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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

How embarrassing.
I’m having an existential crisis.

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

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.

I also write about living deliberately. And I try to live that way, though it definitely takes constant mindfulness.

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.)

Decisions, decisions.

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.

27 Responses to “How embarrassing.
I’m having an existential crisis.”

  1. Keith Perkins Says:

    Don’t know if we can embed videos in comments, but this one seems appropriate. (That’s why the link also.)

  2. Navy91 Says:

    Why does it have to be one or the other? There is no law that says you can’t slow down with us. I believe that most of us would much prefer that you write for us when you can, as opposed to not writing for us at all. Personally, I’ll be here all along. You wouldn’t be the only one I check in on regularly that doesn’t write often.

    I think you will find that we all understand that life gets in the way. It does for us as well. So, write when you can (and are comfortable with what you write). Most of all, be happy and content with whatever you decide! We will be here, so do what you need to do and don’t fret about it! ;-)

  3. Phil Says:

    You can’t eat your principles.

    I can see why you would feel conflicted but you have to make hay while the sun shines.

    Things like new roofs don’t just appear out of thin air.

    You can still live the life and walk the walk,you just need to take care of business first.
    Nothing wrong with looking out for number one.

    Just my .02.

    Sometimes life gets in the way of living though, I have to admit.

    Just try not to beat yourself up over it.


    AKA Bustednuckles

  4. RickB Says:

    There’s a lot of that going around. I guess it comes with being human.

    I’m in a situation where I’d like to try changing careers–but I’m the key employee in a small company in a tiny niche market. If I screw up or walk away, 25 people lose their jobs.

    I make more money than I need but don’t have enough to quit working. Poverty is something I’ve experienced so I have no illusions that the pressures and worries are any less. Plus, I have family depending on me.

    I don’t know what the future holds. For now, I gotta keep doing my current job.

    Do what you need to do for you. We’ll understand if you take a sabbatical from deep thinking. Get the roof fixed. Buy an Elio and some junk silver.

    But don’t quit blogging. Let us know what you’re up to. Maybe I’m out of line, but I think most of us are more concerned about Claire, the person, than Claire the generator of deep thoughts.

  5. Karen Says:

    Thanks RickB for nailing an essential element of the discussion;

    “I think most of us are more concerned about Claire, the person, than Claire the generator of deep thoughts.”

    Claire, even your “brain junk” is provocative and thought inspiring. What qualifies as “worthy” will vary with each of us as it pertains to our own individual lives and paths. You can’t possibly get to the heart of each and every one of us all the time and I don’t believe we want to enslave you trying to do that.

    I think it’s a frequent pitfall that we humans face in trying to compare ourselves to others. I’m not as good a hermit as Joel because I have an indoor shower and got rid of the chickens and livestock 10 years ago. I’m not a talented writer like you so maybe I shouldnt post my feeble musings. I’m not a historian like some of the commentariat so I should be embarassed to have to click their links to know what they’re talking about. etc etc

    Your blog title promises “musings” and I don’t think any of us expect to enslave you to having to provide earth shattering philosophical truths on a minute by minute basis. Hell, over at TUAK I even enjoy the posts about shit shoveling and such.

    Be you. Take care of you. We’ll appreciate whatever experience, strength and hope you have to share with us as you are willing and able.

  6. water lily Says:

    I think there are many brilliantly creative people in the same boat. We all have to eat and pay bills, and many of us cannot live the way we truly want to live.

    I’m sure that people who enjoy your blog and other writings will understand if you don’t produce as much content for them. I know I will.

    “Life” sometimes gets in the way of “living,” if you know what I mean. Do what you have to do. I’ll be here either way. :-)

  7. jed Says:

    Good morning, Claire! So, you were ‘Emo’ before Emo was even a thing? If I understand my trends correctly, that means you were a proto-hipster at the same time! I don’t think the Emo hair and makeup works for you though.

    I wish I had better words here. I feel as if I’ve been in ongoing sporadic EC mode myself since May 2001. I’m sympathetic. RickB beat me to it, but, still, you’re human. (Gasp!) And let’s face it, that’s preferrable to the alternatives (OK, there’s some possible debate here, but AFAIK, you aren’t psychotic, nor desirous of dressing up in an animal costume.)

    You once made the comment that it’s difficult to work for Freedom from inside a prison cell. It’s also difficult from under a bridge. That’s the tradeoff, and it sucks. Joseph Campbell wrote, “… follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and then doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Which is a wonderful sentiment, and sentiment doesn’t pay the bills. RIght up there with living boldly and deliberately. Except I think it’s possible to live more boldly and deliberately than you were before, and call that good progress, even if it doesn’t get you where you want to be as quickly as you’d like.

    It comes down to balance, I think, and if I knew how to find that, I’d sure be sharing it with you. My own distractedness this AM isn’t helping — you’d think on a Saturday I’d be a little less muzzy. I’m touched by your concern for us in the midst of your EC.

  8. MamaLiberty Says:

    “Claire, even your “brain junk” is provocative and thought inspiring. What qualifies as “worthy” will vary with each of us as it pertains to our own individual lives and paths.”

    Good thoughts, Karen. :)

    I think we are all happy to hear from you, to have the chance to communicate with you and each other, to be able to read your thoughts and plans and do with that information what seems important to us… all without universal expectations. If that works for you, then I hope you will continue.

    Doing a paying job well, without allowing it to consume and damage you, is a tall order and I certainly don’t envy you any of it. The happiest day of my life was the final and irrevocable divorce from all things middle management and Medicare regulations when I retired. I think I’d rather starve than go back… but I have the skills and some alternate universe might come along where I would do it again. Hopefully without Medicare, of course.

    Do what you need to do. Share when and what you feel like sharing. You are not obligated to do anything for us. I, for one, love you for you… and I’ll be here as long as there is a “here.” (And probably pester you occasionally if you are not here. :) )

  9. Pat Says:

    “So I ask myself which is the _real_ deliberate life?”

    The deliberate life is the one you _really_ choose to live ― you know why you choose it, what you’re giving up (or not), and what you hope to gain from it. At any time in our lives, that deliberation can take us in any direction. So it’s not the deliberate ― so much as the real ― that matters here. *What is the REAL YOU* at this time?

    RickB said, “Do what you need to do.”

    I agree… and take as long as you need to do it. You are not living for our benefit ― that would be sacrificial.

    [more via email]

  10. Joel Says:

    ‘Following your bliss’ is all very well in its season but it usually doesn’t get the roof fixed, and dry roofs are also very nice. I don’t know what you’re working on, but I can take a good guess and I doubt you’re violating any very important principles.

    Everything isn’t all one thing or all the other, not if things are in balance. And for god’s sake, most important, you don’t answer to anybody but yourself. You’re not obligated to suffer for your art. Or even to produce art if you don’t feel like it.

    So relax. And enjoy, or even if you aren’t enjoying (and I think maybe you are) set a goal, meet it, and then move on.

  11. katiej Says:

    I have to agree with the previous writers. A good roof seems more important than suffering for your art….so do what you need to do to stay sane AND safe and people here will probably read whatever you write whenever you write it.

  12. Jerry Says:

    Everyone goes through this in their lives. It won’t always be like this. This too shall pass. Keep up the good work. I am proud of you.

  13. John Kindley Says:

    Allow me to put in another plug for Ernst Juenger, this time without pesky links. Along with his figure of the “forest rebel [or fleer, or goer]” (derived from the Icelandic outlaw), he also developed the figure of the anarch. They are basically two sides of the same coin. The anarch is distinguished from the anarchist in that the latter aims to bring about what the former knows already is. The -ism suffix emphasizes the will at the expense of the substance.

    The “anarch . . . is basically a forest fleer anywhere, anytime, whether in the thicket in the metropolis, whether inside or outside society.” The “forest fleer has been expelled from society, while the anarch has expelled society from himself.”

    Therefore, the anarch theoretically could even be employed as a civil servant, and finds his (or her) freedom first and foremost in his (or her) substance. The status of the forest rebel is more visible, making it in a sense stronger and in a sense weaker than the figure of the anarch.

    In this connection, let me also cite a favorite Robert Service poem (which I won’t link but which is easily googleable), “Enemy Conscript.” The thought it conveys is arguably dangerous, i.e., arguably “cowardly,” but there’s nevertheless validity to it.

  14. Ragnar Says:

    Will you stop for a while, stop trying to pull yourself together
    For some clear “meaning”—some momentary summary?
    No one can have poetry or dances, prayers or climaxes all day;
    The ordinary blankness of little dramatic consciousness is good for the health sometimes. –John Tagliabue


    My go to advice when I’m questioning what I’m doing…
    “Rub vodka on it.”
    It cures everything… Like a hot tub and a Bloody Mary…

  15. Roberta X Says:

    Just remember life is a dance, not a collection of still photographs. It doesn’t click into place and stay frozen forever just because you got the pose right — it moves on, and you with it.

  16. Tahn Says:


    I must agree with all above. What an amazing group of folk.

    Keeping an open/closed sign on your desk , along with setting the daily amount of contact time you are available, can be helpful, if possible.

    Don’t forget that you are helping the contractor just as much as they are helping you, probably lots more. That’s something to feel really good about, regardless of what you end up doing. Best wishes.

  17. naturegirl Says:

    Love all the comments here….

    You aren’t just one thing or the other…you’re a conglomerate of interests and talents. For you to assume/force/limit yourself to one label or title you will be unhappy. All of us have learned from you, not just on one subject either. All of us hang around here because we respect you and like whatever it is that you happen to write about at the moment. I don’t come here just to learn how to be a Freedom Outlaw, I come here to see what’s rattling around in Claire’s brain today/this week. I don’t think that you have to live the life to talk about it either, sometimes in the world now a days it’s not possible. What counts is the spirit, the belief in personal freedom, and finding the ratio that works in one’s life. Living it as much as possible. Preserving it as much as possible.

    There’s a wide variety of living freely as there are individuals here.

    Joel made a comment over on his blog recently, the leader-follower belief of yours. We don’t do well being followers either, so it’s a perfect match. :)

    I think if it were up to you, you’d write more and stay away from the corp crap. Money tends to be important if you want to live life on your own terms, so compromise is necessary at times. You know enough of us well enough to know that our choices of living as free as possible also comes with “giving up” things of varying degrees.

    I could go on and on, LOL, but I will say that the pressure you put on yourself is from you. And part of you. And why we hang around here, cuz we know how important it is to you what you say and how you say it. You write from your heart as much as your brain. We don’t set your standards, you do. We just get to appreciate the brain workouts when a post or article goes up. I bet once you let off on your own pressure, it will flow a little more smoothly.

    I hate E.C.s. I have em all the time. It’s part of life, especially in super attuned/sensitive people. They never fail to teach me something new about myself; so maybe they are annoying but useful ;)

  18. Kent McManigal Says:

    You don’t “owe” us. Living free is different things for different people. Find yours.

  19. Bill Says:

    Hi Claire, I can only speak for myself, so I’ll just say that I would wish nothing more than for you to be happy and content. I wouldn’t want you to stress yourself over posting here as it’s not like you are getting paid for this. I’ve read your words for some years now and remember having to wait for the latest issue of the loompanics catalog to arrive to see if I got to read more. The world did not stop revolving on its axis, birds did not forget how to sing, when there wasn’t a new book out. I will attest that when there was a new book, the sun seemed to shine a little brighter, and the birds were more melodious. Take care of the money making stuff first, and I feel sure the rest will follow naturally.

  20. Shel Says:

    Darn, Claire, your posts end up having me think much more than I intended. I thought of typing “making me” but then that’s a poor excuse to try to absolve myself of ownership of my behavior :-)

    Since your site attracts freedomistas who also wish others to have that freedom and since you blog with a pure heart – a trait I consider, as the joke goes, way ahead of whatever’s in second place – it’s no surprise that you are receiving genuinely positive and caring responses, which I most willingly echo. What goes around, comes around, as they say.

    As another pathological caretaker, I can understand how there can be reticence, indeed even guilt, when considering engaging in self-serving activity. I had to look up E.C. to know what it means; it pretty well defines my life. I see nothing embarrassing in yours; in fact your openness to the subject is demonstrably moving.

    With hindsight, this perhaps could have been seen coming in light of your October 8th “Creative tedium” post. I also have to say it really bothered me that you felt a need to try to encourage people to sign up for Amazon. Honestly, I’m very glad you’re taking a practical approach regarding finances. There’s no chance you will compromise your principles. And YOU DON’T NEED TO GIVE US YOUR “BEST”. Table scraps will do just fine (whimper). My belief is that you are in such demand that you pretty much can decide how much you will work. In this economy, that’s a real blessing (and an honor, I think) that likely won’t last indefinitely. There’s a genuine moral positive as well, for you will be reaching a much greater number of people than you do when preaching to the choir. If you massage the horrors properly, you may even open the eyes of some newbies. Just do it.

    My presumptuous suspicion is that your discontinuing this blog entirely could prove a step too hermitty, even for you; although if your work occupies enough of your time, you may need to stop. If you don’t stop, though, the only things you might do for the commentariat are (1) keep us posted on how it’s going with you, (2) let us know what articles you are publishing and where they can be found – I would think your contractors would consider that good advertising and I do read your articles for writing style tips as well, and (3) please post the occasional link that we might not know about otherwise. It’s definitely O.K. if moderation takes considerably longer than before.

    Again, I believe taking care of your finances is an extremely wise move. To use a very painful analogy, you absolutely will need a roof over your head when the storm hits.

  21. Jake MacGregor Says:

    good problem to have

    I have put writing on the shelf, oddly enough, because my health improved so

    BUT I will write Book 2, 3, 4 … it’ll just be a little longer than I thought before I get to it

    If you are making good coin – by all means crank that damn handle as fast as you can for as long as it lasts

    we’ll always be here for ya (with our dog pants on)

  22. Terry Says:

    Claire, I’m a day (or two) late as usual, but RickB nailed it.

    ” most of us are more concerned about Claire, the person, than Claire the generator of deep thoughts.”

    You’re doing fine. Really. Take care of yourself.

  23. Jeremy Says:

    There isn’t a person whose life you have touched with your words that hasn’t come away better off than they were before and I thank you for it. Everybody here will support you in any decision you make. Identify the things that make you happy and chase them with everything you have.

  24. Mary Lou Says:

    Well, you know, you (and the dogs )gotta eat and keep the roof from leaking! And you’ve found a way to help a good cause AND use your skills? Sometimes you just have to follow the path as it unfolds and trust in God (or the universe or whatever your belief set is). I’ll keep sending you funny dog pictures. Carry on!

  25. Anonymous Says:

    The political purpose of the rat race is to never allow a work-life balance suitable for growth, no matter if you are “working” or “not-working”. You are never supposed to be allowed to possess youth, good health, education, accurate news, stable income, substantial income, savings, a social network, a business network, etc. all at the same time.

    All that employer interrupt-drivenness means your employers are mismanaged. If they were properly managed then you would be assigned a job you could do, given the materials to do it, and then left in peace to do it. Contract software development can be done like this, with contact limited to weekly status meetings over the phone. I imagine writing English can be done this way too.

    I suggest you address work-life balance directly. Spend a week earning money, alternating with a week with the email off the hook. Half your current income will still fix your roof. Half your current income spent on cheap rural housing now that Internet in the boonies comes from satellite and cell phone data plans will build a palace.

  26. cctyker Says:

    Find a sponsor. Writers of old were supported, sometimes, by the well-to-do. The philosopher, Spinoza, if I remember correctly, received a small but useful stipend from somebody. There are others. You’re not asking for a barrel of money. I once gave money to a guy in the underground in Chicago who had a sign on his chest, “Poor Writer”. At his feet was a bucket for money. I gave him a fiver. It was obvious I was not the only one to donate. There’s a guy at www. who asks for Donations at the bottom of his site. Each to her own, but it would not bother me to ask for a donation to my web site if I had one and thought my site had value.

  27. Paul Bonneau Says:

    Lucky you, you CAN still get back on the corporate treadmill if you need the cash. I think I am about done in that respect.

    I’ve always thought the ideal life would be to work a few months, then knock off a few months. My wife is perfectly positioned to do that, but being Type A she cannot exit the corporate maelstrom for even a few days, or she goes nuts! It takes all kinds, eh?

    Anyway, it’s better to have an E.C. once in a while, than not to ever have them. I have this little item in my quotes file:

    “The unexamined life is not worth living….
    — Socrates
    …and the unlived life is not worth examining.”
    — Guy Kawasaki

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