Today, at the university, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. There was Anxiety at my left shoulder, and Depression at my right. Insomnia was at home, taking a nap so she could keep me up later.
And a thought came to me. It was, “You will never do anything harder than this.”
I’ve done some difficult things in my life. I’ve gone to Harvard Law School. I’ve passed the New York and Massachusetts bar exams. I’ve worked for four years as a corporate lawyer, in Manhattan and Boston. One memorable day, I billed twenty-three hours (out of a possible twenty-four). But I haven’t done anything as difficult as my doctoral dissertation. This is as hard as it gets.
The Horrible Year is not a specific year, but a concept. It refers to the fact that, any time I have tried to change my life in a significant way, it has taken me a year longer than I anticipated. The first time I applied to graduate school, desperate to leave the law and study literature, I did not get in. Although I had a perfect score on my subject GRE, my essay was all wrong, not at all the sort of essay the schools were looking for. I had to wait and apply again. But the second time, I not only got into almost all the schools I applied to, I also received a full scholarship and a stipend high enough that I was able to attend Odyssey one year, and Clarion the next. And because I spent that extra year, that incredibly depressing extra year, working as a lawyer, I was able to pay off all my law school loans. So in the end, the Horrible Year was good for me, as thoroughly unpleasant things sometimes are.
I’m in the middle of a Horrible Year, teaching full-time and revising my dissertation and yet at the same time trying not to let my writing career, which matters to me more than almost anything in the world, slip altogether. But I keep reminding myself that the Horrible Year ends, and although this is the most difficult thing I will ever do, it’s also the foundation on which I will build all the wonderful things, all the things that will become the life I want for myself. With a Witch’s Cottage, and books that people will want to read, and the freedom to pursue all the projects that I’ve wanted to pursue for so long. And contentment, adventure, and perhaps, yes perhaps, even joy.
Take that, Anxiety and Depression and Insomnia.