Ruby Fuss posted this quote from creative goddess Julia Cameron on Facebook tonight:
“It is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.”
It made me think of the lesson from Tony Robbins (and a million other self-help gurus) that we avoid doing something until the pain of not doing outweighs the pain of doing.
I’ve believed this my whole life. But right now it seems that whatever internal mechanism that’s responsible for that tipping point is in desperate need of repair.
I picture it like an ancient teeter-totter on the playground, rusted and busted up and I’m the little kid stuck at the very top, legs swinging wildly, pumping up and down but unable to upset the inertia.
Maybe it’s the transitions. I’ve never been good with transitions – I get all screwed up whether it’s just the seasons switching or a new parking space. And I’m in the middle of many hairy transitions.
Two months ago I quit my job of seven years. Huge, right? I mean, as far as transitions go. What used to be a decent day job that I felt pretty good about, and allowed me to pursue my dreams and playtimes outside of work morphed into some hideous creature that was making me physically sick. I moved into a new department with a new boss and it was a bad fit. I’ll chalk it up to Creative Differences. Namely that I’m too creative to be in that position and no matter how hard I tried to be quiet and simple and just do my job, nobody there was buying my act.
It’s amazing how other people’s perceptions of you, rife with their baggage and bullshit, can determine your very own future, independent of your actions and beliefs. It’s like once these guys got the idea in their head that I didn’t want to be there, nothing I did would sway their opinion.
And it was guys — 15 of them. And me. At first it felt fabulous to be freed from the estrogen-fueled drama of my previous department. But then the thing happened that always happens when I’m surrounded by men lacking in testicular fortitude: they got intimidated.
It’s not my rueful intellect or disarming good looks that trips them up. It’s my freakishly imposing height and my big mouth. Well, my mouth isn’t larger than average. It’s just the words coming out of it.
I don’t tolerate bullshit and I tend to answer questions honestly. This will blow your mind: people actually don’t want the real answers to the questions they ask! In reality there’s this whole scripted ritual that you’re supposed to adhere to. Problem is, nobody gave me the script. No wonder I kept missing my cues.
This is the third time the following description has been applied to me in a workplace setting: “East Coast and unapproachable.”
The first time was my first job out here on the soft coast, and was delivered during my first performance review. I told my friends, they thought it was funny, we laughed about it. We were going to get t-shirts made up that said “East Coast and unapproachable” across the front.
Then it happened again. And again.
It’s enough to make a girl want to run back to Boston where she belongs.
Honestly I was actively making peace with all this: especially the part where everybody but me thought I shouldn’t be an employee.
Cause I shouldn’t be an employee. I should have a business card like Mark Zuckerburg:
Mildly mindless office positions have been my staple since graduating with a journalism degree. They offered the perfect cover for a writer in witness protection.
I tried to talk very little about myself, my beliefs, what I did outside of work. Black Sheep can fit in relatively well assuming they’ve got a talented stylist.
At first it was just writing. I liked the jobs where I just had to sit and answer the phone, or be a receptionist. I could write during work then, too.
I think the conflict began as my business education continued, and I got serious about understanding smart ways to work, how to get results. t’s hard to be surrounded by people going about their business all the wrong way, dragging you into their bad decisions, sackless management, inept organizational skills. And then trying to improve stuff. Mostly to make my own job easier, but also because I want to help people.
I think the final straw with my most recent job was during the last Goal Setting exercise, where my boss made me write that I should
“align my goals with corporate objectives and seek buy-in from key stakeholders on the quality of my customer service to guarantee excellence.”
Writing those words, I died a little bit inside. And then I threw up in my mouth.
It was too much Corporate Bullshit Bingo, a game we used to play during teleconference meetings at the Dot Com where I worked after college. Before a big meeting someone would print out a dozen sheets and hand them out and we’d joyously toss down our penny marker every time we heard “on the same page”, “outside the box”, “key stakeholder,” or anything involving “excellence.” My personal addition was the abhorrent phrase “inpactful” which is just ass backwards.
But I was being forced to use these actual phrases – on purpose – to define the most important parts of what I should be doing all day.
The day my manager happily approved that version of my goals for the upcoming year I realized with a jolt that my days were numbered.
They’d always been numbered. I’d had an action plan going strong for awhile, but the numbers were more like 730 days. The rate we were going at goals time, it was looking more like 250 days.
In the end, the days were numbered 124.
Things wrapped up pretty quickly. I’d wanted a certain amount of funding stowed away so when I took my chance at running my own gig, I’d have rent covered and maybe some sacks of beans and rice from Costco. (I was ready to scale back to make my dream a reality.)
In the end, things got bad enough that I had to leave with enough provisions for about a week. Not exactly the 9 months I’d planned.
But sometimes a situation gets so bad that the pain of staying in it far outweighs the fear and insecurity of freeing yourself. (Huh — so it was just 2 months ago that my teeter totter appeared to be in working order.)
My boss called a meeting with HR five minutes before I was leaving on vacation for a much needed week of sunshine and fruit on the beach in Boca and laid out his Formal Warning and the Compulsory Excellence Action Plan I had to agree to in lieu of immediate termination. I told him I’d think about it, and got on my plane.
After a weekend of lolling in the sand with my sister, I sent an email telling him thanks for the offer but I quit. So this was my two week notice, one of them was me on vacation and the second was Fourth of July week. I mean, if you’re going to fuck up the one vacation I get this year, that’s what you get.
So there in Florida, I was suddenly free – suddenly floatly and disconnected and had made a very real decision that was going to affect the rest of my life in a big way.
I’m glad my sister was there because she made me type some sentence at the end of my email about being grateful for the opportunities I’d been provided yadda yadda which I was too furious to include myself. It made for an easier exit.
So presto! My 730 day plan was suddenly a 6 day plan and I was loading my one cardboard box into my car, amazed that seven years of working my ass off resulted in that tiny tote of insignificant items.
Because nothing is ever easy, the day after I quit my job while on vacation in Florida, the swollen and sore ankle that had been bothering me off and on for a few months suddenly burst into a fantastic array of colors and the center of my leg swelled to the size of a cantaloupe, ringed by bright red bursts of steamy infection crawling up my veins.
Ten years ago I broke my leg and they insert nickel hardware to hold the bones in place while they healed. Once the healing had begun, they realized I am allergic to metal, specifically nickel, and the wound just would not heal closed. The healing process and long and drawn out, and the hardware never felt quite settled in my leg.
Every once in awhile, years later, the old wound would break open and start oozing, like the bone was trying to expel the hardware. God knows what damage it was doing to me on the inside – well it turns out over the past year or two it had started to truly become a problem as the antibodies against this foreign object multiplied and grew stronger. Inflammation coursed throughout my body, to the point where they thought I had Lupus or some major rheumatic condition.
The ankle took on an infection and escalated its attack against itself with the force of a riptide in Boca, and I found myself in the emergency clinic in the middle of my vacation with a fever of 102 and an ass full of needles as they tried to bring the infection under control.
The infection spread systemically and I was brutally sick. Not the semi-sick I’d been since February when it first started acting up. I felt like I had the flu, all the time. The shakes, the sweats, exhausted, every joint in my body in pain. All sorts of fun.
The antibiotics I got at the clinic gave me a measure of peace as I felt my immune system reign itself in. But when I went to visit the orthopedic specialist upon my return from the vacation, he said he wanted to set up a surgery date to take the offending hardware out. Also, he would set me up on IV antibiotics for six weeks to clear the infection.
Not only was my freshly-free summer now getting the smack down, but I was going to have to shell out $650 a month for COBRA when my health care coverage ended at the end of the month. I know from the first time I had a similar surgery these things cost more than a four-year education at Harvard.
BUT if this meant I would finally feel better, not ravaged by this autoimmune storm going on in my organs, and not left hot and limpy with a steamy, infected limb, let’s get this shit over with.
My surgery was scheduled for the first week of August, which left me two full weeks of fevers and shaking sickness to lie around waiting. I guess it could have been worse – I could have been at work. Or even worse – not at work but supposing to be at work. One of the action items of concern on my Official Warning was the taking of sick days to attend to this unruly limb. My workplace was not a big fan of this particular leg, let me tell you.
So the surgery went successfully, I stayed in the hospital for half a week so they could get me started on the IV antibiotics and do this bone biopsy to see what flavor the infection was and target the beasties with the right drugs.
They sent me home with a PIC line, which is really gross – essentially a long tube that goes in your arm and along one of your blood vessels to your heart, used as a depository of antibiotics. So I didn’t have to sit hooked up to a drip bag for 6 weeks – just had to give myself these gargantuan doses once a night.
It was actually pretty scary at first and quite involved. I had a visiting nurse that came to help me. I’ve generally tried to avoid shooting things directly into my veins for most of my adult life, and I was hesitant to assume the habit now. But in the name of better health I injected glutinous yellow liquids that smelled like Mr. Clean into my heart using a giant needle.
Until the allergic reaction started. Of course I’m allergic to the hardware, allergic to the cure. Freaking antibiotics nearly killed me.
So on to a different kind, which had a more laborious administrative routine involving a 20 minute dispensary. Until the allergic reaction to that nearly killed me.
So now it’s on to oral antibiotics, and tear out the damn PIC line (I can shower finally!!!!). These pills are killing me as well, but much more slowly, offset by the pseudo-morphine they’ve given me, and hopefully I can combat the allergy long enough to finish the stupid run of pills in 2.5 more weeks and put this whole damn shitshow behind me.
Two weeks of non-weight bearing meant launching my heavily-drugged self up 4 flights of crooked, moss-covered stone steps outside my apartment on one shaky leg. Hence, I didn’t leave the apartment. I was Rapunzel at the top of her tower, unfurling my locks to entice groceries to mollify my seclusion in the Magnolia Treehouse.
Because I needed some sense of order and moving forward while trying to Transition from my previous life, I signed up for a comprehensive Business Start-up course. I’m currently in the second week. It’s a fabulous course and I’m very excited to be taking it. It’s taught online, so I don’t have to brave those gnarly steps unnecessarily.
The Business class homework has been about the most I’ve been able to accomplish, and it has been seriously taxing. I’m just all kaput. I feel unmoored and physically sick. I’m unsure of my forward path – or rather, I know what the path is I just doubt my ability to walk it.
The doubt is, of course, what’s got me stuck at the top of my proverbial teeter-totter. Cause the pain of inertia is overwhelming. But I’ve not managed to topple that terror over into action.
Until tonight. This paltry, winding, poorly-written blog post. On a blog that I once tended lovingly, several times a week, for years. It’s my digital version of hospice care. No – not hospice care. You don’t come out of hospice care. Convalescent care. Oh, fuckit. It’s a Bed & Breakfast with a killer detox wing and I’m setting up shop here.
I know the writing is bad, because I’m heavily medicated, because I’m totally out of practice. But these are words, and they’re in order, and I’m going to put them here.
I’m breaking the seal. Because I have to get that damn teeter-totter down in order to survive.
I cannot not create and live. I just can’t.
I’m reading this awesome book called Manage Your Day-to-Day by the folks at Behance. One of the essays totally hit home to me – I began to write out little parts of it and post them around my studio, which I affectionately call The Situation Room. Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project writes about Frequency, and how writing every day can help you overcome the many demons that transform themselves into writer’s block. Her suggestions and points struck me so deeply that they actually got me up off the couch tonight. Got me sitting here, doped up and packed in ice, to put words down.
And the scariest part is that I’m going to do it again tomorrow.
Because I truly believe if I can do this, it will push me out of the horrible, painful creative block I’ve surrendered myself to for the past few months.
I’m going to write a lot. I’m not going to edit at all. I just need the words to come out and play. They’re new friends, and I’m not going to make fun of their grammar or the way their mothers dress them when they’ve showed up to get me down from this freaking teeter-totter.
There’ll be plenty of time for proper editorial process later. And it’ll be all East Coast and Unapproachable.
I can’t wait.