which way to go?
To tell the truth, the whole year has been a big challenge. I have been trying to figure out where to go and what to do with the next phase of my life. I believe I've been in a sort of mid-life crisis, but my friends in their 50s assure me that worse mid-life hell is on the way.
Leaving my home and belongings behind to head to Europe for god knows how long, taking up with younger men, throwing all level-headed planning to the side - that's not a midlife crisis? They say, "Oh no, we expect all that from you any time."
So it's been a big hoary challenge all year long. Rather than wax on about the whole year, I'll share one particular day that kicked my ass to the curb.
London: February. Yes, correct, you can fill in rain, too. After a cup of tea at my Bloomsbury rental, I head to the internet spot to check my email.
I'm at the internet spot because my computer had died the week before in Paris and I was running my mobile business from internet spots and a cell phone.
I'd like to clear up a misnomer: in my experience, most of the places to access a computer in Europe are not 'internet cafes'. They're internet rooms, dimly lit, slightly shady in another sense, and definitely not the kind of place where you want to hang out. With the clock ticking on your internet usage, the time spent in these places is stressful and hurried.
London internet spot keyboard
I log in and discover that once again my e-box is full and rejecting email coming to me. This is one of my worst nightmares and happened monthly after I switched to gmail. (I finally figured out how to fix it last week.)
This news of my professional snafu sends me over the edge. I've already been at the edge - tired, stressed, not liking the loss of control of my work life. I freak out, pacing the pavement, muttering to myself.
I coach myself through it. "What's the big deal? What value isn't being honored here?" coach Cynthia asks.
Freak-out Cynthia rants: "It looks bad! My value of professional integrity is compromised. I am not doing what I said I would! I mean, come on, I've been pushed to every other edge! I let go of thinking I needed a computer. Or a home. Or any idea that I know where I am going. And now this. I can't let go of integrity. That is one value that I absolutely will never compromise on." She stamps her feet.
Coach Cynthia says mm-hmm. "Really. I don't think an email glitch shatters your professional integrity. Isnt' it more like you're really bothered because you don't want to look bad in front of people?"
Freak-out Cynthia winces. She thinks for a minute. "Ouch. Maybe that is true - I can't stand looking bad. I want to have my sh*t together at all times. But still, my integrity is important. Let me think about that."
Freak-out Cynthia calms down and does what anyone might do to get a grip: she goes shopping.
By this time you may be thinking, "Is she having one of those PMS days? The kind of day when you feel that a hurricane is raging inside you and the only way to find your way to the eye of the storm is to indulge in comfort food or perhaps some paper products - journals, books, note cards..."
Yes, it was one of those PMS days. So I head to Soho to check out the shops.
Fast forward. I'm finally getting a grip. I'm in the Dover shop. Yes, Dover has a shop! I never knew! I'm happily perusing the books and cards and posters, feeling the familiar tingle of creative inspiration come on.
Then my phone rings. It's Antony, my coach friend who lives in London. I'd shared a panicked email exchange with him earlier and he was calling to talk me down from the ledge.
I stepped out of the Dover shop to talk. It resumed raining. I struggled to get my umbrella open while talking. I'm reliving the trauma of the morning when my SIM card runs out and the phone goes dead.
The brief respite from the Dover shop is erased. I need to get out of the rain and I want to write down a line I saw in the shop. I'm freaking out again. I duck into a cafe and order a brownie and a coffee.
Once again, my journal saves me. I scribble and scratch my way to this image:
the map is not the territory
Drawing and coloring and getting it all out has calmed me, and fueled by caffeine and sugar, I head back out.
Fast forward to late afternoon. I'm meeting my friend Jenny for dinner, and have an hour or so beforehand. I'm looking for a pub where I can get a half pint, sit down, and get out my journal.
For some reason, I can't find a damn thing around Piccadilly. Am I wrong or are there no pubs at Piccadilly Circus? Faaa! A little shelter, please, London!
I'm wandering around. It's dark, it's raining. I feel like crap, like my whole world is melting away. Can I just find a place to sit down? No.
I break down. In a dark, rainy side street, I sob openly. This feels like the shittiest day of my life. This is where the dramatic flair of my life reveals its dark side.
With only a slight grip, I'm standing against the wall outside a brightly lit shop. I'm looking at my A to Z, trying to map my way to my meeting with Jenny. Someone brushes past, knocking my map.
Without a thought, Freak-out Cynthia says "Fuck you!"
The guy stops. Freak-out Cynthia turns into Frozen Cynthia.
The guy comes in close. "What did you say?"
Frozen Cynthia is glued to the map, pretending that she suddenly doesn't speak English.
He persists. "What did you say? You #**$##@*&!"
Nothing, Frozen Cynthia thinks. I didn't say a thing.
Finally he winds down. "I didn't think you said anything. You $*&^8."
And he walks away. I breathe. I vow never to piss off a London street thug again. Later, a chatty cabbie tells me about the upswing in knifings in London. I have no doubt that guy had a knife and I am glad I didn't try to take him on.
I meet Jenny at the Japan Center. We have dinner. The hot tea, the nutritious food, the reassuring company of my dear friend, all calm me down.
cream puff, puffy eyes from crying
After dinner we eat dessert from the Japan Center store - green tea cream puff. Things don't seem so bad. I make my way home on the Tube. Life goes on. Emails get rejected, SIM cards run out, violent encounters with strangers fizzle out.
I don't know what lesson I learned from that, except to contain my urge to curse aloud at the world. I know that rainy dark days come, and then they go.