Tea-Deprived Existentialism

Tea-Deprived Existentialism

Disclaimer: my knowledge of philosophy has been absorbed purely through osmosis and brief definitions given in English lessons to explain poetic movements. Therefore I might not actually be talking about existentialism. Please don’t feel the need to correct me. It won’t make any difference.

So. In five days, I’m going to be nineteen years old.

This was me on my 18th birthday. I was ill, a fact which should come as no surprise to anybody who knows me at all.
This was me on my 18th birthday. I was ill, a fact which should come as no surprise to anybody who knows me at all.

This is mildly terrifying to me. I am a child. I will fight you if you call me a child, but the fact is I still think of myself as one quite a lot of the time, even when I’m buying my own groceries, cooking my own meals, and doing my own laundry. (Doing my own washing up, however, seems currently to result in broken glasses, which is not ideal.) And 19 is definitely not child-aged. 18 is when you become an adult, you know, being legally able to vote and drink and get married and things like that. 19 is when people assume you know what you’re doing and leave you to get on with it.


And nineteen is awfully close to twenty, which is one fifth of a century, and it would mean I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and if I’m already turning nineteen then that means I’m nearly twenty and then that’s two thirds of the way to thirty and very soon I’ll be old or even DEAD.

And when you look at it like that, time seems to be passing awfully quickly and you begin to wonder what’s the point of anything if very soon it’ll all be over and everyone will be dead and no one will remember you and all of this has no purpose and we’re just living day after day because we don’t know what else to do but actually the truth is that life has no meaning and and and and —

Possibly my malfunctioning kettle / fusebox is getting to me, because the lack of tea in my life is really very distressing and makes everything seem even less meaningful. Because yes. I may be a child but I have to deal with my own electricity problems and I do not know how to fix this particular problem (changing the fuse doesn’t help, I tried that last time) so I’m stuck with minimal tea. It’s terribly unfair.

Tea is an absolutely integral part of my life.
Tea is an absolutely integral part of my life.

It’s even more unfair because I invited people over for tea and biscuits on Thursday so that they could distract me from the looming abyss of growing up, and now I’m not sure I’m going to be able to offer tea in any practical manner other than going back and forth through several heavy doors to the kitchen and attempting not to spill boiling water on myself as I bring it back to my room to make tea. So we might all have to face the ageing problem without any caffeine or camomile, and that’s just too horrifying to consider.

This is possibly the point where I run away to join the circus. Or to find Neverland. Either is looking like a pretty good option.

Growing up really scares me. A lot of things scare me. I experience daily terror about the meaning of life and whether anything has a point and if we’re all going to die anyway why are we bothering; I’m pretty sure there’s a part of everyone’s brain that distracts us from those questions, and depression is when it stops working, so when I have particularly bad mental health days I’m overwhelmed by them to the point of being unable to function. The rest of the time they’re just a niggling question at the back of my mind that I do my best to ignore.

Frank Turner has a song with the lines

Work weeks make us weary now and school’s a distant memory
and it’s easy to ask questions of ourselves, like:
where it is we’re going now and what we have to show for all the sunny days
shut up in the shells of expectations of our ultimate directions,
and the stations that we should have reached by now,
when we haven’t read the script and our tender wings are clipped,
and we’re scared we might be letting someone down.

and I think that sums up a lot of my feelings. The stations that we should have reached by now — all the things I wrote in my journal that I was going to achieve in 2014, all the things I dreamed I’d manage before I was eighteen, all the deadlines I set for myself when I was sixteen, the goals I worked towards at thirteen: things I haven’t completed, achieved, reached.

The publishing aims and the writing goals and the schedules and the wordcounts and the list of agents to query and the vlog ideas that I never filmed and the blog posts I didn’t write and all the readers I don’t have and the grades I didn’t achieve and the people I’m not, the people I’m not, the people I’m not: the people I promised myself I’d become that I’ve never even seen.

Even if I don't look much like I did just months ago.
Even if I don’t look much like I did just months ago.1

The older I get without fulfilling my aims (‘traditional publishing deal by 18’ ‘get my grade eight violin’ ‘learn to do fouette turns’ ‘figure out who I am’), and the more I see my younger friends exploring themselves and life in a way I never even considered when I was their age, the more overwhelmed I am by the passing of time and the seeming futility of trying to keep up with it.

And because I’m trying to figure out how to have a tea party without a functioning kettle or a teapot, it’s on my mind. I’m going to be nineteen. What have I got to show for it?

Growing up is terrible. 2/102 would not recommend. Don’t do it.

Anyone else out there struck by pure existential dread several times a month/week/day? Come and talk to me. We can hang out and cry about the pointlessness of life together. But I’m afraid there’s no tea on offer. Because, you know, I’m cursed with breaking every kettle I own and all that.

1: looking at these pictures really makes me wonder how nobody figured out I was anaemic for such a long time
2: it’s 2/10 and not 0/10 is because once you’re 18 you can do important things like setting your Goodreads profile to public or legally buying Hannibal on DVD

12 thoughts on “Tea-Deprived Existentialism

  1. The only people who don’t feel insignificant in the face of the universe at least some of the time are people without goals and psychopaths.

    I successfully raised a legal argument that resulted in a major positive change in the way accident management companies could seek work.

    Several years ago, a speaker called me “the wisest man he knows” in a speech to hundreds of people.

    Last December one of my books was featured as one of The Bookseller’s four best independent sci-fi and fiction publications.

    And I still feel like I haven’t achieved as much as others.

    My suggestion is to make a list of a few things you have achieved; then, every time you feel insignificant you can remind yourself that you have done things of worth.

    1. Thanks, that sounds like a good idea. Maybe I’ll do it like one of those happiness jars where I’ll put slips of paper in a box every time I achieve something and at the end of the year, look back and see all the things I did.

  2. I won’t like this post because it’s so depressing. Sure, there are things that you haven’t done – and we all have those – but they shouldn’t overshadow the things you have achieved. I actually rather enjoy growing up; but I don’t know, everyone is different, and I’ve rather felt more appreciated and worth the older I’ve become. Sometimes it seems that everyone looks down on children for being silly and unfocused, even if that is rarely the case.

    1. It’s true; I was frustrated with being young because nobody took me seriously, but I still feel like I’m not taken seriously in the aspects of life I want people to respect, but I’m expected to do other things and look after myself. I’m still looked upon as a ‘teen writer’ rather than just a writer, but I’m old enough to pay for my own prescriptions, resolve electrical malfunctions, and make scary adult phonecalls by myself? :/

  3. I agree, nineteen is definitely not old enough to be considered a Proper Adult, ugh. And I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a platitude, but I don’t think you need to worry about not being who/what/where you expected yourself to be at this age. You’re still moving, still growing, and it looks like you’re headed to somewhere/someone pretty awesome as far as I can tell. Taking unexpected paths just means finding unexpected things, being changed in ways you might not have expected that could become very important later. :) After all, I don’t think Bilbo Baggins expected his life to go the way it did, either…

    1. I know; my fourteen-year-old self would never have expected me to grow up into a passionately political queer Cambridge student since she was an apolitical straight (as far as she knew) aspiring ballet dancer. I’m a thousand things that I never expected to be, and I’m okay with that, because I like some parts of myself much better than I did before. At the same time, there are many things I don’t like, which I hoped to resolve or change a long time ago, and never did. And I always feel like I haven’t done what I planned to do with my writing and things.

  4. I know exactly how you feel – the thought of turning 20 this year terrifies me, it really does.

    But, you know what, it doesn’t matter WHEN you get around to doing things. Life is longer than you think it is. Right now it feels like it’s going super fast because we’re young, and the culture of today tells us that youth is literally the only time that you can do anything because youth is perfection and if you are not being the perfect youth you are failing and wasting yourself because it’s all over soon.

    Bloody lies. It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years. And hey, maybe the existential dread can make a nice platform from which to get yourself to DO all the things you want to do before you can’t any more.

    But there is time, remember that. Just not in the conventional sense.

    1. Yeah; I’ve always had a desire to do everything NOW, for everything to already be happening. No patience, I guess! But you’re right. It doesn’t matter if it takes a while to get going as long as it happens eventually…

  5. Oh my days, some of these feelings are so true. So many times I’d been in the middle of something and then just kind of died a little thinking about how fast everything is going, and how there’s not enough time to do everything I ever wanted to do. However, whenever I think of “what I’ve done” in relation to “what I haven’t done” I think about how successful I was in my endeavours when I wasn’t even trying and now? Now it seems like a struggle just doing the mundane! :(
    Life’s become a whole lot of drawing up plans, learning that they don’t work, drawing up new plans, and the circle goes on and on.
    I think that soon, after all the busy stuff ends, I’ll have time to go on holiday, relax and do nothing. Then I think about how there’s no time to do nothing…and it goes on.
    But I did read somewhere that the most successful people in life are those with “grit”, I guess the stupidity(?) of carrying on with life in the same repeptitive way (plan, fail, plan, fail) will one day lead to success. Maybe.
    Until then I’d advise doing some extensive googling on electricity and reading some of those existentialism books (or poems, the poems are pretty cool). Like all things the feeling of existentialism only consumes us sometimes and stays in the background the rest of the time – with all these changes you’ll build a strong pillar within yourself and you’ll look back on these days, accepting them.

    1. You’re right; it’s so easy to dwell on what I haven’t done without considering what I HAVE done. I need to work on that, and make sure I give myself the credit I deserve even when I didn’t manage everything.

      Yeah, maybe some poetry would be a good idea. I haven’t been very good at writing any recently, but perhaps reading some would give me some inspiration as well as helping me find words to express what I’m feeling.

    2. @moosha23 just a thought on “I guess the stupidity(?) of carrying on with life in the same repeptitive way (plan, fail, plan, fail) will one day lead to success. Maybe.”: it’s kind of hard to see success if you haven’t clearly defined it. It’s hard to see something if you have no idea what you’re looking for or an unrealistic expectation of what the thing really looks like, eh?

  6. Hey Miriam,

    Do you know a whole lot of people who have reached out to their favorite authors, traveled to several countries, bucked up a whole bunch of strangers with their writing, written several drafts of several novels, published a bunch of poetry collections, cared passionately enough about people they knew not at all to try to get other people to care and change the way they think about and treat such aforementioned strangers, gone off to college in a city they didn’t know with excitement, despite and because of the unknown-ness, and had countless DMCs (deep and mundane conversations), all before turning 19? I don’t many, but I do know at least one.

    Happy Birthday ;)

    P.S. I had this kind of ‘ohnoohnoohnoIdon’twannagrowup!youcan’tmakeme!ohmanyoucan,butidon’twanttoooooOooo!’ thing at the end of high school, (i.e. when I was 18, on my way to 19). Turns out, from the other side of 20, that I wish I could convince myself of then that life is awesome no matter how old you are – and that’s a belief I hold even having had some of my fears about adulthood come true. Every age has something else to accomplish in and that’s the awesomeness. And some good news: you don’t really believe there’s nothing worth it, because if you did you wouldn’t be scared of life flying by. Who cares if the time is passing, if time isn’t worth anything? But you know it is. You know there’s stuff for you to do and people for you to help and challenges like electricity shortages that stretch your boundaries of responsibility and bravery, (because, yeah, it’s hard to deal with grown-up, day-to-day stuff and it takes bravery), and you want to grab as much of that LIFE that you can. And you will try, and you might always feel like you fall short of who you want to be, but there will be days where you can say, ‘I did something today’ or ‘I was someone to someone’ or ‘I checked every box I should have’ and those days are SO WORTH IT!

    P.P.S. Just so we’re clear, I’m not claiming to be all the way there myself in accepting all this, but hearing it from myself makes it that much easier to digest and…well, at least much of the time I do conduct myself as if I know this to be true.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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