Many of us struggle to find our calling. What are we meant to do with our lives? The Elemental Journey Series is a set of four literary novels, Earth, Air, Fire, Water. Each follows protagonist Pearl Swinton as she goes on a heroine’s journey in search of self in a world rocked by climate change and global violence. Pearl’s journey parallels my own experience of finding my path as artist and novelist. In this blog, I’ll explore my process in hopes that both my novels and this blog inspire others on their journey.
The year is 1992 and I am standing in front of a full-length mirror in my new shrink’s office in London. She is not only a new therapist, but the first therapist I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Do you like what you see? ” she asks, pointing to my reflection.
I am bone thin, size 0. I have dark circles under my eyes. My eyes are wild and wired. But it is the era of heroin chic in London and all the models look like this, drugged out and emaciated. I say as much. I don’t know what the fuss is about.
“You don’t look good,” she says, passionately. “You don’t look healthy. Is this what you want for your life?” I know she is trying to trick me into taking better care of myself, but I’ve never thought I looked good, so my only reaction is, so what’s new about not looking good?
“Either you eat,” she says, “or we’ll have to consider some kind of medical intervention.”
I look her in the eyes in the mirror. She is not kidding. You could mistake her woo woo ways and soft voice for someone who is a push-over, but she is not. I know that I am one of her most challenging patients. She has told me as much.
“I’ll eat. I promise.” And I know I’ll try, but I don’t know if I can make myself.
It is been six months after my break up from my husband (described in an earlier blog). I’d heard a Call to go find myself, to do something big in the world, and my marriage fell apart. Deep down, I knew I had to be alone, but I didn’t know the transition would be so brutal. Two weeks after we split up, he boarded the plane to America. I didn’t know it would be years before I saw him again. I encouraged him to go to America, not to stick to work on “us”. I felt so guilty that I was causing such disruption with my need to find myself. I think I promised I’d meet up with him in San Francisco in a few months. I never did. I felt so guilty, I would’ve said anything to appease.
There was this Call to do or be something, but I couldn’t figure out what. Something was gnawing at my guts. Something was urging me toward a new life. I had no idea what that something was, or who was calling, or what, when, where, why or how. All I did know was that my life was falling apart.
I cried all the time. I stopped eating. I could tell my crying jags were bothering the friend with whom I was staying so I found another room, with a friend of a friend of a friend in South London. He was Christian and held thrice weekly prayer meetings in the living room. I hid in my room, a passionate atheist who was still in recovery after 18 years of Catholicism. The new therapist, too, was profoundly spiritual. Walking to her office my heart would fill and I’d feel like I was “going home”, but my brain, my ego, resisted anything woowoo. I was a hard-hitting journalist, not a New Age freak, thank you very much.
Little did I know at the time, the universe was already pointing me in the direction of this new Call (me as a spiritual person), but I couldn’t see it. All I saw was that I’d lost my husband and my home and my life was falling apart.
I had no hunger for food, but I was voracious for sex. I had a lot of wild sex — with artists, performers, actors, musicians. I had a rabid need to be filled up with art, ravaged by art, torn apart by it. I didn’t know that even the people I was fucking were a sign from the heavens of what was to come.
ART, the universe was shouting from my loins. But I had no ears to hear.
Today, more than 20 years later, I coach a lot of people who are “answering the Call”. And this point of chaos after the Call seems to be universal. Marriages end. Homes are lost. Careers take a dive. They feel this urge toward greatness, but the world reflects everything going to shit. And the depression, my God the depression (we’ll explore this more in future blogs). The universe must tear down what the ego has built. Meanwhile, what we are being “called” to is so nonlinear, so opposite of everything we’ve learned as “progress” in the real world, so outside the box, that it is no wonder that it is so confusing. It is no wonder that so many people spend so much time in this dark place, unable to find their way home. It is no wonder many people refuse the call altogether.
Back at my therapist’s office, I have managed to gain some weight, although I don’t think I’m bigger than a size 2, up from the size 0. What does it mean when we women allow ourselves to become a zero?
“Carrie, you have to go back to the States,” my therapist says to me. It is now a year since I split up with my husband. “Parts of yourself are missing, and you cannot find them here. You have to go back.”
Years later I would write about these lost fragments of the self in Earth, my first novel, which is to be published in February 2015.
As I grew up, I kept seeing fragments of myself, balls of light, spin from the top of my head, fly up and out, and swirl into the sky. With each loss, I became more of a shell. At some point, I’d have to figure out how to retrieve the parts. I’d have to go find the lost parts of me, put them all out in front, connect the dots, create a constellation. Reform myself from the dust and light of the universe.
I broke down and sobbed in the therapist’s office. She was right, I’d have to move back to the States, but where? And why did the thought of it draw up so much profound grief? I’d left America only knowing rural Missouri. In the decade I’d been abroad, I’d had very little contact with US culture, or with my family. I had a British accent. I loved London. (Later, when I told the owner of a pub I frequented that I was moving back to the US, he was shocked. “Love, you’re not American,” he said. When I assured him I was, he shook his head in disbelief.)
I knew when I moved back, I couldn’t go find my husband and live with him; I hadn’t found myself yet. I’d have to start over again somewhere I didn’t know, from scratch.
Within a few months, I would be on a plane to Seattle. Little did I know that this plunge into darkness that comes after The Call had just begun. Little did I know how much worse it was about to get.
Read more about Caroline Allen’s novels – Earth, Air, Fire and Water – on her website, www.carolineallen.com.