About a year ago, my mom sent me a Hemingway quote on Instagram:
you are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.
But more on that in a minute. It’s only partially related to what I have to say.
Hello, old friend. It’s been a while. I haven’t blogged properly in months, actually, and it feels strange to be sitting here typing what seems like my age old story… which, honestly, is an overly dramatic way of saying “Hi! I turn 25 tomorrow and I’m unemployed again!”
But this isn’t a story about how I got fired (although I’m happy to talk to you about it if you want to know; this isn’t the space for such things). This isn’t even really a story about being unemployed–or at least, that’s not all it is.
For those of you who don’t know, I went to a Quaker high school. Quakers, in case you don’t live in a city founded by them, believe in that of God in everyone. A light, if you will. Now, I don’t entirely agree with that belief, but it’s a good metaphor for what I’m trying to say, so we’re going to roll with it for now.
I’m not very good at seeing my own light.
No, perhaps that’s not exactly what I mean. Perhaps it is better to say I know what I think of myself, mostly, but I don’t know what others think of me–or rather, I don’t know how what I do and think translates to what other people perceive and experience.
This is pretty normal. I am, after all, only human, not telepathic.
you are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering, mother told me, and I wondered at that because I am many things but I am not particularly brave or particularly quiet.
As you may recall (or, more probably, don’t), I spent the summer of 2015 unemployed, too. I refer to that rather dramatically as The Summer of Unemployment, and I don’t talk about it much because it was a hugely messy spiral of depression and anxiety that left me crying on my bed and rereading Tamora Pierce books more times than I care to admit. Now, it’s only mid-June of 2017–I have high hopes for this summer!–but I must admit that this feels like somewhere I’ve already visited.
I don’t know if history repeats itself, but it definitely echoes. It rhymes. It turns like a spiral, slowly weaving around on itself and right now, it feels, here I am again–again, again, again.
I decided yesterday that being unemployed is a lot like what my friends tell me about their online dating experiences. It’s a constant cycle that depends on who you know, then on putting your best foot forward (your best resume, your best dating profile, your best self), being told you’re not enough, or not what someone’s looking for or someone’s decided to go in another direction or, you know, hearing nothing–at all, ever–and putting yourself out there again.
(and again, and again, and again.)
It’s easy to forget you’re more than your resume (or dating profile) if this is what you’re being fed: rejection, no feedback, more rejection, no interview or date. And when this isn’t your first (or even second) time on that particular path, it feels less like a road to success with bumps along the way than an obstacle course you’re racing through in the dark.
And so, dear reader, this is where I stand. I know I am more than the sum of my actions–more than that, I believe I am more than my resume and cover letter. Still, I don’t always feel like I’m more than that ever-growing pile of rejection e-mails. Maybe the first time I escaped this was a fluke. Maybe I won’t get that lucky again. And, since it didn’t stick the first time, can I even say I got lucky the last time? Can I? That feels self-defeatist from any angle.
You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.
We have already acknowledged the elephant in the room–I am neither particularly brave nor particularly quiet–but there is something about unemployment that shuts me down. I never like to magnify my own struggles, anyway–they feel too lowly compared to what I know some of my friends go through, and even though I try not to live by comparison, I often find it difficult to talk about what I’m thinking and feeling if I think (and feel) that my friends are already too burdened to take on some of my load.
Which is, you’re probably telling me, a load of baloney (not to mention egotistic–who gave me the right to decide they’re too stressed?!). These are my friends, my siblings, my parents: they love me, they want to know how I’m doing, they want to hear how miserable or hopeful I feel. When I’m in their shoes, I want to hear what they’re going through. How can I deny them the same respect? The same opportunity to care?
You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.
But writing makes things easier. If I’m writing it, I can maybe get through the whole story as it stands without crying. I can draw in the other stories I want to tell without seeming too scattered and chaotic.
A few weeks ago, my church had a women’s retreat. Part of this meant breaking up into small groups to discuss what we were learning from the speaker, what we were thinking about it, how it related to our lives. During one of these small group sessions, one of my friends said she feels like she has all this potential and she’s just wasting it. (Which, let me tell you: same.) All she sees is all the time and talent and education she’s been privileged enough to have, but nothing coming from it. (Again: same.)
But even as she sat there and said this, another friend in the group leaned forward and said how much that breaks her heart, because all she can see is how incredible this woman works and serves with all of her heart, putting herself out there to provide help and advice and time again and again and again. All this friend sees when she looks at our friend’s life is use of all that potential.
She can’t see it herself, but to the rest of us? Yeah. No wasted potential there.
I got a birthday card from one of my best friends yesterday. It was both heartfelt and humorous, my favorite combination of all things written, but here is what the heartfelt portion said: You are so strong. I know it’s hard to feel that right now, but I see it plain as day.
I can’t see that. Usually my self-assessments are like my other friend: a waste of potential and education. Floppy, useless, or entirely lacking sense of purpose. Not too strong, not too capable, and not nearly as funny as she thinks she is.
On that same retreat, another friend shared with the larger group of us about her own life. She said that the histories we choose to write show everything about us: our biases, our values, our beliefs. We can be choosing from the same pool of facts and tell completely different stories depending on which ones we decide are relevant and important.
Unemployment is only one of the facts of my life right now.
Here is another fact, much easier to forget: there is so much more to this life than a job. Yes, working is important. It is, I think, extremely important, not just because it can help with sense of purpose or financial independence and stability (both of which I pretty much lack at the moment), but because I believe humans need to work. There’s a dignity that comes with it and it is good to have a job and it is good to work.
But there is so much more to life than any one job (or lack thereof), and there is so much more to identity than employment (or lack thereof), and that is not the only place where my story stands. I’ve been there, and I’ve defined myself by that, and it sucks. Talk about an alternative fact! And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have space in my life for alternative facts any more, so have another fact about my life these last few months.
When people who know me pretty well ask how I’m doing these days, they follow up any employment-related questions with another one: are you writing?
As it happens, I am. I’m writing rather a lot, actually.
A few months ago, Basia and I started a project. Not a blog this time, our usual modus operandi–something different. Something novel. No, literally: we’re writing a novel (I’ll show myself out). We wrote four chapters in January, scrapped most of them, and relaunched the project in February after we’d done some more outlining. As it stands, we have 13 of about 16 chapters written, which translates to about 118 pages (or just over 71,500 words). The novel is a murder mystery set in Philly with a few magical/paranormal elements. Basia actually wrote a short story about one of our protagonists for her birthday last week, which you can find here. Writing about Parker and Winthrop, our two leading ladies, has been an absolute delight and we are thrilled to be working on their story.
So even when I feel like a failure–which happens pretty much as regularly as I check my e-mail… I don’t have to leave it at that.
It takes a while for my head and my heart to sync up. I am many things–daughter, sister, writer, friend–but those organs (or at least the metaphysical idea of them) are never quite on the same page at the same time. Luckily for me, emotions aren’t facts. They change. They mutate. They move around and flip upside down and generally make everything chaotic, but they aren’t facts. They don’t get to define my story as it stands.
Emotions are part of my story, but they are not my entire story. I can feel like a train wreck of a person until I read something like my friend’s card or remember the time one of my writing professors told me I was good at critique (which, in case you were curious, is probably the best compliment I’ve ever received? I know, I’m a nerd). I literally have a folder of nice things people have sent me saved on my computer and my google drive for when I really, really need a pick me up because that’s the sort of person I am.
But, as with any story, it’s all in how you frame it.
I’m allowed to feel like a failure. That’s okay. It isn’t true, but it’s still valid to feel that way. I can’t just trick myself out of feeling like a failure (although writing Parker & Winthrop has helped tremendously with helping that feeling pass more quickly). Just because how I feel is real, that doesn’t make it true. It’s like in Legally Blonde: The Musical when Elle tells Warner “Not serious enough? But I am seriously in love with you!” and then goes on to make the best decision of her life (albeit for questionable reasons).
There is tremendous difference between True and Good and Real. There are nuances a thousand shades of color between them, a veritable rainbow of identity and idea, and I am still an amateur when it comes to identifying them.
We don’t always get to write the chapters of our own lives. If we could, I sure as heck wouldn’t be sitting here in Starbucks trolling job boards. We don’t get to choose all of our circumstances, or when they change, or even if they change. Life is so much bigger than my problems and yours.
We don’t get to choose the chapters of our lives, but we do get to choose how we see the story. So do I choose these facts: very-almost-nearly 25; lives with her parents; currently unemployed–
Or will I choose to believe the others are important, too? Writer, with almost a full first draft of a novel that didn’t exist a few months ago. Friend, who is finally slowly realizing that she has to reach out to let others reach in to her life. Messy human being, who loves lemonade and tea just a little too much and probably owns too many books but likes to laugh and watch movies and bake desserts for her friends and maybe, just maybe, can be content with where she is even as she tries to move her life along.
It is easy to get stuck in my own pride–or my own independence, really, more than pride. As a pastor’s kid, you get used to occasionally being in sermons… the story I think my dad has shared the most about me was when I was three, sitting in a carseat in the back, waving a wand and proclaiming myself to be Queen of the World! (just kidding, Daddy, I said as he turned around to face me.)
I like to do things by myself. I can’t always do things by myself.
Sometimes, it turns out, and quite often more than I probably should, I spend too long offering help. Sometimes, it turns out, and quite often more than I ever do, I need to ask for help myself, too. Sometimes, it turns out, and quite definitely more than I care to acknowledge, my fear and my pride hold me back more than any circumstances life could ever throw at me.
Sometimes, I think, it’s good that I can’t always see my own light. It reminds me to listen to others who can.
So this is what is true: I am almost 25. I am unemployed. I live with my parents. I don’t know exactly where I’m going next or what my next job will be.
I am, in fact, more than a bit of a mess, but this is what is real: I am not a failure.
And this is what is good: where my story stands is not, ultimately, what really matters.
Where my story stands is not where my story ends. Stories change. Circumstances change. And I am surrounded by people who love me, who pray for me, who hope for me, who remind me that it is good to make use of the talents I’ve been given in the time that I have; who remind me that I don’t have to be passive. I don’t have to live as if this is how things always will be.
I don’t have to wait for life to change. It’ll change when it changes. My life isn’t going to start because of my circumstances. There are things I am doing now that will hopefully grow into bigger things: this novel, the re-launch of W(REC)’D that Basia and I have planned, another idea I have that I’m not quite ready to share with the world yet.
The world isn’t going to sit around waiting on me, but as often as I forget it? I don’t actually want it to. Honestly, how boring would that be? Jumping only when you’re told to jump? As you are often reminded, it’s not an adventure if everything goes right–and I happen to love a good adventure.
So here’s to you, 25: I hope I keep you busy. I hope I keep you writing. I hope I keep you aware that you are gifted with more than enough second chances, with more than enough resources, and with a hell of a lot more creativity than you even know what to do with.
Forget waiting, I’m telling myself today. If you aren’t where you want to be, write your way out.