Today is the first day in months, many months, when I find myself sitting in a town where I’ve never been, with nothing to do and no one to see. I didn’t have to plan anyone’s hotel, their car, the food. I could head up to our rental house right now and lay on the porch all afternoon and no one would know or care. No one would call or email, or ask me to just “do them a quick favor.” Right now, I sit in a large renovated mill-turned-coffee brewery and have no intention of moving anytime soon. There’s no fancy dinner to arrange, no museums to visit, no prime-time beach time to take advantage of. There’s just a room full of coffee beans and the view of a small dam and waterfall.
Some guy on NPR was recently talking about the three pillars of happiness in modern American society: a fulfilling relationship, financial security, and a sense of purpose. Apparently if you have those three, everything falls into place and you have nothing to complain about. Well, I can confidently say those three things have been relatively solid for the past year, and I have been anything but at peace with the world. I am grateful for all the wonderful things we have in our lives, very very grateful. But I am also definitely not the first person to discover that “playing the game” of society will not necessarily bring you fulfillment. The passionate drive to collect: money, furniture, resume additions, and above all–actions of purpose, have been long overshadowing my ability to step back and try to remember who I wanted to be before I jumped on necessary the “collecting game” with everyone else. My long things-to-do list may make me look like a proper contributor to society, but I drag through my list with frustration and coldness, slowly becoming another artist who became too busy to create anything.
Perhaps ironically, I find myself in the beautiful town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, the town where Thorton Wilder wrote and set Our Town. I did this show my senior year of high school when my personal and family life was disastrously falling apart. My pillar of predictability, my main source of joy, was the option to return to Grover’s Corners every afternoon after school, and marvel in the beauty of the world I had overlooked as Emily Webb. The beautiful simplicity of life is lost on the townspeople engulfed in its details, its day-to-day predictability.
In a way, by moving to Montclair and stepping back from the obsessive pursuit of an acting career that seems to want very little to do with me, I hoped to find this simple daily schedule that reminded me to appreciate the mundane, the calm. This is a concept I definitely never had growing up. After years of emotional roller coasters and endless family hurdles, all I wanted was to be like some of my friends and live a life in my own personal Our Town.
So where am I going with this? I’ve realized in the past several months that I’ve been seeking simplicity and clarity in the wrong place. By moving toward a life that our society deems as predictable and fulfilling, I have settled in a place of “making the best of things.” No, I don’t enjoy being an assistant, and yes I have a hard time feeling like I spend 75% of my day working toward nothing other than a paycheck, but what is the alternative? The crazy, frustrating, and financially stressful life I had before when I was auditioning? If I am run by the amount of money needed to maintain my life–a life that frustrates me–then maybe the answer is needing less, is requiring less money. Instead of making more, needing less.
My recently enhanced studies of Buddhism have reminded me that the things we desperately pursue are the root of our suffering, of our discomfort, and our disconnection with reality: even when it comes to things like chasing an artistic goal. The more you chase, the bigger the idea grows, and that harder it is to reach. Your bank account never looks big enough, your promotion never sounds high enough, your acting resume is never up to par with everyone else. You’re never quite there. And all the while, here you are, missing it.
For the past two to three months, I’ve had a recurring and undiagnosed health issue that makes me feel like I have the flu every couple weeks and achy and uncomfortable every day in between. It could be any number of things, and hopefully I’ll know more soon, but as of now, it feels like my body is fighting back against my obsession with “making the best of things.” I don’t actually want to collect. I don’t need to be rich, to have a long or impressive acting resume, or be considered the best darn personal assistant in my school. All I really hope for is a place to sit by a river, in a simple town with friendly faces full of artists who want to create something. I’m not sure how to get there yet: this mysterious “there.” But I do know that letting go of the ladder climbing is part of it. In my opinion, the artistic game is broken, and becoming more and more for the wealthy, and only the wealthy. So the only way I see around this is by cutting down the things I purchase, collect, and obsessively seek. This is the first step toward this elusive, perhaps unattainable freedom, that I wouldn’t have to “make the best of.”
In the Pema Chödrön book I’m currently reading, she provides a beautiful image to help with meditation. She said that a person who meditates without expectation of enlightenment is often compared to the image of an older person sitting on the beach and watching their grandchildren play in the sand. They have reached a point in their lives when they no longer feel they are supposed to pursue something, to reach some socially acceptable career goal. They simply sit and enjoy the happiness and enthusiasm of those around them, and through this, are truly present. This is the state of mind, the freedom, that I seek before hitting the age when everyone tells me I’m supposed to retire from the practice of collecting things. To be present with the beauty around me and add to it the best I can. How to reach this, to break the rules of how our artistic society is set up, is another story. I don’t know the answer yet, but I’m relieved to be able to articulate it.
Well I’m out of coffee. And now there’s an antique shop with a bird on the sign that is calling my name. Thanks for reading to my ramblings and happy weekend.