- Read more of everything.
- Books are great, read those. But there are also newspapers and online news sites, short fiction, poetry, magazines, graffiti in bathroom stalls, motivational sayings at the bottoms of posters featuring kittens dangling precariously. Anything you enjoy reading, you should read more of. Anything that seems informative, you should read more of. Then, you should seek out the opposite information and read that, too, so you can decide for yourself which side you think is correct. Probably, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It tends to be. But the more you read, the better informed you are, and the better chance that you’ll be able to sort these things out for yourself.
- Go for more walks.
- Move purposely, out in the world, alone with your own thoughts. Look around the scenery. Stand up straight as you walk. Don’t hurry. Don’t dawdle.
- Sleep whenever you can.
- If you’re not being productive, if you’re tired, if you feel frustrated by your aging body’s desire to do less than your brain deems necessary at any given moment – go to bed. Rest. Nap. Sleep for many glorious hours. Whatever your body needs, do it. You’ll feel better, snap less, get more done, and generally be healthier.
- Replace every instance of “ferret” with: “they’re weasels, man, not pets; they’re fucking weasels“.
- Cook more often.
- I don’t mean heating food according to the package directions. Make something from scratch. Taste all of the ingredients. Roll them around on your tongue. Know the individual flavors of everything going into your food. Use ingredients you adore. Love your food.
- Every once in a while, refrain from saying something. You don’t always need to. You can listen, instead.
- Pick one thing you are unhappy about, and fix it.
- It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it can be. That’s up to you. Just find one thing that’s making your life worse, a thing or a person or a way of being that you’re trying to ignore, and find a solution. Get rid of it. Have it repaired. Break up with it. Move away from it. Rearrange it. Ship it off to where it actually belongs. Whatever you need to do, stop putting it off, and get it done.
- Laugh every chance you get.
- Give something away. Preferably to someone who needs it, or someone that you would love to have the thing, or – if that fails – to a charity which could use the thing. You really don’t need all of those things.
- Take a day off. Listen to some music. Take a walk. Kiss someone you fancy. Eat a nice lunch. Maybe have a nap. Whatever you want, as long as you don’t do anything important at all.
Looking back over 2015, and really, over the last several years, it’s immediately obvious that I have had a lot of struggles. My life now is vastly different from where it was 10 years ago. I’ve left California – where I was born and raised and never intended to leave – to drive across the county, trying out Philadelphia and New Jersey before ending up in a little city in Central New York. I adore it here, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
I went from starting community college at 31, with a new baby, to the last semester of my BA in a History of Art degree at an Ivy League university – only to run out of loans, leave school, struggle to find work, and end up back in community college pursuing a (much more marketable) degree in business. I started freelancing as an editor, and found, one by one, all the ways that freelancing can be a disaster, all the ways I can screw up.
I screwed up as a writer, too, missing opportunities and losing the time and focus I am desperate to put into my writing, spent on dealing with everything else.
I’ve been unemployed – I am, at the moment, uncertain how I’m going to pay the rent next week. I’ve been scared about whether I can provide for my son so much more than I ever thought possible.
My son was diagnosed with a severe speech disorder and autism and ADHD, and we were given a laundry list of all the things he’d never be able to do wit his life. I have spent most of his life being worried and frustrated, struggling to communicate with him, to teach him, to be his advocate; I’ve spent countless hours fighting the state, the school systems, doctors, teachers – anyone who wanted to give up on my son – and educating myself in the process. I’ve done it mostly alone, without any family or good friends close by.
I know I’ve made mistakes, made bad choices, broke down, and been lost. But my child has grown up, found his voice, and exceeds even my expectations, every day. He’s well on his way to becoming a man who can graduate school, go to college, live on his own, and make a life for himself. Not now, not for years and maybe not in the way you’d usually think, but someday.
I was married, and now I’m not. The idea of caring for a child with a disability was the last straw for a man who already didn’t want to make a better life for us, only for himself. We were left without a father for my son, without a partner for me, without child support. We haven’t seen or heard from him in years, and I don’t expect he’ll ever see us again. It was his choice, but in choosing him (and every other bad relationship in my life), it was my failure too.
Over the years, I’ve realized how much I didn’t know. I was horrible with finances, and life-long poverty had never given me a chance to learn. I was never taught how to do well in school, how to be organized and on time, and I had to teach myself while going to college and raising a child. This last semester, going back to college (without the childcare and support I had before) made me relearn it again.
I had a undiagnosed eating disorder for most of my adult life. Over the last few years, I’ve figured that out, sought treatment, sorted myself out, and begun the long process toward a healthier life. But all the years of dieting and fighting with food and “succeeding” only to gain it back… All that time, I spent disappointed in myself.
I didn’t know how to make a healthy relationship work either. That may have been the biggest failure of my life. So much drama, hurt, wasted time, wasted money, wasted opportunities.
And then, randomly, I found the person I was looking for. The last five years has been hard on us both, as we taught and challenged and supported each other while we both figured out what love and family and a real, solid, partnership was. I don’t know I’ve ever put so much into another relationship, another adult human being, in my entire life, and along the way, I’ve discovered who I really want to be. And a person who inspires me to be my very best.
Today I am dwelling in my failures. I have made grand efforts, and I have failed. I admit that. I have to.
But I am so loved. I have a family now that I never believed possible. Not easy (never easy) but worth it, and the foundation for the best possible future. I’m writing again. I have a plan for a better life. I fought for that, and that I won.
The rest is a temporary state of learning from my mistakes before back I get up, and try again. I regret every mistake, every failure, every time I hurt someone else or let myself down, every wasted moment. But I don’t regret where I’ve ended up, or the beautiful life in front of me. I just need to make it happen.
To begin with, I think it’s clear to most people that emailing random strangers to offer them money (or anything else) in exchange for sexual favors is a very bad idea. It is just as bad as sending unsolicited nude photos. It is just as bad as contacting people to threaten, insult, or otherwise make them feel unsafe, for any reason. In fact, all of those things fall under the category of “do not do this for any fucking reason, okay?”
It’s safe to say that I’ve gotten my fair share of the last type of emails and comments. Though I don’t seek to antagonize anyone, there are issues for which I will stand up and make my opinion clear. Doing so has occasionally gotten me the unwanted attention of trolls, sexists, white supremacists, and other folks whose desperately-insecure need to control everyone around them is bigger than their IQs. That isn’t my fault, since I’ve never gone out of my way to contact anyone and force my opinion on them. I’ve never searched our anyone’s email address and sent them threatening messages. I’ve never done anything which might cause someone to fear for their life, to contact the police, or removed themselves from the Internet or other public spaces out of fear of me.
But others have done so to me. I’ve kept the smaller, occasional stuff to myself, and shared only when the burden of it got to be too large for me to handle. I think that’s how most folks deal with harassment. We hear about it when there’s a surge in attacks against them, but there are little aggressions they carry alone. It gets tiring to talk about this stuff, after a while.
The last few weeks, I’ve gotten harassment of the other sort. Someone I don’t know and have never interacted with has been sending unsolicited emails describing his* sexual fantasies and asking that I join him. He’s offered money, dinner; he’s been polite, then apologized for contacting me, then emailed again, describing his kink in greater detail (classic obsessive behavior). He isn’t sending these to my private email accounts – he’s sending them to my professional, editing email account. He’s sending them to my work space.
I haven’t, not once, responded. He hasn’t stopped.
I share everything he’s sent with another person, so there’s record of the messages and escalation, and another human I know in real life to share what I’m dealing with. But other than that, I’ve been too uncomfortable to even go into my email. (If I owe you emails, I’m so sorry. I’m not ignoring you, I promise.) This person is reading my blog and Twitter; he’s mentioned going back through several month’s worth. He’s asked me to meet him in person, so he has a good sense of where I live, and has made it clear he can get to me.
All because he thinks I seem approachable.
And the truth is, I want my fans to appreciate my work. I love to hear what people think of my writing. As a freelancer, I’m always open to new work, and have to be accessible to clients. As a person who needs support to get through college and keep writing, I know I have to share a little more of my life then maybe other people do, in order to give something back to everyone who’s helping me. I am an introvert who rarely talks about her child, boyfriend, or personal life online because I want as much privacy as possible, but I accept that I have to let the world in more than I’d like.
I accept all of this. THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN INSERT YOURSELF INTO MY LIFE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, OR TAKE SOMETHING AWAY FROM ME. That’s what harassment does. All forms of it. Even the most politely worded requests for something you weren’t permitted to have invade the other person’s space, comfort zone.
This person who’s emailed me… I didn’t publicly share their contact info and particulars of their admittedly-unusual kink because I don’t want to get into a conversation about what’s too weird, as if more vanilla forms of solicitation are somehow okay. (They’re not.) It isn’t the kink that’s the issue. And I’m hoping this person will realize what they did wrong, never contact me again. I’ve already spent so much more time on them than I should have been forced to give up.
And in time – time I couldn’t afford to lose and potential work I couldn’t afford to miss – I’ll get over being afraid to check my email. I’ll get back to work. I’ll move on from what this person took from me.
It won’t be today.
* They identified themselves as “a guy” so that’s what I’m going with.
I originally shared this on Facebook, but I realized there are people I only know online, who’ve supported my work or contributed to my GoFundMe campaign, who might want to understand this too.
I want to work. I believe that having a stable, fiscally awesome dayjob will help me to write, by giving me security, rather than get in the way. It isn’t following my dreams that keeps me from wanting to be in an office full time. It’s actually how much money I can make right now that’s the problem.
I can’t work outside of school hours without specially-trained care for my son. The state will provide this, as long as I don’t make too much money. (I know how lucky this makes me; most states don’t offer as much support.) “Too much” is about what I make from an average admin position. “Too much” just barely pays the rent in this town.
So, I work, and then lose my childcare, so I can’t work. Thus I’ve only worked about 9 months at a time, my last couple of jobs, and I have to go through a ton of paperwork each time.
In order to work, I need to make more, enough to cover expenses plus childcare – but to get those positions, I need a degree in business. Okay, so, I’ll go back to college for that… But while I’m in college, I’m not working, not paying my bills.
In the long run, college will provide for me and my son. Right now, because I was barely holding on and now there’s a delay in my unemployment benefits*, my rent check just bounced. I have no way to get the money I need in the next few days. I could quit college and go back to work, but that only helps for a few months, and I’m right back here again. So… I have to stay in school. I don’t have another choice.
It’s not always obvious, the things that keep people in poverty and debt. It isn’t always easy to fix. But at least now you know a little more about me.
If you can and want to help me, here’s what would help the most:
You can donate to me via PayPal by sending it to email@example.com
You can contribute to my GoFundMe campaign
You can hire me for editing work! I’ll also do ghostwriting, content creation, eBook creation, formatting, anything, just ask. Check out my editing site at http://cuinnedits.com.
* I get a small unemployment payment on weeks I don’t do any freelance work, at least until the end of 2015. The last three weeks, my payments haven’t gone through. I spoke to unemployment; my worker didn’t properly remove the hold after a mandatory meeting – which I attended -even though I’ve contacted her twice since and she’s insisted it was done. Meanwhile, she swore I’d have the money already, which is why I sent the rent check. I emailed her again today. The main office also put in a request to take off the hold, but it will be end of the week before it’s done, so mid next week before I find out if I’ll even get the money I’ve been due for three weeks now.
I’m halfway through my first semester back in college. So far, I’ve:
- borrowed, begged, and asked for help to pay my bills without a dayjob.
- come down with a cold that turned into bronchitis, which meant I…
- couldn’t go to a doctor because I no longer have health insurance.
- spent 3+ weeks sleeping.
- got behind in some of my online classes and had to drop my traditional (in-person) classes, because I couldn’t manage the 35 mile drive EACH WAY to campus while sick.
- added new online classes to keep my status above full-time.
- took quizzes, tests in all of my classes; did homework; participated in discussions – basically, all the parts of a class, with a mix of grades from As to Cs.
- figured out how much I didn’t know about going to college with my life the way it is now.
Or to put it another way: I struggled. I set goals I didn’t meet. I was sick and exhausted, I fell behind, I left myself down (and probably some other people, too), and I felt like a failure.
Because, to be honest, in some ways I am failing. I am not doing as well as I had hoped, making this transition back to college. That’s just a fact.
Yesterday, I wanted to give up. It wasn’t the first time, but it hit me hard. I took a huge risk, going back to college now, doing without a dayjob. I’d hoped to do more freelancing, but being sick meant I haven’t pursued any new work for weeks, so I haven’t even had that income. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of support – thank you! – and with that comes the internal pressure of not wanting to let anyone down. If I don’t do well this semester, I’ve wasted this time, this opportunity. Put my son through this for nothing. Leaned on people who were there for me without anything to show for their faith in me.
It’s tempting to quit. Scrap this whole semester. Recover from being ill. Catch up on everything I’m behind on. Start fresh next semester.
Yesterday, I told my person how awful I was feeling. His response was perfect: that it sucked to feel that way, but I wasn’t a failure, I wasn’t alone, and we’d sit down and talk about where I’m at, and what I need. Just it’s okay to feel defeated and let’s sort out where you really are vs what you’re feeling and you’re not giving up, so make a plan based on your options now.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do all along, and what I needed to be reminded of. I’m not giving up. I’m not running away. Just because it’s harder than I expected or no fun or I’m not succeeding as easily as I want – those aren’t reasons to quit. That’s not who I am.
Instead, I reconsidered the goal posts. (It might be three semesters at community college before I can transfer, instead of two. Would that really be so bad? No, I guess not.) I thought about why I’m struggling. (I definitely need to study more, and research beyond the textbook, to find the information the class assumes I know but I actually don’t.) I thought about why I had certain expectations of myself, and why I judge myself as harshly as I do. (As my friend Mary told me, “You’re not failing. You’re tired. And that’s okay.” Until she said it, I wouldn’t have seen myself that way.)
As much as I hate to feel like a failure at this moment, I think I can learn from all of this. The lessons for me will be: don’t give up, and learn how to be a better student.
Going to school now is not like when I was in college before, and assuming I could easily pick up where I left off is part of what threw me off course. Another part of falling behind was that some of my classes are second or third classes in a series I started when I was in college six or so years ago… I’d thought that because I’d aced those courses before, I’d be okay now. It turns out, I’d forgotten things I didn’t know I was missing.
In some cases, like my International Business class, the work is mainly conceptual. I can read the textbooks and consider the ideas presented, and I’m able to access the information when I take the test. Easy. No problem. In other classes, Accounting and Econ, it’s more terms and formulas that I haven’t been using. Like taking Spanish 2 a decade after you got an A in Spanish one, without so much as having asked “donde es la Bibliotheca?” one time in between.
As of late last night, I’ve caught up on all of my schoolwork. There are things I can’t make up, which will affect my final grades, but going forward I can stay on top of my assignments. I’ve looked at how I study, how I plan my work, and figured out what I need to change. I’ve had to create a new system of tracking what’s due, and what I need to study for. I print out study guides and watch instructional videos. I stay up late to take online tests after my son’s asleep. I examine every wrong answer, every mistake, every failure.
We’re not always going to immediately succeed. Not at college, or writing a novel, or anything in life. Mostly, when we fail, we want to stop trying and do something else. Some people, that’s all they do: run from one thing to the next to the next, looking for that instant and easy success, followed by the admiration of others, and if they don’t get it, they move on again. I can’t do that, not if I ever really want to change my life.
I am tired of failing. I have so done much of it the last couple of years. But when I stop trying to sweep my mistakes under the rug, I start learning from them. Learning to accept that I’d screwed up. (Everyone does.) Learning how to fix my problems. Learning to be brave, to try new things, take bold chances. Learning how to learn better.
I may not get all As this semester, and I may feel dumb a lot of the time as I try to learn this stuff, but I’m not alone, and I’m not quitting.