In spite of the headline given (not by me) to this piece I wrote a few weeks ago, I have actually been trying to make the most of my time on furlough. Obviously I’m horrified by the state of the world, but I am also oddly detached, plodding along in my privileged bubble, not (yet) directly affected by death and loss. While I haven’t made a single banana bread or focaccia, I have been able to enjoy the sun, spend more time with my family, and get on top of all the life admin I never normally have time to do. I’m aware that lockdown has been incredibly easy for me, aside from slightly exacerbated mental health issues and the uncertainty of my housing and job situation.
One of the things I’ve been trying to do with this time is use it to build my writing portfolio, hence the slight flurry of activity over on my Facebook page and Twitter feed. I’ve spent the last two months trying to exist in a constant state of creativity, always thinking about how a situation or feeling could translate into an article. I’ve written pitch after pitch, each time utterly convinced that the idea will surely be my ‘big break’, only to hear nothing back, or to receive a rejection two weeks later. I’ve scoured the internet for commissioning editors, publications, submission requests, just ANY email address I can use. I’ve slid into editor’s DMs, usually being ignored but sometimes receiving a polite thanks but no thanks. It wasn’t even the money I was after, I just wanted one. measly. commission. Was that too much to ask?
But then I got one. Seeing the email, I was ecstatic, thrilled, nervous, terrified, but mostly just relieved. Finally, here was some evidence that the emails I was sending weren’t just disappearing off the face of the earth as soon as I pressed ‘send’. Someone had actually opened my email, read it, and decided that they liked what they saw. I replied quickly, confirming the 24-hour deadline before the editor realised (which I was sure she would) that I wasn’t really a journalist. Okay, my day job is as a journalist, but writing about classical music is a completely different ball game to writing for a women’s mag. Plus, did I actually want to write the article I’d suggested? When I’d pinged off the email, had I thought through how personal and exposing the piece would be?
Well, as you may already know, I did write it. It was a whirlwind of activity – finding a psychologist to interview down a Twitter rabbit hole, receiving the brief after I’d already written 800 words, working out how to create an invoice, deciding how personal to get – all the usual stuff that comes with writing an article. Once I’d filed it, I waited days for feedback, then weeks before it was published. It was always on my mind, sometimes because I was worried about something I’d written, sometimes because I was excited about sharing it with my family and friends, and sometimes because I was stressing that it might not be good enough to publish after all. I swung between wanting to shout about it on all my social media and wanting to remain completely anonymous, hoping no one I knew stumbled across it online.
When it finally was published, I ended up sharing it straight away. I’ll admit, I was proud. Proud that after all this effort something had finally paid off. I was proud that these ‘proper’ journalists had read it and thought it was good enough to go on their site. After a few days of excitedly sharing it and receiving feedback from friends and people I hadn’t spoken to in years, I started to feel a little deflated. I had finally achieved my goal of getting a commission, but having a career in journalism doesn’t just mean having one thing published. It means constantly producing original ideas, staying alert (honestly wrote that before I realised…), and always putting yourself out there. Plus, I thought the commission would make me happy, but I realised it was just another one of those ‘I’ll be happy when’ moments.
I live under a permanent cloud of these ‘when’ moments. I’ll be happy when I’m X weight. I’ll be happy when I get my degree. I’ll be happy when it’s the weekend. I’ll be happy when I get a boyfriend. I’ll be happy when I’m married. I’ll be happy when I have those dungarees. I’ll be happy when this workout is over. I’ll be happy when I finish this book. I’ll be happy when etc etc. I spend so much time with this mentality that I never let myself feel happy in the now. I’m always thinking about the next activity, the next goal, the next thing on the to-do list.
This is a problem, but it’s one I don’t have an answer for. I’ve tried yoga, art, mindfulness (whatever that is), praying, sunbathing, watching TV, anything that supposedly involves ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. But nothing works. My mind is always two, three, four steps ahead, planning the next thing or trying to come up with a new idea. Even during lockdown, when I’ve been forced to slow down, my mind has actually sped up, overwhelmed with all the time-filling possibilities. Maybe this is fine – it’s just part of my (and many other people’s) personality. But if I can’t let myself be happy right now, then it doesn’t really seem all that fine to me.
There isn’t really a point to this post, other than it is letting me reflect on how I feel after achieving one of my self-imposed goals. Yes, I was happy about the commission and the finished article, but the happiness was only fleeting, as with any feeling that comes from an external source. I need to learn to be content (that seems more manageable than happy) with who I am in myself. Content with who I am without the bylines, the qualifications, the job title and all the other stuff society has decided is important.
I guess this kind of thing is always going to be a work in progress, and I’m okay with that. As long as I’m actively aware that the default ‘I’ll be happy when’ is fundamentally a lie. There will always be more to be achieved, earned, gained or obtained, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be happy in who I am now. All I’ve got to do now is believe it.