The Blind Leap Back into the Periphery: A Call for Compassion

“What was I thinking?!”  It would be so easy to berate myself.  I could bash my forehead on the wall for doing it to myself again- for settling.

I accepted a job as the editorial director for a city magazine I helped start three years ago.

How is that settling, you ask? Because doing so put me squarely on the periphery of writing, where I have always been, where it is safe and where I will get a regular paycheck.  I could do this job well.  I could help this publication develop into a world-class bi-lingual city magazine.  Or at the very least, I could help make it profitable.  I have the knowledge and experience in project and publishing management.  I believe in the mission of the magazine.  And I know good writing when I see it, and can help writers get there if they need help.

A buzz began in the center of my being  after they made their first offer.  I thought it was a signal to me that this was an “important” opportunity.  After I accepted their final offer, my heart rate and blood pressure  surged whenever I started thinking about the work.  I began to lose sleep and my appetite.  Was it the stirrings of love for a fulfilling career?  Was it the jubilant excitement of working in my calling?  No.  It was anxiety, plain and simple.

Though I did well enough in the first weeks, which involved editing pieces that should have been edited months before and working late night after late night with a  designer who had no time to fix errors, I found my health deteriorating rapidly.  I attributed it to the extraordinary work load of working two other jobs and a full-time course load, plus mothering and wife-ing.  But as one job and the courses ended, blood continued to pound in my ears, my jaw and throat clenched, and the buzz at the center of my being inched towards migraine-status.  It wasn’t simply the momentum of perpetual busy-ness. Something was wrong.

Then one night I was looking at the recommended texts for an upcoming course on The Writer’s Craft.  As I reviewed each book to choose the five I would use, I started to mourn the writing I would have to give up once I graduate.  At some point, the insanity of that notion hit me.  I went in to my husband’s office, sat on the couch, and ranted.

“I’m a writer.  What I am doing editing this magazine?  I’m a writer!  Even if it was the New Yorker, I should not be editing a magazine.  I am a writer!  I am settling again, goddamnit!”

He listened patiently, with compassion, then asked me what I was going to do.

My whole life, I have found convenient, peripheral ways to write – managing the business end of an alumni magazine, writing a staff newsletter, formatting or writing technical documentation, writing copy for websites.  I even found professional pursuits that would be “noble goals” and would allow me to write for non-profits – grants, promotional material, etc.  But as I’ve said before, there are things I need to say.  I have found my voice.  I know it now, and so this blind leap into the next peripheral job nearly strangled me to death. Living close to my truth nearly killed me.

I gave my boss notice two days later.  I am no longer the editorial director of a magazine.  I will help finish up the planning and documentation over the next week or two, and then I am free.  I am breathing easier already, and my sleep has improved.  My heart even flips occasionally for joy as I take my first steps into a writing life.

So I am blogging again.  And will pursue the publication of several essays. My Creative Non-fiction instructor, Jeffery Cahan, wrote of my last assignment:  “Amalia, this outstanding literary analysis written in classy creative nonfiction style inspires me to suggest that you may want to write more of these (analyses) and see if any literary nonfiction websites or print publications would  be interested in publishing your critiques (as well as your essays in the genre).”   I’m going to cling to those words as I receive the rejections that are inevitable, and then submit somewhere else!

This requires compassion.  I screwed up.  I accepted a job that I was ideally suited to based on my previous experience.  I am just not ideally suited to it based on the calling I am finally answering.  And if I were to berate myself for that mistake, I would defeat the “Lush growth with heart/mind” that I have encouraged by this spontaneous attention to the well-being of…me.