July 25, 2010
I realized the other day that it has been six months since I was laid off from my job as a newspaper reporter. Six months since one of my greatest fears came true. It already feels like an eternity ago that I was walking out of the newsroom with 11 years worth of detritus in a cardboard box, blinking back tears and wondering what was next. I had thought newspaper work was my life’s calling. I was once the promising young reporter who was going places, on the way up, winning awards and thinking the future was boundless. And then, there I was, signing up for unemployment.
I used to think that, without my newspaper job, I would dry up and blow away. I would have no career, no identity, no circle of people who understood the world the way I did. Since college, virtually all my friends, all my boyfriends (including the one who became my husband), were newspaper people. I thought that I couldn’t do anything else, that I could never find another way to earn a paycheck. I thought that if I lost my job, I would be poor, I would lose my house, I would lose myself.
Six months later, to my surprise, I have discovered that I can find another way to earn a paycheck. For nearly two years before I was pushed out the door, I searched for work and was rejected by one potential employer after another. I felt like a rat on a sinking ship, searching in vain for an exit. I was terrified and desperate. But after being laid off, I opened myself to the full range of possibilities. I started working on this website. I thought about the many different kinds of writing I could do. I thought about all the ways I could earn money — and all the ways I could save it, so I wouldn’t have to work as much. I considered part-time and contract work for the first time. And most importantly, with the security of my severance package and my unemployment benefits, I refused to make decisions based on fear.
In that new clearing I had made — away from the nightmare scenarios that played in my head as the news business spiraled downward — opportunity rose up to meet me. I am now learning the world of non-profits, working for causes I believe in and making enough money to pay my bills. I am also spending a lot more time with my 4-year-old daughter. Most days, that is a wonderful gift. Now, I see that the scariest thing is not losing your job, it’s having to stay in one that makes you miserable. I will do anything it takes not to get stuck in another job that saps my spirit the way newspapers did in those last years.
I cannot claim my new work life is perfect. I am starting over, learning a new field from the ground up. It is a challenge, a privilege and a great experience. But many days I feel completely incompetent. Sometimes I miss working in newspapers because, at least there, I knew what I was doing. I miss having a job that I felt confident in. And the future is far from certain. The work I have now may or may not continue. I remember my old performance reviews used to say, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The answer to that question now is, “I haven’t the slightest idea.” That is exciting and frightening at once.
But the biggest and most important lesson I have learned in the past six months is that, with or without a newspaper job, I am still a whole and solid person. I used to think of the ranks of the laid-off as sort of shadowy, bereft. They were the ones cast off the island. But I don’t feel that way at all. I feel as alive and vibrant as I ever have, more full of a sense of possibility, more confident that I can survive in this big, scary world. I feel like I have finally made it to shore after far too long on a shrinking island.
This weekend, I sat on the beach and watched the evening light glowing in the dune grass. Amelia filled buckets in the surf as I sipped a cold beer. I thought about all those years of fearing that I would be forced out of the newsroom. My worst fear was realized, and I stepped outside and found this.
July 13, 2010
My creativity seems to have stalled out right around the time the temperature went up to unbearable and decided to stay there indefinitely. I have become one of those people who spends her days huddling in air conditioning, emerging only to go to the pool. I never wanted to be that person, who lets the heat and mosquitoes defeat her, who refuses her daughter’s requests to go to the park, who won’t sit on the porch, who goes everywhere with the car windows rolled up and the air conditioning blasting. But here I am, in my comfy comfy air conditioning.
What was I talking about? Oh, my creativity. Maybe it is outside on the porch, but there are way too many mosquitoes out there to reclaim it. So I think that, instead, I will declare this summer vacation. The kind of vacation I’m talking about doesn’t have anything to do with time off work or trips to the beach. God willing, this summer I will be working. This is a vacation from my worries. Just imagine setting down all of life’s baggage for a while — all the plans and the expectations, all the ambitions, all the striving, all the beating yourself up for what you haven’t done.
What if I took the summer off from worrying about whether I will be employed, or whether I will be able to afford health insurance, a year from now?
What if I took the summer off from worrying about where our economy and our country are headed?
What if I took the summer off from wondering whether I will succeed … on this blog, in my career, as a parent, as a human being?
What if I took the summer off from thinking about all the goals I haven’t achieved: learning Spanish, volunteering with refugees, writing a novel, flossing daily?
What if I took the summer off from hurrying, worrying that time is running out, that life is short, that I might miss out on something?
What if I took the summer off from thinking that I should be having more fun, from resenting the work and the chores and the lack of a maid and a beach house?
What if I spent this summer just getting up and living each day, taking each moment as it arises, and not wondering if I’m doing enough things or the right things or the ambitious things or the fun things?
I think I’m going to try it. I’ll let you know how it goes. Maybe I’ll spend some time consulting the master of living for the moment: