Thursday, July 4, 2013

Good-bye for now

I'm afraid that this post is going to be a good-bye. Not in a suicide way, or in an I'm-moving-away way (obviously my location on this planet really has no bearing on whether or not this blog exists, given that there are Internet caf├ęs in Antarctica now... OK, so I made that up, but you know what I mean). I think this is going to be my sign-off post. And that makes me sad. 

But I also know, and have known for a while, that's it's necessary. The contrarian literary-snob in me can't simply come here, open up a draft, and write a short, easy-to-write, easy-to-read post. If that were the case, I'd happily keep posting here, maybe for as long as my fingers have the capability to type. As it is, whenever I start in on a post, I keep going and going, and digging and digging, trying to somehow arrive at the deeper truth of a thing through the mere act of typing. Which means that nearly every post you see on this blog has taken hours to craft, and perhaps hours more have been spent on re-reading for edits. I'm a good writer, and writing does come easy to me -- but not quite that easy.

And more to the point: This is not the sort of writing that I want to devote that many hours of my life to. So I write some long, chewy post that I think makes a person or two feel less alone, that I think casts some oft-discussed subject in at least a slightly different light than the usual or the obvious or the expected one. So a handful of people read it, and derive a moment's intellectual or emotional stimulation from it. So what? ... OK, I'm lying again. That alone -- the fact that some people got something out of reading this blog -- was what kept me going for as long as I did. 

However, as any self-help book or blog or LCD, bullet-pointed article will tell you -- you shouldn't do a thing because it makes others happy; you should do it because it makes you happy. And what makes me happy is working on short fiction. So that's what I'm going to spend my time on now, instead of updating this blog or -- more frequently -- feeling guilty about the lengthening span of time since whenever the last post was. 

The other day I came to an uncomfortable realization: Considering that I get home from work around 6:30 p.m., and must be in bed by about 10:30 p.m. in order to have gotten enough sleep by the time the alarm on my iPod Touch chimes its "Marimba" goddamn chime at 6:16 a.m. -- I have a mere four hours of free time on most days of the week, including time spent cooking or buying and consuming dinner, taking a walk or doing any sort of fitness things, taking a shower and getting ready for the next day (I'm a night shower-taker, a vampire shower-taker, because for me the early morning is already so inherently unpleasant that the thought of standing naked and cold beneath a spray of water at that grim time is nigh-unbearable). 

Not surprisingly, I am not getting a lot of creative writing done. The last several posts on my writing site have been newly edited and polished versions of older stories of mine, in some cases from as far back as 2005. I'm utterly unable to log into Gmail at work -- at previous jobs, I could take advantage of unsupervised and unmonitored lulls to dash off part of a writing and save it as a Gmail draft, to work on more later at home -- and in the evenings I'm too "knackered," as Dawn from the British version of "The Office" said when referring to her own post-office tiredness interfering with creating art. (Her full quotation and context is here.)  

I think this blog has served its purpose, in some obvious and a few perhaps surprising-to-others ways. When I started writing that first post, I was miserable in the job arena of my life -- now I'm happy in it. I know that I don't want to stay in my current job forever -- I keep flirting with the idea of returning to the more fulfilling world of print and online journalism, although I keep failing to figure out how to actually make that happen. But it's very, very good for now -- for a few years, even, maybe. The pay is good. I love reading books on the Metro, hanging around Union Station, working one block from the U.S. Capitol building, getting an injection of "city life!" before I return to the leafy Northern Virginia suburbs at night. 

And the actual work has taken an upswing in a more stimulating direction, too. Here's what I posted on Facebook just last night: 
Not every day at work is like this, but today I honestly had one of those days during which I thought, "I love my job."

A few of you might have seen that damn dopey Surf 'n' Turf joke flyer that I made, purely for the amusement of my boss and our VP. I hit "Send" on the sucker at the tail end of the workday yesterday, when I was tired and my self-censorship was perhaps not at its best.

Well, they freaking loved it. (Yes, the flyer with the basket of puppies and Oprah and all the crazy fonts on it.) Not only did my VP forward it on to a yet-higher-up VP and someone else -- he suggested creating a humorous campaign and press release somehow based on it. No kidding. He LOLed all over the damn place at that sucker. Then the higher-up VP he forwarded it to wrote back to us all with, "Now I see why we have this amazing marketing team – incredible creativity." And then *she* forwarded it to another guy, saying to him, "You have to read this!" Ah shucks, folks!

I spent part of the day preparing stuff for a work trip I get to take by train to Philadelphia next week to meet with an education committee about content goals and strategies 'n' such. Throughout the day, my boss (who was home taking care of her sick kid) e-mailed me to ask quickie grammar and writing questions, and at one point an HR lady came over and said, "Two of our summer interns have expressed an interest in writing -- would you be available to talk with them about all the things you've done in your career, and possibly help them develop their skills?" Why, soytainly!

I got to attend a big fancy meeting in the big fancy grown-up conference room where they were talking about big-deal strategy stuff. Then I got to attend another, purely creative brainstorming meeting and spout off a bunch of ideas. Brainstorming, man -- I live for that shit.

The last thing I did before shutting down my computer for the day was send my boss a batch of more ideas I have for stuff, snazzy little slogans and whatnot. Then I went home early but got paid anyway because the place where I work is generally pretty nice to its employees.

So yes, for the handful of you who have asked -- the job is going very well. I'm in a good place right now, in many senses of the phrase.
And here's the joke flyer I was referring to...
So work is good. 
It's odd, but a few months back I had the idea that in order to be living this full, intellectually and emotionally and socially stimulating life, I needed to have this holy triumvirate of things going on: I needed to 1) snag the job that I have now (because it's a nice-paying writing job in a neat location in DC, with phenomenal benefits and other little perks [free on-site gym, for example... um, not that I've taken advantage of it yet, but I intend to, gosh darn it]); 2) regularly attend the weekly short-fiction workshop in Dupont Circle, and become a respected and well-regarded writer among its members; and 3) follow through, after my first round of training, with a volunteer gig helping offenders of domestic and sexual violence learn how to control their aggression and treat others with empathy and compassion. I saw them as three discrete and necessary items -- like gleaming video-game gems I had to gobble up Pac-Man-style.
As I so eloquently put it up there just now, work is good. So Part 1 of the triumvirate -- check. That's going just swimmingly.
Confession time: I've procrastinated when it comes to updating you regarding how those other two are going, because I've alternated between a) fizzling out to one degree or another, and feeling guilty about fizzling out (I can still hear my mom's heartbroken protestations when I quit marching band after one season of prancing about to Sousa tunes in a tri-cornered hat during football half-times -- quitters never win, nobody likes a quitter, etc.); and b) either correctly or petulantly justifying the fizzling out as my coming to the wise realization that neither of these were things I should be doing at all (at least, not devoting an entire precious evening of each and every week to doing; the volunteer gig was every Tuesday, 7 to 9 p.m., way the hell out in Reston, and the writing workshop was every Thursday, starting at 7:30 p.m., also way the hell out, in DC). 
I'll start with the one (Part 3 of the triumvirate) that is the most likely to make me sound like some unconscionable slackerly loser -- ceasing to continue going to the group-therapy sessions I had planned to eventually help facilitate. Now, I haven't technically given it up for good. Allow me to explain: When I signed on to observe one of the groups, I asked to attend the meetings of a group that meets in Reston -- nowhere near my job by Union Station, and also nowhere near my home in Springfield. I did that, dumb as it sounds, because the very person who convinced me that the group would be a worthwhile and noble pursuit, a professional social worker named Holland Omar (she gave a presentation about the ADAPT Program during my "Tier 1" training back in February), is that particular group's facilitator. I saw her as some sort of guru or mentor figure, so I picked her group, against all common sense. 
Well, surprise surprise, getting to the group by 7 p.m. was a mega stress-inducing, traffic-clogged nightmare. (I was really supposed to get there even earlier than that, by 6:30, to help set up for the meetings and lead attendees in from the waiting area; thankfully Holland's group was pretty lax about the set-up part, and Holland even seemed surprised when I rushed in, breathless from battling Tysons Corner traffic in a downpour, at 6:35 that first night.) I attended the first session, took tons of notes, was totally engaged, was even seeing how I could apply some of the anger-management and self-esteem lessons to my own life. (Not that I have anger issues per se; more like bottled-up-anger issues that manifest in a range of less-than-healthy and internally directed ways.) 
And then -- my granny died.
The night of her funeral coincided with the night when the group was supposed to have its second session. So I missed that session, didn't turn in the homework from Week 1, didn't have enough context to know exactly what I was supposed to do, homework-wise, for Week 2, and showed up for Week 3 feeling as if I'd missed out on a crucial session. I can't explain it in a very rational way, and I tried to ignore the feeling -- but I reckon the mild undercurrent of OCD-ness that runs through my character had me wishing I could just... start over again and not miss anything. On the day of the meeting for Week 4, I was all ready to go, had made sure to bring my binder and workbook and notebook full of notes with me to work, even did the homework (filling out worksheets with lists of items such as "10 of my strengths or accomplishments") during my lunch break at work. 
And then at some point during the day I realized that I had driven to the wrong Metro station that morning. You see, the other two Tuesdays I had gotten up a bit early and driven to a Metro station that's not my usual, just-around-the-corner Franconia-Springfield stop, but one that puts me (and my car) about as close to Reston as it's possible to get, given that the Metro system doesn't stretch out to anywhere near there. Panicked, I looked at an online map to see just how much I was fucked -- and saw that, in Metro-ing back to my car in Springfield, and then driving to Reston, not only would I sort of pass DC (in latitude, at least), from whence I would have begun my post-work journey in the first place... but that the distance, especially in DC rush hour, was just way too long. I would be unpardonably late, and would miss even more.
I called a number that I found online for Holland (a sleepy guy answered and said he would "e-mail her the message"), then also e-mailed the overall county volunteer coordinator for domestic and sexual violence services, and asked her if there was any way that I could switch to a different group (I quickly found something online indicating that there's a group who meets a mere five miles from my house), even if that means starting fresh with a new group in the fall, or even later. I never heard back. I've e-mailed her twice and left a voicemail, and... nothing.
In the days that followed, in that Monday-morning-quarterbacking sort of way that I tend to retroactively justify everything in my life, I started to think that maybe this wasn't the specific volunteer role for me after all -- that it's a good program, an overall noble endeavor, a needed service in society, but that I was perhaps not the best person for the job. I alluded to this feeling briefly in one of my (admittedly scattered) Savannah travelogue posts. For the most part, when I was actually there, when push came to shove (ugh, no pun intended!), sitting at the back of the meeting room while everyone else -- offenders, group leader, co-facilitator -- sat in chairs arranged in a circle, I mostly just felt like some creepy voyeur. 
The two facilitators I saw, during the Weeks 1 and 3 sessions that I attended, were former/reformed offenders themselves. They could say things such as, "I used to be just like you..." or "I have committed domestic violence, and here's my story." What the hell do I have to say? That I'm some perky, squeaky-clean Pollyanna who has never lashed out at another living thing in anger, but who, by golly, sure does think this group is "an overall noble endeavor"? (I did lash out in anger once, at an ex-boyfriend, during one of his manic-depressive episodes, in the midst of trying to hold him down to prevent him from harming himself, so I can't really make that claim. However, it's not in my nature to encroach on another's space if I'm feeling upset; in fact, my instinct is to just leave the situation entirely. For that reason, I do not classify myself as an "offender of domestic violence," although I would understand if you disagreed. I discussed this incident in more detail at the end of my "Filling in spaces" post.) 
My thinking now -- although part of me eagerly awaits a return call or e-mail from the county volunteer coordinator placing me with a new group in the fall -- is that I still want to commit one evening a week to volunteering, but that perhaps the group I spent all that time training to help facilitate wasn't the best place for me, given my particular skills and life experience (and, more saliently, lack of skills and life experience in other facets). 
The obvious role for me would be something writing-related, although I've considered getting involved with Alcoholics Anonymous or some similar group (even though, well, I've never so much as looked up where a group meets near me, let alone attended a single meeting... for more on why this would be a suitable type of endeavor for me, here's just one of many drinking-related posts I've written for this blog). I'll probably look into helping out with some sort of adult-literacy group, or something in that vein, although I've got this nagging sense that it's not exactly the most urgent issue in the world. But then, given what words mean to me, and the undeniable fact that you must know how to read and write in order to get along in this paperwork-centric world of ours, it's important, albeit lower on the "dire" scale, in a Maslow's-Hierarchy-of-Needs sort of way. 
Part 3: The writing workshop is on a summer hiatus now, but prior to that I had already missed going to it several weeks in a row, and am now wondering whether I should return at all. I do enjoy going, enjoy the camaraderie and nerding out about writing with literary kindred spirits. However, for me the rewards have mostly been social, in addition to a bit of validation when I've brought a story or stories that, due to any number of subjective factors, went over well with the group. I think the bottom line, for me, is that it's a perfectly good group, a perfectly good workshop -- but I am just not a team player when it comes to writing. I'm very much the eccentric-hermit-holed-up-in-a-cabin type of writer. If you give me advice, or criticism, the odds are good that part of me will reject it just on principle, because it's external, it came from outside of myself. Bitchy and perhaps self-defeating but true. 
I will probably go back sometime, to see the members I've become friends with (mostly via outside-of-the-group e-mail correspondence; one in particular with whom I plan to hang out) and offer feedback on their stories, to have something interesting to do, to feel as if I'm somehow being part of the literary scene here in the Washington, DC area -- but I don't expect it to be a weekly thing, or even all that much a part of my life at all. I could start going monthly, but I'm not going to make some hard commitment to that, even just to myself. 
Actually, the bit above about "feeling" as if I'm part of some real-life, real-world, outside-of-my-own-head scene gets at why I think my "holy triumvirate" of activities was so important to me. I had it in mind that if I had lots of good stuff on my schedule, that would mean I was living this full, active, engaged, fulfilling life. But really -- unless I'm getting something useful from those recurring happenings on my schedule, it's just more time wasted. With my weekday evenings suddenly free (probably temporarily, until I get another weekly [and convenient] volunteer gig set up), I have more hours to work on writing -- not just to write, but to do the less romantic, freaking business side of writing, such as flip to the back of the latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine and look up short-story contests and anthologies that are seeking submissions. I've been saying that I'm going to do that, that I should do that, for a long time. It's time for me to actually do it. 
So I'm going to go do that now. I won't take this blog offline, just in case anyone out there might enjoy or somehow benefit from reading any of it. And I won't swear that this is the last post you'll see from me ever, for as long as I live, until I'm Hunter S. Thompson-esque fireworks exploding in the sky. But for now, I have to admit to myself that, trite as it sounds, it's true that "there are only so many hours in a day," and that my energy reserves are finite. There are things that I want to accomplish before I die, and the clock is ticking, god damn it. 
Thank you for reading. You give my life meaning.

1 comment:

  1. This is the exact dilemma I face too -- 4 hours a night and how easily it gets whittled away by *living* like simple things like cleaning and making dinner. Really it's like 2 hours a night and it's easy to piss away an hour online leaving even less time to create. I constantly feel torn between choices to create or consume and I hate this.

    I love that you did this blog. You set out to dig yourself out of a hole with only vague ideas on how to begin. You're out of the hole now, sweetie. Or ready to emerge (in case you're worried that saying you're out will not allow you to slip back in once in a while).

    When you think of your favorite author, you feel gratitude for the gift they brought to the world that you were lucky enough to read, right? Your blog can be that. Finite, like a book.

    The volunteer thing, you can either reopen the door some other time, or take what you got from the experience as part of your fabric. Not every job lasts forever, whether they pay you or not.

    My philosophy when trying to decide whether to take on something: "Does it bring me joy?" If so, awesome! (If either of us can master time, I'm getting us an honest-to-goodness cape!)

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