— Viktor Frankl, Nazi concentration camp survivor
Some things are terrifying, and you can’t imagine how you’d weather those storms if they ever came. But then they happen, and you survive — and the experience, for better or for worse, probably was very little like you expected it would be, but you survive, and then you realize you’re not afraid anymore.
I’ve been afraid of lots of things that I no longer fear. Most of them are stories for another time. Tonight, I’m thinking about the future.
I’m a planner. For years I desperately wanted to be a spontaneous free spirit, but the fact of the matter is I like to have plans. I like to have outlines. I like to be prepared. The most spontaneous thing I have ever done in my life was booking flights to England when all of 24 hours earlier the prospect of traveling abroad was just a vague possibility for sometime far down the road. It was exhilarating. But there was a solid gap of four months between when I booked the flights and when I will actually step foot on British soil, and since the moment I clicked Okay on the travel site, I have been researching, plotting, making lists, doing calculations, figuring out all the logistics down to the most meticulous detail. It makes me feel safer, somehow.
Because I am so inherently a planner, not knowing what is coming has long been unsettling at least, and terrifying at most. I had no real idea what I would be doing upon graduating from college until the day after I crossed the stage in my cap and gown, and so for my entire last semester, a ball of anxiety lived in my gut.
But I survived that transition. Exactly one year ago, after a brief Christmas break, I left the house where I spent the greater part of my childhood and began my move to my new town and new job. I have become settled here — and yet, not fully.
At some point, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, when finances and other practicalities allow, I’ll have an engagement ring on my finger, and that part of my future will almost certainly require me to live in L.A. (He wants to pursue television production, and L.A. is, of course, the most natural place for him to do that, whereas my line of work is portable.) But that plan is only a very vague one. We could be married this time next year, or maybe not for two or three more years. I’ll have to find a new job, but I haven’t the slightest idea what I’ll be doing, or where, or when.
I’ve begun, at the encouragement of several friends and mentors, to consider grad school. I’ve shocked myself already by even entertaining the possibility. I’ve also toyed with the idea of a work-away program somewhere in Europe, in which I’d volunteer on a family’s farm or in a shop or so on in exchange for room and board.
What it all comes down to, really, is that I have no idea what the next year or even the next few months of my life hold. But for the first time, rather than being petrifying, that fact is exciting, even freeing. It’s the kind of excitement you get going up the first hill of a roller coaster you’ve never been on before. You don’t know what to expect, but whatever it is, you are locked in and have no way to avoid it. And while there’s a decided element of fear to that, it’s also thrilling.
It’s unlikely that any season of my life will be more ripe with possibilities. It’s unlikely I will ever be more mobile and less tied down than I am now. Later on, my life may be more stable, certainly, but greater stability almost always necessitates greater commitment. And that will be good, in its time. But for now, I am unstable. And what peculiarly wonderful thing that is.
For a a number of reasons, I am in a very bad mood right now, and I have been wallowing in it for the last hour. My reasons for being in a bad mood are, I think, perfectly legitimate, but the fact of the matter is that dwelling on those things accomplishes nothing.
So to counteract myself, instead of enumerating my reasons be miserable (which I will not specify because that somewhat defeats the purpose), I’m going to name things I’m thankful for.
- I am thankful to be employed. I am thankful that, while it’s a crunch most of the time, my employment earns me enough to pay my bills. I am thankful that my employment is in the field that I went to school for.
- I am thankful for Rory, my quirky little beater of a car. By all rights he should have puttered out by now, but he just keeps on going and hasn’t given me any major trouble.
- I am thankful to live in a town where the ocean is never more than 10 minutes away.
- I am thankful for technology that makes it easy for me to keep in touch with my long-distance boyfriend and even-longer-distance friends.
- I am thankful I have managed to avoid every bout of the cold or flu that has gone around at work this year. (I’m sure I’ve just jinxed that.)
- I am thankful for chiropractors.
- I am thankful that all the trees downtown are decorated with lights.
- I am thankful for Amtrak.
- I am thankful for microfiber blankets.
- I am thankful for beautifully and thought-provokingly written words.
- I am thankful for sleep, especially when I remember what my life was life this time last year (in a word: hell), because I was forced to go literally days at a time without it. This season of my life has its stresses, absolutely — and arguably stresses with higher stakes than what I was dealing with at the conclusion of my college career. But I don’t feel nearly as overwhelmed now as I did then, and the simple matter of getting enough sleep might be the key difference.
Has my mood reversed completely? No, I wouldn’t say so. But I would say I’ve regained perspective, and that’s enough for tonight.
Postscript: I am very, very thankful that I suddenly seem to have broken through whatever wall was holding me back over the last year and I am able to write consistently again.
Sometimes I think our obsession with superlatives actually hinders our enjoyment of things.
“BEST. DAY. EVER.”
“BEST. BOYFRIEND. EVER.”
“BEST. FOOD. EVER.”
I’ve encountered plenty such statements (and their negative counterparts) both in conversation and on social media. If I’m being honest, I haven’t been immune to expressing that sort of thing myself.
The trouble with making everything a superlative is that the “BEST ________ EVER” becomes the standard by which we measure all similar experiences. We’re judging whether this piece of chocolate is a god among confections, rather than simply enjoying the chocolate for what it is. And if this chocolate is not a god among chocolates, whether we realize it or not, our experience is tainted by some hint of disappointment, some sense that we did not get as much enjoyment as we could have.
Maybe it’s a quirk of Western culture, which thrives on competition, on striving for the best. Striving, of course, is not a fault in itself; it’s how we progress. But every virtue can become a vice without moderation, and especially in an era when individual happiness is the highest good, moderation often falls by the wayside. Temperance means self-denial, delayed gratification, neither of which are in vogue in a world that insists we must have the BEST, and we must have it NOW.
At the heart, the need for things to be the best is, most often, rooted in discontentment.
It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. And I wonder how often in our striving for the BEST, we completely miss out on what is good. We miss the worth of good things for our discontentment that they are not what we perceive as the best things.
What does it matter whether you are the most beautiful, or even whether you are more or less beautiful than someone else? You are beautiful.
What does it matter whether this is the most moving song you have ever heard? It moves you. Let it move you without comparing it to another song.
What does it matter whether this is the sweetest fruit you have ever tasted? It is sweet, and that is important enough regardless of whether another fruit is sweeter.
What does it matter whether this is the best day you have ever had? There will be other days that will be both worse and better; appreciate this day for what it is.
I grew up with a certain narrative of myself, of how I got from point A to point B, of why I'd made the decisions I'd made, of who I was and my motivations along the way.
This story changed radically, however, about 36 years into it. Which means I moved blindly along an accepted narrative trajectory for much longer than I should have.
Normally I would prefer to do anything to distract myself, to remove my mind as far from my body as possible. Normally I would prefer not even to acknowledge these moments to the world, for the sake of maintaining normalcy (“prefer” is even a strong word, at this point; concealment comes so naturally now).
I have a chronic pain disorder. It has been part of me for nearly four years now, and only for the last 15 months has it had a name. By now, what was once a nightmare has become routine, and I think little of it when a worse bout strikes. You would never notice, and in a way, it’s almost as if I myself barely notice anymore, because my coping mechanisms kick in so automatically.
But there are nights like this one when I don’t cope so well. Perhaps it’s because of the time; everything tends to seem far more significant in the wee hours — good things and bad alike, but especially loneliness.
It is a lonely feeling to be the only one in your home who is awake, and sometimes this is nice, in its own way. The contrast, however, between a roommate soundly asleep just across the room as your body is wracked with pain is the greatest isolation I have ever felt, and this may be almost as bad as the pain itself.
And so I distract myself, most nights, to distance myself not only from the pain, but from the loneliness. But tonight, I choose to engage it, to contemplate it. It is a part of me, after all, so why should I not learn to understand it and know it better?
It begins suddenly, as it always does. Sometimes you may get the slightest warning twinge, but it is never long before the pain seizes you fully, abruptly. You breathe while you can, slowly, deeply, knowing that you may only have a precious minute before it hurts too much to breathe in more than the shallowest, quickest intervals.
Claws. That may be the best way to describe how it feels. Doctors ask whether it feels like stabbing, or aching, or burning. It’s none of the above, really. It’s like a dozen claws trying to fight their way out, scratching and gouging their way through your insides, some in rapid, frantic bursts; others more slowly, almost deliberately.
Pain is just the misfiring of electric signals between the nerves and the brain, speaking strictly scientifically. It’s funny, though, how alive this misfiring can feel. Science essentially describes pain as the malfunction of a telephone wire, but this feels less like a malfunctioning telephone wire and more like an angry creature living within you, fighting to escape.
Breathe. You have a moment.
And then an explosion. Your whole body curls into itself, completely involuntarily. Your face contorts so violently you give yourself a headache, your jaw clenches so tightly you know it will ache in the morning. A single tear burns at the corner of your eye, but you do not make a sound. It’s strange, isn’t it? How our bodies react to sensation? Could you relax if you wanted to, if you consciously chose to let yourself go limp? You exhale slowly, very slowly. Arms go slack, tension leaving from the shoulders first and traveling downward. Back next. Legs. Forehead. Hands.
Your jaw remains clenched and you cannot will it otherwise. Oh well, you tried.
In these moments, you paradoxically feel terror and calm. Terror at just how much it hurts, at the possibility that it could get worse, at not knowing how long it will last this time; calm because this has happened before, it will happen again, but it will fade, and when it does you’ll wonder again whether you made the whole thing up. No, you assure yourself, this is real. This may be the most real thing you have ever experienced. Don’t forget that when it dissipates. (You’ll forget it. You always do, always wonder if you’re crazy.)
Somehow your limbs have become rigid again, your back arched. The pain continues to claw at you, raking across your body with growing ferocity.
God feels, in these dark hours, so far away, because this pain is so unlike Him, so completely other. And yet He at once feels closer than ever, because He feels it, too, and has felt pain unfathomably, infinitely greater.
Sometimes you feel as though every part of you has ceased to exist besides the pain. It possesses your body first, then your mind, then your spirit.
And then you remember that God Himself has felt this. That He has felt more than you will ever know.
And you feel very small.
And you feel very loved.
And you breathe. Once, twice…
It all begins again. Only a few minutes have passed — eternal minutes, but minutes nonetheless — and the cycle may repeat for hours, even days, even weeks at its worst.
But it will end. And you will still be here.
And it will begin again.
And one day, by His mercy, it will end for good.
Perhaps all this seems dramatic. Perhaps in the morning, I’ll agree. Perhaps it seems, too, like a cry for attention, but I hope you will forgive me for this, because it is not the case. Really, what I have tried to do is to make something beautiful from amid the depths of my pain. Because that, I think, more than ignoring it or concealing it, makes me its victor.
God’s grace is sufficient.
All of my posts from this year to date fit onto one page. I’m not sure why I’ve disappeared, because it certainly wasn’t for lack of good intentions. It also wasn’t for lack of things to write about.
Life has changed this year, drastically, and I’ve meant to record it, but somehow never did.
I think I’ve become a lot more thoughtful since January, which is partly because of all the changes, but also because I spend most of my time alone, since my work schedule hasn’t really allowed me to forge any friendships. And when I’m alone, I tend to get contemplative.
Being contemplative is good, of course, but logically, it’s not worth much if I’m not in discussion with others or writing about it. I remember in early teen years, nothing could keep me from writing, and the less time I spent with friends, the more time I spent scribbling away in my journal. But these days I’m daunted by the thought of writing, and consequently I have more half-finished drafts than I’d care to count.
Maybe part of it is because I had a fairly traumatic final semester of college, as far as stress is concerned (and if I’m being honest, most of my other semesters weren’t much better), and my greatest sources of stress came from things I had to write. I do think I’d earned some recovery time, but I’m coming up on one year since graduation. This should have been enough time.
I feel like right now I’m writing a eulogy for writing (ironic?). Writing has lately felt like an item on a to-do list. But I miss feeling like I needed to write.
In part, I suppose my unintentional hiatus is that I’ve been self-conscious about becoming One Of Those Sad Bloggers. Truthfully, this year has been easily my hardest, and I don’t feel the need to proclaim my sorrows to the world; I’d rather just confront them and push through them. Writing can be the best of outlets, but it can also become an excuse to wallow, to sensationalize, to romanticize our pain.
The other part, though, is that for reasons I don’t understand, I’ve been battling self doubt about whether I have anything worth saying to the world, despite my becoming more contemplative lately. Maybe that’s because I haven’t had people to be in conversation with and to give me feedback on my thoughts. I always feel in the moment like I’m having some profound realization, but as soon as I sit down to write, my belief in myself becomes crippled.
Maybe this is a normal part of becoming an adult in the post-grad world, where there are no grades to track your progress and no classes designed specifically to provoke discussion.
Or maybe, plain and simple, I need to learn to stop abandoning projects, no matter whether I abandoned them because of apathy or insecurity or anything else. I should resume learning to play the ukulele I got for Christmas two years ago. I should learn how to purl so I can finish knitting that scarf I started months ago. I should turn my storehouse of drafts into posts. I should keep working on the two watercolor paintings collecting dust in the corner. I should stick more religiously to my plan for working out. I should pick up any one of the several books I’ve left partly read and resume the journey through them. I should keep writing, in the nice journal I bought for myself at the very least, if not online.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but suddenly I think I just might miss homework deadlines. By no stretch of the imagination do I miss the stress they imposed, but I do miss the feeling of accomplishment that came with completing something.
Even now, I feel much better for having written even this bit of rambling. I’m thankful for that. It reminds me that despite my inexplicable block, writing is still more natural for me than not writing.
On a whim, I signed up yesterday for NaNoWriMo. 17 hours in and I am still completely void of ideas, though I’m hoping that if I just sit myself down and try to write, inspiration will come to me like it did back when I was 13, back when I had to be grounded from writing so I could do chores and schoolwork.
(Sidebar: Holy moly, 13 was a decade ago. How did that happen?)
So with that… I suppose the time has come to stop writing about how I can’t write and just start writing.
It’s only when I stop, in the space and in the silence, when I think intentionally and not just in passing, that I realize how much of my world is in shambles.
I have a mental picture of myself in a tower, and my tower is still standing, but the walls the tower was once a part of have crumbled to dust, and I don’t realize it until I remember to look out the window.
I’m not sure whether that means I’m coping very well, for the most part, or very poorly, for the most part.
I’m not sure whether that means I think too little or too much.
As most of you who have stopped by here a few times probably know, by day (well, technically by night), I’m a copy editor.
I’ve started a side blog specifically devoted to writing/editing tips and rants of frustration, happiness and general editing geekery. If this is your kind of thing, check it out at confessionsofacopyeditor.tumblr.com.
I’ve started a new blog that will be dedicated solely to all things copy editing — rants, tips, advice, you name it. Here’s my first post.
We copy editors have a strange job.
In most professions, you’re noticed when you’re successful. Your supervisors and coworkers can look at your work and congratulate you on a job well done.
A copy editor’s sign of success, however, is remaining invisible. We’re noticed when — and as a general rule, only when — we miss something, when we blow it, when a headline goes to print making a declaration about “Muslin Rage” in the Middle East rather than “Muslim Rage.”
Nobody can tell when we corrected a writer who mixed up “discrete” and “discreet.” Nobody can tell when we caught that a last name was spelled differently in the caption and the story. Nobody can tell when we attach that dangling modifier to the proper subject. And because, if we copy editors do our jobs well, we remain invisible, we’re often thought to be superfluous.
In a world going increasingly digital, print publications are struggling, and it only makes sense to cut back on those whose work seems inconsequential — like an unnecessary luxury. Naturally, then, copy editors are the first to be dismissed from newsrooms and publishing houses of every size and level of prestige.
It takes something of a masochist to survive and thrive as a copy editor. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to have stories come across our desks that need little more than a polish — add a comma here, change a word there. But more often, working on a story is equal parts pleasure and pain.
“Why don’t people understand grammar?” we wail. “Where is this reporter getting her rules of capitalization? Why are there so many em-dashes? Has he never read a stylebook? What does this paragraph have to do with anything?”
Yet even as we lament and tear our hair and gnash our teeth, our hearts swell with pride. Every mangled sentence that we straighten out like a mess of Christmas lights after a year of storage is Botox to our senses of self worth (or, we admit, to our smugness). A story is filed by an infamously shoddy writer, and we both dread and can’t wait to take up our swords red pens.
For at least eight hours a day, we subject ourselves to the emotional paradox. When we most hate our work, that is also when we most love it.
For all this, a copy editor must be content to do without recognition. We’ll never win a Pulitzer or even so much be congratulated by someone on the street — “Hey, I read X article on Y subject in Z publication. Nice editing!”
Instead, we’ll watch from the sidelines as writers accumulate awards and accolades for pieces that were, in most cases, very much a team effort. This is not something we’re bitter about (well, usually). It’s just a fact, and we accept it. We don’t do this for the glory
So why do we do it? We can’t deny that in part, we enjoy the sense of superiority we gain from turning coal to diamonds on a daily basis. Superiority, though, is not enough to be worth the abundance of frustration and dearth of appreciation. What really drives us, at the root of things, is a pure, unquenchable love for words.
We love the way words can be woven into an innumerable variety of tapestries.
We love that the same words, arranged differently, can report a murder or speak poetry.
We love that words both shape and are shaped by our culture.
We love that the use of words can and must be subject to books of rules, but simultaneously can and must be fluid and unfettered.
We love that words can both harm and heal; that they can proclaim the truth or silence it or warp it; that a multitude of them or very few can be used to articulate the same idea.
Jokingly, we’ll call ourselves “grammar Nazis.” It’s a fitting nickname, because we do love to enforce the rules, and we can be unforgiving when we do so. But beneath that, we’re just dazzled, enraptured, intrigued, inspired by the power of words, and we feel, somehow, protective of them.
For us, editing is not just another step in the process of manufacturing a product. Instead, it’s more like guarding a precious treasure that we don’t want to see marred or taken for granted or misused. Or we see ourselves as curators of a beautiful art collection, one we want others to appreciate and love as much as we do.
This is what words are to us. And this is why we edit.