Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What A Difference A Year Makes

The field viewed from the top where it meets the woods. 
On this day last year, winter arrived on the East Coast. It snowed, and the snow stayed. Our spring was cold and wet and last all through June. It sucked.
But it was a great year for me. From September 2018 until July 2019, I was content, confident about my future, anticipating that future, no less. This time last year, I was so busy with substitute teaching (French! Music!) and magazine articles and producing the Christmas play, knowing that my novel was on submission and ANY DAY I would receive the wonderful news that it would be published... That carried on through the new year, as I edited the novel, and took part in a play, and landed a fairly regular substitute gig that fit right into my busy life.
In the past, my natural hopefulness carried me through everything. There was always hope. Something would happen!
Then July and August rolled around and suddenly, with the death of the ospreys, I saw the death of my dreams.
That sounds dramatic but when you live as close to nature, and those birds, as we do, it's hard not to interpret events. And for me, when everything I'd worked for and hoped for (published novel, potential literary agent) simply fell away into a vast chasm with no sound and no bottom... I fell into my own void.
All hope gone. Killed, just like this year's osprey family.

I've always had my shit together, or at least, I thought I did, and it appeared, even to me, that I did. And as I've learned about myself, no matter what is going on in my head and my heart, I don't talk about it much. Not because I consciously choose to make people think my life is great! perfect! going exactly as planned! but because I tend not to write about the hard emotional times. For all I write about myself, I don't want to bore people with any kind of "poor me" stuff.
In fact, I've been avoiding people because I didn't want to bring them down. I don't want to be that Eeyore friend.

Let's be honest: There's nothing wrong with my life. What's tormenting me is simply the result of 25 years of not making the right decisions, of letting other people tell me what to do, or at least influence what I decide to do. Twenty five years after not going into teaching. Twenty five years of being a freelance writer. Twenty five years after I first started attending the United Church as an adult. What do I have to show for any of that?
The part of me that is now upset with me for screwing up wants to shout, "Nothing. Absolutely nothing." But the sensible, and mostly in charge part of me knows that's not true.
I have skills. I have a lot of skills -- in writing, in public speaking, in presenting.
So part of me is ready, after 25 years, to give up the church work, the freelance writing and the substitute teaching and find a regular job that uses my skills.

I'm not there yet; I'm committed to my current path until June (unless the dream regular job comes along before then) and I'm committed to seeing the book I'm working on now -- which I am, for the first time, steadfastly refusing to talk about because when it's the make-or-break book, it feels like it should be a secret project so no one knows what I've failed at -- but after it's done, and on submission, with the three other books that are on submission, I'm done.

And that scares the crap out of me because who knows if there is some dream regular job close to home that will use my particular skills? I need something that replace all the freelance work that's been keeping me busy for the past four years. I need something that will keep me busy and engaged at work because I have too much energy to be standing around waiting for customers. When it comes to work, I'm a toddler: Keep me occupied at all times. That's what I love about writing; there's always writing to be done.

Yet after 25 years, I'm prepared to not be a writer anymore. I've had a good run. Time for something completely different. Preferably one that comes with a bi-weekly paycheque.

So I don't talk about what's weighing me down and sapping my creative energy and making me, at times, rather unpleasant to live with. I don't talk about how I can't imagine not writing anymore. It hurts to think I can't, after all this time, be more than a one-book author. It hurts to think all the stories still inside me will wither and die in there, kept from the light and the air.
Irony: one of the books tossed into the Bermuda Triangle of submission is a collection of essays whose through-line is rediscovering who I am after letting other people determine what I am.

Yet I've discovered recently that when you share your struggle, when you admit you've been struggling for a few months and are no longer the happy, hopeful person you've been, people respond. And they don't respond with platitudes; they just let you know they hear you and understand. Some people even help, and you end up receiving the kind of help that makes you start to believe in yourself and your work and the whole damn point of it all again.
Since I did what is called a "thread" (a series of related tweets) on Twitter about how this book I'm working on right now is my make-or-break book, I've felt uplifted by the kindness of other people.
It proves to me what others always say (and I've never had a reason to experience before) that you are not alone -- when you share what you're going through, you will find a community. It may not change the outcome of your struggle but it certainly makes it easier to endure it.

This time last year, winter came early. This week, it's going to be wet and cloudy until Saturday. I have an article to write and a school visit to do (in which I'm going to gush about how much I love being a writer). The book I'm not talking about is coming together really well. I'm excited about the book.
And that's making a difference. All the hope about publishing is still gone... but at least I'm enjoying my last writing project.

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