antidote to a nagging discontent
I missed posting an update last Sunday, not because I didn't remember to but because I couldn't bear to look at my laptop screen any more than I already had that week. My feelings this past fortnight have ranged from complete elation to utter dejection and self-rejection. I have swung between these two extremes like a pendulum, completely succumbing to the very self-critical notion that I ought to have been where I was not. If the definition of happiness is not feeling that I should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else, I must admit I have not an iota of happiness in my life. Stillness propels me to move. Movement makes me feel utterly lost. And the cycle keeps going on and on.
Does this have something to do with the fact that D's holiday break began last week and I found myself left with less time to write and less time to dream? I am tempted to say: 'Perhaps'. Now I must add the disclaimer: 'I reckon that's likely only a very tiny, superficial factor'. But the truthful answer is something else altogether. It is a resounding 'No'. 'Not at all'.
Almost ten years ago, I was living with the love of my life, child-free, and with the most financial freedom I have enjoyed in this lifetime so far. And I remember feeling exactly like this. This deep discomfort with who I was, where I was, and the work I was doing back then. This is not a new feeling at all. This feeling that I ought to be somewhere else, doing something else, being someone else. I have always felt like such an imposter within my own being. Not at all at home with myself. I have moved from city to city, country to country, in search of new beginnings, but of course we all know how that kind of story unfolds and mine has been no exception.
This past fortnight was one of two extremes - breaking out of one pattern, and falling hopelessly again into another, much to my own detriment.
At the beginning of the first week, I had decided to completely stop editing and focus only on writing. The reason was simple. I have been earning very little from my editing work. Often, not even minimum wage. The rates have fallen across the board, and that's hurting. I am grateful to have had access to this revenue stream these past three years, it has helped me but right now, with the newer, lower rates, it's not at all a good return on the time I invest in it. I also figured that I need to start publishing my works so that I can at least start to earn from them or build an inventory to tap into for future earnings. It appeared to be a good long-term strategy.
Yet, the prospect of completely giving up editing daunted me. So I dialled down my enthusiasm and decided to adopt this plan for at least a fortnight, or perhaps even into January.
Two days after I headed down this path, a long-time friend of mine pinged me asking if I could help him out with some writing/editing work. I turned his offer down at first but when he revealed he'd offer me six times what I was earning on an hourly basis with my present editing work, I didn't want to refuse. Shouldn't I have been elated?
Instead, what followed was three days of pure torture. Mostly self-inflicted. I accepted the job, and promptly cursed myself for yet again straying from a path I had set out on only three days earlier, because I only have a limited number of hours in a day, and taking on more editing work comes at the expense of writing hours. I told myself that this job would free me up to write more in January.
To understand why this job tortured me even thought it was the kind of work that pleases me immensely, you have to understand what kind of writer I am. While I am mostly writing into the dark when it comes to my novel, for other works such as this blog and the job I was working on for my friend, I typically mull over something for a long long time before actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard). And that is what I ended up doing.
The assignment was always in my thoughts - when I was playing with D, when I was out on a walk, when I was cooking. I turned the first draft in with a few outstanding issues on which I was awaiting clarification, the rest of the draft was mostly accepted, and on Sunday morning I only had to make those minor revisions before turning the final version in. It would not have taken me more than half an hour, but I simply couldn't bring myself to sit in front of the computer. I had not even written 300 words of my novel on the days I spent on this job, and that made me so despondent, I couldn't look at the computer. On Monday morning, I finished up the job in half an hour, and that was it. It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of me.
At the end of our engagement, my friend said he'd like to send more work my way in the coming months, and thinking that I can double my monthly earnings while clocking a fourth of my usual editing hours, I have accepted his offer. For now. I have wanted to get out of my previous editing engagement for so long I ought to have grabbed this new opportunity with both hands, with a breath of relief. Yet, it turned out to be one of the hardest decisions I was making!
The entire time I worked on that assignment, instead of viewing it as a niche service I could now offer at a premium rate, I felt terribly guilty and panic-stricken at the hours I was spending on it instead of on my novel. Even though I enjoyed the work offered, not to mention the immense monetary benefit that came with it, and the fact that given this new lease of life, I am certainly not going back to my old freelance editing job, those handful of days of being immersed in the new assignment sent me down the rabbit hole so quickly I was startled.
This constant nagging feeling that I should be doing something else - I don't know how to cope with it.
Even when I work on my novel, after having written about 1,000 words, I'd typically find myself deciding to go downstairs and spend time with D, even though he'd be happily playing with KrA and not require my presence. And then I'd grieve for the next two days wondering how I'd ever achieve a higher word count goal.
In the past few days, I have come to accept that this feeling of discontent will never go away no matter what external successes I may end up achieving.
I could have one novel out or ten, I'd still find something to be discontent about - not enough sales, not enough readers, not enough revenues, and oh, when will my story be made into a Netflix series?
My bank account could grow exponentially in a brief span of time, and I'd still find something to worry about and feel restless about.
There is no end to this. I am pretty sure the feeling stems from a lifetime of chasing the pot of gold said to lie at the end of the rainbow, and so when one rainbow disappears, I spend my time staring at overcast skies, wondering when the rays of the sun would mingle with the wetness in the air and cause light to split into beautiful hues, bringing with it the promise of another pot of gold.
A decade ago, I remember telling a writer friend of mine how awesome it would be if I could spend my days, my whole life, simply writing stories. It's funny how I am getting to do that in some measure now, living my dream as it were, and I feel as if this is the most dejected and hopeless I have felt in my life.
I remember telling my partner, KrA, at around the same time that I wish I didn't have this restless urge in me, always seeking something else, and that I wish I could be like so many others who go to work and come back, content to do the best they can, whether it is good enough or not, go back home to their families, feel happy about cooking and eating and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
Today, for the first time in my life, I ask myself: What if I were to look at this restlessness as a gift?
Instead of cursing myself for somehow getting on to an unconventional path, what if I could try and embrace it for all its uncertainties, its ups and downs, and the constant doubts and insecurities, and trust that I'll be fine as long as I am doing the one thing my soul had been yearning to for the past two decades?
Sure, at the age of 40, it feels foolish to be standing here, with less financial freedom than I had in my twenties, holding on to a dream that I did not have the courage to pursue in my younger days.
But what if I understand that most of my fears and anxieties are rooted in the future, a future that may never come to pass? For instance, I worry that I'd spend the next five or 10 years pursuing this dream and not making a dime out of it, that I'd be in my fifties, living hand to mouth, with not even a published work to show for it. But truth be told, even if I were to only maintain my current pace of roughly 3,000 words per week, I would have a bunch of books out there. And I have the smarts for learning how to write better and publish better and sell better. And so what if it doesn't become my primary source of livelihood? Is that reason enough to give up on it?
Perhaps I should pat myself on the back for having taken a chance and found a more lucrative job, thanks to my friend, that can help me better meet the expenses of publishing (mainly proofreading), instead of spending several days drowning in various forms of regret and self-loathing: I am too old for this, I should have done this 20 years ago, I don't have enough money, we will be penniless in the next five years if I keep up with this, my writing sucks, no one's going to buy my books, and so on, and so on.
So the next time, doubt and discontent show up and throw me off course, I will remind myself of this:
As long as I am alive, I will find a way.