Fallen Down A Rabbit Hole

by Gurpreet Sihat

On 28th September 2018, Fearless Femme published my article, What’s Next? Haven’t The Foggiest… It was all about how people are never satisfied. Whether it’s deliberate or not, they refuse to give you time to stop and bask in your achievement. All they care about is what the next move is. The next step, the next road, the next journey.

Since the article was published, “What’s next?” hasn’t been uttered even once. The question appears to have been retired. I was lucky enough to relish this for almost a full three years. The past few months, however, everyone and their dog have had a new career path or job recommendation for me instead:

“You should be a tour guide!” 

“You should take on more tuition students!”

“You should work at a gallery!”

“You should write a book about the Medici!” 

“You should go back to school and get your therapy qualification!” 

This year has been what can only be described as an absolute shit-show, and every single one of those comments, however innocent and well meant, added to it. They lingered in the back of my head, and instead of seeing them as compliments or acknowledgements of my strengths, they felt like heavy rocks of doubt and confusion dropping into a basket on my back, making every day that much harder to move through. 

Workdays were filled with stress because I couldn’t stop thinking about how little money I was making or questioning whether I was doing the right thing. Days off (which are rare and, this year, growing even more fleeting and further apart) were spent feeling anxious, believing I should be doing something other than attempting to unwind and relax. An already overwhelming year made even more so through people’s offhand comments. Words have a power that we somehow always seem to forget, even though we feel it constantly.

And so, when things got too much, I cried to mum. It seemed, at first, that she wasn’t really listening to me. She barely looked up, too busy picking up the dishes as she cooked, but then she turned and asked me what seemed to be the simplest question in the world: 

“What do you want?”

I hadn’t a clue. Not one. 

I had been so entangled in this web of words and thoughts, doubts and anxiety, that I didn’t even know what I wanted to do that afternoon! So I started taking stock of my life instead. 

The few clients who didn’t turn on me during the pandemic are clients I enjoy working with. The student I’m tutoring is a great kid and I enjoy our sessions together. The work that gets outsourced to me is good work, challenging in all the right ways. The writing projects I have on are interesting and entertaining. The courses I’m taking which make me hungry for more. 

In way or the other, every single one of those things also gave me the freedom to fall through rabbit holes, and I LOVE rabbit holes! I enjoy the process of researching and the unexpected ways it shows up to aid me in various other aspects of my life. 

A book was recommended to me during one of my courses. One I couldn’t get hold of except through private art collections’ libraries. Unfortunately, unless it was my career or I was a PhD student, no London gallery or museum would allow me access to their libraries, I was told. I gave up on the book.

Time passed, and I enrolled in a seven-lecture series about Rubens with The Wallace Collection. I’d never been before and visiting Ruben’s great landscapes (A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning and The Rainbow Landscape) reunited gave me the opportunity to fall in love with a beautiful collection. The staff were amazing, the artwork mesmerising and, best of all, they had a library! Hesitantly, I contacted the library when I got home, asking the same question that had me rejected by so many other galleries and museums across London. This time, I was invited to visit.

On 7th September 2021, I became a private researcher at The Wallace Collection.

It isn’t, perhaps, what was expected when I was told to work at a gallery, and who knows if the Medici will be part of whatever this rabbit-hole of a research project will become, but those suggestions which caused me so much stress now have something good come of them. They forced me to think about what I loved, rather than what everyone else wanted from me. About what makes me happy, regardless of the outcome. 

This year has been insanely difficult. 17 deaths since November 2020. More hospitalisations than I can count. The phone rings and I pick it up excepting more bad news. A constant hum of fear, grief, stress, anxiety and worry run through every day. It’s relentless. But with all that illness and death, I’m starting to loosen my grip on things that no longer make me happy and turn my focus, instead, on the things that do. I’m starting to learn the answer to “What do you want?”

And so, a little after the fourth anniversary of my Fearless Femme article’s publication, I ask myself: 

What’s next? 

Well, I think I’m going to start taking weekends off again. It’s about time I spend some time away from my desk. From the constant buzz of technology and the ping, ping, ping of e-mails filled with work. 

What’s next?

Returning love and faith into days once scheduled to be filled with loss and disappointment. I want to spend time with people who aren’t exasperated by the latest grief-drenched news, but who are armed with a smile and a laugh and a hug (albeit virtual, it’s still a pandemic!). 

What’s next?

Rabbit holes! Lots and lots of them. Where I go from there, I’ll leave to them. 

Introducing my new Caffeine Addled Ramblings segment: Fallen Down A Rabbit Hole. A collection of research rabbit holes through my time as a private researcher at The Wallace Collection. 

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