I cried at Target yesterday. I was standing just a few feet from the customer service lane, where a helpful employee was working on my situation. It had been a successful resupply run, and my cart was full of enough diapers, wipes, toilet paper, and coffee filters to last a couple months: I wouldn’t have to come back anytime soon. But I’d forgotten the PIN to my new Target credit card, and I really wanted to get that 5% discount for using it. At the employee’s prompting, I’d called the customer service 800-number to reset my PIN. After ten minutes of waiting, the system hung up on me. After some wizardry in button-pushing, and what felt like saint-like patience (except for my occasionally muttering I just want to go home now, I don’t want to be in this store anymore), I was successful with my second call and could now use my card.
Zoë was getting antsy in her stroller, her squawks and cries putting me on edge. We’d been at customer service too long and we were both anxious to go. The Target employee had canceled my previous transaction and now was going to give me the discount by doing the transaction again. But first, he had to go to the register where I’d originally paid, to get something from the cashier.
And that was it. I told him, tears filling my eyes, that I didn’t want my 5%. I just want to go home, I said. Please, can I go home now? But I couldn’t. He’d canceled my purchase and I had to pay for it again, this time using my Target card. I don’t remember quite what happened next. The tears spilled down my cheeks, and I pulled Zoë out of her stroller and strapped her to my chest in the Ergo, hoping to put something between me and him, between me and other people, between me and the world. Maybe they won’t notice I’m crying if there’s a baby on my chest, I thought.
Somehow I got out of the store with all of my things paid for. I was sad and distraught and a bit unhinged, perplexed at why this interaction had been the watershed moment. Because of course it wasn’t about anything that happened at Target; it wasn’t about having to call customer service twice, or having to do my transaction twice, or anything happening in the world that I could point to.
The rest of my day was like this, full of unexpected tears and a discomfiting sense of displacement. Which isn’t entirely surprising, given that I’ve just moved country with three small children. While my immediate concerns are taking care of the kids and putting together our household, all of my hours are suffused with the thought of what next? What’s next for me? What am I doing here? What am I doing with my life?
And while you can argue that that’s a rather big question and maybe right now isn’t the best time to be asking it, I don’t agree. Right now is exactly the time I need to be asking it. In addition to all of the moving-and-transition funk I’m feeling, there’s some major-life-purpose funk that I’m feeling, too, and I don’t want to ignore it. I want to face it, head on, and try to find a direction and a sense of rightness in myself.
The only time in my life that I’ve felt any clear direction or inner purpose was when I decided to move to Los Angeles, and in my first months there. I wanted to be an actor (specifically, a character actor in critically-acclaimed independent films), and the steps to get there were fairly clear: move to LA, take acting classes, go to auditions, get an agent, and network my butt off—and get a lucky break. I did most of those things, with zest and verve, in my first six months. At that point, I liked the struggle. I didn’t mind the rejection. I got a decent agent, landed my first SAG gig, and befriended some wonderful, accomplished, and deeply kind people, both in and out of the entertainment industry.
In that time, too, I got very sick. In those early months in LA, I developed Celiac disease, which left me in intense gastrointestinal distress nearly twenty-four hours per day for weeks. Also, I met a boy and fell in love. Coping with those two things, as different as they were, one life-sucking and the other life-affirming, took most of my energy. I had nothing left for acting, for either the business of being a successful actor in LA, or for the creative work of becoming a competent screen actor. It took me well over a year from my diagnosis to begin feeling well again, and in that year I reshuffled priorities. I was no longer willing to play the game to become an LA actor. I realized it was more of an ego dream than a heart dream to make it in LA, so I stopped trying.
Every now and then it comes back to haunt me. Usually it’s after I’ve seen a deeply moving film or gone to a transcendent concert—when I’ve witnessed a sublime work of creativity and vision and passion and hard work—that I get thrown into a terrible melancholic funk. It’s a “what if” sort of funk, as in what if I hadn’t given up so easily? What if I’d learned how to work harder? What if I’d had a clearer vision and slowly, determinedly plodded my way toward it? What if I hadn’t gotten distracted, or sick?
Look, I know regret isn’t the most helpful emotion or mind state. I know that more elevated people will tell me that it’s useless to feel regret because nothing can be done about the past. But I don’t agree. I think regret, like jealously, can point us toward pivotal moments, people, and ideas that are stuck in us because we aren’t done with them. Regret, like jealously, can help us to identify what matters, what we ought to think about as we move forward.
So what the hell happened at Target yesterday?
Surely it was the aggregate stress of the move. If I haven’t mentioned, it’s been hell. That, combined with the reinvigorated questioning of my life’s purpose. And lately I’ve been hearing on the radio that someone I knew back in LA is playing a concert in a nearby city next month, and hearing his name has taken me back to those LA days; days when I felt freedom and purpose and agency and energy, things that are painfully lacking in this season of my life.
Yesterday it was too much. Shopping for diapers at a Target store in Albany, Oregon, felt the antithesis of everything those purpose-driven days were. But yesterday I couldn’t articulate these things—I just felt sad, and under-accomplished, and too associated with the minivan I now drive. After some tears and melancholy and introspection (and whisky) I have some perspective, which I’ve tried to lay down here. I still feel an ache, but naming it has taken some of the sting away.
I have to know: do you ever feel this way? Regret for what you haven’t done? Sadness about the life choices you didn’t make? What sends you into a melancholic funk? Are you ever disappointed about where you are, vis-a-vis where you thought you’d be?
PS. I’d never intended for this to be a confessional blog, one overly concerned with my own neuroses and regrets and inner turmoil. I’m a bit chagrined to have so many personal, confessional posts lately. Bear with me, and I’ll work my way back to writing about things happening outside of my own head. =)