I’m soaking in the ocean, face pink from the sun, and wading into the warm shallows towards the sandbar that’s been pointed out by knowledgeable locals. The sand is liquid under a salt-water blanket and swirls around my calves, sucking at my feet as if it wants to swallow me whole but is still debating. Something brushes past my leg, sending a thrill of panic up my spine. I don’t look to see if it was seaweed or a jelly; the answer might only cause more anxiety, and knowing it could be gross/dangerous/scary is enough.
As I walk out, waves rush to meet me, sometimes knocking me down in their excitement to kiss my face. I crash under and resurface quickly, unbalanced but never losing my feet entirely. The further out I go, the larger the waves grow and the nearer the inevitable dropoff. Soon, the waves are higher than my brine-soaked head, only a chin’s height from complete submersion. Another wave approaches – a towering lion’s roar of water and creatures and plants. I reach out my tip-toes seeking purchase on the slip-sliding sand, but the crest curls and shoves me under, yanking me out to sea in the undertow.
By the time I gasp to the surface, there’s nothing below my feet but the chill of unknown depths. The temperature gradient from the sun-warmed surface lapping at my cheeks to the darkness under me plunges me into panic. I thrash my clammy legs in desperation, searching for anything I can put even a toe into to steady my position. Even though I can swim, the ancient instinct for steadfast orientation takes over, subsuming all thoughts but the one screaming that I will die if I can’t touch the bottom. I duck under the greeny-grey waves to avoid being sucked into the pit below me as wave after wave slams down, unheeding of my hysteria, uncaring of my desperation to find my feet. I can’t call for help – the animal fear of bottomless depths strangles my voice.
And just as I despair that my strength will give out, leaving me another victim of the sea, my heel brushes something soft and gritty. My first reaction is to recoil from the creature I’ve disturbed, but the expanse goes on, taking my weight as I’m pushed forward. The sandbar. With a relief reserved for dying castaways thrown indifferently onto a tropical island, I scramble onto it. The waves subside, tickling me playfully at the waist as I rise like an ancient sea-goddess revealing herself to a shipful of superstitious sailors.
I draw huge, grateful lungs of tangy air as my heart calms. I turn and look back towards the shore. The tide has flung me hundreds of yards sideways of where I began – there are no straight lines in the sea – and the patch of water between the dry beach and my sodden sandbar, which seemed deadly only seconds ago, now appears docile and mundane. I can’t imagine why I was afraid. I turn again to face the vast expanse of ever-bluer water that joins the horizon. There is another sandbar not too far from here.
I set out again.
This is my quarter-life crisis in a nutshell (seashell?).
I swim from comfortable, familiar waters towards a place I think I know, and on the way there, I’m towed under. I can’t find my feet, so I panic because I don’t know where I am or which way is forward. Eventually, I touch bottom again, back in control, but in a different place, looking back and forward to get my bearings before starting out again.
After sending INKCHANGER out into the world, I suddenly had large quantities of unused time and energy. Participating in NaNoWriMo had given me a distraction – however educational or needed – from sorting through and piecing together the new life I’m trying to construct.
With NaNo over and the book out of my hands for a while, I’m left to attend to the Self work I put on hold. My psyche rushed in to fill the empty space with doubts, guilt, fear, and shame. Again.
I’m standing at the lip of the dropoff right now. I’m at the edge of my comfort and about to lose my steady footing. I was walking along just fine, enjoying the journey and savouring the end destination in my mind. But I always forget about the part in between – the dangerous waters where anything can happen.
I can feel the current tugging at my legs now, edging me forward into that deep place where I can’t help but lose the bottom. Soon, I’ll be submerged by the high waves and unable to navigate save for by gut instinct.
The rising panic of not knowing if I’m on the right track, of both wanting to leave a mark on the world and wanting to stay isolated, of wondering if I’ll ever be able to do more than one Big Thing at a time, of fearing I’ll disappear from people’s minds, of wanting less pressure but also wanting more acclaim. The uncertainty and confusion of that – and fears yet unrecognized – will have its way with me. Very soon.
But it’s not forever. I’ll be half-drowned and terrified, but eventually, I’ll find my toes buried in the sandbar, the tumult of the tide slackened enough for me to stand up again and survey the horizon.
And then I can decide where to go from there.
You like writing, yeah? What about writing those parts of yourself that you thought were boring and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with “real life”? You like writing about those?
You probably haven’t even thought about your strongest scent memory or your relationship with silence or what you’d ask God if you had a chance to pick His/Her/Their brain(s). It's too prosaic to matter, right?
Everything you experience – past, present, future, alternate timeline – matters when you’re working out who you are. They’re core questions to getting to know your true Self.
You’ve got to dig into everyday situations to discover what you’re all about.