Hello, I’m Sarah. I’m 35, which is halfway between 30 and 40, also arguably between the end of my twenties, a first attempt at adulthood, and the beginning of an age that sounds much more mature. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat bookish, and if you had asked me what I liked to read a few years ago I probably would have said something like “contemporary lit”, mostly meaning books/writers I plucked off the Booker Prize’s long list. These days, however, I seem to have a much shorter fuse with fiction. Unreliable narrator? Been there, done that. National identity mirrored by one tragic underdog? That’s so 2003. Similarly, if you had asked me what music I liked to listen to I could have rattled off a list of go tos: Beck, Cake, New Pornographers, Jenny Lewis. Now my musical curiosity seems to be limited to the stadium anthems that power me through my runs. In my professional life, I have always held positions that involve many facets and a random toolbox of skills, which really just means I sort of know a lot of things, but would have trouble specializing in any of the individual pieces. I am also a stepparent, which makes me a kind of, sort of, a parent, i.e. not a parent, but also not not a parent. Hell, at 5’4” I’m even in some middle zone of short and tall.
Addressing the question of who you are, which seems to be inextricably linked with what you like, and if you’re feeling especially ambitious, what you’re good at, is daunting and not for the faint of heart, especially if you find that your tastes have suddenly changed course without leaving a forwarding address. I think it was a slow progression for me into this murky swampland of uncertainty; a few binge reading sessions that left me burnt out on too familiar themes, lyrics I was no longer connecting with because I wasn’t even hearing them, difficulty finding a job that matched my kitchen sink style resume. In short, this gal’s head has been spinning.
How do you find books you like when new titles are flying at you so fast you’ve got paper cuts on your cheeks? Whose recommendations do you trust, and what happens when you do finally find a book that grabs you, only to fail to find its successor? I’ve perused Spotify and its many cousins for new-to-me artists only to be paralyzed by having nearly every recording artist between now and the first harpsichord murmurs literally at my fingertips. Throw in all the Indie labels and I just want to crawl under my desk and take a nap.
On the face of it, trying to find things you “like” is sort of frivolous, except that when you fail to feel a connection to anything going on where you previously reveled and frolicked, things can start to feel lonely and a little too quiet. At some point you have to contend with the fact that it’s you that’s changed, and your lack of interest is not, as you initially suspected, the result of some larger coup to oust you from cultural enjoyment. After a few months of frustratingly starting books, only to put them down 27 pages in, or giving up on even attempting a real listen to music, it will hit you: holy shit, it’s me. I’m stuck. After your umpteenth email to your spouse about your ennui and your lack of interesting things to write about, he or she will say “Why don’t you write about that?” After resisting this nudge for several months, you’ll finally give in one random Monday afternoon (May 23, 2016, to be exact), because you’ll realize that maybe there is some value to be found in simply writing about the fact that you are stuck. Even if at the end of your post you have still not been hit by any lightening bolts of inspiration, you have finally said the thing you haven’t wanted to say, but that has been building and building in you: you’re stuck and it’s not as simple as trying a new book.
Then in the middle of writing all of this you get a frantic call from this lovely, supportive spouse because concurrently with this identity crisis you’ve also started getting notifications from people saying your mail has been returned to them as undeliverable, and you have discovered that for some reason the post office has put a hold on your address, claiming you moved without leaving a forwarding address. This matters because 5 minutes ago your sweaty husband discovered he was denied a shower, i.e. your water has been cut off, and you realize that you have not been receiving your water bill. You’re already tight on cash because this exact same shit fest happened with your phone bill, and you had to pony up several months of payments at once. While screaming “FUCCK!!!” and banging your head against your desk, you are smacked in the face with the irony in just having written about your tastes changing with no forwarding address, and you laugh in that resigned, beaten down way you do when there is nothing else to do but laugh and hope that at some point you feel more put together, less in the middle, and more like you have mastered things such as budgeting, which are probably more important than current reads anyway.
You hope that one day you will look back on this moment, as you pause between reading or listening, and realize that you made it through something. Perhaps you conquered your ennui one meta blog post at a time, or you realized that it was simply okay to exist in the middle. Perhaps from the ashes of this once desolate middle ground an okay book will have risen, followed by a song with a decent bass line, and before you know it you will be humming along again thinking about the growing list of things you want to read next.
*Photo credit: Hasna Lahmini