Some autobiographical quotes from Marian Keyes in “Under the Duvet” (UTD) and “Further Under the Duvet” (FUTD) that rang true for me.
“When I was eighteen I went to college to study law – I’d always been academically bright and hopes were high (although not mine). I got a fairly decent degree and it was expected that I’d become a solicitor. But I couldn’t do it. I was paralysed by something, which I couldn’t articulate. So I left Dublin and went to London and got a job as a waitress. It was a glaring example of self-sabotage.” (UTD)
“… I went to university and got a law degree. Something I should have been proud of, but I wasn’t; as soon as something was associated with me, it became tainted and when everyone else in my class went off to become high-powered lawyers, I showed what a free spirit I was by going to London and becoming a waitress. … Eventually I ended up getting a job in a small accounts office, where I radiated resentment for every second of the eight years I was there. … Clearly I wasn’t fulfilled but, where a normal person would just go and get another job, when it came to doing good things for myself, I was paralysed. Besides, I wasn’t interested in a career (so I told myself; I told myself this a lot, especially when my flatmates got pay rises and promotions).” (FUTD)
She concentrated on partying and drinking to escape herself; she descended into alcoholism, attempted suicide and got sent to rehab, got sober and THEN started writing, in her thirties I think. It didn’t take that long to get a big enough book deal to be able to do it full-time.
“I’d been given a charmed life. But while the outside of my life had been transformed, it was taking a lot longer for my feelings to catch up with the facts. The insecurity and immaturity which had characterised my drinking were still alive and kicking and I felt confused and unworthy.” (FUTD)
She describes the insecurity of being a writer, constantly worrying that the next book won’t be as good, writing in bed (“under the duvet”) because it seems less daunting that way than sitting at a desk.
I find all this encouraging in many ways. Firstly, that good things can still happen to you late in life. Secondly, just that I’m not alone in the confusion and resentment and self-loathing of not using your degree and struggling to get a career started. Thirdly, the notion that success does not remove insecurity overnight is oddly reassuring, because it means I can conclude that I shouldn’t take my feelings too seriously. Perhaps in some people’s eyes I am already succeeding. Maybe I just have to accept that these feelings are likely to stay with me for some time, and learn to live with them (today was particularly bad in the depression stakes, but I cycled into work this evening in a tentative attempt to plough through it).
I find it interesting that she used the word “immaturity”. I have heard this word before in a similar context, but have always resisted associating self-esteem problems and flawed thinking and emotional neediness with immaturity. That suggests that you just need to grow out of it. But I think I understand its usage now in the sense that maturity is characterised by a well-rounded, confident, secure personality. A lot of older people exhibit such inspiring character. Excessive neediness on the other hand leads to screwy behaviour of all sorts; demanding, attention-seeking behaviour; controlling or manipulative behaviour; denial and lack of self-awareness; escapism and self-destruction. Some people don’t grow out of it at all; maybe it doesn’t happen automatically, and in some cases it requires a lot of work. “Mature” old people surely don’t get that way by shutting their eyes and marking time for a few decades.
Perhaps by experiencing life in its full catastrophe, testing yourself in situations you didn’t think you could handle, you are gradually softening the sharp edges. I can only hope so.