"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Permission, Courage, and Telling My Story

There have been so many changes in my life in the last year, really in the last six months, especially on the career front. This year alone, I have worked for three different employers, with an end of the year scramble that made me dizzy with a mixture of fear, excitement, and hope. But it was mid-October when things really got interesting.

I was at my desk at job #2 for the year, when I was just beginning to figure out that this particular job wasn’t going to be the long haul, career home job I had hoped it would be. I was already job searching, miserable with a boss that knew nothing about marketing, management, or people skills, and watching people quit by the dozens around me every day. I had started only three months earlier, and I had never seen a workplace go downhill so fast.

My cell phone rang, and an out of town number popped up, and I answered a little excitedly, hoping it was a response to one of the dozens of jobs I had applied for. Instead, a voice I vaguely recognized responded to my hello, almost in mid-sentence before I could put two and two together. It was a vendor calling me, but she thought I was still behind the desk at my last job, a failing startup in San Francisco that I had been relieved to escape. I had spent months there watching several wealthy men fight and break promises (and do little else) for months. I finally got in a few words edgewise and was able to explain to her that I was no longer with the startup and couldn’t help her with the event she was calling about. She paused, and expressed disappointment.

“I so enjoyed working with you Kim,” she said, “you did a great job.”
I thanked her and prepared to hang up, but she continued.

“I really hope you are doing something you love and have always dreamed of doing.”

I was almost stunned by her words. First, they were so genuine, she really meant what she was saying, and secondly, it hit me like a punch to the stomach. Even if things at my current company weren’t unstable, even if I was in the perfect marketing job—was this what I dreamed of doing when I was little? Was this what I dreamed of doing every night when my thoughts were racing and I couldn’t sleep? No. All I ever wanted to be was a writer. When I can’t sleep, I am thinking about my book that still isn’t written, and about my blog that is gathering dust. 

I thanked this vendor who will likely never know the events she helped inspire, and then hung up the phone. I was in tears at my desk. I felt hopeless. I felt like every job I was taking was a mistake, every decision I was making was taking me further away from what I wanted more than anything. Most of all, I had made the decision to move us across the country, far away from everything, to this place of opportunity—California, and what had it gotten us?

I made my way to the office restroom and spent a good half hour crying. I reminded myself that very few people I know are doing what they always dreamed of doing. We all have to earn a living. I told myself that, as a recruiter recently reminded me, there are more f-cked up workplaces out there than there are normal ones, and you just don’t know how it truly is until you are there, until you are inside and working there. I took a lot of deep breaths and tried to give myself a break about everything.

I got back to my desk, and as I working on some social media posts for work, I clicked over to Facebook to find a link I needed. I was on my personal page and scrolled down, and stopped on a posting on an author’s page that I followed.

One spot left for my One-Day Writing Workshop.

I was frozen. For a minute, work was forgotten, everything was forgotten. The words stared back at me. This wasn’t just any writer, it was Joyce Maynard, a writer I had long admired. I had always toyed with the idea of going to a workshop like this, but didn’t have the confidence, or usually, the money.

I clicked the link to check out the details, whispering to myself, please don’t be too expensive, please don’t be too expensive. The page came up. It was expensive for us, for this time in our lives. But, it was local. It was 18 miles away. When would I ever have a chance like this again? I needed this right now. I needed to go and find out if this dream I had was crazy or if I should keep plugging away. The only way I would ever know was to go somewhere and get honest feedback from a writer I trusted and believed in.

I called my husband, and through tears explained that I needed to do this, I knew we couldn’t really afford it. He was alarmed that I was so emotional, and agreed immediately that if I needed to do this, to do it, we would figure out the money somehow.

The date of the workshop was November 3rd, and we had to submit our essays beforehand. To say I was a nervous wreck didn’t even begin to cover it. There were six other women attending the workshop. I was so afraid to put my words out there, to have Joyce and these other women read them and think I was a horrible writer. I was afraid I would read their words and compare mine and know immediately that I was not cut out to do this.

To be honest, over the past year, I had been asking myself why I was putting myself through this torture. No one said I HAD to write. It was just me doing this to myself. It would be a lot easier to let this dream go. I had to work- that was a have to. If I was supposed to be a writer, I would have been discovered or I would have figured out a way to make a living doing that by now, right? I had started thinking that maybe it was time to just let go.

What I wanted from this workshop was some kind of answer for myself. I felt stuck. And if I got a positive answer, I hoped to find a group of women that I could connect and continue with after that one day. I prepared myself for the worst. I wasn’t prepared at all for what I got instead.

I turned in my essay at the last possible moment. A few days later, all the essays were posted online so we could all read each other’s work before the actual workshop. I did feel humbled by the other women’s work, and I didn’t know what to think about how my work would be perceived. The workshop was memoir-focused, but Joyce had also encouraged writers of fiction to attend. Many of the other women had submitted works of fiction.

One of my biggest struggles with my writing is also what to write. I have avoided my story (as in writing a memoir) because I just didn’t know who would want to read it. I am not famous, I don’t feel I have accomplished that much, although at times, I do feel I have a story to tell. I have started a novel, but I have struggled. That’s the other part of me feeling stuck with my writing, and the other answer I wanted out of this workshop.

November 3rd came and as nervous as I was, I made it to Joyce’s house in one piece. She was incredibly warm and inviting, and as the other women arrived, my nerves eased a little bit. Regardless of the answers I got about my writing, I at least began to feel I was among friends. 

We began by going around the room and introducing ourselves and talking about why we were attending the workshop. Joyce let us all do this, and just listened carefully and said very little and took notes. When we had all finished, she went carefully around to each one of us and responded.

When I introduced myself, I talked about feeling stuck, about not knowing if this is what I was supposed to do. I told everyone about the day at my desk, and being the person who took the last spot at the workshop, and how I had dreamed of being a writer. I explained that there was a book my mother had kept for me that chronicled every year of school, with my school photo pasted in it, and a few memories jotted down below it. And every year, underneath that photo where the book asked, What does Kim want to be when she grows up? The answer was always: writer. Every year, from kindergarten on up. I explained about my hesitation to write a memoir, and my biggest hesitation of all—my mother. I didn’t want to put her through any more pain, she had been through enough. I remember Joyce hesitating for a moment when I said those words. But I had continued and soon it was time for the next person to talk.

When Joyce got around to responding to me, she got out of her chair. She hadn’t done this with anyone else, so I was a little taken a back. But she got in front of me, on her knees, and she told me she was doing this because she wanted to make sure that I heard her and remembered what she was about to say.

She told me there were so many things that held us back in life—money, work, everything else—but this was MY STORY and that I had every right in the world to tell it and not to let anyone or anything stop me. She told me I didn’t have to protect anyone, especially someone who did not protect me. She said that if my mother was in the room, she was sure she would be touched and moved by her story, but that would be her story. This was mine. 

I can’t repeat her exact words, and I can’t ever express the passion with which she said them, because I was crying. This release of permission she gave me, I can’t explain it. I felt I had part of my answer. A huge part of it. 

As I got to know the other women that day through their work and their own personal journeys, it amazes me how we all travel through such hard places to get where we are. I felt so fortunate that I had landed in this particular group of such compassionate, giving women. Everyone was so supportive and thoughtful.

Joyce worked through each woman’s piece, one by one. With each piece of work, I was learning more and more, and I was nervously awaiting my turn. My essay was the last one Joyce reviewed. Her critiques and the input from the other women at the workshop gave me my other answer. I need to keep writing.  The positive feedback I got from Joyce and these women was a huge turning point for me. I was so emotional, and it was almost hard to leave Joyce’s house that night. I didn’t want that connected, creative feeling to end.

The good news is, it hasn’t. The women from that workshop have been amazing, and we all stay in touch and have met once and have another meeting in January. I feel so fortunate to have this group of supportive, positive, amazing, talented women to share and grow with. We are all each other’s biggest fans, and can openly share anything and everything about our writing with each other.

I am forever grateful to Joyce for opening a door for me that I very nearly let shut. It is still a battle to carve out time for writing, but I am making myself do it, especially with my writing group’s encouragement. But I wouldn’t feel the confidence and I wouldn’t have the direction I do without Joyce kneeling in front of me that day, passionately making sure I heard her words.

And really, how many times in our lives does someone do that for us? Really make sure we hear the words that make all the difference—that can change our lives?

If it happens, be grateful. Listen. Don’t take that moment for granted. Take the words to heart. Do what you are meant to do.

I plan to do just that.

It might take a long time, it might not work out like I’ve planned, and I am sure it will be ten times harder than I can even imagine.

But, this is my life. 

I am a writer. It is what I was meant to do.

I will tell my story.


Christian Marie January 3, 2014 at 11:28 AM  

So great to hear Kim. I started reading your blog a few years ago and really enjoy your writing. Don't stop. I'm glad you received the validation and encouragement you were looking for. I'm a writer too and understand very well the associated challenges that come with deciding to write.

lydia eve January 7, 2014 at 12:45 PM  

Ah, you move me to tears... go on, girl!

My Froley January 29, 2014 at 9:23 AM  

This is lovely. And just what I needed to hear right now. I'm in the middle of a business degree but my main passion is art. I've always wanted art to be a huge part of my job. If I take the route of my job it will be marketing or accounting or something along those lines. Income is income and I have a family to support but I still steal time to paint and create when can, and Is still dream of it being my income one day. Even with my dad's words ringing in my ears 'you'll never make any money from being an artist'. We'll see.


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