* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I’m in the midst of my quarter-life crisis.
And, truth be told, I’m a little put off that nobody warned me about it.
The quarter-life crisis is a sneaky little devil that starts infiltrating you without announcing its presence— it just winds its way up your leg like an innocent boa constrictor, batting her eyelashes and waiting until your ego is good and fat before she swallows you whole. In your sleep. Monster pajama pants and all.
I’m sure that the midlife crisis is just as miserable, if not worse, but you must understand my current resentment toward whoever’s employed as the PR representative for the various Life Crises. The midlife crisis is well advertised, and we’re all aware of the symptoms: Ferraris, platinum hair dye, Botox, a sudden inclination during breakfast to become a world-renowned Curling champion. But no book, movie or pharmaceutical commercial during the NBC Nightly News has advertised the symptoms of the force that’s taken my friends and me hostage: constantly changing hair styles; unhealthy iPod dependency issues; commitment issues with everything from jobs to salad dressing; falling victim to an internal monologue that says very little other than “what am I doing with my life?” and “should I be trusted to do this without adult supervision?”
I feel rather indignant that no one whispered information about the quarter-life crisis (or QLC, as it shall be referred to) into my ear on the eve of my 20th birthday. The way I see it, this person would be Mr. Arthur Slugworth, the man who pulls each golden-ticket-winning child aside and whispers sinister secrets to them in the 1971 Gene Wilder film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”.
<<this column will now pause for intermission while I stare off into space and fondly reminisce about how fabulously weird that movie was. Oh, Veruca Salt, my next essay will be about you.>>
Where was I? Ah, yes. Dawdling (the fifth most serious symptom of QLC).
I’m sure that some twenty-somethings enter the Real World with a strong sense of self, a meaningful and stable career path, and that special someone who will be there in sickness and in apathy until death do they part. And I have no hard feelings toward these people.
But this essay is about the people I understand better-- the twenty-somethings who feel like their Real World turned out to be startlingly similar to MTV’s eponymous clusterboink (if I may borrow my dad’s term) of a “reality show” – a solitary, yet self-conscious world in which we strap a wireless mic to our belt and begin the day with a camera crew watching us brush our teeth.
I don’t mean to say that my generation is a pack of narcissistic blobs who act like we’re always on camera, basing our lives around alcohol, hot tubs and slack-jawed roommates who think that Denmark is a phenomenon that can be fixed with Clearasil. But there is (in my experience, anyway) a strange mix of loneliness and heightened awareness after college, in that unusually blank page between “got an education” and “happily married with blossoming career, tidy house and well-behaved children.”
So, with no Arthur Slugworth and no pharmaceutical treatment for QLC, I will admit to the sympathetic readers and cinephiles out there that I’ve been heavily self-medicating with books and movies. I’ve racked up almost $30 in late fees to the library, and have nearly overdosed on DVDs.
Turning to books is always a dangerous game; as the adage says, misery loves a good book to read. Salinger has made a literary niche for hand-to-forehead angst, and I think that Dr. Seuss and David Sedaris are geniuses at capturing the absurdity of being a “grown up”. (DS... DS... I feel like I know another author who also shares those initials. Hmm. Oh, Danielle Steele. Put her on the list, too.)
These authors seem to know what I’m talking about, and they, too, have encountered the scratchy, coffee-breath words from the Candy Man’s nemesis in the alley behind the chocolate shop—
“All I want you to do is to get hold of just one Everlasting Gobstopper and bring it to me
so that I can find the secret formula. Think it over, will you? A new house for your
family, and good food and comfort for the rest of their lives. And don't forget the name:
The Everlasting Gobstopper, indeed. Graduating from college left me with unshakable feelings of confusion-- what am I supposed to be? What gives one the momentum of a responsible, productive adult life, and what is it that would make me happy? I knew that documentary filmmaking was one of my dreams, but even as I pursue that, I can’t help but to linger in dark alleys, hoping that Slugworth will pull me aside and give me a direct mission. Simply find the Everlasting Gobstopper, and the rest will be Happily Ever After.
My father is of the opinion that I’ll grow out of my Salinger phase someday, but this assumes that I will eventually be cured from QLC, which may never happen. Besides, Salinger’s angst-stricken characters are my kind of people—they always seem to be grappling with the ethical dilemma of the Gobstopper from inside claw-footed bath tubs and poorly-lit dormitories.
Because I’m too demure to give away my age, I’ll just say that I’m at the exact halfway point between twenty and thirty, and it’s a strange place to live. When you’re in your twenties, it’s likely that your life consists of looking for a Job, capital ‘J’, and People Who Can Tolerate You, capital ‘yikes’.
On one hand, the job dilemma is perfectly timed for me. With no husband, no kids, no mortgage and no outstanding warrants, I see nothing wrong with burning some incense, turning the lava lamp on and attempting a little recreational career experimentation in the safety of my own home on the weekends. Except for one thing... my “work history” is more freakishly random than Angelina Jolie’s taste in men.
My personal QLC “career conversations” tend to go like this:
“Where did you go to school?”
“Hamilton College, a small liberal arts school”
“Art school? Are you a painter?
“Not in so many words.”
“What did you major in?”
“... I feel uncomfortable”
“It’s kind of like English, mostly.”
“What on EARTH can you do with a ‘kind of English’ degree?”
“Good question. Um...be a hobo? Hop some trains, maybe, and play my harmonica.”
“Did you minor in harmonica?”
“No. I minored in theater and French.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
”Ah, I see that my bus has arrived. Auf wiedersehen.”
And truth be told, a Non-English degree from a Non-Art school does take a gal to some strange places. QLC never hurts quite as much as when one is reviewing the strange and painful reality of her resume:
- Job: Volunteered at a Therapeutic Equestrian Center
Responsibilities: Groomed & tacked horses, taught people with disabilities how to ride, learned how to clean saddle soap out of my car
Challenge: Hard to walk after Spot broke two of my toes to make a point about his freedom.
Relevance to Comparative Literature Degree: Not so much
- Job: Receptionist at a Corporate Real Estate company
Responsibilities: Answered phone, picked tomatoes off of other people’s sandwiches (by request), attempted to sell property to telemarketers who called about printer ink
Challenge: Please re-read the part about ‘receptionist’, ‘printer ink’ and ‘tomatoes’
Relevance to Comparative Literature Degree: There was a poster in the women’s bathroom that had something to do with “Motivation” or “Team Work”. It involved a poor metaphor and confusing images of a duck running toward some cliffs.
- Job: College Admissions Interviews
Responsibilities: Interviewed prospective students, including an Olympic-level table tennis champion and an Upper East Sider who (and you can’t make this stuff up) “chose Hamilton College because the student body included very few Mid-Westerners; a type of person that would detract from [his or her] enjoyment of school and [his or her] ability to learn without distraction”
Challenge: During this interview, my lips became numb from the polite smile that I’d committed to for over an hour, and I literally drooled on my shirt. It was the best-timed accident of my life thus far.
Relevance to Comparative Literature Degree: I’m sure Kafka would’ve had something to say about this experience.
- Job: Barista at Borders Bookstore
Responsibilities: Lattes, Cappuccinos, leader of an Apron-Wearers Underground Revolution
Challenge: had to decide on a reaction (laugh, cry, sue) after a very anxious CEO-type-person unexpectedly threw a handful of coins in my face
Relevance to Comparative Literature Degree: Well... again, none. Except that I was pulling espresso shots in a bookstore, which sells books and Itty Bitty Book Lights.
- Job: Video Producer
Responsibilities: writing scripts, directing shoots, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and (in the words of Jennifer Coolidge from For Your Consideration), “sometimes paying for ridiculous things, like snacks”
Challenge: pesky quarter-life crisis
Relevance to Comparative Literature Degree: Documentaries are about universal themes and story telling... at least I’m getting a little closer, right?
So, Mr. Arthur Slugworth, I hope that if you’re out there, you will stop me in an alley, tell me what my own personal Everlasting Gobstopper will be, and whisper into my ear what kind of book my blank chapter is being written in. So far, it’s hard to say. It has the strange stream of consciousness of Joyce, the exasperating long-windedness of Proust, a chilly winter or two from Dostoevsky’s Russia, and the absurdity of Roald Dahl. Will there be any Steinbeck road trips, or Stephen King hauntings? Will anything remotely interesting as a day in the life of Harlan Ellison come my way?
Whatever the novel, I hope that my character has good dialogue and colorful characters to look forward to. The exposition has been adequately defined, the climbing action has enough chalk on its hands to make this next boulder, and Toto has been tucked away in the picnic basket for safe keeping. My fingers are crossed, Mr. Slugworth, that you see documentary films in this chapter, and Shakespearean come-backs, and maybe even a golden ticket peeking out of a chocolate bar.
Not that I have to have a golden ticket. Or an Oompa Loompa.
But I’m pretty sure that it would help my Quarter Life Crisis if I had one.
Oh dear, it’s flaring up again. I should probably get back to bed.
Yours in search of the Elusive Everlasting Gobstopper,