February 19, 2024

Last night, I had a dream about Gaia. She was a stray cat and I held her in my arms. Her weight was the same as I remember. I woke up feeling very close to her, but couldn’t understand why. As I got up, the dream came back to me slowly, a trickle that turned into a stream, and I expected it to spill like grief. I braced myself for tears, but was surprised to realize that I felt grateful instead. Really, all I’ve wanted since she passed is to hold her one more time. This morning, we got the call that her ashes will be ready for pick-up tomorrow, and so I suppose she’ll be home soon. Then, I can hold her once again.

In the last week and a half, I’ve had a lot of time to process. Gaia’s death stirred something in me that I find difficult to articulate. My mother noticed it immediately. She said it seems like I’m eager to change my life now, and asked if Gaia was some sort of anchor keeping me in place. I think that’s probably true, but I can’t explain why that is. I have always had a habit of trying to apply some sort of narrative to real-life events to make them more legible, more coherent; it’s why I was so drawn to psychology as an undergraduate. I loved the idea of organizing symptoms and maladies, of systemizing emotion–turning it into something with a concrete trigger, function, and treatment was comforting, and I was certain I had the sort of brain that would be well-suited to it. Had COVID not come precisely when it did, I might be pursuing my doctorate in neuropsychology right now, the way I planned, but life doesn’t work out how you expect, does it?

But perhaps it’s for the best, because I find my own self-psychoanalysis failing me now. I’m not sure why this is happening. For years, I’ve been anxious to get my life moving, to have some momentum, but there was always some reason why I couldn’t, some roadblock or barrier that was preventing me from doing what I wanted. Reading my tangible diaries recently was a grim revelation. Pages and pages of anxious ramblings penned by a sloppy hand, with the frantic inner monologue of a trapped animal ready to gnaw off its own leg. Just reading over it all had an infectiously neurotic effect. I realized I’ve felt this way for years, like I’m stuck standing still without the strength to start over. It’s frustrating, frightening even, to feel you’re not in control of your life.

So why then, did it take this personal tragedy to activate me? And why this one, instead of any of the other numerous, objectively worse events in my life? Many of the barriers I found insurmountable are suddenly arbitrary. Lingering day after day like a ghost is no longer just agonizing, it’s impossible. I feel untethered, like I can do anything with little consequence. Does it really matter if I try, and fail? I’ll just do something else. I can’t explain it. This has never been me, but suddenly, I seem to be standing on the precipice of great change. I see two major potential paths for myself. I’ve never been good at making choices, but I think I will choose soon.

Path A: I’ve been toying with the idea of opening up a café or teahouse, something I never would have even dreamed of just 6 months ago. “But that’s impossible!” I would’ve protested. But it’s not. It’s totally possible. I just have to gather the information to carve out a path for myself. The question now is if I truly want to. I can do the work of applying for business grants and loans, connecting with entrepreneurship groups, learning the ins-and-outs of accounting and local tax law, and save up the money to buy some real estate for a multi-use building where I live upstairs and the business is downstairs. The entire affair would take at least two years to get up and running, and the business would probably take another year or two to turn a meaningful profit. It would be hard work, grueling even, but if all worked out, it could stabilize into something serene and sustainable.

Path B: I’ve also been thinking about leaving this island, moving back to the States, and getting an MLIS (or an MSIS, if I want to be more pragmatic) and becoming an academic librarian. That’s a dream I’ve had since I was 13 years old. I’ve worked in a few university libraries and I’ve always loved them. The routine, the structure, the mission, the quiet, the environment, the cohort of 99% eccentric women. But the pay is rather dismal, so I quickly told myself to suck it up and pick something else. Now, after much time dabbling in graphic design, I realize that I rather dislike it as a professional job. So I think to myself: perhaps it would be better to just take the pay cut and work my way up in librarianship to be reasonably comfortable, and just enjoy it.

The secret third option is to grind through UI/UX jobs until I find one that I like that pays me a solid 6 figures, but if I’m honest, I think I’d hate that. I have been thinking of it as my back-up, but really, I’d rather not. It sucks, because I actually do enjoy UI/UX and graphic design…as a hobby. I wouldn’t mind a bit of freelancing on the side if I have the time, but every time I’ve tried to work in a company context or to make it more regimented, I’ve been burnt out and miserable. All the corporate noise, the lack of creative control, and obsession with marketing is boring to me, and for me, being bored is like being tortured. Dramatic, I know, but it’s the truth.

The crux of the issue I now face is the whole duality of man, two wolves meme dilemma. I love security and predictability, but I also love challenges and control. There was a point in my undergraduate years where I was thinking about how much I love school, how much I’ve always loved school, and how I didn’t want to graduate because then I couldn’t be in school anymore. I’d have to go get a real job, the horror! School was a warm, safe cocoon to me, something that insulated me from the cold harshness of the “real world.” I came to realize that I was, and probably always would be, a bit emotionally stunted. And so I wondered, would staying in the walled garden of academia just make the problem worse? Was I going to stay up in that ivory tower forever, completely naive to what the real world was like? Wasn’t that selfish, childish, even a little pathetic? To stay safe forever?

So even though it was the obvious next step, I refused to go to grad school. I put it off. At first, it was because COVID was still in full-swing. And then, it was because of poor health. Then, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to go anymore. And then jobs were hard to come by, and I got depressed, got complacent, got desperate…and then, a lot of things in my personal life changed very abruptly, and I found myself here, with no footing, scrambling for some stability. And as I flit from gig to gig, I wonder: is this what I wanted?

I now wonder if I left just to prove that I could. And I wonder if that was fair to myself, if I really need to prove anything to anyone. If I know for a fact I love working in university libraries, if I know I love my safe, cozy cocoon, then why should I have to go work some stupid marketing job I hate just to prove that I’m not a womanchild? Maybe I am! So what! But at the same time, I know there is also a part of me that is afraid I’ll get bored. That I’ll stay wrapped up in academia until I’m in my 50s and I realize that I hate it and there’s no exit plan because I don’t know how to do anything else.

In this sense, starting a business where I have control over every tiny corner of the environment, where I can micromanage every little thing to my exact specifications and preferences, sounds like a dream. It’d be a challenge, to be sure, but I love challenges when I’m excited about the goal. But it’s sort of the opposite of being safe. It’s a massive risk, one of the most massive risks you can take. I think I’d be well suited to the boring spreadsheet management, ingredient delegation, price comparison, etc., but well…I’m very bad at dealing with people. I actually did work in a coffee and bagel shop when I was a teenager, but I was so autistic they stuck me in the kitchen because I couldn’t be trusted to interface with customers. I do feel this bodes poorly.

Additionally, running a business here would mean committing to living here for years. Going to grad school would mean going back to the US. Another decision point that isn’t easy. Especially not now that the cats are involved. I don’t think it’s reasonable for me to adopt 3 cats here and move them overseas. If I was going to just a different town, I think it wouldn’t be such a big deal to move them, but going to grad school? That’s a complication. My mother keeps begging me to decouple the cats from my decision making, but I just can’t, and moreover, I don’t want to.

My father also thinks the neighbors would take offense to me essentially kidnapping these communally owned cats. I think this is possible. People here don’t really “get” indoor cats, they also perceive the whole “buying food just for them” thing to be bizarre white people stuff. But they do like the cats enough to feed them every single day, even if it is rice and beans. The neighbors are particularly fond of the kittens. I think, should I choose to leave, I would have to talk to them to get their blessing to take them with me. I know a woman, a family friend, who might even be amenable to adopting the kittens, and I know she’d take very good care of them. I think this would make it so I could keep Butterscotch, and know that the kittens are safe and indoors.

But still, if the neighbors weren’t accepting of me taking the kittens (I doubt they’d care about Butterscotch, public nuisance that he is), I would want to respect that. The neighbors have been exceptionally kind to me–lunch today was a soup they cooked for us for no reason, something they do fairly often. They are constantly bringing us gifts and trinkets, inviting us over, calling us to remind us of things, and waving hello every day. In fact, part of my hesitation to leave is because I have become very attached to the neighbors. Still, perhaps I could just make it a habit to visit my parents twice a year.

My tentative decision right now is to leave and go to grad school and snag some sort of librarianship job, and quietly save up with side freelancing. Depending on how things go, maybe in a few years, I’ll move back here to start the café of my dreams once I have more professional experience and confidence under my belt. There are lot of other elements in this post I haven’t included, but based on all of that, perhaps this is what makes the most sense. I know I’m trying to have it all, but if I play my cards right, maybe I really can have my cake (library job) and eat it too (open a retirement café at 35).

I’m sure this post would be boring to pretty much anyone who isn’t me, but I feel as if something big is about to happen in my life. I need things to change, and I need them to change now. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but my cat vanishing from my arms has given me an urgency I didn’t know I could summon. Maybe I’m more aware of how fleeting life is, maybe I’m just eager to leave because being here without my cat is too hard, maybe I was subconciously locked in a routine that involved her and now that she’s gone, I can see beyond it, maybe I’m having some sort of episode–but regardless, something’s got to give, and I finally feel ready to grab ahold of it.

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