Two weeks ago, my first child was born. I’m not sure if it’s the exhaustion, the strange hours, or the unexpected periods of calm while he sleeps (like right now as I note down these thoughts), but these first few weeks have come with a heavy dose of reflection and deep thinking. Reflecting about my life choices and the many events that led to this moment in my life. Thinking about where I see myself going from here and where I want to see myself go.
For my entire adult life, I’ve dedicated myself to the literary world. From my double major in college (creative writing and comp lit) to working in a bookstore to completing an MFA to launching a literary magazine to working for literary nonprofits to being an editor and finally to publishing my own first book, everything I’ve done has been dedicated to that purpose, and very little in my life has existed outside of that purpose. Most of my friends are writers. Most of my disposable income has gone to buying books and going to literary conferences. This has been the entirety of my self.
But over the past year, that focus has changed — or at least been put on pause. About two and a half years ago, I moved back to Los Angeles from Istanbul. (I talk about the reasons for and emotions from the move here at Literary Hub.) A few months after that move, my book was published and I spent the subsequent year bouncing around the country promoting it at conferences, festivals, and readings.
In the aftermath of that cycle, I found myself burned out. I’d had trouble finding a stable academic teaching position and was cobbling together work as a tutor, an online adjunct instructor, and freelance book designer. I’d spent so much time and energy on the literary that I didn’t want to go to any more readings, didn’t want to do my editing work, and didn’t want to send out my new work for publication. I needed to step away.
So I did. For the first time since I entered my first writing workshop at the age of 20, I stepped away from the literary world. I started a new job outside of academia (though in the realm of education), and my partner and I learned that we were expecting our first child. I stepped away to focus on these, but I also continued thinking about the literary and my engagement with the literary. Over the last 10+ months, I’ve realized a few things about myself and my life.
I’d stopped enjoying reading and I’d stopped reading what I enjoyed. Instead, I spent my time and energy worrying about what I should read rather than what I wanted to read.
I spent too much time worrying about literary gossip. I felt a compulsion to know the ins and outs of every beef, scandal, fight, controversy, and happening. But I can’t tell you the value of having any of that knowledge or how it improved my life in any tangible way.
I wasn’t sure who I was writing for anymore. And I wasn’t always able to say that I enjoyed writing what I was writing.
I realized that I was hiding or subsuming my non-literary interests. I love books, but I also love other things like wine and the NBA. Why have I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t include those interests within my writing practice?
My experience abroad made it harder for me to relate to the literary conversations happening in the US. Or, another way of putting it is that the conversations I wanted to have didn’t always make sense here.
So I’ve been burnt out and I’ve been, obviously, taking stock. These weeks helping to take care of my new baby are the first weeks where I haven’t been immersed in work in… well, I can’t recall the last time. And, perhaps due to the lack of sleep or perhaps due to some special epiphany that comes with being a parent, for the first time in a long time, I’m experiencing a sense of clarity. Of course, clarity for me is exceedingly ambiguous, obscure, and difficult to define. But at least compared to how I usually feel, I feel clarity.
I’m not sure what that clarity means or what I’ll do with it (see the above: ambiguous, obscure difficult to define). I can sense the clarity, but I don’t quite understand it yet. What I do know is that I want to explore my thoughts and interests that I have through writing, and to do it on my own terms. I’m not sure if there’s an audience for that (or what exactly that is), and if there is whether it’s the community I’ve been a part of for all these years. I want to return to why I got into this in the first place all those years ago, to what I dreamed about doing: reading books that excite me, exploring things and ideas that excite me, and writing about those exciting things.