Ruth: So, here’s the hardest thing of this whole freelance life for me: Keeping my spirits up. It’s so damned easy to get downhearted and feel alone. And wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing. Or why I’m trying to do what I do (since I don’t seem to be doing it that damned well).
For the most part, I show up — which is 80% of success, according to Woody Allen. Show up and keep showing up. I’m at my desk, writing and interviewing people over the phone. Yesterday, I went to the free-for-all in South Austin called First Thursday and wandered around, getting some quotes for my article.
So I’m here and there, showing up, doing my 80%. But what if the remaining 20% doesn’t materialize?
More than anything, I think, it’s the sheer isolation and almost total lack of structure that are so damned difficult. It’s so easy to feel lost and useless, without real purpose.
I look back on the few weeks I’ve been doing this and see mistakes I’ve made. I’ve been scattered, impatient to send something — anything! — in to be considered. Instead of focusing on one project at a time, I’ve been pulled in several different directions. Which is partly deliberate: Why work on only one project when its rejection can be too devastating? Why not juggle as much as possible, so that there’s always something in the air — something that keeps me hopeful?
It’s strange to write this, because there’s always a nearby presence that haunts me — the possibility of depression and immobility. It’s been years since I’ve had a fullblown depression, but it frightens me that it could recur.
So here I am, on a beautiful October morning. The sunlight is streaming in through the windows. But I feel sad and a little sick at heart.
It doesn’t overwhelm me, though. I know I can combat it. I can arrange to see people and get out. I can return to the work I have waiting for me. I can remind myself that this whole writing world is tough and there’s no easy way to do it. I can’t do it unless I’m tougher on myself and push more. I can commit myself to having a useful, productive, active day, remind myself that my time is valuable.
I can remind myself of everything Ellen has gone through — much more than I ever have — and how she’s summoned the guts to go on. Reading her bio, I was struck by her courage after Bill’s death, when her life changed forever. Now, after three agonizing years, she’s striking out and starting over in a new place. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be, leaving Israel, her old life and friends. But she’s doing it, somehow.
In comparison, what I’m doing is so slight. I have to grow more of a backbone, more of an unperturbable work ethic.
“This is the business we have chosen, Michael,” is what Hyman Roth says in Godfather 2. (I do have this tendency to confuse movies and life, and the first two Godfathers are two of my all-time favorite movies.) Yes, this is the business we have chosen. I’ve freely chosen to do something that’s hard, something I knew would be hard. And now, once again, I have to get my ass in gear and do it.
Finally, I should mention that writing this blog is a strange and interesting comfort to me. It’s always there. It reminds me — don’t laugh — that I exist and am accountable. I’m really writing to no one, except Ellen. (And maybe to my husband, who checks in occasionally. Earlier this week, he seemed surprised by what I’d written, by how personal and unprotected it is. But, within reason, I think that’s what blogging is supposed to be. Or maybe every blogger creates her own reason for doing it.)
But this is a space I’ve staked out for Ellen and me to talk about what moves us and what scares us. I take it more seriously than I would have ever predicted.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)