September 27, 2023 | Rome, Italy

No direction home

By |2018-04-29T00:07:25+02:00April 27th, 2018|"American Girl"|
"Who am I without this creative act that has defined me? I don't know what to do. I don't recognize myself."

nne was distraught. “To be honest, I’ve been depressed for the last two years. I can’t really tell if I’m coming out of it or not.”

I’d met her at my neighborhood book group. She looked to be about my age and lived a few blocks away. I’d recently left my job and was eager to make new friends so I invited her to tea.

Not knowing much about her, I clicked on the link beneath her email signature, which took me to her work as a jewelry artist. Her bracelets and earring were all hand forged and brushed sterling silver. Pinwheels and geometric shapes were graphically hammered onto flat surfaces. She’d done work for high-end clients and seemed to run a thriving business.

But over chamomile tea, a different story emerged.

“Have you ever felt like you don’t know yourself anymore?” she asked me. “I’m in the middle of something I just don’t understand.”

She stared out the restaurant window before continuing.

“I’ve made jewelry for over 20 years. I grew the company enough to have a handful of employees. We were pretty successful. Nearly every activity I pursued in New York, from museums to galleries, was somehow related to my vision as an artist. In the early years, it was great.”

But things had changed.

“My problem,” said Anne, “is that I have no interest in making jewelry anymore. When I go to my studio, I feel flat. There’s no spark, no inspiration. Nothing. It’s all gone.”

The waiter came by and filled our teapots with hot water. The steam rose and drifted between us. She seemed to despair.

“Who am I without this creative act that has defined me? I don’t know what to do. I don’t recognize myself.”

I sensed the dilemma. Many friends and acquaintances seemed between jobs, if not between selves, poised between past and future. And not knowing which way to go when you can’t go back is disorienting. It elicits big questions about identity and purpose.

“Its an odd feeling, isn’t it?” I replied. “I know people in a similar spot, including myself.”

She brightened at the thought that she wasn’t alone.

I told her about a friend who had felt adrift after her kids left home. “She sold her house to live on a sailboat. But now she wonders what she has done. Another just lost a husband and now doesn’t recognize herself as a single woman in mid-life. Being home alone is a challenge.”

I told her that recently I’d left my job of 17 years, and since then the way forward hadn’t always seemed entirely clear. Routines and defining roles etched into nearly two decades of memory were gone.

“How are you dealing with it?” she asked me.

Mostly, I reminded myself things would come together, I told her. “As a New Yorker, I know I have unrealistic expectations about how fast things should happen. And this process seems to have a schedule all its own. I try to be gentle and kind to myself.”

Anne nodded. She seemed buoyed that transition was a challenge everyone faced at one point or another.

“I look back on my life and recall other times where I didn’t know what was next, and somehow things came together,” I continued. “I’m sure it will again for both of us. Your jewelry business will give way to something new. And something will open for me too. We just don’t know what it is yet.”

The waiter came by again, this time to deposit the check. They were closing. We’d lost track of time. We gathered up our belongings and headed out the door.

At the corner, we embraced and parted. I felt like I’d made a new friend. And on the road of life, friendship is important. Especially when both friends have no idea where exactly that road is headed.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.