Unfulfilled

As I was walking along the beach one cool spring morning, I stumbled upon an old bottle sticking out of the sand. The glass, once clear, looked cloudy with a sickly green tint to it. I picked it up, curious as I am about strange artifacts. There was something inside, obscured by the grimy exterior. I pried the cork off the bottle and dropped it in surprise as smoke issued forth from it.

As I backed away from the billowing smoke, it formed itself into a vaguely human form.

“I am the genie of the bottle!” the smoke announced in a booming voice. “What is your wish?”

I didn’t respond right away. Several seconds went by as I blinked and tried to convince myself this was just a hallucination. But the smoke genie persisted. I thought I could detect a little impatience in the way it billowed.

“A genie..” I managed at last, masterfully stating the obvious. “So…uhh..does that mean I get three wishes?”

I scratched at my scruffy beard, still trying to determine if what I was looking at was real.

The genie looked taken aback. “Three? Wherever did you get that idea?”

I shrugged. “That’s how it always is in stories.”

“This is no child’s tale,” the genie bellowed indignantly. “You only get one wish. That is all I can grant you. Now, what is your wish?”

Again, I didn’t respond right away. Only one wish to get whatever I wanted? That was tricky. What did I want? A better job would always be nice. Maybe just a ton of money without the job. A girlfriend. Maybe a wife? No, that’d be weird without the girlfriend part first. Peace on Earth? To be honest, that’s a bit broad, and would that really help me? Not to sound selfish, but it was my wish, after all. I hated having to think about big decisions like that. They always made me nervous, which just made me stressed. Any moment now, the panic attacks would start, and…wait, I knew just what I wanted.

“Happiness,” I said.

” Very well then. And what would make you happy?”

I blinked. “Well…I don’t know. Shouldn’t you know?”

The genie shook its smoky head. “I grant wishes. I don’t create them. If you know what can give you happiness, I can produce it for you. But I cannot predict what makes you happy.”

That was disappointing. What made me happy? There were all sorts of little things. Books and adventure films and good conversations. Chocolate chip cookies and dogs and the laughter of loved ones. But was that ‘happiness’? I didn’t know. I had no idea. What could make me truly, eternally happy was a mystery, as obscure and hard to define as the smoky spectre that floated in front of me.

I amended my wish and set the genie free. It was surprised. As it granted my wish, the smoke took on a more definite shape. An old man stood in front of me now, his face heavily lined, several eons of life etched onto it. The lines deepened as he broke into a smile. He thanked me for freeing him and walked away. He stopped for a few moments to admire the scenery around him, the pale sand strewn on the beach, the waves lazily approaching the shore before retreating. With a contented sigh, he kept walking until he disappeared into the horizon.

After a few moments, I resumed walking as well, feeling as empty as the bottle that lay half buried in the sand.

Adrift

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I drift along, passing by islands and continents. There are people on the shores who wave at me and I wave back.

I see children and adults, friends and lovers as I float past. My boat goes around, crossing the same ocean again. The children have grown, the adults have aged. Old friends have given way to new ones and the lovers have built families for themselves. Yet I am still there, on that boat. Alone. Watching the world from the water.

I consider stopping somewhere, finding a piece of land to call my own. A place where I can settle down, build my own family, my own home. But then the wind picks up and carries my boat along. All I can do is watch, separated from the world by a shimmering barrier that I find myself unable to cross.

Maybe one day, I’ll find a way off that boat. Maybe one day, the storms that occasionally rage along the ocean and in my own mind will calm down. Until then, all I can do is drift along and watch the lives of others go by as my own stays stuck in limbo.

Overcast

I’ve been a bit lost in my head lately. More than usual, anyway.

Some days it feels like the whole world is spinning along while I’m stuck in the same place. Did I mention my occasional anxiety attacks? I think I may have said something about that once.

This past week I’ve been struggling a bit about whether to write a post on anxiety or not. Part of me hesitates to do so because I don’t want to be a bummer for people who come across my blog. But another part thinks it’s silly, that I’m just being overdramatic about trivial things and trying to call it anxiety or depression. I’ve always hated it when someone’s response to depression of any sort is to say, “Just cheer up! It’s not so bad!”. And yet, that’s what I feel like saying to myself sometimes. That the dark cloud hovering over my head will vanish if I just wish really really hard.

But it doesn’t quite work out that way. So I lurch along from one day to the next, enjoying the small patches of sunshine that bring a smile to my face as I make my way through the storm.

 

Restless

Some nights I have trouble falling asleep. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s annoying when it does. I’m not sure what’s responsible for it. I tell myself it’s because I may have slept a bit long the previous night, or it could be due to an ill-advised nap in the afternoon, but I really have no clue.

On those rare nights, I’ll find myself yawning at around the time that I normally go to bed. But as soon as my head hits the pillow, all sense of fatigue will vanish. Closing my eyes does no good, nor does thinking sleepy thoughts. I just…don’t feel sleepy. At all. So I end up just hanging around the house until drowsiness hits me.

I have a complicated relationship with sleep. Normally, I’d say it’s my favorite activity, but that’s not always true. One of the big problems is that I don’t get nearly enough of it (a common refrain, I’m sure). Which makes it all the more puzzling that I should ever be able to not fall asleep.

There are times when I am actually afraid of sleep. I remember as a kid, I would sometimes do my best to stay awake at night because the prospect of falling asleep frightened me. Lying there, eyes shut, for 7 or 8 hours, completely dead to a world that was still spinning along. My next conscious memory not forming until the next morning. It was a horrifying thought. I have no idea what filled a child with such existential angst, but there it was.

It’s a horror that I haven’t experienced much as an adult. However, I have gone through phases of anxiety when I couldn’t fall asleep because my mind was clouded with dark thoughts. I had to resort to leaving the TV on, tuned to a sitcom or something so I could rest easier. This would usually be followed by involuntary naps the next day and the cycle would continue until it stopped on its own.

The anxiety attacks still hit me now and again. I’ll be on the verge of falling asleep, then get hit with a wave of terror that’ll make me sit up to clear my head. Fortunately, it doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I’ve learned to stop using the TV as a crutch. I can’t seem to shake off that anxiety though. Or the occasional bouts of temporary insomnia.

At least I don’t have nightmares. That’s a small consolation.

The Impostor in Me

I was reading an article yesterday about Impostor Syndrome, which is the constant feeling that maybe you’re not as talented or knowledgeable as people think you are. I suppose the simplest way to describe it is chronic self-doubt. It also describes how I feel almost every day and is a fairly common condition.

Many talented and successful people in all sorts of areas, whether creative or technical, often believe that they’re not really that good at what they do and only got as far as they did through luck or other factors that fell in their favor. There’s always the lingering fear that one day they’ll be revealed as frauds and derided by their peers.

While the condition, in its strictest sense, applies to successful people who don’t fully enjoy their success, I think we all feel like impostors to some extent. Speaking for myself, on most days I feel like a lost kid just making his way through the world, creating the illusion that I’m a fully functioning adult. Having taken the (still fairly recent) decision to become a writer full time, I’m plagued by the nagging idea that maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I’m just a hack whose inability to paint pictures with words will become apparent soon enough, if it hasn’t already.

Back in college, as I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, I took up karate. It quickly became a passion of mine and I climbed my way up to earning a black belt, which came with a lot of responsibility. I was a senior member of my karate club and an assistant instructor. I hoped I could inspire new students to love the craft as much as I did, and give some of my peers a different perspective, but I couldn’t help thinking that I didn’t belong there. My own instructor and fellow assistant instructors knew what they were talking about while I was just throwing out words and concepts I was familiar with so that I seemed more like what a black belt should be.

I can describe similar situations in all aspects of my life, including my current job and my blogging, where I feel like I’m not measuring up to what people might expect from me, but they’re being kind enough to look the other way for now.

It ultimately creates a fear of failure, as the smallest slip-up could cause everything to unravel. Maybe that one tiny error will reveal me for the fraud I am.

Perhaps the one solace I can take form this is that I’m not alone. We’re all impostors, pretending that we’re not just ad libbing through life.

Peak Time

I’ve lately started participating in more writing challenges and events as a way to draw in more traffic, invite more feedback, and meet other great writers from around the web. I’ve submitted a few short stories that have attracted a fair bit of praise, and that’s led me to grapple with a feeling that I’m sure all writers have faced.

What if this is it? What if I’ve already done my best work? Maybe that little horror story or that funny poem is the very height of my storytelling abilities. Anything I do from here on out will just be a sad attempt to match that. Any attempt to better that might just leave me out of my depth, revealing to the world that I’m not a good writer, but just some dude tapping away on his computer, hitting all the right keystrokes occasionally.

Damn, that was melodramatic. Okay, so it won’t be quite so bad. I’m sure there are people who’ll like my future endeavors just fine. But the problem is, you see, I’m an overthinker. So whenever I write a story, I constantly question if it’s good enough. There’s a lot of my work that I’m not entirely satisfied with. But there are certain gems in my collection, stories that I’m proud of for one reason or another. I just hope they’re not the only ones to look back on in the future.

Praise is also a double-edged sword for me. I love it when people enjoy my work, or it speaks to them on some level. It’s a real confidence booster. But….I also feel pressured to deliver on that level again. My next work has to be at least as good, though ideally better, than the last. It makes me second guess myself and can hamper my writing process, letting doubts creep in over a piece that might be fine as it is, and forcing unnecessary changes upon it.

Fortunately, that hasn’t been a major issue so far. I haven’t completely butchered a story to please some unseen critic. I’m just hoping that as I wade deeper into the waters of writing challenges and critique groups, I’ll be able to keep my head afloat.