusion between these three roles I play that creates a title role, and the rest are merely supporting cast.

IMG_6686IMG1231

Ask yourself? What is it that you really love? What do you want to spend your days doing? Don’t think about money {as that tends to change the answer into what we should be doing}. For me, it’s writing. It’s writing in different forms. I love novel writing, I love merging image and type in this space through the lens, for the most part, of food. I look at the marketing work I do very simply: How do I tell better stories?

And then I think about prioritization against pragmatic need because I’ve rent, monthly obligations, and credit card/student loan debt. I know that marketing pays my rent and allows me to write and travel, so that gets 40% of my time {I structure most of my major consulting projects where I work 25 hours/week, and take on smaller projects that ensure I don’t mess with this overall mix, but still pay my bills}. Novel writing is a passion (I’m nearly done with my second book) and that gets 30% of my time. And the remaining 30% goes to the ephemeral — all sorts of projects and experiments {travel, food, interviews with people like myself who’ve made a leap over a meal we cook together} that help me constantly hone in on my art but allowing me to be agile enough to keep refining my title role and supporting cast. Because maybe that remaining 30% will allow for something beautiful and magical and unforseen to emerge.

Amidst this forest, having strayed from the path to find my way into dark, I’ve created a structured, unstructured life that allows me to find my way out of the dark by creating my own light.

11 thoughts on “the road ahead was supposed to be clear + filled with light {long read}

  1. Hi,

    I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for such a lovely post below!

    I’m 27 and have been thinking like this for a while, why what and when am I supposed to or should be or could be doing things in my life that have purpose and helps me get by and more…!

    So confusing but I’ll figure it out one day.

    Thank you again and look forward to the next post.

    Warm regards,

    Arushi

    Date: Wed, 28 May 2014 17:09:22 +0000
    To: arushi_112@hotmail.co.uk

    Like

    1. Arushi,

      Thanks for stopping in + I think we’re in an interesting time where there are so many OPTIONS and the proliferation of them can have the opposite intended effect.

      I say roll with it. Do what excites you, and see where that takes you.

      Warmest, f.

      Like

  2. This was a really inspirational post; one I stumbled on just when I needed to read something like this the most. I often feel that pull from the “path” laid before me. Like you, I also have a love of writing. My one goal, the one thing I feel like I NEED to do before I die, is write a book. I also love baking and art and photography. The blog I recently started felt like a small step towards being who I “really” am. For whatever reason, I’ve had writer’s block since I graduated college and finally decided to start a blog detailing my new love of vegan baking/cooking to take the pressure of writing my opus magnum. I constantly feel the press of time; the sense that there will never be enough of it to explore all of the ways I want to be creative. I hope that like you, I’ll break free and live in a world where my passions are king and I give them my all. Right now I am definitely in that black forest, afraid to take a leap and change, but more afraid to remain the same.

    P.S. I love the way that your blog so seamlessly connects your writing and your food creations. I have been toying with the idea of creating a separate blog for my more random posts. A few of my friends advised me to keep my posts on the vegan muffin woman short and relative to the food I’m baking. But for me, the blog is more about the writing than the baking. The baking is fun. But I want the writing to carry the themes and content. Your layout has made me think it is possible to combine both the writing and the baking successfully without having a blog that appears disjointed or confuses viewers. Is she a baker? Or a writer? I’m neither. I’m both.

    Like

    1. It’s so serendipitous that I read your lovely comment because just now I read a post about the “Anatomy of a Blog Post.” Through a series of studies and data/SEO analysis, one is instructed on crafting the perfect headline, and how to start + end the blog post. Although the marketing side of me thinks this smart, the writer in me chafes at the sterile nature of this — reducing the stories we want to tell to science.

      I’m going to kindly + politely disagree with your friends because people connect with other people — their loves, passions and interests, albeit disparate — not with an SEO-driven content machine. Yes, there are scores of blogs who’ve found their niche, but what sets one blog apart from another is the voice, the person. A while back I tried to define what was going to be on this blog and that became such an exhausting endeavor that I decided to write about the things that excited me. And then I thought about which images could visualize how I’m FEELING while writing the post, and the merger of the two creates, I hope, something unique.

      We are not only one thing, and I think others cleave to that. I say, write your way out of that forest. Start doing small things that make you happy every. single. day., and see where that takes you. I create something new every day, whether it’s a meal, blog post, paragraph, note to a friend, etc. I put something out in the world that makes me feel as I’ve created something beautiful from nothing. In that is light, and light is the flashlight that gets you out of the dark.

      I hope :)

      Warmly, f.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I just had lunch with a friend and ex-colleague today, talking about the very same questions. What a coincidence and I’m so glad your post is here to help clear my mind and organise these half-grasped ideas. It’s hard getting a balance between paying the bills and fostering the part of you that makes life vivid, but even from where I am, I feel that it’ll be worthwhile in the end. All the best with your creative projects!

    Like

    1. Thanks, lady! It took me a LONG time to get here, but I find that if you create loose structure within the unstructured, and then allow for flexibility, magic really starts happening. Or at least I hope :)

      Like

  4. I enjoyed this Felicia! I think I’ve voiced before how confused I am about my own “path” and this was a wonderful read to assuage those feelings. One of the things I enjoy most is talking about the big topics- covering the things that we’re feeling and, though we might be nowhere near the end, sharing our experiences along the way.
    My community and those around me never do this. I feel like there’s more of a mentality of ‘you’ve got a job, you’re young, you’re fine!’ but I keep feeling like there is so much more I’m meant to do, see, learn, etc.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your departure from the path.

    Like

    1. Hey Emily – I really believe the most gratifying thing about the online space is finding these kindred spirits when they don’t yet exist in your offline life. As a partner in a company, I couldn’t exactly talk about these things with my peers, direct reports or boss, so I really sought refuge in people outside of my work and industry who were asking similar questions. People who had this great job and life and yet weren’t satisfied with it. Maybe they felt selfish for wanting more, but who cares, right? We live once. Why not want as much as we can manage? Why not try everything? :)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. And, sometimes, the lesson repeats for more than just the “career” side … until courage shows up. I’m finding I need to coax mine out of a hole. Perhaps with a muffin?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s