I tweeted a while back that “parts of my life right now feel like I'm in the early stages of a comedy film, where everything is totally bleak but like if you were editing right, it would absolutely be humorous.” I'm chagrined that I can only make my current situation into a screenplay opening that goes nowhere.
Here's me eating the same breakfast every day.
Here's me screaming into a pillow.
Here's me ripping up pages of my journal like a feral teenager.
Growing up, when my sister and I complained about being bored on long car rides, my mom would tell us “intelligent people don't get bored,” like some sort of challenge. And, in a way, it is –– although not, maybe, how my mother intended it. After I got to college, I realized most smart people I know are fighting boredom all the time, to the point where it gets to be a maladaptive, controlling force for managing their fucked-up psyches.*
So now I've been bored for almost a year, and I'm editing montages in my head, and I feel like I need to find a way to make my life into something to write about, fast, because what else am I supposed to do with it? I'm burrowed into the wormwood of my disgusting ennui, and all I'm getting is this stupid tee shirt.
The worst part is that I can no longer make myself function. I would call this burnout if I had anything to be burned out from, but I don't think I do. Instead, I am drunk, moving by touch through a labyrinth of under-stimulation that vibrates unnervingly with the sound of an airplane; low overhead that never lands. I am trying to get something done: a poem, a proposal, a French conjugation chart, a 5k, an email I've been writing for over eighteen months, a fortnight's worth of laundry. None of it progresses. Most of it doesn't even start. Sure, I am doing some work, and the list of things I'm idling away the hours with is impressive in both its length and banality. But every attempt to make something out of this time spooling tightly around my body is rebuffed by a force I don't think I totally control. Somehow, the only thing that concludes is each day (and then week and then month) punctuated by sinkholes of ambivalent unconsciousness that demarcate everything I'm letting lie fallow or, worse, slip away.
Everyone keeps telling me that things will work out; it's just a matter of time. That's nice, but getting to the point where it “works out” has started to feel so difficult that I don't know if I can make the trip. I think people have to say that because they want it to be true for themselves. By which I mean, for people like me not for me, in particular. Because most of my friends are more or less like me, on paper, anyway. If you looked at all our resumes with the names scrubbed off, it would just be a pile of people college advisors told you you could be one day! Only it turns out, in my case, it wasn't fun getting here in the first place, and it's not fun now that it's gone pear-shaped, either.
I never knew what the future was, but I used to live with how I would spend my time to get there. And now I just see, in a loop: the bend in the river where high schoolers like to tube and a jump cut to the backside of a half-mountain from the northeast end of Westlawn Cemetery, where you can get the better view. I'm dialing the QVC hotline in the middle of the night to ask what's next? What's next? And googling the cost of rent in Cork. Folding a paper fortune teller to figure out what the best thing I can do next is, by which I mean: what can I do that makes the least amount of sense? I've never had much appetite for risk, but if so many people keep telling me I'm going to land on my feet, at some point, I will find the highest point, jump, and hope I don't break my femurs.
Sometime between 1921 and 1930, Robert Musil wrote:
“We know that our life is ebbing away both outward into the inhuman distances of cosmic space and downward into the inhuman micro-space of the atom, while we go on dealing with the middle stratum, the things that make up our world, without troubling ourselves at all over the fact that this proves only a preference for impressions received in the middle distance, as it were. Such an attitude is considerably beneath our intellectual level, but that alone proves what a large part of our feelings plays in our intelligence. Our most important psychological machinery is, in fact, kept in motion to maintain us in certain equilibrium, and all the emotions, all the passions in the world are nothing compared with the immense but wholly unconscious effort human beings make just to preserve their peace of mind.”
I keep imagining what I'll have to say at the end of all this, and where the low point was, and if I've already hit it, which I suspect I haven't. I keep waiting for the day (one I've had before) where I sit up straight and feel a decision drop into my lap, frightening and fully formed. What happens when the machinery has been disassembled and stripped for parts, out of arrogance or insatiable curiosity? Or out of that teeth-first, match-striking desire to think your way out of the maze at all costs?
*I'm not trying to say only smart people go to college here, or that I never met any smart people before I went to college, or something like that. College was just the point in time when I realized this. Smart people can have any number of degrees, including zero.
The title of this episode is paraphrased from I Am Fred Astaire by Taking Back Sunday
The quote is from Musil, Robert. The Man Without Qualities Volume I. Translated by Sophie Wilkins, Vintage International, 1996, p 574.
Lauren Christiansen is a writer and editor from New England who holds an MPhil in American literature from the University of Cambridge. In any spare time, Lauren is the writer, director, actor, editor, court jester and stage hand of Keats-Free Zone, a newsletter with no rhyme or reason at all. Lauren can be found at laurenc3.wordpress.com
Art by Gabriela Knutson