Uncategorized, Writers, Writing

Extraordinary Outliers

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“You’re still young!”

I looked skeptically at my friend and colleague today when she said that, but inside, it made me feel better to hear it.

“Thank you. I haven’t felt that way lately…”

“You are,” she repeated.

I do feel very young at heart – young in spirit, young in enthusiasm for possibilities, for all the dreams I want to pursue, all the things I can still do, if I can only find a way.

Thinking outside the box is not always the easiest thing to do, but we outliers – we find a way.

I wrote a post titled, “Thank you Athens Writers Association,” several months ago and one of the things I said was that my life in Athens all came together, but it was too late by the time it happened. I go back and forth between that despair and the hope that it is not too late to realize my dream of being a working writer – meaning doing what I love and being able to pay the bills doing it.

My friend and colleague, who introduced me to another client, a close friend of hers in New York City, has been an excellent cheerleader. Recently, I was given an assignment that is different than anything I have done before – ghostwriting – more or less. Technically it’s a revision, but turning a personal article into an academic research article requires much more writing than editing – compared to the content editing I’ve been doing the past several years.

This has been a brain twister and a welcome challenge for me at a time when the distraction of work is a Godsend.

I am way too hard on myself – in fact, I stated that in answer to the question, “What are your weaknesses?” in a mock interview today. I have a job interview (the first since 2016) on Monday morning for a temporary position coming up in the spring. It is anything but my dream job, but I promised myself I would apply to as many jobs as I can, and that I would accept every interview – even for the jobs I do not want because practicing interviewing is key to landing the job you really want.

I have recently applied for a couple of jobs at University of Georgia which I’m sure I would enjoy, as far as the departments, respectively, but…my dream is, and was, to be a full time editor and writer.

I feel so alive when I am writing…when I complete writing a draft, of anything – a poem, an essay, a short story, a chapter, whatever it is – it’s like I’ve created a work of art. It’s an adrenaline rush – it’s crazy. I can’t describe it other than when you are doing what you love, I think that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.

When I’m editing, I feel similarly, but in a different way – I get totally engrossed in the job and when I find something I need to change, I get excited, seriously, it is so weird. As if to say, “Aha! I solved it!” It’s like putting a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle together, one piece at a time.

Writing and editing. Yes, I’m in my element when I’m doing either one…

…but writers are outliers.

There are not many out there making a living at it.

I remember Barnes and Noble told me that only 15% of the authors on their shelves earn a full time income from writing books.

In my experience, we have all had day jobs, or most of us.

My friend is extraordinary – she is making a living at writing and coaching and she has been a vital mentor and partner. I am so blessed to work with her, alongside her, for her…and so her opinion means a great deal.

She told me today that many of the people who are famous…well let’s see, how did she put it: “There is a publicist, a ghostwriter, an editor behind the genius.”  Meaning –  someone works very hard and makes a great living making the famous person in the spotlight look good.

I told her, “I would love to make a living at ghostwriting. I don’t care if someone else gets the credit as long as I get paid well. As long as the personal pieces I write are mine, I don’t care if someone gets the credit for me writing for them.”

“You could do that,” she said.

Extraordinary outliers…they’re out there.

The question is how? How do I do that now? This is literally the worst time in my entire adult life for me to take an extraordinary risk – I literally cannot afford to take any financial risks right now.

It makes me feel so empty inside, it is like losing a piece of me, to think I have to give up on my dream. But we do what we have to. I am worried about how to pay for my housing, my food, my medical bills… I want another dog, when I am ready, and to take proper care of a dog, takes money, too.

I think back to the time in 1995 when I gave up on writing, for stable income, and now I am faced with that reality again…maybe for good…it scares me.  I enjoyed my brick and mortar jobs in administration and education and took a lot of pride in working hard – it is important to me. But…here in Athens, I’ve also gotten a taste of what it would be like to live my dream, and it is killing my soul and my spirit to give it up.

And then, sometimes, I think about what someone to whom I owe a big debt of gratitude wrote to me on January 6th. I was resistant, because I was angry and grieving and saw everything half-empty that day, but I wanted what he said to be true. I wanted it so badly to not be too late. Even though I knew it would never be the same without him as my head cheerleader. I hope he meant what he said because when my head screwed itself back on straight, I honestly felt it was one of the nicest things he’d ever said, if not the nicest, and it reminded me about those extraordinary outliers who go after the golden ticket that most people never go after. He said that I am a talented and capable writer and that it would be a huge mistake to give up on my dream of editing and writing (I’m leaving out a few phrases but that was the primary theme in the text message).

When I was sitting across the table from my friend today, what he said came to mind for a moment, just for a moment, but now I can’t stop thinking about it.

Even if I do take an ordinary job, for however long – even if it becomes a forever day job (hopefully not forever) – what if – what if I still can be an extraordinary outlier?

I was looking on the Clarke County School District job listing site today and there are tons of job listings for teachers…I felt a lot of nostalgia. I miss teaching so much. I miss being an educator – but for reasons that were not in my control – it was not the right career for my well being. Still, there is always going to be a teacher inside me. It was an experience that shaped me for life and made me a better human being – that won’t ever change.

Teachers are also extraordinary outliers.

I have another goal – I want to get my masters degree in counseling so I will have the license to counsel trauma survivors – and that is a day job I do want.

I had been thinking off and on about counseling as a career since I was about 17 years old. I always came back to something else, until…Parkland.

I watched the town hall forum where people from all over the community came to talk to local elected officials and the one thing I heard over and over was that the kids needed more counselors, that when the cameras left, they still felt the trauma, they still were haunted by what they witnessed that day, by what happened to their friends, by the loss.

I am a trauma survivor myself.  I have survived things, things that happened to me in my childhood and adolescence that no child should ever experience – for years I blocked out the worst of it, and the parts I didn’t block out, haunted me on a conscious level. Post traumatic stress disorder symptoms have interfered in what should have been typical life scenarios that all of a sudden felt terrorizing – on an extraordinary level. Even something as simple as a lockbox on my front door terrified me – I felt that my life was literally in danger, and when I think how I will have no choice later this year, but to do that, I am shaking.

However, this is what we do.

Other pieces of my life now make sense, and the hardest part is being able to look back on the last decade and piece together the why, and to understand – years later – how I could have changed what happened, if only I’d had the answers I needed 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago…the why was a mystery, and the trauma was in control – taking charge of what I thought, what I said, what I did.

We think that because we survived the trauma, it doesn’t follow us, like a shadow.

But it does.

It is extraordinary to overcome it. The part that makes us outliers, as well as extraordinary, is how we seem to learn how to work with it, and around it. And someday, if we’re lucky, to face it head on, and integrate it into who we are without letting it define who we are.

It isn’t linear, and sometimes, it is unconscious. That’s the tricky part.

Surviving trauma makes us better, though, and so many of my fellow writers, are also trauma survivors. The trauma did not define them, or break them, but it did feed into their creativity, and into their stories, and definitely makes them better writers – extraordinary writers and – extraordinary outliers.

“You could make a living working remotely as an editor. Writers, it doesn’t matter what age we are. The older we get, the better we are – as I get older I become better at writing, I’ve honed my craft. We writers get better at what we do with age…it isn’t like it is with other people…”

What a gift she left me with today.

Yes, we are ageless and extraordinary creators – we writers – are among the rare and extraordinary outliers.

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