This month’s blog hop topic couldn’t be more perfectly timed! This month we’re talking about the ages and stages of weird brainedness, and as of this month, I will be starting a new stage of my life to which I’ve been building since childhood. It’s the stage where I quit following external direction and instead follow my internal mission.
In other words: on November 10, I will be resigning from the respectable job with great benefits that I fought hard to get in favor of a role that is one part precariat and two parts beneficiary of a patron. That’s right: I’m going to be self-employed. “Freelance writer” will suffice for shorthand, though that doesn’t capture all of my plans (and, indeed, you probably won’t see much from me in that respect right away, as I have behind-the-scenes stuff to do, too). For this post, however, I’m not going to go into the specifics of what or how. I’m going to focus on why, given that I do find myself with the opportunity to choose this path, I decided to follow it.
The movie WALL-E came out while I was teaching in Japan. They dubbed it, so when I went to see it with a friend who didn’t speak much of the language, I offered to quietly translate a few key points. This, however, turned out to be much less of an issue than we anticipated because the first half of the movie has very little spoken dialogue at all. It’s just one little trash sorting robot and his bug friend going about their business without ever speaking. It’s a masterwork in that sense, with so much conveyed nonverbally.
And then EVE shows up, and commences dialogue with a single word: 命令. Meirei.
“That means, ‘orders.'” I whispered to my friend. “Like, a mission.”
A second word eventually followed: 植物, shokubutsu. “That means ‘plant,'” I added.
As it turned out, if you’ve got those two words, you’re good through pretty much the entire first half of the movie. If you haven’t seen it, it will suffice for our purposes today to let you know that EVE is a robot on a critical mission: to find evidence of plant life growing on the trashed planet Earth and bring it back to the humans who have abandoned their home world. And she is obsessively focused on accomplishing it. Meirei, she keeps reminding us. And when something gets in her way, she insists. MEIREI.
Soon I found myself using this word in my own life. In Japanese, naturally, because of the way it seared itself into my awareness through the storyline of one determined movie character. Meirei. Or in English if you like: directive.
The truth is, I was on the JET Program basically because I didn’t know what to do to kick this adult career thing into gear (a common story). See, ever since I was in early elementary school I had known two important things about myself. The first is that I wanted to be a writer. The second is that just about everything else seemed a close runner up. I’d gotten a creative writing degree, but no one hires you to a respectable adult career as a writer. But hey, I have a lot of other interests, too! Surely I can find something to pay the bills while trying otherwise to write!
So I resolved that I wouldn’t return from JET until I’d figured out what I would do to earn a paycheck back in my home country, from which I had exiled myself for lack of appropriate professional aspiration. I got myself a master’s degree and a graduate certificate, and I’ve been doing the multipotentialite thing ever since, finally landing in a job that is secure.
And that has me sitting at a computer all day, burning through the energy that arrives most mornings at 10 o’clock and is long gone by evening, especially when I spend the entire day trying to suppress it. But I didn’t see another choice. So to succeed, I learned to drown out the little signal in the background.
Well, sort of.
One of the many things I learned through my career thus far is this: the biggest impacts I’ve made in my professional and extra-professional activities have been through projects in which I was as self-directed as possible. While there was always a ceiling—a short-term funding source with stipulations but otherwise little direction, or a project at work that allowed me to apply some vision—there was still, occasionally, room to breathe.
And it goes back further. At Montessori I churned out production, stapling together and illustrating my own books, writing essays, and inventing my own magazines that I would keep producing and circulating within the classroom for several issues. When I left Montessori after third grade, I was horrified to find that standard public school gave me very little self-directed time. How did they expect me to publish my magazines?! I would find myself in tears every year as the first day of school loomed, even into high school, because I had to go back to school and that would take my time away from projects.
And now there’s not even a summer break. Though I’ve tried to pursue the directive in the evenings, the demands of the 40-hour job keep me from being able to follow up reliably with anyone intrigued by the seeds of these extra-professional activities. And so they shrivel and too often die.
After a decade of trying, I came to understand that I cannot succeed—at least not to the level needed to fulfill meirei—with the “write in the evenings” model. It appears to be beyond my physiological capacity.
Looking back at the content of this blog over the past year or so, you can follow some of the though process that led to this Big Life Choice. I griped about the 40-hour work week, observed that I do my best creative work at 10 o’clock, and talked about how successful creative people work the hours that work for them. I discussed the need for agency to follow one’s mission, knowing how productive I can be when I get little focused chunks and how much more I could do if I made it my rightfully primary work. I thought about the path I followed as a multipotentialite and reflected on the advice I might give to a young person like me. And I took a week’s leave, a “creativity staycation,” as proof of concept, showing myself that I could fill far more time with productivity, no problem.
I also thought a lot about the role of my weird brain in bringing me to this point. Because it seems that most other people don’t face this particular sort of challenge. Sure, almost everyone who goes to work every day wishes they didn’t have to, but let us be clear: this is not that. I actually want to find my “dream job” and work very hard at it. I can’t tell you how much I wish my meirei involved getting a degree that would point me right into a secure career with health benefits!
Here is what I have been silently pleading to the Universe for basically my whole post-Montessori life, when suddenly it got taken away from me: If only I had a sizable stretch of time, I could create something valuable! Lasting! And meaningful! Oh please, Universe, give me a chance, just leave me alone and let me work on it for a while! I promise you won’t be disappointed!
So I expect to be working much harder over the next year or so than I ever have in my life. I might be nuts, but I’m not delusional: I know it will not be easy. There will be disappointments. There is a very real chance that I will fail, and the Universe will laugh at me for having the hubris to make that promise that my effort would not amount to nothing. And there will be material sacrifice, as Max and I will be living on a lot less than we were before.
Max, for the record, is my greatest supporter. He is, of course, the patron I mentioned earlier, and an even bigger advocate of this possibly cockamamie scheme than I am. (Though he did just walk by, see what I was writing, and gleefully call me a moocher. Just so we’re clear, I’m mooching, not loafing!)
So yes, it’s a risk. But I also have come to see the risk in not taking the chance. And I’ve been able to sprout a few seeds thus far. If I invest the time in caring for them, it is quite feasible that I’ll be able to make these shokubutsu grow.
It’s time to have a real go at the dream.
This post is a part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop.
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