Culture of discontent and judgement

October 11, 2013 ThoughtsWriting  No comments

If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.
Frank Zappa

 

Recently, I have been doing a lot of research on the publishing industry and just how difficult it is to break into the market and be successful (more on this coming up in my next post).

As I’ve said earlier, I’ve given myself a year to “figure out” –  to live in what it feels like to be a writer, without any obligations or pressure from myself (it’s funny how I think this is actually possible). In concert with last week’s post about other career choices, and thinking about the future, I have to stop and ask myself: is how my life is right now enough? If I never make a lot of money or get published or become recognized for my work, will doing what I love to do (writing) everyday be enough? Will I be okay with that? Am I happy with how my life is?

 Overall, yes. I am able to focus on my writing and bettering my craft every day. If someone calls me up in the middle of the week and wants to go out to lunch, I can go do that. I have a lot of responsibilities (who doesn’t?) but I don’t mind them. Some days I feel my house is going to be the death of me and I curse it, but most of the time I enjoy cleaning and maintaining it. Earlier this week, I went grocery shopping in the afternoon and I thought to myself, “No one should be this happy to go grocery shopping on a Monday afternoon.” But I was. I like taking care of that stuff. My husband is super busy and stressed out with work, and while I never, ever – like ever – saw myself as a housewife (cringe), I like doing things to make his life easier. I enjoy being able to take the dog to the vet, do laundry, decorate the house, and light candles so it feels cozy and homey. Having a flexible schedule which allows me to take care of all that stuff, plus write, is my ideal life. The life I’ve always wanted for myself, but never thought it could be a reality.

The problem, you see, comes in how I see myself and how I think others see me. I am not comfortable with having the title of housewife. I am not comfortable with Andrew being the sole (or main) breadwinner. I had always pictured myself as being a big-shot journalist or career woman. I saw myself being professionally successful and hard-working. I was going to be independent and support myself. Alas, this is not what my life looks like right now. And the truth is, that is not really who I am. I could not sustain 70 hour workweeks with the stress and lack of personal time without being very depressed and heavily medicated. I think I would rather take a pay-cut and status-reduction than live that kind of life.

 But, despite my absolute horror at being called “just” a housewife (although that is not how I define myself. I am a wife, yes, but also an artist), there’s really nothing wrong with that (unless your husband is struggling and you need money). When others tell me that, I don’t judge them. I honestly just don’t really care what anyone else does short of sacrificing babies and torturing puppies. I’m interested in what you do, but as long as your happy and making it work, that’s all that really matters. Not the title or status of your job. But I fear what others will think of me. I fear they will think less of me, that I’m lazy or not ambitious or hard-working enough. Because that’s what our culture says, doesn’t it? Unless you’re working yourself to death at some high-paying, high-stress career and constantly busy, than your not deemed worthy. As long as your so busy you want to die, than your life has no worth. Who cares if you’re happy or not. You’ve got to make that money, buy that fancy car, be successful, have several degrees, be busy. So staying at home to write novels, especially if they aren’t published or successful = unacceptable. Unworthy. Unproductive.

And as much as I don’t want how others view me (or how I think they view me) to affect how I feel about myself. It does. Judgement and criticism hurts. When people make remarks about how I don’t “work” or “have a job” that I’m “just writing” with disdain dripping from their mouths, it hurts. It makes me doubt myself, my inherent worth as a person, makes me feel like I’m not good enough. (And for those out there who think writing a novel is no big deal, please humor me and try writing one yourself.) The fact that I don’t fit into the box society wants me to, it’s uncomfortable. Because trust me, it would be a whole lot easier if I could just be happy getting some receptionist job and contently working there for the rest of my life. That would remove the majority of ambiguity out of my life. But that’s not what I want. It does help a lot though, that my husband doesn’t fit inside the box either. He didn’t go to college, he built his own business from his bedroom at his parents house in high school to a very successful one. His hard work, ambition, and general lack of caring what other people think and trusting himself to be successful have definitely paved the way and given me the freedom to pursue an out-of-the-box career as well.

Now, who doesn’t want to be successful? I want to be successful. I want to be recognized for my work. I want to have publisher’s waiting on my next book. I want to go on book tours and do interviews. I want people to be excited about the next thing I’m working on. But if none of those things ever happen, will I be okay with that? If I never “make it”, but I’m happy and Andrew’s happy and we’re living the life we want, will that be enough? Do I feel the need to find another job because I actually want it? Or because I think society wants me to have one?

My generation has grown up with the constant exultation that we can be whatever we want to be as long as we go to college, the world is our oyster, etc. But then, with the recession and what not, we soon realized that not all degrees translate to a job and in fact, it can be quite difficult to find a decent job even with a bachelor’s degree. We learned that there’s not an endless amounts of loans (many of my friends have had to take semesters off because they couldn’t afford college). We learned that most entry-level jobs don’t pay enough to live away from mom and dad while also paying back monolithic student-loan debt. We learned that it is the norm to struggle and work your ass off and hate your life for a good five years after you get your degree – because that’s just the way it is now. We’ve learned to accept that hating your job is not only a part of growing up, but an expected part of becoming an adult. This reality clashes with what we’ve been told our entire lives: you get to chose and work at a job you love.

So here I find myself, stressed out and working-hard, but enjoying life – looking forward to what’s coming next, and I can’t help but feel that I’m doing something wrong. I’m supposed to be struggling, right? I’m supposed to be tired and working at some job I hate, so I can climb up the ladder to a job I hate a little less, until 15 years later I end up with the job I actually wanted from the beginning – all the while, having my soul slowly eked from my body.

Then it dawns on me: I am struggling. I don’t hate my job, but it’s difficult and frustrating and sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out. It’s stressful. And it probably will take me 15 years to get to the place I want to be at. I may have more free-time than most and the ability to work from home and have a flexible schedule, but apparently I am doing something “right” after all.

 On This Creative Life podcast by Sara Zarr, I recently listened to her interview with the Matched series author Ally Condie, Ally said that her family has goals and hopes. A goal being something you’re actively working towards and a hope being something that you want to happen, but will be okay if it doesn’t. So my goal is to write a lot of books that I am absolutely in love with. My hope is to be published, for lots of people to read them and love them, and to be successful professionally.

In the meantime, despite the odds stacked against me (Hunger Games style – the odds are never in their favor), I will continue to work on bettering my craft, at building my platform, to learn everything I can about the publishing industry, and most importantly, creating really great work.

The tricky thing about any creative field is that you can make it overnight, or in 10 or 20 years. I believe in what I am doing. I believe in the story and my characters and their journey. And that matters above everything else. So the answer is yes. Yes, doing what I do right now is enough even if I don’t “make it”. Maybe there will come a time in my life when I want to pursue something else or circumstances dictate that I have to, and I will follow that path if and when the time comes. Until then, I will just have to keep plugging along – doing what I love to do; all the blood, sweat, and tears included.

The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught our or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they don’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
Ted Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: Wanted to link a blog post from MJ Rose’s blog Buzz, Balls, & Hype that I found to really help put “being successful” in perspective.

Until next time, Farewell, & may your life never cease to be filled with curiosity and wonder.

 

photo cred: Rebeca Cygnus

 

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