I’ve been re-listening to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project over the last week or so, partly because I find her voice soothing and partly because I wanted to revisit the book and see what new takeaways I could get from it in regards to my own happiness. I first listened to it last year, during a period of profound transition in my life, and I wanted to see what new would resonate with me now that things have settled down a bit. And the last week has been so emotional, with new incidents of police killing of unarmed Black men, and then the shooting of police officers in my own city, that I thought that focusing on happiness would be a way to lift my spirits.
The chapter that struck me so hard this time is Chapter 9: Pursuing a Passion. I found myself asking, “What is my passion?” And then being disconcerted by the fact that, although I can name several things about which I am passionate — social justice, spirituality, feminism, creating sacred spaces, teaching — I couldn’t pinpoint a passion. What is my passion? What would I pursue to the exclusion of almost anything else?
I didn’t have an answer.
Rubin suggests that you look back at what you loved as a 10 year old. That was easy. As a 10 year old, what I loved to do was write — short stories, novellas, little newspapers created with my friends and the help of a lot of paste and an old typewriter. I majored in English. I thought for a long time that I would be a journalist or English teacher. Then I went into the decidedly wordy occupation of graduate school — and in the social sciences, which are among the most writing intensive of disciplines. For 10 years, all I did was write research papers and abstracts. And I loved it — even if I didn’t always love it in the moment, I loved the research, the writing, the feedback on my ideas, the diving into a scholarly conversation. Writing my dissertation was painful at times, as it is for most graduate students — the PhD students I work with in my job today will attest to that fact — but it was also engaging, fun, and rewarding much of the time.
But in the years immediately after graduate school, when I should have been turning my dissertation into the articles and book that would help me get a tenure track professor job, writing became almost impossible for me. In some ways, it was burnout from the dissertation. I was also trapped in emotionally, psychologically, and financially abusive marriage which kept me working several jobs at a time trying to keep my household afloat. Writing for the sake of writing — even knowing it would take me further down my career path — fell by the wayside. I found myself increasingly unable to engage with my data, to do any meaningful creation. I did some conference presentations and submitted to a couple journals, but writing, which had always come to me with such ease, became all but impossible for me. When my marriage ended, it meant even more work — most of it at underpaid adjunct jobs — and even less time to write.
When I have had periods where I was required to write, such as when I went back to graduate school a few years ago or when I have done freelance writing, I can create the paragraphs. But sitting down to work on my own writing, for the sake of creating something, is still hard for me. This thing that had always been my refuge now feels like a chore. And the hardest part is that I feel myself wanting to write. I have ideas — there are books and articles and online courses that I want to create. When I do write, I am always buoyed by the act of seeing my words on screen or page.
I want to reclaim this passion, this burning desire to shape my thoughts and share them. I want to work through whatever it is that’s blocking me from simply sitting down and pouring out my heart and mind.
I am hoping this blog will be a tool to rediscovering my voice.