100 Happy Days

2013 was a glum year for me – I did some amazing things, but those amazing things only kept me up for a little while before I came tumbling down – again and again and again. I found it hard to focus on anything, to feel motivated, to do anything other than feel sorry for myself. And let me tell you, it sucks. Like, really, really, really sucks. People around you tell you to cheer up, to look on the bright side, to just get over it … but no matter how many sparkly quotes you stick on the fridge – no matter how positive you try to be – some days you just feel like curling up in a tight little ball and wishing the world away.

And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. This has been going on for years – sometimes it’s a day within a month, sometimes it’s most days within many months all lined up one after the other, and sometimes it just hits me – a big fat sucker punch right when I think I’m doing OK. Do I let this define me? No. But, when I can, I curl up in a tight little ball … to think.

Really think. Sometimes I think horrible negative things – things with which a mind should not pollute itself. Most of the time, though, I try to think about fixing it. It takes more than a positive quote to mend the soul, so I think about what it is that has pushed me to this point, what it is that has led to this weeping, curled up mess.

There are recurring themes in my life and they pop up whenever my mood is down.

Homelessness

I am grateful for the generosity of my family and friends because I have always been provided with somewhere to live in between my adventures abroad (with an extra big shout-out to my mother who has stored my boxes during these adventures and right now is storing me in the spare room and my research in a corner of the office), yet this nomad yearns for a home – a real home with her own books on the shelves, travel moments framed on the walls, and a cat curled up on the reading chair. It would be nice if I could rely on my plans to obtain this through winning lotto or inheriting millions from a Nigerian prince, but the reality is that I need money – and lots of it. I have to pull together a deposit, convince a bank to give me money, and then meet mortgage repayments for the next thirty years. Ouch. So I’m exploring the options – and right now, they make me feel physically sick because my little home (with its book-lined walls and little herb garden) is really far away.

Employment Blegh-ness

Currently my issue is unemployment and the resulting lack of income, but typically this theme is played out in the key of “I hate my job, waaaaaaa, waaa, waaaaaa”. It is usual that I approach new jobs with open enthusiasm shared with others as “Oh, it should be good because of A, B, and C” and then the quiet inner-voice of “Stef, you are going to struggle with X, Y, and Z, so be prepared”. Within a month, X, Y, and Z – despite my self-warning – become too much to tolerate. Most recently, I managed to “tolerate” my job for 23 months after the initial month passed. Bound by a contract, I had no choice – and it was the gloomiest shadow of 2013.

Lack of Purpose

I am still figuring it all out. And by “it all” I pretty much mean “life”. I have the appearance of someone well-put-together in terms of a balance of pretty awesome life experiences, good qualifications, and a potentially solid career as a teacher (given my qualifications, work experience, and … well, I’m really good at it). Unfortunately – and I’ve said this before – I’m good at a lot of things, but I don’t want to do them every single day for the rest of my working life. So. I’m still figuring it out. I love, love my research. I love, love, love writing (I’m still trying to get good at it!).

Being aware of what weighs me down helps me pull myself back up. It’s not about accepting it, but trying to change it. My lack of purpose is a big deal. A really big deal. I have to figure it out because I’m the only one who can. And I know that once I do the other issues will sort themselves out.

That’s going to be the big part of my journey this year – figuring out my life and my life’s purpose. A friend suggested I do the 100 Happy Days challenge and I think this is a great start. Basically, I have to find one thing every day that makes me happy – and post a photograph online. I will be sharing the photos on the Dodging Commas page – you are welcome to share your moments, too!

Today is a grey, rainy day. To some it could be called colourless, the kind of day when the rain is washing out the colour and leaving the world drenched. To me, it is a green day. No matter which window I look from, all I see is green – all I see is life, soaking up the rain and feeling it clean every leaf, every blade of grass. Right now – homeless, unemployed, and purposeless – I am in a place surrounded by green, listening to the rain and watching the leaves dance as they catch every drop.

Day One, and I am very content with this moment of happiness.

100 Happy Days Day One

100 Happy Days
Day One

What has made you happy today?

Measuring Success

I’ve been busy. And a little bit lazy. But mostly busy. Since May, I’ve traversed numerous streets in Turkey, read a ridiculous amount of books, and prepared an outline of my thesis chapters that has been sent off to my supervisor. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been wondering. I’ve been laughing and smiling. I haven’t been writing.

And that’s OK.

Because sometimes part of writing is living. So this week, when I spend more hours wondering how to generate income next year, I’ll be living. In three weeks, when I go to Bhutan and Nepal, I’ll be living. In a few months, when I am crunching numbers and organising boxes, I’ll be living. Right now, I am living. And that means I am writing, too, when I have the chance.

And I’m OK with that.

I’ve felt guilty for not writing every day, but I’m sick of feeling guilty. Instead, I’m proud that right now I’m writing. On days I’ve been lazy and spent hours in bed with a book, I’m OK with that, because I need to read to keep my brain filled with words and ideas.

I’m trying to dwell less on my failures and more on my successes.

I don’t write every day like I used to; I write when I can.

I don’t have grand plans of writing the next bestseller; I want to write a novel (or several) of which I am proud.

I am successful. I have my mind, I have my notebooks. I am successful because I know what makes me happy. That doesn’t mean I am always walking head-up towards my own happiness – some days I need to sit down and feel miserable. I am OK with that, too. What I keep reminding myself is that I am where I wanted to be ten years ago, and that makes me pretty damn successful.

Fear and Loathing in My Writing (but don’t worry, it’s gone now)

I’m not sure when it happened. I think it was in December, my NaNoWriMo novel complete, my backpack on my shoulders, and my ticket to India in hand. I arrived in Delhi and introduced myself to the man transferring me to my hotel.

Yes, I’m Stephanie.

Yeah, that’s my booking.

Australia. Here’s my passport.

Oh, I’m a teacher. English.

Yes, that was it. That was when I introduced myself as a teacher.

Remember when I ranted about labels and definitions? Remember the countless times I’ve raved about my need to write? I knew this was a risk and begged my Muse to keep visiting me right from the start, right from the moment I stripped my hair of vibrant colour and gave my purple knee-high boots away. Right when I acknowledged writing until the early hours of the morning and staying in bed all day might not be the most viable option for a “grown up”.

And my Muse, my Genius, has been here the whole time.

And yet, it’s been six months since I’ve written anything.

Sure, I’ve posted the odd book-review in the past few months. I’ve travelled. I went to China for a week in March and I’ll be going to Turkey for two weeks in June.

Did I mention I started my PhD research a month ago?

Yeah. I’ve been busy.

And I’ve been scared. It’s easy for a day to become a week to become a month to become six months. And then I started hating myself. I started hating that I wasn’t writing, and hating that I was letting myself do this, letting myself ignore the words, ignore the ideas, ignore the Genius in the corner staring challengingly at me. I couldn’t meet his eyes.

I’ve been busy reading and travelling and teaching.

Teaching.

And I’ve been introducing myself as a teacher. And I hate being a teacher. I’ve tried really hard to be optimistic about teaching, and to embrace it as something I’m good at, something I was born to do (my mother’s words).

I think good teachers are amazing. Good teachers. The kind of teachers you wish you had, the teachers who believe – truly believe – in their students’ potential. They’re incredible. I know some of those teachers. I work with some. I see some of my friends becoming those teachers.

I’m not that teacher. I’d like to be. But it’s a means to an end for me. I’m a good teacher. I’m nice to the kids, even the ones I want to drop into a pool of laser-wielding sharks. The fact that I don’t do that is indicative of my kindness.

I’m not that teacher because I’m not a teacher. There are a lot of things I do well. I can make incredible mustard chicken in white wine sauce, but I’m not a chef. I can name a woman’s bra size before I notice the colour of her shirt, but I’m not a bra fitter. I can teach children the difference between an adjective and an adverb, but I’m not a teacher.

Yet for the past six months I haven’t been a writer, either.

Which is why I’ve been avoiding my blog. I’ve felt like a fraud. A big fat liar, liar, pants on fire. How can I write about writing when I haven’t been writing? I’ve been thinking about writing. I’ve been thinking about my WIPs and their need for attention. But thinking isn’t doing. Thinking doesn’t put the words on the page.

I’ve isolated myself from my writing friends. I’ve isolated myself from the writing communities I spent the last year building. It’s my fault, and I own that mistake. I take full responsibility for the fact that my fear and loathing drove me to make stupid decisions. I take full responsibility for the dejected expression my Genius has been hurling in my direction for the past six months.

So this morning, while cooking breakfast, a sentence came into my mind. This happens a lot.

And then, while eating breakfast, another sentence came into my mind. This also happens a lot.

Then I had a paragraph. No surprises. I also had runny egg dribbling over my hands from the hole in the bottom of my breakfast wrap.

Then I washed the dishes. And my hands.

Then I thought.

Then I grabbed a notebook and pen and wrote nonstop for half an hour.

This meant I half-ran for my dentist appointment (I had my wisdom teeth removed last week – see? I’ve been busy!) after a rushed shower, words churning through my mind the whole time.

I came home, typed up what I’d written, and then kept going. My Genius is happy again. It’s a tentative happiness, because I think he’s scared I’ll resume ignoring him. But I won’t. I can’t.

Hi, I’m Stef.

I’m a writer.

Thank goodness we got that over with.

Back to it!