Often when I talk to Eve or even complete strangers, I hear them talk about wanting to be the best. ‘I just want to be one of the greats, you know?’ they say, and I will just nod in agreement, because deep down I understand why they would want this. Everyone wants to be special. Everyone wants a moment of glory. Everyone wants that little sliver of time that says, ‘You matter. You are to be admired. You're a good one, you. We won't forget you’. This mindset, unfortunately, tends to lead to dissatisfaction in my opinion. Why does everyone want to impress people who they don’t even like? This is why I get along so well with Eve.
Of course Eve cared about what other people think, she’s only human, we all care to an extent. But she wasn’t going to change for anyone and she will not try to stand out of the crowd. Everyone can't be the best. They simply can't, it's just how it is. If you put a bunch of people in a room and ask them to balance a pencil on their nose, a handful will be better than the others. And within that group, one person will be better than the others. Or, just to make this pencil balancing competition more interesting, two people will be almost equally good. They constantly compete against each other to be the pencil balancing champion. In the end, of course, one will be better than the other. Isn't that how it always is? For some people, realization that only one person can be the best is devastating. They realise, as most of us do, that the likelihood of being that one person is awfully low. With seven billion people on the planet, you know in your heart that you're not going to be the best. And some people find that crushing. Quite a lot of people, as it happens. And why wouldn't you? Only one life to live and you have to sit there knowing that you aren't going to be the best at anything. Heck, why even bother trying? The answer is, of course, that being the best is not that important. You don't have to be the best filmmaker ever to make a film. You can even make a well-known film without it being good, for example the Twilight series. For the sake of humanity, let's assume that this imaginary film of yours is better than Twilight. But you have to agree that it is a film, and people do recognize it. The same goes for anything else you want to do. Does singing make you happy? Okay, then sing! You don't have to be Pavarotti, you don't have to be Christina Aguilera or any other star belting it out on-stage. You can join a church choir and just sing along out of tune. Makes no difference really, because at the end of the day, you're all singers!
Maybe what worries people is the idea that you'll be forgotten. Maybe you think a little fame will keep your spirits up, keep your name alive. But why do you want that so badly? Is it to avoid feeling pointless? Technically, we all are, so that's not a thing to worry about. Is it because life would feel meaningless without other people telling you you're great? That's a weird reason. Why do you need other people telling you you're great?
To me, life is all about improving your perception of the world around you. Personally I’m terrible at this. It could mean something as simple as not stepping on an ant, or it could mean something more significant like joining the army. You could cure cancer, or you could just be the nice girl at the back of the class who brings cookies every other Friday for no reason at all. Being the best doesn't do much but show other people that you're the best, which will most likely result in them not liking you anyway. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. It gives you a bit of drive, it pushes you and inspires you. But don't let your despair at not being the best stop you from doing what you love, even if you’re quite terrible at it.
I am one of those people who really don’t care about being the best and don’t particularly like dealing with attention. For example one time mom decided it would be a good idea to put one of my sketches into a local art exhibition. Now where I live has been made up into tiny areas for art shows so there were twenty or so other artworks and mine just happened to come first. Forcing me to have my photo taken with it to be put in the local paper. Let me just remind you that this is the LOCAL paper, nothing big, hardly anyone buys it and the people whose doors it is delivered to probably just use it to start the fire during winter. However the amount of teachers and family friends who brought it up when they saw me was too much. That was about the most attention I could ever handle. Any more and I might explode.
My mom always tells this story about me when I was around eight years old and coming home from school. We didn’t live in our New York apartment back then, we were in a court and there were a lot of other children running around. Now of course as a young child you want to play with the other kids right? Wrong. To put it lightly, I hated playing with them. They were nice to me and all, but I just much would rather being on my own.
So after school it was a ritual for the kids to go around and knock on everyones doors, telling them to come out and play. As I was the young age of seven, I do not remember this very well. However mom says that almost everyday I used to come home and hide under my bed saying “I don’t want to play!” and they would knock on our doors and no-one would answer. But that didn’t stop them, oh no. If your front door was unlocked they would just waltz right in and physically drag you outside.
Great I’m thinking too much again, one of the major side effects of boredom. I need something to do. Maybe I’ll just go see Eve’s place? She lives just a few streets up, the joys of living in New York.
As I wandered up to Eve’s I got the urge to run. The clouds were low and dark and even though it’s still early, I could tell today was not going to be a good day. I had brought my laptop to show her some photos from last years Youth Group trip to South Africa. I’m hoping she will join us this year. When I got to her apartment I buzzed in, but there was no reply.
When I headed back home it started to rain, great, just my luck. Still wanting to run, I set off towards the general direction of home at a fast jog. Because I am not the fittest at this time of year, it took me about ten minutes to be completely out of breath. My clothes were soaked and I was craving a hot drink.
I seeked shelter in the nearby Starbucks and ordered the usual caffe mocha from the cute boy Eve and I call ‘quiff guy’. This was because of his longish, blonde, surfer-look hair which was flipped backwards off his forehead and he always played with.
Before I could say my name for my order he said “Charlotte was it?” I paused for a moment and then replied with “Yes, yeah”. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because he apologised straight away. Although it was no surprise that he knew my name really, considering I go there almost everyday.
I sat down, opened my laptop and poured my thoughts into a motivational and sort of self-pitying blog post:
Today has been a day where I have no idea what I feel. There's this horrible, raw feeling that's crawling around my body making me want to hold onto everyone I love as tightly as possible... Or abandon them forever. Some call it "restlessness," but what an understatement that is. There's restless, and then there's feeling like your soul is about to wriggle out from under your skin. It's not an anxious feeling, it's more... Desperate. Something is going on, but you don't know what it is, and neither does anyone else. I have never been able to name it.
Whenever I feel like this, I run. Literally. I do not always feel like this when I run, but I always run when I feel like this. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I spent today thumping my mind determinedly over this feeling like a poorly-made wheel. What was it? I had (and have) no idea. When I first woke up, my immediate feeling was cheerful. Something like, "Geez! I wish I could talk to the best friend," but the best friend was busy. The morning was fine. It was probably around lunchtime before I noticed that old niggling feeling in the back of my mind and braced myself for the worst.
The other day in class I could feel my composure cracking around the edges, unraveling where my joints met and fraying up around my shoulders. I just waited. What was there to do? I reasoned that the best thing to do, really the only thing. Was to ignore it until I could deal with it properly. When I finally did get a chance, I found myself getting way more existential than I'd expected. Something like: I'm running from something. Everyone's running from something. What are we running from? I feel like I'm being chased by life. Life? Or death? Do I mind death? Do I mind that we all die? What is my life worth? Etcetera.
I am SO MUCH FUN.
I was running these thoughts out much more quickly than I normally would. Getting progressively more wound up, when my reason stepped in and quietly took over. Charlotte it said calmly, What are you thinking? “The world is going to end!” I panicked. “And I haven't done anything! I'm not worthwhile! Every beat of my heart brings me closer to death and I have nothing at all to show for it! I'm being pulled towards oblivion every second and I have only questions without answers and no one's directing me and where will I be when I leave here!?” Charlotte, said Reason sternly, you always find a way to let go. Let it go.
So I did. Which sounds odd, I know. I can't describe it, I'm afraid. As I was running I began to get a cramp, first in my side, then my shoulder and debated stopping. Keep going. It'll pass. “Is this just like life? That right now this really, really sucks but it will go away soon?” That's it. Then my breathing started hitching and I again debated stopping. You can pull through it. Slow down. Let go. Drop your arms, you're nearly to there. “I can't finish.” You can. “Is this like life as well? It hurts and I hate it and oh God I can't breathe...” You can breathe. You're so close.
I continued running, feeling like my lungs might very well drop out of my rib cage and get squished beneath my feet, like my left arm would fall off limply at the shoulder, but just one more second and there's the arch, path, curve, turn, Starbucks, YES! I finished it. I ran the whole way. The whole thing I wanted to run, I ran. And my reason said simply, You did it.
Which, of course, I had.
I know this isn't terribly serious, it's about a silly, existential conversation with myself, in the middle of a run for goodness sake! But for me, it meant something. There are so many things piling up on me right now, so many demands on my time, my personality and my willpower that I can feel my desire for anything simply draining away. Yet, somehow, running it out today pulled a meaning out of thin air that clearly outlined: this will hurt, and it will be terrible, and I will dig in my heels to avoid it, but I can do it.
Is life as easy as running two miles? Negatory, captain. But can it remind me that I do have willpower? That I can and will finish what I set out to accomplish? Hell yes.
I walked back into Starbucks grinning, gasping and laughing brokenly every now and again. I am sure the public think that I’m utterly mad by now. And do I still feel riddled with gnawing self-doubt? Of course I do. But it's a bit less. And hey, if it gets worse? I can always run.
I guess you could say I’m a dandelion. Impressive at first, but once you pick me up and blow away all my florets. I am of no more use to you, and you just throw me away.
Before I even got out of bed this morning, Eve rang me.
“Charlotte! How are you?”
“I’m fine. More importantly, where are you?”
“I just got home, we went to my cousins for the weekend.”
“Nice of you to tell me that little piece of info before I ran to your house in the rain!”
“Sorry it was last minute! Are you sure you’re fine?”
“I’m not fine as in fine, but fine as in you don’t have to worry about me.”
“You know I’m going to worry. When are you free?”
“Never these days, but I’ll see you at Youth Group yes?”
“Oh, of course I totally forgot! See you tomorrow then.”
“See you later alligator.”
Eve is good at talking on the phone. Always makes it short and sweet with no awkward silences.
So it’s Tuesday. I’ve always had a strange like for Tuesdays, which most people find weird. Nevertheless, Tuesdays generally mean good days. But today feels different, kind of... Empty. It’s that feeling when you’re past panic and everything has just turned into nothing, an eerie silence.
As usual when I have nothing to do, I started writing all my thoughts on my blog:
When I was five I wanted to be a bird. A little bit after that I wanted to be a pilot. After that I wanted to be an actress. Then an artist. Then briefly a teacher, and after that I flirted with the idea of being a doctor, I even studied for it.
And now, I have no idea what I want to do.
Being a teenager I think it’s fairly normal to feel this way. But it’s really eating me up. At school we have set guidelines for everything and we know where everything is going. In Middle school we have to choose our subjects. These subjects then lead on to other subjects, and our choices become more and more limited. So we can’t try some new subjects later on, just because you didn’t think you would like it two years ago, so you didn’t choose it.
These subjects then lead on to what your able to apply for at university. And then what you complete at university becomes your job and possibly, what you do for the rest of your life. My point being is that the education system in America, and most other countries as well, is seriously fucked up. Honestly, what 14 year old knows exactly what they want to do with their life?
One good thing about school though, is that it is planned (sometimes too planned). But life after school won’t be like that. I feel like I have to know exactly where I’m going, I need to have diagrams and charts and graphs and this place that I want to be in ten years and a really detailed plan as how I’m going to get there and I DON’T HAVE ONE.
I know that I want to travel and be happy and make friends, but I also want to be able to live on my own and afford food.
My problem is that I have always liked doing a lot of things, but be that as it may, I have never LOVED doing one single thing. I love trying new things and I just don’t know how to give that up. I can’t settle for one thing to do for the rest. Of. My. Life.
I just keep telling myself that it’s normal to feel like this. It’s normal to not know where you want to go, it’s normal to feel without direction, like you’re just floating off into the sea of life with no particular idea of where you’re going. But I am scared of getting lost, and drowning.
There are so many adventures that I haven’t had and so many places that I haven’t been and so many people that I haven’t met and I don’t feel ready to commit to just one thing. I just can’t, yet. And that’s scary! I like having a plan, I like knowing where I’m going and I have currently no idea.