Miserable & Magical: Lots of questions, few answers

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I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately. 

“When will this be over?”

“How is Trump still driving this sinking ship?”

“At what point does it stop being a nap and just become sleeping?”

One of the loudest questions is what am I going to do with my life when quarantine and social distancing are over.

Most of my twenties have been spent trying to figure out what I’m passionate about and what I want for a career (see my column from early March about moon landings if you’re not caught up on my many fears and anxieties). And while I’ve learned to focus more on the present and less on the big picture career-wise, I have no idea what I want right now.

In some of the worst timing in recorded human history, I left my full-time job right before the pandemic hit. My plan was to do freelance writing while working on my novel and picking up shifts at a local brewery. I was so excited to have taken the leap into full-time writing and the thought of making my own schedule made me feel free.

Joke’s on me I guess. 

Since going into quarantine several weeks ago I haven’t been able to get much freelance work. A lot of publications have cut their budgets or their staffs and almost every email I’ve sent to editors has gone unanswered. Other freelancers I know have lost thousands of dollars in expected income. Future prospects are bleak. 

Quarantine kind of seems like the perfect environment in which to write a novel if you’re like me and not working from home or trying to homeschool and care for your children. I have so much time. This is the kind of time I dreamed of in my previous desk jobs as I sat watching the clock, wishing I was in a coffee shop working on my book. And while I have put some good time into it recently, this is nothing like I imagined it would be.

Instead of waking up every morning and settling into my desk with a hot cup of coffee, I lounge about and try to pretend I don’t see my laptop staring at me from across the room. It’s hard to find motivation. I’m trying not to beat myself up for not being as productive as I would have been if there wasn’t a pandemic happening, but that’s not easy. This was supposed to be my time to write and I feel like I’m squandering it.

This was also supposed to be my time to figure out my next step. I know I love to write, that’s undeniable, but freelancing is too uncertain and writing fiction is a hard career. I had only been planning to freelance for a few months while I explored what I wanted to do next. This time was supposed to be creative and adventurous. I was going to follow different interests and ideas and see where they led me. I’ve been finding that hard to do while trapped in a 600-square-foot box.

I don’t know why I think an answer will just fall on my head as I sit around watching Netflix, but that’s where my expectations are right now and I’m becoming increasingly frustrated that it’s not happening. I’m just trying to be like Jewel and follow my intuition (#throwback), but it’s getting me nowhere. I’ve never understood how some people just know what they want to do with their lives.

Since an answer will not just appear before me, I have to take my time of reflection and exploration to the internet. Le sigh. For example, my curiosity in marine biology is being fed by watching behind-the-scenes videos posted by the New England Aquarium. Reese Witherspoon’s Netflix show, “Shine On,” lets me look at how women with cool jobs got where they are today. This isn’t exactly the “Eat, Pray, Love” journey I expected for myself, but it’s making do.

All of us are adjusting our expectations right now and I know I’m not alone in my uncertainty. I just need to channel my frustration into action and let my creativity guide me to new ways of exploring ideas. There is an answer, or there are answers, to what I’ll do with my life. Because like this pandemic, my uncertainty over my career won’t last forever. I need to hold onto the hope that one day I’ll be on the other side.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.