My office is windowless and it has a broken air vent that creates a violent force field of air that can shatter even a thick stack of papers. The door is thick, a slab or steel with chipping paint and its propped open by an upholstered chair, a paisley print that only a grandmother could love.
I rarely close it, but yesterday, the pinwheels made me cry.
To be fair, I woke with a bad attitude and days that begin with negativity are magnets for broken copy machines, circular references in spreadsheets, and clogged toilets; yesterday was no exception. From the moment I parked my compact car in a space the size of a Vespa, there was tension in my neck. I idled in the car for eight minutes and three seconds, long enough to hear “Ride into the Sun (demo)” and “Ocean (outtake).”
I was waiting for something that I didn’t recognize at first. What I wanted was a reason to pull out of the space ever so carefully as not to scratch my boss’ BMW, but there was nothing; no reason to stay, yet no reason to go, either.
The worst part of even a good morning is the trip up to my office in an elevator with reflective walls, a 360-degree mirror of shame. As the elevator ascends, the harsh lighting makes every wrinkle, every roll, every unkempt hair apparent in a way that regular mirrors cannot, and each day begins with the lasting memory of my flaws as I listen to my heels click and slip on the tile floor as I try to sneak into my office before anyone notices that I’m nearly twenty minutes late.
In the evening, I take the stairs.
There are days when I love my job. After all, I spent six years gathering four degrees and convincing myself that this is what I was born to do, in a voice so convincing that I often believe it. But when I say it’s “my calling” it also has an asterisk.
My day job is what I was “born to do” only because it’s the career that I picked because we all have to do something for a living. I do find it interesting and, at times worthwhile, but there is nothing that I bring to this field that anyone with a similar education couldn’t. In fact, as I’m made aware regularly, there are probably people with less education and determination who skate their way in through luck or nepotism. Still, of all of the careers in the world, this is the one I’ve chosen, and while I would never say I regret the decision, it was a decision bred by the pressures of being a conforming corporate America cog; the type of decision that may fulfill Young Republicans, but not ones like me that make the leap instead of trusting the instincts of more creative pursuits.
The paralysis of spending money—in undergrad, my parent’s money—to get a Liberal Arts degree which might mean managing a Cinnabon in a strip mall or spending an eternity of refolding chinos for entitled yacht-kids at GAP was my Scared Straight moment in choosing a future. I wanted to go to culinary school, I wanted to be a journalist, and I wanted to write novels, but the bitter truth is that I grew up in the wealthy middle class, a life of country clubs and sprawling suburban houses with walkout basements that backed up to man-made ponds. On the other side of the pond were neighbors like Bunny and Stanley, who continually inherited money as their rich relatives passed away.
I’ve never had the desire to replicate that existence—I ran from the suburbs for a reason—but I did trade the dream of the white picket fence for a condo in a mid-rise apartment in a neighborhood with good schools, Michelin-star restaurants, and weekend trips to warm climates. I had it all for a time, but following a breakup in which I went from the financial flexibility of a dual-income that afforded biannual trips to Napa and nightly trips to restaurants to an under-educated (and single) early 20’s female in a broken economy. In a quest to avoid a life of constantly paying overdraft fees, I binged on education and signed up for 60 hours a week for the rest of eternity a decision I try to justify to others who say, “you should be writing”, but mostly to myself. The financial security, in theory, was supposed to be a substitute for imprinting the world with beauty and art, but since I earned my degrees faster than the economy righted itself, I’ve spent years in purgatory, waiting for the opportunity that makes it all seem worth it.
But, that opportunity doesn’t exist now. I spend most days in a straitjacket wanting to love the work I do but continually frustrated by the fact that I’m not a bigger contributor. While some lack ambition, I feel confined by the fact that my ideas can’t always be heard and my instincts can’t be acted upon. There are intricate models that exist within my mind that are silenced by a narrow scope of work. There are days where I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough, days where I feel like promotions and happy days are imminent. Then there are days like yesterday, where my soup got cold because I was too busy writing down the thoughts and directives of minds and salaries much greater than mine when I realize that work is not what I want it to be.
Those are the days where my mind comes back to unfulfilled passion; those are the days where I punch bathroom walls out of anger about my station in life. Those are days when I check my bank account and wonder if it’s all worth it.
Last night, my mother reminded me that I’m a writer. I always knew that I was a writer, but sometimes it takes someone other than an editor to remind you of that. When I told her of my frustration, she didn’t silence me with a platitude of “Corporate America Needs You!” as I expected. She simply said, “you’re a writer; you’ve always been a writer.” And she was right, though now I have a couple of three-letter business titles affixed to my name that might suggest otherwise. But those are letters of fear, a reminder that I am paralyzed and petrified at the prospect of failure.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I never know what to respond. Do I tell them what pays the bills, or do I tell them what fulfills me, what defines me? Usually, I say both, then I mumbled, “but my heart is writing full-time.”
It’s sad to tell strangers how you’ve chosen to live within the prescribed boxes, a slave to convention and cable bills. I spend five nights a week tethered to a laptop living out my passion, but I can’t make the leap to full-time because I’ve achieved solitude without a safety net. I saw people on Twitter recently discussing how to become a freelancer, and the harsh truth that so many echoed was, “marry someone with money.” For me, there are no dual incomes, there is no one to lend me extra money when the rent is due, and there’s certainly too much pride to ask for it in the first place. There’s also a layer of vanity, manifested inexpensive haircuts, designer glasses, and a slight shoe fetish which make it all seem unreasonable. Though I could temper my own vices for a chance at something greater, there’s a realistic fear that I won’t be able to buy groceries, visit my niece, or afford to fix a flat tire. Then there’s the complication of health insurance, 401(k)s, and chasing down checks that always seem to get delayed for freelancers.
But, I think about it constantly. I lose sleep over it. It nags me when I wake up six after writing until three, and it calms me as I spend weekends at coffee shops outlining a novel instead of spending it with friends. I keep grinding about baseball because it’s a passion, but it’s my hopeful point of entry to the world of words forever. Perhaps I’ve romanticized it to the point where if it were my livelihood I’d come to resent it, but I don’t think it’s possible. There’s an unbridled passion for writing that I don’t have about anything in my life…not work, not people, not even hypotheticals. The longing for writing and quality time to do it is creating a cycle of self-resentment that forces me to ask myself ad nauseum, “What the hell are you waiting for?”
Mostly, I’ve been skating along hoping that a path would choose me. Maybe I’d find the right freelance opportunity that could bring a big enough check; maybe I’d get more accomplished on the book and get an advance. Perhaps I’d meet someone who could give me the confidence and stability that we could make the leap together. I’ve thought it for over a year now, but usually silently for fear that if I actually said that I’d rather be doing this full time out loud that people, myself included, would judge me if it never comes true.
After an incredibly rough afternoon of feeling underappreciated, inferior, and aesthetically exposed by the damn elevator, I returned to my desk defeated. I clicked a link to take a look at a work of art that took countless hours of work and even years of planning. In someone else’s dedication and commitment, I felt a lot of personal sadness for unrealized potential.