As I get older, I am constantly reminded that a day can take unexpected turns when you let it. I began today with an overly structured plan to make it past the morning surprise that I awoke feeling like had spent the night rolling down a rocky, jaggedy hill–a reminder that either my mysterious illness still lingered or that I had quite an adventure while sleepwalking last night. Either way, I rolled out of bed and committed to my plan to work diligently at my office until I couldn’t see straight anymore–something that’s been kicking in around 2pm each day–and then head home to try and rejuvenate myself for my acting class tonight.
Yet alas, as I approached the school this morning, a large jackhammer-type-creature was ripping off the facade of our school’s porch directly outside the hallway of my office. Within one hour, we were all told to go work from home due to the noise and dust. And so, my wacky, unexpected day of reflection was kicked into motion.
Have you ever tried to sit in public and simply do nothing? It’s surprisingly bizarre. My final task of the morning was to drop off a catering order at a nearby restaurant, which happens to be positioned next to one of the most delightful little parks in Montclair. Motivated by my recently fuzzy brain-fog, I zombie-walked into the park paths and plopped myself down on a bench to stare of into the distance of the Tuesday morning. Since this is a pretty froofy suburb, there were a surprising amount of people out and about–all of which either on their phones, jogging with headphones, or pushing a baby stroller of some sort. Then along comes Ginny, throwing off the whole social construct of how to act in public. I didn’t have a book to read, didn’t play with my phone (since the recent political sludge of Facebook has only been adding to my tension), and didn’t really have anything to do other than wonder in the beautiful sunny summer morning that I hadn’t expected to be a part of. Well, the wild thing is that people are uncomfortable with this unless you’re a little old man. Perhaps it’s my tragic resting face or the fact that I always look a little bit lost, but not a single person passed without looking at me as if something had just gone terribly wrong. All I was doing was sitting on a bench, staring into nowhere, and suddenly the world wonders why I am outside without a purpose, without a goal, without an activity. If someone had asked, I would have just said, “I didn’t think I’d get to sit outside today.” It reminded me a bit of all the people chasing Forrest Gump when he starts his cross-country trek:
Newsman: Sir, why are you running?
2nd Reporter: Are you doing this for world peace?
3rd Reporter: Are you doing this for women’s right?
Newsman: Or for the environment?
Reporter: Or for animals?
3rd Reporter: Or for nuclear arms?
Forrest: (voice-over) They just couldn’t believe that somebody would do all that running for no particular reason.
2nd Reporter: Why are you doing this?
Forrest: I just felt like running.
I find people are confused by actions taken without outright gains or outcomes.
Anyway, I wandered home, still hobbling, and tried to keep my mind fixated on work for several more hours, all the while balancing the endless list of tasks outside of work I had on my list this week. As you can expect, I horribly failed at this attempt as my eyes started to glaze over and I felt the all-too-familiar urge to climb into bed and try, yet again, to feel better.
Around 2pm, something struck me. A breaking point came in my frustration, and I put on some pants, got in my car and headed back to a park–a different one this time–to try and regain that perfect moment of equilibrium I had seen poking through the clouds earlier today. Because while sitting on that park bench, doing nothing, I felt like myself for the first time in perhaps a two months. So gosh darnit, I was going to go find that again.
When I reached Edgemont Park, three books and a journal in tow, I located what appeared to be some sort of fig tree and laid down beneath it–as far away from anyone else in the park as possible. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this weird illness–which is looking more and more like Fibromyalgia every day–it’s that I am becoming even more of an introvert than I was before. Every sense is heightened. Sounds are amplified to the point where I can’t decipher two people talking at once, bugs landing on me don’t stand a chance, and I can smell food cooking across the neighborhood. As you can imagine, I am also overly affected by crowds–especially the loud, smelly, noodgy ones of NYC.
So here we are, ditching my work email and laying on the ground in the middle of New Jersey. How did I get here?
I closed my eyes and felt the back pain of the morning sink into the supportive ground beneath me as the wind blew through the fig tree, making the thick, bowl-shaped leaves clap together like an encouraging audience. I open my Anne Lamott book, a woman who has become a member of my imaginary lady-writer friends, whose voice I only dream of mirroring, to a chapter about forgiveness. After an hour or so of absorbing the healing voice of lady-wisdom, I sit up and peer out into the uneven nature of the park, reminding myself that my original goal of this life was not to spend time in a career that would keep me from the beauty of the day.
This is my idea of freedom. My freedom is not about saving up enough money to go to Key West once a year and try to turn off the part of my mind that curses Mondays and deprives itself from Vitamin D behind a tower of files and perpetually refilling inboxes. It’s about living a life of creation, within the world that inspires me to create. I may never go fancy places or purchase a fancy home, or hell, even retire with the well-balanced portfolio of a retirement fund, but at least I would have fought for the freedom to live in a way that reminds me that the sun rises each day and that there are so many possibilities for change.
In need of movement, I pried myself from my grassy knoll and made the executive decision to call out of class this evening. My bones still don’t feel like they’re properly connected to one another, and I don’t need to throw myself into the fiery social hell of NYC just as I’m starting to improve.
In my lofty, “the world is my oyster” trance, I wander toward an ice cream truck playing “It’s a Small World After All” to get a popsicle. Because I’m an adult, and I can buy a damn popsicle from an ice cream truck. On my walk there, I begin to feel better again. The words of Ann Lamott float through my head about self-forgiveness, and the blog wheels begin to turn. When I reach the truck, I buy a phenomenal chocolate-caramel-double-layer thingy, basically made of sheer magic, and exclaim that I have exactly $4 in cash to buy it. At this, the delightful Glinda-esque ice cream lady answers, “Even if you didn’t have the money, you could always take what you need and pay me another time.” Did the ice cream truck just offer me the option to open a tab? Yes it did. Some people are just great. I then headed out into the sunny afternoon to eat at least the 5th-best ice cream of my life.
I find a new sunny spot, feeling rejuvenated by my sudden decision to scrap all the plans of the day, and lay down under another tree. With my book in mind, I start thinking about my least favorite question when I was a child actor: “Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?” This is what most theaters asked kids to make them relax and show their personalities to the audition panel. Well, being the pessimistic Wednesday Adams that I was, I saw this question as an unfair way to brand myself, to essentially provide the adults with an elevator pitch about how much of a quirky, put-together kid I was. It was a way to quickly label yourself. In adult life, we call this small talk. I hate it just as much.
My recent exhaustion, which I have no doubt contributed to this weird illness, had been partially brought on from many years of desperately trying to fit into many different comfortable artistic, and non-artistic boxes. Since college, all I’ve wanted is to exclaim “I am an actor,” “I am a writer,” “I am something that people respond to and understand and respect.” And yet, here I am at 29, still completely unable to answer, “Tell us a little about yourself.” Because I may never be able to fit into a comfy box, I may never be able to explain which career path I am banging my head against a wall to achieve, and I may never be able to say that I know where I want to be in five years. As I left the park and headed for home, the heavy exhaustion of carrying around this misunderstood responsibility became an obvious contributor to my problems.
Many very caring people have offered practical and lovely advice to help me feel better. Most of them, if not all, involve suggesting that I take a vacation. To all of them, I say this: I don’t need a vacation. I don’t need a temporary escape from a lifestyle that we are told to maintain until we’re 65, when we are finally allowed to get on with the living part. I need a new way to see the world, and a new view of what I want to do while I’m on it. And it may not fit into a career category, and it may not be able to explain at auditions or a Christmas party.
That’s all. If you find me sitting on a bench staring off into space on a summer day, I’m totally fine. I’m just figuring out what to do next.