Just Me

okay, so these aren’t garden chairs, but they seem like a place where one might have deep thoughts about career changes, don’t they?

“I don’t know about you, but I think of fall as a new beginning,” JR said one evening last week as we sat in the garden. “Yeah, me too,” I exclaimed, surprised as much that we shared this philosophy as I was that after six years of marriage, and nearly twenty years of our lives intertwined, that this was the first time this had come up in conversation. “That’s exactly how I feel. Summer’s over, and now it’s time to get serious, start new things.”

A year ago today, as that philosophy compelled me to do, I started this blog. Looking back now at that first, tentative entry, I was surprised at how clear the idea seemed – JR and I are going to eat food that meets our standards even on a budget – given that I was hesitant about launching my thoughts out into the world on their own little rocketship (it’s small and squat, sort of rounded rather than missile-shaped, and has a big blue star on it, fyi. When I have more money, I’ll get it a paint job and put the Poor Girl Gourmet blog header on it.).

As a child, and all the way through college, I was a writer and artist. Everything that I undertook involved writing, designing, drawing, and painting. Yet, in the years following graduation, I lost my way, my sense of self. I think that it happens more frequently than we’d all care to admit. After all, how many people are really doing the one thing they’ve dreamed about, or are passionate about, for work? At last check, most of my television colleagues – at least most of the ones that I like – seemed not to be living their dream (birds of a feather? Perhaps.). For me, this was acutely true. In the sixteen years between college and last fall, I had become a beancounter of sorts. A manager of schedules, budgets, people, and machines. Daily, I faced the not-so-subtle reminder of my job responsibilities: creative thoughts were not my domain. Yet for most of my life before I started my career, creativity was a normal and natural part of every day. Not surprisingly, I was miserable at work. A malcontent, as it were.

By the time the economy screeched to a halt at the end of last summer, I was exhausted and uninterested in schmoozing those people who I needed to schmooze in order to find more tv gigs. Little work was available to begin with, and my disdain of peddling myself didn’t magically gain me any new clients. Odd.

Change is difficult in the most ideal of circumstances. Ask any new mother or father you know, or someone who just bought a house, or got a fabulous promotion. I hadn’t done any actual planning for a career change, and thought, really, that I’d be back to work in a month or two. Still miserable, but with my normal income, and possibly refreshed having had a couple months off.

The work never came, but perhaps I had asked it to stay away. To let me get back to being me. In place of that work and its money, the richness of creativity returned; writing again after too many years away, becoming more creative in the kitchen, photographing food, talking about food, and growing food. This blog combines all of my creative passions. I couldn’t ask for more, though it has given me more.

Long hours and a two-hour commute often left me trying to jam enjoying my husband, my house, my dog, my life, into weekends. Weekends are short, you know. I rarely saw my garden during the daylight even in the summer – many nights I arrived home from work at 8:30 or 9pm.

For the first time in my adult life, I’ve been able to appreciate the ebb and flow of the seasons, each and every day. Today is stunning. I had my coffee outdoors. The leaves on the hundred year-old maple tree in front of our house exploded into a firey red just yesterday, and today the clouds are small stretched cottonballs dancing around in the bright blue sky. I would never have noticed those details when I was working, and I would never have had the time to enjoy them as I do now. My work has changed. It pays less, but I’ve spent months writing a cookbook, experimenting in the kitchen, shooting the photographs for the book, learning about a business that is completely new to me. I am finally doing something that I really love, that challenges me, and that I thoroughly enjoy.

Before JR and I finally settled into our relationship, we had what could be referred to in the kindest of terms as a rough start. During this phase, a friend queried me, “Why aren’t you dating?” “Because I’m waiting for JR,” was my reply. My friend furrowed his brow, “really?” “I see no point in dating someone just for the sake of saying I’m dating someone. If it doesn’t work out with JR, I still won’t date simply for dating’s sake.” This headstrong approach happened to work out for us in the end. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to take such a stance regarding one’s job. After all, everyone has to work, unless, of course a substantial trust sustains them or they’ve recently hit the lotto (and secretly, too, so that their second-best friend from fourth grade doesn’t resurface looking for a loan, along with everyone else who they knew in grade school and beyond). Circumstances – some beyond my control, and some likely well within – propelled me into this situation, pushing me to take time away from my job, trust-less and lotto-less though I am.

And without either of those two rare forms of income, JR and I are decidedly less well off financially than we were a year ago, though overall, I think we’re happier. We live on what we have; I suppose it’s a make-do approach we’ve taken on. Raising chickens for meat – we already had hens for eggs – growing more food in our garden then at any time previously, putting up what we can’t eat right away so that we have it for eating during the winter. Don’t get me wrong – when I start making money again, I will probably run right out and buy me some shoes, or a handbag, or some other thing that I don’t necessarily need. I’m not intentionally practicing asceticism, though this experience has shown me that by regaining my me-ness, I don’t need things the way I used to think I did. I’m no longer jealous. Or worried what other people think. I’m just me. And I write, design, draw, photograph, and cook.

3 Comments to Just Me

  1. Daria says:

    What a great story! I've been enjoying your blog and your writing for the last few months. Looking forward to your cookbook when it comes out.

  2. Liz (and Nathan) says:

    I feel like I am where you were a year or so ago. I have a job, it's awful and I am not happy. I am trying to get the kick in the ass to do something more for myself. All I know is that I want it to involve making food for others. Not a restaurant necessarily but some small scale vehicle to share my love for cooking with others. It's better to be poor and happy than miserable.

  3. Amy says:

    Hi Daria,
    Thank you so much for reading along here! I'm really glad you liked this story, it was actually a little nerve-wracking to write, so it's nice to know that it's appreciated!

    Hi Liz,
    I think that so many of us try to do "the right thing", which we've been conditioned to believe is to make a lot of money. But soulless work can be so damaging,

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