In high school, I was on the editorial committee that decided which poems and stories would make it into our literary magazine. Every submission was anonymous, and the committee would first have someone read the piece aloud, then the rest would comment. My junior year I submitted a poem, one I was proud of because it stated my deepest longings, my most deep-seated fears, my hopes, my wishes. It was angst-ridden. My cry for help. After it was read aloud, the committee frowned. “It’s pretty obscure,” someone commented – the nicest comment of the ones that followed. For what seemed like an eternity the group tore apart my poem, line by line. The criticism was not constructive, but cruel. They gorged like lions at a fresh kill while our teacher looked on, silent. I never submitted another piece again, and from that point on, I kept my writing hidden from the world.
Writing was my life, my reason for living, but I pushed it down, pushed it away, because obviously I sucked at it. It didn’t help my parents never encouraged my writing, but instead pushed me into music, art, dance, anything else. After high school, I pursued a degree in illustration, which pleased my mother to no end. When that didn’t work out, I tried every other job imaginable: store manager, barista, bartender, receptionist, typist, copy editor, proposal writer, newsletter editor, English teacher. You’ll notice those last few jobs incorporate writing. I like to think of them as “writing adjacent”. Even though I feared writing, my gut couldn’t get away from it, and so I took jobs to get NEXT to writing without actually touching it.
Even if the job didn’t involve actual writing, I made damn sure it involved my time. I said yes to every project, forged ahead with every new plan and proposal and development at whatever job I happened to have. I wanted my entire day (and sometimes night) FULL, so unconsciously I didn’t have to think about the fact I wasn’t writing. For a time, I even worked two jobs, 16-hour days, which only left me enough time to come home and drink myself into a blackout stupor before starting the whole merry-go-round of denial once again.
But recently, I endured what I like to think of as an existential crisis of conscience. My last job involved some writing, so it was “writing adjacent” but it took up so much of my time. Not only that, the circumstances of the job were so stress-inducing I often found myself lying awake at night – ALL NIGHT – trying to think of ways to make the job better. How could I get up in the morning, go to this job, and not go into the bathroom stall and cry every day? How could I make it more endurable? When you’re describing your job as “endurable” it’s probably not a good thing. Not at all. I had buried my fear, my desire to write so deeply that here I was trying to figure out how to turn a job I hated into one I could at least endure another day. It was a breaking point for me.
I quit. I had to. I was so deep within it, I couldn’t see I was pushing my desire to write away, allowing my fear to act as a wall against it. I would rather die of stress at this job, constantly fighting to make it better, constantly denying my love of writing to sneak into my psyche, rather than just letting it all go. It took a good friend to show me what was going on – to take me by the hand, pull me outside of myself, and show me the scene as it was playing out. She was like the Ghost of Christmas Present in that Dickens tale, her hand around my shoulder, showing me the scene. “Do you see what you’re doing to yourself? Why are you fighting so hard?” Isn’t it funny how someone outside can see the solution so easily when you’ve been banging your head against the wall for years? I remain grateful for her insight, and her swift kick in my ass.
So I cut all ties to that job. Now I was unemployed, untethered, like a balloon set aloft except there’s no wind to carry it anywhere. It’s just there, floating, waiting for someone to blow on it. Waiting for direction. It’s incredibly frightening to feel like that, but exciting-frightening. The anticipation, the faith you have in yourself while you’re untethered is what keeps you aloft.
Elizabeth Gilbert said when you begin a major life journey, when you finally let go and do things differently for the first time, heading into a direction you’ve never been in, you have to have faith the truth will be revealed. And everyone you meet on your journey is a possible teacher.*
This is the truth I keep coming back to. My truth. I have no idea where to go or what to do next. But I keep reminding myself the truth will be revealed. I have been listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” again on audio. It’s amazing how her journey for balance parallels mine for purpose. Because that’s what I’m looking for – purpose. What am I supposed to do? Who am I supposed to be? In Chapter 30, when Liz finally decides not to become a mother she asks herself, “Okay, so who am I now?” It was like an arrow of light went right into my heart. Because that is me. That is so me it hurts. I say “arrow of light” because it was so validating to HEAR another woman state what I was feeling. I had read these words two years ago, but hearing them now, it really sunk in. I heard it with my heart, not my head.
My husband and I tried to have children, and then when it didn’t work out easily, we decided not to pursue it. We are happy as we are. And even though we didn’t really talk about why, now I know. Both of us, having had happy childhoods, also still possess a huge amount of painful memories and demons we’re still working through. It would be so unfair to bring up a child, the hardest job of all, without having worked through this. Without letting this go. While I might not know my purpose, I do know we were brought together to take care of each other in this life. And that’s more than enough purpose. Except it isn’t, is it? Taking care of my husband is so easy, and my greatest joy. I’m still left with the question, “What now?”
Recently, someone asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a writer,” I replied. The words felt awful in my mouth, like I had just decided to find out what rocks taste like. They rolled around on my tongue like maggots and it took all my force of will to get the words out. I wear a bite guard at night, and frequently I have dreams where I’m trying to speak, but because the guard is blocking my talk the only thing that comes out are squeaks and inhuman noises. This felt just like that. I was like Helen Keller discovering water, except I heard the words and I didn’t believe them.
For the longest time I was a quiet mousy girl, but because of all the shit I’ve gone through in my life I blossomed into a mouthy broad. You can’t shut me up now, and you better not even try unless you want your ass kicked. Now I just need to learn to open my mouth on the page. To get to the point where writing is as easy as talking. So for the time being I’m an untethered balloon. Floating and silent, but emitting a squeak here and there. And that’s fine for now. I have faith.
*I’m paraphrasing, can anyone find this quote for me? I gave my copy of the book to a friend who really needed it.