There’s so much to say that I legitimately don’t know where to start. (Which, in and of itself, is kind of a cliche way to start, so apologies to my readers who are just here for my wholly original and fresh writing style.)
The last time I was consistently updating, I was just moments out from quitting my job and half sure I had made a huge mistake. I wrote you all a long post that was mostly an attempt to convince myself that my massive risk had paid off, (or would pay off), was the right decision, etc etc.
I’m now a year and a half away from that decision. I wish I had a big huge Accomplishment to show for it, something that proves that quitting a stable job was the right move. I could say to you, LOOK AT THIS THING I DID and you’d all be impressed and that would demonstrate that I wasn’t an idiot. I don’t have that—not exactly. But I also don’t have nothing. (Nor, in retrospect, do I or any of us especially owe others a justification of personal decisions, but such is the power of the court of public opinion, I guess.) Regardless, a year and a half is a long enough time to gain at least a little bit of perspective and experience, and that I am happy to share with you all now.
What I really did
If you talked to me in the immediate aftermath of quitting my job, my path forward probably seemed kind of… murky. I mused vaguely about “figuring out what’s next” in a way that made my more practical listeners extremely uncomfortable. Conversations were often uneasy — people would (politely, appropriately, and sometimes inappropriately) prod me to find out if I had anything more than a half-assed idea to… I dunno, meditate or something until my path forward illuminated itself. I usually demurred.
Because that wasn’t the *real* truth. The real truth was something that I shared with my husband, and, well, that’s kind of it. The real truth was that I had a very specific, concrete goal, and I didn’t especially feel like I owed it to anyone to share that goal. A year and a half out, for the sake of anyone going through what I’m going through, I’ll finally share it: I wanted to write a book.
It’s a goal I’ve had for years, one that’s lived in the back of my head and insisted on itself, one that clawed at me most desperately when I was at my most career-displaced.
Why didn’t I just tell people this? Well, a few reasons, some valid, some bullshit. I’ll start with the most powerful, bullshit one: I was embarrassed. Writing a book is an extremely vulnerable, terrifying thing to do. Somehow more terrifying than a blog or a play—blogs are immediate and (for me) lower effort, and often squeeze themselves nicely into my spare time. (I’m talking about my blogging, which is decidedly not my JOB. People who are full time bloggers obviously expend a great deal more effort than I.) And plays are… community efforts. Even Type What Now, my deeply personal play that only had two performers, took a village to put on. Everyone that helped with that took on a little piece of it, owned it. By the time it was performed, it was as much theirs as mine, which is a beautiful and, let’s face it, relieving kind of thing. If it sucked, they owned the suckiness, too. I’d probably have owned the most of it, but still, it wouldn’t have been all on me.
A book isn’t like that. A book is mostly me sitting in front of my computer and every single day fighting the impulse that I am worthless and what I have to say doesn’t matter. When you write a book, you decide, every time you open the document, that what you have to say MATTERS, even though no one asked you say it. No one was knocking down my door desperate for me to put more fiction in the universe. Instead, I fought for my right to do so. Insisted on my own significance. For anyone, this is tough. For anyone with self-esteem issue (so, ok….anyone), this is almost impossible.
And, oh yeah, I knew I’d probably fail. I couldn’t find any statistics about the chances of getting a manuscript published once you’ve written it and you’ve never been published before, but I’m guessing they’re pretty lousy. And I was embarrassed to own doing something that I knew would probably fail.
The other reason I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing was, I hope, a little more valid. I’ve found that once you tell people about projects that you’re working on, they have the extremely sweet but incredibly challenging habit of asking you about them. Sometimes a lot. “How’s the book going?” “What’s next with the book?” While a normal person with a normal level of confidence and a normal relationship with the world around them could likely handle these perfectly reasonable questions perfectly well, I am not normal. I am a delicate baby who struggles desperately against how much I fucking hate writing, how goddamn difficult it is to do, and constant, well-meaning reminders from everyone around me about my lack of progress would have derailed me. I just know it.
(PS – yeah, I hate writing. Most writers I know do. The act of writing is borderline excruciating — fellow writers, can I get an amen? — I just have to do it. It’s that stupid, and that simple. When I don’t write, I am miserable. Like most writers, I hate writing, but I love having written.)
The only thing worse then people asking you how your writing is going, of course, is what they ask when you actually are done. Because then they (appropriately, sweetly, politely) ask you how selling the manuscript is going. How finding an agent is going. How publishing the book is going. And every time they do and you don’t have something to tell them, you (or maybe just I?) feel like even more of a complete failure. And since, given the likelihood of this working out, I was pretty sure I was going to fail at one or all of those steps, I didn’t especially want to live that.
But then something happened. I finished the manuscript. I wrote the damn thing. And no, I have no exciting announcement to tell you about it getting published. Trust me–you do not have to ask–I would tell you if I did! But something about finishing it was enough of an accomplishment that I told myself I had to GROW UP and just own that I set out to do a thing and I did the thing. The thing that had been a dream of mine for a goddamn long time. And if I get very lucky, maybe it will get professionally published one day. Maybe not. I’m working on it, and that’s enough.
It’s enough to do the thing, you guys. Setting goals and meeting them is enough. I won’t go off on a tangent about what makes work—whether it needs readers or viewers or participants to be valid—because I have lots of thoughts and this post is already unforgivably long, but I will say that in my 14 years pursuing writing and creating, I’ve learned that the thing that matters is actually doing it. That’s the thing that matters. We all have ideas, and ideas are amazing. But those of you who have taken your ideas out of the ether and turned them into something—anything—even if that thing never sees the light of day beyond your computer or your journal or your bedroom—you rule. You are a creator. And (in my humble opinion), creators are the best.
My book is fiction. It’s written for teens. Let’s be real: it’s written for me. It’s the book I would have wanted to read as a teenager. For lack of a better term, it’s YA adventure, and I tried to make something messy and imperfect that I could have read as a teenager and realized that all the ways I was messy and imperfect were OK; were beautiful. It was the book that was pounding on my chest to be written. It was the book I wrote. As for what happens to it next, yeah. We’re working on it.
How I really did it
A pause, to address the most important person in all of this: Stefan. For a really long time, I wanted to be like Toni Morrison or Stephen King or any of the other legendary writers (they also probably actually love writing, damn them), who squeezed writing their first books into the little spaces between their tedious, difficult jobs. God damn I wanted to be that. Why could I never be that? Why did I have to quit my job in order to finish this project? Does it make me lazy, spoiled, entitled? Am I lesser than Toni Morrison?
Well, duh. Of course I’m lesser than Toni Morrison. But that’s for a lot of reasons. And I’m also trying my very hardest not to live in guilt that the only reason I’ve been able to take this time to do this thing is because my husband kept his job and switched me to his insurance. And that his income has been enough for us, and his insurance has kept me alive by purchasing the tiny vials of life-fluid that I need slowly infused into my body 24/7 so I could pursue this utterly selfish, personal endeavor that, I’ll say it again, no one asked me to do.
I’m trying to be OK with the fact that I have been given an incredible gift by the person I love most. I’m trying to live in gratitude and not guilt. I’m trying to maintain confidence that I will, one day, be able to repay this extraordinary gift. It’s not easy, especially when I see him stay up late to do his own creative work, and get up early to keep pounding away. It’s not fair. None of this is fair. Capitalism isn’t fair. But I guess the place I have landed is an uneasy gratitude, one that accepts that I could actually be loved *this much*, and is hungry for a way to repay it.
There have been setbacks. Towards the end of 2018, as I got close to finishing the book, I unconsciously got more and more uneasy and uncomfortable. Finishing meant…finishing. Having to accept that I would have to move on to the next, awful step of saying, out loud “I wrote this and I think it matters and I hope it gets somewhere.” And goddamn it was hard to do.
Is it any surprise, then, that around this time I decided I was going to be a nurse? Yeah, you read that right. It’s not as insane as it sounds: I’ve always been interested in medicine and getting diabetes really heightened that. But I think—and I can so clearly see this now—what I wanted more than anything was certainty. The certainty of a path, one that ended in a job where I could start supporting my family financially and, (oh god, Jessie, just own it), one that my parents would be proud of, would understand. No more of this dumb, strange, future-less creative shit. A Real Job.
You guys, I took classes. At a local community college. I researched nursing programs. I was really in it. I learned about anatomy and physiology, about statistics. It’s interesting stuff! But it was this summer, sitting in A&P 2, that it hit me. We were on the “blood” unit, and my teacher asked “How many nurses does it take to do a blood transfusion?”
The answer is two. That’s because if you give someone blood of the wrong type, it’s really bad. Transfusion reactions are fatal, she explained, so two nurses have to sign off that the Type A Blood has been given to the Type A Blood person.
That makes sense, I thought. Also, wow, yup, this isn’t for me.
It was such a simple thought, so profound, and it couldn’t have come had I not put the hundreds of hours into studying anatomy and preparing myself for this career path that would have been absolutely wrong for me. You guys, I would have made a terrible nurse! I love helping people, yes, and I am fascinated by medicine, but I am terrible under that kind of pressure. My patience is not nearly strong enough for it, nor my endurance.
It was a tough pill to swallow — 1.5 semesters wasted in pursuit of something so that, let’s be real, I didn’t have to confront the thing I really wanted. But as really, really, smart people have said: nothing is wasted. I believe that wholeheartedly. Failing is important. Failing is so much more important than succeeding. I failed at nursing. Actually, I quit nursing, potentially an even more shameful failure. I’ll also likely fail at the book. Hopefully not (hopefully not!!!) but I’m sharing it with you in defiance of every single pessimistic bit of my nature that would have insisted I keep private the things that make me feel most vulnerable. Because failure matters. And I hope that me owning my failure in so public a way helps destigmatize it. Contributes even a tiny bit to the collective movement towards taking more risks. Because risks are everything.
Ultimately, I can look at the last year and a half through two very different perspectives. The nasty one is that I wasted money taking classes pursuing something I gave up on, and that, ultimately, I don’t actually have anything to show for it. No published book, no job, no definitive plans for what I’m going to do with my “career”. At 32, that sucks. It sucks to watch my friends at normal places in their careers for people in their 30s, it sucks to see them dedicated to the same goals since they graduated college, when I feel like I’ve been bouncing around like an idiot for 10 years.
But I think there’s another way to look at all this, too. I wrote a book! I realized a goal I had held for myself for a million and a half years, and I can’t tell you the exhilaration it inspired. I learned a whole lot about the human body (which has already made its way into my writing, for the record), I gained tons of experience, and I got a little bit better at failing. I learned a teensy bit more about how to advocate for myself in freelance negotiations, and how to hustle for side gigs. I got better at discipline. (Although, let’s be fair, I still kind of suck at it.) I’m closer—yes, closer damnit—to where I want to be with my life, with my career. I’m inching it forward.
And, oh yeah. There’s that other humongous thing that I am finally coming to after eleven thousand words and if you are still here, THANK YOU and you are in for a real hairpin turn…
…uh…. yeah. That. That one definitely deserves its own post, but it is another thing I’ve been doing over the past year and a half. In case you were wondering, no, pregnancy and diabetes don’t get along at all, and I have a great deal to say about that at some time when I haven’t just already said a great deal.
So, so, so much more to come. Here’s a cute picture of Mickey as a reward for making it through this behemoth of a post.
3 thoughts on “A long-overdue life update”
Great stuff and hard core honesty
Jessie! I love your blog! Congratulations on your book, I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations on your pregnancy! Babies are a whole thing, and I hope you write about your experience! I think its great that you started taking classes and then stopped when it you realized it wasn’t right. I’m always thinking I should dramatically change my career one way or another but I never pull the trigger!
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Thanks, Jess, for this searingly honest update. I hope I get to read your book sometime. I love peeking in to your head and discovering a kindred spirit.
Congratulations on your supportive husband, the book and the baby to Be!
Wishing you all the best!