This afternoon I dreamt that I was in graduate school and had two papers due the following day. Two papers, each about twenty pages long. Pages that I’d not even begun. Just as, in the dream, I thought I’d pull an all-nighter (it would’ve been my first) and meet those deadlines, I remembered that I had to also work at the restaurant that night. It was out of my hands; I’d have to write to my professors and request a later deadline, probably while citing some problem of a “personal” nature, something I’d never done before ever.
When I woke and realized that I had no papers to turn in because I wasn’t in grad school, in fact, had finished over three years ago, I felt relief but then something else.
I’ve never not finished a project I’ve set out to do. When I lay out my own self-discipline, I come through. When I tell myself I’m going to do something, I don’t let myself down. Going to run six miles in the morning before a twelve-hour shift. Done. Going to train for a half-marathon. I have two halves under my belt. Going to take an art history class because I’ve always felt that my otherwise well-rounded education was lacking in this area. I’m sitting in a classroom at NYU weeks later. Going to eschew pre-baked pie crusts that were always good enough for my mom in an attempt to make a pie from scratch. Yep. My crust wasn’t picture-perfect, but it was sure damn tasty. Going to move to NYC and get a job in book publishing. Five weeks later I had that job. Going to quit that job a couple of years later because I’ve got better things in mind (temporary nomadic existence). Check. Going to reject the normative lifestyle in favor of traveling around South America, where I’ll learn Spanish, meet locals, and keep a blog. Yup, I did that, and here’s the blog.
But what about what I said about being a writer? How’s that project coming along?
“How’s the writing?” is a question I get a lot and one that, regardless of who the deliverer is, makes me bristle.
If I take an afternoon siesta (a practice I grew quite fond of in Argentina and Bolivia especially) and the question pops up later, I often feel guilty. Never mind that I might have woken up early, gone to a Yoga class, cleaned my apartment, gone to the Farmer’s Market and made a hearty soup for lunch before I find myself thinking it’s a fine idea to take a little snooze before my shift at the restaurant. Never mind that I may have just made a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee and started a new book. I like my naps.
But, of course, it is my own fault. No one is doing anything wrong in the asking. If I arrive back from my journey fresh and alert and refusing to reenter the 9-5 atmosphere that I left, and I get a job waiting tables (where the money is good and the hours are mostly easy and the politics are nearly absent) and I tell everyone I’m “going to do something with my writing,” then I am accountable.
If only I could take the conversation that stops on my writing as encouragement. And not an aha or as a way of checking up on my productivity, then I’d be less anxious.
Not long ago I confided in my incredibly patient and supportive boyfriend that it was nice that he thought I was a good writer bound to be “famous” (aren’t our lovers supposed to say these kinds of things?) but that maybe he was just saying that because really he was worried that if i didn’t “make it as a writer” I’d end up waiting tables for the rest of my life and leave him wondering how it was he’d ended up with just a waitress. (Which is not what could ever define me anyway.)
“You could be folding cardboard boxes for a living, and if it made you happy, then I’d be happy,” is what he answered, somewhat surprised at my vulnerable confession.
And though I had a nice feeling, I did not trust it completely and continue to analyze the meaning behind his gentle prods (“working in the cafe today?”) as loving support or dissatisfaction in my non-working days while he is at the office. But this too is all in my own head. So if I hit that bottom and pick myself up like I did so many times on my solo trip across another continent, I will breathe easier and write better.
If my friends aren’t getting engaged, getting married, or getting pregnant, then they have careers. If I’m not interested in being a full-time mother one day, then shouldn’t I be pursuing a career path? Shouldn’t I know by now? Have all the answers to these scary, looming questions?
I joke that the only things I miss from the 9-5 lifestyle are health insurance and paid vacation, but certainly the security was reassuring, the ability to nonchalantly discount outside passions such as writing because there just wasn’t enough time.
Even if the only pressure I have comes from within, I still must answer to it.
If I am happy–and I am, regardless of the Yelper who wrote that I look like I need to take happy pills, ha!–then far be it from me to look to anyone else for approval.
And if I make my writing a project, a real priority, with goals and self-prescribed deadlines, then it will be done. On the other hand, if I decide that writing beyond this scope and in my journals is not for me, then that is fine as well.
I’m not even thirty. Isn’t mine the generation of changing careers? Of redefining career?
Yes, I do realize that even as I conclude this post, I’m offering plenty of disclaimers. At least I can admit to it.