The Detour is the Path: A Manifesto

The Detour is the Path

I awoke one morning in the early hours with an image of myself, reaching out into the sky. Peeling away from my body was a transparent, ghost-like version of me. Slowly, it began to remove itself entirely and floated upwards with a string attached. It reminded me of a Disneyland balloon. A character caught in a moment and immortalized, floating there. My outstretched arm held on tight and reached, reached, reached for this soft image of myself as it began its ascent.

Though growing up in a quaint wooded suburban area, I have always identified more fully with a bustling city life. Lucky for me the urban I was a sub of happened to be New York City. In my young adulthood, I fashioned myself an artsy, independent, gutsy, city girl who performed spoken word and auditioned for plays. For over 16 years I lived in an urban area and adored it: my college town, NYC, Los Angeles. I even found an area of LA that blended what I loved and missed about New York (urban, creative, multicultural, walkable, hip) with hiking, palm trees and actual houses with actual yards. My career, oh my career, like so many ambitious creative females, became my sole reason for doing most anything. It has been my main squeeze, my fiancee, my child. I have always had very big, very real ideas for myself, staring down the bright lights of greatness. But the last few years I look more like a deer than a diva. Worn out and too unsure of myself to accomplish what I set out. The things I have accomplished just don’t feel like…enough. Well into my 30’s and I still feel like that girl just starting out.  Someone cue the violins for the pity party.

In walks my (now) boyfriend who, unbeknownst at the time, fulfilled a long wish-list of attributes I had tucked away in a forgotten spiral notebook. I realized months into our relationship that I had received exactly what I asked for when I met him. Which I can only mean that having him in my life is exactly what I needed. I moved in with him less than a year into our relationship, into a very pretty, tree-lined suburban enclave of Los Angeles, near the mountains. Explaining where I live to most of my ‘city’ friends takes almost as much time to explain as it does to drive there. This is not criticism, and perhaps only a very slight exaggeration. It has changed my life in a profoundly wonderful way.

The two of us travel often to a vacation home he bought 3 hours north of LA into the most remote version of life I have ever experienced. It is a “town” of 20 people and didn’t even have hard line phones until 1998. Oh, and I have seen at least one bear. I love it and wonder what the 2001 version of me would say. Yet still I am haunted by the feeling that I am floating further and further away from my heretofore citygirl identity. It makes me wonder if all the things I have endlessly pined for in my own Jane Austin-esque narrative are not ordained. If the things I have wanted are not what I have needed. My lucrative career in the arts as writer and actor. My home in the Silverlake hills or Fort Greene Brooklyn. Am I steering myself wrong or what? Is that not who I am really meant to be? I feel like three people. Myself as I am in this moment, myself of the past and whatever this being is forming in the immediate future. It may be reductive but I think this is what they call an existential crisis.

I awoke that day questioning such large parts of myself and where they fit into my new life with a man who wanted more and more the lovely respite of a life away from the city. A life away from the places I’ve always called mine. This imaginary house, this brownstone, this place inside a buzzing hive of city life, were all symbolic for me. All metaphor for a portion of myself which I felt I’ve slowly been losing. Decades of crafting myself in a certain way, but that truthfully have never quite blossomed into the widely accepted version of “success.” I happen to have an extraordinary group of friends and colleagues who accomplish with a capital ‘A.’ I pine endlessly over their Facebook status’ (a subject I nimbly tackle in another of my musings). Friends who have won Tony awards, SAG awards, booking roles left and right, selling pilots, financing films, inking development deals, travelling the world, receiving grants and fellowships, getting engaged, getting pregnant. “Then there was me: I ran two miles today with my dog.” “I really like the last episode of Homeland this season.” “I baked a pie!” Share, like, share, like. My BF says I don’t give myself enough credit but forgets he’s talking to a lifetime over-achiever.

The truth is, I was losing myself. I lacked passion and vigor in the same directions I had gone for so long. I would just stare blankly at the world waiting for someone to tell me what to do next.  Tired. Waiting for a smoke signal. Doing rain dances in my living room (which coincidentally we really need in California). I have watched the accomplishment of others with a deep longing, but without enough motivation. For awhile now I have much more passionate about a long hike, my ability to roast a Martha Stewart worthy chicken and the fact that I can visit my Mom without flying 3,000 miles. I have taken a detour and sometimes it really freaks me out.

I think my generation of women is unique. Us females in our 30’s / early 40’s, were handed women’s lib on a silver platter. We haven’t had to struggle nearly as hard to prove ourselves worthy as women of equal opportunity and respect.  Ambition is our birthright. And though I have a few (ok one) friend who we all knew was destined for motherhood, wifedom and what people like to call traditional values, you couldn’t have paid me to do any of that at 23. You spend your youth chasing a career and then suddenly you wake up in your 30’s or 40’s and are like, where am I? I don’t see this conundrum in the generation beneath mine.  More and more I am exposed to women who don’t want that same ambition – who want more traditional things. Perhaps it’s a testament to our struggling economy, I don’t know. But it’s there. It confounds me.

My very close girlfriend and I, also a long time actress and filmmaker, will pour a glass of pinot grigio and examine our burgeoning relationship with these ideals so much later in life. We talk about how over it we are. And by over it I don’t mean that we suddenly wanted to be accountants; we still want to create interesting work in entertainment using our given passions and skills – we simply refuse to approach it from the same frantic and desperate pace of seasons past.  Now, we are older, hopefully wiser, and pretty far from the woman she too fashioned herself as, but happy, really happy – just in a different way than she thought she would be.  We agree between sips that we must create our own paths and move forward on them once made. Then it dawns on me, like bushwhacking in the middle of the woods looking for the trail, I am losing myself and finding myself. The detour is the path. The losing is the finding. I can still get to where I want.

So here I am.  A new(ish) person in a new(ish) time of my life. I am thinking of the imaginary “me” of my former daydreams, long before I met my boyfriend. The overly romanticized movie-version of my life where my lover and I get caught on a Brooklyn street corner in a magical downpour and make out for hours. (FYI – that really happened to me, but it was not romantic as it sounds). The perfect version of my life where I do win a TONY award and sell several screenplays before the age of 30. Versions that only existed because I had no one and nothing real to pine over. I have been clinging desperately as water to the cloth and skin of fantasy. Now I have something real. Something wonderful and complicated and gorgeous. Something that requires me to move forward in the invention of myself and how I see the world. Requires me to move into the light, to let the clothing dry so things can fit again. Requires me to let this fading piece of me molt away, float away, and make room for what’s new. I must let go of the balloon.