I feel like I'm trapped in an uninteresting life. I'm living somewhere where I feel rather isolated, I have “friends” but they're mostly just family friends, I have very few people who I feel truly close to, and they are almost all online. I feel like I'm uninteresting, both socially and sexually. I have kinks, but no way to really practice them. I have an unsatisfying sex life, but I'm not sure how to resolve that. I feel like I'm unhappy with my love life, but I'm not sure if the problem is the relationship, or me. I feel like I'm just drifting through life, not accomplishing anything, and I have no idea how to change that. People make it all sound so easy—go somewhere else, figure out what you love and do it, and things like that—but I'm not sure where to start with any of that. What am I supposed to do?
Bear (age 22, Canada)
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While the advice of moving or finding your passion can be true for many people, the particulars on how to do it can be problematic. Your friends are trying to point out that you are in a rut and need to shake things up, but unless you know where you are going this might not work. For example, if you move from Canada to New York City, it might be an exciting new environment, but you can’t run away from your problems or lack of ambition or lack of goals. Those things follow you. Likewise, you can’t just snap your fingers and say, “I summon my passion!” Many people, frankly, go through their entire lives without finding their passions.
Why is that?
There are several things that stop us from doing what we really want to do. I call these “The Shit Factors” (it sounds better in French: “les facteurs de merde”) and they are:
The Shit Factors are not established in us from birth. When we are little kids we do things because we love it, even if we are terrible at it (e.g., drawing people as crayon stick figures). It isn’t long, though, before we start to “learn” that such joys are not valued by our parents and peers. Parents tell us we must get an education and get a degree so we can find a job and make money; peers will take the first opportunity to make fun of and mock us at almost anything we attempt so that they can feel better about themselves. These two outside forces squash the joy out of most people, effectively turning them into boring drones who do all that is expected of them: go to school, work, raise a family, pay taxes, and die.
One of the saddest lines ever penned was by Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
My passion when I was younger was to be a writer. I struggled a lot with this, and my early stories were, well, awful (SF #1). I remember submitting a bunch of them to the creative writing program at Bowling Green State University, where I was considering going for a master’s degree (MFA). They gently suggested I just register for their standard MA. I was crushed. Slowly, though, I began work on my fantasy novel. Took years, got hundreds of rejection letters, and then I got “the call.” A publisher liked it! So, spent a year in contract negotiations, after which the publisher changed her mind, postponing publication indefinitely. Another year wasted (SF #5). I then submitted it to a small press in Canada (Double Dragon) that was having a writing contest judged by Piers Anthony (“Xanth” series), and I won! The book, The Steel of Enadia, was published, but didn’t sell worth a damn. I made no money off it (SF #2 and #4). The book got some online reviews that were pretty upsetting, too (SF #3).
Afterwards, I was pretty sad. I continued to write, though, publishing a number of nonfiction titles for young adults until finding my next passion: writing a history about Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan. This was a labor of love. The zoo, the oldest in the state that was accredited, had never been written about, so I dove in. This took a couple of years of research, interviews, and writing. I then submitted it to the Michigan State University Press (MSU’s vet school had a long history of working with the zoo and so it was a good fit). The editor loved the book, but they didn’t have a budget to publish it and kept delaying (see, all the money from sport programs never goes toward anything academic or artsy, or else they would have had the money in spades). Soooooo, I found a place that, basically, was a vanity press and got it published. However, I got absolutely NO support, either from the publisher, or, frustratingly, from the zoo itself, which refused to sell the book in its gift store (“We don’t sell books” and “You only want us to do that because you want to make money off of us” were two reasons I got). Although the people I know who read the book loved it, I couldn’t sell it and it is now out of print (thanks a lot, Potter Park Zoo, you putzes).
I stopped writing after that for a long time. Then, I found the furry fandom, which has now led me to writing this column. I make no money from it. None. Zilch. But I love doing it. I am grateful to those who write in and who read this column because it gives my life a sense of purpose, and it would not have happened if I had given up on writing because of the five Shit Factors.
My success with this column has also inspired me to begin research on my next project: The Furry Book: The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the Furry Fandom, which I hope to complete by the end of this year.
Not to make this a column about me, but I offer you my experience here as an example of how dangerous the Shit Factors are and because I suspect that you may be in your current rut because you are being stopped by one, some, or all of these factors. To find personal satisfaction in your life (note I am not saying “to find money” or “to get a career” or even "to find love," although these things can happen, too) you must break through all five factors and then ask yourself this question: If your doctor gave you one year to live, what would you do with your time?
This is not a frivolous question. We all die, of course. Any one of us could die tomorrow, could die later today. I just got an email from a friend of mine who is 56 and a bit shaken up by the fact that a cousin of his who is his age went to bed last night and never woke up.
The future is never certain. Live your life for today. Do not be complacent, content to sit on the couch watching “Survivor” or playing “Final Fantasy.” Live.
As for the Shit Factors, let’s look at them again:
Much of what I have above here is about your vocation or avocation, it seems, but it can actually apply to your love life, as well. Why do you suppose your sex life is unsatisfying? Could it be due to a Shit Factor? Such as you are afraid to tell your lover what you really want (related to SF #3)? Why did you choose this particular mate? Was it because they were low-hanging fruit (related to SF #5)? Because they have a good-paying job (related to SF #2)? Think about it....
I hope this helps. Please write again if it doesn’t and we can continue the conversation.
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