On Purpose

May 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Let me say upfront that I have a great life. Last year it looked a little rocky, but now it’s smooth sailing for the next two years. I’ve got a good job with a great company. I’ve got a boyfriend who won’t leave me. I’ve got a small but decent apartment in downtown Washington, DC. I’ll be attending graduate school in the fall. My family is alive and well and adores me. The list goes on, I’ve got it great.

My life has always looked pretty good on paper, I think, and that’s been purposefully executed. Even when I was miserable, I thought that so long as my resume is getting what it needs then it’ll all work out eventually. Well, it’s not. I vacillate between being bored to tears to being depressed to feeling guilty. I should appreciate what I have, but I don’t or if I do, I feel like I don’t appreciate it like I should. I’m just so bored! All the time. I sit in meetings at work and I can see how what I do is beneficial, how other people can use the work I’ve done and how excited they get about their jobs, but I just don’t feel that way. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that “into” my job. Seeing how committed people are to their jobs makes me feel worse. I can see how much they care, how much they love it, but to me it’s just a job. A good job at a great company, but it’s still just a job.

Let’s back up for a minute. How I feel, and how I’ve felt for the last, oh, five years, is lost. I just feel lost and hopeless, like driving on an interstate at night and you realized about 30 minutes ago that you missed your exit, but every time you see a place to turn around, you pass it too quickly to make use of it and you’re so far out in the boonies you’re hesitant about getting off at any of the exits in case you get even more lost trying to make it back to the interstate (in the most literal, this has actually happened to me on a road trip to the beach). I’ve felt that kind of loss, hopelessness ever since I decided not to go to art school for college. I got into one of the best schools in the country–the San Francisco Art Institute– but I balked. Ever since then, I’ve felt alone and bored with the people around me. I felt bored in high school too, but not nearly to the painful extent I felt in college and now. I feel purposeless.

Even when I think of something to do to fill the void, I never carry it through to completion. I’m so impatient — I want things fixed NOW NOW NOW. The only time in my life I’ve ever felt really good was when I was working with my hands, building something or making something, shaping something new. But the reality of that is that I’ve never sold a piece of art (well, technically I’ve sold a piece to a family member, but he’s family so that doesn’t count because I would have given it to him for free). I could never survive on my art and I can’t figure out if it’s “selling out” or not to make aesthetic things that sell just so I can be creating things with my hands. Does that make sense? It’s incredibly pacifying for me to paint or sculpt (usually I just play with my food, not “serious” sculpting) or draw. But I can’t seem to find a way to do that as a job. I thought about historic preservation because I love old houses so much, but there are all these divisions within historic preservation and some of them require business degrees and other require chemistry-based conservation degrees. I can’t afford to keep going back to school, as much as I’d love to.

So I stay on the interstate, I keep going even though I have that uncomfortable feeling that I missed my exit but now it’s too late to turn around. I’m staying on the track I laid out for myself in college, staying committed to a future in art history, either teaching or working at a museum. I keep on this path in the hopes that this will work out, that when I get out of graduate school I will have discovered a fulfilling and satisfying purpose in life. Seems strange for me, the skeptic, the cynic, to be clutching onto such a desperate, romantic hope, eh? Well it permeates everything in my life right now. That hope that if I just stick with my commitments, everything will work out eventually and I’ll save myself all the regret of throwing all my work, time, and emotional investment to the wind.

I guess since I was a kid the “why should I?” question was always a big on in my mind. Worse than the question itself was that few people ever had an answer that satisfied me, that convinced me to do what they wanted me to. This I think has led to my current lack of purpose because the question is unanswerable, at least to my satisfaction. When life is so short and the world is so big, why bother doing anything when you can’t affect anything? I think of it kind of like a wishing well. Everyone that passes by tosses in a coin (some larger than others) but those coins are never collected, so they might as well have been not tossed in at all. You toss coins into wells because it’s symbolic, so if I apply that to penny-weighted lives, then simply living life is symbolic. We live because we are, yeah? And we structure our lives around some kind of symbol of what it means to live a good life. But in the end, that life will be wasted and will affect nothing, at least nothing that you’ll ever know about. Cause you’ll be dead.

So what is a good life? What is the purpose of a life lived well? I want to help people, but I worry about permanently damaging myself in the process and I’m not quite ready to accept the seeming-fact that I will just never be happy. I still hope to be happy one day. Romantic, I know. Anyway, I want to help people. I want to make leaps and bounds in the protection of women and women’s rights and children. I want to stop the sex trafficking industry, I want to increase programs like Planned Parenthood, and I want to increase education which will help stop the exploitation of women and children and encourage the healthiest use of Planned Parenthood. But I’m a kid with an art school background and a degree, albeit with High Honors, in art history and religion. It’s not the place for me and I wouldn’t know where to start (besides law school, which I have mixed feelings about). But fighting for those issues, fighting for what’s right, sounds like a good life to me. I still have time to mull over law school, but in the meantime my compromise in order to preserve my own chance at happiness while ensuring that the things I care about move forward is to do what I love and just donate a hell of a lot of money to my causes. That works, right? But it doesn’t, does it. Not right now it doesn’t anyway. So often I catch myself thinking about what someone in the world right then is going through, suffering through. Not everyone can go to work and feel safe, come home to a man who would never hit them. Where is my purpose when I know there will always be abused women and there is nothing I can do about it because the nature of Man is violent?

I was quite depressed in high school about the fact that everyone dies, and in a recent conversation with my aunt she told me “I don’t know why your parents were concerned; I thought it was the only natural reaction you could have,” or something to that point. Everyone I know and love will die, so naturally I should be upset about it. It’s a fact of life that many people choose to sugar-coat with religion or philosophy. I don’t really sugar-coat. I’m more of a “blurt and deal with it” kind of person. So the reality that human beings are inherently violent and will always be so is kind of a depressing thing to come to terms with, even more depressing when you’re me and think since you’ve got the will that there’s a way to change the world. Can’t change human nature, though, which is why my “purpose” is pointless. Or, I should say, my purpose is “symbolic.” Like the pennies in the well. Or to put it more crudely, “two tears in a bucket, mother fuck it.”

So, if I stay on my highway and stick with my plans of PhDs and academia, then my purpose will be some kind of symbolic assumption that contributing to the historic pool of knowledge (and adding my dissertation among other writings to the Pacific Ocean of the academic realm with my dissertation being about as noticeable as a guppy [I know they’re freshwater fish, just go with my imagery please]) is the greatest good I can offer the world. I will be forced to address the suffering of women and children throughout the world (and worse, in our very own beloved America) at a great distance, through my annual financial contribution. No doubt my hands will stay restless but unproductive since I can never seem to find the energy to sit down and draw, nor the space and model to sit down and paint. I feel the need to note that I already make a monthly contribution to the Humane Society of America, so I feel like I’m doing the best I can manage right now to help animals, who are close to my heart. But it all still seems “symbolic,” and therefore in essence purposeless. Will I get to age 50 to look back and say “wow, I read a lot. I wrote a lot.” and have it end there? Is that my contribution? Even if I go into some kind of aesthetic production, my thought will be “wow, I made a lot of those pillowcases. I sold a lot.” it still seems unsatisfying. But again, it comes back to the well and the pennies and the “so what” question, the “why should I?” question.

Some days I feel like giving up everything and just going home. I’ll buy a house in Birmingham, I’ll work at the museum or at one of the few galleries still left in the magic city. I’ll see my parents at the very least every week and I’ll paint or draw every day. Some days I can picture that life. I’ll sit on the porch drinking tea while Alec works on his car in the garage. The dogs will lounge in the yard, basking in the sun, and the cat will stretch across the top porch step, lazily pawing one of the flowers I’ve planted out front. It seems like a good life, a slow life. Certainly a simpler one. But something about that still makes something in the pit of my stomach, a knee-jerk reaction that says “fuck that, I’ll never go back.” And where is the purpose in that kind of life besides simple and selfish self-fulfillment? There are too many miserable people in the world to live a happy, simple life without feeling horrible about it. But maybe that’s just me.

The futility of life is depressing and I am consequently depressed because of my grappling with it. I expect I will come to terms with it only on my death bed, when I will realize I did everything right or everything wrong and I will feel awesome or terrible about one of the two. Or perhaps it won’t matter. Perhaps I’ll get to my death bed and say “hey, I did the best I could do.” and then I’ll die and nothing else will matter because you can’t feel regret when you’re dead. Sometimes non-existence terrifies me. Then I remember… I won’t care; I’ll be dead.


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