Inspiration in the Workplace

I keep struggling with how to balance a mundane job with the things I’m passionate about. Other creative people, even people my age, seem to manage it and I wonder if it’s a defect of mine.

I spent my first two years out of college in retail. It wasn’t as hellish as it could have been, if I look at it objectively, I worked with books. Every day I got to be surrounded by the newest stories and award winning works. Early on, I assumed that this meant I would be able to read as voraciously as I always longed to in college, even more voraciously, maybe, than when I’d been in high school. I also figured that doing so much reading and being exposed to so many books would be ample fuel to nourish the writing skills and style I had honed in school. I assumed that I would start work on those novels and short stories right away. 

Then, I did nothing. In the two years I worked at the bookstore I read only a handful of books, mostly borrowed from the library. I did develop an appreciation for genres I’d never embraced before, notably history and memoir, but I hardly read them. Somehow, impossibly, there didn’t seem to be time. I was no longer spending 5 hours a day in class and several more hours later doing homework. I wasn’t writing ten page essays while also working on theatrical productions and making part time money sewing costumes. All I had to do every day was go to the bookstore for 8 hours, then go home. Still, instead of being intimidatingly full of free time as I expected it to be, post-grad life turned out to be as busy as being in school. At least, it felt that way. There were hours upon hours where I wasn’t working or cooking or cleaning or erranding and conceivably could have been reading. I found myself on Facebook, or staring at cooking shows under a blanket. I was tired. 

All that was nothing, however, to the blow my writing dreams took. In the two years I spent shelving hundreds of copies of other people’s pride and joy, I didn’t finish a single piece of writing outside of a comic book review. To this day I still haven’t finished a story or anything more substantive than a long-form blog entry (this, right here). It wasn’t only a lack of time, it was an utter lack of drive. It wasn’t even that I lacked ideas, inspiration (though I did, and believe I still do) it was as though the writing life had been sucked out of me, by force. I felt attacked by the “real world” and by my own bad habits. 

I spend a lot of time trying to pin the blame for my fluctuating anxiety on something concrete. Maybe halfway through my retail tenure I came to understand that neglecting the wordy pursuits that had both engaged and defined me for a large part of my life might be contributing to why my brain was spinning in on itself. I can’t think of a better way to describe it than when you play one of those 2016 snake variant phone games and some huge bastard swirls around you in a slow, tightening circle until you’re swallowed up. 

I made what I can only describe as a semi-mistake and assumed that I could solve all of my problems with a new job.  I thought that the endless, demoralizing, underpaying grind of retail, and particularly the book business, was why I was both literarily stunted and cripplingly anxious. I fled. I jumped on the first job that would get me out from behind the cash register before another holiday season finished off what last year’s hadn’t been able to. I was sure I’d have a complete mental crumbling if I stayed. 

That was almost 3 months ago, now, which sounds like nothing and feel like so much longer. I called this decision a semi-mistake because, in some regards, it worked out wonderfully. The change of scenery and stimulus was energizing. I felt a sense of progress that injected some much-needed hope into my system, even a little pride. Of course, I am also making more money, which eases some universal worries and allows for some morale boosting “treat yourself” moments. 

The mistake part of this switch came in my expectations. The new job was not a magic pill that cured my anxiety. It didn’t, as I had hoped, keep my brain engaged and busy enough to just keep the worries at bay. Sure, I’m more useful by far, which is an uplifting feeling, but when you’re making 100 phone calls there is time for your brain to wander to every terrible fear you have. More surprisingly, it doesn’t even feel like I have that much more free time. I have that coveted 9-6 life, but I tumble home around 7 tired and hungry as ever. I still spend hours scrolling my newsfeed, absorbing almost none of it, and watching things that aren’t even on my  Netflix queue, but feel calming. I still haven’t found reading time. I still don’t have a finished story. I still have days where my anxiety paralyzes me with fears that I’m evil or dying and I accomplish nothing at all. 

I have a new job that makes my life look and feel a little shinier, but it’s distance from what I want to be doing, the way it keeps me from my notebook when a tiny idea peeks into my brain, is almost as frustrating as counting money every night. I don’t know how some people balance it. How do they come home tired and manage to coax themselves into creating things instead of sinking into the couch and reveling in the hours that stand between them and the office? Or, if the energy is there, how do they convince themselves that creating art is a more prudent idea than cleaning the cat box? 

I can’t get my art to play nice with my life yet, but I’m trying to at least learn how to tell everything else to take a hike for a while so I can write. I told sleep to take a hike for this post here. I’m proud of this…until I think too hard about needing ten pages of fiction done and polished in two weeks. We’ll get there later. 

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