Productivity, Creativity, Angst and Homemade Bread: A Meditation on Unemployment

“I’m struggling with meaninglessness,” I announced while indulging in my pre-dinner glass of wine on the deck with my husband.

“Drink more water,” was his reply.

I laughed, because this is one of our standard jokes, and after five years of marriage it is really nice to share the intimacy of a standard joke.  But it wasn’t satisfying and I persisted.  “I think I have existential angst.”

“This isn’t new.  You felt this way when you had a job.”  Thank God for partners: his ability to hold the longitudinal thread of my vague restlessness is incredibly helpful.  I thought it was a symptom of unemployment.  Apparently not.

And apparently it isn’t going away.  Like a nasty cough or an annoying neighbor, this amorphous sense of dread, longing, and dissatisfaction with myself just keeps hanging around, offering snide comments or eating all my congo bars.

This week I will complete my first three months of unemployment.  It has been a huge lifestyle change, and I have embraced it with vim and vigor.  I chop wood and bake bread, and by doing so, managed to shave about $2500 from our family’s budget over these first three months.  While I hike or walk the dogs I wrack my brains for ways to continue that trend – to extend the savings beyond swapping wood heat for propane and homemade bread for storebought.  Almost everything I buy I look at askance: can I make this at home?  Beer is next, with tutelage from my husband, a former beer judge and president of the local homebrewer’s association.  I make bread, crackers, yogurt, dog treats, and human treats.  I am busy and productive, keeping the dogs walked and brushed, the laundry done, and the bills paid.  But the angst keeps circling overhead, like a damn vulture.

There is no question that I have been productive.  If you were of a mind to do so, you could tally up exactly how productive and assign a dollar value to it.  But the feeling that nags at me is in part a sense of not doing enough.  Not accomplishing enough, and discounting what I do accomplish as not valuable enough or just plain not good enough.  What the hell is this about?

It finally came to me the other day: I’m not writing.  I mean, I do write a blog post here and there, and a little something for Yoga Modern when I can, but I’m not working on any major creative project.  I’m not plying my trade or honing my craft or whatever you might want to call it.  I’m productive as all get out, but I’m not being creative.  Or if you want to argue that baking bread and making yogurt are creative, then I’m not being creatively self-expressive.  And I have the time to notice.

I admit that having the time and mental space to notice and acknowledge angst is a luxury.  When working full time, I really did just address the minimum daily requirements and fall into bed exhausted every night, barely aware of any emotion unless it was cranked up to eleven.  And when the internal pressure mounted, I wrote, even when I was working full time.  In fact all three of my novels were written while working full time and mommy-ing full time.  So what’s going on now?

I don’t know.  Self-doubt, a la “Am I really a writer?” – yup.  But that’s ever present.  Procrastination as a front for laziness coupled with fear of commitment?  Sure.  But that’s pretty much eternal too.  What is different is that I no longer have the external structure of a job.  I no longer have the distinction between “my time” and time that is owned by someone – anyone – else.  The restructuring of my time, creating routines, and protecting sacred creative space are all brand new to me – I’m only three months in and still feeling my way along the walls, not yet figuring out how to strike a match and shed some light on this new place.

I have ideas: two of them to be exact.  And I think I’m afraid of them both in totally different ways.  Scared they’ll be boring, scared they’ll suck, scared they’ll be exactly as all my other ideas have been: meh.  Not too bad, but not worth the years of my life spent developing them.  And yet I know I can’t not write them (apologies for the double negative).  They’ll stalk me to my death, hissing and snarking, taunting and seducing me until I write every last lousy word.

Everything I have learned about myself, life, and angst, over the past 45 years allows me to say with great confidence that I will get started when I’m good and ready, and that no amount of blogging, whining, or angst-ing will change that.  But awareness will and already has.

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One Response to Productivity, Creativity, Angst and Homemade Bread: A Meditation on Unemployment

  1. dogsaplenty says:

    Love this, Heather, as I always do, every single word.

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