My adulthood – and I use that word loosely – has been mostly free of The Real World.
I’ve never been good at The Real World. I preferred spending my childhood in the pages of a book, inhabiting the created worlds, and the ‘characters’ I found there were more real to me than anyone who existed outside of them. My first crushes were on Nancy Drew, George from _The Famous Five_, the Hardy Boys, Hercule Poirot, and countless others.
My university years opened up galaxies of new worlds, all of them more appealing than the world my body inhabited: the worlds created by Woolf, Keats, Eliot, Austen and Dickens; Eugene O’ Neil, Samuel Beckett, Camus and Sartre; Kant, Schopenhauer, Derrida and Lyotard. I felt more of an affinity with Jung than I did with drunken campus nights, with the French philosophers than unpractised fumblings with boys or girls. The imagined worlds I lived in as a child were painted in more vivid colours by the universes I discovered at univers(c)ity.
Besides spending a great deal of my 20s in psychiatric institutions – a great way to legitimately inhabit your own illusions – the jobs I had inhabited these Other Worlds. Had I not been thrown off track by early 20s nervous breakdown, I would now be inhabiting The Ivory Tower of academia, a world that would have allowed me to continue the happy delusion that I did not need to enter the matrix.
I worked in bookshops that disseminated creatively manufactured escapisms to civilians who trudged through the real world; I taught English to high school students, skating on the outskirts of bureaucracy by instilling a love for literature, poetry and writing in those young enough to believe that there were worlds other than this; I inhabited the art world which solidifies literary realities with its paintbrushes, cameras and conceptualisations.
I successfully avoided the real world with my disdain and misanthropy and in the process escaped Responsibility, Adulthood and the Trappings of Materialism and the dreaded white picket-fence reality – Nietzsche would’ve been proud. But this misplaced artistic idealism landed me in a position where I had no reality in the real world: I had no identifiable past, present – presence – or future in it. I had no career, no network of people, no property, no money. I woke up at the age of 33 and realised I was living the life of a 22-year old.
It also allowed me to avoid myself and other people, and my existence in the real world became more and more intangible, and I had no communicable solidity to convey to others, thus missing out on relationships, friendship and love.
So I began the slow, painful process of creating balance between the worlds I inhabited in my head and the world I bodily inhabited.
The first step to inhabiting the world of the body was, of course, learning to inhabit my body. And as I began to feel for the first time the torso that was my torso, the hand that was my hand, the more real I became, the more real my presence in the world became, the more I was able to affect people around me and the world they, and I, were part of.
The belief that introspection is best practised in solitude is a myth, something only monks who have no ties to the real world can do successfully. For those of us who live in the world and not in some vacuum, the only way to learn about one’s self is through relations with the world and the people in it. I have learnt more about myself in the last two years of actively inhabiting the world and engaging with the people in it than I have in 10 years of therapy and lone nights writing in my journal.
The tangible self I’ve become is different in so many ways, but most importantly, I’m more able to live in the moment, more able to take myself less seriously, more able to have fun, be creative. I am no longer that little girl who dreamt of being a writer but could do nothing but analyse and deconstruct the writing that she read. I am no longer that little girl who dreamt of being a person but could do nothing but analyse and deconstruct the self that she loathed.
I am also no longer that young woman who saw herself as an art object, a self that had no agency in her relationship to art and other people. I am now in the process of becoming that magician, that artist, that writer, that self, who is able to claim the agency that is mine that enables me to realise my dreams, to create and to be in a daily relationship with a world that is not about increasing petrol prices, white picket-fences and the weight of responsibility, but is about the limitlessness of reality, self and play.