May 17, 2021 § Leave a comment
2021 called for a change. Less short-term vision, more “what do I want to be doing to feel I’m contributing?” thinking. Less drinking, more movement. Less feeling stuck and isolated, more freedom (yeah, I’m not the only one feeling that). Less paying someone’s rent and more home ownership.
Wait, hold on a minute. We actually already own two homes. So the paying rent/home ownership reference is really an analogy (I use those a lot, you’ll come to see). But it’s an analogy I feel in my bones, and this is what I mean by it: I work for someone else’s 5-year plan. I use my skills—whatever those may be—to further an objective that is not my own. Yes, okay, I get it. I’m getting paid so I can pay my own mortgages, feed my own dogs and cats, have the funds to live a good life. That right there is not a bad objective. In fact it’s a pretty good exchange that folks have been taking part in for millennia.
But it’s an exchange that is depleting me. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s like I’m a rain barrel and I have a slow leak and there’s no rain in sight to fill me up. And it’s not even as if that leaking water is nurturing anything other than whatever is growing near it. Dripping to depletion. I don’t … it’s not … see? No other words for it. I’m slowly emptying. Ah! There are some good words for it. Well, that’s somethin’.
What are those skills I use to fill another’s vision? I’m a writer. How I went from being a science nerd to a writer in the horticultural business—well, that’s a long story. I’m sure I will cover that topic someday. But for now, know two things: a) I’m in a field I never ever intended to be in – omg, for the last 25 years! and b) I’m actually pretty darn good at it, the writing thing. I’m well-known and well-respected in the commercial horticultural field. In fact I’m so good at it I’ve fooled most of the people most of the time into believing this is actually what I love to do and will be doing for the rest of my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful I get paid to write. I think about all those writers who have this yearning to write and publish and end up penning the police beat in the local paper. I’m truly blessed to have been employed as a writer because I know so many people have tried and could not make the money thing work. Not that I get paid a lot. I don’t. Not with this field.
So, I made a change. I had a talk with my boss and I said something along the lines of, “At the end of my life when I think back on what I want to be known for, it’s not this.” Ballsy, right? But when that feeling is with you for … for decades … when you decide to voice it, you voice it. No trouble finding the words that time, nossir.
Did I quit my job? Going into Year 2 of Pandemic Times? No. Not a good idea. I
dropped let go of the writing that absolutely didn’t contribute to my feelings of self-worth and impact. I would still write for them, yes. It turns out that I am writing just two fewer pieces per month out of a total of eight or nine. No more magazine articles, so no more writing about new trends in decorative pots or how to upgrade your store’s POS system. And I’m also no longer writing my monthly editorial column. Not that I didn’t like writing it. I thought my columns were one of my strongest styles. Until I got to the end and had to figure out how to connect all the emotions and sentiments I developed in the previous 500 words to … horticultural retail objectives. And that’s where I’d die each month. That is where the rain barrel let loose through its spigot and I’d have to scramble emotionally to shut that down. At that moment in my column, that’s where my writing became not my own and I would lose myself. The one thing I was feeling really good about, taken from me.
Not having the mental weight of writing those two pieces each month freed my spirit. I literally felt lighter. I felt more joyful in the other six pieces I was still writing for them each month. Did I love love love writing for them now? Love is a strong word. I didn’t hate it and did find some additional enjoyment.
Am I writing more of my own, more for my own now? Funny you should ask. Until I sat down just now and wrote the words “2021 called for a change,” I had written just two short … let’s call them poems. Right? Just two. And it’s been two months since this change in job responsibility has taken place. What gives?
“But first, coffee.”
You’ve seen the shirt, the meme, the signs in front of shops with that written truth. And it is truth. You have a whole day’s worth of big plans ahead. You’re going to change the world! But first, let me prioritize my coffee. I am not complete until and unless coffee is consumed. Once I have my cuppa, I’m good to carry on.
For the past two months, I’ve been putting coffee in front of writing time. No, not actual coffee. I’m putting the yard work in front of writing. I’m prioritizing installing an organic lawn, planting my veg garden, getting the front door painted, making lists of what projects need to be completed while the weather is good. Now that I have the time, let me complete all these other things rather than use that now-freed time to do what I had originally intended with it.
Oh, and when you decide to prioritize what you would like to be most remembered for, do not start watching a new British crime drama. Lovely show, Shetland, but I need to backburner you.
Remember this, Ellen: But first, writing.
(Actually and truthfully, letting the dogs out to pee is first, followed by coffee and then a run with Sammie to tire out the little Goat Pony for a few hours. And then the writing. Let’s be realistic.)
This coming Saturday—five days from now—is when my editor’s column would have been published digitally. It’s the first time in nearly 13 years that I will not have published an edition of this piece. When I wrote my very last column, I kinda sorta said goodbye to my readers and told them I wasn’t gone forever, but would be found in the other usual things I write for the company. What I didn’t do was tell my mother of my plans. She actually really loves to read that column. It’s the only thing of mine that she reads. And when she read my departing column … oh, the concern she expressed in an email (she would never think to call me without prearranging a time). What was I going to do for money? What would I do with my time? Because she doesn’t receive/read my other six items I write for the company (nor does she realize all of the other freelance gigs I have), she thought I was thoroughly unemployed. Her concern was sweet. Bless her heart.
A good five days after she read my last editorial and wrote me that concerned email, Mom sent me a message via my work email. It read, “I will miss your articles, Ellen. I loved reading them. Love, Mom.”
Sweet, right? Yeah, that was sweet. Something she’s not known for, being sweet. She had to search for that address to email me separately. She wanted me to know she loved and appreciated my work. Her words made me stop for a moment. Well, should I? Should I cease writing those columns? Because she likes them and she’ll be disappointed.
It was just a thought for the moment, though. I had felt the weight of that writing lift weeks earlier and I would not go back to it. I could not not write for myself again. Other forms of writing—newsletters, blog content—sure. But not essay and article form. No one and no industry not of my choosing can claim my interest and my words in that manner again.
I was recently listening to an episode of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. She had had musicians Gina Chavez and Carrie Rodriguez on her show. Accomplished Latinx musicians on their own, they had teamed up to write and record the music that accompanies Brene’s podcast. One of the ladies—I can’t remember now if it was Gina or Carrie—was talking about what I’ll call her origin story when it came to singing and songwriting. She had been for years performing with others and on her own, but … something was missing, something wasn’t quite right. She was doing well, but she sensed she wasn’t performing her music. I even stopped the car to jot down what I believe she said about it: “There was so much of me missing in my music.”
She was eventually introduced to the music of her great aunt—apparently a woman who was a well-known Mexican singer back in her day. The great aunt sang a particular style of Mexican folk music. That music, that was her music. That was the music that gave her fulfillment when she performed. No more of what wasn’t her. She’d sing and write the music that felt authentic to her.
I stopped the car to write down the gist of her statement but I wrote it this way: “There is so much of me missing in my writing.” Those are my words. Those words are the ones that come pretty darn close to filling in for the words I was at a loss for earlier. There is so much of me missing in my writing. I’ve tried writing a memoir. I began a novel. I do write short … let’s call them poems. I believe my editorial columns came closest to the writing that I can claim is mine. But not having it truly be mine … gosh, that made me ache.
So I am going to write more, write more of me. Here. It’ll be rough and raw and maybe uncomfortable. That’s me, though. And I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. Not anymore. Not even for my mom.
I may even print out some of this writing and mail it to her. I think she’d like that. She may email me to let me know.