But the quote, which literally is in the first essay, I immediately stopped and wrote down. Truthfully, I think you could swap “woman” in the quote to read for any label or identity. The heart of it remains, how do we ensure we are living our own meaningful lives? How do we go back not just rejecting the restrictive nature of a question, but no longer even debating the question itself? Have we actually sat down and thought about what meaningful means to us? There is a trajectory so many of us expect to be on when we’re young, and I often look around and go, what is that unsettled feeling?
The quote was excellent prompt for me to actually sit down and write out what I wanted from life. I had been wrestling with this for quite some time. I think anyone attempting to balance passion projects against full time careers, relationships, children, knows there can often be a reckoning. Without careful attention, bitterness can seep in.
So instead, I sat down to actually process (I know so healthy!) my emotions and go, what do I want? Not what the world tells me I should want.
Because there is the steady rhetoric that we should all want to work at what we are passionate about that we should all have extremely fulfilling careers where we enter that “flow.” We should want any of our “side hustles,” to also make us money where we can turn down the corporate ladder. We should want to make a living as a travel blogger. We should want to make our van into our home. We should also want to climb the ladder--to be the boss. All that and we should also have a beautifully decorated home--that we own--along with a partner (preferably married) that fulfills us and some kids. Also a dog. Possibly a pet fish.
The contradictory nature of what makes life meaningful is its own head spin. The fact that our thirties are set up by the decisions we make in our twenties even more frightening of a prospect.
Some of that may be true. But Solnit reminds us to look at the question--and to an extent the questioner and then refuse as needed.
So what do I need? (I fully admit that my Western bias is showing as I focus on the individual) What do I actually want out of life?
The answers to the list were actually illuminating to me and they helped steady me. I’ve wrestled at different times and in different ways that I may never make money from my books and therefore may never be able to commit to writing full-time. It’s also true that I am a bit of a risk-averse person when it comes to financial security. The day job checks a lot of boxes. The doctorate I am currently pursuing may not be in the field I thought I would be in, but I am learning, I am growing, and at the end it can’t hurt only help.
The list also showed me there are things I want, things I can work toward. Like continuing to explore working in print arts, like letterpress printing, like bookbinding. Maybe even paper-making or working on sewing or quilting.
Refusing the question is a process because the rhetoric is so often structurally built in. The first step is in acknowledging the question that tries to restrict you.