What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?
Oh wow. The prospect of determining eleven whole things is quite daunting. So, let’s jump right in, shall we, and weed out from there. In my life in 2011, I do not need:
1) to feel guilty (unless absolutely warranted, and I don’t generally do much to warrant absolute guilt — the fact that I have, in spite of this, continued to feel guilty about pretty much everything has been a major factor in the depression that characterized much of 2010)
2) to spend so much time on the Internet (HA)
3) a nice new Volkswagen Golf (it would be nice, for sure, but really truly? Don’t need one)
4) a 9-5 career (we’ll come back to this one …)
5) stress — I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough!
6) to procrastinate (thanks, Pamela — though I have much more faith in your ability to accomplish this)
7) to be married … in fact, to be in any kind of partnership (again, we’ll come back to this one)
8) to eat so much chocolate (whether I WANT to refrain from eating so much chocolate is a different matter altogether)
9) to worry about Having It All Together
10) to feel bad about taking time out at the beginning of the year to finish the novel (slightly related to #1)
11) to worry, period
So. Here’s where it all comes together. I have spent the majority of my twenties labouring under the assumption that by the end of said twenties, I would be Set. The assumption assumed that by 28, I would most likely have or be the following things: a hotshot Person Working In An Important Job, married, pregnant and/or a mother, the proud owner of a condo or a house (or at the very least a nice apartment in a nice part of town), a writer with a variety of publications under her belt, a traveler with multiple countries under her belt, the owner of a vehicle, the owner of a dog.
The assumption also assumed that I would: be a functioning and giving member of society (hello, food drives/Christmas shelter helpouts/ active tithing member at church), a GOOD wife and mother, someone who put other people before herself all of the time, someone who was well read and kept herself informed about society, someone who cultivated hobbies in photography/piano/violin/cello playing in addition to her writing, someone who hosted fabulous dinner parties, etc. etc.
The assumption, in short, assumed that I would be Superwoman. All of the time. To everyone. And everything.
So, just under a year ago, when life in Scotland started to unravel and it began to dawn on me that I had acquired/managed to obtain only a few of these things, the stage was set for existential panic. Why didn’t I have a husband and/or a child? Why hadn’t i met that someone? Why didn’t I have a house? Why didn’t I have a car/a dog/a Good Job?
Or, more importantly, why — in some deep, trembling part of my soul — was there suddenly a little voice that said Maybe you don’t want any of these things, at least right now? Where had that come from? Where did this little — yet persistent, yet increasingly loud — voice get off saying things like, Maybe all you want to do is be a writer, right now. Maybe you don’t want to be married or have a child right now because you know that what you REALLY want to do — what you ONLY want to do — is write and travel and get those stories onto the page. Maybe you don’t WANT to have a Good Job because it would require too much of you — 40+ hours per week and an emotional connection to work that would take you away from your writing. Shitty jobs — they’re shitty, but you can leave them at the door when you go home.
The voice started speaking early in the year, right about the time that I sent an application off to the PhD program at McGill University. For a while, I entertained fantasies about moving to Montréal and entering the life of academe. That particular fantasy didn’t work out — I didn’t get in to the program. And so I floundered and wondered what the hell I’d do next, and then I decided that I would try to stay in Scotland, and keep traveling … and then eventually it became clear that I couldn’t do that either. Moreover, it became clear — again, from that insistent little voice that I tried to ignore, the voice that kept speaking anyway — that I didn’t really WANT to stay in Scotland. Or, I didn’t want to stay in Scotland if it meant that I’d have to find a higher paying job doing something I wasn’t interested in just so I could make enough money to stay in the country. Did I want to stay in Scotland, and get stuck in the Admin rut, become an office manager, write in the evenings and on the weekends?
No. No sir, I did not.
Isn’t it funny, the wisdom that speaks from deep within your soul? And how ready you can be to dismiss that little voice, or ignore it, despite how persistent it might continue to be? I ignored that little voice for damn near a year. I thought: you just need to work harder, Amanda. Just take another job, do some more work on the side, whittle your social money down to nil, stop eating! Stop eating, and then you won’t have to pay for groceries, and everything will be okay! Because of COURSE you want a higher paying job. Of COURSE you don’t want to be a full time writer, not yet. Who makes money being a full time writer? How could you possibly afford to pay rent and pay your loans and LIVE solely off the back of your pen? It’s unthinkable. Just — work for another five years, ten years, fifteen, and once you’re stable, once you have these things underneath you (the equity in the house, the partner who can contribute to household income, the “established life”), THEN you can contemplate being a full time writer. Maybe. If the situation allows. And if it doesn’t … well. You’ll deal with that crisis then, won’t you? At the grand old age of 45?
I don’t mean to sound ridiculous, here. I don’t mean to sound impossibly young (though I probably do), and nor do I in any way mean to imply that embarking on a writing career when you’re 45 is tantamount to death (though I have already probably done that too, for which I apologize profusely).
But the point is this: some people spend their entire lives wondering what it is that they Really Want To Do. I have known since I was five years old that I wanted to be a writer. (“An Author”, says the diary entry in 1987, written in my shaky little hand. “I am Going to Be An Author.”) I went to school to be a writer. Everything that I have done since I entered high school (the refusal to study higher level math, the struggling-and-poor lifestyle that has characterized most of My Twenties) has been done with the aim of eventually being that person who spends the day with her pen. I started sending magazine articles away when I was twelve. I wrote a novel when I was thirteen and had HarperCollins Canada ask to see it. (They rejected it, which is now, of course, not surprising at all — but they sent me a lovely rejection letter, which I still have, and which I will frame and hang on my wall when I move out into my own place again.) I’ve been publishing in various magazines for the past twelve years. Why, if I’ve spent so much time, put in so many hours, apprenticed to a life that’s about this, would I then try to embark on a career that’s about something entirely different, solely for the security/monotony of working 9-5 and having a nice house I can barely afford?
See, the worry and the depression that was the thread for 2010 all stemmed from this — the knowledge that I wanted to be a writer, and the knowledge that I couldn’t afford to do it in the lifestyle I was living. The knowledge that I wanted to be a full time writer, and the fear that THAT lifestyle wasn’t responsible enough, or selfless enough, to gel with my aforementioned desire to be Superwoman.
And so I felt guilty about being unhappy in Edinburgh, because I’d worked (and was still working) so hard to get there, and was still unhappy. So I felt guilty about realizing that I didn’t want a 9-5 job, especially when we were in the midst of a recession and so many people would have killed for that kind of security. So I got stressed out about feeling guilty, and I worried, and suddenly having the book take off in good ways just added to the stress, and so I worried about THAT, and then it all just crumbled and my parents had to pay for my flight home and now I’m penniless, and at the end of 2010 I felt like the biggest failure imaginable.
And then, something happened. Just before New Year’s, I realized several things.
Thing A) I had a nice tax return coming to me in January, which would allow me to pay some bills but also allow me to continue writing and working on the novel for a while sans Other Job.
Thing B) Living with my parents was (and is) kind of living in an extended writer’s retreat. I’m miles away from anywhere. The only thing I have to do to “earn my keep” is walk the dog and occasionally vacuum and make dinner for my parents when they come home from work. I love making dinner. This is not hard to do. And the rest of the time? I CAN WRITE TO MY HEART’S CONTENT.
Most importantly? I realized this:
Thing C) Finishing this novel IS. A. JOB. (My agent has to take a lot of the credit for this, because she was the first one who actually pointed it out to me.) It has never felt like a job before because I love it. I do not need to go to another office to do it. But it is a job, nonetheless. And if I want to make this my career, it REQUIRES my full attention.
Thing A + Thing B + Thing C = Revelation
And the revelation was this: I’m at a perfect point, right now, to be that full time writer. Despite the fact that I’ve reached this point in possibly one of the hardest, most frustrating, most roundabout ways ever (and if you’d listened to me a year ago, says the little voice, it would have been a helluva lot less frustrating … but whatever, I’m just That Little Insistent Voice That No One Listens To), I have arrived at EXACTLY what I’ve been wanting since I was five years old. I am now a full time writer. No, I am probably not going to make mad money anytime soon. I might have to live at home and forego a great deal of social interaction for a while yet. Yes, those credit card companies will continue to call, and no, my debt is not going to magically disappear. But is it worth worrying about? When I am fed and clothed and do not have to worry, at least for the immediate future, about making rent? Paying bills?
No. No, I do not have to worry. And so, that little revelation has meant a world of calm for the past eleven days. Right now, I do not need to stress, or worry, or have a partner, or fixate on having it All Figured Out, or any of this, because I know exactly what it is that I have to do right now. And when the writing is finished, I’ll figure out what needs to happen next. And there’s no sense in worrying about any of that, either, because last year I was hungry and poor and working too much and terribly depressed — and now it’s 2011, and I am okay. It all worked out okay.
So. No worrying for 2011. And if I do worry, I will not feel guilty about it.
Don’t know what I’ll do about not NEEDING to eat as much chocolate, though. Or not NEEDING to procrastinate. I mean, just because one recognizes that one might not need something, doesn’t necessarily mean that one should go WITHOUT that thing, n’est-ce pas? Especially in the case of chocolate, and putting off until tomorrow what you could definitely do today? 🙂