Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Halfway to Home

Haven't found the pot of gold, but it seems like a good sign.

Haven’t found the pot of gold, but it seems like a good sign.

I have been here for 18 days. I am well past the halfway mark of my retreat into the quiet and the writing.

I’ve never done this before. I have never gone somewhere and just stayed. Growing up we rarely took a family vacation that involved going to one place and just staying. We drove. We woke up in the morning, found breakfast and got on the road to the next spot. Sometimes we lucked out and found a random quaint town on the back roads in Wisconsin or New Mexico. Sometimes we found a Motel 6.

As an adult, same rules apply. My stays usually last about a long weekend at best. Usually that’s because the money runs out or the couch-surfing is only available for short stays. When I was in Ireland last, five years ago, I was here for something like three weeks and I didn’t stay in any town more than two nights. I managed to do a complete ring around the island, even making my way to the far-reaches of the Dingle Peninsula and the Aran Islands and the Antrim Coast.

This time, I’ve stayed put. I visited friends in Wexford and made a side trip to the Glencree Peace Retreat Center-that’s a whole different story. I slept in Bray. I staggered my departure time to make sure I didn’t hit Dublin commuter traffic. And when I finally made it past the tolls and back into the rolling hills I felt relief. Back to my cozy cottage, my laptop, my notebooks, the kitties, the fire.

I was talking to Mr. B last night on FaceTime (thank goodness for FaceTime) and I found my mood shifting drastically into tears. I spouted worries about money, holiday gifts, and obligations at home. When it really came down to it, though, I wasn’t crying about those things, because I’m not really worried about those things.

I’m sad to go home.

These 18 days have been perfect. I slowly unwound into this space, walked, read, ate bread and butter and walked some more (and ate more bread and butter—low-carb can go to hell). And then when I finally sat down, words started happening. Not even close to the way I thought they would, not on any of the projects I’d brought with me ready to tackle. But they came from deep recesses of my brain. They are scribbled on paper all over the cottage, the car, my phone, my purse. When they get stopped up, I take another walk, read another story, eat some more brown bread slathered in butter and jam.

Mr. B wrote me later and said “this isn’t a month long trip to Ireland to write but a trip to see if this life suited you.”

It suits me. I’m crying because while this is so great, I know I have to go home and make this happen there and I don’t know how.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

Here in the Quiet

IMG_2579People are generally surprised that I’m an introvert. And, realistically, if it’s all on a spectrum, I’m probably just a few hairs over the line into the land of the Introvert. After all around people I know, small groups preferably, I am definitely not shy. I frequently have an opinion and feel compelled to share it. Mainly because I see some sort of injustice or underdog that needs defending and if there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s seeing a dog knocked around. By and large, I am deeply driven by relationships.

But then there is my overwhelm button which gets tripped when I’ve said too much, been around too many or listened too long. Then it feels like I’m hyper-sensitive–more anxious, irritable, indecisive, emotional. Sometimes I feel a bad cold coming on. I don’t think its psychosomatic, exactly, it’s just my body responding to what my brain can’t handle.

Pre-dawn breakfast, 7:45 AM

My previous job was so very, very about relationships and listening–to students, staff, partners. This was no doubt the reason I loved it. Also, it was very easy to slip into the land of overwhelm.

I decided months and months ago, before I decided to leave my job, to take a month away from everything and retreat into writing. I wanted to see what I could produce if all of my energy was focused there. I wondered what it would be like to not have to cram my writing into a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon and then to be discouraged when I couldn’t get enough done. What if theI had all the time in the world to just do this one thing? I wanted to return to Ireland to work on a particular project, and besides, it’s a place I love that I’ve visited before.

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The stroll up the hill.

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Mists and green and sunrising.

I am here now. The project has shifted, but the goals are the same. All the things I was most anxious about before I left–the driving on the left, the hidden costs of everything, getting lost in this very, very rural part of the world, not writing–have been dealt with. I made it, I found snacks and I figured out how to light a fire with peat (it is NOT like a wood fire, folks). I slept something like 12 hours and my jetlag is pretty minimal.

IMG_2548I feel great. I have not spoken to a soul (other than a quick FaceTime call to Mr. B to let him know I was alive). I don’t have a television and wifi is a little on the spotty side so I haven’t bothered to try Netflix. I haven’t listened to music or podcasts.

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Thank goodness for dry feet.

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I can’t bring myself to interrupt this quiet.

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I went for a couple hour stroll this morning to explore my corner of the world. I met several chatty mutts and some less chatty horses. I clambered through a bog to the top of a magnificent hill and talked to myself the whole time. I am not sure what I said in my head and what I actually uttered in sounds. It doesn’t matter.

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This quiet, it’s delicious. I am savoring it. And I feel myself slowly unwinding.

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Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey

How to Quit the Job You Love

I am in my mid-thirties. I have a mortgage, student loans and credit card debt. I do not have the oft-advised 3-6 months salary socked away in a savings account. I am pretty sure I don’t have any sort of retirement account. My husband and I sometime talk about having a family. And I quit the job I love.

You’re reading this thinking “That bad? Really?” The truth is, I love LOVE what I do for a living. I am a mentor to low-income high school students who are long on potential and short on opportunity. Over the last several years I have developed relationships with dozens of bright, thoughtful, hilarious, driven students. They are the single greatest reason I go to work everyday. Their altruistic hearts, their deep curiosity for the world and what lies ahead, their willingness to crack open and share their deepest thoughts with me—it’s been one of the greatest gifts of my professional life. I watched these young people walk across the graduation stage this June—many who weren’t sure if they would—and I have not felt that sense of soaring pride, for either of my degrees.

I gave my whole heart to my job. I worked—sometimes happily and sometimes petulantly—way more than 40 hours a week. When the alarm went off each morning, I reached for my magic iPhone and checked my email. I made to-do lists on my 45-minute commute on the bus. I walked the dog and contemplated how we could be more inclusive in our messaging. I prattled on about our strategic outcomes while I chopped vegetables for dinner. I struggled with burnout. In my performance reviews often the constructive feedback I received was about how to find more balance, how to take care of myself better.

I am a writer—that feels funny to say. But it’s true; I’ve been a writer for decades now. I’ve studied it in college, I’ve built my writing life in evenings and weekends, found writer friend and taken classes. In the last year though, as I continued to tinker away at night and on Sunday afternoons, something began to happen. The more I wrote, the more energy I had for the rest of my life. I felt alive, electric. It was like being on drugs—every sense was more attune to the world around me. I felt on top of the world.

It was as though I’d found the antidote, the special pixie dust that was going to continue to fuel my work at my job. Clearly the recipe wasn’t quite right—I was exhausted by staying up late writing and going to work as usual. My friendships were suffering, my husband was picking up a lot of slack and I wasn’t doing my waistline any favors either. I wanted more of all of this—more time, lord what I could do with more time! I’d still get that electricity coursing through my veins as I clacked away on my stories and essays and it would stoke this fire I had at work. I’d be more inspired, more driven…

I’d hoped maybe I could do both. I was sure I could make it work—that I could find the balance between work and writing. I didn’t know how much it meant to me until I learned that this wasn’t possible. That the organization I worked for didn’t have the systems and structure to support me having more time away from the office. I was devastated.

That sounds melodramatic, it does, I know. But I felt ripped in half, as though I had to choose between two things I loved and felt so deeply committed to. I felt as though I was at a fork in the road—I could either choose the life I’d already created for myself, or I could create a new one.

There are so many people who are fulfilled by the work they do all day. And there are a lot more that don’t really care if they are fulfilled or not, as long as they have a paycheck that affords them the lifestyle they want. I wanted so SO desperately to be one of those people.

I supplement my happiness by driving hard for the next promotion, the next raise, the perfect performance review. And when that doesn’t work, I supplement by taking trips, buying new boots, splurging on special dinners, the extra glass of wine. I train for races, I grit my teeth and do more pushups.

In short, I spend most of my life either working or trying to recover from working. I’m a hamster on a wheel. No matter how much you believe in what you do, if it isn’t fulfilling a majority of the time, it’s still the rat race. And to what end?

Every time I write it’s a battle. I pace and curse and growl and wonder why the fuck I do this to myself, why do I continue to put myself through this wringer of staring utter failure in the face. Every time I sit down to write it’s either exhilarating or gut wrenching. And I’d rather be completely empty some of the time and know that there are other times that I’ll feel complete, full.

I’m willing to sacrifice my paycheck, the weekend trips, the extra glass of wine for that sense of electricity, the feeling that every sense is on high alert, for the feeling that causes the hair on my arms to stand up.

These students, though. They inspire me. For years I’ve coached and listened and nudged them into taking great risks and I’ve witnessed astonishing rewards. They take these incredible leaps, these huge risks to be the first in their families to go to leave home and go to college. They often are facing utter failure and they stare it bravely in the face and sally forth. Who would I be if I looked at the fork in the road and chose the path that led to mediocre?

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