As you can imagine, I get this question a lot these days after making such big changes in my life over the last eight months. Last summer, I left my full-time job and moved home to Sonoma from San Francisco so I could return to my old classrooms. In January, I moved cross-country and into my boyfriend‘s already established bachelor pad. Now I’m developing a new career as a freelance writer, and I’m figuring out how to earn a living from it. I’m also learning to structure large blocks of time and figuring out how to design my desired lifestyle from scratch. In doing so, I’m rediscovering old hobbies and am trying out new ones, and attempting to lay to rest old habits of perfectionism, people-pleasing, and workaholism. Of course people are curious about how everything is going.
So how is everything going?
Well, it’s hard to say. Every day I have things to be grateful for (a supportive relationship, a network of creative new friends, flexibility) and things that challenge me (structuring my time completely on my own, earning/raising enough money to live on, grappling with ongoing anxiety).
To get a sense of whether I think things are going well, I stop and assess my recent “personal firsts.” Whether I’ve done things for the first time ever, or just the first time in a long time, evaluating firsts makes me believe that overall, things are on the upswing. I believe that firsts deserve some fanfare. It doesn’t have to end after you take your first step and speak your first word.
Here are five firsts have already happened since I moved to Jackson:
1) First audition for a community play. It’s so liberating to have gone through something embarrassing and just not care, and to choose to tell the story to make people laugh. I also submitted the blog entry for an essay contest (another first for which I mustered some courage).
2) First writing class as an adult. I’ve been loving my four-week class with Jackson Free Press editor, Donna Ladd. I’ve met some talented writers who are also really cool people, including fellow bloggers like my new friend Keetha. I’ve also developed a deep respect for narrative-style writing that makes readers feel as if they’re experiencing the action as its happening, even if the events happened years ago. I’ve been working on a story about my grandfather’s experience living just miles from Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, and I’m finding that this kind of interviewing takes a lot of practice and persistence.
3) First time as a regular yogi. My friend Tara is a fantastic yoga teacher, and I’ve been taking her classes twice a week. Yoga, like meditation and acupuncture, helps with just about anything that ails you. It calms me down and helps me concentrate.
4) First time writing for publication, apart from the blog, since college. Writing for the Jackson Free Press has been a wonderful opportunity, allowing me to write about topics important to me (like articles for the upcoming Green issue in April) and get to know the community at the same time. I also have articles in the pipeline for a couple of magazines, which means that I have to get crack-a-lackin’ if I’m going to meet my end-of-the month deadlines.
5) First time living outside the San Francisco Bay Area (besides living abroad). Ahh, the south, land of velvet accents and deep-fried everything. I’m going to write a full post on the California-Mississippi contrast. So far I’ve only had one moment of missing the Bay Area so much I could cry. It was last night at pub quiz in a smoky sports bar with deer heads on the walls, when I realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen my friends at home.
Here are a few more firsts on the horizon:
1) First experience playing on an official sports team (i.e. not in P.E.). I’ll be joining the co-ed softball team Darren and a bunch of our friends played on last year. I predict that I will either be so nervous that I’ll screw up a lot at first, and/or that I’ll be so competitive that I’ll become a more confident athlete. Both would be good for me.
2) First cross-country road trip. If all goes as planned, I’ll be coming home in mid-March to get my car, and Darren and I will drive from Sonoma to Jackson. We’re hoping to stop in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona along the way. Even though I’m not a big fan of being cooped up in a car, even on short trips, I’m excited about the chance to see some of these places for the first time. I’m also eager to bring my digital piano and my other worldly goods to Jackson (I’ve been missing my Brita pitcher and toaster like you wouldn’t believe).
3) First time officially doing improv acting. Another new friend, Joy, is part of a casual improv group that I will join once I’m actually around on a Thursday night. Improv is a terrifying prospect for a perfectionist. In fact, it’s almost hard for me to watch improv shows like Who’s Line is It Anyway? because I get nervous for the performers. I suspect that I’ll have a stream of What if I find myself speechless? What if I’m not funny? What if I look silly? running through my mind when I try improv myself, but I’m going to do it anyway. All I have to lose is my ego.
With this list, I don’t mean to suggest that everything is rainbows and flowers and that my life is 100% fantastic. I feel anxious nearly every day (even right now, my chest is tight) without always knowing why, and I’m exploring ways to cope. On many days, I wonder whether I can make it as an independent writer, because if I’m so used to following someone else’s rules that I may never be able to manage my own time and deadlines. Most days I still battle myself, often my own worst enemy.
One of the reasons that I made this list is to recognize that even though these challenges are there, firsts are a sign that things are heading in the right direction. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone and giving myself credit for it. So when people ask me how things are going, I can tell them, “You know something? They’re going pretty well,” and believe it myself.
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What firsts have you experienced in the last six months or so? Are there any to come?