Sometimes, we all need a break. From side projects, from other people’s demands, from our own expectations of ourselves. There are infinite things, really, that may inundate us to the point of collapse if we don’t occasionally shut the door on them.
The important thing is to open that door again.
I try not to talk too much about my personal life here; that’s not what I envisioned this blog to be. I wanted to focus mostly on writing, reading, and related things. But this is a personal post, although at some points I’ll skip over specific details. I am going to draw a map, of sorts, so you all can understand where I’m coming from by the time we get to the end. I hope you’ll follow me all the way, because I do have a larger reason for choosing to write this.
In 2015, I had an absolute blast doing NaNoWriMo. I think it helped that in early October, I had attended the inaugural NerdCon: Stories. I intended to write a post about NerdCon, and may still do it, but before I knew it, November came. The short version is that I left Minneapolis feeling inspired and educated and humbled in all the best ways.
Having that positive energy was crucial heading into NaNoWriMo. It reminded me that I CAN do this writing thing when I have the determination and inspiration.
Remember that, because it’s going to come up later.
I intentionally gave myself a break in December. I did some writing when the mood or an idea struck me, but I didn’t force myself to write every day. Instead, I funneled my confidence from finishing NaNo into applying to a writing workshop with some professional authors I deeply respect. Things were going well.
But it all quickly crashed. 2015 ended with a death in my family, and 2016 started with a rejection from that writing workshop and the unexpected death of a family pet. This all happened in the span of about 10 days.
So I just shut the door. It was too much all at once. I was sad about the family death, which led to me being more devastated by the rejection than was probably warranted, which led to complete disbelief when the family pet died. I skirted the edge of denial for a bit. Maybe I still am; it can be hard to tell sometimes.
I tried to push through it, because I think the cultural narrative in the U.S. encourages and values that approach. But I just couldn’t. I was stymied, sinking. So I closed the door. Not to the feelings, but to most other things so I could deal with the feelings. I didn’t worry about how I wasn’t writing and didn’t WANT to write. I didn’t have the energy to try and have a social life. I just needed some time to let it all settle, to let the dust fall where it would.
The one thing I did, because even at the time I recognized it would likely be integral to helping me climb out of the rubble and would set the tone for 2016, is I kept a tattoo appointment I had made months before, to get a simple quote:
The unexpected is what makes life possible
This is from The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (I know, you’re all shocked). Since I first read it, it’s become a phrase I use to remind myself that I can’t—and don’t really want to—control every aspect of my life. I don’t want to know how things will turn out, for better or worse.*
The timing of the appointment ended up being serendipitous, coming only a few days after the last bit of bad news in the described trifecta. And that perfectly embodies the quote itself. I didn’t know when I made the appointment back in August that it would become even more important to me to get this tattoo at this time.
I also ended up receiving a lot of valuable advice from people who didn’t necessarily know they were dispensing it. I kept a lot of my feelings—both related to the personal events and larger considerations about my life path—close to my chest, as they say. So a majority of the best advice I heard actually came out of unrelated casual conversations.
I’m fortunate in my life to know a lot of great people. Some are related to me, some are dear friends, some are former or current co-workers and bosses. All of them have had their challenges and their experiences to share, their different outlooks on life. They offered a lot of clarity without realizing it; they helped me begin to open the door again and clear away the dust.
With February on the horizon, I’ve decided that’s when my 2016 will start. I’m making preparations now; I’m ready to start writing again, to pick up my social life where I unceremoniously dropped it. I want to give myself just a few more days—there’s still a lot of debris to clear away, and I’m still thinking about the larger path for my life.
But I know I don’t want to let this major rejection hobble my writing. I know I can do this—because I’ve BEEN doing it, my own way. And I’ll keep doing it that way, picking up pointers from teachers that I find for myself and improving slowly but steadily—no matter what.
It’s that determination thing, see. I might not know where it will take me—but I know it hasn’t let me down yet.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I appreciate you sticking with me. I know the map was hastily drawn, more of a sketch. But if you’ve reached this point, I’d like to ask you a favor. A little something to help me clear the dust from those last murky corners.
Tell me how you keep yourself going through the rough times. I’d love to hear your personal life philosophy, some advice you’ve been given or like to give, a book or movie or something else that really helped you through a personal crisis. Because those were all things that helped me, and that’s why I shared them. I want you to have them, if you need them. Now or in the future.
*I didn’t include a picture because the tattoo’s still healing.