Welcome to the newest installment of The Manifest-Station. Dear Life: an unconventional advice column with a spin. The questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. Today’s 2 questions are answered by author Robert Wilder. Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Send an email to dearlife at jenniferpastiloff.com or use the tab at the top of the site to post. Answers will vary according to the voice/personality/sense of humor of each author. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!
Life has never felt easy. As a four year old I remember worrying if my parents could pay the bills. I remember going home early from kindergarten with stomach aches I couldn’t explain. I remember wanting to speak, but not feeling the courage to do so. I remember hearing them fight all through the night, doors slamming and the sound of a hand hitting a face. I remember wondering why they kept having more kids. And then I remember taking care of those kids. I remember begging my mom to leave my dad. And then she did. And I remember the poverty that came I wasn’t expecting. Life. It only got harder. I remember wondering why everyone had when we didn’t. I remember people leaving cash in our mailbox because “your mom is a hard worker but has no way to buy you gifts.” I remember through that time having a crush on a boy and then hearing him call me homely to my best friend. I remember my best friend dating him then. I remember everyone saying I was so responsible and helpful and going to go places in this life. I remember the adults saying that the bullying would stop as I got older. I remember them saying if I just got good grades and worked hard that I could become anything. I believed them. They were wrong. Or they lied.
I remember at 17 filling out the financial aid forms to go to school. Not a person to help me. I remember the joy of opening my acceptance letter to school and the response I got was “I can’t help you in any way.” I remember being embarrassed of my second hand clothes in my new world I moved to. I remember staying up all night to do my homework after a long night of work. I remember the boy in college that I thought really liked me. I remember doing whatever I could to make sure he did. And then I remember that he never called me again. I remember the shame. I’ve never lost the shame of the things I did to get them to like me. I remember working and studying and working some more. I remember I still believed that I was meant to do great things. That I could be the one in my family to make it out. I remember those with daddy’s that cared got the better internships and jobs after school. I remember I didn’t know how to play the game. I didn’t have anyone to show me.
And as the years continued, I remember the slow death of my hopes and big dreams and all I thought was possible to those who worked hard. I got tired. I got so tired. I gave up.
I have settled. I live a life that looks nothing like what I ever said I wanted.
How do I get them back? The dreams? The idea that things are still possible…even for me? Will life ever feel easy?
Signed, Will it ever feel easy, in Missouri.
Dear “Will It Ever,”
It seems as if you’ve hit rock bottom. What to do? I know this is no consolation but everybody is suffering. Everybody I know at least. Death, bad divorce, drug addiction, abuse, bankruptcy, you name it. Life is really hard, but I think I have a prescription for some temporary relief: Contron. I know Contron sounds like a combined comic
book/futuristic convention, but it’s not. Contron is a twenty-year-old, unemployed, low-fi bedroom singer living with his mother in Pensacola, Florida. Contron writes songs about sadness, drugs, heartbreak, abortion, going to the moon, picking daisies, but mostly sadness. My seventeen-year-old daughter turned me onto the gospel of Contron,
and I feel (slightly) healed. Why? Humanity. Contron makes art out of misery, and that my Dear “Will It Ever” makes me hopeful. I know how it is to have loss. My mother died when I was seventeen; my father is only weeks or months away from leaving right now. There’s more, but I will spare you. My advice: find the humanity in everything. Oh, and listen to Contron here:
This comes to you from the other side of the world. Why is that I always feel like I’m in the wrong place? And is where you are even relevant?
Why is it that I constantly make the wrong decisions? I keep
on shoving myself into situations that don’t seem to agree with me… I see
myself as a rather conscious individual: I take care of myself from a
nutritional point of view, I meditate, I walk/cycle every day, I do
Pilates, I practice gratitude… and I question my life regularly… maybe
a little too regularly.
Pre-2013, I had a nice little set-up in Brussels (Belgium), with a
part-time job at a law firm, doing the occasional translation job and a
small community of dear friends to help and support me. For the two years
prior to 2013, I was engaged in a long-distance relationship with someone I
met online, and who lives in London. After 2 years, I sort of pushed myself
into making “a decision” as to where this relationship was headed. I
decided to move to London, to be with him, dragging everything I own with
me (and later dragging it all back again). After barely 6 months in London
and many spanners thrown into the works, creating all-round bad vibes: “we”
weren’t really functioning, which led to me not really functioning as an
individual either (I seemed to be paralyzed on many levels). One evening,
after yet another horrendous altercation with our obnoxious down-stairs
neighbor, I felt like it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, stuffed
some clothes into a small suitcase, and left. I went back to Brussels,
where all of a sudden, job opportunities were falling into my lap. I was
couch-surfing but it was summer and I didn’t mind… I was being received
with open arms by my friends and I will eternally be grateful for this.
However, after about a month and a half of that, I decided to go back to
Ostend (a seaside town in Belgium, where I was born and grew up), to be
closer to my family while I decided what I was going to do…
In the end, I decided to stay in Ostend to be by the seaside, go for daily
walks along the seafront and the beach, etc. Idealizing the prospect of it,
I rented an apartment which is pretty spectacular (in a certain sense). I’m
on the 12th floor of a tall building, of which there are only 2 in the
city, so my view is amazing. It’s a small flat, so it’s easy to heat and
maintain, and thanks to my 2 floor-to-ceiling windows, it never feels
enclosed or claustrophobic. It seemed like a perfect set-up. On top of
that, the place is relatively affordable, despite the fact that I’m
surviving on unemployment benefits. Anyway, the plan was to find a
part-time job and try to find translation work, which I’ve always done on a
free-lance basis… you know, trying to find a workable solution to make
ends meet and not get bogged down in a job that would suck the life out of
(Oh dear, this is going to end being a novella… I apologize sincerely…)
The above is a seriously abridged version of my background. It doesn’t
mention that I’ve been doing this my entire life… My trajectory to date
(25 years) has been as follows: Ostend – Brussels – London – Brussels –
Chicago – Brussels – London – Brussels – Ostend.
Yes, unsettled might be the right choice of word!!
To get to the point… I have been in Ostend for 3.5 months now and I’m
feeling defeated, completely out of whack. There is no work in this small
town! Unless, you are willing to work retail or do cleaning jobs. Not that
I look down on those… not in the slightest! I just know that it would
cause me to slide into a deep depression again. I need to have work that is
worthwhile and has added value…
I’m not connecting with people… This town is a bit of an elephant’s
graveyard, populated mainly by elderly people. Hence, there is no
motivation to change things… and when there is, there is opposition from
the municipality, who do their utmost to make this place as comfortable as
possible for aforementioned elderly and as unattractive as possible for the
younger generation. That’s why they all move away…
I thought I’d enjoy the peace and quiet, but I’m not! It reeks of death,
My brother has his family and job and is perfectly happy in his way of
life. It’s actually a joy to behold. They just bought a house and they’re
thinking of buying garages and renting them out as an easy investment with
high yields. I understand, but couldn’t possibly imagine being stuck in
that kind of life. They seem to be perfectly content with their lives,
although my brother did mention the other day that he doesn’t find
fulfillment in his job… that said, he accepts his present situation
I envy that… I wish I could be happy with a bog-standard, conventional
way of life. My reasoning, though, is as follows: these are not the “simple
things” in life, as my brother claims. As far as I can tell, he is enslaved
to a system, which forces everyone to spend their life in servitude. You do
work that offers no personal fulfillment. You’re part of a huge machine
that serves only itself, under the illusion that is doing good by providing
“work”. You are enslaved by a system that forces you to work your ass off,
in exchange for a measly wage that then immediately heads out the other
way, to pay bills and taxes, etc. Your work isn’t even benefiting anyone in
particular, except for that huge company that has “given you a chance” only
to enrich themselves even more… How can that be fulfilling? That is not
why we were set on this earth, is it? All of this begs the question as to
why I was set on this earth? Not to sit around getting worked up about the
status quo, I hope!? It seems like I should be doing something to change
that status quo!
I feel like I made the wrong decision, AGAIN, by deciding to move to
Ostend. I am increasingly plagued by a sense of dread… I don’t want to do
a “whatever job” just to pay the bills. I kind of like my apartment but I
feel anxious here… There are “antennae” on the roof of the building and
I’m convinced that the weird humming noise I constantly hear, is down to
the radiation they are emitting. It’s disrupting my sleep. I feel detached
from nature (despite the sea and the beach). In London, we had an allotment
(a plot of land in a community garden) and it was my life… I spent most
of my time there tending my vegetable garden. If anything… that was a
valuable lesson I learned by moving to London (of all places!): that I need
to be in close contact with nature!!
I feel like I should just pack up and leave… become a WWOOFER, go
volunteer somewhere… do something worthwhile…
Except… am I making the right decision? How do you make a living? Am I
also caught up in the same-ol’ same-ol’ pattern of trying to maintain a
grasp on the “future” (which, to all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist)?
A friend of mine is doing just that, but he has his property in Brussels,
which he will be renting out while he’s in Italy learning about
permaculture. When/if he decides to come back he will have money in the
bank! I know (from experience, mind you) that there is no point in
projecting into the future and yet, I get caught up in it every single
time. I don’t trust my gut instincts anymore… They change at the drop of
a hat… As much as I want to step out of this contrived society we live
in, I don’t trust my gut enough (it’s so fickle) to, once again, follow
what I’m feeling right now and just do it… It might, after all, be a
momentary thing… Following what I feel deep down inside has led me to
waste buckets of money, time and energy. For instance – and this is just
one of the obstacles – how do I get out of my rental agreement, which has
just started and is meant to be an agreement for 3 years? If I break that
agreement, I have to pay 3 months rent… I don’t have that kind of
I have always suffered from bouts of eczema and know that it’s mainly
related to my emotional state. Right now, it is about as bad as it has ever
been, which says one thing: I am on the wrong path… again…
situation in this world… I am feeling “the shift” like nobody’s
business… I just don’t know how to step out and head in another
direction… I am 50… I am unsure… I am willing but don’t seem able…It is killing me…
Wow. Sounds like you have 99 problems and calm ain’t one. A wise friend once told me (when I was feeling anxious. Maybe not as anxious as you, but close) that when you don’t know what to do, do nothing. He didn’t mean sit on the couch, drink cheap beer from Owl’s Liquor (really near my house) and watch Enlightened although that sounds
great right now. He meant don’t make any grand decisions or sudden moves. Sounds like you’d be unsettled in London, Paris, or Espanola, New Mexico (near my town).
It was my birthday on Sunday, and I had over 400 pages of grading to do. Grading 400 pages of high school work would drive anyone insane. Believe. I was crawling out of my skin. But I plowed through, setting hourly goals, and taking breaks. Maybe I screamed some; my memory is foggy when it comes to outbursts. I suggest you give Ostend,
which sounds lovely by the way, at least six months. Get a job that will pay your bills; tell yourself it’s only temporary, and continue to do your meditation. Try walking and lying meditation as well. Write in your journal (read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones) and chill out. Tell yourself that you will not make any major decisions for six months. Stick to it. Don’t envy anyone else’s life. Don’t worry about the world; the world can take care of itself. Just take it day by day. And read some poetry. I recommend Matthew Dickman, Laura Kasischke, Dorianne Laux, and
Tony Hoagland. Read it aloud.
PS It’s not the antennae; it’s your state of mind, yo.
Robert Wilder is the author of two critically acclaimed books of essays: Tales FromThe Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs a Drink, both optioned for television and film. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, Working Mother and elsewhere. He has been a commentator for NPR’sMorning Edition, The Madeleine Brand show, and On Point and other national and regional radio programs including the Daddy Needs a Drink Minute which airs weekly on KBAC FM. Wilder’s column, also titled “Daddy Needs A Drink,” is printed monthly in the Santa Fe Reporter. He was awarded the 2009 Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. Wilder has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the past twenty years.
Visit Robert Wilder on Facebook.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.
Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October