Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is This All There Is?


I've been in a bit of a funk lately -- well, not a funk, really, more like a generalized state of crabbiness. I get that way when I start feeling uncertain of my overall direction. Like, what am I doing with my life? Is it enough to be living in London with my partner and a new dog and a part-time job and an obsessive photography habit? I am essentially without a career at this point, without any larger purpose. I'm coasting along day-to-day, but I don't have any greater goals.

Well, I guess that's not exactly true. I have some goals for travel and things like that. But you know what I mean -- an overall purpose.

I've wanted to publish my photography, but I'm feeling less and less like that will ever go anywhere. There are so many people making images now -- it's a bit like journalism, my erstwhile career. These days, at least according to popular wisdom, everyone's a journalist, everyone's a photographer. We all produce content, so the value of content has fallen and it's getting harder and harder to find anyone to pay for it. Even good content.

(This feeling has no doubt been exacerbated by the frustratingly brief rejection letter I recently received from another publisher.)

Then again, was I any better off when my career was more active? Is newspaper work any more purposeful than scheduling substitute teachers? More interesting, maybe, and a bit more lucrative. But there were certainly things about it I didn't like -- the hours, the competition, the occasionally rude rejection by potential sources. For God's sake, I am living in London, with spare time and the means to just enjoy myself. I have a hell of a lot of nerve whining about anything.

Truth be told, I wasn't entirely sure of my purpose even when I was editing newspapers. I've never been a particularly ambitious person. I mostly just want to do my job well, support myself, and have enough money to enjoy my life. I'm doing all of that now, more or less.

I suppose this is just the human condition -- the current of dissatisfaction that runs through most of our lives, the feeling that we need more. It's the desire that the Buddha warned about. Maybe I should go back to sitting! Meanwhile I will keep walking Olga, and keep enjoying my evenings with Dave, and keep seeing my world, and recording it in the best way I know how. If I have a purpose, that's it, at least for now.

(Photo: Camden Market, last week.)

14 comments:

Lorianne said...

I was just talking with a friend about a similar question: if you actually GET the one or two things you've spent a significant portion of your life whining and obsessing about, THEN WHAT?

(So, what happens AFTER you get the dream job, or lose the last ten pounds, or meet Mr/Ms Right, etc.)

We didn't answer the question, needless to say, but it's an interesting question to sit with.

And on the topic of "sitting," I find that whenever I think I might benefit from doing it again, I usually find out that I'm right. :-)

herding tapeworms said...

if you have a chance (not sure if it's playing in London) you might want to see the documentary 56 Up. It's amazing to watch the progression of people's lives and see how they deal with feeling ambitious or unambitious and what it means in the end for them to be happy with their lives. i struggle with this sort of thing on a daily basis. I can't say that the movie made me feel any better, but it was very relatable and could be useful fodder for the conversation you're having with yourself.

Ms. Moon said...

Oh my god. I have been where you are so many times. Okay, not in London but...you know.
I look back on those times and I always had a couple of babies, at least, and was busy from dawn to bedtime and never got a full night's sleep and my life was bursting with all that I was doing and yet, I felt as if life was passing me by.
I still have those feelings sometime.
It's very human.
I guess we don't want our lives to have meant nothing or something equally inane.

Reya Mellicker said...

Holy cow. We ARE on a wavelength. Somehow this makes me feel better, like it's something in the atmosphere or the planetary line-up and will pass.

That said, considering one's life purpose is important.

I wish you could catch a few bright sunny days in a row. That would help, I have no doubt.

Angella said...

Sitting again is a great idea. That way lies a measure of peace perhaps. We all have days like this, especially when our ambitions are few, as mine also are. And then hopefully the malaise lifts and we see with new eyes. I wish that for you, along with whatever insight your cranky mood leaves in its wake. xo

Vesuvius At Home said...

I know what you mean. I think an artists life is constantly tugged in two directions. For me, sometimes simply creating is enough. Then there are the times when I feel I ought to be or do more. I don't know what to make of it. Keep enjoying London.

Linda Sue said...

I reckon you are living your purpose- and we in blog land get the benefit. It is an age old question- when I feel like that I usually do charity work or something secretly beneficial for someone else. That makes me FEEL like maybe I have purpose, though I don't suppose any one really does. this life is so fleeting. We are but a blip on the screen. You have the best life, really! And you have Dave and Olga- what more is there?

Steve Reed said...

Lorianne: Exactly! What if I did manage to publish a book. Would that satisfy me? In all likelihood, no. And yes, I'm sure wondering about sitting is a sign that I would benefit. :)

HT: I will check that out! I haven't even heard of it. I think we ALL struggle with this on a daily basis.

Ms Moon: I think we all want to be living as richly as possible, whatever that means. And the ambiguity of that goal just drives us crazy. It IS very human.

Reya: You know, I was just thinking today that I probably have seasonal affective disorder. I have not seen a sustained period of sunshine since returning from Florida after New Year's. Just rain and clouds and rain and clouds.

Angella: Thanks. I promise not to inflict too much crankiness on my blog readers. :)

Vesuvius: The joy of creating is incredibly sustaining, it's true. But it doesn't pay the bills! And even though I have other ways of paying the bills, I am probably making the classic mistake of valuing my creativity in terms of financial rewards. (Or lack thereof.)

LindaSue: Indeed, you are completely right. The only thing "more" is the haunting feeling that there may be "more." Which is delusion with a capital D!

The Bug said...

I'm not very ambitious either - and I'm reasonably content with my life right now (of course, we could always use more income to pay down our bills!). And boy do I get nervous if I try to consider things I create to be "valuable" - that seems to add some sort of responsibility that I don't want (if I sell a hat to someone I need to guarantee that it will fit & not unravel). Much less stressful to just enjoy the creating!

Of course, by the very fact that you are considering sitting you demonstrate a level of consciousness that I usually try to avoid :)

utahDOG! said...

How exhausting. Maybe time for a 'real' job after all?

Lynne said...

Steve, I wish I could say what I have in my head more eloquently than I know it's going to come out.

I've been in the same place in my head so many times.I have struggled with the same thoughts. I don't have a career either, and haven't for some years now. I feel badly not working but I know that I give to our household through all the daily things I take care of that allow my husband to go to work and earn the income necessary to keep us going.

I think it's more an American thing, this having to do "something" or be "someone". Who is to say that what you are doing is not just that? It's just all in how you look at things. Your last paragraph says it all. And there is nothing at all wrong with that purpose in life. Not one thing.

XX

Steve Reed said...

Bug: You're right. I should focus on the creation and the enjoyment I get from that. I guess it's natural to seek some validation but in the end it has to be about doing your thing and liking it.

Utah: You sound JUST like Mom!

Lynne: That's what Dave tells me, too. Every time I mention being underemployed he points out all the things I do at home to keep the house running -- like the housekeeping, the bills, etc. He's convinced I have a full time job! Americans do tend to identify with their careers.

ellen abbott said...

I'm a little late to the party here but I tend to agree with just about everyone. Linda Sue's comment about doing some charity work might give you more of a feeling of satisfaction. I think American culture makes us sick with its constant having to achieve all the time syndrome. I have twice backed away from becoming 'bigger and better'. Once when our business got to the point that we had to take on a big loan and really grow or back off and stop seeking out every job. Or the really big jobs. We backed off because the busier we got the less happy we were. And again with the cast glass, it just took too much time and constant effort to get 'out there' that making the work and going to the shows was no longer fun. So now we produce less in both aspects of our art and craft but we are much happier and enjoy a slower life.

Wayne said...

I feel like this a lot! I have to take a step back and recognise that no matter what situation I may be in, I will always look at better things - to find more purpose. It's the way us humans are put together, god bless our faults.

Also, humans think they enjoy freedom but in fact, we are most comfortable when slightly confined. We enjoy boundaries as it makes it clear what we are working towards. The trick is to force yourself out of that cage and recognise your full potential - the world (or London) is your oyster!