I’m Going for It…No, Really This Time.

old-school typewriter

I tend to beat myself up, periodically, for not being a better person.

I’ve been saying I’m going to write a book for…well, most of my life, and it has yet to happen, which is embarrassing.  For a long time, it was just that I lacked the confidence in my abilities, and then I had little kids, which took up too much space in my brain for anything longer than 500 words. Oh, I have started a book plenty of times.  I’m in the running for an award: “Most half-books on a hard drive ever.” I always get cold feet and quit, though.

Why?

Unfortunately for me (and for you) the “why” is a complex mess. I’m writing, creating story like crazy, then… I have a few days where the creativity is flagging. I feel like I should be doing something more productive or lucrative. Read “lucrative” as something that makes more definitive money, since that is the measure of success in a capitalist society such as ours. But money is a personal thing, too. Jason stresses about money, and I would like to relieve some of that mental burden he carries because I love him and we are partners.

Then, I write a book, self-publish it, no one buys it, and I lose money on the deal. Jason loses his job, we’re in danger of living in a cardboard box on the street and end up in a flophouse in Duluth. Jason hates me because it’s all my selfish fault for wanting to do what I love instead of making a living to support our family. You see how quickly I can get from publishing a book to homelessness?

So then I stop writing the book

and go back to my piddly freelance jobs that don’t make a ton of cash either but at least make it more quickly. And then I don’t want to sit in front of my computer writing a book (or anything else for that matter) in the evening because I’m tired, both body and brain, and I want to hang with my family or read or go to bed early.

All of these thoughts stemmed from my getting pissed off at advertising this morning

for taking up too much of my time and attention — popup ads in front of articles I’m trying to read, junk email, junk snail mail. I swear I recycled a whole tree after leaving the mailbox this morning.

The junk mail led me to all the other things that are distractions from writing a book. There are a lot of them. Some of them are forced on me like door-to-door solicitors and pop-up ads, and some are tempters like my phone games. Some are guilt inducers like volunteering at school.

I’ve tried to cut the cord so many times,

tried to simplify my life. I go on an “unsubscribe” rampage, but I always get sucked back in. Now though, I think I’m ready. It still feels scary, but I can do it. I’m going to stop writing for other people, stop accepting the distractions, and focus on writing my stuff — my blog, my book — and have the confidence that, even if the book is a flop, we’ll figure something else out before we end up in an actual flophouse.

It’s time for me to belong to myself,

to belong everywhere and nowhere. (Thanks, Carrie Harper, Brené Brown and Maya Angelou for that idea.) Deepak, a friend of mine who took the leap to quit his existing, comfortable career to start a business about which he was passionate told me he knew, in order to be successful, he couldn’t have a “way back.” He cut the cord completely with his old company so he would HAVE to make the new business work. It was scary, but it’s working. That’s been rattling around in my head since he said it to me, so it must resonate with something inside me. Yep, I’m going for it.

When They Were Young

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Baby Days, Crazy Days

When my children were babies and toddlers, people would often tell me, “Cherish these years. They go by too fast.” But, there were many times when I thought they couldn’t go by fast enough. From the day they were each born, I loved my kids unconditionally and with an intensity that overwhelmed me, as if my heart would explode with the hugeness of that love. But, I also struggled.

Not getting enough sleep was hard. Failing at breast feeding was devastating. Not having time to myself and being constantly “on” for my children, the first of whom never did nap regularly, was something I wrestled with constantly. I was, at times, bored with staring at an infant who’d yet to even make eye contact with me, bored with playing  trains for the eleventh hour, bored and defeated by the unimaginable loads of laundry small children produce. Ironically, in addition to needing more alone time, I also craved adult company, as evidenced by my constant chattering at Jason when he got home from work.

There were good times, though. There was the time I watched Jack run and laugh carefree through the wildflowers in the park and wished he’d stay that uninhibited forever. There was the first time he planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. There was toddler Gage, dressed in only a diaper, dancing to techno music in his bouncy way and the thrill of watching each of them take their first, unassisted steps. I’m smiling now, with the memory of these milestone events, but I am relieved children don’t stay toddlers forever.

Now Jack is nine and Gage is six. Time has started to speed up, as they both spend a good portion of their days away at school and then, afterwards, often at their friends’ houses. I promised myself when they were young, I would not tell people with babies to cherish the moment; enough people tell them that. My message to them is this: it is hard when they are little, but it gets easier.

As my kids have gotten more self-sufficient, and it’s no longer necessary for me to follow them around, making sure they don’t maim themselves on sharp corners or walk into traffic, it’s been easier to lose myself in my writing. They go off and play, and I have the time and energy to plot advances for my freelance business. This is good for me, but I have to be mindful not to swing too far the other way – get so caught up in work that I miss the kids’ ever-dwindling childhood. Jack only has two years left before we hit the dreaded middle school years, and I want to invest my time and energy into fostering a close relationship with both of them, so they’ll come to me when they need help. This is why, despite my overachieving, perfectionist brain, I have decided to be okay with taking freelance work as it comes, and not intentionally growing the business like I could. There will be time to grow business later, but I don’t get a second chance at being present for my kids in their formative years. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I regret not building a business? Maybe a little, but knowing the tradeoff was being there for Jack and Gage, my first, foremost and most important responsibility, I have no doubts my priorities are in the right place. And that makes every decision, business or otherwise, so much simpler.

Feeling Productive – stress & happiness

When I started my new job back in mid January, I was elated. Thanks to my extrovert friend and neighbor who knows everyone and networks circles around me, I had my first gig that paid me to write. I told my parents,  called my sister,  babbled to my husband, and posted on Facebook. I was the definition of over-the-moon.

That new job came with a deadline, though. I found myself having to turn in the completed contents for the March edition of the magazine about two weeks after I started. I didn’t know what I was doing. The writing part I was comfortable with, but I had no idea how to compile all the content, and I was a nervous wreck about interviewing people. Despite the fact that this was what I’d always wanted, or maybe because of it, I was stressed. I desperately didn’t want to screw it up, but I felt totally overwhelmed. I turned into a bit of a crazy person, shrilly shooing my kids out of my office, venting to Jason with clenched fists. Did I mention this happened the worst week possible – right at the point in my cycle my PMDD is the worst? Yeah, not ideal, but that’s life. When it’s the job you’ve always wanted, you don’t turn it down.

I got through it. It wasn’t graceful, but I didn’t hit anyone or yell too terribly much. I did a lot of deep breathing and reminded myself of all the other times I got through similar situations – teaching for the first time,  running the university-wide blood drive in college. Remembering these reassured me I could do it. I also mentally chanted my mantra, “this too shall pass.” It helped that my advisor for the magazine told me she wanted to quit, the first issue she put out. (This is normal, and if she got through it, so could I.) One evening in those first weeks, I was so stressed and angry-feeling at no one in particular. I went for a run. I ran on the trails, watching the sun set as I went, and got a little lost. I returned after dark, where I found a pointedly calm husband pretending not to worry for the sake of the kids, namely our oldest, who is a worrier. Bless my family, especially Jason, for the support I got that week.

And now, I’ve had this job for seven issues. I know a lot more and continue to learn more each issue, about writing, editing, layout, and also about people. I love this job. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so happily productive at something. And for the first time, I have a job that truly fits what I am naturally good at. I find myself thinking of work late at night or early in the morning, but it’s not stressful. I enjoy it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to draw boundaries and protect my family time – I do – but it’s so nice not to dread my paying work, like I have a lot of my life. I always thought not wanting to go to work was just what people did. I even chastised myself for being lazy and undedicated. Turns out, I just had to be my true self and find the right thing. The point is this: though it was, to say the least, uncomfortable at first, this job is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I need to feel productive. It’s made me happier and improved my relationship with my kids. Since I have to spend time working, I appreciate the time I have with them more. I am more engaged and present with them. We need rest and play. We also need work. The right work, is good for the soul.