I have not been good at writing of late.
Oh, I’m still writing, per se. I still journal every day. I still scribble story ideas and character names into a small notebook I carry around just about everywhere. I’m still reading my way through the Free Library of Philadelphia and writing up book reviews (have you heard about the newest project Basia and I are working on? We call it W(REC)’D).
But as more than one friend has mentioned, I’ve been curiously silent here on my own blog.
It’s not because I’ve run out of things to say. I’ve started blog posts at least a dozen times, each of them petering out because they weren’t right. I don’t just mean in a perfectionist sense, either—I mean in a “no, this isn’t for right now” sense. A “this one isn’t what I need to write at the moment” sense. A not yet sense.
People write for all sorts of reasons. I write because I have to—which is in of itself a fairly common reason—but also because I need to. Writing is how I make sense of the world. It’s how I take the messy, broken shards of my life and experiences and piece them back together into something resembling a narrative. Writing is how I’ve taught myself to find hope when everything feels overwhelming: it lets me rearrange what I’ve seen and experienced and said into something whose shape is less foggy and whose meaning more clear.
My last blog post took a lot out of me. It’s taken a while to get my feet back under me. Some of that is because of what happened after I wrote (I certainly didn’t expect my Year of No to resonate with so many people), but I think a lot of my delay comes from not knowing what to say next. I poured my heart and soul into that blog post. It was the truest narrative I’ve ever told: raw and ugly and no, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to share it—I just knew I needed to get it out. I needed to gather up all those shattered pieces of 2015, all the hard lessons and denials and anxieties, and use them to make something.
Beauty from ashes and all that.
I wrote it because I had to. I had to move past my heaviness of spirit, and the only way I ever know how to do that is to write. I didn’t expect my sprawling mess to take on a life of its own. It was slightly intimidating to watch, even as it was encouraging—to see the comments coming in from people I haven’t spoken to (at least not recently), to see the stats spiking, to have people talk to me about what my words meant to them.
I didn’t have anything to follow that. I’d laid it all out. I had to wait.
I’ve done my waiting. It’s been eight months. I have listened, waited, and wondered. I have tried to write, failed to write, and tried to write again. I have hoped and prayed and tried to ensure 2016 didn’t turn into another Year of No.
And… it hasn’t. Not exactly.
Of course, it hasn’t been a Year of Yes, either. I still don’t have my life figured out and no—unfortunately, I still don’t have a real full time job. I’m temping. I’m still living at home and trying to figure out what it means to be an adult living with her parents (I’m not very good at it, but my parents remain quite gracious).
No, this hasn’t been a year of yes. In a way, this seems to be a year of not yet.
This is a year of anticipation. This is a year of waiting—a year that has surprised me because despite not seeing my hopes fulfilled, this year hasn’t been hopeless.
It’s a step.
It’s not an easy step. I feel caught mid-stride, stuck precariously between slippery stones over some sort of creek or river that keeps flowing under me, but I haven’t fallen in quite yet. I’ve been remembering to look at the world around me instead of just trying to keep my toes out of the water.
That, after all, would simply be surviving. Living looks a little different–a little more complicated, a little less concerned about getting your feet wet.
For me, it looks like remembering to practice hope. The big things are all falling apart—or perhaps more accurately, never came back together? Okay. Take a moment to focus on the small stuff.
Baby steps, Connor, baby steps.
Did someone make you laugh today? Good. Did you make someone else laugh? Better. Did you see the sunrise? Stare at the moon? Make an especially good cup of tea, or send your resume out despite not hearing back from the last (five or ten or twenty) places you applied? Did you read a particularly fascinating book or send a letter to a friend?
Sometimes life doesn’t show you butterflies. Sometimes you can’t see the roses everyone else keeps talking about. Sometimes you have to build your own out of wire and tissue paper and string and hang them in every room of your mind.
I couldn’t do that on my own last year.
This year has been different, somewhat. I’ve been paying attention.
One of my former professors complimented my critique skills over tea today. That book I’ve been waiting for finally got to the library and it’s even better than I’d hoped. My favorite teacher e-mailed me to ask for my address. My god siblings tackled me with hugs and smiles. Wait—this dress has pockets?! Hey, I didn’t burst into tears in career services today! Progress! My coworker bought me a chai latte today, just because. I got a letter from my sweet friend whom I’ve known since kindergarten–nineteen years, and we’re still writing letters.
Hope doesn’t depend on sizable events or achieving all your dreams. Hope comes whenever she can, however she can: softly, loudly, riding the tailcoats of laughter and love and good conversation.
When I graduated eighth grade, my book club leader gave me a notebook filled with some of her favorite quotations. I memorized two of the pieces of poetry rather quickly, and they’ve stuck with me ever since.
The first one was “Listen to the Mustn’ts” by Shel Silverstein, which has been a constant reminder to keep pressing into this weird, post-grad phase I’m stumbling through with its defiant anything can happen, child, anything can be.
The second one I memorized was the last stanza of a poem by Longfellow.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
For the last few months, I’ve been waiting, working, and remembering to hope. I’ve been trying to take a deep breath and let my fear slip out of tightly clutched fists into something more malleable: something that can be used to build, to create. Something that’s hardier than my old sandcastle fortresses, something less brittle than my old sense of self.
Baby steps, Connor, baby steps.
Something that stretches. Something that doesn’t break.
I’ve been learning to focus less on my pace and more on my progress.
I’ve been learning to communicate more clearly (… erm, somewhat). I’ve been learning to listen more, not just jump to conclusions or assuming I know how someone feels. I have been learning to act, not just dream and plan and wonder.
I am learning not to define myself by what I do (or don’t do). Learning not to focus on my self-image has led to a lot less of worrying about how much I haven’t done and a lot more of enjoying what I’m actually doing.
My pace is not quick. My feet aren’t always steady, and for all my lofty words I still spend too much energy trying to keep my toes dry. Learning to be more present in my daily life and less worried about, well, everything is… difficult. I don’t always do a good job of appreciating where I am and what’s left to do, and I still haven’t landed that job that gives me a sense of purposeful work (or, you know, benefits).
I still have bad days. A lot of bad days, actually. I don’t want to make this year seem easier than it’s been—that is to say, easy is the opposite of what this year has been.I still get stressed out and intimidated and overwhelmed when I’m looking at job listings, and those are just words on a web page. For all that this is a good day, a day where it’s easy to see the sun filtering through the leaves and enjoy the peace of a day off of work—this year has been as difficult as 2015 in its own way.
There was one day in particular about two months ago when I collapsed on my bed and sobbed for hours (not an exaggeration), begging for this blasted, overwhelming search—the constancy of which has made me hate myself more than I think I ever liked myself to begin with—to just be over, please, just—I’m so tired. I can’t take this anymore, I’m so tired. I’m so, so tired—in something between a cry of desperation and a strangled prayer.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried that hard in my life. It wasn’t just the job search. It’s never just the job search.
It’s the idea that nobody hiring me makes me worthless. The fact that I haven’t really liked a job I’ve had since I graduated college—the fact that I have forgotten what it feels like for work to be good and life giving instead of draining and stressful. My job search is so familiar a topic of conversation that I have, at times, avoided hanging out with people just so I could avoid talking about it.
How do you tell your friends no, I don’t want to go to your party because everybody will ask either a) what I do or b) how the job search is going and quite frankly, I feel like I will burst into tears if anybody brings up either of those? How do you measure your howling despair and know you’re being melodramatic—know it so strongly that quite frankly your inability to do anything about it makes it all worse?
I know this isn’t the end of the world—know I have been so ridiculously, abundantly blessed with all I need to survive: food, shelter, family, friends—but here I am.
What do you do when you realize how immature it is to consider your employment your most defining feature? What do you do when, even though you’ve recognized that, you can’t get rid of the worry that people won’t like you because your nerves are completely shot due to the chaos that has been your work history for the past two years?
As grateful as I am for my temp job (it has been renewed and shuffled around more times than I’d ever expected, and each time I remind myself it is a provision, it is work, it is helpful)—how do you talk honestly about the emotional turmoil such a small thing has catalyzed without subjecting everyone around you to another storm of tears or pointless repetitions?
There are only so many times you can say I’m so tired and No, I haven’t found anything yet without sounding like a broken record.
How do you reconcile what you know is irrational fear with the logic that the world is large—so, so large—and you are small—so, so small—and still recognize that however illogical, however ridiculous, however belittling, however overwhelming and embarrassing and over the top they may be, your feelings are still valid.
(Honestly, I don’t really know. I’ve been through a slew of days like that, but I still haven’t figured out how to talk coherently about the emotional mess this period of my life invokes.)
There are days when I feel lonely even if I’ve spent good times with friends, days when I feel like nobody understands me, nobody gets it, nobody sees what I’m going through—days when I make my own struggles ultimate instead of part of the process.
I think that’s part of the deal. There’s a reason these past few years have been full of tears: pushing away murky emotions and marking them as unnecessary (as I have tended to do for all the ones that didn’t make sense) tends to have bad side effects. For me, those usually manifest as emotional breakdowns at inconvenient moments, like in the middle of a church service or at a friend’s house party or a conversation with someone I haven’t seen in a while.
Sometimes I think I’m turning into a running gag on a sitcom. Where’s Connor? Oh, she’s trying to find a tissue or five. Someone quoted Lord of the Rings and she burst into tears. Oh, Connor, what’s wrong? Oh, I’m fine! Somebody just asked me how I was and I started weeping. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I don’t want to be flippant when I answer those questions. I don’t want to avoid a truthful answer simply because it’s messy and leaves me vulnerable.
I also don’t want to cry every time somebody talks to me about what is, honestly, a small part of my life.
Avoiding the problem is never the answer. Pushing problems away makes them snowball into overwhelming forces that leave me in tears. And tears, as Blue Sargent told her mom, don’t become us. What does become us, Maura asks?
We can’t get through life alone: not on our own wisdom, not on our own strength, not on our own resources. We are, after all, human. Part of what that means is learning to lean on the strength (and wisdom, and resources, and patience, and forgiveness) of others.
I can’t make my own butterflies, but I’ve gotten better at finding the real ones. I’m learning to ask for help when I can’t do it on my own. I’m learning to point them out to others.
After all, this is a year of anticipation. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I hope it’s a good next. And if it’s not, well—with a heart for any fate.
I’ll just have to figure out the next one after that, too. Or even the one after that.
Maybe you’ll help me.