Existential crises are like whirlpools, the longer you hang around them, the further it drags you down. For the last few weeks, I've been dwelling in between; washed around by the swirling waters, but not yet at the calm of the ocean floor. This inactive state of mine has led me into despair and loneliness, but now I'm glad to report that I am finally, slowly but surely, breaking my way out.
I've realised over the past week that it's difficult to do anything without an anchor in your life. As for me, I'm blessed enough to have gone through most of my life with something, or someone, to hold onto. For most of the time that was music and books, and as cliche as it sounds (cringey flashback to a billion teens around the globe saying their favourite hobby is "listening to music"), I really threw myself into it and that's what kept me passionate and happy for many, many years.
It makes a lot of sense then, that the years that I stopped reading, especially, were some of the most miserable times of my life. From reading a book a day, it became two books a week, to two books a month, and then for a long period of time, reading none at all. You can't imagine the ways this drove me insane.
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I tried many times in the past to explain my relationship with books to people, but it was as difficult as explaining to a rich person what it's like to live a poor man's lifestyle; their reactions were pretense layered on top of good intentions, because those born in privilege will never be able to understand the nuances of not having enough money to spend.
Similarly, no one mirrored my absolute joy and fulfillment when it came to reading, and that caused me some anger for a period of time. While that rage might have been the face of it, however, I can tell you it was mostly disappointment, sadness, and a yearning for someone as equally excitable to talk to. Then one day, those worries disappeared, because I had to give them up.
As much as my inner drama queen would like to up the ante here, all I can say is that life - in its constant state of change - just moved forward, sweeping me up along its currents. And if you remember the Kenneth Koch poem from last week, I simply gave up things to gain others in return.
I traded my weekends for debate tournaments, gave up my personal blog to run a more commercial one, spent my free time volunteering for things like student councils and charity work. In return, I gained confidence and public speaking skills and new writing styles and learned how to manage teams of unique individuals... BUT, I also felt like I was constantly missing something from my life.
“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head.”
I consider myself lucky because, at the very least, I knew what I was missing. Most people don't even know that for themselves, but I've always known that this would be a constant; something that would anchor me no matter where I went or what I did with my time here. Those things were literature, storytelling, the spoken word, musical lyrics, and simply summarised, the transformative nature of art.
But more than just enjoying it, I wanted to create it myself. I found as much fascination with the stories themselves as the way they were constructed and put together by the creator. Through years of reading, I picked up techniques and pacing and even grammar. I learned all of the language through books until I was leaps and bounds ahead of everything school could possibly teach me.
And the same fascination followed through not only books and movies, but with folk tales, history, classical art, music, and every other thing that had a story behind it. But I wouldn't call it a love for history, it was more like a love for the human experience. I fell in love with the complexities of human nature, tales that fell under the radar, and I love the physical aura that emanated off places that celebrated them, like museums, libraries, and historical locations.
I've harboured a love for all these things ever since I was a kid, can you believe it? That's why working on this blog feels like I'm coming home, and that's why I do this. After years of pushing aside my love, partly in fear that nobody would be interested in reading any of it, I'm finally throwing my concerns aside and seeing it through.
Even through the chaos and calamity of contemplating existentialism, and the back and forth of emotions in that dreaded mental trap, this one thing always pulls through for me. For that, it doesn't matter how many slumps I have to face, I'm pushing forward.