Friday, July 11, 2008

Kind of Down

For the last two and a half months, I've done nothing but complain to my CH, my sister, and my pal the wombat stuffer about how hard I've been working. I kept saying how great a relief it was going to be to finally have some free time. Well, now, I've got that free time and I'm feeling a bit depressed.

It's been so long since I've had the time to do things I want to do that I've forgotten what those things might be. I'm forced to consider what I want to do and find myself coming up rather empty and feeling as if I'm lacking in direction. In fact, I've been having one of those pesky first world citizen problems where I find myself questioning where my life is going and what I'm doing with it. As near as I can recall, the last time I had a sizable chunk of free time, I read Wil Wheaton's "Just a Geek" in two days (a good read written by someone who realizes how he is now self-aware and can admit he wasn't when he was quite famous and successful). I'm pretty sure that my goal isn't to read more, however.

After a bit of hard thinking, I remembered that my goal when I quit my full-time job was to "get healthy" both mentally and physically. I'd say the mental part is coming along pretty well. Most of the trauma of working with an erratic company president whose whim-based management style infused life with tension and a distinct feeling of insecurity has worn off by now. The physical part is coming along much more slowly, though I can now do 30 minutes on a treadmill if I can lean on the handles and my disaster area of a back doesn't have to make too great of an effort to keep me vertical.

At any rate, I'll admit something and you can judge me as you will. I don't have any career goals. I used to have some, mind you, but I don't anymore. I once wanted to be a counselor or therapist, possibly even a psychologist. I planned to work for awhile and then go to graduate school. I even applied to and was accepted into two schools (one was Ohio State University and I can't remember the other). After I worked with really crazy people for a few years and saw that the answer is almost always pharmacological rather than through any sort of talk or guidance, that notion withered away. I didn't want to go to medical school nor did I want to simply be the person whose task it was to evaluate whether or not someone should be taking psychotropic medication or not.

The truth is that most people will opt for a handful of pills rather than do the hard work of changing their behavior and that's assuming that they even possess the capacity to change. Many people who are in the mental health care system are pretty far gone. Those who aren't in the system rarely seek help because it's expensive and their insurance won't pay if they're not so far gone that they are endangering themselves or others, or they simply think psychology is a crock and can't do anything for them that they can't choose to do for themselves. My experiences in the real world of dealing with mental health left me disillusioned and a little bit afraid. Being a woman and working with disturbed people is a dangerous business.

After coming to Japan, I found that I was really interested in desktop publishing and learned all about the minutiae of working in print media. That would have continued to have been a goal, but, as I'm sure many have noticed, print media is a wilting industry. Even before print media sales started dropping like a stone, the demand for people who knew their way around Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop was dropping off as everyone with a nephew who could use Microsoft Publisher felt a monkey could do layout so they didn't want to pay much for higher quality work.

Also, while I enjoyed such work, there were always serious creative limits involved. Every time I did a project, people who had nothing to do with the actual work of doing a layout had to have their fingers in the pie of how the creative aspects were carried out. From font choices to graphic styles, someone who did nothing more than lean back in a chair and make frivolous choices based on aesthetic whims would override a cohesive design plan such that the end result was a compromised mess of too many (and clashing) fonts and absurd mixtures of illustration styles. In the end, books always ended up a crazy quilt of poorly mixed elements because various people who were higher on the totem pole then me insisted certain things be their way. Any talk of balance, design grids and use of aesthetic white space flew out the window in favor of cramming as much as possible onto the fewest pages and catering to the pet font and picture choices of the higher ups. Some of the books I was involved in making turned out so poorly that I'd be embarrassed to offer them as samples of my work.

Once again, the reality of the work quashed the dream. Any fulfillment I might get from these types of work was seriously undermined by the environment in which the work was done. After quitting my office job, I realized that most of the positive points connected to any career goal is going to be redirected by reality. The only true way to find fulfillment is to do it outside of the framework of pay. Once it becomes a job, someone else has a say in what you do. This applies even if you are your own boss since the customer's whims and sales figures will then dictate what you should and shouldn't do. Once money is involved, you're someone else's bitch.

That is not to say that I think this is a terrible situation or that I'm bummed out that my dreams have gone unfulfilled. In both cases, I think that the goals were met and then I moved on. Mainly, I think I've just come to realize that the goal is less important than what I walk away with from the experience. Knowing this, however, has made it hard to be overly ambitious or fix a hard target on a future path. For now, I'm pretty satisfied doing what I do teaching and writing. It's not lucrative and it may not have a lot of glamor attached to it, but I do learn and grow and use my skill and wits. It's challenging and rewarding.

I think the reason I'm a bit down now though is that the process and pace of just being a better person and expanding my knowledge and experience through interacting with others and doing modest creative work feels "small." It's also rather hard to measure progress when the goal is "be better than you were in every way." The empty time that I have now makes me ache a bit for a bigger boat to hook my anchor onto than simply "being better." However, part of what I want to be mentally is the sort of person who is just OK with being the way that I am now rather than the type of person who has to have some grandiose life plan or big goal that I can announce to the world.

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