I had a singularly unpleasant experience last week. Both of my children, separately, told me that I needed to get a job. And not (primarily) for financial reasons.
The worst part of it was that neither of them was trying to be mean. They were merely observing that as a person who is currently in between jobs and writing a book that isn’t (yet) under contract – I needed to find somewhere to direct my considerable energy.
They had a point. I’m one of those weird, hybrid people who relishes large blocks of time to do anything creative, like writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently, a member of my family…).
Not surprisingly, my son has told me lately that I need to stop “fussing” over his taking his asthma medicine and getting to school on time. My daughter has put it more bluntly on more than one occasion: “Stop nudging me!” she’ll shout and then slam the door to her room. (I tried ironing. I really did. It helped, sort of.)
But it wasn’t just they’d both correctly identified my inner swim coach rearing its ugly head. It’s that they were tapping into my greatest fear: that I am not legitimate.
I think all struggling writers – and maybe even some of the commercially successful ones – fear that without the formal trappings of an office – e.g., business cards, a regular paycheck, a door (!), it’s often hard to feel “legitimate” in your chosen profession.
In my case, however, in addition to devoting large chunks of time to a creative project, I am also devoting large chunks of time to identifying exactly how I want to spend the next phase of my professional future. But how do you tell a 13 year-old that you’re working on “constructing your evolving narrative”? (Even though that is what precisely what I’m doing, and it’s coming along quite nicely, thank you very much.)
At lunch last week with a friend, himself a successful consultant transitioning into an as-yet-to-be-defined but hopefully more fulfilling new career path, I confessed to these feelings of illegitimacy that were plaguing me.
“Delia!” he exclaimed. “I am an intelligent person and I’m telling you that you are legitimate!”
But it fell on deaf ears.
I’d like to tell you that I’ve mastered all this stuff and am completely inner-directed, such that I don’t need some sort of tangible, external signal to validate the way I’m spending my time right now.
But that would be a lie.
I know that because I’m shortly to start a (non-paying) visiting position at a local university, developing a project connected to my interest in aging and adulthood.
That alone ought to be enough for me. And I am genuinely excited about it.
But when they wrote to tell me that as part of the position, I would also have a computer and an office, I was inexplicably elated.
“Wow! A computer and an office!,” I thought to myself, a mere two and a half months since the last time I had both of those things. “I am a person again!”
Originally published at realdelia.com