The other day, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was sitting at my desk, dutifully checking off items on my to-do list, staring vacantly at my computer screen, wishing I were somewhere else. I had awoken extra early to put the finishing touches on a new piece for this blog – something about the importance of focus – but as I read it and read it again, I realized I couldn’t publish it. It felt dishonest, like I was trying too hard to sound like someone else. Someone who – unlike me – had their sh*t together.
And that’s when the existential dread set in. Who am I, anyway? What could I possibly say that’s important, or that will make any difference? Who cares?
The what’s the point of it all feeling rose quickly in my chest and caught in the back of my throat, a dull nausea spinning in my stomach, and I knew I had to get out. Before I could let the to-do list stop me, I slammed my laptop shut, laced up my beat-up running shoes, grabbed my keys and left. I got in my car and drove westward, toward the coast.
I live only seven miles from the ocean, but it’s staggering how little I make time in my schedule to go and see it. Throughout my life, the sea has always had a powerful effect on me. The sense of calm and peace it instills is so profound that I know in my bones I could never live far away from a body of water. When times are toughest – when I’m sad or lost or feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin – that’s when I crave the sea the most.
I parked my car on San Vicente. Putting my ear buds in, I trudged down the Santa Monica Stairs and then back up the incline that leads to Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park. I jogged through the park, marveling at the dense marine layer still blanketing the coast, even though just a handful of miles inland, my little stucco bungalow was already baking in the 11 a.m. summer sun. The fog shrouding the sea was so thick and white, you couldn’t tell where the horizon ended and the sea began, casting a hazy sort of magic over Palisades Park. I breathed in that fog, the sea, and almost immediately I felt soothed, better.
I let my brain race freely as I jogged along. When I got to the construction zone at the California Incline, I turned around and headed for the entrance to the steep set of stairs at the Montana Beach Overlook. I descended the sandy wooden steps toward Pacific Coast Highway, dodging beachgoers carrying bikes and surfboards. And then back up I went, the burning in my calves intensifying as I climbed faster and faster. Descend and climb. Descend and climb. I pushed myself again and again, the fatigue in my body finally allowing my tired brain to relax and settle into something that felt less like chaotic noise and more like calm, focused thoughts.
As I climbed, I thought about my Dad. Father’s Day had just passed, and his birthday was coming up. If he could see me now, what would he think? I didn’t have to wonder about it, I already knew. He’d tell me that I needed to stop complaining about my “problems” and get to work. Throughout my life, whenever I was slacking off or not doing all I could, I’d dread the inevitable grilling from Dad. He’d always unearth the truth in his lawyerly fashion: straight to the heart of the matter. “Well if you know better Sar, then why don’t you do better?”
The truth is, my recent lack of motivation isn’t rooted in laziness, or lack of ambition. It’s rooted in fear. I’ve been experiencing what you might call a crisis of confidence: blocked in my writing, hating all of my creative ideas, feeling hopelessly stuck and worried that everything I’ve been working so hard on is no good and a waste of my time.
Time. Whenever this “what’s the point of it all?” paralysis sets in, it always comes back to that question of time. What am I doing with it? Am I making the most of it? Is activity A, B, or C really worth my time? I’m ever aware of how precious it is, ever fearful of it slipping through my fingers, even as it does that very thing.
Plenty of things we invest our time in don’t work out. People die. Relationships fail. Jobs end. Does that mean they weren’t worth our time? I don’t think so. It’s all a part of life, experiences we need to have so that we can learn and grow and (hopefully) improve. I suppose that nothing about how we choose to spend our time can really be a waste unless we willfully choose to waste it.
Is that what I’ve been doing? Willfully wasting my time indulging in my own neuroses? What would Dad say? He was an “all in” kind of guy. He wouldn’t let fear or doubt stop him. And as I thought about Dad, I remembered a poem written by Charles Bukowski. It’s called “Roll the Dice” and it’s something I’ve loved for years, returning to it again and again whenever I’ve needed a swift kick in the ass. Here it is:
if you’re going to try, go all the
otherwise, don’t even start.
if you’re going to try, go all the
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.
go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
how much you really want to
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
you can imagine.
if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
do it, do it, do it.
all the way
all the way.
you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
I left the beach and went home, utterly exhausted. Later, when I re-read those words by Bukowski, I thought about how my Dad spent much of his life as the living embodiment of them. I thought about how I wanted to be more like that. And I thought about how the best way I could honor my father as I approached his birthday was to stop hesitating, stop moving through my life with so much doubt and uncertainty, and simply “roll the dice.”
Easier said than done, but maybe my first step is to spend a lot more time climbing those stairs, breathing in the ocean, clearing out the noise.
Until next time, friends.
I read momentum in your prose, a physical manifestation of your dreams called to action; flexing and climbing your way toward clarity to better observe the landscape of change.
You are going to treasure these reflective narratives that mark your journey.
Wow thank you, Marie. I sure hope you’re right! Thank you for reading. ☺️
“I suppose that nothing about how we choose to spend our time can really be a waste unless we willfully choose to waste it.” What a powerful statement, you basically summed up just about everything that’s been on my mind lately. Is what I am doing really worth all these feelings of fear and pushing past my own insecurities? I am answering yes, it absolutely is because we all have the ability to inspire someone in one way or another.
I agree! We can drive ourselves crazy with questions of “What does it all mean?” “What am I doing with my life?” etc. These questions tend to paralyze me and keep me in a holding pattern that prevents me from taking positive action. Little by little, I’m learning to trust my instincts about what I should do, and what makes me happy, without worrying so much about what it means or whether it’s worth it. Good luck to you!
I love this post! Sometimes I find myself feeling a similar way to the way you describe in this post, doubting myself and worrying.
Thank you for sharing the Bukowski poem and your dad’s advice. “Well, if you know better, why don’t you do better?” — I’ll remember that when I need some motivation. 🙂
Thank you Grace. Wishing you well!
Yes! This poem is going to be stapled to every surface of my apartment because it is too easy to forget the reasons we begin a journey. Especially one that can be as unforgiving as writing. Sometimes we need to block out the negative, remember the reasons we started, and read some wise words to kick ourselves back into momentum 🙂
It’s a good one, right? Sort of puts it all in perspective. Good luck to you!
Bukowski was a genius. Thanks for sharing his encouraging words and I wish you luck as you run your way back to writing.
Thank you so much.
Bukowski must be a California thing. Most of his stuff is nonsensical,superficial “thats deep man” fluff. But i like your post.
Haha! Maybe this Pacific NW transplant has finally become a California girl after all these years, seeing as how I like Bukowski. Well, we can agree to disagree on that part. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I resonate in your write ups:) .. The sea is so inspiring . Love your style. It makes me traverse through the places you talk about.. Your honesty reflects in every line:) I always connect with u .thank you !!
That’s so very kind of you to say. Thank you for reading!
Inspiring piece, I think you probably cleared the block thru writing it? Roll that dice!
It certainly helped, Helen. Thank you. Here’s to rolling the dice!
Amazingly written. Go all the way, that’s what I will take back from this post. Lovely.
Oh good. That’s what I was hoping to get across so glad to hear you feel that way. Thank you!
Words of wisdom. Difficult to do, but a must do, for sure. P.S. And you are right about the sea. For me, it is the rocky shores of Maine, but sadly, because I spent most of my life sailing with my husband, the scent of the salty sea and sound of the crashing waves, although soothing to the eyes and ears, go straight to my heart. For that moment, the ache diminishes my peace.
I hope that with time, the sea will be able to soothe you once again. Be kind and patient with yourself. I am wishing you well.
One of the reasons I like your blog is because I know whenever I get that “what’s the point of it all” feeling, I can read one of your posts (like “Roll the Dice” or “Going Dark”) and know there’s someone else somewhere who’s feeling pretty much the same way (except for the dull nausea thing). Your posts, more often than not (way more often, actually), make me realize there are others “out there” who struggle with the same feelings, the same doubts I do. An “Extra Dry Martini” every now and then makes me realize the answer to the question, “What’s the point of it all?” is my choice; my choice to answer, “The point is . . .” and to make it. Thanks for writing this, and thanks for helping me make “my” point. -S-
Wow. Thank you, Steve. This really means a lot to me.
No thanks necessary. It’s I who owe you the thanks. BTW, I once wrote a post entitled, “Chasing the Wow”. It was about the first time I got a “Wow” comment on something I wrote (it was in a creative writing class a long, long time ago). It makes me feel young again to know I can still elicit that response. Tks. -S-
This blog post is absolutely beautiful AMD full of truths that can be hard to admit at times. It seems like writing this down helped you understand your thoughts and state of mind. Take care and can’t wait to read more 🙂
Writing it down almost always helps me understand my thoughts and feelings, Charlotte. That’s the main reason I do it. Thanks so much for your kind words, and thank you for reading. I appreciate it so much!
I like your posts.. and you have inspired me to come back to my blog and continue writing again, I will be happy if you want to follow back me 🙂
Dear extra dry martini I have nominated you for the versatile blogger award .. Check my post on ‘for the insight’ :)))
Wow thank you so much! I’ll check it out.
I am amazed once again of how your words connect to some of what I feel at certain times. And whatever you are battling with writing, keep writing. I am always taken away somewhere else when I read your blog. It’s amazing!
That is so very kind of you, thank you. I’m glad to hear that you enjoy reading it!
Its amazing how the same thoughts flow within all of us, and the instant that someone expresses it in the words, the chaos within our minds just vanishes, and we connect!! 🙂 🙂 Beautiful post, yet again 🙂 Thank you for sharing! Charles bukowski, indeed is a genius!!
There was once someone, without any hope, past or future, a young girl afraid to live~ to live as she was born to be…
“Once I knew only darkness… my life was without past or future… but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.” Helen Keller
There are many kind and kindred fingers within the palm of our hand Sarah… they have been their all along… It’s OK to feel them and to live as we were born to be…