Where We Left Off and What Happened Next
This is where we left off.
In a woods populated with poofy-looking birds perched high in the tallest trees. The poofy birds call out to one another as if to say, "I am here . . . where are you?" You may already know that my first book, The Lost Soul Companion
, was really just me perched high on my branch, standing on one leg, singing, "I'm here . . . where are you?" to other artsy, free spirits of all kinds.
(Now, it's completely okay if you didn't read the first book. You can read this one and pretend there is no first book if you like and it should still make plenty of sense.)
Since then I've been able to compare notes with lots of other Lost Souls. There are many more of these intriguing people than even I had expected, and hearing from them helped me to know what to put in this book.
Roll out the bird translation machine and you'll hear a good deal more than just "I am here . . . where are you?"
For instance, many still struggle with depression and suicidal feelings.
"Every time I get full of really good ideas and am resolute in ambition and full of optimism, this demon keeps trying to drag me straight back into that horrible hell of inactivity, lethargy, can't-cope-ness."
"I feel like I'm fated for being a statistic of some kind or another, and it's not a good feeling. It kind of feels like I'm a ball at some carnival booth that someone is trying to win a prize with by throwing it into one of the holes. . . Will they throw me into the hole that says suicide or the one that says liver disease, or perhaps the one marked mental breakdown?"
Nearly all feel like they don't quite fit.
"I feel constantly driven to think 'too deeply.' . . . I am aware to an extremely high degree that I am highly unusual. No one seems to . . . understand me. . . I live in a very lonely world and only people like 'this' know what I am talking about."
Many lost souls are very ambitious.
"I want to be successful. I want to be well known. I want the whole world to know I exist. . . "
. . . but no matter how hard they try it just doesn't seem like enough . . .
"It's like you spend all this time trying to become someone but you seem to be getting nowhere. I have dreamed of being a dancer on Broadway for as long as I can remember. Every time I feel like I might be moving up to the next level, someone is there to check my hopes and dreams at the door."
"I hold on to the frail, withering hope that I, too, am here for a worthwhile reason."The Grocery-Store Epiphany
Josh and I were in the snack aisle. Crinkling the bags of pretzels aside in our search for those corn chips that are shaped like small spoons. We made it all the way to the potato chips that are baked not fried! with no luck. Somewhere near the bright orange cheese puffs, I thought about the truck driver who had probably driven his semi filled to the top with cases and cases of this hermetically sealed goodness. I wondered what he was doing right at that moment, and I hoped he was happy.
The idealist in me likes to imagine a world full of people who are able to do what they love at least seventy-two percent of the time and still have enough to eat and a place to nap. There would be no more wage slaves, only souls who happen to get paid to do what they'd be willing to do for free.
Truck drivers like the cheese-puff guy would haul huge shipments of cola and brassieres not because they have to but because they love to--Breaker-one-nine. Chefs would decoratively squirt raspberry sauce on dessert plates--Mmmm, perfect. . . Salesmen would sell, writers would write, doctors would doctor, painters would paint--all because they really, really want to. People would brazenly open their own flower shops--That orchid is Epidendrum radiatum--and because they would spend time doing what they've always wanted to do instead of what they thought they had to do, their endeavors succeed, they worry less, they have all that they need. It would be a world especially hospitable to artists, and that I'd love to see.
Still, that isn't exactly the epiphany I meant to tell you about. Running into Josh at the grocery store had been just what I needed that afternoon, since I'd been thinking about what to put in this book, and things hadn't seemed right. I wasn't sure why, but now I knew. This was the problem: I was about to skip right over Josh. Considering what a great guy he is, that seemed unfair.
Josh happens to be a great patron of the arts. Any extra money he has he spends on sculptures and paintings. He is himself a very creative person, and I know he could do just about anything he wanted, but I don't think he really knows what that should be.
He was a year behind me in school, and now he's twenty-seven years old. He's traveled all over and has been engaged at least twice that I know of. That day he told me he'd moved back in with his parents and was substitute-teaching high-school math. He seemed positively miserable--and Lost.
I could identify. When I began The Lost Soul Companion
project, I had just returned from a disastrous move to California. I'd originally moved to Santa Cruz in order to pursue my art career (and to be with my boyfriend at the time . . .), but it all went to hell. After that, I'd come back home and was living under a friend's loft bed. I had no job, no money, no confidence, and no peace of mind. I had been deeply depressed--at times even suicidal. I wanted to find other Lost Souls and let them know that they weren't alone.
Now that I was feeling a bit better, I was dying to leap ahead. I wanted to encourage people who already had their acts together to get on with living their dreams, but questions nagged me. First of all, do people with their acts already properly together need such help? And, secondly, how can you go from suicidal to ready-for-stardom? (And should anyone really aspire to that
And so I decided not to skip all the hard parts. The truth is, I probably couldn't have written that book anyway. After all, how can someone who hasn't got her own life completely together write for the already-completely-together people? These days, I have traded in my severe depression for mild, prolonged discouragement. As for thoughts of suicide, from now on I will keep breathing--if for no other reason than to see how things turn out.
Even now, I feel about as lost as Josh was in the snack aisle. Knowing what to reach for or where to find it isn't easy.
Excuse me, where can I find Happiness?
Do you want it in light or heavy syrup?
Light, I guess.
And the Fortune Flakes?
It's not, of course, like this.My Hope for This Book
If you're anything like me, then you live with a fairly insistent urge to create and to make an indelible impression on the whole world. There is, in my case, the small matter of not really knowing what it is I was "meant" to do.
Truly, I never thought I would amount to anything at all. Besides eating candy, petting animals, and taking naps, one of my favorite things of all time is to help other creative, interesting people figure out what might make them happier. So if I can better enable you to share your painting, music, acting, filmmaking, or whatever it is that you live to do in the world, then maybe I've done something worthwhile.
I've spent years trying to make a mark of my own with my mixed-media artwork, not to mention this project too, and I can tell you what's been working so far and what hasn't worked at all.
I suspect you are capable of greatness. To that end, I humbly offer some ideas to help you succeed--keep in mind, this is my kind of success and not the kind most everyone else thinks about. Did you make someone else happy? Did you touch someone else with your work? That, to me, is success. Are you able to spend lots of time doing what you love to do? That is happiness. Maybe you are even able to partially--or completely--support yourself with your art. That is true contentment.
This book is for Lost Souls looking to prepare themselves for public consumption (and, by the way, sometimes it really does feel like you're being ingested.)
So I say this to you:
It's time to do Great Things . . . but how?The Dreamy Bits
To Flounder or to Flourish?
A couple of years ago I found myself sitting in a little cafe in Santa Cruz, California, with no job, hardly any money, and no idea what to do next. I was surrounded by successful-looking people, and I was feeling especially unsuccessful on that particular day. I drew this map of possible Future Plans:
The fact that I had no idea what to do with myself was nothing new. I've always been something of a Flounder-er.
Everyone flounders from time to time. Some Lost Souls are naturally flounder-y people. They may be highly creative and capable of great things, but they may also be indecisive, filled with insecurities, and very discouraged about The Future.
Here's what I wonder: Is there really anything wrong with a little floundering? Maybe flounder-y people are just dreamers who don't want to settle for ordinary lives. Maybe we are capable of so many great things that we can't possibly choose just one. And who said we had to make a permanent selection anyway?
So maybe you can choose a little something for now. Just to start with. Want to publish a book of your own poems? Direct your own short film? Have an exhibition of your paintings? Just by picking something (and it can be a really small thing if you like) you've already become a little less floundering.
What's the difference between floundering and flourishing? Not much, when you think about it. To flourish, you have to think carefully about what is important to you and imagine what you hope to accomplish. To flounder, you have to imagine all the ways you can fail and all the disasters you are averting by remaining completely inactive and undecided about Everything. So both require a good imagination. That means if you are good at floundering, you can be good at flourishing too! I think the first step is allowing yourself to think clearly about what you want to do and what you think you can do.
The next step is to be very, very patient, because good things take time!A Few Famous Flounder-ers
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Agatha Christie, George Orwell, and Kevin Williamson, the guy who wrote the movie Scream, suggest to me that it's perfectly okay to be somewhat unstable. From others' points of view, they may have looked like flounder-ers, but I prefer to think that they were simply building up to their Great Flourishing.
In the case of Emerson, he spent a lot of time and energy working to become a minister, and in 1826 he began a very distinguished career in the Unitarian Church. For a few years he was very popular in the Church and he made lots of money. But after the death of his wife, Ellen, he developed serious religious doubts, and he decided to give up his ministry. Despite illness and dispiritedness, Emerson set out for a goal he could not see, according to biographer Robert D. Richardson in his work Emerson: The Mind on Fire
. He left his house and sold all his furniture. For the next ten months Emerson bummed around Europe trying to collect himself. Of course, to his concerned friends and family, he looked like a Grade A Flounder-er. (Freaking out and quitting a cushy job is never easy to explain to relatives. . . .)
Richardson explained, Emerson's new life seemed to those around him only a new failure. His family was disappointed. [His brother] Charles clucked that he had done too much "for the expression of individual opinion." Aunt Mary thought he was in dangerous waters indeed. Leaving the Second Church in Boston was a repudiation of the world of his father. Emerson was also giving up institutional affiliation and support, a guaranteed social position, and a generous and assured salary. But these same facts, from another perspective, bespeak a kind of victory, a freeing of himself from the confining forms of church and state, a chance to begin again, to live entirely--and literally--on his own terms.
Upon his return to the United States, Emerson began lecturing and writing. In his late thirties, Emerson released his first books. It was the start of his new calling as a transcendentalist thinker. I think Emerson was just patiently evolving into what he was meant to become.
Hopefully I am too.
Agatha Christie also evolved. She had been bent on a career in music--studying singing and piano in France--until she realized she was much too shy to perform publicly. She had never before considered becoming a writer, and even after she'd been published, she didn't see herself as a writer for a very long time. Originally, her sister had challenged her to write her first work, which was subsequently rejected by six publishers. A seventh would accept her manuscript and, at the age of thirty, she became a published author. She wrote countless mysteries, novels, and plays, including Murder on the Orient Express
and The Mouse Trap
, and she has sold more books than anyone except Shakespeare.
Although George Orwell claims he always knew he wanted to be a writer, he had difficulty getting there. He hadn't had much training or experience writing, but after resigning his position as an officer with the Indian Imperial Police, he set out to write. During the years spent refining his craft, Orwell washed dishes in Paris, taught private school here and there, and worked in a used-book store. When his first novels and short stories went unpublished, he destroyed them. (Imagine how this must've looked to outsiders!) Nevertheless, he pursued his creative work with a quiet intensity and independence that eventually led him to succeed with the publication of his political and literary observations and the novels Animal Farm
Excerpted from The Not-So-Lost Soul Companion by Susan M. Brackney. Copyright © 2002 by Susan M. Brackney. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.