I’ve been back in my hometown for less than a month after having spent 7 years traveling, on and off, and already, the healthy mindset that I had constructed is in shambles. Every time I come back, I admittedly hate it more and more. It’s like locking the door to my own prison cell. Every time I come back, I get obscenely depressed, anxious, and morose. Having lived in places like Japan, Australia, and Singapore for lengths of time, coming back to this boring, inconvenient location fills me with a soul crushing dread that this is all I have to look forward to. Returning back to New Jersey is opening the door to another existential crisis that I only find reprieve from when I choose to rewrite myself for the nth time; but every time it gets more and more difficult to pull myself out of the muck that is my mind.
Is this all I’m meant for? To continuously fail in my attempts to open studios, work abroad, and live far, far away from the toxic reach of people I’d rather forget? To be forced to return to the place that has made me suicidal more than once?
Cue the first high school reunion, a slipshod attempt at gathering a class of over 700 students not even a month before the designated date. My apathetic generation touted the “O8 is great” slogan, but let’s be real. We weren’t great. We’re never going to be great. Many of us are still trapped in the same ghost town we grew up in, still drinking at the same bar, and commiserating with the same people about how much our lives suck. The president of the student committee never showed up to the failed reunion, and maybe only 20 of us actually appeared over a course of 3 or 4 hours.
The dialogue played out as I thought it would, with most people hinting to their dread about the future. Most of us don’t know how things turned out the way they did, and many of us seemed to be hiding the scars of deeply ingrained depression and psychological trauma. The resounding agreement that we’d all gladly go back to a time when we didn’t have to be scared about making it out alive was, largely, unspoken yet understood in every glance.
In short, my 10 year reunion was depressing as hell, and I found myself once again contemplating my own existence.
I had so many plans, so my aspirations as a child; but now everything seems to be withering, no matter how much I try to make a garden grow. Where did my green thumb go?
So, I did just as every person with a penchant for writing and research does…I read the revelations of other people. I sought for advice in the annals of the interwebs with the hope that someone’s thoughts would resonate within me. What I found was an article that was written on my birthday 4 years ago, asking questions that I have asked myself repeatedly for years. It was also as if it was a sign from the universe, answering my call for validation that I’m somehow on the right track.
Here are the questions, taken from the article “7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose” by Mark Manson, and my answers to them:
1. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SHIT SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE?
In the article, Manson talks about eating the shit sandwich that at least comes with something acceptable. Now, seeing how I hate olives, my idea of the edible shit sandwich would be one that contains either peanut butter or falafel. But I digress. The idea here is that life sucks, so you should at least do something that makes it less shitty. We’re all going to have to do things that make us unhappy, but if there is a facet of our everyday that is enjoyable, then it’s worth clinging to. If you don’t have that olive, peanut butter, or falafel in your shit sandwich, it’s time to go to another delicatessen.
So, if I was to replace the olive (or PB or falafel) with what makes my every day enjoyable, it undoubtedly comes down to a couple of things: dance, travel, and writing. If I can’t do these to the extent that I want to do them, I get horrendously anxious and depressed. I need to move, to be inspired, and to be surrounded by like individuals with the same need for movement as I do.
Although living in Japan and Australia was difficult because of the cost, I could at least dance and travel to my heart’s content. I could walk to the beach in Perth or hop on a train and go to Fuji in Japan. Here, in the doldrums of South Jersey, I can’t even walk to a park let alone go outside for some privacy. I can’t do anything without a car, but since I sold my car 7 years ago, I’m stuck relying on my parents.
My shit sandwich right now is shit submarine. A 5 dollar foot long. Where can I go where the shit is more like a smattering of mayo on the bun and the falafel is fresh?
Always ask yourself if this the kind of shit you want to deal with on a daily basis. Is the drudgery worth it? Or is there something a bit more enjoyable out there and how can I get it.
2. WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?
When I was a kid, I enjoyed doing a lot of things and imagining myself doing incredible things. I wanted to be an Olympic ice skater, a dancer, a performer, writer, bartender, nomad, and most of all, free. I wanted to pack up my belongings and say “bon voyage” to all the crap that I was forced to swallow as a child and adolescent. I never, ever wanted to come back to NJ again.
The funny thing is that I have endeavored to do everything I wanted to be. I wrote novels and tried to get them published, but it was hard as a teenager and young adult to not get scammed by agents. I tried to move away to a big city where I could be creative, but I was scammed again. I tried becoming a bartender, but I was always relegated to waiting on tables or shot girl. I tried to be a nomad, but money problems also put me on a short leash. I tried becoming a professional dancer, but the cost of university, paired with dealing with an autoimmune disease, scoliosis, and adult responsibilities put a damper on that. I tried moving to Japan again and again and again, yet…somehow, I could never make the move stick.
If my 8 year old self could see where I am now, I think she’d cry. Endlessly. She’d be so angry with me for not accomplishing my dreams, or maybe she would understand that it’s because I tried so hard and kept failing at everything that she would cry herself to sleep.
Always try to think about what you wanted to be when you were young and how close you are to that person you wanted to be today. If you find you have strayed too far from that person, how can you start working towards that goal right this very moment?
3. WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT AND POOP?
While the question is kind of crude, it makes a great point. Eating and crapping are, when you come down to it, the lowest tier on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Supposedly, people and animals can’t think about anything else than what they need to survive until those needs are met. If you find something that makes you forget to sustain yourself for survival, then that is something you should pour your heart and soul into. For me, it’s dance. Until the moment I had discovered dance, I felt incredibly empty. I used other things to fill the void, like food, video games, and books. Now, while I still like food, video games, and books, I would much prefer to lose myself for hours with dance. When I dance, I don’t look at the time. I don’t think about what I’m going to eat or when I should run to the bathroom (unless, of course, my bladder is near bursting and we’re doing leaps across the floor next).
Dancing makes me forget about my chronic pain. The more I dance, the less I start to worry about the future, because I can imagine myself in better, brighter places. Dance has taught me a lot of things, and it has become a basic need too. Without it, I can’t survive.
Unfortunately, it is because I have yet to meet the requirements of this basic need adequately that I continue to flounder with where to go and what to do. But I’m going to try, starting January 2019, to get to the right place.
And I won’t forget to ask myself if I am losing myself in that which I enjoy, or if I’m merely losing myself to what society thinks I should be doing instead. Is it me or is it ego?
4. HOW CAN YOU BETTER EMBARRASS YOURSELF?
There’s a theory that embarrassment is good for you, because it helps you attune to the society around you. By becoming embarrassed, it shows that you understand the social norms, wherever you are. Or, you’re like me and get beet red even when you accidentally stutter or speak publicly.
Still, I’m not afraid of making an ass of myself anymore.
Here’s why: I discovered that for me, embarrassment is directly connected to how far I am getting outside of my comfort zone and doing things that I might not entirely understand or feel sure about. Embarrassment thus generates a chance for social interaction and personal growth, because most people are going to want to try and find equilibrium, right? So, you ask for help. You study up. You nourish your needs to get better at whatever it is you’re trying to do.
In other words, if you go out seeking embarrassment, you will find a way to grow. For example, I went to Japan to become fluent in Japanese. If speaking in the hardest foreign language of English speakers to learn wasn’t bad enough, imagine all the mistakes I made at job and school interviews, all the cultural faux pas, and language barriers in interracial relationships. Not only that, but I was going to a dance school, too, and the culture of Japan in the studio is much different than the American way. I embarrassed the hell out of myself so many times, but because of that, I was accepted and made wonderful friends.
It wasn’t always comfortable. However, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today if I didn’t take those clumsy leaps and jumps into the unknown.
So, go out and see how can you embarrass yourself today. What lessons can you get from that embarrassment?
5. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD?
In 9th grade, my English teacher gifted me with a thesaurus and the message that one day I would save the world through writing. I kind of laughed it off back then, and I still kind of wonder if my writing will ever amount to anything on that grand of a scale, but I never doubted that my writing can help someone, somewhere.
However, it is not solely my writing. It’s my ideas. It’s the way I present those ideas in a thoughtful yet engaging way that made her say I would one day save the world. In other words, it’s what I could teach other people using writing and words. Writing was my first introduction to teaching. The idea of teaching brought me to my first Personal Fitness Trainer and Yoga Instructor certifications 5 years ago. Teaching put me in front of many people, giving them instruction on how to move their bodies and live more authentically. More healthily. This spurred me to seek merging fitness and dance so I could teach dancers how to better respect their hard working bodies.
And then, it came full circle with a dance professor telling me to become a professional writer. Funny how that all works out.
In short, if I’m going to save the world, it’s going to be through communicating and emotionally moving others. It will probably be through a mixture of mediums — books, articles, movement, and instruction — but the main idea will remain: that I will be expressing an idea that helps others transcend to new heights.
It’s as Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
6. GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Right now, I would gladly accept the gun to my head if it means getting me out of my parent’s house in New Jersey. Gun to my head, I would go abroad, back to either Japan or Australia or somewhere in Europe. From there, I would gladly press my forehead to the barrel of the gun if it meant compelling me into a dance studio, into doing my best every single day to become a dance teacher. I would even stick the gun in my mouth if it meant I could finally open my own dance studio and never need to go back to a house. I wouldn’t need a house. I would have made a home within that studio and started a family of international dancers, yogis, and creatives.
Shit, looks like I need to find someone who can hold that gun to my head.
7. IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE ONE YEAR FROM TODAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
My gene pool has a history of poor longevity. Cancer, heart disease, freakish accidents, alcoholism, drug abuse, and so on. My family tree is not made of healthy people. I’m certainly not genetically blessed either, so it is possible that I might not exist this time next year. If that is the case, then I want to start doing everything I could to at least perform professionally one more time. I want to get back on the stage and have the spotlight blinding me as I express the choreography I’ve been thinking about for months. I want to go back to Perth, Australia and sit on the beach one last time, live an easy life one last time, and not have to worry about finances and American politics one last time.
And I would want people to once again say to me, “Because you do your best everyday, you also inspire me to do my best everyday and live life with no regrets.”
About the time I ran through the questions the first time around, I once again had convinced myself that I need to dance and need to follow my heart when it comes to going out in search of performance opportunities and experiencing creating and choreographing. I also need to find a place where I can walk or bike around, see nature, and feel in tune with the world around me. While doing this isn’t going to be easy, and I know after 7 years of trying that I’m going to be subsisting on shit sandwiches for a really long time, if I can at least have some peanut butter or a falafel on top, I’ll be okay.
I don’t want to make that 8 year old me cry ever again.
Getting my writing out there (and my will) is one way of making this work, I guess. Getting the experience and re-confirming with myself that this is what I want is important to. Understanding where my desire stems from, though, is priceless.
In conclusion, every time I break down, I go through this kind of reorganizing process of asking myself questions, telling myself not to give up, and rekindling that inner child to seek out my real desires. I try to be the child who survived, who lives out the life of their wildest imaginings, and makes a name for themselves out in the stars. I remake myself again and again, but I never seem to stray too far from what that 8 year old me really wanted.
She wanted to dance. So do I.