GNH

It’s been a couple of days since we decided I wouldn’t be doing any more conventions for the time being, and I feel pretty okay about that decision.  As much as I enjoy conventions (in a Leslie Knope kind of way) I feel a certain amount of relief that I don’t have to scramble to find a way to pay for more booth fees since SLCC didn’t bring in money for that.

We made another decision that has been more difficult to reconcile, though.  That night while crying in my wine glass filled with cheap cab, I said, “I would give up all my creativity just to be financially stable.”  At the time I meant it.  Living in the US sucks if you are poor.  There’s the being food or housing insecure, but there’s also an added layer of judgement that comes along with being unable to pay your bills.  Thanks to our Puritan roots that equates wealth to worth, happiness is seen as only deserved by those who have an emergency fund, credit card balances paid off each month, and a retirement fund.  If you struggle from month to month, or live paycheck to paycheck, you are expected to be miserable.

I have struggled with more than societal expectations.  My ex made several times more than I did our entire relationship, a fact that became a problem after I had Charlotte.  I stayed home because it was decided that my $10 an hour would just get eaten up by childcare costs.  And once I lost that income, my worth to the relationship dwindled.  It didn’t matter that I was cleaning and cooking (things I did before I left my job).  The time that I spent raising our daughter didn’t count either.  Because there wasn’t a dollar amount attached to my efforts, I became a sort of indentured servant, paying for my keep with maid, cook and nanny services.  There’re reasons we divorced, and that’s one of them.

Coming back to the other night: all of the above was swirling around in my head when I admitted that I would trade the thing that made me happiest, the thing that made me who I am, for a respectable living.  I probably would have kept thinking that if Stephan hadn’t asked me if sewing made me happy.

“Yes,” I said, not really seeing what that had to do with anything.

Well then, what if we took the money factor out of things, he asked.  Not that I wouldn’t still sell my work on Etsy, or stop taking commissions.  Just … stop worrying about making a certain amount each month. What if, for the next few months, I focused on the happiness that sewing and writing brought, rather than the money?

It’s not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around.  I’ve been told all my life that I am lazy and irresponsible with money.  Just working without an expectation of making money seems to align with those ideas.  Jerk Brain, too, has chimed in with all sorts of guilt-inducing comments about how others don’t have the opportunity to take a sabbatical, and that the idea “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is just a bunch of privileged, white woman talk.

I’m trying to get around those obstacles, though.  I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life trying to justify my right to life through my income.  Taking four months to sew, write, bake bread, clean house and be the woman I want to be isn’t too much to ask out of a lifetime of being a wage slave.

After all, Stephan is back to regular hours at work after summer hours saw him working three days a week instead of five.  We can make that work to cover the monthly bills and any cash I make can go towards chipping away at our debt.  What’s the worse that can happen?  We won’t get out of debt as quickly as I had wanted.  But since I didn’t have any more conventions planned for this year, and since they weren’t bringing in the big bucks like I had hoped, it’s not like I am risking anything big.

The hardest part is giving myself permission to focus on what makes me happy.  I’m not comfortable with that idea.  And the fact that I am uncomfortable makes me sad.  I have to let go of the idea that I can’t really enjoy what I am doing until I am successful at it.  I’m not sure I will ever be okay with the emphasis of gross national happiness over gross domestic product.  For the next four months, though, I’m going to look at that discomfort through a lens of challenging my societal upbringing, and assure myself that at the very worst I can go back to measuring my worth by my bank account come January 1.

The Zombie in the Basement and the Gremlin in my Head

To say that I have been happy the last few weeks feels like I am confessing a horrible secret.  It took forever to admit it to myself, let along to say it out loud—even to Stephan.  I feel guilty about my happiness.  Jerk Brain pipes up immediately to point out that I don’t deserve to be happy.  There are many reasons, the topmost being that I haven’t fulfilled my duties with regards to Eggplant and the Spellbound & Spindles anthologies.  No matter that there’s nothing I can do at the moment.  I am waiting on the printer.  Jerk Brain counters with the argument that I wouldn’t be waiting on the printer if I had gotten this done in a timely manner.  Ergo: I shouldn’t dare be happy with that unresolved business shambling around in the basement like a zombie I’ve trapped but have yet to dispatch.

More than the anthologies, though, the admission that I am happier than I have been for years brings up the question of why I was so unhappy.  When I reopened Eggplant I viewed it as a return to what I loved.  As time passes, I have started to view that move as a step backward.  With every bag I sew, every pattern I draft, I see that I never let myself enjoy my work as a costumer.  I looked at it as what I was doing to get by until I could do something “meaningful” again.  And now I find that I enjoy the sewing so much more than I did running Eggplant.

I have struggled to admit all of this.  It can be taken to mean that I regret going back to publishing, and that’s not what I am saying.  I’m glad I reopened Eggplant, even if I had to close it down again.  I am so very proud of what I published, and I won’t have to live with the regret of not having tried it again.  Still, it is clear that Eggplant was a way station on my journey, one that I wasn’t meant to revisit.

Until I can finish all of the Eggplant business I will continue to argue with Jerk Brain.  It’s a tenacious little gremlin, one that knows all of my insecurities and weaknesses.  That’s why it’s attacks are so successful.   And that is why I have decided to publicly admit that I’m happy.  One of Jerk Brain’s tactics is the fear of being judged by others for my happiness.  I make this admission to cut the legs out from under one of the gremlin’s most effective barbs.  And perhaps once I have laid that zombie to rest I will be able to banish Jerk Brain to the back closet of my mind.  If not, at least it can’t use my happiness against me any more.