Saturday, January 31, 2009

Existential Crisises "R" Us (or Stephenie, can I please steal your brilliant title for this chapter of my life?)

I'm having an existential crisis. By this I mean to say that I am not having a real crisis but one that is fabricated in my head. My family is healthy. We have food to eat. I am *sort of* employed. The credit card companies that call the phone do not ring the door. I do not live in a war zone or have AIDS or cancer and my family gets along in a better than average sort of way. None of us face jail time, impeachment or deportation. I do not have a foot growing out of my head.

But I'm still incredibly freaked out by the course of my life and the dreaded worry that I will not live up to my potential. I might die without ever getting on Oprah's book club.

I'm 33. I live in the house I grew up in. In the suburbs. I like to say it's not, but it is. My mom lives across the street. I've lived here for the last 10 years. It was supposed to be a short term layover between travels. But it wasn't. It was permanent. At least a decade's worth of permanent. I got a dog, a marriage, a mortgage and a son, in that order. Technically we're in a good school district and we have a fenced in back yard, all features which are supposed to make me not want to rent a one bedroom apartment by myself somewhere in a big city far away. I feel like the Paul Simon lyric: "I'm a wanderer. Not really, I've always lived in my parent's house...."

On a good day I remember that I am the luckiest woman alive to have a devoted husband and a healthy son, but on a bad day I feel like a choose your own adventure book that somebody forgot to keep writing. The first dozen chapters are action packed cliffhangers and then you reach this long section in the middle that just kind of goes on and on and on and on and on. There are trips to the dentist and the doctors and to grandma's house and the food court at the mall and the park and the playground and maybe to chuckecheese or the children's museum but the map is succinct and the paths are well worn. Grooved. Deep.

Enter Josh.

I am involved with a local nonprofit that brings people to Richmond to talk about the business and craft of writing. This week I had the good fortune to fly in Josh- a friend from my freshman year college writing workshop who has gone on to become a senior fiction editor at Viking Penguin. All told his trip was a less than 24 hour whirlwind of catching up on the last 15 years, eating over-priced fish, speaking brilliantly to the public about the future of fiction (him), trying to put out event related fires (me) and pretending, as a lifelong Richmonder, to be knowledgable about the history of Richmond while being sure to show off only the beautiful stuff, not the Walmarts and Burger Kings- on my side of town.

While, perhaps what I should be blogging about is all the briliant, witty and insightful stuff he said, what interested me far more was the alchemic reaction that occured within me as a result of his trip. In college, we went out once but he just wasn't cool enough for me to date. And by "cool" I mean he wasn't a pretentious, conceited budding alchoholic womanizer and hence not "fun" enough for me. In fact, I mentioned to him the "boy" I was obsessed with for the entire length of my college career and he said "You mean ---? That arrogant prick?" Yes! That's exactly who I mean! And I felt really sad for my 18 year old self who went for the mean guy who treated me like trash instead of the nice, earnest, sincere, friendly young man who treated me like an equal. Do I think my tale of woe is unusal? Not in the slightest. I think it's one of the most common blues a woman can sing. I think it's the other half of the Cinderella fairytale. I think it's a cliche. Which cheers and depresses me, both.

Did I accidentally get stuck in my hometown or is this a deliberate, educated, sophisticated choice that I continue to make everyday?

Have I sacrificed some sort of brilliant, world-changing career by getting married at 25 and becoming a mother four years later? Can I really blame my lack of worldly success on the fact that I have a child and live in the suburbs? (Hardly, but wouldn't that be an easy out?)

Do the soul searing effects of my bottom feeder self-esteem in college continue to effect the choices I make today?

I wish I could sum up this blog entry with a snappy come back to gratitude or a self-searching realization that makes it all worth it in the end. But I can't do that. Yet. I'm still a suburban mom struggling to come to terms with the choices I've made. And like another fabled cliche, if I went back through the chapters of my life knowing what I know now, would I make different choices?

I don't know. I haven't finished reading yet.


  1. Oh, Valley! I could definitely have written this post. If my 18 year old self could see the life I'm living now, she would shoot me.

    But you know...I like the life I'm living now!

    I think I did my best writing when I was utterly miserable. And when I smoked. The smoking helped a lot. Did I mention how much I miss smoking? (Um. A lot.)

    Still, I go through this all the time. I don't have an answer for you, but I'm sure you're not alone.

  2. hey valley revisiting your blog after a while and i really enjoyed this post. As a "grass is always greener" person myself, i can relate. I think we all have what ifs in life. I'm going to put a link to your blog in my "blog roll." I'm so high tech. Or should it be hi tech. whatever.

  3. I completely identified with this post. While I do not yet have a son or a dog or a mortgage, I do have the same sorts of existential worries. I often worry that I'm not living up to my full potential ... and then I begin to question my full potential ... and even doubt my dreams.

    But I find that writing --just getting my anxieties down on paper (or a webpage)--eases my existential angst. In articulating my confusion, I often stumble upon a sense of clarity.

  4. I'm like Emily, no kids or marriage yet but can still relate to the feeling.