Day Jobs

I used to write every single day. I’d wake up, work out, have breakfast, take a quick shower, and scope out a place with a nice ambient hum. (Preferably somewhere local, but the only real requirement I remember was Not Starbucks.) It was routine, not unlike brushing my teeth. I’d order something milky and warm, make a beeline for the most unobtrusive, brightly lit corner, crack open my laptop, and hope for Wi-Fi. I’d cup my mug in one hand, take a scalding hot sip, swear up and down I’d never do that again, and begin.

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It wasn’t so terribly long ago — we’re talking three, four, maybe five years ago — but enough time has passed for it to feel inconceivable now.

Now I write once a week. Providing one day of the weekend is overcast, I haven’t expended too much energy thinking Monday-Friday, and I don’t already have plans with friends.

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At one point I wrote because I liked the structure it lent to my days. It felt like going to work, at a time when I was convinced I’d never be going to work. Or at least not to a job I liked. Felt proud of, energized by.

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Then I moved into a different phase: I wrote because I was falling in love, and it was impossible not to. There were so many shiny stories; I wanted to hold up each one. I could no more have resisted the urge to chronicle our relationship than I could have imagined it wouldn’t work out between us; we wouldn’t have a happy ending.

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Not long after that, I began writing to chip away at my own confusion. To make sense of everything that baffled me, frightened me.

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Though I refused to admit it at the time, I also wrote to check in. To communicate, only not directly. (Otherwise known as: how to press on a bruise not yet healed.)

I did that for a long time. Too long, probably. But you can’t rush those things, can you?

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Then I made a project of writing to get to know myself. My adult self. My self-sufficient self — who needed friends, ASAP. I switched to writing as a way to connect, and I’ve held onto that, I think/hope.

Then I proceeded to write for practice, because I thought maybe I wanted to write for real. I dropped that idea within six months, right around the time I realized I was writing because I positively had to, because if I didn’t, I was literally going to melt into a puddle of loneliness and disappear into thin air. (Exaggeration level = only moderate.)

I’ve done a fair amount of writing-as-breathing, now that I think about it. What have I been doing for the last two years? Writing myself through anorexia. Figuring out what the hell you’re supposed to do when, for all intents and purposes, your mind is an unreliable narrator.

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I’ve written myself through massive change. Massive, massive change. Writing has turned into a way for me to give myself some sense of stability (and comfort and support), which I think we can agree I’d previously sought from my parents. (And boyfriends and siblings.)

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Writing has also become a way for me to take a real look at myself — without using a mirror, and without being so mean. [Harsh, judgmental, MISERABLE.] It has become a way for me to come to terms with stuff that has no business occupying even a square foot of real estate in my brain.

But what reason will I have to write next? When I don’t need it so much for recovery; when I want to go out and live. When I’m not heartbroken, or not over a guy, anyway; when I’ve lost so much of my desire to ruminate about the past. When what was new feels normal now; when for the first time, the future feels big and bright. Speckled with possibility.

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What will I do when I am not feeling so acutely lonely; when I’d much rather grab coffee with a friend than sit and write a new post?

What reason will I have to write then?

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“Art does not need your full-time attention. You’ll make better art after a day at the office than you will after a lifetime in an ivory tower. Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not the real deal. More importantly: don’t ever tell yourself that. Believe me when I tell you that no matter how much time you spend at the office, it’s just a side gig. You are an artist, full-time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now go make your art.” -Sara Benincasa

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“Stand up in front of people. Let them see you. Speak. Be heard. Go ahead and have the dry mouth. Let your heart beat so, so fast. Every single time you have the chance.” -Shonda Rhimes

“I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you’re ready. Show it, do it, treat everyone kindly, and light up the night.” -Peter Dinklage

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“It’s an uphill battle, this recovery business. Some days you will be convinced that you are going down and not up; I speak from experience when I say it’s not easy. It is not a movie montage. It is not falling asleep dead and waking up alive. There is no magic to it. But there are miracles.” -Anna Gayle

“That’s why going back to therapy is the hardest thing for me right now. Because I could make a decent argument that I’m in a really good place, that I’m healthy. And maybe my return to therapy is a result of being in a healthy place: I know my own limits, and I respect myself enough to ask for help when I begin to push them. Yet, even knowing all those things, it is hard to fill out a form asking what areas I’m struggling in, to rate them on a scale of 1-10, and not feel like I somehow failed.” -Joy A.

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“Pain is universal. We are all broken in different places, which makes me think that might be the point. Maybe we are all here to help each other, to use our pain to help others better understand theirs. It always goes back to the idea of needing other people: friendship and love and community. I always get so scared to talk about the hard stuff because I feel like I’ve used up my quota for a lifetime, like I should be better by now. That’s not really a realistic idea, though. To say that there is a timeline for how quickly we heal and a rulebook for how we talk about the tough things grossly oversimplifies things. We are complicated and we are hurting and we need desperately to be able to talk about these things. The light at the end of the tunnel is not a perfect life without obstacles; it’s the outstretched hand showing you that you don’t have to go through this alone.” -Nell Schreck

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“Real life is messy, inconsistent, and it’s seldom anything ever really gets resolved. It’s taken me a long time to realize that.” -Alan Moore

“Some people need a red carpet rolled out in front of them in order to walk forward into friendship. They can’t see the tiny outstretched hands all around them, everywhere, like leaves on trees.” -Miranda July

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“It is terrible to have to ask for anything ever. We wish we were something that needed nothing, like paint. But even paint needs repainting.” -Miranda July

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” -Brene Brown

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“To be deeply known is ecstasy.” -Myss Bradley

“Most of life is [still] offline, and I think it always will be. Eating and aching and sleeping and loving happen in the body.” -Miranda July

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“Considering how hard it is to have a body and be a human…can I just say, we’re all doing a great job.” -Rosemary Donahue

{Tea Bar via @marshallsteeves, PNW wildflowers via @bethkellmer, commute via @gemini_digitized, cabin via @kpunkka, PNW road via @rawperfectionphotography, Oregon Coast via @andrewgolesch, misty sunrise via @dubsonata, Cannon Beach via @_nicholas_steven, starry sky via @theplaidshirt, Mt. Hood via @jakeegbert, wooden boardwalk via @_nicholas_steven, PDX from Pittock Mansion via @nicholaspeterwilson — all on Instagram.}

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5 thoughts on “Day Jobs

  1. You write beautifully. I suspect as time goes on, even if you tame most of your demons and you find consistent happiness you’ll just find new ways to express how the world is coming to you, in all its infinite variety. Keep it going.

    • Thank you! I figure it’s an OK problem to have. And I’ve noticed I typically feel less like writing in the warmer months. In the winter it’s nice to hunker down with a cup of coffee and a blanket, but in the spring/summer I like to be outside as often as I can. I’ll find a balance, I’m sure!

  2. I struggled with this when I first left New York and was baking full-time and writing basically nothing ever. My dad, who is the furthest thing from a creative, said something along the lines of, “You’ll come back to it. It’s who you are, even if it’s not what you’re doing right now.” And he was right. GOOD JOB, DAD.

    Anyway, I think your first quote says it all. There are seasons for gathering stories and seasons for writing them. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t. We just have to trust the cycle.

    Also, the world needs your happy stories too 🙂

    • Your dad sounds like a smart guy, I love that perspective, and YES, for making room for our happy stories too.

      I was reading something somewhere (so specific, I know) and the author was talking about how she is way more “productive” when she’s sad, and when she’s happy she actually doesn’t write much at all. I think same goes for me too.

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