Lately I seem to be drawn to books that feature characters who are re-evaluating their lives, redefining their goals or assessing their previous “path”. I am not sure if I am choosing these intentionally or if this just happens to be a current recurring theme in popular fiction but either way it makes for interesting personal reflection and conversation.
On the recommendation of one of my very best friends I just read “Juliet, Naked” by Nick Hornby. I was pretty excited to read it because I love John Cusack. What is the connection you ask? John Cusack was in the movie version of “High Fidelity” based on an earlier novel by Hornby. Ever since Lloyd Dobbler held up the boombox playing “In Your Eyes” in “Say Anything” I have been a little bit in love with John Cusack. Off topic but the bottom line is that I had very high hopes for “Juliet, Naked” and I was not disappointed.
The story focuses on the lives of two very different people. The first is Annie from England who is nearing 40, recently single after a long, unfulfilling relationship with Duncan – an obsessed fan of retired musician Tucker Crowe, living in a town that she doesn’t feel connected to and interacting with people she doesn’t really consider true friends. The second is the aforementioned Tucker, an American musician who has left the limelight and who has a dedicated fan base that obsesses about his life and believes mostly in the fiction they create on their own about his life rather than actuality. Tucker hasn’t done much in his life since his music days except break women’s hearts and father multiple children.
Both are questioning who they really are and whether or not they have wasted their lives. Annie wonders why she wasted so much time with Duncan and is frustrated by her lack of purpose and passion and by the fact that by staying with Duncan she is childless. Tucker wonders if he was ever any good at music and, if he was, whether or not he is defined more by his accomplishments or by his absence. He is questioning his lack of relationship and parenting skills and trying to decide whether or not he is willing to put in the effort to become a better person. The two connect after Annie reviews a newly released CD that Tucker only okays because he is having money problems and he responds to her comments.
Without giving anything else away I will say that their personal journeys are both very interesting but more appealing is their ability to make each other aware of life’s questions through their email correspondence. Without necessarily trying to they are able to challenge each other to assess their lives and reevaluate their purpose and their passion. Without really specifically addressing the question they help each other to evaluate whether or not their lives have truly passed them by.
This book – and others – have gotten me thinking about whether or not we really “waste” our lives. Do our lives really pass us by? I suppose the answer depends on whether or not you view everything that happens to you as individual successes or failures OR as small pieces of what cumulatively defines who you are.
Personally, I look at each experience – good, bad and indifferent – as an opportunity for learning and I believe that cumulatively they make me, me. This isn’t always easy. Sometimes it seems like years pass before I can find something remotely positive to say about an experience. Sometimes I have to really force myself to find the silver lining or the teachable moment. I struggle to find the lessons learned but almost always I can eventually get there.
I’ve looked at failed relationships and wondered what the hell I was thinking or why I allowed myself to set the bar so incredibly low. I’ve looked at past jobs and wondered why I wasted my time. I’ve looked at friendships that didn’t stand the test of time and asked myself whether I put too much effort in or not enough and I question whether it was worth investing myself. However, I’ve learned that every past relationship – platonic and romantic – helped me to define my expectations and address my own struggles and failures. I’ve learned that – for the most part! – everyone that fits into one of those categories came into my life for a reason and taught me something about myself or the world that helped to shape who I have become. I’ve learned that for every job that made me miserable or wasn’t fulfilling I have been able to learn something about myself – my strengths and my weaknesses – that have made it easier for me to define when and how I am willing to compromise and when I am entitled to have high expectations and not lower them.
Determining our personal “path” in life is both exciting and intimidating. As I type this I am working at a part-time job and trying to put together course syllabi for the fall semester. I am 5 months pregnant and applying to PhD programs. I am 32 years old and only figured out a few years ago what I want to be when I grow up. Thankfully I have a wonderfully supportive husband, a fantastic group of encouraging friends and family, years of varied experience in different fields of academic study and employment and – at the moment! – an open-minded attitude about defining what comes next.
In “Juliet, Naked” both Annie and Tucker prove it is never too late to redefine ourselves. It is never too late to step outside (or sometimes get pushed out!) of our comfort zone. It is never too late to forgive ourselves for not having it all figured out or for mistakes in the past and take the time to determine what comes next – sometimes by taking small steps and sometimes by making giant leaps. It is never too late to become who you want to be.
All good reminders from the brilliant Nick Hornby!
Got a good book suggestion? I’d love to hear it!