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Starting Again

December 9, 2013

I’ve perfected the art of being partially vulnerable. Giving away just enough so that I look vulnerable, but not so much that I actually feel vulnerable.

How delightfully manipulative. Way to be crafty, protection mechanisms.

Life is a process of continually cracking yourself open. When my dad died last year, all the roiling dread and pain distilled down into a nail that tapped into my skull and split my brittle self right down the middle. All my defenses shattered and my insides felt splayed out for the world. And the world stepped up. I never felt so loved as I did in that time when I was wrenched open.

The cracks are indeed what lets the light in. Way to be pertinent, cliche.

Since then, I haven’t been able to rebuild myself into what I was before. I’ve tried patchwork, I’ve tried denial, I’ve tried being mean to myself as a motivational exercise. But the cracks of my father’s death reached into my foundation, weakening it until my carefully stacked ego began to wobble. In its wobbling, my ego finally revealed its scaly underbelly.

My self-esteem is deeply invested in this facade I’ve crafted for myself, the one of an adventurous woman who writes for a living and travels and has complete freedom. I’ve honed it and perfected it and crucially self-identified with it. I’m only now realizing my desperate need to control how the world perceives me – and that I’ve clung to that facade at the expense of the life I actually want to live.

It’s not entirely false. It was true. For awhile. But then it became not so true and I continued to grasp at it. Rather desperately, truth be told. Until I realized that it wasn’t what I actually wanted.

Yes, I do want a lot of freedom. I do want to travel. I do want to write for a living.

But my ego’s attachment to Being That Person was keeping me from actually being that person. Because I was putting so much of my self-worth into being that person that I was boxing myself into a space where I felt deeply uncomfortable. I was trying to do a lot of things that didn’t feel right for me because it felt like I had to. I was focusing more on client work than creation, more on trying to wrench business sense into myself than on nurturing what I feel my real contribution is. The need to bolster the facade kept me from doing what I really want to do.

I want to write books. I want to write screenplays. I want to write blog posts that feel true and urgent and don’t need any purpose beyond that.

But if I want to do it that way, I need to separate my money from my writing – at least for now. I need to go deeply into creation mode so that I can write the book about my experience with my father’s death and the Pixar-esque screenplay that I’ve been seeing behind my eyes for years.

But this is a very specific choice. It means buying the time to write. The price may be working retail again. It may mean learning how to operate one of those truly intimidating silver espresso monsters and appearing at a job at 6 a.m. It may mean letting the credit card debt I don’t want anyone to know I have continue to sit there. It means letting go of this carefully constructed view of myself so that I can grow into the writer I really want to be. The self I really want to be.

The thought of getting a non-writing job always terrified me. I always thought that meant I had failed. And if I failed at writing, I failed at life. No one wants to fail at life.

But the truth is, you can’t fail at life. No matter what choice you make. And I am lucky that I can make this choice. I have no responsibilities to a partner, to a child, to a pet. I don’t even have a flowering hibiscus to resent my decision to live differently so that I can create what I want to create.

I will do anything to buy myself this creative time. I will sweep floors, I will learn how to use a cash register (the last time I worked retail we used the abacus of the credit card reader – contraptions that used carbon paper and thunked back and forth). I will do anything that doesn’t drain me emotionally or creatively and leaves me enough time in the week to write toward serious forward progress.

It means no travel, for now. It means no real healing of my sad finances, for now. Or maybe it doesn’t mean that. I don’t need to make this mean anything but that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to finish two projects that have been my last priority now that I’m realizing they should be my first.

There are so many people who can write novels and work a full time job or who can take on multiple clients and still find the time and energy to do their own projects. I have so much respect for those people. I thought for years that I had to be one of them. But I’m simply not. At least not right now. Accepting this and choosing to live smaller so that I can give my work the room and the support it needs feels right.

Building invisible walls between yourself and the world of other people’s opinions doesn’t protect you. Because what you feel like you’re protecting yourself from doesn’t actually exist. Are any of my friends not going to be my friends if I’m folding sweaters at the Gap or making coffee for internet millionaires born the year I started middle school? Of course not. Is anyone who reads this going to think less of me for making this choice? Doubtful.

All my carefully-constructed plexiglass shields did were barricade me from truly connecting. Because no one else can know me when I don’t truly know myself. Telling you that I am not always who I wanted the world to think I was feels honest. And there is peace to be found in truth.

When you recognize the truth about where you are, people can meet you there. And you can start again.

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  • Reply TJ December 9, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Very authentic. I hate to say that I “enjoyed” reading this, but I’m happy that you have found this peace and I can definitely relate to some of the things that you wrote.

  • Reply Chi Sherman December 9, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Love this. I identify with much of what you’re saying.

  • Reply Amanda December 9, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I love you and I love your writing and I love your vulnerability.

    And I have to tell you, I’ve been thinking for awhile now that I think I would be happier if I was working in a bookstore or independent coffee shop instead of the (often draining) career I have right now. (Also, whoa! When did I get a career?! I’m not kidding, this is the first time I realized that that’s what you’d call what I’m doing. Not sure if I like it.)

    Anyhow, did not mean to make this about me. I know you don’t need my support, but dude, you’ve got it 500%!

  • Reply Taz @ Climb the Rainbow December 10, 2013 at 4:08 am

    You are incredible. You are beautiful. You are strong and brave and precious. You and your writing are gifts to this world. I’m truly sorry for your loss and my heart goes out to you. I am glad though that you have found your inner peace in the face of difficulty.

  • Reply Kym December 10, 2013 at 5:55 am

    I love your writing and your honesty. I’ve been secretely waiting for you to come to this decision for a long time. There is absolutely nothing bad about stability and knowing a regular paycheck is coming in two weeks! I think it just might free up your mind so much that great creativity will start flowing!

  • Reply Megan December 10, 2013 at 6:46 am

    I so admire your bravery at not only facing the cracks, but sharing them, and admitting that what you really want is not what you were trying to want.

    My husband recently lost his Dad. We’ve been talking a lot about what this is going to mean for him in terms of independence and identity. Reading your posts gives me courage. Your road has not been an easy one but you always seem to find strength to keep traveling along it.

    A job is a means to an end. Writing what’s in your heart is more important than where your paycheck comes from. I wish you all the best!

  • Reply doniree December 10, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I’m here, too. Well, not about writing, necessarily. But a little bit about creating. And a lot about the things I believe about myself, the person I’m trying to morph myself into (that’s sorta not even close to the truth at the core), and the rest of a lot of things. I’m feeling for you, love. And really admiring your bravery.

  • Reply Tabbypaws December 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Amber, just beautifully written – another testament that you need to follow that path and create; you are way too talented and inspirational not to. All my friends that have lost parents has rocked them deeply to the core. It was then that many of them questioned if they were true to themselves. The difference is you are actually brave enough to find a way and do it! <3

  • Reply Alison Presley December 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    You know, separating my writing from how I make ends meet has been the single best thing I could have done for my writing. It means I get to write what I want–and not starve to death.

    It felt weird at first. And I did wonder if I had “failed” at the time, but now I think it was the start of true freedom for me.

    I’m excited for you!

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