“I’m not feeling it.”
These words, written by my friend and co-author Josh, were like a bucket of cold water being dumped on my head. Here we were, sixteen chapters into the outline for our fifth and final novel in the Warpworld series, making excellent progress on a complex and multi-storied plot, when he announced that he didn’t think it was working. His arguments were sound. I knew they were sound because they were the same kind of arguments I’ve made in the past when I’ve stepped in to stop work in progress. Even so, I put up a mild fight. At first.
The feeling you get when realize something you think is going well actually isn’t going well at all? Unsettling. Uncomfortable. Disheartening. It doesn’t matter if the something is a manuscript, a marriage, a job, a chosen field of study, or a vacation, the feeling is always the same. Something has shifted. Your perception and reality are out of sync and you can see the disconnection like a crack in the earth.
Shifts have their own seismic scales. Small tremors, big shakers, deep and profound, superficial yet disruptive and damaging. Most are survivable, some are barely noticeable, others permanently alter the landscape of our lives.
I’ve had a few memorable shifts in my life. In my late-twenties, post-divorce and midway through my new career, I discovered that most everything that had once brought me joy was now only making me feel trapped and tired. I recall sitting at a table with my live-in boyfriend and another couple we spent much of our free time with. We had eaten dinner (barbequed steak and roast potatoes, as always), were drinking a lot of red wine (as always), and had just started a game of dominoes (as always). We were telling the same jokes, sharing the same gossip and stories, and making the same plans as we had been doing for at least a year. I looked into my future and saw nothing but endless Saturday nights like this one, perhaps with some variation but not enough. Not nearly enough.
This isn’t me. This isn’t what I want, I thought.
But it was more than just the repetition and lack of novelty that bothered me. Without knowing exactly when or how, I had changed. Stability had been tossed to me like a life preserver and, in the tumultuous ocean of my failed marriage, I had grabbed it and refused to let go.
I had always been an adventurous person, desperate to see the world and experience…everything. Yet, here I was playing the role of happy suburban worker bee. There’s nothing wrong with that life, if it’s what you want. I didn’t want it. I never had. I needed it, for a while, but that time had come to an end.
Sitting at that table, looking out at the smiling faces of my partner and our friends, all I could think was, I’m not feeling it.
Not long after that, I ended the relationship and walked away from that life. Not long after that, I met the man who would become the other half of my soul. Not long after that, I was driving down to Baja, Mexico. And the adventures have never stopped.
None of that was easy. None of that was comfortable. In some ways, it would have been easier to ignore the shift but that would have meant living the rest of my life as a lie.
I shifted again in my thirties, this time with the realization that the voice in my head that longed for creative expression through writing was not going to shut up. Fred and I had planned out one kind of life together, working as partners toward the same goal of owning and running a small resort in the tropics, and now I realized that this was his goal, not mine. What I needed for happiness was different than what he needed. More discomfort. More painful change.
Thankfully, I married a man who supported my shift.
And I shifted again in my early forties, when I realized that I’d spent far too many years worrying about making other people happy, worrying about what other people thought of me, letting myself be directed by guilt. I had a voice, a mind, a will, and it was time to start using all three to their potential instead of playing it safe.
Now, at 47.5 years old, a feel another shift coming on. The earth is shaking beneath my feet. Something has changed inside me, something big, and it has yet to reveal its form. What I know is that I feel less joy and more grim determination. I feel less need to be seen and heard, and more desire to be useful. I have less tolerance for bullshit and group think. I worry more than I should. I am frustrated by the patterns in my behaviour that constantly paint me into the same corners. I have become nervous about the lack of critical thinking and the potential for mobs of misinformed or under-educated people to inflict their collective will on the world. I am angry at the continued dumbing down of society and the swell of materialism that refuses to subside. I am possessed with a desire to learn.
I’m not sure who I will be when the shift is over. It is unsettling.
After Josh’s announcement that one of our three main story-lines was falling flat, and my short-lived argument to the contrary, we agreed to sleep on it and come back in the morning to talk again. Our writing partnership over the years has brought us to the point where conflict resolution happens without much conscious thought. We know we can stand on our chairs and stamp our feet and beat our chests to get what we want…or we can just agree to walk away and think on the problem until we find a mutually agreeable answer. These days, we skip the dramatics and go right to the “walk away and think” option. With great success, I should add.
The shifts in our writing process remain uncomfortable but, when they’re over, we’re happier with the work, and proud of ourselves for refusing to settle for less than our best. Real life shifts don’t feel that simple, even if the end result is the same.
So here I am, fittingly, in California, hiding out from another Canadian winter and feeling the rumbles of a new shift as I look toward 2017. What will the landscape of my life look like when the earth settles once more?
Who will I be?