Today is February 15, 2021. It’s President’s Day and it’s also the day after Valentine’s Day (aka. Discount Candy Day). My home in the Ozarks, much like homes across the middle west and into the southeast and Texas, is experiencing unprecedented weather.
It’s cold as balls.
There’s a lot of snow.
This is very unfashionable.
I’ve spent much of my day making sure we’re ready for minus 11 degree Fahrenheit weather. Yes. I said minus. If you live where polar bears raid your garbage cans, this probably isn’t all that impressive, but my bears are brown and it rarely dips much below freezing here. Minus 11 is a bit of a whole thing.
Today, we learned a new phrase: “rolling blackouts.” As someone who has spent her entire life experiencing the abundance and softness of the lower flyover states, first understanding, and then accepting, the idea of my electricity being switched on and off all day just to keep the power grid from imploding has been an experience.
The entire city is basically at a stand still. We’re facing some snow demons. Actual snow. And polar bear weather.
But, despite how worried I am about my house and my plumbing, and the fact that I now have two cats to consider along with the three dogs (what the fuck was I even thinking?) should the power go out in all of this, I’m finding a few snow angels, too.
Facing the Unforeseen
Facing the unforeseen is one of those things that dates us, I think. Mental flexibility that stays intact as we age gives us a sort of foolish youthfulness that often is characterized with three words: “hold my beer.”
Sometimes we need a “hold my beer” moment, though. Working in the media, for example, is an irregular string of unforeseen moments. Take last week, for example.
I went to log in to the Motley Fool to do my work, like ya do. I had a whole bunch of articles to write, I had JUST been to a writer’s meeting where we discussed content strategy for MARCH. So, when I was greeted with a message saying the entire project was being scrapped, and the wee free writers of the Blueprint were to be set off on an ice floe, it was a shock to say the least.
But, this is media work for you. This is why we write until our fingers bleed while there’s work to be had. You can’t ever predict a house cleaning, you can only ride the wave and hope you don’t drown in it.
The writers whose minds have become more like stone will inevitably use this as their opportunity to exit the madness of our chosen field, only to drive an Uber or bag groceries for life, since we have no truly marketable skills.
The rest of us will have a series of “hold my beer” moments as we fling ourselves wildly at anyone we think we stand a chance of working with successfully. We’ll do whatever we have to in order to get the attention we need to amplify the Available Writer signal.
We will make asses of ourselves in the doing and not care that we did.
This is The Writing Life
This is what we sign on for, and why so many people drop out of this profession. We’re cogs in a giant media machine that really couldn’t give two shits if we rise or fall. And we have no illusions that anyone cares about us – after all, we live a life where our most meaningful interactions with people are often the most critical.
Our job is to be criticized. I don’t care what anyone tells you, this is really the heart of the thing.
A writer who is absolutely clever, lovely, and never commits a single typo still won’t be worth their salt if they can’t stare down a million critics aiming their angry beams all at the same point. This is probably why we’re so screwed up. Or maybe we have to be pretty screwed up to accept this kind of behavior.
I’m not sure, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, really.
We’re masters of trauma and insufficiency and a general lacking in warm fuzzies. I used to not believe this, but I’m getting older and fatter and I see more of the world as it is, not as I’d have it be.
I once had a poetry professor who told the class that (and I will never forget this) he envied people with clinical depression because it gave them a place to draw from. I still think that’s a pretty screwed up thing to say to a bunch of college sophomores, but nobody asked me. At the same time, though, he was on to something. This is a life that’s all about getting knocked down, professionally speaking.
But there’s a thing Dr. Cafagna left out, and it’s a big one. This is also a life of extreme resilience. Imagine being told at 9 AM that you’re the dumbest piece of shit that ever walked the planet and still being expected to make a 3 PM deadline. That’s a pretty normal day for some of us, depending on who we work for.
(For the record, The Motley Fool was never like this, it was an incredibly supportive environment – so much so I was constantly on guard for the other shoe to drop. The harshest thing anyone said to me there was that they’d prefer I didn’t put things in parenthesis. Seriously. It was divine.)
Writing and Snow Angels
I know you’re wondering what the fuck I’m on about here. I’m getting to that. Or I think I am.
This has been a kind of dodgy weekend, full of new things that we never expected. Fuel shortages (who even knew a natural gas well could freeze?), rolling black outs, roads that are too cold to be safely cleared, polar bears raiding the bins. It’s mortifying to anyone who’s experiencing it. But we get to choose how we respond.
We can be rigid (and now frozen) because God knows we’ve never had to do this before and we refuse to accept what it takes to get everybody to safety. We can be flexible and absorb the potshots the weather is taking at us and bounce the fuck back with a plan for moving forward.
We get to choose. Every day.
Don’t misunderstand me – not every day is going to be perfect. We’re going to have days where we forget we can choose and instead get stuck in sorrow. We’re going to have days where that criticism laser beam is too hot and burns a hole right through us. But if most days we can pick ourselves up and move to the next thing, life becomes so much more.
More what? Just so much more. More nothing. More everything. More. Snow angels and snow demons.
I know it’s terrifying. I know we’re facing a tricky change-up, but we can all take a deep breath, ask our pals to hold our beers as we fling ourselves forward screaming “GERONIMO!” That’s what friends are for, after all.
As a writer, you’re going to face a lot of this sort of unexpected polar bear in the bins stuff. You’re going to have things blow up in your face. People aren’t going to like you. People are going to love you. And it’s all going to be so fucking confusing at times that your head and your heart and your brain suffer from severe whiplash.
This is the job. It’s not easy, that’s why no one does it. But it’s not easy, and sometimes I think that’s why we do it. Maybe we’re emotionally damaged, but maybe we just like eating out of frozen garbage bins.