First thing: Thanks for your patience. Thanks for your support, both moral and material. Thanks for keeping the conversation going while I was away. Thanks to you most awesome people for fixing Joel’s eyeballs (even if he’s not feeling so good about it at the moment).
Now, that said, I’m afraid I have to go ahead and have my existential crisis right in front of you. Which is, as I say up there in the headline, embarrassing.
It’s embarrassing having the crisis at all. It reminds me of my senior year in high school during which I was not only in a perpetual E.C., but pretentiously name-dropped Sartre and Camus to illustrate just how Deep and Profound my teen angst was. (I won’t do that on you now, I promise. Nevertheless, if you hate maundering confessionals, you might just want to skip this post.)
It’s even more embarrassing having an E.C. in public now that I’m a grownup. But I’m a writer and I find that the process of being a writer sometimes involves dumping out the contents of my brain in print.
This week I’ve got an article due. I’m halfway through it. But I’m not going to be able to finish until I empty all the brain junk and sort out what’s worthwhile and what’s not.
I preach the gospel of self-ownership and self-determination. Yet at the moment (and a looooong moment it’s been) I feel as if my life isn’t my own. I also feel as if I’ve been flung about 20 years backward to the moment of my last E.C.
In that last E.C., in the early 1990s, I was still earning my living in freelance corporate communications. But I’d already moved into the boonies (which my corporate clients thought was madness) and my heart was tugging me toward freedom writing. Not only toward freedom writing, but toward dropping out of “the system” altogether.
I eventually did that — only to spend the next 15 years teetering on the edge of an abyss. Oh, there were lots of gratifying times, and it was during those years that I “met” most of you. It was worthwhile and I’m glad I did it. But it was a precarious existence.
Eventually I dropped back in (a process that required no E.C. and went so smoothly it was clearly meant to be).
But since dropping in, I’ve felt increasingly unqualified to do what I do. I write about living boldly (and yes, I’m still going to get to part II, which is the real meat of the thing). But I often don’t live boldly enough, myself.
Yet since last spring — and more intensely since fall — life seems to be impelling me along instead of me driving it.
Most recently, I’ve been doing some professional work that’s taken me right back to those old corporate days. It’s in a better cause this time. But still, instead of spending my days in quiet, writerly contemplation, there I am in the midst of swirling storms of emails. There I am, pulling those old skills of advertising, direct marketing, and news-release writing out of some dusty corner of my skull where I didn’t even know I had them stored any longer.
By the very nature of this beast, it’s spend 15 minutes doing this. Then switch to that. Coordinate with X, Y, and Z. Answer every email immediately. Pull together disparate details. Justify copy point A or marketing concept B. Then justify it all over again to somebody else. Try to write in the spaces between all that.
It can be gratifying, exhilarating, and intellectually challenging. The product is great and so are the people. But I’m frazzled. I no longer have quiet days to think.
I long to chuck it all — ads, blog, articles, emails, all of it. I’m reminded of why I did chuck corporate communications nearly 20 years ago, resolving that long-ago E.C. by coming down on the side of freedom and peace.
However, I’m also earning money. And I’ll tell you, every time a check hits the mailbox, I’m reminded that maybe there’s darned good reason to surrender this bit of my life to somebody else’s priorities.
So I ask myself which is the real deliberate life? The one where I have writerly silence, time to write thoughtful pieces — yet always feel insecure? Or the one where my day-to-day life is frazzled and hectic and not my own — but I can be confident of keeping the roof over my head? (Literally; the house needs a new one.)
But before the decisions, decisions can be made, there are so many other factors swirling about. For one thing (and it’s a big thing), you guys have no idea how important it is to me to be useful to you. When I don’t have time to think, I don’t have time to serve you well. You’re always supportive, but I know inside when I’m not giving you my best. Some of you are better people, living better lives, than I. Some of you are tougher, braver, more principled, more kickass than I’ll ever be. The only thing I have to give in return are my words, and they need to be worthy. How can I write worthy words when I don’t have time to think them?
So here I am, just where I was 20 years ago, balanced (or rather, imbalanced) between incompatible choices. Something has to give and I don’t know what it will be.