Baby Steps

With my one-year resignniversary behind me, and after clearing my life of needless material possessions, I’ve been asking myself what’s next. Now that my summer writing workshops are over and I’ve finished the first draft of my memoir, I’ve had the strangest yearning: To go back into the corporate world.

I love writing. I will always love writing. I need to write in order to feel like a stable human being. But I realize that’s only one part of me. I am an odd duck who needs to organize things, solve problems, analyze data, and make decisions to move a project forward in addition to making up imaginary situations and people (in fiction, that is. In memoir, I’ve told my very true life story).

For the past year, I have not exercised that part of myself. It feels like a limb with a cast just off: limp, pale, and weak. But it’s still useable! I’ve yet to meet someone who chopped off their arm after it healed from a break!

I still have some scars from the trauma I experienced at my old job, so I haven’t actually updated my resume or started applying for jobs. I’m allowing myself to take the tiniest of baby steps. In true What About Bob fashion, so far, (1) I’ve looked at job descriptions online, just to see what’s out there, and (2) I attended my first networking event in DC last week.

Note on (1): There are so few jobs in DC. I mean, not actual open positions (there are a bagillion), but types of jobs. I’m sure I knew that when I lived here before, I just didn’t realize the magnitude of it until now. All DC jobs are government, consulting (including lobbying), research, or nonprofit. So, I instantly grew frustrated that my career options are limited here as compared to NYC, but I suppose I shouldn’t be upset about it because it’s just so damn obvious.

Note on (2): Networking in DC is different from networking in New York because the people are very different. DC people seem to work in the industries I listed in the previous paragraph, and, therefore, there’s less to talk about because everyone knows what everyone does. When I passed out my business cards, one person said, “Oh, you’re a writer,” but didn’t really ask what I write. Another person asked what I do otherwise, and I said, “I just write for right now.” Although my career is very different, people didn’t seem all that interested in it, which is fine because I didn’t want them prying, but I also found odd, because wouldn’t you want to talk to someone who does something different? Shrugs.

So continues my journey to figure out what’s next for me. Yes, it will include writing. But what else?

Writing Binge, Clothing Purge

Yesterday, I donated half of my wardrobe and one-third of my books to charity.

When I got home from the VQR Writers’ Conference on Saturday, I felt the need to cleanse myself of material possessions that were holding me back. So I spent Sunday going through all of my clothes, including the winter ones that were packed away in those big plastic bins. I was going to do the Marie Kondo thing of asking myself of each piece, “Does this spark joy?” But then I realized that “Does this even fit?” was the much more salient question.

I started exercising (mostly with weights) about 2.5 years ago, and I changed my diet to be a bit more clean(ish); as a result, my body has changed a lot. My shoulders are broader now, so little my cap-sleeved t-shirts looked ridiculous. My biceps are visibly larger, and they threated to break the seams of some of my dress sleeves. My butt has gotten firmer and higher, making some of my dresses inappropriately short.

I didn’t realize any of this because I hadn’t actually worn any of those clothes in the past year. Since I quit my job, I’ve solidly taken on the uniform of a writer: in winter, jeans and sweater, and in summer, shorts and t-shirt. Sure, I’ll throw in a casual dress here and there, but not really. Since I’ve been delving into some uncomfortable emotional places, I’ve wanted to be physically comfortable, meaning even in my wardrobe.

But, I did ask myself of some of my clothes, “Does this spark joy?” And for a whole host of my button-down shirts, slacks, and skirts, the answer was a resounding, “NO.” I am not opposed to business attire (I, in fact, look forward to wearing it again one day), but most of my work clothes reminded me of just that – work. My striped Banana Republic buttondowns reminded me of every Monday morning Investment Team meeting in which I felt that I did not belong. My shift dresses purchased on Gilt.com reminded me of my performance reviews in which one of my bosses flagrantly lied about my performance. I know they’re just clothes, but it was what they represented: denigration, humiliation, embarrassment, depression, sorrow, regret. All but joy.

There was no way I could hold onto these pieces and feel liberated from that crazy situation. One year later, I feel a psychic freedom I wish I’d had 365 days ago.

 

The last time I went through one of these purge phases was when I returned to the US from a semester abroad in England, about 11 years ago. I’d just experienced a HUGE life change – I’d spent half a year away from my family going to countries where none of my family members had ever been. It was obvious that my life was going to be different from then on, and I needed to make room for that difference. So, I went through all of my clothes and books, and donated everything I wanted to get rid of.

I most clearly remember packing up my shelves of chicklit. I had decided to write literary fiction, so needed to be careful of what kinds of books I took in: only those I wanted to emulate in some way. Yes, this made me a little bit of a book snob (I have not read any Sue Monk Kidd or even Harry Potter as a result of this rule), but it made my art better.

What is the big life change I just had that made me want to dump all of my old stuff?

A year spent doing the thing I have been most passionate about since I was 12 years old.

Spending the year writing my own story has been monumental. The amount of self-assessment I’ve done, the amount of empathizing with people who still hate me has been sorta nuts. And it has prepared me for the next phase in my life. I’m not sure what that phase is, and, of course, I plan to continue writing in some capacity, but it is clear that something in me has shifted and I sought to mark the change by making room in my life for new things.

That’s my “I’m paying attention to Bret Anthony Johnston” face.

All that being said, I should say how great the VQR Writers’ Conference was. It was very different from VONA, mostly in that there were white people at VQR (seven people of color among 30 attendees, which I suppose is a decent ratio for these sorts of things?).

Although the cafeteria food was inedible, the mosquitos were relentless, and a couple of workshop participants voluntarily read wildly racist material, I had a lot of fun. I met some amazing writers who I hope to keep in touch with, and my workshop instructor, Anne Helen Petersen, was incredible. Instead of doing lectures on craft, she led us through some generative exercises, so I now have a boatload of ideas for new essays, two of which I started at the conference with her guidance (meaning, she actually sort of outlined essays on the white board as we spitballed questions – it was INCREDIBLE). I’ve never had an instructor spend so much time on the participants’ writing, especially on generating new material. So while I couldn’t help think about the ghosts of the slaves who obviously inhabit UVA’s campus (you should thank them whenever something automatic works, like the paper towel dispenser), I felt honored that I was chosen to attend the workshop.

VQR readers

VQR Open Mic readers

I told myself that after a year of writing my memoir, I would take a break. I would drink tea and go to museums and write fiction, perhaps all at the same time. The point of that was to finally actually recover, since I’d gone from one emotion turmoil (crazyass job) to another (crazyass memoir). But VQR has restored my excitement about revising my book, and we’re planning to move into our condo soon, so my break might wind up not happening, and I’m actually okay with that. I guess it’s the next phase moving in. I’ve made room for it, so I should just open the door.

 

 

Announcing the Next Step in our Independence…

In honor of Independence Day, I would like to announce that my spouse and I have finally (after this and this) moved to the next stage of adulthood: homeownership!

Us with our rockstar real estate agent Harrison Beacher

We closed on a condo in DC last week, and I think we’re thrilled about it. The process went so quickly, we hardly had time to think, much less be really excited. But now that the dust has settled a little, we’re pretty stoked. We’re moving into a new phase in life, and that is super scary. We both think a kid will likely be the next big change for us, but we’re not in a hurry to get to that, so we’re just going to savor our new home.

I’ll have a longer post about this when we finally move next month (after the reality has set in a bit more). Until then, I’m headed to the Virginia Quarterly Review writers conference next week, and will have a report on that soon after.

Happy 4th of July, friends!