Do what you want

I stopped working at the corporate job in August. All of what follows is true, and I might have hated the writer of this post if I had read it a few years ago. I have become one of those women whose lives I envied. See my last post for reference. Or this post for more context.

I’ve had a cold for a week; my nose is chapped from blowing. I didn’t run at all in December, so when I tried to run again last I was almost back to ground zero. I only have about 100 pages of my novel, and some of that includes re-writes of two previous short stories. I’ve written other things, but nothing that is in a publishable state yet. I have received nothing but rejections from the work I’ve sent out in the past six months.

Last week I made vegetable stock from Deborah Madison‘s recipe in my pressure cooker and hummus from Food52’s recipe. I am working with various recipes in order to shift our family to consuming only homemade bread.

I make my son’s breakfast — usually just a scrambled egg sandwich and chocolate milk — most mornings and have coffee with my husband until he leaves for work around 9.

I write this occasional blog, cook, and work on the novel. I am sponsoring a literary magazine at my kid’s school, and I read fiction, cookbooks, the NY Times, The Sun, whatever crosses my path.

I’ve taken a nap in the afternoon at least three times since August, and the naps have been lovely. Sometimes I take a bath in the middle of the day. I am more amorous than I used to be.

I am the happiest I have ever been.

I still get frustrated, angry, sad, even despairing. Happiness is not, after all, a state of permanent euphoria.

All the things I told myself, read articles about, had other people tell me — love the life you have, create a space for things that matter (usually around the edges of the things you have to do), happiness comes only from within, “following your bliss” is an elitist pipe dream, “do what you love” is pablum embroidered on a pillow — that was a bunch of bullshit. Sure, if you hate your spouse and your kids are assholes and you don’t have anything you would rather be doing, quitting your job probably isn’t going to help your perspective much.

I know lots of people who are good at their jobs at the corporation where I worked and are happy there. If they are inclined to seek other options, they would likely seek similar opportunities. But I was was one of the other several people I knew who were good at their jobs but who chafed against that particular corporate environment, people who dreamed of something different.

As I’ve said so many times in this blog, I love the silence space of my own home. The sound of my fingers on the keyboard, a solitary sandwich in the kitchen, forcing myself to work through a dead end scene, shutting down around 5 to think about dinner. This, for me, is heaven. A gift that I protect.

This feeling was reinforced recently when I did a freelance gig facilitating a leadership workshop for a group of plastics manufacturing plant supervisors near Atlanta. I liked talking to the plant supervisors and walking them through basic but real conflict management exercises, but when I accompanied them to other parts of their training at the home office (sitting in rooms with heads of marketing or finance reviewing PowerPoints), I felt suffocated and anxious to leave. I felt the wasted minutes ticking away, stealing the worktime that I felt like I had already wasted 19 years of. Yes, the pay was nice, but those choices suck the life from what I could be doing, even if what I could be doing is making caramels, or reading Mary Oliver, or writing a sentimental poem for a friend.

I suffer, I think, from a mild form of some sort of corporate PTSD. Now, when I look at my calendar and the day stretches blank ahead of me, I experience a quiet joy. If I have scheduled lunch, or my son’s game to attend later in the evening, that’s all fine too — something to do, not something to fit in.

I read an article from Donald Hall in which he quoted advice given to him by Henry Moore upon being asked to share the secret of life. Henry Moore reportedly said, “To do what you want to do.” Another Donald Hall article talks about solitude and the life he shared with his wives and various lovers. For Hall, doing what you  want and solitude are inextricably linked. Linked, perhaps, for many of us who wrestle words. As I read more poetry, reluctant interviews, essays, and other sorts of artistic non-fiction (as well as fiction), I see the army of artists reveling in quiet, in retreat, in solitude.

The day I realized I loved Monday mornings, the Sunday afternoon I smiled to myself remembering that the next day I would be alone in a quiet house, I knew I made the right choice. Yes, after a while I will definitely need to produce income or we will need to move to a much smaller quiet house, but yes, it will definitely be worth it.

Would I love this life as much if I had always had it? Or if I had grown directly into it after having small kids who needed my attention? Will I love it if the electricity gets shut off because we can’t afford my lack of income?

I don’t know, I really do not.

I know I relish it now.


One thought on “Do what you want

  1. Thank you for a wonderful post! I agree with you that we should do what we want, and I am very lucky that I am able to work with both of my passions: teaching English Literature and writing novels.


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