Image description: A hand gently holding part of a leafy, vibrant green plant. Everything is lit by bright sunlight, casting dark, dappled shadows.
Who are you? Who do you want to be? How will you get there? Everything in life seems to be asking me this.
Autumn asks. For me, this has always been a time for new beginnings and important decisions, much more so than New Year’s. With autumn comes my birthday, too, and this time it’s the big 30. It feels like no big deal, and a really, really big deal; I zigzag between the two like a bolt of lightning. A birthday is a wonderful thing, another year of life I’ve been given. Zig. By the time my mother was thirty, she had one kid and another not far away. Zag. Thirty now isn’t what thirty was thirty years ago. Zig. At thirty, my mum had released six records and toured every part of the country. Zag. I have such wonderful friends now who want to celebrate with me. Zig. I have three “educations” (a year of English studies, a bachelor in pop/rock vocals, and a fashion consultant diploma), but no job. Zag. I wouldn’t be eighteen again if someone paid me. Zig. I wish I didn’t feel like I’m running out of time. Zag. When I’m properly old I’ll laugh at how young and naïve I was at thirty. Zig, zag, zig, zag.
My pen pal in Finland asks. She wanted to know if I have a future/dream-version Maria in my head, and if so, what she’s like. What does Maria do when she wakes up in the morning? What fabrics does she like to wear? What does her home feel like during the different seasons? How does she spend her days? What is her soundtrack? I know some things right away: Maria lives by the ocean, she wears red lipstick to the grocery store, she has a huge kitchen table and her house smells like books, coffee and flowers. I know which people I want in her life. I want her to be as happy as I am now. I also hope she is a little less insecure, in all interpretations of the word.
My friends ask about their own futures, and thus make me ponder my own. We’re in this weird situation where most of our group are looking for new jobs, or considering school options. We have to make important decisions, and it’s exciting and hard. We’re bombarded with thousands of opinions, presented to us in minimalistically designed websites, in coffee-stained articles in a newspaper, in the slightly nasal sound though a telephone, in half-whispered conversations late at night, through guidance counsellors, health employees and family. “Do what you love.” “Find something that pays the rent.” “Try everything once.” “Don’t become a teacher.” Good advice. Contradicting advice. Advice to sift through like gold diggers.
The part of me that wants things, asks, the part some call the spirit or soul or heart. That part is why my closet is overflowing with stuff, stuff for painting and writing and recording music and dancing and sewing and cooking and taking pictures. It won’t let me rest on any kinds of laurels, but grabs my hand enthusiastically and pulls me along, wanting to experience as much of life as possible, to become as good as possible, to learn, to change, to explore, and I love it because it’s a drive that comes from me, so it’s not pressure, but desire.
Unfortunately, that part of me is stuck in a body with the brakes permanently on. That makes it hard to plan for tomorrow, not to mention next year, or the next ten years. Having a chronic illness means balancing a hope and will to get better, with a realistic knowledge that it might not happen. I know life is always uncertain, for everyone, which is sometimes a relief. But I still wish I could depend more on my body for everyday things. For the future.
My doctor asks, my physical therapist asks, my psychologist asks, my counsellor at NAV (the part of the government that support me financially because of my illness) asks. They want to know I have hope, that I’m motivated, that I’m ambitious enough, but not overly so. They want me to get to a place where I can support myself financially. They want me to do it in a capable, long-lasting way. Because I’ve been sick for so long, my life has moved slower than for other people my age. In many ways, I still feel very young. So when these questions swirl lazily in my head on the tram, when they are hurled at me through the iPad screen, when they crash through me while I’m trying to sleep, I think about my anchors, the important things I’ve discovered about myself through my (soon) thirty years.
Firstly, I want to be happy. After all those years of depression, I know what strong, long-lasting happiness feels like. I don’t want to lose it again.
Second, safety. For me, that means having people in my life I can trust and rely on. It means to love and feel loved. And yes, to some degree it means financial safety; it’s not a need for a lot of money, but having enough to keep the everyday running.
Third, I think I understand what I most desire to do with my life. It’s actually hard to say out loud, because it feels so selfish: I want to tell stories.
Funnily enough, my gut knew this almost ten years ago, when I was a wry little music student. In one of my first years there, we had a somewhat… creative substitute teacher for a few of our band lessons. He made us sit in a circle, and asked each of us what we wanted in life. You have two choices in situations like that: you either take it seriously and give an honest answer, or you find a flippant reply without being straight-out disrespectful. The first guy said (honestly, I assume) that he wanted to have a good time, to do something cool. The next said he wanted to be the world’s best guitarist (said with an eye-roll, but perhaps not a lie after all). I was next. The Hermione in me had been thinking frantically while the others answered, but when Substitute Teacher looked at me expectantly, I forgot all my clever thoughts. “I want to tell stories,” I blurted out.
I want to tell stories. So simple, and so true. Looking back, I can see that desire running through everything I’ve done, from making songs to writing stories to painting to dancing to getting dressed to cooking dinners. It’s so ingrained in me, I think, that for a long time I simply couldn’t see it. It’s easier, now that I do, though it would have been easier still if my wish was neatly tied to a profession or even a role in today’s society. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for that simple line, and the powerful desire behind it.
A whole life, a person, isn’t as easy to define as a wardrobe. There’s no dictionary or encyclopedia entry for “Maria Hansen Troøyen”, with a convenient three-line summary. Like you, I have to figure it out on my own, the multitude, the facets, the contradictions and abiguities. It helps, though, to have found some anchors. Happiness. Safety. Stories.