SamuraiFrog posted this image some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. It’s pretty evocative of how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks:
For the record, I like my job. I honestly do, in spite of my periodic bouts of bitching about it. The griping and moaning I do here and on social media and in person to anyone who will listen is just my way of blowing off steam when I get stressed out. It’s purely reflexive, and admittedly kind of childish, and I often end up doing a lot of apologizing after the storm passes. The truth is, I work for a good company that offers a lot of perks; I have a boss whom I trust to have my back when necessary; and I seem to have a knack for what I actually do. I’m coming up on my ten-year anniversary with this company — ten years, the longest I’ve ever worked in one place, longer than I ever dreamed I would work in one place — so obviously it must be a fairly good match for me. Nevertheless, this job takes a lot out of me, both in terms of time and spirit, and I can’t pretend that I don’t feel frustrated about that. Between the hours I spend in the office and the time I lose to the damn commute — which must be counted against the work side of the work/life equation, because I certainly wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t have to — there just aren’t very many minutes left at the end of the day to spend on my own pursuits. I exist in a constant state of low-level anxiety, always conscious of the clock ticking, always feeling like there’s something else I ought to be doing, no matter what I actually am doing, because the to-do list is just so bloody long. I never feel caught up, or like I’ve really accomplished anything. Even when I do find some leisure time, I don’t seem capable of actually enjoying it anymore, because I feel guilty whenever I’m not doing something that can be described as productive. I can’t tell you the last time I wiled away a carefree afternoon reading, or watched a movie all the way through in one sitting without feeling antsy.
And that’s at the best of times, when the assembly line is running at a steady but not-too-intense pace. When things heat up, as they’ve been for the past couple weeks… when I start feeling like I can’t get away from my desk because there are too many items in the inbox and they’re all due by EOD, and the new work requests just keep piling up… when I can’t spare the time to go for my customary glucose-busting afternoon walk — a vital and anticipated part of my day ever since I was diagnosed with the ‘betes — well, that’s when I start to feel like this adult-responsibility stuff is grinding me up inside and making me lose touch with the person I really am, or at least the one I used to be, or maybe the one I wanted to be, because all I am managing to do with my life is keep the cogs turning. And that’s when I can’t help but start to bitch.
Incidentally, this isn’t about the number of hours I work. I know that lots of people work long hours, and that many folks log far more of them than I do. (Of course I know, because they all hasten to tell me about it anytime I raise the subject; I hate that I can’t mention the work/life thing without it turning into some kind of competition to see who’s the biggest grind, which completely misses the point and only reinforces my certainty that we live in a deeply sick society filled with people who suffer from some kind of Stockholm syndrome informed by the Protestant work ethic.) And if I’m being honest, I’m not called upon to work nearly as many late nights as I was a few years ago. These days, I very rarely get held up past my usual quitting time. Nevertheless, there have been many evenings, especially lately, when I’ve felt as if I’ve put in an 18-hour day. I don’t think people understand how fatiguing it can be to proofread all day long. I so often find myself slumped on the hard-as-a-plank bench seat on that hateful train, rolling for home, watching the sun sink behind the mountains to my right with their yellow-and-orange skirts of waste ore from the mine where my dad spent 36 years of his life, and wondering what the hell I’m doing wrong. At those moments, I usually find myself trying to remember what I used to imagine my adult life was going to be like, back when I was young and anything seemed possible.
What I mostly remember is that I thought my life would be relatively relaxed. Not easy, just… not infused with this unending worry that I don’t have enough time — that I won’t live long enough — to get it all done. I think I must’ve dreamed it would look something like one of those old Taster’s Choice commercials, all golden-hour lighting and bare feet on wood floors and a sense of tranquil unhurriedness. I never imagined that one day I would have to schedule times to call my distant friends on the phone, because we’re so damn busy the odds of catching each other at home are next to nil. Or that I would have a basement filled with books that I’ve never gotten around to reading, and the guilt and regret I carry around because of it. That I would feel genuine shame at how long it’s been since I managed to write even a shitty little blog entry, let alone a good one, or a sense of loss for the audience that I fear has largely evaporated.
And then there are the novels I was going to write. Did you know I once dreamed of being the next Stephen King? Yeah… that didn’t happen, did it?
I never careened down a grassy hillside in a little child’s wagon with a stuffed tiger for a companion. But I know exactly what that image up there at the top of this post is depicting.