Bliss Chase, by L. Calder

            “Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.” 

                       – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

           You’ve heard the tale, person conquers the corporate world but feels unfulfilled and realizes all they’ve ever wanted to do is open a cupcake shop. They let go of job security and status, open their cupcakery and arrive at a bliss destination that connects with their youth’s passion and family roots. Or at least their life looks pretty ok on a reality cable TV show. Nine years ago, I actually heard a similar story from a local cupcakestress from whom I used to purchase my Spinster Sunday half-dozen (not counting the mini-cupcakes) at the farmers market. So I had tasty evidence in front of me that people can switch tracks and make it work. I just checked her website and she’s still in business having moved up from farmer’s market stalls to her own storefront in one of California’s small but fancy towns I can only dream of living in with a roof over my head. 

           If you’re like me (my condolences) you haven’t gotten anywhere near to slaying the corporate world or any world but you’ve pushed aside your intuitions and blisses, made some wrong turns and now find yourself in a life you’d like to change/escape/burn to smithereens. You chose the wrong course of study, maybe chose the wrong people for close relationships, applied for the wrong jobs and now there’s little you look forward to every day, but you are guaranteed several daily moments of income panic. 

           Maybe you’ve got some health problems that blindsided you and derailed your initial bliss plan. Maybe you were in denial about your ability to mentally or physically cope with a certain type of work so you tried and found you couldn’t. Now you’re facing the daunting downward slope of the aging hill alone and needing a complete career-from-home new start, in a pandemic, where everyone’s stressed and many others are needing career tweaks or overhauls. Or is it just me? I have many Junior Gen X friends who are suddenly focused on pursuing their lifelong creative activities that have been on the back burner as the demands of life occupy the front burners, oven, slow cooker, panini maker and microwave. Most of them are also in the best physical shape of their lives. Well done, MTV generation. 

           Dr. Campbell explained, following your bliss “…is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent”.

           Well, that sounds just lovely, doesn’t it? So simple, straightforward and lucrative too (jokes). But what if you don’t have a real sense of purpose or passion for something? At least, not in the way that people who are successful at their bliss things seem to be. Maybe all you’ve ever had are inclinations toward a particular activity. You can see the people who have passion, who’ve automated their lives to launch themselves out of bed every day in dogged pursuit of their ‘dream’. (I actually don’t know anyone who did that and ended up exactly where they bliss-planned.) What if your dream is staring at a lake all day sipping herbal tea and puttering around a solitary home zipped up in a plush hooded robe like a comfy cannoli? If you’re like me, you don’t care about social status, fancy things or even a partner and family. Hard to make money at lake-gazing, and if you want the option of coming indoors after lake-gazing, you need money for shelter. What if you aren’t up to being a boss bitch goddess queen who slays all day? And how do you follow nonexistent bliss but still avoid the slog of a totally utilitarian bliss-diminishing job? How do you become, as Bugs Bunny would say, ‘comfortably well off’ when you are fundamentally horrified/perplexed/sickened by the entire way society has arranged itself and all moneymaking activity leaves you a blissless husk?

           I worked my last day out in the always-germy world in the fall of 2018, practically planking on the way out due to health problems, my compression socks barely holding me up as I stumbled to my fifteen-year-old car that looked like it had been on fire a few times for film stunts. So I was already hunkered down in my sickbay trying to sort out my health when Covid hit. Lockdown changed my life very little. I’m feebly patting myself on my creaky back for cleverly (mis)managing my life in such a way that I am responsible for no one other than myself. No person nor pet nor plant depends on me for sustenance because if they did they would be S.O.L. I’ve killed cacti. 

           Lockdown impacted my social life, not at all. I haven’t hung out with someone in person since June 2018. I still enjoy a few online friend and common-interest group interactions, but I’m otherwise a dedicated introvert. Before lockdown, I had no intention of joining Instagram, but between Facebook playing havoc with my blood pressure and entertainers I like connecting with fans through lockdown live streams, I hesitantly joined in Oct 2020.

           I started to have a look around as the algorithm took mostly benevolent notes on my health and bliss-promoting searches. I was really inspired by folks, especially those with chronic illness, who had the sense to figure out sooner in life that they need to work from home or have their own small business. They set their own schedules (even if their hours end up exceeding 9-5) while engaging in activities that are personally meaningful while looking after their health. I, on the other hand, had been going from one course of study, training and job to the next with only one goal in mind: the financial ability to live alone in a location of my choosing and lake-gazing every moment I wasn’t at work. Every venture has resulted in burnout, debt, and a wheezy crawl back to square one.

           My square one looks like expanding writing/editing skills, dusting off my art supplies, submitting my little tales and hoping for any revenue trickle that music streaming can provide. I have this vision of pre-industrial times when villagers supplied each other with wares that each family specialized in: fabrics, garments, metal implements, woodwork items, stonemasonry, musical instruments, food, and surely some storytellers conveyed lessons and wisdom that helped the community feel connected in common experiences. That happened, right? But with even more rampant communicable disease and sanitation issues? I like this modern, more hygienic e-village of independent online storefronts, musicians, recipe sharers, YouTubers, Patreon creators and craftspersons selling directly to customers and supporting each other. I want in on that but my bliss for making things has faded into midlife anhedonia. 

           As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get away from school to do arts and crafts, designing jewelry with the latest dazzling/lurid iridescent, fluorescent 1980s craft supplies. I’d also collect long pine needles and other botanical things to make, in hindsight, quite witchy little objects with no practical purpose. I was lucky to have a Kindergarten teacher for a mother who kept me well-supplied with art materials and frequent trips to craft stores all over town. I liked crafting more than playing instruments, but I still felt compelled to play three instruments by the age of eleven. 

           As I trudged through my teens and 20s with medication side effects weakening my vocal muscles and sapping my energy, focus, confidence and general belly fire, I felt pressure to devise a ‘fallback plan’. After struggling through community college to make up units from discontinuing high school (whole other story) I took what I thought was a less risky route by starting a music-adjacent degree in sound engineering. But illness sidelined me from the high-energy any-hour interactive activities required for the job. I also lost my voice, which hindered my ability to communicate occupationally, socially and wrecked my singing activities for which I was just starting to earn some gig money. I didn’t want to depend on another singer, I didn’t want to do instrumentals, I was ailing too much to join another musical outfit. So onto the back burner went 25 years of musical inclination.

           After some soul and college catalog searching, I settled on a useless Humanities degree just to give the appearance that I was studying something as I tried to recover my voice and health. Only in my final semester did I realize it wasn’t actually training me for anything. I would like to say right here that universities should not even offer such degrees that provide no career training and no work experience units because they are tuition bait for people with no executive function. The last thing aimless depressives need are soft options that lead nowhere because we will take them. I panicked and took an MS Office class one month after the completion of my degree, three months after my adoptive mother’s death. She died six weeks shy of finally seeing her high school dropout adoptive disaster daughter finally complete a university degree, Magna Cum Laude even. 

           Still feeling inadequately trained after excelling in the Office class, I went bewilderedly back to my retail roots which unleashed more health problems as constant contact with the germy public meant I was sick with viruses and secondary illnesses from which I couldn’t bounce back as well as my co-workers. I was an attendance burden and presenteeist. Only my sales ability redeemed me as a valued member of the team. While I was selling memberships and further diminishing my voice, I’d had a brainwave that I could use my otherwise useless Humanities degree to get into a Master’s program. When I read how much librarians make, I got into an online Masters in Library Information Science program. If you are old enough or into retro TV enough to know your In Living Color references, my feeling about this library science program was a sing-song ‘Hated it’.            

           As I began working in libraries with greater physical, cognitive and interpersonal demands, my doctors and I watched my battery life drain as my nutrient and blood levels became problematic. With the Vitamin B12 level of a vegan corpse (I wasn’t even vegan) and an assortment of other maladies, I left my last library position to the relief of my disappointed employers. This disappointment was not imagined, they spelled it out in my performance review. 

           2019 consisted of struggling with the basics of eating, sleeping and symptom management. 2020 was much the same, but with increased urgency to figure out work-from-home as I’d resigned myself to be a pandemic hermit indefinitely. I like what social media showed me during lockdown scrolling and socially distant connection seeking. What I aspire to now is a way of life inspired by bygone village times: people at home cultivating and sharing their skills that they bring to the e-marketplace. I want to build a home in this village where baked goods and confections are shared without diet culture nonsense. Clothes come in sizes for everyone. Musicians and artists are paid for their disciplines. Stories, instruction, recipes and wisdom are shared around vloggy hearth fires. 

           So while I attempt to solve my health puzzles, I am connecting with my crafts and coaxing my incessant inner narrative out of my mind and onto pages. Here I am with my bandana on a stick with my little wares, arriving at indie artist village having failed in the world of 401K, union, medical, dental, vision and all that. I aim to be supportive of and supported by other creators and appreciators. If I set up shop right, maybe one day I’ll look up from my crafting, take a sip of weak tea, and let bliss wash over me like little waves against stones of the lake where I rest my gaze.

L. Calder simply seeks resonance with other island minds.