The Change, The Standstill, and The Hibernating Optimist

365 days ago, I was in the middle of a huge change: I was in the midst of closing my business. It was an inevitability, this change. It had been at least a year in the making. I knew that I’d mourn the loss of my identity as a business owner, but I wouldn’t miss it enough to stay. I worked frantically to tie up as many loose ends as I could and closed up shop.

365 days ago, I had a plan in mind. I had ideas about where I was going to go with this new evolution of my career. I was so excited about what working with a team was going to mean, to me personally and professionally. I’d draw up these Big Ideas in a notebook and smile. There was so much potential here. Everything was magic again. It felt amazing.

As the days ticked down, on, forward, I watched those Big Ideas float away. They became someone else’s dreams. My patience wore through far more quickly than I anticipated it would. I had been at this web design thing for almost fifteen years at that point. I’d thought that working with a team would change how I feel about working on web projects. But it didn’t. Every day became a slog. Every moment became another arrow in my side, as I had to douse yet another fire.

But I fought through it. The team got better and better, but I couldn’t hold on. By the time a massive illness hit me at the beginning of July, the fight had gone out of me. That was it. I was done. Roll me out the door and down the stairs — that was it for me.

I mourned. Hard. I’d mourned for weeks prior. I’d known. We’d all known. There was nothing left for me to give anymore. I’d given it all.

I put on my bravest face and told everyone that I was pursuing my writing career. It’d all be okay. I was going to follow my dreams. Don’t worry. I’m the dreamer and the doer. I’ve got this. Warrior queen with her pen as a sword. I’ll go chase down the next phase of my career.

Part of me believed myself at the time. “I’ve got this,” I’d whisper to myself, secretly terrified that I was making yet another huge mistake. “I’ve totally got this. Nothing to worry about.”

But I stood still, quivering in the middle of an ocean of doubt and uncertainty, and couldn’t make heads or tails of why I was paralyzed. I’d try to write my way out, but it wasn’t useful. I’d gone through more personal upheaval in six months than I had in six years. All I could do was press on and hope for the best. Anything less than that and I knew that I’d drown.

Those good intentions wore into weeks of false starts. At the lowest I’d been in years, those good intentions sought to crush me even lower. I’d create timelines and spreadsheets for stories I wanted to write, where I wanted to pitch them, and when. I’d sit down and write, almost every day, and get nowhere. I found myself unable to write my way out of a Mary Sue fanfic, let alone a cogent article.

I’d dealt with writer’s block before. It was usually a matter of finding the easiest piece and starting there. Start small. Start with flash fiction. Start with something low stakes. Keep it light. Keep it easy. Keep it simple. Keep the pressure off.

Coping mechanisms failed. I could feel the doubt seeping into my veins. For years, I’d been the optimist — everything would be okay, because damn it all, I would make it okay. And for the first time since I started and closed my business, I couldn’t find those good feelings. I couldn’t find the gratitude anymore.

Doubt was cold in my veins and bitterness was like copper in my mouth. It was so familiar, like meeting an old acquaintance for coffee, even though you know they’re toxic. But you missed the danger of it, somehow. It’s a cigarette when you don’t smoke. It made me angry and anger makes me defiant. I’ve tried to use that anger and defiance as an internal “fuck you, I’ll take my place anyway”.

365 days ago, I wouldn’t have described myself as angry or bitter. I would have described myself as ferocious — leonine — in my pursuits, hungry to prove myself, always aspiring to something more. I would have been shocked if someone had described me as hollow. And yet, here I am: hollowed out, somehow a schism between the optimist and the pessimist that are warring for control.

365 days ago, I was fractured, cracking around the edges. I found my solace in books and movies and quality time with the people I love. I still find my solace in those things, though I can draw upon relatively few people for quality time. Could be that’s for the best. Could be that I’ve been in isolation for so long that I don’t know what a friend looks like anymore.

For the first time, I’m trailblazing without a map. I’ve managed to become the artist who suffers from a bad case of professional wanderjahr. Here in one form today, tomorrow I’ll be someone slightly different. I used to believe that a sunrise could change everything — it’s always new in the morning. Now? I’m not so sure.

365 days later, I’m a hibernating optimist, mired in the greatest professional standstill of my adult life, and on the precipice of massive personal upheaval, yet again. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t have it together, yet. Maybe it’s okay that I’m hollowed out. Maybe I’ll be the phoenix rising in 2017. Maybe I’ll make a new home out of the ashes.

Small steps toward a brighter future. Incremental advances. I’m not broken, yet. Not entirely. Chop wood, carry water. Tomorrow, I’ll begin again. And again. And again.

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