September has that back-to-school feel long after you’ve graduated from school. Every fall feels like a season of new beginnings (except for the two I spent in Cambodia, where fall isn’t really a season at all).
So it’s a natural time for me to take stock of the past year. And here’s the verdict: last year was hard. Really hard.
There wasn’t any one thing that made it hard. It was a culmination of everything. Returning to Canada after two years abroad and dealing with reverse culture shock. Learning of my uncle’s cancer diagnosis. Starting to work for myself. Dealing with the financial insecurity that accompanies self-employment. Attending my uncle’s funeral. Entering a long-distance relationship. Moving to a new city so that the long-distance relationship would just be a relationship.
Those are only the big things. There were other, “smaller” things. Calling 911 for my partner and accompanying him in the ambulance to the hospital for a minor (but serious) health scare. Hearing that my dad’s office building had been set on fire and pretty much burned to the ground. Missing Cambodia. Looking for an apartment in the hellish rental market in Toronto.
Don’t get me wrong. Living in Toronto is great. I have some incredible clients that are a delight to work with. My relationship is wonderful. I have been published in some of my dream publications. There are so many good things in my life.
But there's still a lot of stress. A few weekends ago, while playing fetch with my dog, something in my neck snapped and I couldn’t properly move my head for a few days. I spent a lot of that weekend lying on the ground, staring at the ceiling and breathing deeply, resentful of my body’s frailty. I don’t have time for this shit, neck. Get it together.
I’ve learned a lot in the past year. One of the important lessons: I can make a living writing and working for myself. In fact, it turns out that working for myself may be the only way to have the life I want.
Out-of-province funerals and long-distance relationships and injuries take a lot of time. In a regular job, they would require a lot of time off. Probably too much. There would have been times when I would have had to choose between seeing my family or the health of my relationship and the security of my job.
I am glad I haven’t had to make those choices. This year, as everything has come up, it hasn’t had a major impact on my work. When necessary, I have rescheduled client deadlines. I’ve worked from airports and on trains. I have worked till three in the morning when necessary and slept until noon when that was necessary too. As I’ve navigated some significant changes, this flexibility has been what I needed.
This year has confirmed that I love writing. I love it enough to devote most of my waking hours to it. I have discovered the topics I love writing about for my clients (mostly health, tech, civics, and international development) and the topics I love writing about for publications (travel, sex, religion, and politics). I love writing for publications and I love writing for my clients.
But most of all, I love writing for me. In hard times over the past few years, it has been cathartic to express the difficult emotions. To write about geographic and spiritual confusion. To write about the times I’ve second-guessed my decisions. To write this post about a stressful year.
It is no accident that words play a key role in all our important ceremonies: weddings, funerals, graduations. Expressing significant thoughts and feelings is important. It makes them concrete, real, recognized. It honours the major events we go through. It helps us understand them.
I felt heavy when I started writing this. This month is the anniversary of my uncle’s death. It has put me in a pensive mood, and inspired me to write this post, much more personal than most. It didn’t seem right to carry on with my normal blog posts on writing without acknowledging his death, and acknowledging all the other hard things.
Having written this, I feel better now. Not perfect, but better. It feels good to honour some of what I’ve been through in the past year. It feels good to use writing as a relief valve for some of the pressures I feel.
I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know whether it’s good, bad, or some combination of the two. But whatever it may be, I hope you have a way of honouring it, of acknowledging what is going on in your life. Whether it’s writing or something else, I hope it makes you feel better, too.