I’ve been thinking about dying a lot lately. Not about about how I will die, or what might happen, or why, but just about being dead: about being gone. I think of my husband, whom I just married last month, my mother, my closest friends. I think how without them there won’t be anything left of me. Once the grief has passed in the ones I love, so have I. I have left no legacy, no children, no ideas, no indelible, immortalizing words. And I can’t seem to figure out whether or not this matters. It feels like trying to find meaning in the definition of meaninglessness, which is kind of funny, because you can.
I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I didn’t dream about it as a child or even in high school. I learned I had a talent my third year in college, but I couldn’t afford to change my major so late in the game. After university I spent four years working in finance. When I realized I had hated almost every day of those four years I left over $70,000 in debt behind to travel the world and write that book I was always talking about. That horse is still gaining on my slowing carrot.
In the five years since I left the corporate world I’ve learned that writing as a job is a lot different than writing for yourself. I’ve learned that I’m not as talented as I thought I was. I’ve learned that even if your story is moving, compelling, and every other word people use to describe great stories, it doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it. I’ve also learned that I’m weak in a lot of ways. I’ve learned that I give up easily where others persevere. I’ve learned that I throw a better pity party than anyone on the block. I’ve learned that I’m not always a good person.
But with friends and family and love and support, why do I keep thinking about dying? Because I can’t seem to figure out how to live past next week.
I can’t imagine going back to a nine-to-five, yet I also can’t seem to make money from my writing. Not enough to survive, anyway. My failures overwhelm me so often, I’ve mastered the art of laughing and crying at the same time. But if my epitaph is going to read “Loved Husband, Loved to Travel, Lived and Died Broke,” is that such a bad thing?
Is being poor and unsuccessful so terrible? How about mildly poor and slightly unsuccessful? Is it worse than being safe and rich but ultimately unhappy? Even when I was homeless, unemployed, and alone in New Zealand I still found joy on this miraculous planet. And I still do. Maybe I haven’t found success as a writer, but I’m writing. And maybe that’s enough in itself.
There was a time I had thousands of dollars to waste, and another time I lived on nothing but peanut butter toast for three months. I was lost and lonely and cried every day. Thinking back now, I was still happier with the peanut butter.
The only conclusion at which I continue to arrive is this: when the overwhelming sadness and frustration come because you followed your dreams and they’re running a little faster than you are, it’s OK. Maybe I’ll work in a bar until I die. Maybe I’ll learn how to find this mystical perseverance everyone keeps talking about. Maybe I’ll fail. But I’m still going to try in my own meagre way. And I think that’s enough for me in the end. If my legacy is that I loved and hated what I did, that I was poor and struggling and happy and silly and lonely and caring and angry and apathetic and drunk and stupid and sometimes smart; I guess that’s OK too. Because no one ever says anything about catching your dreams. It’s the following them that counts.
So don’t listen to me, just follow them.