1/3 Life Crisis

I reported a tiny leak in our bathroom ceiling, and by the time I returned from work our ceiling was gone and we had to “evacuate”.

They discovered mold which they needed to “contain and remediate” so the “contamination doesn’t spread”. The apartment manager delivered this news in a tone nervous enough to make me feel like I was possibly live role-playing the first scene of Contagion. (By the way, Brittany Murphy didn’t die from toxic mold. Trust me I Googled it.) We sought refuge in our friends’ spare bedroom.

Did I mention “containing and remediating” takes “at least” two months?

I had decided this forced mold evacuation had the potential to be a poor woman’s writing staycation, and was passing my husband in the living room to head out and write in solitude.

“How long are you going to be there?”

“Until eight? I think?”

“Eight! Dang!”

“Yeah, I need chunks of time to write. I can’t just like, switch it on and off.”

“No you’re right. You need chunks, and I wanna be the man to give you chunks.”

“Ew. Okay, thank you. I’m leaving.”

Advantage to crashing at our friend’s place: they are walking distance from arguably the hippest coffee shop in Gainesville, Florida. By hip, I mean that according to their flyer board they are currently against Governor Rick Scott, the pipeline, and Wendy’s. They are currently for mindful hikes, “partying like it’s surreal”, opportunities to meet cows, and biodynamic cranial touch (??). This makes it a great place to write. Or, to try and write. Or, at least, to sit with my laptop open, so I can feel some semblance of reassurance that I’m ~pursuing my dream~ because I’m ~putting in the work~. Surely if people who coordinate mindful hikes and cow meet-and-greets go here then this is a productive, creative space and I will be a productive, creative person by sitting here. With my laptop open to a blank Pages document and a blinking cursor.

I’m trying to ~pursue my dream~ and ~put in the work~ as low-key as possible, but it’s hard when I’m married to a man that wants to give me chunks. As in, my hype man. There’s a reason writers don’t have hype men. It’s an embarrassing thing to pursue. It’s a super cool thing to have accomplished, but an incredibly mortifying thing to pursue. On a weekly basis someone casually suggests an alternative career path to me like they’re recommending a reasonably priced restaurant.

I was right in the middle of this low-key pursuit of my dream when a co-worker sat down on the bench next to me. Shit.

“Katie?”

“Oh, hey! What are you doing here?”

“Working.”

“Oh, bummer. Not work-work I hope.”

“Yeah, I don’t normally work on the weekends, but it needed to get done. What are you doing here?”

“Um, working. Too.”

“What are you working on?”

Shit shit shit.

“Uh…um…” Shit. “Writing?”

“Oh!” Her face assumed this weird glazed over supportive smile that everyone gets when I say that. “What kind of writing do you do?”

“Oh, um, everything. Or, I like everything. Fiction, creative non-fiction, uh, that’s the problem. I’m still trying to figure — for some reason adults, ha, adults, get weird and self-conscious — ” At this point I had already realized this response would not make sense to her and would make this interaction far, far worse, but the ground refused to open up and swallow me so I had no choice but to see it through. I’ll spare you in the in-between and fast forward to the painfully awkward end: “Anyway it’s easier to create when you have something you’re creating for, you know? Otherwise your brain just gets like, blehhhhhh, you know?” At this point I was swirling my hands around my head in what I can only imagine is a move they would teach in the biodynamic cranial touch workshop.

“Yeah,” her glazed expression vaguely nodded in support. But she didn’t know, because I wasn’t making any sense.

“But I’m not uh, I’m not doing great at it, clearly,” I gestured at my laptop as if this all made sense.

“I’ll keep an eye out for publications. I don’t know what’s in Gainesville, but…”

“Yeah, thank you! Thanks.”

I moved to sip my cold brew, a great go-to move to absolve myself of any responsibility to speak and cast further doubts on my sanity. Only I didn’t sip it. It emptied itself on my pants. “Oh! Oh my gosh. Wow. See? I’m doing great. Happy Saturday.”

Her laugh definitely sounded like a mixture of relief that this conversation was over and concern that the coffee spill might be my final straw of psychological undoing.

She took her exit and left me in my existential coffee-soaked crisis.

Some context:

My future appeared bright once. I was an academic superstar with a National Merit scholarship paving my way towards greatness. I studied Economics and International Affairs because I was going to ~really make a difference~ by running smart, sustainable, international non-profits that helped and didn’t hurt and empowered local leaders and let me appear to be a super good person while also becoming successful and important and a real go-getter.

So I was hurtling towards greatness and my fam was thrilled and then I decided what’s life without a few plot twists, got married right out of college, became a pseudo-pastor (what?) working with college students and prostitutes (huh?), lost enough fundraising support to force a job change, took a sharp left turn into organic farming (wait wut) and then a sharp right turn into immigration four months before He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named became president and here we are. I have a knack for timing. I’m 25, so you can do the math on how fast that all happened. (Did I mention I’m impulsive?)

In the midst of all of this I started to have a quarter-life crisis. Which may not have needed identifying after those last two paragraphs. I told my mentor this, and he replied “Man, wish I had the confidence to think I’d make it to 100”, at which point I realized it was actually a third-life crisis and I only had two-thirds left.

I had some unproductive reactions to this, like googling “quarter-life crisis” at work, googling “third-life crisis” at work, and watching a Ted Talk on quarter-life crises. I started to let my eyebrows grow in because they’d never really had the chance to speak their full truth, then quickly discovered their full truth was socially and professionally unacceptable. I scoured US maps hoping to find some under-hyped miracle city that had low rent and perfect weather and the answer to all my problems. (Pro-tip: there isn’t one.)

I also had some possibly productive reactions, like asking myself what it is that I love doing, what impact I want my life to have on the world, what’s really important. I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I asked them, which seems pretty adult.

I applied to four MFA Creative Writing programs. On impulse, of course. Because I decided if there were no limits to life, telling stories is all I’d want to do. I wanted to apply secretly, but my hype man immediately informed all our extended family, all our friends from college, all the people we’ve worked with, and every person he met at a party. He made plans around the four programs, believing despite the 6 in 1,000 odds that I would get in. He had an actual dream that the president of one of these universities came to our apartment to give me the news in person, on a park bench, and talk to me about my aspirations.

His hype had become my hype, and there was a kernel of hope at the center of all my self-doubt that maybe I was uncultivated talent. Maybe they would see my potential and offer me a chance to learn. Maybe I would Zadie Smith the publishing industry when all was said and done.

Then within two days he was told by his second job that they had no more work for him, we were informed that our apartment was Ground Zero, and I received the final of four rejections from the MFA programs.

And even though I knew how slim the odds were, rejection still had me sitting in this coffee shop questioning everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

After the co-worker left and the cold brew had dried to the exact shade of pee on my pants, a gaggle of college students rounded the corner into the coffee shop parking lot. They were carrying boom mics and cameras and they looked happy. I quickly became a director’s nightmare of an extra, staring at the actors (and directly into the camera).

The scene kind of sucked. The dialogue seemed a bit contrived, and there was fake laughter and a “spontaneous” two-person cartwheel involved. But I was envious anyway, because they were doing the thing. They were making a movie! And they were so happy doing it. And I looked at their smiling faces and then at my grouchy face reflected in my sleeping computer screen, and realized that I’d rather be making crappy things than not making anything at all because I’m scared it’ll be crappy.

Their faces told me a truth both liberating and terrifying: The only thing standing in between me and doing what I love is pride. And maintaining my pride is just not worth that price.

There’s a small smile reflected in my computer screen.