Wednesday, February 7, 2018


I never quite remember that when I am finished with a big, intense push on a book project, or three, and then I am faced with a string of days stretching out before me and nothing I have to do, I crash. I wake up slow and realize the world is a dull gray and I wonder what I am doing with my life. I think about finding a job with a regular paycheck and mind-occupying demands, and then with a sense of defeat I face the reality that in my industry, no one is hiring anyone past fifty for anything full time. We cost too much. Our health insurance costs more, and heaven forbid we should retire on their dime. I drag myself to my desk and send out a few emails, rustling the freelance bushes diligently. It's not my nature or my comfort zone, but I make myself do it. My friend calls to tell me about the fantastic new book project she just got tapped to do, and I try to sound excited, because I am happy for her, I really am, but I put down the phone feeling hollow, wishing I could make a living wage working in a flower shop or maybe a movie theater painted a royal shade of red.

I lay in bed googling "career change ideas" on my phone. Outside, the snow was swirling down lightly, the ground already white, and I remembered, as I always do in this hushed kind of snow that it looked just like this on the morning after my mother died. I miss her most when I am not working, when my mind is a yawning space, and rude intruders can march on through.

How is it that I have so little imagination about what to do with my freedom? Isn't this the life people dream of? Instead, I clutch, worrying that the lack of work will stretch on indefinitely. I do have payments due for all three of the projects I just completed, not enough to see me through the year, but enough to carry me till the weather turns warm. I don't know when I will see those payments, though. They could be delayed for months, which is another lovely feature of the book business. It's hard to describe how I'm feeling exactly. My throat feels tight with what might be fear, insecurity, loneliness, loss. My eyes water for no reason. I feel like a failure in ways that count, unable to push myself out of the miasma and engage with all the other possibilities of this day.

Maybe I should volunteer with an immigrants rights group or something. There's a thought. Something useful.


  1. Sometimes when I feel myself in a space something like this I take on something onerous which I've been putting off forever like organizing a space that badly needs it or cleaning something which has reached a point of ridiculousness. I'm already feeling overwhelmed and terrible and so why not do something that suits the mood? Some of us are just no good at "enjoying ourselves" with the pleasant activities we promise ourselves we will enjoy some day. Like going to movies and meeting with friends, etc.
    Also, there is napping.
    Which I think I am about to go do now.
    But I have to say that working in a flower shop sounds pretty good. However, somehow I do not feel that this was the life you were intended for, having as you do such a remarkable (and marketable) gift of writing.

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  3. Writing about it with such honesty, I wonder how much it already cleared your head. How much closer you have become to regaining your confidence, which you certainly will in due course.

    I was reminded of a long distant phone call I had with my daughter several years ago when she realised that she was at a loss with her postgrad work and her general lack of 'direction and dedication'. There was much wailing and crying across the planet until we both agreed that oh yes, surely, she was free to do whatever she wanted as long as it would not hurt anybody.

    It has become something of a dictum with us now, when we refer to what we do - not hurting anybody - as a possibility, a way to search for fulfillment in life.

  4. maybe you could tutor a family trying to take the citizenship test or something. You would be a wonderful tutor!

  5. Although my work was in another field, it had some similar downsides. The upside that kept me working in that field was that I loved my work, and I was good at it. Once I said to someone jokingly, "I like my work so much I would do it for free." At the end, in the last years before I retired, I was working hard for nearly nothing. I don't know how many times I put my energy into looking for career change ideas from 1997 until 2015.

    I do know how bored and miserable I was when I was doing work that had a guaranteed income and benefits but gave me no sense of accomplishment. I don't regret staying with the work I loved for as long as I did.

    I do remember how difficult it was when I didn't have work and needed work. I didn't feel free when I wasn't working. As you are doing, I asked myself plenty of questions until something occurred to me that changed my perspective and allowed me to move forward again.

  6. I love the raw honesty that you share here. It makes you trustworthy.

    I can identify with these feelings you are having. Don't feel bad for having them, you have not failed anything, you are just a woman going through what we all do at the "in between" time.

    Go ahead and cry, perhaps while you are eating cake (there are no calories in anything at a time like this)and if the cake is stale, the tears will help with that too.

    Everything will be alright, everything will be alright, everything will be alright.

  7. That would be difficult. I always worry about money, not sure why. Time off though I tend to fill up with cooking, baking and now quilting. I went through my mum's old photos and made up a photo album with the names of everyone in the photos. It will be for my kids. Same with the quilts.

    Volunteering sounds good. It gives structure to a week. When I finish working I want to volunteer, just not sure what interests me the most.

  8. I could have written this. My work was a my identity. When i ant thru slower times my self-esteem plummeted. Yes you can tutor, yes you can volunteer and yet your career is different. I get this so much it is painful yet makes me feel not as alone with it. Work will come. Let yourself surrender to the downtime. Don’t fight it. If sleep or reading or watching Netflix is what you want to do, let yourself. I believe it’s exactly as it should be. Joanne

  9. Oh Angella, I do hope this feeling passes soon. I think it's probably pretty normal to have this happen, because the structure of your writing days is suddenly gone. Maybe you could develop a structure for your non-writing days, too. I was never one to like structure to my days (or habits either) until I finally became less busy, and realized I needed it to keep me at least somewhat productive. Otherwise I could sit around the whole day and accomplish nothing except to feel like an imposter at life. Good luck, my friend.

  10. Oh, God. I know this. I feel it nearly all the time and particularly so now. I picked up my college alumni magazine and opened it today to an article about a classmate of mine (someone I actually knew!) who has done this amazing thing with her life -- turned from an investment banker sort of person to a woman who heads an enormous non-profit that fixes children's feet in impoverished countries. The whole article was fantastic -- she's fantastic. Sigh. I think you're fantastic, Angella. I really do. And working in a movie theater would be the bomb.

  11. I know these feelings. I too am self-employed (freelance medical editor/writer). Even when you have work, you are worrying about when the next project is coming. I have a pretty steady flow of papers, but when I don't have a project, I sit here and panic...

    And I agree w/the others: volunteering (for me, it's the local animal shelter) is the best thing to keep my thoughts off the panic button.

  12. When I read the comments here, I am reminded of the Tolstoy quote, "Add your light to the sum of light." All the good thoughts shared here, I add mine with them. And you, dear friend, I know whatever you do you will add your light to the sum.

  13. Dearest Rosemary, I have no useful advice or thoughts on this. I feel you. I'd take you to lunch or cook you something and then binge watch something and then sit by the fire and look up at the stars. I'm thinking of you and sending you all of the light and love you can stand. XXOO

  14. Volunteering might help, but it would be nice if you could see how hard you ARE working. You have accomplished so much as a freelancer, and you continue to do so! I wish you could savor your downtime. I've sort of gone the living-wage-red-movie-theater route, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I do so envy your ability to navigate the world of book writing and publishing.