It’s been several weeks since I was last employed, having left my job ostensibly to become a writer or at least follow the shallow continuum of being a writer. We won’t talk about the number of days in which I gave up personal hygiene or watched Netflix until my eyes bled. I keep telling myself that I’m in transition. It sounds nice. Like I’m going somewhere. Eventually.
The time has come for me to locate those proverbial bootstraps and pull myself up and out of the shallow end of the pool. I’m a disciplined person until I stop making an effort and then I get a clear visual on my life in the other universe of I-don’t-give-a-shit. It’s a very easy place to live – a place where houses aren’t cleaned, books aren’t written, phone calls are rarely returned.
For most of my life, I’ve held on tightly to structure, routine, focus, multitasking – until I’m this tight little ball of rage and misanthropy and lose my mind over a piece of junk mail or unwanted eye contact. I fall apart and then start all over again, building lists and goals and structure. I’m always going to be better, faster, smarter, stronger this time. It’s a lifetime cycle of reconfiguring and redefining. But I’m older and slightly wiser now. I see the diminishing and exhausting returns and it is a model that is no longer working for me.
So I’m letting myself sit here for a bit longer – no clearly defined goals, no hurrying from one task to the next, no answering until I’m ready. It’s a living meditation, allowing thoughts to pass through, doing tasks that require my presence, but not my focus. I stood at the kitchen window for half an hour this morning watching the birds at the feeder. It’s been a long time since I’ve stood still and observed life around me.
The other morning, I sat down and peeled an orange for breakfast. This seemed like the height of luxury. How quickly, over the years, had I turned breakfast into a necessity so I wouldn’t pass out mid-morning. I would inhale my instant oatmeal or yogurt on the way to another chore. But an orange – that takes time and effort. It was a sweet, slow moment.
It’s hard to be nothing in a world that is constantly striving. I mean this in the context of the party or gathering. What do you do? I’m a writer. Oh, what do you write? Now, at this point I’m tempted to say: Movie scripts for stuffed animal snuff films or stories about my imaginary friends (too close to the truth).
It’s hard not to be defensive, even with the most innocuous questions. Because I haven’t been writing much, either. I’d really like to say nothing with a smile on my face. Instead I mutter something about being in transition and then pretend I’m a piece of furniture in the corner. I’m trying not to be something just for the sake of a good answer.
The other side of the coin is the tremendous sense of guilt. I grew up poor and hardworking. Since the age of 10, delivering newspapers, I’ve rarely been unemployed. And I’ve taken every shitty job on the planet to ensure that I could carry my own. Waste water treatment plant operator? Check. Truck stop waitress? Check. Hotel laundry, cook, corn detasseler (any Iowan will know this one), medical records review (oh, the pictures!), telemarketer and so on.
It’s only been over the last decade or so that I’ve worked cushy office jobs (cushy as in I did not need to wear a hazmat suit or a paper hat at my desk). So what now? Am I a kept woman? Am I in danger of making a mockery of hardworking housewives everywhere with my lackadaisical interest? The panic sets it – the anxiety rolls over me. Breathe, damn it.
And that’s what it comes down to – allowing myself a little room to breathe. What does life on the other side look like to me? What do I want to keep? What do I shed? What am I passionate about? What do I need to do to feel relevant and useful? It is yet another luxury to have time to not only ask, but to think about the answers to these questions. Until I figure it out, I’ll be here, eating oranges and watching the birds.