In another upstate New York excursion, I have had yet another revelation -- or, indeed, series of revelations. It seems that one cannot enter or exit the chaos of New York City without falling into an inevitable state of reflection on the state of one’s life, both figuratively and literally.
Is it just a simple case that the hot, sticky clamor of the city in summer periodically squashes an ongoing existential crisis, drowning our anxieties and fears in tequila, tacos and the seaweedy waters of the Rockaways?
Is it the age-old cliche that this city and everyone in it never sleeps, so by inching further north and further away from the most bustling boroughs, we finally have legroom to stretch into sleep and allow our subconscious to wander?
Either way, it seems to have become an inherent component of my adventures off the island. This time was no different. However, while my lakeside and oceanside epiphanies usually revolve around matters of the heart, my mind took the forefront for a change.
I had the luxury -- the most literal sense -- of staying with a very best friend of mine in her family home near the Adirondacks. This is the land of “camp,” a term that means something very different in Ireland. For instance, when at camp in the Adirondacks, I wasn’t sleeping in a tent so much as in a selection of mansions that could comfortably house 15-20 people at once.
The landscape is lush, densely green, bookended by blue. While gently mountainous, the slopes are low enough to allow for a vast expanse of uninterrupted sky above a series of equally blue lakes mirroring the soft clouds and towering trees overhead.
The “camp” that we stayed at belonged to a family that owns several equally large properties in the district. Decked out in handmade wooden furnishings, locally crafted light fixtures, and an actual outdoor deck, this warm, rustic cabin sat nestled in a woodland clearing that sloped gently downwards to the lake.
Boats, jet-skis, canoes and any number of other water oriented vehicles were on standby, and the air was filled with scents of fresh pine blended with afternoon and late evening grills. All that could be heard was the laughter of children, the happy barking of dogs who were enjoying their summers out of the city too, and the soft hum of boat engines slowly cruising across the lake.
For us, the “young people” who were gathered at camp, this was just an escape from the city. A temporary hideout courtesy of family and family friends who were happy to provide bed and board in exchange for anecdotes from the hectic city which they have long left behind.
The families I was staying with had known each other for years. Linked by the husbands in each familial unit who are all surgeons, they have remained in touch for decades, watching each other’s children grow into adults and maintaining these lakeside homes as base camps for reunions as they occur over the years.
Growing up in Ireland, our family friend antics were far less glamorous, but were similar in every other sense. Children would be bundled into cars, driven to sandy Irish beaches and given hours to bond and play while the adults picniced and caught up since their last holiday together.
The evenings would be spent around camp fires and barbeques, and the summers would drift by with ease. As we got older, the children have similarly become adults, and now see each other only here and there, but that bond of having grown up together remains.
This is exactly what I saw in the Adirondacks. Just with mansions and jet-skis instead of countryside bungalows with hand-made go-carts. But the sentiment still stands, and the adults’ community remains for whenever the now grown children wish to return.
While galavanting around the lake on a jet-ski with two of the kids who grew up there -- now in their late twenties -- we stopped at various docks to greet friends of their parents who they had known their whole lives. Beautiful, magnificent cabins housing beautifully kind couples who live the most relaxed lifestyle imaginable.
And then came the epiphany.
What did all of this magnificence have in common? Money.
On the Amtrak back to New York City, I pondered my life choices. At 18, I didn’t think twice about studying English literature because I assumed I would be the next J.K. Rowling. At 22, I didn’t hesitate when it came to moving to New York with no plans whatsoever.
At 26, I am still actively pursuing a career in the arts while fully aware of the far more lucrative business worlds out there that I could access, but am choosing not to.
Up until now, I have never questioned my constant quest for happiness that doesn’t revolve around financial gain -- but what about financial security? What about the future? What about raising a family with some other families nearby and being free to enjoy later life?
As calming, soothing and utterly beautiful as my time in the Adirondacks was, I couldn’t help but let the panic set in as I realized I’m -- shockingly -- not a surgeon or medical professional of any description, and perhaps a career in the arts was a terrible decision. Is this the quarter-life crisis that I’ve spent years defying?
Of course, as one of the wives reassured my friend and I as we packed our bags to leave, you can always marry rich. If that didn’t hurt my feminism so much, I might be able to take a little comfort in such an archaic sentiment.
How hard will we have to work in the world of the arts to keep up with our friends who have chosen a more lucrative path? Can it be done? I can only hope.